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Teenage Wasteland: 16 Young Stars Whose Fame Tanked After Superhero Roles

Being a teen actor is tough. Most days you're recreating a “typical American coming of age” when your own coming of age is anything but typical. Playing troubled high school students, young versions of a show’s leads, or sometimes the love interest in a much older writer/director's vanity project, there's not much fun for young actors to have. That is, until you get that fateful call. A superhero script comes in. Now, you get to be a star. You get to don a costume, say cool lines and swashbuckle like the best of them. This is it, you think: your big break.

Then the backlash starts. The bloggers throw a fit, your every flex and feature is hyper-analyzed and ridiculed. You have your Icarus moment, and come crashing down. The dream drifts away, and what do you do? Start taking bit parts? Retire outright? Become the second in command of an alleged cult/harem involving brandings and starvation? You know, any of those classic career trajectories. Some of the folks on this list fell from great heights, others never got a chance to soar. Only one thing’s for certain: capes were not kind to these aspiring young stars.

16 ALICIA SILVERSTONE

Let’s not play around, this is the entry you came clicking for. In a post-Clueless world, Alicia Silverstone was unanimously decided to be the new “It” girl, the voice of the '90s Valley girl, the Brando of girls named Brandy. She was everywhere, and when the sequel to the critically acclaimed, hugely successful Batman Forever needed a Batgirl to stand toe to toe with Clooney and Chris O’Donnell, the casting of Silverstone was a no-brainer.

Silverstone’s performance, however, was roundly lambasted as the worst element of an absolutely awful Batman & Robin. Silverstone did follow up the film by producing and starting in an animated children’s show called Braceface, but live-action roles gradually dried up and Silverstone disappeared. It seems she’s turned things around though, taking some risks in recent role choices, including an appearance in shock auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’ recent The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

15 JOHNNY ROCKWELL

Yes, we know the name Johnny Rockwell sounds like the kind of performer you can't Google at work, but we assure you, Johnny Rockwell was actually a legitimate mainstream actor. Well, he was for a very, very brief window of time, at least. Rockwell appeared in the pilot for the 1961 TV series The Adventures of Superboy, a little-remembered attempt at bringing the Man of Steel to the small screen.

The pilot wasn’t picked up to series due to budget concerns, and Rockwell never got another big opportunity. After sporadic one-off TV roles, Rockwell retired from acting in 1970, becoming a friend of Hugh Hefner and constant guest at the Playboy Mansion, presumably surrounded by adult film stars who wished they had that naturally perfect a stage name for their line of work.

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14 TAYLOR DOOLEY

You guys remember The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl, right? That's obviously the far better remembered Robert Rodriguez's film of 2005, talked about way more often than Sin City. Well, you might not remember that one of the stars was Taylor Lautner, who went on to great fame thanks to the Twilight films.

His co-star, Taylor Dooley, failed to make a similar splash in Hollywood. The sadly second-tier Taylor from the film, Dooley has less than a dozen credits on her IMDB, including an upcoming Christian film called Devotion, putting her into a pretty tight niche. The film co-stars Kane Hodder (aka Jason Voorhees) that seems to be about priests turned-MMA-fighters, at least if you can make any sense out of its IMDB synopsis.

13 JOANNA PANG

Actress Joanna Pang is best known for joining Isis…. as her sidekick on the 1975 TV series The Secrets of Isis, a popular superhero show that often crossed over with Shazam, of course. What did you guys think we meant? No, this isn't one of those really messed up stories (but we have plenty of those here).

Instead, Pang was by all accounts a lovely and talented young woman whose inability to get work after 1984 appears to be more due to Hollywood’s failure to write good roles for Asian actors (still an issue today, even if Rose in Last Jedi was a great step forward) than any fault of hers. However, unlike many on this list, Pang found a new passion, traveling the country as an award winning teacher of dance.

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12 SAM JONES III

No, this isn't the iconic star of Flash Gordon and Ted fame. Sam Jones III is best known for playing Pete Ross on Smallville. After three seasons, Pete Ross was written off the hit show, making the cast of Smallville about as white as, well, the rest of Kansas, really. But that's when things got bonkers.

Jones scored a recurring role on ER and began dating former Playmate Karissa Shannon of the Shannon twins. A sex tape involving the couple was allegedly stolen, and Jones cut a deal with Vivid to release the film under the title Karissa Shannon, Superstar. He was subsequently nabbed in a DEA sting for attempting to sell drugs and sentenced to 366 days in prison. Somehow, though, this isn’t the worst fate for a former Smallville star.

11 CHRISTOPHER GARTIN

No, the failed TV series M.A.N.T.I.S isn’t well remembered today, but imagine how that must have looked from the outside to an aspiring young actor. A superhero show in that glorious window between Batman ‘89 and Batman and Robin where such stories felt vital and fun. It was also show from the mind of the visionary Sam Raimi, just a few years shy of changing the game with Spider-Man. For Christopher Gartin, who played young Taylor Savage, this had to be an exciting opportunity.

Unfortunately, the show failed and was forgotten. Gartin attempted to transition into film, where his best known role became Tremors 2: Aftershocks, which admittedly was a pretty big deal at the time. He apparently has a solid relationship with director Darren Aaronofsky, appearing in both Black Swan and mother! as “Sexy Waiter Scott” and “Adulterer,” respectively.

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10 DRAKE BELL

If you were of a certain age, Drake & Josh were your Laurel & Hardy, your Cheech & Chong, your Richard Pryor and mounds of snow; an iconic comedy duo. Of the two, it seemed that the sexy, suave Drake Bell would have the better career, especially when he leapt to the big screen in the parody comedy Superhero Movie.

Unfortunately, the lifespan on spoof movies seemingly expired shortly before the film’s release. The film bombed, and while Bell was able to get work voicing Spider-Man in several cartoons and video games, his live action career stalled, most recently finding Bell playing a porn-addicted hacker in the abysmal Bad Kids of Crestview Academy. He still makes music, and has a respectable fan following, but a kid with his talent deserved much better.

9 AGUSTIN RODRIGUEZ

Before Gifted, or Legion or Mutant X, there was Generation X. A 1996 failed pilot-turned-TV movie, Generation X was an angsty teen drama, more concerned with peeking into dressing rooms and hooking up than fighting crime. One of the more notable performers in the film was Agustin Rodriguez as Skin, who was intended to be a co-lead alongside Heather McComb's Jubilee.

What happened to Rodriguez after Generation X? Despite having a far more prominent role than many of his costars, Rodriguez failed to score many jobs after the film’s release, with his last acting credits in 2010. Research shows that Rodriguez pursued a career as a martial arts instructor, and currently acts as a motivational speaker and mentor on social media, delivering near daily video streams of inspiration via Facebook.

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8 BORIS CABRERA

Remember Animorphs? It's slipped from your mind in the last few decades, but at the mere mention of the title, it all comes rushing back. That glorious missing link between the “They're books for kids, but they're good?” confusion around Goosebumps and the “Young Adult books are complex and brilliant” epiphany of Harry Potter, the intricacy and gravity of Animorphs drew the adoration of young readers and led to an inevitable TV adaptation.

While two of the series three stars, Brooke Nevin and Shawn Ashmore went on to notable success in The 4400 and X-Men, respectively, star Boris Cabrera seemed to disappear. As it turns out, Cabrera quit acting just four years after Animorphs wrapped, following guest spots on NYPD Blue and Everybody Loves Raymond, to pursue a career as a personal trainer.

7 EMMA CAULFIELD

A game-changing TV series, many of the stars of Buffy the Vampire Slayer went on to great success, either in film (Sarah Michelle Gellar), TV (Allison Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon), or literature (Amber Benson). Yet those successes seem to have unfairly alluded Emma Caulfield, who played fan favorite Anya.

With a career beginning with Beverly Hills 90210, moving into Buffy and then the cult horror film Darkness Falls, Caulfield seemed poised for crossover success. While she’s recently scored single episode stints on hits like Supergirl and Fear the Walking Dead, we can’t help but wonder: What the heck, Hollywood? Unlike some on this list, there’s no logical reason to leave Caulfield out in the cold (that we know of yet, and pray that stays true). We love our Anya, and you should too. Get it together.

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6 JOEY SIMMRIN

We’re taking a trip down memory lane, or more specifically down the Blockbuster aisle of nostalgia, to talk about Star Kid. Though not well remembered today, this fun kids action/adventure featured such future stars as Joe Mazzello (best known for Jurassic ParkandThe Pacific) and Danny Masterson (best known for That 70's Show and heinous assault allegations). But the delightful Joey Simmrin never achieved that level of success.

In fact, Simmrin, who had a fair amount of notable roles prior to his turn as Turbo in Star Kid, had only 6 roles after the film, the last live action of which was as “Kid #2” in 2003’s Dallas 362. From what can be gleaned from a Google search, it seems Simmrin now occupies his time managing indie bands.

5 SUZANNE DAVIS

Suzanne Davis played the role of Buff, a new mutant created specifically for the would-be TV series Generation X. Of the three young women who starred in the pilot, Davis occupies the middle ground between Heather “Still Finding Success” McComb and “Disappeared after a 1997 episode of Smart Guy” Amarilis.

Davis got a recurring role on the series Malibu, CA and appeared in the Sandra Bullock comedy 28 Days, but doesn't have a screen credit after 2006. Even her own IMDB biography lists her as "still looking for her break." Supposedly, Davis relocated to Reno, Nevada to pursue comedy, which was revealed in her most recent interview in 2009. That interview, by the way, only occurred because her ex-boyfriend committed a murder. Sorry to bury the lede on that one, folks.

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4 GERARD CHRISTOPHER

When you think of Superman on TV, you probably jump to Smallville, or many of the Bruce Timm cartoons. Hell, you may even think of Lois & Clark. It's unlikely, however, that you’ll remember the 1989 Superboy series. This isn't likely how Gerard Christopher hoped the series would pan out when he was first announced to take over the role from John Haymes Newton.

During the course of the series, Christopher became passionate enough about the show to take on the additional roles of producer and even wrote two episodes, but his creative career beyond the show failed to flourish. Now, there's no shame in taking soap opera work, but when you're reduced to playing unnamed guards on General Hospital, Hollywood has been cruel to you indeed.

3 MICHAEL GRAY

It's hard for contemporary readers to conceive, but there was a time where Captain Marvel (i.e. Shazam) was more popular than Superman. He so pervaded the popular culture that even Elvis lifted his look from Captain Marvel Jr.. So of course, a TV series was inevitable, even if by that time the character’s popularity had begun to fade.

Michael Gray portrayed young Billy Batson for the duration of the series, from 1974-1976, and then promptly disappeared from screens altogether. Gray supposedly left acting behind to open a florist shop, returning to the small screen only once since, in a two part episode of the sixth season of Archer, spoofing his time on Shazam. He's listed as part of a film called Surge of Power: Revenge of the Sequel alongside Linda Blair, Gil Gerard and a staggeringly sedate Eric Roberts, but looking at that trailer, the less said about that one, the better.

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2 ALLISON MACK

Allison Mack memorably appeared on Smallville as Chloe Sullivan, a proto-Felicity Smoak created exclusively for the show. Chloe proved popular enough not just to appear in the comics, but to merit her own web series and even get married off to the show’s Green Arrow. But for all the drama Sullivan got into on the show, that ain’t got nothing on reality.

Mack got sporadic roles into the 2010s on shows like Wilfred and The Following, but things mostly stalled for the promising actress. The answer as to why might be found in a 2017 New York Times expose that alleges that Mack is now the second in command of a bizarre sex cult called NXIVM, wherein she assists in the starvation and branding of susceptible young women in the service of pseudo-guru Keith Raniere. And we thought Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li was the worst choice made by a Smallville actress.

1 Ryan Gosling

Who could forget the delightful spinoff of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Young Hercules. But whatever happened to the charming, roguish young nice guy who played Hercules? With nary a news article or even a notebook about where the aspiring young actor Ryan Gosling wound up, who can say?

Maybe he maintained his drive for showbiz and decided to open a jazz club in the la la land of Hollywood. Perhaps he left it behind and developed some kind of crazy, stupid love for a blow up doll? Or maybe he just retired to a quiet life in some place beyond the pines, possibly refusing to eat his cereal. Wherever he is, we wish him all good things. But one thing’s for sure, that Gosling kid definitely peaked with Young Hercules.

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