Science fiction and fantasy are known for their amazing comebacks. Just like the heroes that genre fiction celebrates, many of the best-loved creators of science fiction and fantasy have come back from huge setbacks, or left the genre altogether and then come roaring back. Because we always support our genre heroes.
Here are 10 creators of science fiction and fantasy who've made (or are making) amazing comebacks.
1) Peter Jackson
Actually you could argue that Jackson has made two comebacks in his career, both thanks to J.R.R. Tolkien. The first came after his big movie, The Frighteners, flopped in 1996 — and then he came back with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there's also the comeback he's launching right now. King Kong was a huge disappointment, although it probably made back its money in the end. And his adaptation of The Lovely Bones was an outright failure, both critically and at the box office. So Jackson must be counting his lucky stars that Guillermo del Toro dropped out of directing The Hobbit, allowing him to return and direct what's almost certain to be a mega-blockbuster.
2) Mark Hamill
Of course, he got his big break playing Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. After this, though, he didn't have much of a film career, perhaps because he was trying to avoid typecasting. He was successful in a few movies, though he spent a lot of time on Broadway. And then came... voice work. His biggest rebound back into the mainstream comes from voicing some of our favorite characters. In particular, some of his most famous work since Star Wars is probably his role as the Joker in various animated Batman TV series, video games, movies, and other media. A whole generation of nerds now thinks of Hamill as "the voice of the Joker."
3) Christopher Lee
Lee made a lot of films in the 50s, but most of them weren't too memorable. He became known for horror movies starting in 1957 and 1958, when he played Frankenstein's monster in The Curse of Frankenstein and the title role in Dracula. He continued playing Dracula and other characters in horror films — as well as both Holmes brothers — from that point until the late 70s. It looks like he failed to get a string of roles that might have really done something for his career since then — including the titular villain in Dr. No, Dr. Loomis in Halloween, and Magneto in X-Men. His Rotten Tomatoes profile also shows several "rotten" films in the 90s. A major turnaround came when he played Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. From there, he played Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels and had small parts in a several Tim Burton movies. Last year, he had a small role in Hugo as the bookstore owner, Monsieur Labisse. The upcoming films for The Hobbit will likely give him another career boost.
4) Katsuhiro Otomo
Otomo not only wrote and drew the Akira manga, a intricately complex narrative of epic proportions, but successfully adapted it to the screen in what is surely one of the strongest cyberpunk films of all time, and a film that redefined anime as a whole. Despite Akira's success, Otomo kept a low profile during the 90s, lending his talent to other artists Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), Enki Bilal, and productions likes 1998's Spriggan. Otomo returned to the spotlight in 2001 alongside famed director Rintaro, with the visually stunning adaptation of Ozamu Tezuka's Metropolis. Shortly after, Otomo released his long-brewing pet project, Steamboy, which, despite falling short in the plot department, remains a tremendous shovelful of steampunk eye candy.
5) Philip K. Dick
Dick notoriously hit a rough patch in the 70s, after two decades of prolific, non-stop writing (indeed, Dick wrote 40-odd novels from 1950 to 1970). His divorce in 1970 reportedly lead to his mixing with street people and drugs, and culminated in a full-on addiction to amphetamines (a habit he had been nurturing for some time). He stopped writing, and only resurfaced in the public eye years later with the semi-autobiographical A Scanner Darkly, which recounts his experiences during this period and is widely hailed as one of his best efforts.
6) Ridley Scott
It is interesting to think that the Godfather of modern SF film hasn't touched the genre in 30 years, after the failure of his 1985 fantasy movie Legend. He was in line to direct Isobar, a movie about a killer alien on a super train, in the late 1980s, with H.R. Giger doing production design, but the project fell through. Since then, he's certainly been keeping busy, and with successful blockbusters such as Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and American Gangster, he's certainly stayed successful outside of genre film. But Prometheus marks the first time he revisits a genre he helped define in the late 70s and early 80s with Alien and Blade Runner. With word that he is also working on a Blade Runner prequel/sequel/spin-off, perhaps it's not too much to hope he keeps at it for a while.
7) David Lynch
Lynch's career began with the seminal midnight movie, Eraserhead. Its unexpected success, in addition to the critically and financially successful The Elephant Man, led the studios to allow Lynch to helm the big-budget film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, to unanimous disappointment. To be fair, the end result is not Lynch's vision (he tried to Alan Smithee the project!), as he spent the entire production in a creative tug-a-war with the studios. Thankfully, these events lead Lynch to try his hand at television, from which arose the timeless supernatural thriller, Twin Peaks.
8) J. Michael Straczynski
Straczynski created Babylon 5, and wrote 92 of its 110 episodes, until the end of the show's run in 1998. Unfortunately, he never quite managed to muster enough impetus for his next TV projects, Crusade and Jeremiah, to take off, but he did keep busy penning The Amazing Spider-Man from 2001-2007. Recently, however, Straczynski has been involved with several high profile projects, including Joel Silver and the Wachowskis' Ninja Assassin, a Forbidden Planet reboot, World War Z, and Thor.
8) Tim Burton
Here's another creator who's made a couple of comebacks — he got fired by Disney early in his career, when he was making weird, spooky stuff like Frankenweenie that the Mouse House didn't appreciate. (And of course, now a full-length Frankenweenie movie is on its way... from Disney.) But he bounced back from that and became a major director in the 1980s, culminating in the first two Batman movies. And then... a string of flops in the
late 1990s and early 2000s, including Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish and the financially successful but critically panned Planet of the Apes. And then he bounced back in a big way, mostly thanks to doing slightly more Disney-friendly fare like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. Even his more macabre Sweeney Todd did respectably, thanks to another collaboration with Johnny Depp.
9) George R.R. Martin
Almost hard to believe now, but there was a time when George R.R. Martin was a failed TV producer. He was a producer on Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, and then spent five punishing years in Hollywood, pitching shows that never got off the ground. (Including one that was suspiciously close to Sliders, which was made a year later.) As Martin is fond of saying in interviews, "In some alternate world, maybe I became Joss Whedon or J. J. Abrams." Instead, he left Hollywood and went off... to write A Game of Thrones. Which ended up conquering television. "Jon Snow, you know nothing." Indeed.
10) Joss Whedon
It's not too soon to throw Whedon in here. Sure, he will always have his Browncoats and Buffy fantatics — but he was on the verge of becoming a cult icon rather than a real, honest-to-gosh creator of stuff the general public sees. And this is shaping up to be the year of the Joss. First of all, it's almost impossible to imagine any scenario where Avengers isn't a hit, at this point. And there's tons of buzz for Cabin in the Woods, the long-delayed indie horror movie that Whedon co-wrote and produced. Plus the supernatural rom-com he wrote, In Your Eyes, also might come out this year. It's almost hard to remember that Whedon had one big-screen flop (sorry, Browncoats), a Wonder Woman project that died, and a TV show that limped into oblivion.
Additional reporting by Charlie Jane Anders.