Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Actors Whose Careers Were Dead Before Netflix Saved Them

Not only has Netflix been spearheading a massive change in the Hollywood marketplace as a whole, but the digital streaming service has also built an original programming slate that's challenging awards season norms and giving some beleaguered actors another shot at thriving in the fame game. Here are some stars who've enjoyed a serious second career wind thanks to Netflix.

Adam Sandler

It's no secret that Adam Sandler's filmography is a divisive one. While some of his pics have earned wide appreciation, like Billy Madison, The Waterboy, and Big Daddy, some of his passion projects, like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People, have been built mostly for the critical crowd. In the end, it's his commercial success that's carried Sandler through decades of off-the-wall film fare, and lately, hardly anyone seems interested in buying what he's selling. 

In recent years, he's had a series of box office bummers, including the critically obliterated Jack and Jill and his flopped dad comedy That's My Boy. Even his would-be smash Pixels failed to live up to his blockbuster brethren (The Lego Movie), which proved, unmistakably, that Sandler's signature schtick wasn't landing quite as well as it used to. 

But Netflix still had faith in the slapstick comedian and provided him a platform for a whopping eight movies — as of April 2017, a half billion hours of Sandler projects had been screened on the site—including The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, and Sandy Wexler. With at least a handful of Sandler films left to go on the site, there's no doubt he's a company man for Netflix now.

Natasha Lyonne

In the '90s, Natasha Lyonne was a bona fide movie star for a brief spell, with leading roles in films like Slums of Beverly Hills and American Pie. Somewhere along the way of her gearing up for some sequels—American Pie 2 and Scary Movie 2—she lost her traction in Tinseltown and she started landing just bit parts in TV shows and little-seen movies. 

But Netflix's hit series Orange is the New Black came along at just the right time for her, as she was still a recognizable enough face, and her talent hadn't budged an inch in her absence from the spotlight. In the series, she stars as the troubled inmate Nicky Nichols, who vacillates between being among the most earnest and intelligent members of the Litchfield prison population to the most damaged and uncontrollable of the lot. 

It's a meaty role for Lyonne to delve into, even if she doesn't appear in every single episode, and she's started to pick up more prestige work as a result of the series, like a recurring role in Portlandia and a part in David Wain's forthcoming comedy biopic A Futile and Stupid Gesture.

Carol Kane

Unique as she is, Carol Kane's glory days were definitely in the '70s, when she starred in acclaimed pics like Dog Day Afternoon, Hester Street, and Annie Hall. Ever since, she's been relegated to cameoing as the resident weirdo woman in pics like The Princess Bride and Addams Family Values, and even then she's not maintained a regular role in any small screen endeavors since Taxi

However, Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has brought her back into the limelight, as her role in the series is much more than a strafing zany bit—even if it is still kooky as anything she's done—and she most often shares the screen with the series leads, Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess.

Ethan Embry

As a child star of the '80s, Ethan Embry was an absolute hit-maker with feel-good holiday favorites like Dutch and All I Want for Christmas, and even his teen years were kind to his career, with his memorable supporting roles in Empire Records, That Thing You Do!, and Can't Hardly Wait

But somewhere around the turn of the millennium, Embry's star status started to significantly fade. He still did enough work to keep the lights on, of course, but the caliber of films and TV shows he was earning placement in was a far cry from the mainstream movie scene he'd grown up in. His recurring role in Netflix's Gracie & Frankie, however, seems to be turning the tide. Not only is it the first truly regular TV role he'd had in a decade, but it's given him a chance to fully break away from that wholesome, cherubic boy image he'd been associated with for so long.

Brit Marling

This Chicago native has had more than her fair share of splashy screen moments in her still-young career. Count Another Earth and Sound of My Voice among her buzziest projects. But Brit Marling has still had trouble establishing herself as a leading star, despite noteworthy attempts on the indie circuit, until Netflix came along and gave her fever dream project, The OA, a chance. 

Overnight, she went from that woman you might seen in the background of that one movie to a completely compelling show creator and lead star whose continued work on the series was heavily in demand for a second season, and whose future project ideas are undoubtedly going to get the top-of-the-pile treatment from here on out.

Jodie Sweetin

Although the Olsen twins were Full House's most immediately prolific post-show child stars, the other screen sisters, Candace Cameron Bure and Jodie Sweetin, are the ones who've returned for Netflix's revival of the series, Fuller House. And while Bure had carved out a non-acting career for herself on shows like The View and Dancing With the Stars, Sweetin's professional life went through the personal wringer of some all too common child star woes, including addiction, several broken marriages, and a struggle to reestablish herself with another series. 

After Full House ended in 1995, Sweetin seemed like a relic of family sitcoms past until its spin-off came along to breathe second life into her floundering filmography. Now, not only is she on board to star in the third season, but she's also landed a leading role as herself in a TV homage to '90s child stars called Hollywood Darlings.

Daryl Hannah

Thanks to early '80s pics like Blade Runner and Splash, Daryl Hannah was definitely a household name who earned prominent placement in buzzy pics for quite a few years. But in the early aughts, her status as a top biller was all but history, and even her most high-profile roles seemed a little like a throwback (see also: Kill Bill and Death Proof). 

Before Netflix's Sense8 gave her a headlining role as the mother of a telepathic cluster of kids, you'd be hard pressed to even watch half the projects she'd done in the prior decade, but now the sky's the limit for her once again, with several projects currently in the works

Rosario Dawson

It may be hard to believe that Rosario Dawson's career ever needed a shot in the arm, but she did experience something of a slowdown that could've eventually led her to fade away from the zeitgeist altogether if she wasn't careful. 

The actress had enjoyed a bit of ubiquity in the early 2000s, thanks to movies like Men in Black II, Seven Pounds, and Sin City, but casting directors appeared to cool on the actress for several years before she nabbed a prime place in the Marvel-Netflix show universe, starting with Jessica Jones in 2015. 

She's since reprised her role as Claire Temple through almost all of the sister properties—Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the forthcoming The Defenders—and she appears to be recapturing her once-very mainstream momentum even outside of the MCU with parts in The LEGO Batman Movie and X-Men: The New Mutants. Phew!

Deborah Ann Woll

True Blood fans were widely taken by then-newcomer Deborah Ann Woll's vexing screen presence, but she's had a hard time establishing herself outside of Bon Temps ever since that HBO series came to an end. Thanks to a series of straight-to-DVD flicks like Catch .44 and Highland Park and box office letdowns like Ruby Sparks, it seemed like Woll might not ever find her niche outside of the fang-banging scene. 

But lo, she earned a spot in Netflix's Daredevil adaptation just in the nick of time, and now she's spanning the Netflix-MCU series, with her character Karen Page appearing in The Punisher and The Defenders.

Winona Ryder

For over a decade, Winona Ryder had reached icon status in Hollywood thanks to her unforgettable on-screen presence in films like Edward Scissorhands, The Age of Innocence, and Girl, Interrupted. But her reputation went very south in 2001 when she was caught shoplifting from a Saks Fifth Avenue, which was especially irksome to the public because of her continued fame and fortune. 

While Ryder would later credit her run-in with the law as the best thing that ever happened to her on a personal level, as it earned her some much-needed time away from the industry, her career suffered as a result. She had a great deal of trouble reaching the A-list again after that, even despite some notable performances in films like Black Swan and The Iceman

But Netflix's Stranger Things has put her right back on the map with her delightfully off-kilter turn as Joyce Byers, the mother of a boy who'd been thought for dead by her hometown but was really taken to the Upside Down world by a toothy monster. She's still seen as a little bit of a kook, especially after her ultra-memeable appearance at the SAG Awards, but thanks to Netflix she's being touted for her acting chops instead of her flattering courtroom ensembles these days.