Not that Oscars are necessarily the definition of quality actors
Major movie franchises like Avengers, Harry Potter, and all that Superman vs. Batman vs. Wonder Woman vs. Aquaman nonsense means that it isn’t uncommon for actors to play the same character for years, even decades. Returning to a favorite character decades after the fact, though, is much less common, and the results are much less certain. It can end up being a fun bit of nostalgia, a shameless money grab, or on rare occasions, a new take on a familiar character. From TV to the big screen to Broadway, here are 13 actors who returned to characters decades later.
Mark Hamill – The Trickster (1991/2015)
The man who started this list, Mark Hamill. He has long been a comic nerd, being most famous in the same circles for his legendary performance of Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. When The Flash was resurrected for TV, it seemed like only a matter of time before The Trickster was referenced into the show and much to the delight of fans old and new, Hamill returned to steal the show.
Peter Cullen – Optimus Prime (1984/2007)
Cullen’s John Wayne take on Optimus Prime was the guiding light for children of the 80’s. Few of these children escaped the devastating scars left by his death in the 1986 animated movie. The outrage from parents about this death was so unexpected that both Cullen and Prime were brought back for a few episodes. When Michael Bay was looking for an Optimus Prime for his new Transformers movie, he took the fan requests seriously and hired Cullen back as the leader of the Autobots. Since then, Cullen has continued to portray Optimus in the films, cartoons, and video games.
Jeff Bridges – Flynn (1982/2010)
The cult classic Tron was seen by Disney as a financial failure when it first came out back in 1982. Thankfully, the film found a second life as the decades rolled on and Disney wanted to bring the series back. The film brought back all the original characters, including Jeff Bridge’s Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner’s Alan and Tron.
John Cameron Mitchell – Hedwig (1998/2015)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened off-Broadway back in 1998 with the film adaptation coming out 3 years later, and John Cameron Mitchell starred as Hedwig in both iterations. When the show got a Broadway run in 2014, Mitchell returned to the role in early 2015, 17 years after it originally opened. He is receiving an honorary Tony Award for his performance at the 2015 Tony Awards.
Cast of Rent (1996/2005)
Most of the original Broadway cast of Rent returned for the 2005 film, including Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs. Though the movie was filmed nine years after the show opened on Broadway, the characters were still supposed to be their original ages.
Boy Meets World Cast (1993/2014)
Many members of the ’90s TV show returned to reprise their roles in the 2014 sequel show Girl Meets World, which follows Cory and Topanga’s daughter. Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel returned to play Cory and Topanga, and Rider Strong (Shawn), William Daniels (Mr. Feeny), William Russ (Alan Matthews), and Will Friedle (Eric) have all made appearances on the show.
William Shatner – Captain Kirk (1966/1994)
Star Trek: Generations connected Star Trek: The Next Generation with the original Star Trek by bringing back William Shatner as Captain Kirk. Unfortunately for Shatner, the character of Kirk was killed off in the film. It was 28 years after he first played the role on television.
Leonard Nimoy – Spock (1966/2009)
Leonard Nimoy agreed to return as a future version of Spock in J.J. Abram’s 2009 reboot of the franchise. Zachary Quinto portrayed the younger Spock in the film. This was the first time that Nimoy had returned to the character on the big screen since 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and it was 43 years since he had first played Spock on television.
Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones (1981/2008)
In 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Harrison Ford returned to the role of Indiana Jones for the first time since 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It also marked 27 years since the first time he appeared on-screen as adventurer/college professor Indiana Jones.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy – Jesse and Celine (1995/2004/2013)
Before Boyhood, Richard Linklater was experimenting with storytelling over long periods of time with Before Sunrise in 1995, Before Sunset in 2004, and Before Midnight in 2013. The films followed the romance of Celine and Jesse throughout the years, from their first meeting on a train to another chance encounter in France and them settling down together into family life. Linklater supposedly worked with Hawke and Delpy in developing their characters and the dialogue, so it was truly a collaborative process.
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels – Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas (1994/2014)
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels did not return for the prequel to Dumb and Dumber, 2003’s Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. They did return in 2014 for the film’s sequel Dumb and Dumber To and reprised their roles as Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas.
Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa and Rambo (1976/2006) (1982/2008)
In recent years, Sylvester Stallone has returned to some of the characters that made him a star back in the 1970s and 1980s, including Rocky Balboa and Rambo. 2006’s Rocky Balboa marked 30 years since he first played Rocky, and 2008’s Rambo marked 26 years since first appearing as Rambo in First Blood.
Elisabeth Sladen – Sarah Jane Smith (1976/2006)
Elisabeth Sladen was one of the all-time favorite companions on Doctor Who. When she returned to the role in 2006, 30 years after first playing the role, she was so popular that they gave her character her own spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures.