What The Hell Happened To Wesley Snipes?

From the A-list to direct-to-video...the Tomatometer tracks where he went wrong.

by | August 13, 2008 | Comments

In the first part of a new Rotten Tomatoes feature, we examine the career ups and downs of our favorite fallen celebrities — as charted by the Tomatometer, of course, and with only the best of intentions in mind. (“See how far you’ve plunged? Get that Celebrity Tomatometer back in Fresh territory!”)

And so, with his three-year prison sentence for tax evasion looming, and an all new film hitting the home video market (the direct-to-DVD Art of War 2: Betrayal), we’re kicking off our What The Hell Happened To…? series with a look at the past, present, and future of actor, fifth degree black belt, and enemy of the 16th Amendment, Wesley Snipes.


The complete Tomatometer history of Wesley Snipes. Click for more info.

What are you waiting for? Begin your journey down memory lane with the Tomatometer as your guide…

First up: The Early Years

The Early Years

  • 12% — Wildcats (1986)
  • 31% — Streets of Gold (1986)
  • 86% — Major League (1989)

    Wesley Snipes first burst onto the scene in with a pair of sports flicks that, while poorly received, showcased his natural athleticism and charisma — strengths that Snipes would depend on throughout his career. He also benefitted from working closely with up and coming talent, a future studio head, and an Oscar-winning director right from the start. His first role, as an unruly football player opposite comedic mainstay Goldie Hawn in 1986’s Wildcats, was also the first of three on-screen pairings with up-and-coming Cheers star Woody Harrelson. Later that year Snipes did push-ups opposite Heroes’ Adrian Pasdar as an aspiring boxer in Streets of Gold, which was also the directorial debut of future studio exec Joe Roth.

    One year and one line of dialogue in a Michael Jackson music video later, Snipes was attracting even more attention from Hollywood. (He appeared in the extended version of “Bad,” directed by Martin Scorsese, playing a rival gang leader who MJ inexplicably dances into submission.) Opting out of a role in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Snipes went for his first big mainstream role — again as a star athlete — as the speedy, base-stealing Willie Mays Hayes in 1989’s Major League. The baseball comedy gave Snipes a much-needed boost, and at 86 percent on the Tomatometer, became his best-reviewed film to date.

    Next: Becoming a Bankable Star

    Becoming a Bankable Star

  • 83% — Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
  • 75% — King of New York (1990)
  • 79% — New Jack City (1991)
  • 89% — Jungle Fever (1991)
  • 77% — White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
  • 92% — The Waterdance (1992)

    The early 1990s marked a turn towards dramatic roles that served Snipes’ burgeoning career well. First, he teamed up with Spike Lee to contribute a memorable performance as Denzel Washington’s saxophonist pal in Mo’ Better Blues, and later that year joined the ensemble cast of Abel Ferrara’s acclaimed blood opera, King of New York. The combination of a plum role as megalomaniac drug lord Nino Brown in New Jack City and his first star turn in Lee’s Jungle Fever cemented Snipes’ rise to the ranks of leading man. This would also be the best-reviewed period of his career — and with nary a windsprint or karate chop to be seen! In 1991, Snipes also founded his own production company, Amen Ra Films, which would go on to produce The Big Hit, Snipes’ telefilm Futuresport, and the Blade trilogy.

    After those bloody urban flicks and Spike Lee joints, Snipes went for another change of pace. In 1992, he took on a supporting role as a paraplegic in The Waterdance, which won an Independent Spirit Award and earned him the highest Tomatometer of his career. Reuniting with his Wildcats co-star Woody Harrelson, Snipes also starred as a street ball-playing hustler in the buddy-basketball comedy, White Men Can’t Jump, earning more critical praise and mainstream recognition. But by late 1992, Hollywood action roles were a’calling…and Snipes was on speed dial.

    Next: The Action Star Years

    The Action Star Years

  • 25% — Passenger 57 (1992)
  • 39% — Rising Sun (1993)
  • 27% — Boiling Point (1993)
  • 61% — Demolition Man (1993)

    The Wesley Snipes as we now know him — lean, mean, martial arts action star — came to life in 1992’s Passenger 57. As former cop John Cutter, Snipes saved a plane from terrorists using his fists, his wiles, and a gun — much like John McClane did the year before in Die Hard 2. Snipes would follow Passenger 57 with lead roles opposite Sean Connery and Dennis Hopper in films like Rising Sun, Boiling Point and Drop Zone, culminating in his performance as the peroxided villain Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man, for which he received the ultimate validation: equal billing with Sylvester Stallone.

    Unfortunately for Snipes’ career Tomatometer, higher billing came with a price: chronically negative reviews. After Demolition Man, 27 of his subsequent 28 films would be Rotten. Bizzare brushes with the law also marred Snipes’ rise to the A-list: in 1993 he was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of carrying a loaded weapon, and one year later led Florida police on a 30-mile chase that ended when he crashed his motorcycle during production of Drop Zone.

    Next: Odd Decisions and a Rotten Run of Luck

    Odd Decisions and a Rotten Run of Luck

  • 22% — Sugar Hill (1994)
  • 28% — Drop Zone (1994)
  • 38% — To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
  • 17% — Money Train (1995)
  • 38% — The Fan (1996)
  • 31% — Murder at 1600 (1997)
  • 30% — One Night Stand (1997)
  • 25% — U.S. Marshals (1998)
  • 76% — Down in the Delta (1998)

    Once he achieved action-star status, Snipes took nary a detour…with a few exceptions. The most conspicuous diversion in his mid- to late- 90s trajectory was also his most surprising role to date: drag queen Noxeema Jackson in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. While the comedy would gain a cult audience, it reaped only modest box office returns. His third team-up with Woody Harrelson, the buddy comedy Money Train, also proved critically and commercially disappointing. Snipes ventured further outside his niche by dabbling in projects for television, appearing in the award-winning HBO series America’s Dream (for which he won an Image Award), providing guest vocals to HBO’s children’s animated series Happily Ever After, and producing and starring in the TV film Futuresport. But overall critical indifference to these outside ventures seemingly led Snipes back to his bread and butter, and he returned with starring roles in The Fan, Murder at 1600, and U.S. Marshals.

    Sadly, even these action star roles wouldn’t completely pay off for Snipes. Back in his comfort zone (the run’n’gun thriller genre), even playing opposite the likes of Robert De Niro, Alan Alda, and Tommy Lee Jones couldn’t pull Snipes out of his critical slump. More detours into unexpected territory ensued, with mixed results. Top lining the Mike Figgis drama One Night Stand did not work out as well for Snipes as Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas had for Nicolas Cage the year before, though another dramatic role, in the Maya Angelou-directed Down in the Delta, drew praise — and, at 76 percent on the Tomatometer, gave him the last Fresh Tomatometer of his career to date.

    [Around this time, Snipes co-founded The Royal Guard of Amen-Ra, an elite bodyguard training organization. He also began filing for false tax refunds in the state of Florida as a client of an illegal tax evasion operation, a move that would lead to his pending prison sentence.]

    Next: A Karate-Kicking Vampire Changes Everything

    A Karate-Kicking Vampire Changes Everything


  • 55% — Blade (1998)

    Things were looking very unsettled for Wesley Snipes following a half-decade of questionable career choices. And then there was Blade. Starring as the half human, half-vampire daywalker Blade, Snipes drew his biggest opening weekend yet — and without the added box office draw of a co-star like Stallone, Connery, or De Niro. With a $130 million worldwide take, Blade not only started a three-film franchise, it also proved the power of the superhero film. Snipes received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and for the first time in twelve years, took a break from acting.

    Unfortunately for Snipes, he also opted to take a break from paying taxes, and didn’t file for the years between 1999 and 2004.

    Next: The Downward Slide

    The Downward Slide

  • 17% — The Art of War (2000)
  • 56% — Blade 2(2002)
  • 44% — ZigZag (2002)
  • 48% — Undisputed (2002)
  • 27% — Blade: Trinity (2004)

    After a two-year hiatus, Snipes was back…or so it seemed. Tackling both acting and executive producing duties on the U.N. thriller The Art of War, Snipes was once again in his groove. But the film was a critical and commercial failure, serving up Snipes’ second-worst career Tomatometer rating. He countered with the HBO romantic drama Disappearing Acts, based on a Terry McMillan novel, but otherwise took another uncharacteristic break from major studio projects. A 2000 investigation into alleged ties between his bodyguard company and an extremist cult in Georgia, later dismissed, didn’t help improve his reputation. Luckily, Snipes would soon return to his new magic formula: The Blade franchise. Blade II benefitted from Guillermo del Toro’s action-packed direction, though critics marked it just shy of Fresh; Snipes picked up additional credits as producer and fight coordinator and the film surpassed the original with a franchise-best box office take.

    But following the huge success of Blade II, Snipes seemed to simply be killing time until the next Blade sequel. He married South Korean painter Nakyung Park in 2003 and spent the subsequent years splitting time between Asia and the United States. His in-between projects varied from independent drama (David S. Goyer’s directorial debut, ZigZag — which opened in exactly one theater) to a prison boxing B-movie opposite Ving Rhames (Undisputed) to a guest spot on The Bernie Mac Show. Of the four films completed between Blade II and Blade: Trinity, only Undisputed opened in wide release. During this time, Snipes also hit a major milestone in his career: he had his very first direct-to-video clunker (Unstoppable). Shortly thereafter, when Blade: Trinity opened in 2004 and became the worst-reviewed and weakest-performing film in the series, the honeymoon was over for Snipes and New Line. In 2005 he sued frequent collaborator Goyer and New Line Cinema for damages from the film’s failure.

    Next: Exile in Direct-To-Video Land

    Exile in Direct-To-Video Land

    Times have changed for Wesley Snipes; since 2004’s Blade: Trinity, none of his films have played in theaters. Still, he’s remained prolific, releasing no less than seven direct-to-video actioners in the last three years. Of course, we know what else he’s been up to in that time. Convicted in April 2008 on three misdemeanor tax fraud charges, Snipes was sentenced to serve three years in prison. He needs those direct-to-video dollars, people — legal fees don’t pay themselves!

    His latest release, The Art of War 2: Betrayal, hits shelves this week. But another action-thriller — the 2009 zombie Western Gallowwalker, which Snipes was filming in Namibia when he was indicted on his 2006 tax charges — could be his first theatrically released film since his exile in direct-to-video land. Another long-gestating project, the Asian drug thriller Chasing the Dragon, is slated to begin filming this month. Could things be looking up for Wesley Snipes, at least until jail time commences?

    In closing, we’d like to see the Wesley Snipes we know and love — the dynamic actor from films like Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, White Men Can’t Jump, New Jack City, and yes, Blade — return to form as one of the biggest stars of his generation. He’s been as high as 92 percent (The Waterdance) and as low as 12 percent (Wildcats). He’s got the dramatic chops of a leading man, and the karate chops of an action hero. Perhaps it’s as simple as picking better projects. Filling Steven Seagal’s direct-to-video shoes is a fate Wesley Snipes doesn’t deserve. There is a way to be fresh again.

    To explore your favorite fallen star’s path to Tomatometer glory (or infamy), check out our Celebrity pages here.

  • Tag Cloud

    Syfy dark psychological thriller Fall TV USA green book die hard mockumentary RT21 video hist universal monsters laika slashers Red Carpet Paramount mutant Disney+ Disney Plus aliens Television Academy BET Awards Ghostbusters stoner technology Comic Book CMT A&E Showtime Sony Pictures quibi Fantasy LGBT chucky video on demand Kids & Family Britbox zombie Heroines Polls and Games Rocky Country Sci-Fi Premiere Dates reboot American Society of Cinematographers archives boxoffice social media discovery Arrowverse independent robots Christmas TBS Drama harry potter DC streaming service crime drama scary movies reviews Character Guide miniseries CNN 2019 FOX 20th Century Fox asian-american scorecard cooking Sundance Now travel Best and Worst YouTube Red indie BBC venice Ovation WGN 45 child's play DirecTV natural history Peacock First Look nbcuniversal cancelled TV series period drama Mudbound Mary poppins Lucasfilm Walt Disney Pictures Set visit Women's History Month psycho Pop TV CBS All Access Superheroes YouTube vampires Esquire franchise spain nature singing competition Awards Tour all-time Superheroe disaster witnail Logo space crossover werewolf football Comedy zero dark thirty Trivia 4/20 romantic comedy Countdown sequel Columbia Pictures Nominations Grammys ratings superhero TCA Awards cops See It Skip It halloween GoT Trophy Talk jamie lee curtis Disney Channel dramedy Oscars Reality finale indiana jones TCA FXX christmas movies Film Pet Sematary Ellie Kemper docudrama Rom-Com HBO Go PaleyFest Song of Ice and Fire Turner Classic Movies VOD Biopics deadpool Mary Tyler Moore halloween tv game of thrones ABC Family remakes 71st Emmy Awards directors The Academy Tubi Amazon Prime Video Lifetime Christmas movies Hallmark strong female leads Super Bowl spinoff Sundance TV TCA 2017 BBC One war 2020 TCA Winter 2020 hispanic Winter TV comics canceled dragons Dark Horse Comics Holidays The Witch Musicals E! sag awards Disney streaming service Classic Film Academy Awards Epix RT History Holiday 2017 Pirates IFC movies MCU 2016 First Reviews Marvel name the review anthology Family X-Men Chernobyl ABC Election FX on Hulu Netflix ghosts Spectrum Originals PBS President Valentine's Day Calendar revenge teaser Lifetime Rock festival best FX screenings Fox Searchlight black Winners Black History Month Brie Larson cancelled television Paramount Network binge comiccon Star Trek Photos Spring TV Binge Guide AMC comic french Year in Review Baby Yoda 24 frames Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Sneak Peek BBC America CW Seed Quiz 2018 IFC Films hollywood Marvel Studios Nat Geo GLAAD Mystery spanish language ESPN Funimation Martial Arts Lionsgate 72 Emmy Awards richard e. Grant Tumblr criterion dogs Extras Pixar Reality Competition Comedy Central YA Shondaland renewed TV shows canceled TV shows Television Critics Association Opinion documentaries Black Mirror Sundance rotten movies we love political drama romance children's TV mission: impossible TV Land Apple Cannes fast and furious versus Awards Tarantino Tomatazos Amazon Studios Rocketman TV satire 2015 Schedule diversity award winner parents nfl TruTV foreign WarnerMedia joker festivals stand-up comedy Hear Us Out Crunchyroll Music El Rey Masterpiece OneApp science fiction TIFF cars medical drama Certified Fresh twilight Box Office DC Universe Crackle BAFTA spider-man worst Pop serial killer book rotten screen actors guild Elton John Bravo worst movies animated Film Festival Chilling Adventures of Sabrina based on movie The CW south america Musical free movies Summer Action italian TLC supernatural 007 New York Comic Con rt archives biography true crime Nickelodeon classics Amazon Prime A24 zombies comic books The Arrangement Adult Swim E3 television ID critics SXSW obituary Stephen King crime Animation HBO Anna Paquin dc CBS Horror police drama justice league anime news toronto cats sports Watching Series Discovery Channel cancelled adventure Warner Bros. Avengers toy story Spike Mary Poppins Returns golden globes breaking bad Hulu HBO Max Acorn TV kids MSNBC spy thriller concert sequels VICE Interview documentary Creative Arts Emmys SDCC OWN YouTube Premium Toys tv talk Freeform Fox News Cosplay Travel Channel NBC Emmys Apple TV Plus Emmy Nominations cancelled TV shows facebook streaming composers cinemax Marathons comedies Universal SundanceTV TNT Food Network National Geographic thriller Teen films unscripted stop motion The Purge Disney Trailer Video Games Vudu talk show batman The Walking Dead San Diego Comic-Con Netflix Christmas movies crime thriller what to watch 21st Century Fox Hallmark Christmas movies GIFs TCM james bond LGBTQ theme song doctor who politics NYCC Captain marvel a nightmare on elm street series Mindy Kaling BET Comics on TV ITV Infographic MTV TV renewals elevated horror transformers cults Star Wars dceu blaxploitation casting Starz PlayStation australia emmy awards Thanksgiving cartoon Marvel Television Writers Guild of America USA Network DGA Cartoon Network Turner adaptation Podcast DC Comics Shudder VH1 History APB spanish latino sitcom japanese game show movie historical drama Disney Plus Pride Month Apple TV+ Endgame blockbuster Western Amazon