Brendan Fraser’s Career Highs and Lows: From “Encino Man” to “The Whale”

Here’s a look at the films and events which shaped Fraser’s career. They helped him transform from a charming heartthrob into an acclaimed screen veteran.

Brendan Fraser was once a breath of fresh water for moviegoers. He was a matinee idol with his good looks and physique. Instead, he behaved like a cartoon character and made people laugh.

It turned out that Fraser was a serious actor hidden beneath his comic persona. Fraser was able to learn from the unforgiving industry’s harsh lessons and then reemerge with a strong second act.

This is a look back at the films, events and people that shaped the career and made him a beloved screen actor.

Early 1990s: “Encino Man”

Shortly after arriving in Hollywood, Fraser was seen in Encino Man (1992), as Link, the cold-blooded caveman who shakes up a Southern California hamlet. Fraser followed the drama School Ties (1992) as a star athlete hiding behind his Jewish identity at an elite board school. However, Encino Man was the catalyst for his comedy roles that would become his bread-and butter over the next few years.

Late 1990s: “The Mummy”

Fraser found his sweet spot in George of the Jungle (1997). This big-screen remake of the 1960s cartoon featured Fraser’s pumped-up physique and a host of hilarious physical stunts. After impressing critics, he starred alongside Ian McKellen (1998) and then starred as Rick O’Connell, the fearless explorer in The Mummy (1999).


Early 2000s: “Looney Tunes” Back in Action

The popular actor saw more success in the new millennium. He was the driving force behind The Mummy Returns’ (2001) success. He also headlined comedy shows like Monkeybone (2001), and Looney Tunes Back in Action (2003). He again displayed his underrated dramatic ability in The Quiet American (2002) and Crash (2004), which won him an Academy Award.

However, things were not always as they seemed. GQ later learned that Fraser was at a party hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the organization behind the Golden Globe Awards), when he was raped by Philip Berk, former president of the HFPA. Although he tried to ignore it at the time it was an event that made Fraser “feel reclusive” and fuelled a belief that the Golden Globes had blacklisted him.


Ende 2000s: “Journey to the Center of the Earth”

As the first decade of 2000s came to an end, Fraser was still enjoying an A-list status. His swashbuckling O’Connell revival for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) was a huge box-office hit, as well as his leading performance as Professor Trevor Anderson (D3 adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth 2008).

But the personal difficulties were growing. Fraser, whose body was feeling the effects of years of hard work in stunts, described himself as “put together by tape and ice” when he finished the third Mummy movie. In the meantime, his marriage to George of Jungle actress AftonSmith, with whom he had three kids, ended in divorce.

The early 2010s were a time of ‘Furry Vengeance’

Fraser seemed to have lost his way in his third decade of the film business. He endured back-to-back failures in 2010 with the medical drama Extraordinary Measures, and then Furry Vengeance. The latter was the kind of farcical romp which once defined his career. A bid to use his talents to Broadway failed when Elling, a Norwegian comedy about two psychiatric patients was canceled after only one week.

Fraser was working behind the scenes to fix his body with a series operations on his back and knees. He also battled his ex-wife in court for alimony payments.


Late 2010s: “The Affair”

Fraser made a comeback after he had been absent from the limelight for more than a decade. He began to play supporting roles in prestige cable dramas. He is no longer the sly, bright-eyed clown of early-internet times. In season 3, he played a terrifying prison guard on “The Affair” (2016)-17. Then, he was praised for his gravitass as J. Paul Getty’s family fixer and audience confidant James Fletcher Chace (2018).

Fraser spoke to GQ at that point about his struggles with injuries, the death of his mother, and the lingering effects of sexual intrusion. It was a shocking look into Hollywood’s fragile existence.

The Whale in 2020, early 2020

While his role as Firefly was cancelled in August 2022, Fraser had another opportunity to impress fans. He played a man with a severe obesity who tries to reunite with his daughter in Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, September 2022, the performance received a standing ovation. It was the first time that Fraser had performed in this role. This proved that the “Brenaissance”, despite a mid-career slump, was still in full swing.