It is hard to deny the fact that from 1983-1995 Val Kilmer had a pretty good run. Here’s the rundown: Top Secret!, Real Genius, Top Gun, Willow, The Doors, Thunderheart, True Romance, Tombstone, Batman Forever, and Heat. I threw out a couple of films that I think everyone has forgotten about, but those 10 films are pretty impressive for any actor. Kilmer was Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley (officially credited as Mentor), Doc Holliday, and Batman during that stretch.
And then The Island of Dr. Moreau happened.
This adapatation of the H.G. Wells classic was disastrous. Kilmer feuded with the original director Richard Stanley, and eventually Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer. He asked for a reduced role as Edward Prendick (changed to Edward Douglas), and when they first brought on Rob Morrow and then David Thewlis, Kilmer became Dr. Montgomery. Frankenheimer and Kilmer feuded as well, and he even had arguments with Marlon Brando. All in all a terrible experience for everyone, and a terrible film which “earned” six Razzie nominations, and barely made back its $40 million budget.
The next 15 years have not been so kind to Kilmer. Whether dealing with the label of “hard to work with,” or just wanting to get away from Hollywood, Kilmer has kind of faded away. He has appeared in some critically well-received films like Pollock, The Salton Sea, Spartan, and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but he has appeared in more straight-to-video films than box office successes.
He bought a ranch in New Mexico, and then proceeded to buy the ranches surrounding him. At one point he was nearing 6,000 acres of land, but due to financial troubles he has had to sell most of this property. Chuck Klosterman wrote a pretty amazing article for Esquire about Kilmer that shows the state of Kilmer during this time. He was distant, and weird.
But Kilmer has always seemed distant, and weird. This is what I like about Val Kilmer. This is why I like watching him perform. He is frenetic, odd, and always seems to be in a different place. He appears to be continually lurking on the fringes, and there’s this possibility that he is going to fall off that ledge and never come back.
The truth is Kilmer has never really gone away, he has always been acting. He has never tried to be anything other than an actor. He did not leave acting to become a boxer, or a governor (though he did think about running for governor of New Mexico in 2010). Sure the list of bad straight-to-video dreck is starting to outweigh that early success rate, but if Mickey Rourke can make a comeback so can Val Kilmer.
The problem is that Kilmer might not want to make a comeback. He is perfectly happy doing what he wants, or at least he seems to be. During his almost 30 year film career Kilmer has worked with Tony Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, and David Mamet. He continues to make films, and continues to act well in them.
Currently he is appearing in a one-man show in Hollywood about the relationship between Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy. He wrote, and is directing this play, and has intentions of making it into a film. Not really the path back to stardom, but it somehow makes sense.
I will leave you with one of my favorite Kilmer scenes:
Whatever happened to Michael Biehn?!