There's an Oscar myth that's been floating around for a while called "the Best Supporting Actress" curse. According to the legend, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar is the death knell for an actress' career and sometimes her love life as well. It's a bit silly, of course, because while there are a number of women who have won Best Supporting Actress and then dropped off the mainstream radar, it's also true of winners in virtually all of the major categories. Sometimes winning an Oscar is just the beginning (remember, Meryl Streep won Best Supporting Actress for one of her earliest film roles and she's not doing too bad), but sometimes it's the peak, after which there is a sharp decline. In the late 90s/early 00s, Renee Zellweger was seemingly everywhere, but especially at the Oscars, earning nominations in 2001, 2002 and 2003, when she won for her supporting turn in Cold Mountain. Since then...
You can't argue that Zellweger didn't pay her dues, spending the first half of the 1990s in little seen indies and horror movies before getting her big break in Jerry Maguire, uttering a line that has since become one of the most iconic (though, not necessarily for the right reasons given how often it's been parodied) lines in movie history. She followed the performance up with roles in acclaimed indies like A Price Above Rubies and Nurse Betty, and more mainstream fare, starring opposite Streep in One True Thing and Jim Carey in Me, Myself and Irene, before landing her most defining role as the titular heroine in the Bridget Jones series, a role which also brought her her first Oscar nomination.
In 2001, Zellweger had what most actors dream about. She had indie cred and had also proven that she could carry a mainstream movie to box office success, a fact which she proved was no fluke with 2002's Chicago, a movie that achieved a massive amount of success despite the fact that musicals stopped being hits around the end of the 1960s. She secured another Oscar nomination, losing out to Nicole Kidman, with whom she would star the following year in Cold Mountain. She won an Oscar for that film, and though 2004 wasn't a bad year for her, seeing her do voicework for the animated hit Shark Tale and appearing in the Bridget Jones sequel, it's been pretty much downhill since Cold Mountain. Here's a list of films Zellweger has made since 2004, give yourself a quarter for every one you've seen:
New in Town
Monsters vs. Aliens
My One and Only
My Own Love Song
If you have more than 75 cents, congratulations, you'll must watch everything.
So, what happened here? How does an actress go from red hot, three Oscar nominations in as many years, to cold as ice almost immediately after winning an Oscar? You could blame it on the fact that Hollywood is not kind to actresses over the age of forty but... that only accounts for her career since 2009. What of the years between 2004 and 2009?
Zellweger is a good actress and she has a fair bit of range. She's a strong comedic actress and a strong dramatic actress, she can carry a movie as its lead, and she can shine in supporting roles. So what happened to her career? Clearly, there is but one explanation: Oscar cursed!