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Celebrities Without Comebacks: How 'Buffy' creator Joss Whedon's career took a nosedive amid abuse allegations

The director and writer was responsible for some of pop culture's biggest hits, but is yet to recover from the more recent accusations made against his name
Joss Whedon (Getty Images)
Joss Whedon (Getty Images)

Joss Whedon may not have ever had the fame and recognition of a Steven Spielberg or a Quentin Tarantino, but for a time in the '90s and a long while after that, he was a director who could do no wrong. Rising to fame on the wings of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', he was behind several television classics that have a strong following to this day. His star would rise yet again after directing 2012's blockbuster 'Avengers' film, only to come to a screeching halt with 'Justice League', and possibly for good.

Whedon's entire career revolves around his biggest and brightest hits, but those hits burned fiercely. After spending most of a decade working as a script doctor and consultant in the early '90s, Joss Whedon would eventually pen the one script that would change his life forever: 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' Turning the traditional monster movie concept on his head, Whedon made his protagonist, Buffy Summers, a peppy cheerleader, a teen who was strong enough to hunt the darkness on her own. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, the film would have modest success, enough to get a television series jumpstarted.

The television show, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, Nicholas Brendan, David Boreanaz and more, was an instant hit. Initially just a reversal of cheesy horror tropes, the show quickly evolved into something much deeper. Each character on the show had layered, emotional problems, and grew along with the show's seven seasons. Buffy would fight the darkness, but also the loneliness that came with being the only Chosen One, forever robbed of a normal life. The show's darker moments were always countered with a quick, easy, and instantly quotable humor made the show beloved by fans. David Boreanaz's character, Angel, would spinoff into a darker, moodier series that nonetheless kept the same trademark style of dry wit balanced with supernatural action horror. The show was just as popular, though it only ran for five seasons.

After 'Angel,' Whedon would create and direct the space Western series 'Firefly' on Fox that starred Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, and more. The network did not place a lot of faith in it, resulting in low ratings for the show, and was canceled after one season. It retains a passionate cult following to this day. To many fans, the cancellation of 'Firefly' remains one of television's greatest tragedies.

Joss Whedon would go on to make several more instant classics, including a comic book run on 'Astonishing X-Men' and 'The Runaways,' a television series called 'Dollhouse,' and the horror parody 'Cabin in the Woods.' In 2010, he was hired to write and direct the most ambitious crossover in movie history up to that point -- 'The Avengers.' The film was a smashing success, becoming the fourth-highest grossing film of all time, and forever cementing era of the Marvel superhero films onto the public consciousness, but it all went downhill from there.

Whedon's long-awaited return to television was meant to come with Marvel's 'Agents of SHIELD', but the announcement turned out to be somewhat of a bait-and-switch on Marvel's part. Whedon developed the show in part, but the show was truly more the work of co-creators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen. While the show enjoyed enough success to get a seven-season run, it did not have any of the impact of Whedon's previous works. Additionally, the sequel 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' was divisive among the fandom, and nowhere near as well-received as the other films had been. There was a lot of push and pull between Marvel and Whedon in terms of creative direction, and after 'Age of Ultron,' Whedon left the Marvel Universe -- seemingly for good.

'Justice League' would turn out to be one of the final nails in his coffin, however. In 2017, Whedon was called in to help finish the film after Zack Snyder had to step away following the death of his daughter Autumn Snyder. Whedon was responsible for several rewrites, and reshoots, resulting in an uneven film that the fans hated so much, they decided to reject it entirely. Their constant clamoring for the "Snyder Cut" of the film eventually was taken up by HBO Max, who poured millions in the project to allow Snyder to finish the movie the way he intended it without a frame of Whedon's reshoot.

2017 was also the year that Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole published an essay that accused him of hypocrisy in regards to his feminism, along with allegations of multiple infidelities, and of having abused the power of his position. It was a major blow to those who looked up to a director who had created one of the '90s most popular feminist icons. More recently, in 2020, 'Justice League' star Ray Fisher accused Whedon of abusive work conditions on set, a story that was corroborated by stuntmen who'd worked for Whedon, going back as far as 'Buffy.' 

Whedon subsequently canceled his 'Comic-Con@Home' appearance that was meant to happen during the 5-day event this July and has not yet responded to Ray Fisher's comments. He was meant to be discussing what would be his true return to television with the HBO series 'The Nevers', but there is no word on what is happening on that front for the moment. Meanwhile, Fisher is continuing to push for the industry to hold Whedon accountable for his behavior and shows no signs of letting up.

Between the hatred he receives for 'Justice League,' and the accusations from Ray Fisher and Kai Cole, Whedon's popularity is at an all-time low. It remains to be seen as to whether or not his career can recover, but for the moment, his career is very much in the coffin with a stake through its heart.