Once upon a time, Brendan Fraser was a breath of fresh air for movie audiences. Blessed with a matinee idol's good looks and physique, he instead behaved onscreen like a cartoon character come to life and carved out a path to stardom largely on the strength of making people laugh.

As it turned out, a serious actor lurked beneath the funnyman façade. It was precisely that underappreciated talent that allowed Fraser to endure the hard lessons of an unforgiving industry and later reemerge with an impressive second act.

Here's a look back at the films and events that shaped the career of this famed actor and ushered his transformation from endearing heartthrob to acclaimed screen veteran:

Brendan Fraser is being groomed by Sean Astin and Pauly Shore in a scene from the film 'Encino Man', 1992. (Photo by Encino Man Productions/Getty Images)
Sean Astin and Pauly Shore groom Brendan Fraser in a scene from the film ’Encino Man.’
Getty Images / Archive Photos / Stringer

Early 1990s: 'Encino Man'

Not long after arriving in Hollywood, Fraser made a splash in Encino Man (1992) as Link, the thawed-out caveman who shakes things up in a sunny Southern California hamlet. Although Fraser soon followed with the drama School Ties (1992), as a star athlete hiding his Jewish identity at an elite boarding school, it was Encino Man that provided the road map for the goofy comedic roles that became his bread-and-butter in the years to come.

Late 1990s: 'The Mummy'

Fraser hit his sweet spot with George of the Jungle (1997), a big-screen remake of the 1960s cartoon that showcased his pumped-up body amid a slew of slapstick physical stunts. He then surprised critics with a serious turn alongside Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998) before solidifying his leading-man chops as fearless explorer Rick O'Connell in the worldwide smash The Mummy (1999).

Early 2000s: 'Looney Tunes: Back in Action'

The new millennium brought more of the same for the popular actor. Along with driving the success of The Mummy Returns (2001), he headlined zany comedies like Monkeybone (2001) and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), and again flashed his underrated dramatic range in The Quiet American (2002) and the Academy Award-winning Crash (2004).

But all was not well behind the scenes. As he later recounted to GQ, Fraser was attending a party held by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization behind the Golden Globe Awards, when he was fondled by former HFPA president Philip Berk. Although he attempted to brush it off at the time, it was an incident that made the actor "feel reclusive," and fueled a belief that he was blacklisted by the Golden Globes.

Late 2000s: 'Journey to the Center of the Earth'

Fraser was still enjoying something close to A-list status as the first decade of the 2000s drew to a close. His revival of the swashbuckling O'Connell for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) produced a box-office winner, as did his lead performance as Professor Trevor Anderson in the 3-D adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008).

Yet the personal problems were mounting. His body feeling the toll of years of grueling stunt work, Fraser described himself as "put together with tape and ice" by the time he shot the third Mummy installment. Meanwhile, his marriage to George of the Jungle actress Afton Smith, with whom he had three children, ended in divorce in early 2009.

Early 2010s: 'Furry Vengeance'

Entering his third decade in the business, Fraser seemingly lost his footing amid a crush of poorly received films. In 2010 alone, he endured the back-to-back flops of the medical drama Extraordinary Measures and then Furry Vengeance, the latter the sort of farcical romp that once defined his career as a young actor. Furthermore, an attempt to parlay his skills to Broadway fell apart when Elling, a Norwegian-based comedy about a pair of psychiatric patients, ceased production after just one week of performances.

Behind the scenes, Fraser was seeking to repair his battered body through a series of operations on his back, knees and vocal cords, while battling his ex-wife in court over alimony payments.

Late 2010s: 'The Affair'

After disappearing from the spotlight for the better part of a decade, Fraser began mounting a comeback through supporting roles on prestige cable dramas. No longer the wide-eyed clown of the early-internet era, he wowed critics as a menacing prison guard on season 3 of "The Affair" (2016-17) before providing a dash of gravitas as J. Paul Getty family fixer and audience confidant James Fletcher Chace on "Trust" (2018).

Around that time, Fraser opened up to GQ about his previously unknown struggles with injuries, his mother's death and the lingering stain of sexual intrusion, providing a harrowing look into the fragile existence of a Hollywood star.

Early 2020s: 'The Whale'

Although his eagerly anticipated role as Firefly fell through when Batgirl was shelved in August 2022, Fraser got another chance to dazzle fans by portraying a morbidly obese man who attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter in Darren Aronofsky's The Whale. The performance led to a lengthy standing ovation after premiering at the Venice Film Festival in September 2022, drawing an emotional response from its leading man and proving that the "Brenaissance" was very much in full bloom following a mid-career lull.