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How One-hit Wonders Work

Literary and Film One-hit Wonders

Perhaps because creative industries keep track of popularity as a benchmark of success, the creative world is full of one-hit wonders. (You won't find many one-hit wonder lists for what the average blue- or white-collar worker does for a living.) Although the music world has a corner on the market, there are plenty of examples from literary circles, as well. The most often mentioned literary one-hit wonder is Harper Lee's classic book "To Kill a Mockingbird." Lee never published another book. Neither did Ralph Ellison, during his lifetime at least, after his National Book Award winning "Invisible Man" in 1953. Other notable literary one hit wonders include:

  • "Gone With the Wind" -- Margaret Mitchell
  • "Wuthering Heights" -- Emily Bronte
  • "The Bell Jar" -- Sylvia Plath
  • "A Confederacy of Dunces" -- John Kennedy Toole

Both Plath and Toole committed suicide, which is why they didn't write follow-up hits. Plath killed herself months after the release of "The Bell Jar," and Toole took his life years before his hit published. It should be noted that Plath was already on the map as a successful poet, so her one-hit wonder status only applies to her novel writing success.

As with writing novels, making a hit movie is difficult to do, and there are quite a few film directors who've only had one hit. There's certainly no guarantee of future successes after attaining one. Just ask director Michael Cimino, who hit it big with his Vietnam Era epic "The Deer Hunter" in 1978. Though this movie scored five Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, his follow up "Heaven's Gate" was a notorious disaster; none of his five films that followed amounted to much. And sadly, the life of writer/director Steve Gordon ended not long after he made his lone hit comedy "Arthur" in 1981.