Madonna: destined to generate conversation in 2012? (Jonathan Short/AP)

In the world of entertainment, celebrities, trends and TV shows often transition from “in” list to “out” faster than their names can be tweeted with the hashtag #sofiveminutesago.

But it’s precisely that fickleness that makes pop cultural comebacks possible, allowing Tom Cruise to again star in the No. 1 movie in America or Britney Spears’s pop star to shine once more.

2012 will undoubtedly deliver some comeback stories, some of which we can anticipate and others that may surprise us. Here are a few of the faces, film franchises and television favorites that may make triumphant returns to zeitgeist prominence this year.


Okay, so Madonna hasn’t exactly gone away. In 2011, she released a film, launched a second fashion line and captured a lot of attention on the Internet for dismissing hydrangeas during a Venice Film Festival press conference. But in general lately, her name has surfaced more frequently because of the way Lady Gaga imitates her than because of anything new she’s recently done.

In 2012, that may change. This year, she will releases her first original studio album since 2008’s “Hard Candy.” And she also will headline the Super Bowl halftime show, potentially turning the name “Madonna” as well as the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” into trending topics again.


“Downton Abbey”

The joys of this delicious early 20th-century drama came and went all too quickly last year; the four episodes of the “Upstairs, Downstairs”-style series aired on PBS in January, giving us 11 months to wait for another “veddy British” installment. The wait ends now. While series two of “Downton Abbey” already aired in the UK, it returns to American airwaves beginning this Sunday. And that means, if we’re lucky, we’ll once again get to hear Dame Maggie Smith tell someone to “stick that in their pipe and smoke it.”

“Mad Men”

It’s been more than a year since the season four finale of AMC’s uber-acclaimed drama aired. While its recent Emmy wins — not to mention creator Matthew Weiner’s public comments about what may happen in the final episode — kept “Mad Men” in the headlines, the chatter level was low last year without any new episodes to dissect. The Don Draper discussion will undoubtedly ramp up again once he and his fellow heavy-drinking ad guys are back on the air, beginning in March. Do we even remember that Don Draper was preparing to marry Megan? And, on a deeper level, who is Megan, really?


The neo-soul artist — and the man who starred in the Best Music Video of All-Time Featuring Nothing but a Nude Male Singer — has been the subject of comeback rumors for years. But recent comments from friend and collaborator ?uestlove, who told Pitchfork that the artist’s long-awaited new album is “pretty much 97% done” could mean this is really the comeback year for D’Angelo. Unless, of course, it isn’t.

Artists that once recorded “California Girls”

The Beach Boys — with both Brian Wilson and Mike Love on board — have announced plans to embark on a 50th anniversary tour this year, one that will begin in April at JazzFest in New Orleans. (The sunny ‘60s-era supergroup is also slated to appear at the Grammy Awards in February.) And David Lee Roth — who once covered the Beach Boys’s ”California Girls” as a solo artist — will once again assume the title of Van Halen frontman when the DLR version of VH also embarks on a recently announced 2012 tour. Which band will be forced to cancel dates first after its members start arguing on the road? Start placing your bets.


A number of movies will be re-released with 3D upgrades this year, including “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and “Finding Nemo.” But with 2012 marking the centennial of the Titanic’s voyage, it’s the 3D version of the Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet romance, releasing in April, that may generate the most interest and ticket sales. Yes, 2012 could feel like 1997 all over again.

Goth Johnny Depp

Lately Johnny Depp has focused so much on playing drunken pirates, drunken Hunter S. Thompson alter egos and Mad Hatters that he hasn’t devoted time to exploring truly macabre territory. For those who love Depp when he’s learning toward the more goth side of the cinematic spectrum — wearing Robert Smith-style make-up in “Edward Scissorhands,” investigating ghastly murders in “From Hell” or committing them in “Sweeney Todd” — 2012 will mark a return to form for the actor, as he stars as vampire Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s adaptation of “Dark Shadows.”


Like Madonna, superheroes have hardly disappeared from the entertainment landscape. But even though “Thor” and “Captain America” performed admirably at the box office last summer, neither film ignited significant pop cultural conversation. But don’t worry. In 2012, the bigtime heroes — your Spider-Mans, Iron Mans and Batmans — will all return to save the day. Assuming those angsty vampires and werewolves from “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2” don’t interfere — which is admittedly a big if — the top three highest-grossing (and most buzzy) movies of 2012 could very well be “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Avengers.”


Although, there may be somone else that makes geeks giddier than Batman: Bilbo Baggins. When the trailer for “The Hobbit” — the prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy that arrives in theaters next December — was unveiled online last months just days after a new preview for “The Dark Knight Rises,” it was as if Gollum had snatched all of Bruce Wayne’s “precioussss” thunder. Middle-earth will definitely make a comeback in 2012.

Joaquin Phoenix

2012 could be the year that we stop remembering Phoenix as the actor who went fake-crazy, grew a beard and made a weird mockumentary and start thinking of him again as the fine actor who gets nominated for Academy Awards. That depends on the release date for “The Master,” a film tentatively scheduled to arrive in 2012 and that stars Phoenix as a lost soul found by the head of a religious group, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. With Paul Thomas Anderson directing and the fact that the story is loosely based on Scientology, the film — and Phoenix — could be on everyone’s lips come next Oscar season.

Additional comebacks to keep on your 2012 radar:

The original “American Pie”cast. “American Reunion” releases in April.

Pixar. After taking a beating for the lackluster “Cars 2,” the studio will attempt a return to form in June with “Brave,” its first film with a female protagonist.

J ustin Cronin’s sprawling vampire saga. “The Twelve,” his follow-up to “The Passage,” arrives in August.

Baz Luhrmann. After stumbling post-”Moulin Rouge” with 2008’s “Australia,” the filmmaker will hopefully wow us with his version of “The Great Gatsby,” slated to arrive in theaters next Christmas.