The great stocks always fall the hardest ... and investors always take it the hardest, forgetting that being a market darling is a privilege, never a birthright. Getting back on top is never easy. For every Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) that reinvents its way back into greatness, there are countless other fallen heroes that will never climb back into a leadership position.

Today, I'll boldly single out five blue chips that I think will never be great again. They'll have to settle for simply being good, and even that is never a guarantee.

Most of these companies also happen to be newsletter recommendations, so trust that smarter Fools than me either beg to differ with my opinion, or feel that these stocks can still deliver market-thumping returns without returning to form.

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)
The game didn't pass Starbucks by. Everybody else just caught up. You can get premium java just about anywhere these days, from fast food chains to doughnut shops to convenience stores.

That's no longer a theory -- it's a fact. Last month's quarterly report confirmed the Starbucks funk, with earnings falling on a dip in comps. In a sign of mortality, Starbucks has beaten Wall Street's profit target just once over the past seven quarters.

I'm a big fan of CEO Howard Schultz. Who isn't? However, his roadmap to return the chain to glory by going back to its roots is flawed. You can't go back to a place that no longer exists. Every single company that fills cups has upgraded its beverage offerings. There is no killer Frapp that can't be quickly copied.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)
If you want to send shivers down Mr. Softy's spine, email it a link to Amazon's bestseller list for computers, where Apple MacBooks and Linux-powered ASUS laptops rule. Windows is less relevant as an operating system, even as the Vista upgrade cycle has proven a hard sell to Microsoft loyalists.

Things don't get easier from there. Microsoft continues to lose money at MSN. Its Zune is a market-share disaster. Even its Microsoft Office franchise is being threatened by free cloud-computing alternatives.

The only growth component in Microsoft's most recent quarter was the Xbox 360. If Microsoft investors are down to thanking their lucky stars for a trendy video game console, you know that Microsoft's problems are just beginning.   

If consumers are snapping up Apple computers or dirt-cheap Linux laptops, they're not hitting up the Dell dude. The company's misfortune is also compounded by the fact that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) finally has someone running the show who knows how to compete with Dell for what's left of the "I'm a PC" market.

Dell was a monster success story in the 1990s, when its consumer-direct, low-cost model ran flawlessly. But like Starbucks, the rest of the now-global market has caught up, and the prodigal founder's return to the CEO seat doesn't always have a storybook ending.

General Electric (NYSE:GE)
Just a couple of years ago, GE ruled the roost with the world's largest market cap. Where art thou, Jack Welch?

The eclectic conglomerate that seemed to be pieced together so brilliantly is coming undone. Weakness in its financial-services division shocked investors last month, with GE reporting a rare bottom-line miss. GE used to be so good at managing expectations.

The company is changing before our eyes. When GE gets down to auctioning off its appliance business, you know things are bad. What will be left? It's hard to get excited about iffy financial services or beefy jet components that aren't in demand as airlines scale back orders. GE's days on top of the market cap heap are so far away. 

Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI)
It's probably easier to pick on Blockbuster than on Starbucks, Microsoft, and Dell, because the DVD rental giant has been struggling longer. The chain has been losing rentals to mail-order, pay-per-view, and automated kiosks for a few years now. Digital delivery threatens to strike that last nail in Blockbuster's coffin.

The difference here is that Blockbuster won't die. The smart CEO at the company's helm will be able to reinvent the company as a hard-goods entertainment retailer. Even Blockbuster's finances are starting to look up again.

However, by the end of the day, Blockbuster is unlikely to matter the way it used to. There just aren't enough people looking to make it a Blockbuster night, or make the stock a blockbuster investment.

Great to good
Many of these stocks will continue to matter. I just feel that their runs as bellwethers are drawing to an end.

I respect your right to believe otherwise. Starbucks, Microsoft, and Dell are all Inside Value recommendations, with Starbucks also getting the nod for Stock Advisor subscribers. You are welcome to disagree with me there, or in the comment box below.

Just don't get cocky about your own stocks. Greatness rarely lasts forever.