There’s nothing like discovering a new favorite actor. A talented thespian who delivers consistently excellent performances. Until… they boink up. And they all boink up.
Here are the worst performances from 30 otherwise incredible actors. You know what? Everyone makes mistakes!
Nicolas Cage – The Wicker Man (2006)
When Nicolas Cage makes a movie, it seems like he flips a coin. If heads, he’ll give us Raising Arizona. If tails… we get work like The Wicker Man, a horror remake with a performance so unhinged, it became most well known for a YouTube supercut of Cage’s wildest shenanigans.
That movie kicked off a string of increasingly outlandish, often direct-to-DVD genre shlock. But thankfully, in recent years, Cage seems to have merged these two extremes in works like Mandy, which is both an insane, untethered work of bonkers genre excess AND contains an excellent, nuanced performance from Cage!
Tommy Lee Jones – Batman Forever
In 1993, Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar for The Fugitive. The following year, he appeared in five (five!) films, including The Client and Natural Born Killers. The year after that? Just one. Batman Forever, Joel Schumacher’s neon-drenched fever dream take on Gotham City.
Jones had a miserable time playing Two-Face, even insulting Jim Carrey at a post-shoot dinner party. And the part does not fit him well — you can feel his flop-sweat as he struggles to keep up with the vibe.
The year after Batman Forever? Jones was in zero (zero!) films.
Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman
Yes, master thespian Al Pacino won an Oscar for Scent of a Woman. But the Oscars often reward over-the-top work, and they often give people “makeup prizes” for performers’ previous excellences. So instead of, say, The Godfather, Pacino wins for Scent of a Woman. And learns all the wrong lessons.
Pacino’s performance as Frank Slade ain’t subtle. And sometimes, depending on the material, you need a lack of subtlety. You need “Hoo-ah!” The problem is, most every post-Scent Pacino performance feels like a parody of this “Hoo-ah!” screaming character, turning Pacino into a shell of what he used to be.
Russell Crowe – Les Miserables (2012)
Russell Crowe is a man of many talents. Unfortunately, musical theatre cannot be considered one of them. The long-anticipated adaptation of Broadway smash Les Miserables features a litany of impressive performances (with Anne Hathaway winning an Oscar), and it also features Crowe warbling and mumbling.
Since that film’s release, Crowe’s work has followed a strange pattern. He played Noah in a dark-and-grimy take on the Bible. He played Jor-El in a dark-and-grimy take on Superman. And he played Jekyll and Hyde in a dark-and-grimy take on The Mummy.
Crowe? Go back to basics, man!
Ben Affleck – Gigli
Notoriously seen as one of the worst movies ever made, Gigli is a bafflingly problematic crime movie starring then-mega couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (aka Bennifer Prime, the prequel to Affleck and Jennifer Garner). Lopez has since recovered with acclaimed work like Hustlers. But what about Affleck?
Yes, Affleck has received praise for Gone Girl, won Oscars for Argo, and was friggin’ Batman. But these works all see Affleck grappling with darkness. Tabloid scrutinization reveals rumors of infidelity and gambling addiction. And he was ousted from Batman semi-abruptly.
Is Affleck haunted by the ghost of Gigli?
Robert De Niro – Dirty Grandpa
Look — we’re not against fun. If Robert De Niro wants to take a role in a raunchy comedy as a dang dirty grandpa, more power to him. It’s just… can he play a dang dirty grandpa in a good movie? As it stands, Dirty Grandpa is lazy, offensive, and bored.
This flick stands as the nadir of De Niro’s long descent into 2010s mediocrity, with misfires like Little Fockers and Grudge Match scattered along the way. All of these performances feel phoned in and arbitrary. Thankfully, recent work like The Irishman and Joker possesses much more investment from the actor.
John Travolta – Battlefield Earth
If Gigli isn’t the most well-known Hollywood flop, Battlefield Earth surely is. It’s a staggering act of Scientology-endorsed hubris, an attempt to replicate a Ten Commandments-scale epic within L. Ron Hubbard’s mythology of Thetans and suppressives.
At the center of all of this? John Travolta.
Travolta spent all his “Pulp Fiction comeback cachet” on this film, which he’d been wanting to make for a long time. And it blew the heck up in his face, bankrupting the production company and giving critics reason to dunk on him. His films since then have been, charitably, rough.
Halle Berry – Catwoman
In 2001, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Monster’s Ball. She gave an astonishingly vulnerable performance, one cementing her as a one-of-a-kind talent. And then, in 2003, she played Catwoman in a big-budget adaptation of the iconic character. And things went to litter quickly.
It’s an embarrassingly dated movie, seething with “edgy” 2000s energy and problematic sexualization. It’s hard to qualify Berry’s performance with words like “good” or “bad” when the whole movie is out to get her. But it put a dent in her career, influencing her current slate of schlocky genre pics.
Jared Leto – Chapter 27
Jared Leto is too much. He overcommits to every aspect of his life, from his pretentious emo band 30 Seconds to Mars, to his pretentious method acting shenanigans on Suicide Squad. We can point to one film that set him on this course. Open your books to Chapter 27.
In this controversial-on-premise-alone film, Leto plays Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon. Leto gained an absurd amount of weight, to the point where we gave himself gout, and threw himself headfirst into the psyche of the murderer. It caused an international uproar, and changed Leto’s trajectory forever.
Jodie Foster – Elysium
Jodie Foster is a treasure. We all know this, right? If you don’t know, go rewatch The Silence of the Lambs and come back. We’ll wait.
Okay, you’re back! Treasure, yeah? Yeah. So, how did she fall so spectacularly in Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon’s Elysium?
It’s a big ol’ choice, we’ll give her that. In playing Jessica Delacourt, villainous personification of corporate greed, she modifies her standard Southern brogue for… “something.” The 2013 film was so badly received, it stopped her from acting until 2018 — though she directed several TV episodes in between.
Jon Voight – Anaconda
In 1978, Jon Voight starred in Coming Home, and won the Oscar for Best Actor. In 2014, Voight starred in Baby Geniuses and the Treasure of Egypt, and won… nothing.
What the heck happened in between? Can we pin it all on a silly giant snake movie? Let’s try.
Anaconda is fun. And Voight’s so-over-the-top-it-makes-the-top-look-like-the-bottom performance is very fun. No shade to any of this. But to humorless folks who don’t enjoy fun, perhaps they saw Voight’s showy work and thought, “Well, this is who he is now,” and condemned him to crummy direct-to-DVD flicks from there on out.
Cuba Gooding Jr. – Boat Trip
Have you seen Boat Trip? Don’t!
Its premise is objectively offensive, it’s full of hacky set pieces, and wastes tons of genuine talent. Among its casualties? Cuba Gooding Jr., fresh off his Oscar win for Jerry Maguire. After Boat Trip, people were less likely to show him the money.
Gooding’s performance as a straight man pretending to be a gay man is, you know what? Let’s stop talking about this, and Boat Trip, forever.
The point is, Gooding’s career fell off the rails after this abysmal flick, and it took playing O. J. Simpson to bring him back.
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Beach
When he’s not appearing in mega-acclaimed films, he’s busy saving the damn world. Can Leonardo DiCaprio do anything wrong? In a word: Yes.
The Beach, Leo’s post-Titanic choice, was widely derided, and momentarily stalled his career.
Ironically, given DiCaprio’s environmental work, production on The Beach irrevocably damaged the beaches of Thailand. The crew traveled to the beautiful island of Ko Phi Phi Le and actually bulldozed areas to make it seem more “paradise-like.” The island’s communities have closed some of the beaches to this day.
Ryan O’Neal – Tough Guys Don’t Dance
If you’re a fan of “so bad it’s good” cinema, do us a favor and YouTube a clip called “Worst Line Reading Ever.” You’ll find Ryan O’Neal making a bold, bold, bold choice in Tough Guys Don’t Dance. And you’ll laugh so hard your guts will hurt.
O’Neal, acclaimed for his work in classics like Love Story and Paper Moon, had a tumultuous life full of addictions and abuses. And he knew he was trouble, commenting publicly that “directors take me reluctantly.” Tough Guys Don’t Dance, unfortunately, does little to rectify his controversial reputation.
Eddie Murphy – Norbit
In 2006, Alan Arkin won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Little Miss Sunshine. At the ceremony, when fellow nominee Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) realized his fate, he noticeably stormed out. Sure, many Oscar prognosticators thought Murphy had it in the bag. But why was he so mad?
Maybe because he, in that moment, realized Norbit cost him an Oscar.
For as much goodwill as Murphy gained from Dreamgirls, he lost it all in his loud, problematic, mean-spirited comedy Norbit. Hopefully, Murphy gets an award-friendly comeback in 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name.
Whoopi Goldberg – Theodore Rex
Whoopi Goldberg rules. Dinosaurs rule. By the transitive property, Theodore Rex, in which Goldberg solves crimes with a dinosaur, should rule. And yet… it sadly does not rule! And everyone involved knew — Goldberg tried to get out of her contract, and the studio changed it abruptly to a direct-to-video film.
This role came on the heels of Goldberg hits like Sister Act and Ghost. And while the rest of her ‘90s career continued to move after the 1995 failure of Theodore Rex, her films never again hit the heights of these incredible peaks, prompting her to publicly retire in 2007.
Demi Moore – G.I. Jane
On paper, G.I. Jane looked like a home run. A gritty, feminist military movie from maestro Ridley Scott starring Ghost’s Demi Moore with a shaved head? Sign us up!
Unfortunately, critics and audiences alike called foul on Moore’s performance. She even got nominated for Worst Actress at the Razzies.
After this 1997 flop, Moore took a lengthy break from acting. In fact, Moore moved to Hailey, Idaho to focus on her own spiritual health and the well-being of her three daughters. In 2019, she came back to Hollywood with a vengeance in bonkers horror-comedy Corporate Animals.
Charlize Theron – Reindeer Games
In the early days of her career, before winning her Oscar for Monster, Charlize Theron had one strategy: Embark on “a love affair with directors, the ones I really, truly admired.” And in 2000, Theron teamed up with John Frankenheimer, thriller director extraordinaire. And he did her wrong.
Reindeer Games, with Theron, Ben Affleck, and Gary Sinise. A Christmas-set action movie so bad, negative test screenings forced studios to push it until the less appropriate month of February. Theron has regularly called it her worst film — thankfully, she was able to bounce back.
Sandra Bullock – All About Steve
In 2009, Sandra Bullock made curious cinematic history. She won the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side and the Worst Actress Razzie for All About Steve. Blissfully, she showed up to the latter ceremony, even roasting the award-givers for not understanding the premise of their own fake awards!
All About Steve is, at best, an “interesting” watch. At worst, it’s an abrasive, purposefully unlikable comedy with a purposefully unlikable protagonist. It must’ve meant something special to Bullock, though — she produced the film, helped get it made, and has defended its intentions publicly.
Uma Thurman – The Avengers (1998)
Here’s how CNN described Uma Thurman’s performance in the 1998 adaptation of British show The Avengers: “So distanced you feel like you’re watching her through the wrong end of a telescope.” Yikes!
The overwhelmingly negative response to this film, plus the birth of Thurman’s daughter, led to an acting hiatus.
In the 2000s, Thurman was up for a comeback role in a multi-part action film. We’re talking about, of course: The Lord of the Rings?
Yep, Thurman turned down the role of Éowyn in Peter Jackson’s epics. Luckily, she said yes to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, and her career resurged.
Val Kilmer – The Island of Dr. Moreau
In the 1980s, Top Gun’s Val Kilmer was the Hollywood hotshot. By the 1990s? Here’s a quote from one person who worked with him: “I don’t like Val Kilmer, I don’t like his work ethic, and I don’t want to be associated with him ever again.”
What on earth happened?
He appeared in The Island of Dr. Moreau, a notoriously troubled production opposite the notoriously troubled Marlon Brando. Kilmer was a prima donna on set and unwatchable on screen, prompting Frankenheimer (the second director!) to make the aforementioned comment.
As for Brando? We’ll get to him in a sec…
Dan Aykroyd – Nothing But Trouble
During his time on Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd was seen as one of the most versatile sketch performers; an actor who could oscillate between unusual characters and voices of reason with believable commitment. His film career started on a similar path (see: Ghostbusters (1984)).
But then… Nothing But Trouble.
Aykroyd’s directorial debut is… well, the title is appropriate.
It’s a mishmash of tones, careening between surreal comedy and upsetting horror in a way that just doesn’t work. Aykroyd’s performance, aided by disquieting prosthetics, lingers in the mind like a bad aftertaste. He’s yet to direct a follow up.
Kevin Costner – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
For a time, Kevin Costner could do no wrong. Then — he could do no right. What film flipped the switch? We submit Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as exhibit K, Your Honor.
Before RHPOT: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves. After? Waterworld, The Postman, 3000 Miles to Graceland.
RHPOT is our case study of Lack of Quality Costner (LQC). First of all: His accent. It’s not good. Second of all: It introduced him to director Kevin Reynolds, who sunk everything with Waterworld. Third of all: It started Costner’s ego train a-chugging, and that works best at a local station.
Christopher Walken – The Country Bears
Christopher Walken has a reputation of taking any role as long as they meet his modest fee. Or, as he coyly clarified, “Not anything. But I do take a lot of stuff.” These perfect storms collided to bring us Walken hamming it up in The Country Bears.
Don’t remember The Country Bears? Bless you.
It was an upsetting 2002 live-action Disney take on Disney World’s Country Bear Jamboree. Pirates of the Caribbean, it ain’t. Walken’s performance was widely panned, and led to a bunch of other filler roles. But, he insists he doesn’t regret a single role.
Dev Patel – The Last Airbender
In 2008, Dev Patel broke through to American audiences in Slumdog Millionaire, a rousing feel-good story that won that year’s Oscar for Best Picture. In 2010, he flipped the script and played the villain in M. Night Shyamalan’s atypically big budget The Last Airbender. How’d it go?
Oof. Oof is how it went.
Shyamalan’s movie is a general train wreck, but Patel deserves his share of credit (discredit?). His Prince Zuko is frustratingly one note and immature, veering between sneer-screaming and… sneer-screaming. Patel’s offers suffered for awhile, but he’s recently seen a comeback in works like Lion.
Eddie Redmayne – Jupiter Ascending
One year after winning the Oscar playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne starred as the villain in the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending. If you know nothing about his work in the film, listen to us now: It. Is. Worth. Experiencing. With. No. Expectations.
You want some expectations? Okay.
Redmayne is maybe the only person having fun in the ludicrously convoluted and melodramatic space opera. He’s styled like a 2000s emo frontman and moves between “I can’t hear you” breathy whispers and “Okay yikes calm down” full-throated screams. And it… sort of… works?
Jesse Eisenberg – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
In The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg personified our anxieties about the influence of social media in an Oscar-nominated, nervy performance. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he wore an embarrassing wig and jittered his way through nonsensical speeches. It’s like he moved from Superman to kryptonite.
In a Bizarro World, reframing Lex Luthor as a Mark Zuckerberg-esque figure of new tech anxiety is an inspired move. In the world of Zach Snyder’s miserablist Metropolis, it’s more crunchy, pseudo-deep nonsense. Zuckerberg’s post-Luthor roles have been much smaller in scale.
Sir Ben Kingsley – BloodRayne
He’s a knight. An Oscar winner. Gandhi! Clearly, Sir Ben Kingsley should be able to follow whatever muse he wants. So when he said in an interview, “To be honest, I have always wanted to play a vampire, with the teeth and the long black cape,” we were like, “Awesome!”
Until we saw the result.
BloodRayne, a low-budget video game adaptation from king of trash Uwe Boll. It’s a real bad look for Kingsley, whose team should’ve, like, Googled Boll before letting him take the part. Thankfully, Kingsley’s follow-up genre works like Shutter Island have a bit more cred.
Jeremy Irons – Dungeons & Dragons
“Now is your time… to die!”
If you’re not going to give the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons adaptation a full 108 minute watch, at least try and seek out this Jeremy Irons line reading. Irons has given subtle, recognizably human performances before. Here, he’s taking off the leash.
Beyond Irons’ wild, admittedly entertaining choices, Dungeons & Dragons is a largely incoherent, charmless affair. And it did a bit of a number on Irons’ career — he started appearing in derided films like The Time Machine, Eragon, and The Pink Panther 2.
Marlon Brando – The Score
In The Godfather, Marlon Brando made an offer we couldn’t refuse. In The Score, Brando refused several offers.
For one scene of Brando’s last movie, director Frank Oz wanted him to smile. And Brando was like, “Nah!” So, they actually CGI’d a slight smile onto his face! It’s weird!
During production of the 2001 heist flick, rumors percolated about Brando and Oz’s rifts: Brando called Oz Miss Piggy! He refused to be directed by Oz, and costar Robert De Niro had to step in via headset! But after Brando’s death, Oz spoke publicly about how much he enjoyed Brando.
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