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There’s something simultaneously hilarious, sad, and wonderful about watching a great actor deliver an awful performance. Whether it’s a bad turn in a great movie or awful acting in an even worse movie, watching our favorite thespians give bad performance reminds us that our big screen idols are still human.
Here are 15 bad performances from great Hollywood actors. These acting jobs run the gamut of funny, pitiful, and infuriating, but are all ultimately and irrefutably human in their failure.
The Academy Award winning actor (for Leaving Las Vegas) made the The Wicker Man with director Neil Labute in 2006. His over-the-top performance saw Cage beating up actresses like Leelee Sobieski and Ellen Burstyn, pursued by a cult while dressed in an anthropomorphic bear costume and, in a much memed scene, stung to death by bees while screaming “OH, NO! NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES! AAAAAHHHHH! OH, THEY’RE IN MY EYES! MY EYES! AAAAHHHHH! AAAAAGGHHH!” In recent interviews, Cage has suggested her turned up the campiness of his performance when he realized how absurd the film was. The results are among the best-worst acting jobs on this list.
At the height of his career, Costner’s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves would get a lot of flack due to the actor’s failure to maintain any sort of British accent in the film. The result is an awkwardly typical Kevin Costner “ every-man” acting job in the middle of a British period adventure. Despite this error, audiences were forgiving and the film turned out to be a great success otherwise.
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If you put eccentric Oscar winner Jon Voight in the middle of a giant killer snake movie, you’re going to get what you pay for. The film emerged as a surprising success (and helped herald the career of Jennifer Lopez) despite the fact that Jon Voight’s villainous performance chewed more scenery than the titular snake. He and his CGI co-star garnered a Razzie nod that year for “Worst Onscreen Couple” to prove it.
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Can Bruce Willis make a bad action movie? Yes… yes, he can and even worse—he can be the cause of a movie’s badness. The Kevin Smith directed action-comedy Cop Out wasn’t trying to break the buddy comedy mold, but it’s pairing of witty improv actor Tracey Morgan opposite Bruce resulted in some of the worst onscreen chemistry ever. Willis is out of his depth next to the animated Morgan, delivering a bored, stiff performance that embarrasses the star when compared to his previously sparky action turn in Live Free or Die Hard.
Academy Award winner John Wayne ranks as the most iconic onscreen cowboy in the history of film. So what could have possessed him to take the role of Mongolian ruler Genghis Kahn in The Conqueror? The role would have the typical stoic hallmark of a great Wayne performance– except for the fact it was John Wayne playing against racial-type in a period piece about one the most famous figures in history. The sprawling epic would haunt The Duke for the remainder of his career. Hollywood legend says that, when once asked what the moral of The Conqueror was, Wayne answered “not to make an A$$ out of yourself trying to play parts you’re not suited for.”
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What’s the basic premise of M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening? Mark Wahlberg vs. Killer Plants. Ironically, Wahlberg’s stammering, strangely enthusiastic performance, while terrible, makes the whole thing a bad movie classic. His particular line reading of “What? No!” in the middle of a dramatic scene has become a popular internet meme. Wahlberg would later say of the film, “ F— it. It is what it is. F—ing trees, man. The plants. F— it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook.”
The Monster’s Ball Oscar winner followed her win up by starring in one of the worst superhero movies ever, Catwoman. Berry’s gaudy Frederick’s of Hollywood-style costume managed to somehow drain all the sex appeal from the starlet, and her meowing performance recalled Eartha Kitt’s previous take on the Catwoman in all the wrong ways. Christopher Nolan would help Anne Hathaway resuscitate the character this year in The Dark Knight Rises, almost undoing the damage Halle Berry inflicted on the iconic comic heroine. Almost.
Marlon Brando’s performance in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) is a lot like his performance in Apocalypse Now, but more certifiably insane. The star mumbles and fumbles his way through The Island of Dr. Moreau just as he did in the role of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. The big difference? Brando was given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in the film, including but not limited to wear a bucket on his head for no reason, put on eerie white face make-up and have a horribly deformed little person sidekick (a character that would serve as the basis for Austin Powers Mini-Me) accompany him in every scene. Brando’s weird performance shapes the entire film into one of Hollywood’s most notoriously awful remakes.
Battlefield Earth, John Travolta’s science fiction dream project, had the actor playing an alien creature called a Terl. He’s a part of a race of giant, pasty faced, dreadlock and leather wearing creatures known as the Psychlos. They’ve enslaved the human race in the year 3000 and, well, do you need to know more? Travolta’s preening, manic villainy hits all the right notes of crazy, sort of like his roles in Face/Off or Broken Arrow but, you know, with S&M gear and Frankenstein boots. Even worse, he was reportedly paid $40 million for the role.
Yes, Battlefield Earth gets a twofer. Before he was winning Academy Awards, Forest Whitaker was embarrassing himself alongside John Travolta as another Psychlo, Ker. Take everything written about Travolta’s performance and subtract the $40 million paycheck and you have a pretty accurate assessment of Whitaker’s work here.
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Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a marvelously designed and very well received version of the classic horror tale under the hand of Francis Ford Coppola. Except, of course, for Keanu Reeves, who stumbles through the role of British hero Jonathan Harker with the same stiff mannerisms and surfer accent he used in Point Break. In later years, Reeves would learn to use this screen persona to an advantage in various action films. Yet within the context of this period piece, the actor is severely out of his depth, playing the character as the Victorian equivalent of a Friday the 13th slasher victim.
No one will ever accuse Anthony Hopkins of being a subtle actor, however his performance in The Wolfman makes Hannibal Lecter look like downright restrained by comparison. Hopkins plays the father to the titular Wolfman, Sir John Talbot. As the monster, Benicio Del Toro delivers a somber, straight faced performance that is completely undermined by Hopkins’ cartoon character take on his villainous dad. This on-the-nose performance is just one ingredient in The Wolfman that led to the film be a critical and commercial flop.
This might raise some eyebrows, but the fact of the matter is Hayden Christensen is, in fact, a fine actor. Just because most audiences know him for delivering a bad turn as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones doesn’t mean the guy isn’t immensely talented. The actor’s previous performance in Life As A House garnered him a Golden Globe nomination. Not only that, his role as the famous news fabricating journalist Stephen Glass in the film Shattered Glass has to be seen to be believed. Call this entry a case of one bad performance overshadowing a string of good ones.
Robert De Niro
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As the fearless leader in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Robert De Niro’s shot at campy villainy missed the mark by a mile. The typically restrained actor goes for broke, chewing scenery with a thick Euro accent and rubber face that he just can’t pull off. A particularly bad parody of his “You Talkin’ To Me?” speech from Taxi Driver plays like a stab to the heart of Martin Scorsese fans worldwide.
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Christopher Walken is one of those rare actors who can show up in seemingly anything and make it better just by being his own weird self. That is, unless “anything” happens to be The Country Bears. Yes, Walken’s turn as antagonistic banker Reed Thimple redefines the association between Christopher Walken and weird. Insane line readings like “This is not over! [extended pause] Bears!” and “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! Country-Bear-Hall-has-been-crushed!” have become the stuff of YouTube legend and help garner Walken a much earned Razzie nod for Worst Supporting Actor.