There’s nothing quite like watching a star break down all assumptions audiences previously held about them. The added texture of knowing an actor’s background make their most unique performances that much powerful. Unfortunately, not every audience is always ready to leave the comfort zone they share with and actor. Here are 15 actors who tried to break typecasting to poor results.
Though everyman Kevin Costner would garner positive reviews for his performance as a serial killer in Mr. Brooks, but audiences may not have been ready to see the actor take on such a dark role. When gauged on Kevin Costner’s typical box office standards, the movie was a financial failure—it garnered a mere $29 million in U.S. theaters, a mere $9 million profit. The film seemed to mark the beginning of the end for Costner as a leading man-- he will soon be rounding out the supporting cast in Zach Snyder's Man of Steel.
With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, audiences became very accepting of comedian Jim Carrey attempts as a dramatic actor. However, when he took the role of a family man who may be a serial killer in The Number 23, moviegoers saw an actor out of his depth in a bad suspense thriller. The film was out for a little over a month and walked away with a $32 million U.S. Box Office—barely above its budget.
In 2002 Jennifer Aniston took a detour from her usual comedic romps to star in the domestic suspense thriller Derailed. In the film she plays a femme fatale who seduces and blackmails family man Clive Owen. The role may have been too much of a shift from her typical “nice girl” onscreen persona. Though Derailed turned a slight profit, it earned some of the worst reviews of its year. Aniston has remained in her wheelhouse of romantic comedies and dramas ever since.
Sylvester Stallone garnered Oscar nods for his dramatic work in Rocky, so much so that audiences and critics got used to seeing the actor in athletic, action-oriented roles. This would influence Stallone to mix things up and pursue comedies like Rhinestone, Oscar, and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. All three would flop; decades later Stallone would recognize them as among the worst of his career.
Following the major success of Juno and Superbad in 2007, it seemed like Michael Cera was poised to be one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. By 2009, the love affair had ended with Cera’s films experiencing diminished returns. Among the biggest bombs of that era is Youth In Revolt, a coming-of-age film that took Cera’s shy, introverted persona and split it in two. Cera played his usual dorky archetype in the film, but also played a smooth-operating, rebellious alter ego named Francois Dillinger. Cera would be praised for his dual turn by some critics, but audiences showed no interest in Cera breaking his own stereotype. The film quietly tanked.
Scream 4 spoilers ahead:
Like her aunt, Julia Roberts, Emma is best known for having a perky screen presence in films like Aquamarine, Nancy Drew and Valentine’s Day. With Scream 4 the actress attempted to give her usually saccharine persona a psychopathic makeover. In the film, she plays Jill Roberts—your typically self-reliant horror movie heroine who, in the film’s final twist, turns out to be the mastermind behind the Ghostface killer. It’s a good idea, but Roberts and the film would have gotten flack for playing it out so obviously, complete with an on-the-nose “fame culture” monologue meant to establish her character's motivations. The performance would garner the film mixed reviews, a contributing factor to Scream 4’s box office under performance.
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This year it looked as if Academy Award nominated director David Cronenberg had found his latest muse in Twilight star Robert Pattinson. The two teamed up for the drug and sex fueled epic Cosmopolis, which cast Pattinson as a young billionaire who blazes a path of self-destruction after the discovery of his impending murder. Ironically, Pattinson has received some of the best reviews of his career thanks to the turn, which couldn’t be farther from Edward Cullen if it tried. Sadly, Twi-hards and most other moviegoers failed to notice—the film made back only $6 million of its $20 million budget.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro has experience several misfires lately. While his role in Stardust would prove minor when compared to something like Righteous Kill, it does represent one instance where stepping outside his usual hardened roles didn’t exactly make waves. In the fantasy film, De Niro plays a gay/cross-dressing pirate named Captain Shakespeare. The actor attacks the character with cartoonish flamboyance and even gets his own musical number. Though he’s only a supporting character in the film, it seemed clear that Captain Shakespeare was just one aspect of Stardust that audiences weren’t feeling (Michelle Pfeiffer’s attempt at a comeback being the other). The film underperformed domestically but turned a profit with international audiences.
Meg Ryan attempted to shirk her clean cut image with In The Cut, a thriller that cast the actress as a high school teacher who explores her kinkier side with a man who might be a serial killer. The financial and critical failure of the highly sexual, foul mouthed and violent film marked the decline of Ryan as a Hollywood superstar.
Though Observe and Report was marketed as your typically wacky Seth Rogen slacker comedy, theatergoers found out the hard way it was anything but. In reality, the film was a dark comedy that cast the usually affable Rogen as a sociopathic, violent mall cop. The actor’s multilayered performance received some praise, but his usual audience turned away from the bleak affair. It is his second lowest grossing film to date.
It’s hard to call Tobey Maguire’s performance as a traumatized veteran in Brothers a total failure. The role would win Maguire a Golden Globe nomination and strong reviews. Which is why one would think a film like Brothers would have performed better critically and financially. As is, the melodrama stands at a mere 61% on Rotten Tomatoes and made a little over $28 million domestically. Within the framework of an uneven film, Maguire’s performance sadly slipped through the cracks.
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During the height of his popularity as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Harrison Ford traded in his whip and blaster for a pair of specs and a stretch of jungle. The Mosquito Coast cast Ford as an inventor who uproots his family from American society to pursue a quiet life in the jungles of Central America, only to have his dream usurped by his own aggressive paranoia. In a rare departure for Ford, the character proved to be quite unlikeable. This attempt to challenge audiences and critics merely alienated them, rendering The Mosquito Coast a financial and critical flop.
Earlier this year Transformers star Shia LaBeouf made his first attempt to break his typecasting as a boyish everyman. In Lawless, the actor plays a bootlegging, backwoods, Depression era moonshiner. LaBeouf apparently went full-method for the gun slinging role, putting on 40 pounds of muscle while drinking copious amounts of ‘shine. Sadly, the actor’s newfound gangster masculinity may have been overshadowed by co-star Tom Hardy, whose mumbling, Brando-esque performance has received the most buzz. The film garnered mixed reviews and barely made its money back domestically before quietly hitting store shelves last month.
In another case of a dramatic actor attempting to shed his boyish persona, Jake Gylenhaal bulked up and donned a British accent to take the title role in Prince of Persia. The film was intended by producer Michael Bay to be Disney’s next Pirates of the Caribbean-style franchise. Instead it would go on to a weak opening and largely negative reviews of the film and Gylenhaal’s performance.
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Following his massively successful stand-up career and the success of The Jerk, Steve Martin took his first stab at a dramatic role in Pennies From Heaven. In the film, Martin plays a Depression era musical sheet-music salesman who pursues an extramarital affair all while fantasizing his life as a lavish musical. The film would be a notorious bomb with audiences and received mixed reviews from critics. Years later, when asked about its failure, Martin responded "You just can't do a movie like Pennies from Heaven after you have done The Jerk."<p