When Movies Can’t Keep Up With The Actors In Them: 15 Intense Performances In Mostly Forgotten Movies

There’s nothing more painful than watching an actor give his or her all in a movie that never caught on. Despite physical transformations, critical acclaim or Award nominations, a thespian’s hard work and dedication can sometimes go unrecognized by mainstream audiences. Here are 15 actors who threw themselves into their work for forgotten movies.

Matthew McConaughey

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Reign of Fire paired Matthew McConaughey with a then-unknown Christian Bale. The duo played dragon hunters in a post-apocalyptic future overrun by the fire breathing monsters. For his character of Van Zan, Matthew McConaughey did an intense two-month workout regimen to give his seasoned, dragon fighting character bulk. He also grew a beard and shaved his head to make the character’s feature “look more like a bullet.” Despite transforming himself into a gruff, punk rock dragon slayer, Reign of Fire tanked in North American box-offices and was written off by critics as little more than a big budget B-movie.

Jared Leto

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Chapter 27 chronicled a year in the life of Mark David Chapman, building up to his assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Jared Leto played the lead and went as far as to gain 67 pounds for the role. The sudden weigh gain gave him a serious case of gout and put him in a wheelchair for the duration of shooting. It would take him roughly a year to get back to his previous size and, while he garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of the killer, the film itself was panned by critics and ignored by audiences.

50 Cent

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Typically ripped rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson underwent a transformation for his performance in Things Fall Apart. The actor dieted himself down to 160 lbs to play the role of a cancer-stricken football player. Unfortunately, Jackson’s performance would be overshadowed by a negative reception surrounding the film. Things Fall Apart was quietly released on to home video in 2011.

Demi Moore

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In 1997 Demi Moore took her tough, raspy voiced screen persona and put it to good use in G.I. Jane. The actress played Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, a woman attempting to be the first female Navy SEAL. Moore also threw herself into an intense workout regimen for the film to convincingly pull off the concept, but was instead thrown under the bus by most critics (along with director Ridley Scott). Despite modest box office success the film remains a largely forgotten entry in Moore’s filmography.

Tom Cruise

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Hollywood action hero Tom Cruise went out on a limb to play rocker Stacee Jax in the movie adaptation of the musical Rock of Ages. The Mission Impossible star took to singing five hours each day to prepare for the character, which he described as a mashup of “Axl Rose, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison.” While critics praised Cruise’s enthusiastic and unconventional turn, most would pan the film for failing to keep with his work. The film bombed in last summer’s box office, opening third behind Madagascar 3 and Prometheus.

Matthew Fox

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Lost star Matthew Fox shed almost all of his body fat and shaved his head to believably portray a former special forces vet turned serial killer in Alex Cross. Unfortunately, he chose to funnel this intense physical turn into one of the most poorly reviewed films of last year. The film was panned, tanked, and has been retired to home video without any fanfare.

Toby Jones

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In 2006, Toby Jones disappeared into the role of Truman Capote in Infamous. The film that attempted to document the writing of Capote’s In Cold Blood from the mid 1950s into the early 1960s. Despite his acclaimed performance, the film was overshadowed by the previous year’s Capote, which covered roughly the same ground and earned Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award.

Russell Crowe

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Russell Crowe put on 60 pounds to play the role of an aging CIA chief in Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies. The wartime thriller’s exploration of American foreign policy was predicted by Crowe to be unpopular with audiences. The actor was right—the film received mixed reviews and failed to make back its budget domestically. It stands as little more than a footnote among the Crowe-Scott collaborations.

Jake Gyllenhaal

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Donnie Darko star Jake Gyllenhaal went through real-life boot camp and gained 25 lbs of muscle to play Marine Anthony Swofford in Jarhead. Despite a buzz worthy trailer, the film failed to attract a large audiences. Critics praised Gyllenhaal’s performance, but greeted the film itself with a decidedly so-so response.

Sylvester Stallone

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Before rebooting his career with The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone attempted to shed his action film persona with Copland. The actor played a deaf, overweight small-town sheriff and gained 40 lbs for the role. The film turned out to be a critical and financial success but failed to live up to its Oscar-baiting hype. In 2008 Stallone credited the film with hurting his career, calling it “the beginning of the end, for about eight years.”

Tim Roth

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Tim Roth spent four-and-a-half hours in a make-up chair every morning before filming Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001). The actor threw himself into the role of General Thade in the film, a super intelligent Chimpanzee antagonist.  Roth was so dedicated to the part her personally rewrote many of his scenes to amp up the character’s sense of menace. He even turned down the part of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series to take the role. One can only imagine his disappointment when Planet of the Apes was released to mixed reviews and lukewarm box office. Roth has since criticized the film and its nonsensical ending, stating “I cannot explain that ending. I have seen it twice and I don’t understand anything.”

John Leguizamo

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In 1997 John Leguizamo played the antagonist in Spawn.  The latin actor was forced to wear heavy amounts of prosthetic makeup to alter his appearance to that of a demonic clown. Leguizamo was so wrapped up in playing the grotesque character he went as far as eating live maggots for one scene. Despite his dedicated performance and Spawn’s modest box office success, the film was buried by lukewarm critical reviews and the fading popularity of comic book films.

Stanley Tucci

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Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones was among the most critically and commercially reviled films of 2009. Despite the film’s reputation, Stanley Tucci’s performance as the film’s villain netted him Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. It’s just a shame so few actually saw the film which, at best, is remembered as a slight detour for Peter Jackson as he made his way back to Middle Earth.

Michael Rooker

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Slither emerged in 2006 as a much buzzed-about zombie comedy. Despite the popularity of the genre, most moviegoers chose to ignore the film. In the process, they missed a critically acclaimed turn by character actor Michael Rooker as a flawed husband who becomes infected by an alien parasite. Rooker underwent several agonizing hours in the make-up chair to achieve the character’s mutated look and was outfitted in rigs that director James Gunn later described as physically torturous.

Eddie Murphy

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Before his extensive make-up transformations yielded big box office with Norbit and The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy saw his disguises flop thanks to Vampire In Brooklyn. The Wes Craven directed horror/comedy cast Murphy as a suave-yet-monstrous vampire, an alcoholic preacher, and Italian gangster. Despite his immersed performances, Murphy and Craven received bad reviews and tepid box office receipts. In a later interview, Murphy jokingly blamed the film’s failure on the wig he wore while playing the vampire.

  • RetroGal

    Jared Leto’s movie deserved to be ignored…it was giving publicity to John Lennon’s killer (whose name is never uttered by true Beatles fans, as to so would be giving this scumbag what he so desperately sought: fame.) I have no sympathy for that fact that he got gout. Serves him right for taking on the part.

  • Jay

    Whoever writes these articles needs to spell check. These typos are embarrassing and could be fixed with two minutes of proof reading.

  • Dawn

    Christian Bale was hardly an unknown in 2002, he had been working for almost 20 years. It had been 10 years since he made Empire of the Sun and 2 years since he made American Psycho. Plus, the word is “method” not “metod”. I couldn’t even read past the first page.

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