There’s an old Hollywood axiom: casting is 99% of directing. That may seem like an exaggeration, but reality is, the cast is what the audience sees, not the director or the writer or the guy holding the microphone. For that reason, if an actor is miscast, or worse, just plain out of his league, the entire movie suffers.
Some of these movies are actually quite good, though they may suffer a bit from the obvious miscast actors who stand out for all the wrong reasons. Some of the other movies, however–some that miscast more than one actor–sunk under the weight of the distraction. That’s also not to say that all the actors on this list are without talent (though some are), or for that matter bad people. That does not, however, absolve anyone of bad acting.
14. Katie Holmes, Batman Begins
Batman Begins is one of the great comic book films, and one of the most overlooked. Besides two big-budget, higher profile sequels, the reason comes down to two words: Katie Holmes. Holmes delighted TV audiences with her work on Dawson’s Creek, but when it came to the big screen, Holmes was out of her element against some of the world’s best actors. Moreover, that Holmes was supposed to be playing an assistant district attorney when she still looked like a teenager didn’t help.
13. Sofia Coppola, The Godfather 3
The Godfather series represents one of the best, most complex movie trilogies in cinema history. Yet Part III, despite several Oscar nominations and strong reviews & box office, gets a bit of a raw deal as the “bad” movie of the series. Far from godawful, the movie does have problems: chief among them, inexperienced actress Sofia Coppola in the pivotal role of Michael Corleone’s daughter. In fairness, the movie doesn’t provide her with much motivation (just why is she having an affair with her cousin?), and Coppola only took the role under duress. Still, calling Coppola miscast understates the wild effect her performance had on the reputation of the film.
11. & 12. George Clooney & Arnold Schwarzenegger, Batman & Robin
Now, Batman & Robin has a litany of problems which transcend the casting: bad jokes, boring direction, garish design and a turgid story. A good cast could probably rise above the bad material though, so let’s face it: George Clooney, as Batman, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Mr. Freeze, grate like nails on a chalkboard. Both are deprived of the charm and action that made them stars, and the movie remains the nadir of the genre.
10. Nona Gaye, The Matrix Reloaded
Like Batman & Robin, The Matrix Reloaded has more problems than just the casting. An impenetrable script, gratuitous rave scenes and action overkill throw the whole movie off balance, but the lack of compelling new characters sinks it. Nona Gaye, replacing the late Aaliyah, brings nothing to the role of a human refugee trying to hold her family together. As a result, the scenes in Zion, the last human city, have zero interest. Given that they comprise a good portion of the movie, that’s a bad thing.
9. Madonna, Dick Tracy
In 2000, the Razzie awards named Madonna worst actress of the century, a dubious honor for which she beat out the likes of Faye Dunaway and Bo Derek. A lot of it had to do with Madonna’s career choices to appear in bad films. An exception: Dick Tracy, Warren Beatty’s underrated foray into comic book films. Beatty puts Madonna’s presence in the film to good use, though her unfocused performance jars the audience every time she’s on screen.
8. Malin Ackerman, Watchmen
Watchmen represents one of the most ambitious superhero epics ever put to screen, and one of the best adaptations from difficult source material. So what hurts it? Malin Akerman in the crucial female role of Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre. In fairness, Akerman has a good deal of appeal, beauty and comic timing. She’s woefully miscast here though, playing the role of the tortured superhero with bland stiffness.
7. Adam Driver, The Force Awakens
Hold the lightsabers, people! The Force Awakens brims with nostalgia and offers a lot of fun to Star Wars fans. It makes a huge casting mistake, however, in selecting horse-faced actor Driver as the villainous Kylo Ren. Driver has no charisma, is in no way frightening, and the character’s many tantrums recall the worst acting moments of the prequel series. With at least two movies to go in this new trilogy featuring Driver, fans should hope that a better director gives his character more nuance, or allows Driver to bring more dimension to the role. A speech coach to make him sound like less of a grunting neanderthal would help too.
6. Halle Berry, X-Men
Has any actor, in the history of comic book films, been as miscast as Halle Berry in X-Men? Playing African weather goddess, Storm, Berry strikes so many wrong notes she threatens to kill the whole movie. That a bad wig and phony accent burden the actress does not help matters, either.
Berry has shown incredible dramatic talent in films like Things We Lost In The Fire and Monster’s Ball, and her beauty has few equals among men or women in any era. But that cannot rescue her from miscasting. She’s tolerable in the sequel X2 only because she’s allowed to lose the accent and have better function in the plot. Really, her performance is even worse in X-Men: The Last Stand, though given all the boneheaded moves that film makes, Berry comes off looking somewhat better by comparison.
4. & 5. Brandon Routh & Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns
Like Clooney & Schwarzenegger, Routh and Bosworth occupy the same item here. Superman Returns teems with nostalgia and love for the classic Superman mythos, but finds none of the charisma of the character. Could that have anything to do with the lack of charisma from its leads? Routh seems cast more to look like Christopher Reeve than because of his own acting ability, essentially posing his way through the film. Bosworth fares even worse, offering none of the spitfire tenacity or wild intelligence that makes Lois an icon.
3. Robin Williams, The Butler
Williams‘s inclusion here marks something of an odd choice, given that The Butler isn’t all that great to begin with. What could have been a heartwarming romp through American history (and at times, it is) gets upset by Williams’s odd presence playing, of all people, President Dwight Eisenhower. None of Williams’s comic gifts are on display, and in no way does he suggest the cerebral dignity that made Eisenhower such a fascinating man. A man of immense talent, Williams gave some riveting performances, but here, he’s just a fish out of water.
2. James Franco, Spider-Man 2
Please don’t throw stones. Franco has given some great performances, and totally looks the role of prep school frat boy Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man films. His acting, however, doesn’t quite match his chiseled jaw. Franco never displays the neurotic obsession that motivates the character, nor does his descent into madness have any emotional resonance. Of course, that he spends the whole movie trying to kill Spider-Man only just sort of stopping when he finds out his best friend slings the webs doesn’t help, either.
1. Keanu Reeves, Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Reeves has given some fine performances, though his unusual surfer-type voice can make him difficult to cast. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola‘s Gothic horror blockbuster. Like Katie Holmes in a certain other film about a batman, Reeves just feels out of his league opposite some of the greatest actors alive. His English by way of surfer accent doesn’t make him any more convincing, and while he gives the part his all, he can’t overcome his miscasting.