Being miscast in a movie is not necessarily the kiss of death. Many actors who were clearly not right for a role not only pull through with a decent portrayal, in some cases they create something transcendent. It also happens that an actor pulls through with an amazing performance in an otherwise awful film: miracles do happen.
That’s not what this list is about, though. Today we’re taking a look at some actors who made some pretty bad decisions in their portrayal. While undeniably many of these actors had a lot stacked against them, like bad writing, bad direction and miscasting, but the gap between forgettable and outright bad is pretty egregious. In many cases, the actor in question made some really baffling decisions which seem to come out of nowhere, as if they were acting in a different movie. While there are certainly exceptions, we tried not to make too much fun of actors who have not demonstrated any talent whatsoever, they have enough to worry about already. In defense of some of these performers, they are often more than capable of giving a truly fantastic performance and one of the markers of their talent is the ability to take risks. Unfortunately, not all risks pay off, and the results land you on a list like this.
15. Denise Richards: The World is Not Enough
Denise Richards playing a rocket scientist was already a big hurdle for the audience to overcome. This bumbling blonde we’ve come to know more about her bouncing assets than acting talent was always going to have an uphill battle in convincing us she graduated high school, let alone completed any kind of university grad program. Richards completely undersells the role, though, failing completely to convey an analytical or intelligent thought. While maybe Richards is not as dumb as she seems, her performance here makes us believe she’s never even met a smart person.
14. Vince Vaughn: Psycho
The truly abysmal Psycho remake had a number of problems, likely, it should never have been made in the first place. While it might be the most expensive art project ever made, recreating the original film shot for shot, revealing that what makes a movie great goes far beyond the construction of a shot – it is not helped at all by their actors. While Norman Bates is always going to be a little creepy, in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, the movie works so well due to Anthony Perkins being genuinely likable. Vince Vaughn plays the role all wrong – he is not only really creepy from the get go but lends absolutely no likability to Norman Bates at all. If we were Marion Crane, we would never stay the night in the same hotel as that creep!
13. Cameron Diaz: Gangs of New York
Miscast or poorly acted? It’s hard to say in the case of Cameron Diaz, who is rarely very bad in movies, but seldom very good. She drags down Gangs of New York completely with her stiff and lifeless performance, and we genuinely wish she had done anything but what she did here. First, the accent was a no-go. Sure a certain amount of realism is necessary, but hers never works, so it never sells. It seems at nearly every opportunity she makes the wrong choice and creates an utterly unconvincing character. While sometimes you can put the blame on the director, Martin Scorsese has a pretty good track record in drawing out great performances from his actor. Unfortunately, this lies on Diaz’ shoulders.
12. Val Kilmer: The Island of Dr. Moreau
This movie might be a trainwreck in nearly every sense of the word, but at the heart of its problems lies Val Kilmer. While his behind the scenes antics are well documented, there are a lot of cases of poor behavior resulting in some strong and eclectic performances. Kilmer here though seems to be in an entirely different movie, choosing his own ego at every turn and delivering a baffling and listless performance. While he is apparently supposed to be the star he is the least memorable thing about this movie, which is saying something.
11. Hayden Christensen: Star Wars Saga
The blame for everything wrong with Anakin Skywalker does not rest entirely on Hayden Christensen. He was an inexperienced actor and considering that, did a decent job. He was also working under the direction of George Lucas who has made it abundantly clear time and time again, that he has a very poor sense of story. The major problem with Christensen’s performance was how absolutely and pervasively brooding he is. Like an emo teen who can’t afford the newest My Chemical Romance CD, he conveys whininess more than any kind of depth or angst. This is an incredibly one-note performance, that offers no nuance in Anakin’s transition to the dark side.
10. Anne Hathaway: Alice in Wonderland
Coming at the height of our collection exhaustion with all things Anne Hathaway, her performance as The White Queen was a mess of bad decisions. It’s saying something that in a movie where Johnny Depp plays a Scottish Mad Hatter, she is the most unbearable and off-tone actor. Whether or not you’ve burned out on Tim Burton’s brand of dark whimsy, there is no denying his vision is unified, but Hathaway seems totally left that style. More parody than anything else, she overplays the cloying sweetness of the role, reaching into an entirely different cinematic world.
9. Johnny Depp: Charlie & the Chocolate Factory
There are honestly a number of Depp performances that could have made this list. As often as Depp gives a good performance, he gives a truly unbearable one – it is the price he pays for taking risks. Still riding the high of Pirates of the Caribbean, it seemed nearly every performance that Depp undertook in this period of his career was inspired in part by an eccentric famous person that you wouldn’t expect. While Depp denies it, it’s nearly impossible not to draw some pretty significant similarities between Depp’s Willy Wonka and Michael Jackson: the voice, the white skin, and even the hair. Connecting Willy Wonka to a man accused of molesting children is a very poor choice whether or not it was intended.
8. Halle Berry: Catwoman
No one has suffered the post-Oscar curse with the same pain and suffering as Halle Berry. Ever since she won Best Actress for Monster’s Ball it’s been one cinematic disaster after another, and it all started with Catwoman. As with most films on the list, the utter failure of Catwoman is not entirely Halle Berry’s fault – but in this case, a lot of the fault DOES lie on Berry. Her performance does not make any sense. As if she had absolutely no idea who Catwoman is, she sort of stumbles around with no sense of tone. One moment goofy, the next moment slightly less goofy, she never takes the role seriously enough to pull it off. This feels more like a high school students idea of acting than an Oscar winner.
7. Shia LaBeouf: Nymphomaniac
There is something endearing about Shia LaBeouf rebranding himself as a conceptual artist – but it doesn’t absolve the fact he’s not quite a great actor he thinks he is. Surprisingly, he often plays upbeat and broader characters better than his more serious “artistic” works. Of all his films, though, his worst performance is in Nymphomaniac. Not only does his accent change from one scene to the next (there is nothing about the film’s location, situations, story or dialogue that indicates that he cannot be American), but he fails to convey any authority whatsoever. As the apparent object of insatiable sexual desire, he doesn’t come across as either particularly desirable or sexy. He seems even younger than he actually is, like a first-year drama student trying to show how deep he is.
6. Roberto Benigni: Pinocchio
The first problem with Roberto Benigni as Pinocchio is everything. He should not have made this movie and he should not have cast himself. And, even if he were trying something conceptual and different, playing up the infantile qualities of the little wooden boy feel especially absurd in the skin of a middle-aged Italian man. Benigni goes so far as to play the character a few years younger than he should as well, and even the cartoon Pinocchio from Disney seems to have a few more years and a bit more maturity than this interpretation. Playing the role so young (while being so old) removes any possibility of nuance and is honestly just creepy.
5. Madonna: Swept Away
Oh, Madonna. There are so many roles of hers that could have landed on this list, but this one, directed by her ex-husband is the worst. One of the reasons why people are so tough on Madonna is that she is not inherently an awful actor, which renders her clueless performance and awful film choices all the more baffling. In Swept Away, a remake of an Italian social satire from the 70s, Madonna tries to echo the operatic tones of the original and falls flat on her face. She lets her ego get in the way and refuses to underplay her role, as well as letting her pride override any potentially interesting choice. This movie is a trainwreck in more ways than one, but at the center of that problem, is Madonna herself.
4. Cuba Gooding Jr: Radio
Still fresh in people’s memories, when Tropic Thunder was released and Robert Downey Jr. advised to “never go full retard”, we all know that Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio was exactly what they had in mind. Much like Halle Berry, post his Oscar win for Jerry Maguire, it seemed as though Cuba Gooding Jr.’s entire career took a nosedive. It wasn’t even just poor film choices, it was poor choices in performance. Radio is a weird beast and there are far more ways it could have gone wrong than right. Cuba Gooding Jr. seemed to make every possible wrong choice, though, right down to pretending to fly in a grocery cart.
3. Nicolas Cage: Season of the Witch
People underestimate how great Nicolas Cage can be when he is so bad. His performances in films like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Wicker Man and Ghost Rider are gloriously excessive. In none of these films is that misplaced, and in each case, he turns out a memorable and extraordinary performance. If only he brought that white-knuckled energy to Season of the Witch, which along with Bangkok Dangerous, Cage’s worst performance and possibly worst film. Underplaying a middle ages equivalent of a vigilante was a really bad choice, especially since the film didn’t really call for a stoic gravitas. We like crazy Nicolas Cage more than restrained Nicholas Cage.
2. Mark Wahlberg: The Happening
If Denise Richards isn’t credible as a rocket scientist, remarkably, Mark Wahlberg isn’t even credible as a science teacher. His Boston drawl slowed to such a painful slur that it’s hard to believe he doesn’t ride the short bus, he plays the whole film like a teenage boy stoned out of his mind. While him turning a good performance would have only done a little to save a movie about evil plants, it couldn’t have hurt. Unlike most performances on this list, though, Wahlberg’s choices contribute to The Happening being a sort of comic masterpiece – so we don’t hold it against him.
1. Seth MacFarlane: A Million Ways to Die in the West
Whether or not you find Seth MacFarlane funny, there is no denying he has a lot of talent. Surprisingly for a voice actor, his looks aren’t a problem either – he looks like an old school variety host. Unfortunately, nothing about any of his performances as himself has ever indicated that MacFarlane has any instinct for acting whatsoever. As if his voice were somehow transplanted from his body, he moves and behaves like someone not even used to having human skin. He winks and plays to the camera like he’s playing some big joke but there is no punchline. One of the most bewildering performances in recent years.