It is, admittedly, tough to accurately gauge an actor’s reputation, but we’re going to do it anyway. Actors are human, so it’s normal for them to go through rough patches. Yeah, there are terrible actors who make terrible movies year after year, but we’re not interested in those people or those roles. We’re looking at big actors doing awful things. We’re interested in the one-offs. Every once in awhile, there comes a role which really goes against everything we know about an actor. This role shakes our belief in the star. We begin to doubt their abilities. Have they always been this bad? Were we too blind to see it before? Can they regroup?
We’re also not interested in the other end of the spectrum. We don’t want to discuss roles that ended an actor’s career because we like happy endings. We’re taking a glance at those actors who had their reputations damaged by terrible roles and films, damaged, just not irreparably damaged. For whatever reason, the roles in question changed our opinion of the actors who performed them. Maybe the curtain was lifted and we saw them for who they really were, a side of them we would become used to, or maybe it was just a momentary lapse of quality for the actor. Who knows? What we do know is that these were bad roles and things changed after we saw them, if only briefly. Let’s countdown 15 movie roles that severely damaged an actor’s reputation.
15. Mark Wahlberg – The Happening
Anywhere you go in this world, any corner of the map, speak the name Mark Wahlberg and you’ll hear only one thing, “yeah, but The Happening tho.” It’s as if the one thing that unites people around the world is disdain for Wahlberg’s performance in that movie. This is a two-part tale or hate and ridicule. Half of it is a hate for Wahlberg’s campy role and the other is a pure and unadulterated hate for everything M. Night Shyamalan creates. Once the Internet got it into its circuits that M. Night Shyamalan might make some strange choices in his films, people everywhere started to jump on everything he did. Well, Wahlberg and Shyamalan have rebounded since this film and, although many people will never forget what happened in 2008 with The Happening, most have moved on to ridiculing other people.
14. Faye Dunaway – Mommie Dearest
Seven years after her performance in Chinatown, Faye Dunaway took on the role of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. While the film was not much loved at the time of its release, it took on a second life in the years afterward. Dunaway though, felt that the film was too campy and put her in a light that she was never able to escape. After the harsh criticism the film received, Dunaway began to shun it all together. Even though her performance was often heralded as the only positive thing in the movie, she felt that people began to associate her with the diva qualities of Joan Crawford. It would take some time for Dunaway to revitalize her career, though it never did reach the heights it was at in the 70s.
13. Brandon Routh – Superman Returns
Sure, Brandon Routh had no real reputation to speak of before his turn as Superman in Superman Returns, but there’s no question that the film hurt him for some time. There’s a good argument to be made that Superman Returns is actually a pretty decent movie and that Routh was a pretty decent Superman, but for the majority of people, their opinion of Routh was that he somehow missed the mark. It would take a while for Routh to take hold of his career again, and it would be on TV that he would do it. While he did have some small roles and cameos, it was the show Chuck that really did it for him. Now a mainstay in the CW comic universe, Routh looks to be back home in tights for good this time.
12. Natalie Portman – Star Wars
It wasn’t all that long ago that Natalie Portman spoke out openly against the Star Wars prequels. After she gained recognition for her roles in Leon: The Professional, Heat and Mars Attacks! Portman took on Queen Amidala in the new Star Wars trilogy and things didn’t go exactly as planned. Though the films were the biggest box offices successes of their time, they were reviled by critics. Portman’s performance was criticized for its wooden qualities and the script did her no favors. Portman would go on to say that the trilogy made her seem like she couldn’t act and Hollywood directors no longer wanted to work with her. But Portman trudged on. She would perform admirably in a few films in the first decade of the millennium and then, in 2010, she would breakout with Black Swan and win the award for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
11. Bruce Willis – Cop Out
For the longest time, Bruce Willis was the king of cop action movies. This is, after all, the John McClane. Coming off of Surrogates, it wasn’t like Willis was red hot, but he certainly wasn’t in a downward spiral, but then came Cop Out. His decision to be in the movie was questionable and his choices within it were even more curious. Then movie fans started hearing from Kevin Smith, the director, that Willis was a nightmare to work with. We all started to wonder if this was the beginning of the end for the action legend, but all that doubt was to be short lived. RED came out not much longer and we got to see the aging action star, Willis, playing an aging action star. It was refreshing and showed us exactly what the next stage for Willis can and should be.
10. Colin Farrell – Alexander
Colin Farrell has been in a lot of really good movies, and while it’s unlikely that anyone ever wrote him off completely, after 2004’s Alexander, many fans were wondering if Farrell was losing his panache on the big screen. From the terrible accent to the constant character bellyaching to the stupid looking hair, Farrell’s Alexander was a brutal display. It was like watching a friend turn into someone you hate right in front of your eyes. It would take about four years for Farrell to return to form and remind fans who he was. In 2008, he went back to his roots with In Bruges and it was a romping success, helping fans forget the disaster that was Alexander.
9. David Hasselhoff – Homemade Wendy’s Commercial
The worst role David Hasselhoff ever took was when he played the drunken father eating a sloppy Wendy’s burger on the floor in a home video filmed by his daughter. Prior to this, Hasselhoff was a bit of a pop culture legend, especially in Germany for whatever reason. Likened to other icons like Chuck Norris and, well, pretty much like Chuck Norris and no one else, the Hoff was a cult classic in his own right. After this home video leaked, the Hoff’s reputation took a major hit and people saw him much, much differently. As he tries to keep the sloppy hamburger together, the Hoff slurs his words with his mouthful like a pig. It’s unclear why or how the Hoff ever got so popular, but it’s safe to say that his status as a cultural icon took a big hit with this video.
8. Joaquin Phoenix – I’m Still Here
There may come a time when people look back at I’m Still Here and see it for what it is, but at this point, it’s seen by many as a film and a decision that did nothing but hurt Joaquin Phoenix‘s image. Prior to this film, he was considered one of the best actors in the game. In 2008, when Phoenix announced his retirement, fans were shocked. Then in 2010, when it was revealed that it was all part of a production stunt for I’m Still Here, it was as if people were mad at him for duping them. People didn’t understand it and those that did felt it missed the mark. Say what you will about Phoenix, the guy can act. He came back in 2012 with an Academy Award nominated performance in The Master and hasn’t looked back since. Even with his recent boom, there are still many butt hurt fans who won’t forgive him for betraying them. Technically it’s not his fault that you bought what he was selling. Move on with your lives.
7. Ben Affleck – Daredevil
Ben Affleck has been around for ages. He started off his career with some very popular movies and had a strong resume coming into the new millennium. He started off the 2000s with some good flicks like Boiler Room, The Sum of All Fears, Changing Lanes, heck, even Pearl Harbor and Reindeer Games weren’t his fault, but then something terrible happened, something that shook the foundations of Affleck’s career. It was called Daredevil and it was truly awful. It was also around this time that we learned that hell hath no fury like a comic book nerd scorned. The masses joined hands and screamed for Affleck’s head. How dare he mess with Hell’s Kitchen? Affleck then followed this film up with Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas all in succession. It was a dark period for Ben and it wouldn’t be until The Town that he really would come out of this big league slump.
6. Will Smith – After Earth
Will Smith has taken a few hits on his way down from the top in recent years, but none were bigger than the failure in After Earth. This god awful film was Smith’s idea, Smith’s cast and Smith’s crew. Even though M. Night Shyamalan directed it, this had Will Smith and his weird connection to Scientology written all over it. Casting him and his son in the leads made matters worse when they both failed to show any passion in their performances. Will Smith playing Will Smith has become a problem for him in recent years and Jaden Smith‘s inability to act at all in his teenage years is a disaster that continues to happen. Some keen-eyed viewers have been foretelling the fall of Smith for some time and After Earth appeared to expedite that process. That being said, Concussion may have briefly rejuvenated his fans, but it probably won’t last forever. Plus, the more Jaden Smith says words out loud and in public, the quicker his father’s fans will leave his side.
5. George Clooney – Batman
Back in 1997, George Clooney was primarily a television actor—and this was when TV wasn’t the same as the TV of today kids. He was cast as Batman in Batman and Robin after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise the role. The decision was weird but so was everything Schumacher did with the Batman franchise. In the end, Clooney was awful. The film was not good. Clooney’s Batman was not good and just about everything that could go wrong did. It was then that people began to seriously question whether or not Clooney had what it took to become a real actor and not a glorified soap opera actor, sorry guys. Well, he proved everyone wrong. Today, Clooney is recognized as one of the greats in the industry and most of his films are praised as wonders. This is just a small reminder that it wasn’t always that way.
4. Matthew McConaughey – Fool’s Gold
Maybe it’s unfair to throw this all on Fool’s Gold because there were several Rom Coms during this time that made Matthew McConaughey look silly. It started with The Wedding Planner, then came How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, then came Failure to Launch and after Fool’s Gold came Ghost’s of Girlfriends Past. None of these were great (though How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has its charms) and all of them combined to form people’s opinions of McConaughey—he was a Rom Com specialist and nothing more. But you know, give the guy credit. He took some time off and reinvented himself. He came back in 2011 with The Lincoln Lawyer and became the McConaughey we all now know and love today. If you would have said in 2005 that this guy would win an Academy Award in the next 10 years, you would have been called crazy.
3. Johnny Depp – Pirates Franchise
Johnny Depp is still a powerful figure in Hollywood, don’t get it twisted. A major part of his success, especially his financial success, has to do with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Yet, there’s an argument to be made that the Pirates franchise also damaged Depp’s reputation. Sure, he’s had hits and misses scattered all over the place, but Depp has also been a character actor, and it seems that the character of Jack Sparrow has been difficult, if not impossible, for him to leave behind. Every accent and every movement that Depp makes seems to bring back memories of Jack Sparrow. He seems to channel him in almost every role he has nowadays. People enjoy the Pirates films for the most part, but we also want to leave them behind. With the shadow of Jack Sparrow showing itself behind almost all of Depp’s performances, it seems that won’t be happening any time soon.
2. Nicolas Cage – Ghost Rider
It’s plausible to suggest that Nicolas Cage has always been the guy we know him as today, but it seems that we didn’t quite know who he was until Ghost Rider. Cage had some bad movies in the late 90s and early 2000s, but it wasn’t until we saw him take a crap on movie and comic book fans alike as Johnny Blaze in 2007, that we truly questioned his ability to perform at all. Truth be told, Cage was just being Cage. He’s a strange little guy and he does strange little things. He’d go on to do other bad movies, but he would also do great films, like Kick-Ass and Joe. It may seem like Cage has embraced his weirdness and awkwardness and that’s how he stumbled out of the black hole in his career, but it’s more likely that fans have just learned to embrace his weirdness and awkwardness. This guy hasn’t changed much since he started acting over 30 years ago. We have.
1. John Travolta – Battlefield Earth
John Travolta will always be around in some fashion, but his reputation has been damaged over the years. After Pulp Fiction, Travolta was the king again. Tarantino made him cool for a new generation and the world was his oyster. Then tragedy struck. Travolta got sucked into a cult and made one of the worst professional decisions of his career. He decided to both star and fund Battlefield Earth, easily the worst movie that’s ever been made. People not only questioned his ability to act with any flavor after seeing this travesty of a film, but they also questioned his sanity. Things haven’t really gotten any better for the guy, but he is John Travolta and he’s been in too many good movies to allow his name to be dragged around in the mud for too long.