Winning an Academy Award can mean everything in Hollywood…even if in the long run it means nothing. Apart from having a shiny trophy to use as a doorstop, and a prestigious note to add in the bio, winning an Oscar can boost an actor’s profile, not to mention his paycheck. On the other hand, it raises the standards for a performance, which can also dog an actor thereafter. Without good material, the Oscar amplifies the embarrassment an actor suffers when he gives a less-than-award-worthy performance.
Which brings us to these unfortunates. All have given, at times, brilliant performances—enough so to take home the Oscar gold. On the other hand, since winning their awards, they’ve turn in performances so laughably bad it’s a wonder an angry mob hasn’t shown up on their doorsteps to take away the Oscar trophy.
10. Halle Berry
One of the most beautiful women alive, Berry worked for years to make a smooth transition from modeling to film, and earn the reputation of a serious actress in Hollywood. The 2000s looked bright when Berry scored an Emmy for her portrayal of the titular actress in HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. Berry went on to play the iconic role of Storm in the much-anticipated adaptation of X-Men to a mixed reception. Then came the indie drama Monster’s Ball, in which Berry gave a sensational performance and won a Best Actress Oscar. Becoming the biggest star in the world overnight, Berry failed to capitalize on her win. Attempts at solo stardom in Gothika and Movie 43 embarrassed Berry rather than cement her reputation, and her open disdain for the role of Storm, in which longtime fans considered her miscast, turned audiences against her. Then came Catwoman, Berry’s attempt at blockbuster stardom. The movie tanked, in large part to a horrible script and direction, though Berry’s acting also earned her a Razzie Award (she showed up in person to collect it). Nevertheless, the failure of Catwoman along with her open contempt for her role in the ongoing X-Men movies, in which she phoned in her performances, have made viewers wonder if Berry deserved her Oscar in the first place.
9. Roberto Benigni
Who, you say? There’s good reason…
Benigni wrote, directed and starred in Life Is Beautiful, which proved an art house hit in 1998. Come Oscar night, he took home the statue for Best Foreign Language Film. Though nominated for Best Actor as well, Benigni’s chances of winning seemed slim. The contest appeared to vie between Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters and Edward Norton for American History X. The auditorium gasped in shock when previous winner Helen Hunt called Benigni’s name for Best Actor.
The actor, who’s English left something to be desired (or possibly translated), returned to his native Italy for his next project: a live action version of Pinocchio. Benigni wrote, directed and played the lead role, which seemed an odd choice given his age—a 50-something playing a child? Despite a wide release, heavy marketing and a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in, the movie bombed on both sides of the Atlantic. Benigni has barely been seen since, perhaps because he’s afraid that an angry mob (possibly lead by McKellen and Norton), would take away his Oscar statue.
8. Adrien Brody
Another dark horse on Oscar night, Brody beat out one of the heaviest Best Actor fields in years to take home the gold: Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis. Still, Brody’s performance in The Pianist won him the statue, and overnight he became a celebrated actor and sex symbol. His initial follow-ups proved entirely respectable: taking the lead in King Kong gave him solid potential as a box office draw. Roles in The Village, Splice and High School hurt his standing, however, and Brody’s stock quickly fell. His nadir in Predators made Hollywood wonder how he’d ever won in the first place.
7. Faye Dunaway
Classically trained thespian Dunaway scored some great roles in the 1970s, including the part of an Ayn Randian level sociopath in Network. Catapulted to the top of the Hollywood heap, things then began to get…well, weird. As the 80s dawned, Dunaway tried again for Oscar gold, taking on the controversial role of Joan Crawford in the biopic Mommie Dearest. The result fell short: the movie became a milestone in cinematic bombs, and took camp cinema to a whole new level. Dunaway’s scenery chewing invited wide derision, as did her work in a high-profile follow up, Supergirl. The latter also joined the camp pantheon, occasionally referred to (appropriately) as the Mommie Dearest of comic book fare. Audiences viewing the two movies wonder how Dunaway ever scored the award.
6. Marlon Brando
I know, I know, Brando is often cited as the actor of the 20th century, delivering incredible performances in A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and of course, The Godfather. He took home Best Actor statues for the latter two, both of which remain classics of film.
Brando also had a transparent contempt for his profession, which manifested during his Godfather Oscar win. Brando sent an actress posing as a Native American to decline the award, which forever tainted his reputation, and predicted his latter-day erratic behavior. By the time the 90s rolled around, Brando had become almost uncastable due to his on-set difficulty. The Island of Dr. Moreau, in which he played the title role, proved a disaster, in part because of Brando’s behavior. His performance is nothing short of ludicrous: insisting on wearing bizarre makeup and costumes, it’s obvious he never learned his lines, which had to be fed to him through an earpiece. Brando’s sheer laziness alone warranted an Oscar recall.
5. Kim Basinger
Tinsel town never thought of Basinger as an acting heavyweight. She’d begun her career as a model, and her gorgeous looks more than her range helped her win roles in Batman and Wayne’s World 2. An uneven filmography kept her from great roles, at least until LA Confidential came her way. Cast as a lookalike of starlet Veronica Lake, Basinger’s performance won wide acclaim, as did the film: it scored several Oscar nominations, including one for Basinger in the Best Supporting Actress category. LA Confidential’s chances on awards night dwindled under the weight of runaway hit Titanic, though Basinger actually won in an upset.
Then her career nosedived. Star vehicles like I Dreamed of Africa suggested Basinger had only limited ability, and a string of dud performances in forgettable fare have made observers wonder how exactly she won in the first place.
4. Whoopi Goldberg
Few actresses have had a career as varied as Ms. Goldberg, who rose to fame as a stand-up comic before making her debut in the lead role in The Color Purple. Goldberg’s performance was nothing short of brilliant, and though she was widely picked to win the Best Actress award on Oscar night, she lost out to sentimental favorite Geraldine Page. She then labored in dud comedies like Jumpin’ Jack Flash and The Telephone which met with critical derision and middling box office before scoring another hit with Ghost. Her hilarious performance won her the Supporting Actress statue, though it did little to change her trajectory as a star of comedy flops. Roles in bombs like Burn Hollywood Burn, Theodore Rex and Monkeybone suggested though Goldberg had the acting chops, her talent at choosing projects left something to be desired.
3. Nicolas Cage
Cage had a great run in the 90s with hits like The Rock, City of Angels and Moonstruck. The rare talent that could attract large audiences in blockbusters and give moving performances in quiet dramas, he became a hot commodity in Hollywood. He took the role of an alcoholic agent in Leaving Las Vegas to wide critical praise, and even won the Best Actor award on Oscar night. His later output varied in quality: movies like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin hurt his standing, while later outings like Left Behind made him into a joke. Erratic behavior, financial troubles, and hammy performances–notably in The Wicker Man, which became an internet camp classic–dimmed his star to the point audiences wondered how he even won his Oscar to begin with.
2. Michael Caine
Michael Caine became a sex symbol and a megastar with his early roles in films like Alfie and Sleuth. Oscar nominations quickly followed, and in 1986 he took home the statue for a powerful performance in Hannah and Her Sisters. Just one problem though–Caine liked to work too much, to the point where he would take almost any role offered to him. He didn’t accept his Oscar in person as he was on location filming Jaws The Revenge, one of the worst movies ever. Though he never phoned in a performance, the questionable quality of some of his output hurt his reputation and made him something of a punchline. In recent years, he’s acquitted himself well, winning another Oscar for The Cider House Rules, and becoming a sort of good luck charm for director Christopher Nolan.
Cher began her acting career as a joke. Already known as a pop musician, her first outing, Chastity, bombed at the box office. Years later, she tried again with Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which earned her strong notices. A year later, she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her performance in Silkwood, before winning the statue in 1987 for Moonstruck. Then, she lost interest. Her output dropped considerably as she returned to her singing career and became an infomercial spokesmodel. By the time she appeared in Burlesque in 2010, audiences had forgotten her considerable acting chops, and wondered how she ever even got parts in the first place.
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