Johnny Depp has had a bad couple of years at the movies. The Tourist. Transcendence. The much-maligned summer flop The Lone Ranger. That’s quite a string of films that flopped at the box office and with critics.
But they were hits compared to his Mortdecai, a slapstick comedy that opened early this year to universal pans and record-setting low box office. How low? In its opening weekend, it earned less than $10 million worldwide, ranking only #9th among movies in theatres. Overall, Mortdecai cracked the Top 20 list of worst movie openings ever.
But don’t feel too bad for Johnny. The pirate movies have made him rich, and Tim Burton always has a job for him.
Besides, every major Hollywood star makes a real stinker that he or she would rather forget about. Naturally. After all, how are you going to know how good an actor is until you see them at their worst? To put their talent into perspective, check out these 16 great actors at the lowest points in their careers.
16. Kevin Costner (The Postman)
Kevin Costner must have figured that, with the success of Dances With Wolves, audiences were up for three hour movies. They weren’t.
This apocalyptic tale cast director Costner as a man wandering through a lawless future America (the year 2013) who stumbled across a postman outfit. He used it to inspire people to take back their country from evil folks. Yes, it was a dumb, boring ego project. One smart critic dubbed it ‘Dances With Myself’.
There was no excuse for this movie’s three hour length. An hour could easily have been cut out of the middle without hurting the plot. On top of this, it was all a bit pretentious and tried too hard to push a moralising message. So it wasn’t even fun-bad, like Waterworld.
The Postman was made for $80 million but earned back only a third of that. It wasn’t even released outside of North America.
15. Robert De Niro (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle)
The animated duo actually came off pretty good in this 2000 movie as they jumped from their cartoon world to a live action one. It was the flesh-and-blood actors who suffered, most notably the formidable Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader. Dressed like a Nazi, a monocle lodged in one eye, De Niro was like some bargain basement Colonel Klink.
He was not remotely funny – indeed, there was very little beyond the moose and the squirrel in this flick. And after resisting for years to speak his famous Taxi Driver line, he reprised “You Talkin’ To Me?” in this dreck. Just, why? The film earned only half of its $60 million budget back at the box office.
Co-star Jason Alexander summed up the movie best when he publicly apologized for his participation.
14. Meryl Streep (She-Devil)
The multi-award winning actress has never been afraid to take on a challenging, career-changing role. This wasn’t one of those.
Streep played the fancy, pretentious, morally-bankrupt Mary Fisher, the ‘Other Woman’ to a frumpy Ruth (Roseanne Barr) in this laughless comedy. After stealing Ruth’s husband, Mary found herself on the losing end of a Ruth revenge plot that destroyed both Mary and Ruth’s philandering husband. Viewers had a hard time cheering for anyone in this flick.
Apparently, Streep originally wanted to play the Ruth character, which might actually have been better. Barr’s film career pretty much ended with this, and she wandered back to her hit sitcom.
13. Anthony Hopkins (The Wolfman)
Hopkins is not opposed to lending his considerable acting gravitas to a big budget action film as well as the odd, smoldering pile of cinematic crap. He’s a real working actor.
In this misfire horror movie, Hopkins played the unloving father to Benicio del Toro, who had a thing about the moon. Turns out daddy did as well, and Hopkins growled and grew hair in unusual places on-screen.
A slow-moving movie with little to recommend it, this was a big 2010 flop that included firings, rewrites and multiple delays in its release.
12. Bruce Willis (North)
When someone asks you to wear a bunny suit in a movie, that should set alarm bells ringing. Actually, Willis embarrassed himself in multiple outfits in this ‘family’ movie about a kid (played by Elijah Wood) wandering the world in search of perfect parents. Willis even narrated.
Still, most of the blame for this 1994 so-called comedy fell on director Rob Reiner, who had a pretty spotless record up to that point. It’s considered one of the worst movies ever made – a phrase critics don’t just throw around.
On the plus side, North was responsible for Roger Ebert’s most famous review. He wrote “ I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it”… Sounds like he hated it.
11. Robert Downey Junior (The Shaggy Dog)
Downey had been clean and sober for three years when he took on this Tim Allen doggie comedy – so he can’t use that as an excuse. The Oscar winner wasn’t even the lead in the 2006 film; he just played the bad guy. Still, he got to act like a dog in the climactic courtroom scene, exchanging growls with Allen before he was hauled away.
A guy turns into a dog? Tim Allen, sure, but what about that premise was so attractive to the incredibly talented Downey? This will go down as one of the most baffling career moves in cinema history. More baffling, perhaps, was the movie’s box office gross. Despite universally terrible reviews, it turned a tidy profit.
10. George Clooney (Batman and Robin)
By this third sequel to the Tim Burton reboot, the makers of the superhero franchise had lost the plot. Wasn’t this supposed to be a meaner, angrier, darker Batman? As Batman, Clooney came off as the straight guy in an action comedy cluttered with too many villains in Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, and too many good guys like Robin and Batgirl. This entry in the franchise had more in common with the campy 1960s TV series than Burton’s original vision.
None of this movie worked in the slightest, and a deadpan Clooney acted like he was just there for a paycheck. Critics weren’t kind. The film has an astonishingly low 11% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes – but at least Batman got nipples.
9. Brad Pitt (Cool World)
A young Pitt played a live action hard-boiled detective in an animated world in this much-hated flop. Animator Ralph Bakshi alleged he punched out the film’s producer after his script was altered beyond recognition. Considering how bad the script turned out, they probably should have stuck to Bakshi’s original story. Or any other story. Really, they shouldn’t have bothered with this misfire at all.
Still, Bakshi has to take the blame for the film’s bad melding of cartoon characters with real people. Pitt looked constantly baffled and ill at ease as he fell for a cartoon femme fatale called Holly Would. Roger Rabbit it wasn’t.
Cool World earned back less than half its budget, though Pitt’s burgeoning career seemed, incredibly, unaffected.
8. Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne)
The worst moment of Hanks’ career is a toss up between the big budget mistake Joe Versus The Volcano (which at least had ambition) and Larry Crowne, co-written and directed by Hanks. The latter was so boring it could have done with Joe’s climactic volcano to wake up the audience.
This was the milquetoast tale of a 50-year-old man reinventing himself after losing his job. He chose school as the way to do this. Yes, it was as dull as it sounds.
It was not funny enough to be called a comedy, or dramatic enough to be interesting. It was just boring, despite the presence of Julia Roberts as a teacher and love interest.
Those who bought tickets for this film (and there weren’t many) were said to have been largely middle-aged and a full 93 per cent of the audience was over 25. But they didn’t even like it.
7. Matthew McConaughey (Surfer Dude)
There but for the grace of God – or at least, some clever agenting work – went McConaughey’s whole career.
In this 2008 comedy, McConaughey played a celebrated surfer who went a little crazy when there were no waves for several weeks. It was like the actor was embracing his own clichéd image as the stoner man child. He not only didn’t wear a shirt, he didn’t wear shoes. Everyone in the film looked like they were having a good time. The audience? Not so much.
On the plus side, his True Detective sidekick Woody Harrelson was on hand to smoke reefer and look tanned. Willie Nelson was their dealer. Barely making it to theaters, the flick earned a tepid $50,000 at the box office. Surfer, Dude marked a credibility low point for McConaughey, who would begin to turn it around that same year with Tropic Thunder.
6. Jack Nicholson (Wolf)
Nobody’s really sure why the celebrated actor wanted to do a werewolf movie. Maybe it was a chance to work again with director Mike Nichols (The Graduate/Carnal Knowledge), who really should have left horror movies to some other directors.
The film was sort of a social satire (about office politics, of all things), with beleaguered book editor Nicholson improving his life by going all wolfie at night. And peeing on sleazy James Spader’s shoes.
Jack huffs and puffs more in this movie than The Shining, but to no good end. Neither scary nor entertaining, this movie incredibly earned back its money at the box, but confused more people than it pleased.
5. Al Pacino (Jack and Jill)
One might figure it would be tough to embarrass yourself in a movie where you play yourself. One would be wrong.
A single Adam Sandler is annoying enough. But in this much-hated 2011 comedy, he played both a man and his twin sister. And she wasn’t pretty. Neither was the movie.
Playing himself as an eccentric egomaniac, Pacino inexplicably fell for Sandler as Jill and proceeded to woo her while dressed like The Man of La Mancha (Don’t ask). At one low point, Jill accidentally smashed Pacino’s one Oscar and he didn’t seem to mind. Ironic.
Later, Al did a coffee commercial in which he rapped. Please make him stop. Jack and Jill won ten Golden Raspberry Awards (a record), including Worst Movie. Yet it made good money; a perfect example of the Sandler paradox.
4. Helen Mirren (Caligula)
The Oscar-winning star of The Queen did adult entertainment? Yes and no. Yes, she did appear in this notoriously sexualised 1979 biopic about the evil Roman emperor. But so did Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud. In truth, all the real (and extraneous) sex scenes were shot long after the big time English actors had filmed their roles, and original director Tinto Brass had left in a huff.
Mirren, who played Caligula’s wife, doesn’t regret making the film – which became the most successful po*n movie ever. In a book on the making of the film, the actor was quoted as calling Caligula an ‘irresistible mix of art and genitals’.
3. Nicole Kidman (The Stepford Wives)
This flop was a 2004 remake of the 70s’ sci fi social satire – but with none of the wit or the menace. Kidman played Joanna, a TV exec who moved with her hubby to a vapid town full of perfectly coiffed wives in flower-print dresses. Joanna suspects something is off about these women. They turn out to be robots – or under some sort of mind control. The point wasn’t really clear, nor funny.
Glenn Close and Christopher Walken also showed up and generally embarrassed themselves in a big budget production marked by on-set tension and numerous script rewrites. Kidman, who expressed regret she ever made the film, would misguidedly go down the remake route once again the following year with the equally disastrous Bewitched.
2. John Travolta (Battlefield Earth)
In a career marked by as many bad movies as good, this personal project stands out. Travolta put his money where his mouth was in partially financing this silly sci fi epic based on a book by Scientologist Founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Travolta starred as a big-headed alien in dreadlocks who is given the job of gold mining the Earth using human slaves.
To say that Travolta’s performance was over-the-top does not do it justice. Bad word-of-mouth (and the film’s Scientology connection) doomed the film before its release. It earned less than half of its $93 million budget. But it did earn no less than 9 Razzie Awards, including a Worst Actor nod for Travolta.
1. Ben Affleck (Gigli)
Is Gigli as bad as everyone says it is? Almost. But the 2003 film arrived – after re-edits and delays – just as the mania over then-couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez was waning. The world was tired of ‘Bennifer’, and critics and audiences took out their frustration on this odd crime/romance. It wasn’t a good movie, but did it really deserve a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 6 per cent?
It should be noted that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are also in Gigli, though nobody seems to remember that fact. Maybe it’s because nobody saw the film. That might explain the fact that it only earned $7 million at the box office on a $70 million budget. Movie goers didn’t just not go – they stayed away on purpose.
Affleck recovered admirably though, going on to become more successful as a director and building up a stellar acting resume that outshone this disastrous period in the history of his career.