Earlier this year I published an article naming the 8 Best and 7 Worst Netflix Original Series. Upon compiling that list, I began to think about what factors led to these shows being successful or unsuccessful.
A theme which kept appearing in those rankings was the importance of casting the right actors and actresses for the shows. No matter how good the writing or directing of a series is, it is impossible to bring the characters and plot to life without the help of an able acting staff. As such, this list will countdown the 8 Best and 8 Worst Actors on Netflix Original Shows.
As you go through this list, you will find a direct correlation between those shows who have good actors, and the shows which are most celebrated and popular on Netflix. Any specific facts or dates used in this article are taken from IMDb.com.
16. Best – Gaten Matarazzo In Stranger Things
There is no actor I am more happy to put on this list than Stranger Things’ Gaten Matarazzo. Matarazzo, of course, plays Dustin Henderson, best friend to the show’s main protagonist Mike Wheeler. With all the attention currently being given to the show, I think people are underestimating how important Matarazzo is to the story. In the same vein as Ron Weasley or Samwise Gamgee, Dustin Henderson is the best friend that everyone always wanted. Matarazzo has gotten some serious attention since the show’s debut, so don’t be surprised to see him in similar roles in the future. I for one, can’t wait to see how this young (as of this writing Matarazzo is only 14 years old), talented actor progresses throughout his career.
15. Worst – Claire Foy In The Crown
The inherent problem with any piece of historical fiction is that all the characters involved are based on real people, therefore, the portrayals of the actors involved can be very much judged according to the known personalities and traits of the characters being portrayed. With that being said, I have found myself building a great dislike to the portrayal of Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II. Foy does an adequate job of portraying the Queen, and it is obvious that she has been given a briefing on the known personality of Elizabeth, but there is something about her performance which seems to be missing. With the show being so entirely centered around the Elizabeth character, Foy’s off-putting portrayal has prevented this show from reaching its fullest potential.
14. Best – Charlie Cox In Daredevil
As a huge comic book fan, a lot of my TV viewing centers around superhero based programming, and I have particularly high expectations for those shows which are based off my favorite heroes. With that being said, I have been extremely impressed so far with relative unknown Charlie Cox and his rendition of the hero of Hell’s Kitchen. Confident yet reserved in real life, Cox perfectly fits the tumultuous personality of Daredevil. Not only this, but Cox does a great job of portraying the personal issues that come with Murdoch’s life as a superhero. These factors combined with the great on-screen chemistry he has with Elodie Yung (the actress who plays Elektra), and you’ve got the #14 best actor in a Netflix original series.
13. Worst – Ronald Ollie In Last Chance U
Since Last Chance U is actually a documentary (as opposed to a fictional show), I was conflicted about using Ronald Ollie as an “actor” for this lists purposes. I eventually went through with it, however, as Ollie is simply too good (or bad) of a character not to discuss. Last Chance U is a documentary focusing on a powerhouse Junior College football program in Mississippi. Generally, players in Junior College football have been prevented from playing in the NCAA for a variety of reasons (academics, personal issues, lack of interest). As such, a lot of the players featured on Last Chance U aren’t exactly the cream of the crop intellectually or socially. Ollie is the best example of this, and his antics on the show are a riot to watch. With that being said, by the end of the show you begin to feel kind of sorry for Ollie. It becomes clear that the man has no discernible life skills outside of his ability to play football.
12. Best – Kevin Spacey In House of Cards
I think it is possibly the highest achievement in acting to be able to portray a villain with so much depth that he is actually beloved by the viewer. Such is the case with Kevin Spacey‘s portrayal of political architect Frank Underwood. Throughout the series, Frank is meant to be the bad guy. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he does whatever it takes to further his own career and political agenda. Despite all this, viewers of the Netflix original series House of Cards consistently find themselves cheering for Frank. There’s simply something about a character willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals that stirs up emotion in the viewer. The ability to play a character who is the embodiment of pure ambition is enough to land Kevin Spacey at #12 on our list of best Netflix original actors.
11. Worst – Robin Wright In House of Cards
For all the reasons that Kevin Spacey’s performance as Frank Underwood makes the good part of our list, Robin Wright‘s portrayal of Claire Underwood makes the bad portion. While Frank is meant to be a clear villain, his wife Claire is meant to be the more dubious of the two. That is, she is supposed to be the more likable of the two; then as you get to know her better, you realize that she is just as ambitious and power hungry as her husband. The issue with Wright’s performance of such a duplicitous character is that Wright (as Claire) is inherently unlikeable. I find myself constantly cheering for Frank over Claire, something that definitely doesn’t match up with what the show’s creators envisioned.
10. Best – Jon Bernthal In Daredevil
I usually try not to double dip into a single show when I do these lists, but Jon Bernthal’s role as the Punisher was simply too good not to include alongside Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Many of us were familiar with Bernthal as the monumental dick, Shane, on The Walking Dead, but the guy is a seriously good actor. Bernthal somehow makes the Punisher a sympathetic character while at the same time keeping him a total badass. He also pretty clearly beefed up for the role and his acting was a highlight of what was already a pretty damn good season. The third season of Daredevil is currently filming, and I know that I’m not the only one hoping that beloved characters from season 2 like Bernthal and Elodie Yung’s Elektra make a comeback for next year.
9. Worst – Ashton Kutcher In The Ranch
When The Ranch first debuted in 2016, I was very happy with the program as a whole and the performances of Kutcher and fellow That ’70s Show alum Danny Masterson. The more that I watched the show, however, the more that I became dissatisfied with Kutcher’s performance as Colt Bennett. Arguably the main character of the show, Kutcher never develops past the dopey character that he played on That ’70s Show. It’s been almost twenty years since Kutcher first played Michael Kelso, and it’s somewhat sad that he’s never been able to get past that typecast role. Kutcher isn’t the only actor who seems to play the same type of character in every program, and he has appeared in some roles which somewhat challenged this typecast such as The Butterfly Effect, but it’s still disappointing to not see more growth from such a famous actor.
8. Best – Wagner Moura In Narcos
Since the debut of Scarface in 1983, movies about drug lords or the drug trade have become fairly commonplace (and with varying degrees of success). Of these, I don’t know if any adhere more closely to showing the life of an actual known drug lord than Netflix’s Narcos. Playing the famous drug lord Pablo Escobar, actor Wagner Moura’s portrayal is one worthy of several awards. I think a critical component that is missed by films like Scarface is how morally corrupt all of these drug lords (almost uniformly) are. Instead of playing Escobar as a cool rational guy who just happens to sell drugs, Moura portrays him as the piece of garbage that he genuinely is. The ability to play someone so repugnant is certainly an accomplishment, and nets Moura a spot here on our list.
7. Worst – The Entire Cast of Fuller House
When I began writing this list I knew I’d have to include someone from Netflix’s Fuller House. The show was a disaster, which is really a shame considering the large fanbase it started out with (a luxury which is not enjoyed by many other shows).The writing just isn’t there to supplement the inherent nostalgia of the show, and for that reason, it is doomed to fail. These types of shows can be hugely successful (look no further than Disney’s Girl Meets World for evidence), but only if the Netflix creative staff gives Fuller House the time and energy that it deserves. Along with the writing issues (or maybe because of it), it is clear that practically none of the actors involved are committed to their roles. They all appear to be just going through the motions of acting, instead of actually acting.
6. Best – Daniel Kaluuya In Black Mirror
Admittedly, Black Mirror is not a true Netflix original as the first two seasons were created by another network. Most fans are familiar with the groundbreaking program, however, because of the streaming website, and Netflix has already signed on to produce the show going forward. The other reason why I decided to include Black Mirror as a Netflix original is that it gives me the opportunity to talk about the incredible acting prowess of Daniel Kaluuya. When he played the character of Bing in what is arguably the most famous episode of Black Mirror, Kaluuya was a relative unknown. Since then, however, he has become quite the Hollywood star through his role in 2017’s Get Out. The breadth of emotion that Kaluuya is able to portray in his characters is what truly sets him apart as an actor and is what earns him a spot here on our list.
5. Worst – Malina Weissman In A Series of Unfortunate Events
Most people know that the 2004 film starring Jim Carrey was an utter disaster, but many thought that Netflix would be able to work their magic on the popular children’s series (much as they have done with the other entries on this list). This has not come to fruition, however, as the recently released first season of the show isn’t markedly better than the original film. If I had to pick the worst acting performance from this show (a decidedly difficult task), it would have to be Malina Weissman as Violet Baudelaire. The storyline of ASOUE is almost entirely predicated on the innovative and heroic nature of the orphans. Reading the stories you were supposed to idolize Violet and Klaus for their ability to get out of their “unfortunate” circumstances. Weissman’s performance so far has been unable to invoke this emotion, thus causing me to put her here on the bad portion of our list.
4. Best – Mike Colter In Luke Cage
When they were doing the casting for Luke Cage, I hope producers told Mike Colter the difficulty of the role that he was entering into. For starters, Luke Cage isn’t your traditional superhero. Cage is more of a gritty community crime fighter, reminiscent of the early days of Batman. Secondly, Cage is famously one of the best representations of a “black” superhero in Marvel Comics. That is, Luke Cage is a black superhero not only because he is African American, but because he’s actually a part of a black community and practices many aspects of black culture, as opposed to characters like Sam Wilson (the Falcon) who are African American but have no noticeable connections to black society. Despite all these challenges, Colter has become a very convincing Luke Cage and is one of the primary reasons behind the show’s current success.
3. Worst – Laura Prepon In Orange Is The New Black
Those of you who read my article on Netflix shows know that I ranked Orange is the New Black highly on my list of best Netflix original programs. Despite that, I find myself continuously peeved with the poor acting of Laura Prepon. For those of you who don’t know, Prepon plays Alex, the one-time lover of the show’s main character, Piper. I think Alex is actually supposed to be a sympathetic character, but with Prepon’s acting, it’s kind of hard to tell. Instead of invoking compassion, Prepon just comes off as annoying and devious for much of the show. Since these feelings are not caused by anything Alex does, but rather how she does them, it leads me to believe that this is a product of Prepon’s acting, and not the show itself.
2. Best – Millie Bobby Brown In Stranger Things
I know what you’re thinking; “Eleven only has a few lines throughout the whole first season of Stranger Things, how skilled of an actress can Millie Brown really be?”. It is the very fact that Eleven has so few lines, however, that leads me to put her atop our list. The ability to display so much emotion without speaking is highly impressive, especially for an actress as young as Brown. We talked earlier in this list about the importance of “friendship” to the overall success of Stranger Things. Brown is another example of this fact, as I think her relationship with the rest of the cast is one of the strongest points of her acting. It has already been revealed that Eleven will make her return for season 2 and we hope this young actress will continue her rise with this year’s installment.
1. Worst – Lorenzo Richelmy In Marco Polo
I don’t think I’ll ever understand this fascination of Hollywood producers with ensuring that almost everyone who makes it onto television is incredibly attractive. When Marco Polo made his trip into the far east he was a middle aged spice merchant, not the kind of person that you’d see on the cover of Muscle and Fitness. As such, I cannot fathom any reason why producers would cast a young actor like Lorenzo Richelmy to play the role of Polo besides the cheap ploy of adding to the show’s sex appeal. At the very least, if you’re going to make your historical fiction primarily based on sex then you should actually go through with it. Instead, this Netflix original sold out with its casting, without the added benefits of viewership that shows like Spartacus have enjoyed. The series has since been canceled, but not before costing Netflix close to $200 million.
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