Shortly before Orson Welles died, he grudgingly told his biographer, “You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy.” Welles had suffered greatly at the hands of the Hollywood machine since he dared to take on media mogul William Randolph Hearst in his masterwork Citizen Kane. Though he went on to make several films still heralded as brilliant late into his career, his slow, maddening decent into alcoholism and constant fights with the system sometimes pushed Welles to sing for his supper – his last role being the aforementioned 90 minute toy commercial that was Transformers: The Movie.
Acting, despite its appeal to many as a luxurious lifestyle, is still very much a job. And like any other working professionals, actors often have to work in the Hollywood equivalent of telemarketing – slumming it in roles in which they have no interest or rattling off dialogue they consider to be tripe as convincingly as possible.
Such roles don’t necessarily come at the start of a fledgling career. Expensive tastes and island-buying frenzies can put even the finest of actors in extreme debt. Here’s just a small sampling of those brave enough to admit that even some of their most beloved roles were just a trip to the bank.
10. Ryan Reynolds – Wade Wilson, X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Reynolds spent the better part of seven years trying to get a live-action Deadpool movie off the ground. He initially took the role in 2009’s prequel, but was mortified when drastic changes to the character were made (namely, his motor mouth was sewn shut). He considers his participation in the film a form of blackmail.
Today, his gambit paid off, and the Axe body spray of superheroes finally saw a successful day at the box office.
9. Ben Affleck – Michael Jennings, Paycheck
Putting John Woo’s aptly titled sci-fi flop on the list is a joke that writers just can’t walk away from. Or actors, for that matter. Both Affleck and co-star Paul Giamatti have since made title-related jokes about their reasons for taking roles in the film.
“The answer lies in the title,” Affleck said. The role was taken during the days when Batfleck was unfathomable, as notorious flops such as Gigli and Daredevil were hitting the screen. Now, of course, the actor has 2 Academy Awards under his utility belt and has undergone the unlikely transformation from pretty boy to a serious, critically acclaimed contender.
8. Sir Alec Guinness – Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
It’s no secret that Sir Alec hated George Lucas’ space epic. Letters written to friends on the set confirm that he could barely make heads or tails out of Lucas’ now-classic gobbledygook about good and evil forces. He initially took the role on the strength of Lucas’s previous film, American Graffitti – which featured a notable lack of laser guns or light-brite sword fights. Still, Guinness was a consummate professional, often writing of his cast mates with affection (even those whose names he couldn’t remember, like screen legend “Tennyson” Ford).
Later in his career, Guinness agreed to sign a child’s Star Wars memorabilia only if the boy promised never to watch the film again.
7. Michael Caine – Hoagie, Jaws: The Revenge
Very few lists of the worst films of all time are complete without the fourth foray in the Jaws franchise. Its egregiously stupid plotline involves a shark that seeks out revenge against the Brody family, going as far as following them from the Northeast to the Bahamas.
Caine plays the charming (or what counts as charming according to the script) Bahamian pilot who helps the family Brody battle the rubber great white. It’s fortunate for Caine that the script never delved as deeply into the character as the novelization – which reveals Hoagie is an undercover DEA agent out to avenge his daughter’s overdose.
Though the role prevented Caine from personally collecting his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters, it did provide him with the classiest burn:
“I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
6. Al Pacino – Just about everything after Insomnia
It’s easy to look at Pacino’s late-film career as a whole as one big cash grab. The names of mind-boggling roles he’s agreed to are almost too many to name. It is almost as if he looked at his Academy Award for his cajun-scented blind man with a death wish in Scent of a Woman as an affront to the quiet, subtle work he invested in Michael Corleone and decided to punk audiences and critics for two straight decades.
The biggest abomination, one wherein money can be the only answer, is the Adam Sandler “comedy” Jack and Jill, in which Pacino plays himself. Much has been written about the crassness of the role, and though Pacino has never outed it as a cash-in, assuming it was is the only way we can sleep at night.
5. Christopher Walken – Anything, but especially Kangaroo Jack
Even in the darkest chapters of his filmography, it’s always a pleasure to see a film suddenly get a jolt by rubbing up against the same static electricity that keeps Chris Walken’s hair on end. His naturally eccentric presence has elevated even the most mundane material.
The only thing stopping Walken from accepting a role lies in his moral standards. Though he personally despises guns, he often takes the role of the villain in everything from Bond to Tarantino. However, as he told The Independent, he has “always refused to do something that has offended me. I have been offered potential roles that are totally vulgar.”
Somehow, Kangaroo Jack was not offensive to his taste.
4. Marlon Brando – Jor-El, Superman
Richard Donner’s classic film opens with a pretty convincing turn from Brando as Kal-El’s father – considering he was being fed his lines via cue cards. For his 13 days on set, he ate up $14 million of the production’s budget.
Brando was never shy about taking large sums of money, and would do it again decades later in John Frankenheimer’s much maligned The Island of Dr. Moreau. He traded in the cue cards for an earpiece that hilariously kept getting interrupted with local police bands, causing him to interrupt a line to blurt out, “There’s a robbery at Woolworth’s…”
3. Dennis Hopper – King Koopa, Super Mario Bros.
Much has been written about the bizzare, Blade Runner-inspired madness that was the live action adaptation of the hit NES video game. The effects are nauseating and weird, the plot is beyond nonsensical and the comedy is far from amusing. Perhaps it’s best just to let the late Hopper explain his role himself:
“I made a picture called Super Mario Bros., and my six-year-old son at the time — he’s now 18 — he said, ‘Dad, I think you’re probably a pretty good actor, but why did you play that terrible guy King Koopa in Super Mario Bros.?’ and I said, ‘Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes,’ and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.'”
2. Buster Keaton – Buster, Beach Blanket Bingo
For my money, Keaton was a more talented, interesting and funny physical comedian than Charlie Chaplin ever dreamed. Unfortunately, once “talkies” came to Hollywood, the town turned it’s back on a number of classic silent stars. By the early 1960s, Keaton was reduced to appearing in small roles like this ultimate example of teeny bopper trash.
1. Adam Sandler – Every damn movie
More than anyone on this list, Adam Sandler is the greatest offender of making terrible films for a paycheck. He’s not just cashing in on his past successes and star power for cash, he’s abusing the system for every perk imaginable. And worse, he’s been fairly open about it.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel in 2014, Sandler confirmed what everyone assumed when he admitted to suggesting filming locations for scripts just so he and his family could take a vacation. It must be great to be Adam Sandler, but save for the odd dramatic performance in films like Funny People and Punch Drunk Love, there’s never been a more embarrassing time to be a fan.
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