The road to success is often a rocky one, and it’s certainly no different in Hollywood. Very few actors are lucky enough to walk up the stage steps to collect an Academy Award for acting achievement during their careers, and rarely without a few questionable film choices along the way.
All actors have to take undesirable roles to pay the rent or advance their careers, but none leave a more lasting impression than a campy horror movie that fails to hit the mark at the box office or in the minds of viewers. Some of these movies are so abominably bad that they kill actors' careers completely, unless they're the lucky chosen ones who survive and miraculously go on to nab Oscar gold in respectable films.
Many of Hollywood’s finest actors have screamed, been chased by maniacal killers and bloodthirsty creatures, and even wielded a chainsaw or machete themselves in embarrassingly awful horror movies. We’ve put together a list of Hollywood’s award-winning actors who heard things go bump in the night in horror flicks, either before or after they hoisted a golden statue on Oscar night. Sure, these actors now have the money, fame, and critical accolades the rest of us only dream about, but the horror movies they made for a paycheck or film credit along the way will haunt them forever.
10 George Clooney, Grizzly 2: The Concert (1987)
Hollywood royalty George Clooney wasn't above taking a stab at a campy creature feature early in his career, even if it involved being mauled by a grizzly bear. Twenty years before he received his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Syriana, Clooney signed on for Grizzly 2: The Concert, along with two other accomplished actors, Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern. The trio of Clooney, Sheen, and Dern undoubtedly makes it the only film to ever star an Oscar winner, two Oscar nominees (Clooney and Dern), three Golden Globe winners (Clooney, Dern & Sheen)…and a grizzly bear.
The film’s title reveals most of what we need to know about the plot—a 20-foot grizzly bear wreaks deadly havoc on rock concert attendees. Clooney, Sheen, and Dern played teenage campers who are mangled by the murderous bear. The strangest thing about the film is that it was never actually released despite the financial success of the first Grizzly film. Crazy events halted the completion and the release of the film, including theft, malfunctioning grizzly bear special effects, and bizarre script rewrites. To this day, the film’s footage remains in storage in Paris, while the film’s audio track sits in a separate vault in New York City. As much as fans would love to see Clooney in the cinematic disaster that Grizzly 2 likely is, there are no plans for it to ever be released.
9 Renee Zellweger, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
After being nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for Bridget Jones’ Diary (2002) and Chicago (2003), Renee Zellweger finally won a supporting actress golden statue in 2004 for her role in Cold Mountain as a tough, farm savvy woman trying to survive in the waning days of the American Civil War.
Similar to many young actresses, Zellweger didn’t land great roles early in her career. Instead, she played the lead role in the 1994 reboot Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, an abysmal horror film that should have either killed her career or sent her down the path of permanent obscurity.
Zellweger played Jenny, the sole survivor of a group of prom night teens who are hunted and held captive by a cannibalistic family in the back woods of Texas. The Next Generation is the kind of bad horror movie that can destroy the careers of all actors and production staff involved. It doesn’t even rise to the level of a B horror movie aired late at night. It’s quite possibly the most amazing story in the history of filmmaking that not only has Zellweger enjoyed a long career after this disaster, but she also became an A-lister who won an acting Oscar.
8 Jared Leto, Urban Legend (1998)
Actor and musician Jared Leto captured the attention of viewers and critics with his Best Supporting Actor award-winning performance as Rayon, a transgender battling AIDS in the 2014 Best Picture nominee, Dallas Buyers Club.
Leto is known for only taking a break from his successful music career to play unique and challenging characters. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, Leto once followed the trend of many young actors in the late nineties by starring in the teen scream horror film, Urban Legend.
Leto played Paul Gardner, a college journalist investigating a series of grisly murders on campus patterned after urban legends. The iconic genre murders included a backseat surprise axe murderer, a boyfriend hung from a tree limb hovering over his car while his girlfriend is trapped inside, and a nasty frat boy death by swallowing pop rocks and bathroom cleanser. The film also includes an appearance by Robert Englund, the actor who played Freddie Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
7 Charlize Theron, Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest (1995)
Charlize Theron’s transformation from magazine cover girl to Daytona prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos earned her a Best Actress Oscar for Monster in 2004. However, her award-winning role wasn’t the Mad Max: Fury Road star's first encounter with a monster in her film career. Few fans are aware that in 1995, Theron made her uncredited film debut as “Eli’s Follower” in the campy horror flick Children of the Corn 3: Urban Harvest.
Urban Harvest was the second follow-up film to the original 1984 Children of the Corn, penned by Stephen King. Theron was only 20 at the time, and her role was very limited. However, it did produce one scene that likely leaves Theron relieved that her involvement in the film went uncredited and mostly unseen by fans and critics alike. Toward the end of the film, an enormous demonic creature attacks the bare legs of Theron’s character with curious tentacles in the middle of an urban cornfield.
Luckily for Theron, she would only have to wait nine years to go from tentacle victim to Oscar winner.
6 Patricia Arquette, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Patricia Arquette made her big screen debut in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, twenty-five years before her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod for Boyhood.
Only 18 at the time, Arquette played Kristen Parker, one of several teenagers tormented in her dreams by the charred, blade-fingered maniac Freddy Krueger. Kristen learns to take control of her dreams and fight back against the slasher film icon. The role definitely presented physical challenges to Arquette, including a scene in which her character is nearly eaten alive by a large Freddy-headed snake.
Dream Warriors was the third of seven films in the popular franchise, not including the 2003 Freddy v. Jason film, but none of the subsequent installments ever captured the terror audiences experienced watching the first film. Arquette isn’t the only Oscar nominee to face off against Freddy Krueger. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp played a victim of Freddy in the first installment of the franchise, and Best Actress nominee Rooney Mara played the heroine in the 2010 remake.
5 Jon Voight, Anaconda (1997)
Way back in 1978, Jon Voight won the Best Actor Oscar for his Coming Home portrayal of a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who returns home and falls in love with a woman whose husband is still fighting in Vietnam. Despite the prestige of three other Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe wins and seven nominations, Voight didn’t hesitate to jump onboard a boat on the Amazon River to go hunting for a giant reptile in Anaconda.
Voight played Paul Serone, a pony-tailed, Paraguayan snake hunter who will stop at nothing, even Jennifer Lopez, to capture the largest reported anaconda in the Amazon. Anaconda is a unique film, not only because it is a feature film that managed to include an Oscar winner and a CGI snake, but also because it produced the only known scene of an Oscar winner being swallowed whole and regurgitated by an anaconda.
If you've never seen an acclaimed actor wink at Jennifer Lopez after being half-digested in the belly of an anaconda, this film is definitely worth your time.
4 Jennifer Connelly, Dark Water (2005)
In 2001, Jennifer Connelly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress portraying the wife of a brilliant, code-breaking schizophrenic in A Beautiful Mind. But she may not have been thinking straight herself when she decided to appear in the horror movie Dark Water four years later.
To her credit, the same author who wrote The Ring, the popular horror movie that chilled audiences all over the world, also wrote Dark Water. So she likely believed that Dark Water was destined for similar success.
Connelly played Dahlia, a divorced mother of a little girl who moves into a dilapidated apartment building while in the midst of a custody battle with her ex-husband. Dahlia and her daughter soon realize that their apartment is being haunted by the ghost of a dead former resident that inflicts its terror with dark ooze throughout the apartment. Not surprisingly, reviews of the film were mixed at best.
3 Julianne Moore, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
It took four Oscar nominations over a seventeen-year span for Julianne Moore to take home her first Best Actress Oscar for her powerful performance in Still Alice, the story of a middle-aged woman facing the challenges of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her recent accolades are well deserved, especially when you consider how far she’s come since her big screen debut in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, where she co-starred with Christian Slater and a relatively unknown Steve Buscemi in “Lot 249,” one of the film’s three short horror stories.
Moore played Susan, a conniving college student who assists her boyfriend in preventing Buscemi’s character from winning a scholarship. Buscemi’s character then reanimates an Egyptian mummy and instructs it to kill both Susan and her boyfriend. Moore’s inaugural silver screen performance ultimately concludes with a classic scream queen shriek as the mummy gashes her body with scissors and replaces her organs with chrysanthemums. Yes, chrysanthemums. We doubt that scene is her first choice for the highlight reel if she ever wins the acting lifetime achievement award.
2 Jennifer Lawrence, House at the End of the Street (2012)
Only one year before she took home the Best Actress Academy Award for Silver Linings Playbook, Hollywood’s sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence was chased, tied up, and thrown in the trunk of a car by her psychotic boyfriend in House at the End of the Street. 2012 was a diverse year for Lawrence. It included performances in her only horror flick thus far, The Hunger Games which made her a household name, and Silver Linings Playbook which earned her the Oscar.
In House at the End of the Street, Lawrence played Elissa, a teenage girl who moves to a new neighborhood with her mother and soon learns that the titular house was the site of a horrific murder allegedly committed by a young girl who disappeared shortly after. Elissa begins a romantic relationship with the house’s current occupant, the brother of the alleged murderer, but she soon learns that he is in fact the deranged murderer with serious sibling obsession issues.
The film was a moderate box office success, but was panned by critics. Fortunately for Lawrence, Academy voters had short memories when casting their Best Actress ballots the following year.
1 Matthew McConaughey, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
Twenty years before he received his Best Actor nod for his role as a man fighting for his life after being diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyer’s Club, People Magazine’s 2005 “Sexiest Man Alive”, Matthew McConaughey brandished a flesh-cutting chainsaw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation alongside future Oscar winner Renee Zellweger. Who'd have thought two future recipients of acting’s highest achievement would emerge from one of the horror genre’s most unwatchable bombs?
McConaughey played Vilmer, the patriarch of a redneck, cannibalistic Texas family that terrorizes a group of hapless teenagers on prom night. It’s definitely not a highlight reel of McConaughey’s finest work, unless you enjoy watching him limp around with a remote-controlled mechanical device attached to his gimpy leg, yelp non-sequiturs in between sadistic and gory murders of teenagers, and engage in bizarre dialogue with Leatherface, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise’s linchpin character who wears the skin of his victims as a mask.
Luckily for movie lovers all over the world, McConaughey’s gory days were only a small stepping stone to becoming one of Hollywood’s most likable and successful actors.