In a phenomenon most moviegoers will simply never understand, there are a shocking number of very successful actors and actresses throughout Hollywood history who have or had no idea how to act. Sure, millions of talentless would-be stars and starlets have gone to auditions without taking an acting class or understanding how the medium works, but theoretically, they shouldn’t get hired for the job. Surprisingly, however, many of them do get the gig, and then they get the next, bigger gig, then a few dozen more, all increasing in profile. Some of them even win awards for it.
Like any form of art, acting is ultimately a subjective medium, so every bad performer out there will inevitably make some fans if they appear in enough movies. There’s also the issue that if these awful actors get hired for the right role, they might even manage a good performance or two throughout their career, winning over fans and justifying those awards. This doesn’t change the fact that 90% of their filmed output was awful, though, making it amazing they ever got the opportunity to turn things around in the first place.
Chances are, some people reading this list will disagree with a few names on it, and that’s perfectly fine. Everyone’s allowed to enjoy whatever art they wish, even if the rest of the world thinks its awful. That said, there’s a certain type of acting so awful and unrealistic it just can’t be defended, and far too many highly paid box office stars fit that category on a regular basis. To find out who we’re talking about, keep reading to learn about 15 garbage actors who manipulated their ways to the top.
15 Melissa McCarthy Is Over The Top
When most people get nominated for their first Academy Awards, it’s because they gave a truly unique experience on film. Technically, Melissa McCarthy did that, but the fact her method of execution was literally pooping in a sink dampened the achievement quite a bit. Comparatively, McCarthy’s career began on a relatively quiet note, as the clever and excitable Sookie St. James, best friend of Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls. Unfortunately, the second McCarthy started getting major movie roles, her mantra became “go big or go home,” and she always goes way, way too big.
Every character McCarthy plays fills an entire room with her violent shouting and wild articulations, distracting from the important elements of the scene for low grade “comedy.”
Despite this, McCarthy is a double Emmy Award winner for her work on the sitcom Mike & Molly and Saturday Night Live on top of the Academy Awards nod for Bridesmaids. More importantly, she’s one of the world’s highest paid actresses, solely because the lowest common denominator thinks it’s funny she’s inappropriately mad all the time.
14 Renée Zellweger Is Typecast
Every now and again, even a bad actor or actress can put in a great performance. For Renée Zellweger, she’s actually given a few, if only because she’s also been slightly typecast. Most of Zellweger’s most successful characters are confused and/or in over their head, possibly because this is how she often feels as an actress. In fairness, her Academy Award winning turn as Roxie Hart, star of Chicago, didn’t quite fall into this mold, but we’re not saying it was “good,” either.
Presumably, the Academy was simply continuing a long trend of celebrating any pretty actresses willing to sing and dance against type.
Then again, this doesn’t explain how she was nominated for an awful turn in Bridget Jones’s Diary, which implausibly spawned three sequels despite featuring one of the worst British accents in film history. Quite frankly, we’re as confused about Zellweger’s success as all of her characters look to be about, well, everything.
13 Casey Affleck Is Shady
For many years, Casey Affleck was simply Ben Affleck’s weirder little brother, and if that were still the case today, he probably wouldn’t be on this list. For whatever reason, though, in recent years, Casey has arguably earned greater regard as an actor than Ben. In a way, this isn’t that much of a stretch, as Ben very easily could’ve wound up here himself, but it’s nonetheless strange considering most of Casey’s most respected roles all follow a similar trend. Whether playing the coward Robert Ford, a lonesome fella named Jim, or winning an Academy Award for Manchester by the Sea, the defining quality of his roles is typically thousand-yard stares caused by depression.
Even someone with no acting training whatsoever could pull off something this simple, so it really doesn’t make sense to reward him for doing it more frequently than others.
Throw in the fact Casey is also facing a number of harassment allegations, leaving a dirty taste in the mouths of anyone who praises him anyway, and it’s a true wonder anyone would actually seek out ways to do so.
12 Sylvester Stallone Has No Diversity
Before we get into this one, let’s be clear about something: Rocky is one of the best movies ever made, and Sylvester Stallone’s performance as the title character has a lot to do with it. The rest of the series has it’s ups and downs, but Stallone is generally on point as the underdog boxer in every one of them. That said, aside from Rocky Balboa, it could easily be argued Stallone has never actually been “good” in one of his many, many blockbuster films.
The catch is that Rocky was one of the first films Stallone appeared in, allowing him to trick the world into believing he was a great actor.
That idea went out the window pretty quickly upon the release of movies like Cobra, Get Carter, or Over the Top, which to be fair, is the best arm wrestling movie of all time in spite of (or because of) Stallone’s lackluster performance. These movies are just a few examples, as each subsequent role Stallone played other than Rocky further confirms he’s the most one-note Academy Award nominated actor in history.
11 Kristen Stewart Got Lucky With Twilight
Think about it long enough and it’s almost possible to feel bad for Kristen Stewart, and everyone who starred in Twilight for that matter. It didn’t matter how hard they tried to act; the source material was just so horrendous and unrealistic that they’d look completely incompetent no matter what. On the other hand, even if they knew this was the case and hated the source material, Stewart and her co-stars also must have been aware starring in the most popular pre-teen series around would be a license to print money.
To make up for her decision to star in the obviously bad movie, Stewart has attempted to redeem herself with serious acting in outside films, only to make it clear Stephanie Meyer’s terrible writing wasn’t her only weakness.
Her one acceptable role was a comedic turn in Adventureland, but any efforts at drama feels like Bella Swan is just mad and confused without Edward (which is exactly how Meyer would write a woman).
10 Pauly Shore Had People Laughing At Him And Not With Him
For all the great many reasons people have nostalgia for comedy movies of the '90s, there are also countless terrible films from that time frame that suggest laughter died in that decade. Every single picture starring Pauly Shore unquestionably falls into this category.
Thankfully, the Pauly Shore bandwagon finally fell apart after the release of Bio-Dome, maybe the worst movie of the decade.
Everything about it was terrible, and Shore’s horrendous performance as a stoner trapped in an environment-controlled bubble was easily the weakest part. The same was true of his turn as a stoner cadet in In the Army Now, a stoner juror in Jury Duty, a stoner guy who finds a frozen caveman in Encino Man…has everyone caught on to the trend? Playing a stoner can be fine if it has layers, but Shore’s stoners were just plain idiots. Actually, they rarely ever smoked on screen, so maybe that’s all they were. They weren’t even funny idiots, either, as audiences were largely just embarrassed to see Shore flail around on screen. Luckily, we don’t have to put up with it all that much anymore.
9 Kevin Costner Isn't That Bad, But He's Not Great
All right, so technically speaking, maybe Kevin Costner isn’t as bad as most actors on this list. Granted, his Academy Award nominated turn as the star of Dances With Wolves was one of his worst performances, but his acting in many other films and TV shows has been above the grade. The issue with Wolves, and his later turns in The Postman and Open Range, is that Costner happens to be one of the most self-indulgent and pretentious directors ever to pick up a camera.
When allowed to do whatever he wants as an actor, Costner’s main instinct is to give himself way too much attention over the narrative.
Ironically, Wolves was the worst example of this, making his white outsider the main focus of a film ostensibly about Native Americans, and yet it somehow won an Oscar for Best Director. Oddly, sometimes Costner’s films face this same problem even when he isn’t behind the camera, like the sprawling mess Waterworld. At least he can reign it in now and again with the right direction.
8 Ashton Kutcher Should Stick To Reality TV
There’s a reason very few people who come to fame playing wacky side characters on goofy sitcoms later attempt to become serious actors of any kind. Even people who like this sort of character understand the actors playing them usually have a relatively limited range. That was definitely the case with Ashton Kutcher, who became a star as Michael Kelso on That '70s Show.
From the very beginning, audiences could tell Kutcher was the worst actor of the bunch, with such little connection to his fellow actors that he rarely felt like he was even in the same room as them.
This sort of trend continued throughout all of Kutcher’s performances, getting even worse whenever he tried playing serious roles. Rock bottom came with Jobs, which had a subject matter prime for an incredibly successful film, but immediately fell apart as soon as casting was announced. Kutcher should probably just go back to punking his friends, because his acting career should be over real soon.
7 Keanu Reeves Isn't Good Enough To Carry A Leading Role
Like, whoa. Okay, so when Keanu Reeves was cast in the title role of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, no one batted an eye. His work in Bill & Ted’s subsequent Bogus Journey also felt appropriate, and his equally spacey performance in Point Break made enough sense —a surfer cop wasn’t going to be the brightest bulb around. Unfortunately, once Reeves stopped playing brainless weirdos and started trying to be serious, audiences couldn’t accept him in the role.
Even as he made billions at the box office in The Matrix movies, Reeves’s acting was criticized as wooden and empty, only working because it fit his initially lost and confused character.
As the sequels went on and Reeves had to act more assured and they greatly suffered with the lead unable to handle the role. Unsurprisingly, Reeves has won few awards throughout his career, yet his dominance at the box office makes it clear he’s still a huge success regardless of his bad acting.
6 Tyler Perry Misses The Point
As is the case with several other names on this list, Tyler Perry’s terrible movies isn’t just an issue of bad acting. In fact, Perry’s problems might be the most deep seeded of all, an issue that goes to the very core of what a movie is supposed to be. Backing up a bit, let’s first discuss the fact Perry’s trademark character Madea, a loud, obnoxious caricature of Southern women is at once offensive and atrociously acted.
Perry attempts to defend his films as unique entertainment for audiences matching his culture, but most critics agree they’re far more offensive to the people he’s trying to represent than anyone else.
And that brings us to the writing problem, as Perry seems entirely unaware of how to present characters as likeable human beings. This makes every single character in every single film he writes or directs de facto terrible, no matter who the actor playing the gig happens to be. Then again, none of them are nearly as bad as the auteur himself.
5 Whoopi Goldberg Didn't Deserve To Win For Ghost
Notwithstanding everything we’re about to say in regards to Whoopi Goldberg’s talents as an actress, it needs to be acknowledged that her performance in The Color Purple was truly perfect. Had her career stayed in line with that classic drama, things would have been just fine. There was also nothing wrong with Goldberg’s early efforts as a comedienne, at least one on stage.
Unfortunately, her solid dramatic acting skills and humorous personality somehow worked against one another, and Goldberg’s attempts at comedic films have been uniformly terrible.
Especially in the scenarios she gets into, Goldberg’s loud wacky characters in movies like Sister Act and How Stella Got Her Groove Back were more annoying than inspirational or funny. To be honest, we’re not sure how she won the Academy Award for Ghost, either, as that role felt more like a caricature of mysticism rather than a real person.
4 Adam Sandler Stares At His Feet
When Adam Sandler was in his early 20s, playing age appropriate characters on Saturday Night Live for 5 minutes or less, his strange brand of comic idiocy was acceptable. Even in his first few blockbusters, Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, the idea was novel enough that younger audiences can still find humor in them to this day. However, as Sandler’s career went on, his performances became increasingly infantile as he aged.
It might be kind of funny watching a kid in his 20s acting like an idiot, but someone pushing 50 doing the same thing is horrifically embarrassing.
When Sandler is at his worst, he’s not even doing real acting, instead simply making stupid, childlike noises or relying on irritating voices for “comedic” effect. Actually, scratch that, because Sandler is even worse than that when he tries to pull off serious or dramatic roles, always mumbling staring at his feet (maybe that’s where he keeps his cue cards).
3 Steven Seagal Should Stick To Martial Arts
For the most part, actors in martial arts or action movies don’t necessarily need to be the most talented performers in the world. Some action heroes are layered and well acted, of course, but they don’t really need to be so long as they look believable beating people up.
Less than halfway into his career, the once respected martial artist Steven Seagal couldn’t even pull that off, looking winded and out of shape if he even had to walk down a long hallway.
Even when he could convincingly pull off menacing looks, Seagal’s performances offered nothing beyond glares. His lines are uniformly wooden and ridiculous, which is especially destructive to the movies he’s in, since he always occupies the most screen time by far. Thankfully, Seagal’s star power began fading in the late '90s, but a few comeback attempts nearly took, so audiences might have to put up with more of his garbage in the near future.
2 Nicolas Cage Has Become A Joke
In all fairness to the singular talents of Nicolas Cage, no actors have been more consistently entertaining when putting in truly horrendous performances on screen. In fact, some Cage “fans” might suggest his terrible films are better than his good one, and yes, there are a few good ones. Particularly, Cage’s turn in Leaving Las Vegas was truly perfect, and deserving of the Academy Award it won him. However, that came a full eight years after Vampire’s Kiss, where Cage gave one of the all time worst performances, making constantly absurd decisions no other actor would ever even attempt.
Cage’s entire career is filled with this duality, making two to three bad movies filled with ridiculous acting for every decent one where he acts sensibly.
Again, though, these bad movies can be entertaining as hell in the right context — who hasn’t laughed hysterically at him screaming about the bees at least once?
1 Tommy Wiseau Is Talked About Because He's The Worst
According to an old proverb, there are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place. If Tommy Wiseau heard this, he’d ignore these paths and hire a massive crew to map out a new one just for him. Then, he’d fire that crew and do it all over again. By hook or by crook, though, he’d get to the surface, the same way he wound up on stage at the 2018 Golden Globes. Okay, so Wiseau never won a major cinematic award, but he still became one of the most talked about actors in entertainment today, entirely because most people think he’s the worst.
On top of it, people also think Wiseau is a terrible writer, director, producer, and any other thing he tries to do on film, using his unique movie The Room as evidence of all this at once.
Indeed, there’s no other movie like The Room out there, and Wiseau’s performance isn’t “good” in the classical sense. Nonetheless, it’s also one of the most bizarrely entertaining films in history, all because of Tommy’s efforts.