What exactly defines a sellout? By any measure an actor has every right to pursue a role that fits their abilities and progress their career as they see fit. Who are critics to decide what films they should attach their name to? All reasonable questions, but history tells us the sellouts end up with tarnished reputations that are seldom recovered.
The music industry is littered with sellouts. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne, The Black Eyed Peas, Nickelback, Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus and of course, Kanye West. At one point in time during the mid 2000s the brash rapper was on the cutting edge of mocking authority figures with lyrics that were as hilarious as they were culturally relevant. Now a figure like Kendrick Lamar has taken that mantle and run with it, leaving behind a punch line that married into the Kardashian empire.
Likewise with the sports industry. From Michael Jordan to LeBron James, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Vinnie Jones and the notorious O.J. Simpson, athletes are well skilled at cashing in on their fame with endorsement deals that do nothing to add to their legacy other than fattening their own pockets. Yet these characters have a shorter shelf life and unlike the Dwyane Johnsons and John Cenas of this world who have a flair for performance art, often need something sizeable to fall back on after a short career in the spotlight.
The term ‘sellout’ carries various connotations depending on its context, but what is most forgotten is the element of disappointment. These professional actors who have come from all walks of life to pursue and live a dream have more talent than mere mortals could ever hope to possess. It is for this reason that their shocking judgment in film roles lets down moviegoers that want to see them shine. Picking productions just to help the bank balance becomes blatantly obvious after a while.
The tide can be turned – just look at the examples of Ryan Reynolds and Matthew McConaughey for inspiration. But until these actors begin to make smarter choices, they will be labeled as sellouts. Here are 15 of the biggest in Hollywood to date.
15 Jesse Eisenberg
If The Social Network had Hollywood rightfully falling over themselves to sign the great acting talents of Jesse Eisenberg, then his phone would have been fairly quiet after the disaster that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. At 32 years of age, the quick-witted man from Queens, New York should recover from his hideous and nonsensical performance as Lex Luthor, a role that deserves more criticism aimed at director Zack Snyder and the casting crew for allowing such a mess to take place.
Proving that the superhero villain is not the right fit for him, Eisenberg has the credentials to be a dramatic heavyweight on the Hollywood scene. His depiction as Mark Zuckerberg broke the mold and put his name in lights, following on with a string of low budget, independent flicks that demonstrated his range. But his latest contributions courtesy of American Ultra and the sequel to Now You See Me is falling short of the mark for where he set the bar all the way back in 2010.
14 Chris Rock
One of the premier comics of his generation, no one can argue that Chris Rock is a genuine superstar of a talent. Whether it be stand up comedy, acting or general performing, Rock is an A-lister. So why does his filmography appear so shallow of quality? He isn’t just guilty of attaching himself to various Adam Sandler paychecks like the Grown Ups franchise and the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard, but other features like Head of State, Down to Earth, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I Think I Love My Wife and Top Five – all of which are barley memorable.
For a man that hosts the Academy Awards with acclaim and brought us a series of comedy specials like Bring The Pain, Bigger & Blacker, Never Scared and Kill the Messenger, he has so much more to offer. A small window into this comedic genius was evident during his portrayal as Rufus, the thirteenth apostle in Dogma in the Jay and Silent Bob universe, but it is too seldom seen.
13 Patrick Stewart
By far the most eloquent and sophisticated sellout working in Hollywood today. The genius that is Patrick Stewart has a glorified and celebrated career as an actor on stage, in television and film, with his signature role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek franchise making him one of the most in demand actors going. This breakout performance in the mainstream came before another heralded role as Professor Charles Xavier in X-Men, a character that could almost have been written with Stewart in mind such is his perfection as the leader of the mutant resistance.
Yet his latest dalliances with the comedy world through a number of Seth McFarlane productions has not fitted Stewart well. This is not to say he doesn’t have a great sense of humor, but his voiceover work in American Dad, Ted, Ted 2 and his latest effort as Walter Blunt in the Starz production Blunt Talk lacks the whit and intelligence of a man of Stewart’s stature. The new series has shown glimpses of promise but comes off as a cheap American sitcom that is attempting to fit Stewart into a category that isn’t true to his character.
12 Nicole Kidman
Making clever, edgy films that inspire the next generation to push the envelope is not something that can necessarily be attributed to Nicole Kidman, but she was heading in that direction during the late 1990s and early 200s. The Australian actress, now more synonymous for being a paid ambassador for Etihad Airways, put her mark on Hollywood with features like The Peacemaker, The Interpreter, Eyes Wide Shut, The Others, Moulin Rouge and The Hours alongside contemporary Meryl Streep. Fast forward to 2016 and after a string of risk averse career decisions, aside from a feature like The Paperboy in 2012, her star power waned because of it. This is evident with Trespass, Stoker, remakes of Bewitched and Paddington, and Grace of Monaco. Being a mainstream actress has never been her issue, as the girl from Down Under has shown a panache for branching out of her comfort zone. If she can break out of that mold again, it won’t be before too long.
11 John Travolta
When Quentin Tarantino famously resurrected his career in 1994 with Pulp Fiction, audiences thought that John Travolta had learnt his lesson and would make smart choices. Then Battlefield Earth came around in 2000 and that theory was blown out of the water. Since he became a global star in 1977 with Saturday Night Fever and then Grease a year later, Travolta struggled to find his niche and began a series of ups and downs that would ultimately define a turbulent if not spectacular career in film.
The fact remains that his star has fallen after making a splash with Swordfish, The General’s Daughter and Face/Off. Nothing short of a Tarantino intervention can help Travolta recover from Killing Season, Wild Hogs, From Paris With Love, Old Dogs, Savages and Criminal Activities. Travolta was one of the most saleable assets in the industry but he traded it in for cheap knock offs.
10 Cameron Diaz
There is a high degree of ageism in Hollywood for female actors and there is every chance that discrimination has an effect on a film career like Cameron Diaz. At 43 she simply isn’t getting those roles that made her a household name during the 90s and early 2000s. With standout performances in The Mask, There’s Something About Mary, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Any Given Sunday, Vanilla Sky, the Charlie’s Angels remake and The Sweetest Thing, Diaz was riding the crest of a wave of stardom.
The last 5-10 years have been far less fruitful on a critical level though, opting for films that lack punch but still have big enough budgets to pay their stars. Think of The Box, The Green Hornet, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, What Happens in Vegas, The Counselor, Bad Teacher, The Other Woman and Sex Tape. Plenty of other actors see Rom Com’s as an easy option like Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, and it seems like Diaz has gone down that path.
9 Jason Statham
When a studio is sitting around the office mulling over the latest action script that comes along their desk, chances are Jason Statham will be one of the first called for the job. The gruff Brit burst onto the scene in 1998 with the Guy Ritchie flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a tongue-in-cheek action romp that demonstrated dry British humor at its best. That opened the floodgates for Statham and he hasn’t missed an opportunity for the subsequent 18 years he’s spent in Hollywood.
Starting with The Transporter in 2002 that is now an endless franchise where one feature struggles to stand out from the other. Crank began a mini franchise, he joined The Expendables cast in 2010, multiple Mechanic films and also jumped aboard Fast & Furious by the 6th installment. There are sellouts that take risks with various genres but that is something that Statham can never be accused of, he sticks to what he knows and it keeps him very well off.
8 Samuel L. Jackson
The jig was up in 2006 when Samuel L. Jackson proclaimed, “Get these motherf***ing snakes off this mother***ing plane!” In between fulfilling his bet365 commitments and cashing in his fame with endless endorsements, the regular favorite with Quentin Tarantino has wanted to keep himself young with a big schedule of blockbusters, comedies and anything else his agent can get his hands on for the 67-year-old from Washington D.C.
Those Tarantino films have been well worth his while, both financially and critically with the likes of Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction and last year’s The Hateful Eight. Aside from a handful of other top performances in Die Hard with a Vengeance and Unbreakable, how should Jackson be judged in Hollywood parlors? From xXx: State of the Union to Star Wars Episode III, Soul Men, Barely Lethal and of course Snakes on a Plane, there is a lot of filler through a resume that should have more quality than it does.
7 Nicolas Cage
There is a formula at work with the infamous Mr. Cage. When he is the lone star and main feature of a film, chances are it will be underwhelming. When he is part of a glamorous ensemble, it works really well. Think of The Rock in 1996, Face/Off and Con Air in 1997, Gone in 60 Seconds in 2000 and Kick Ass in 2010. His talents are not deserving of the derision and maligning that has been made accustomed of Cage’s career but examining his choices, he has not helped his own cause one bit.
Major bombs at the box office and with critics stretch as far as the eye can see – starting with the horrendous remake of The Wicker Man, Drive Angry, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Trespass, National Treasure; none of which leave an indelible mark or portray Cage at his manic best. He has given up the ghost of pursuing films with depth and substance, instead opting for the tired formula to stay working.
6 Morgan Freeman
Freeman was something of a late bloomer to the Hollywood industry and at 79 years young, maybe he is making up for lost time. Either way, the movies keep on coming and it appears as though no one can stop him from using that god-like voice and warm persona to woo crowds up and down the country. Starring in two classics in 1989 with Driving Miss Daisy and Glory allowed him to enter the mainstream with critically acclaimed pictures like Million Dollar Baby, Seven, The Shawshank Redemption and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise – one of the few superhero series of modern times that chose quality over quantity.
The same cannot be said for the rest of Freeman’s career however. Narrating the flop that was The Love Guru, playing Allan Trumbull in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen and the 2016 sequel London Has Fallen, both Now You See Me films and a small role in Ted 2, Freeman is making himself available at whatever price is necessary. He even gave that voice a working over at the DNC Convention for a Hillary Clinton video.
5 Liam Hemsworth
Are the Hemsworths the 21st Century version of the Baldwins? Alongside his more famous brother Chris, a genuine action star by most measures, and lesser-known brother Luke, Liam Hemsworth has been very popular on the Hollywood scene as of late. The Aussie has been a regular feature in The Hunger Games franchise and the long awaited, if not well received, sequel to Independence Day. The critical failure of the latter should not be pinned on Hemsworth, but he did have his role to play and it was terribly underwhelming. Trading on his Hemsworth namesake, chiseled jawline and decent acting abilities, is Liam Hemsworth worthy of starring in such high profile productions? The usual dynamic of a Hollywood sellout is witnessing talents utilize and abuse their profile to the detriment of their careers. Perhaps Liam flips that script, conning casting agents and directors into thinking he is a slightly cheaper, more available version of Thor.
4 Bruce Willis
Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. Bruce Willis and Hollywood have been a regular item for over 30 years, transitioning from his smart alec persona on the 80s television series Moonlighting into a genuine bonafide action superstar on the big screen. Playing the starring role in big budget bash-and-crash films like The Last Boy Scout, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, Last Man Standing and of course, the franchise that made him what he is today – Die Hard. But it wasn’t just his brash Yippee Ki Yay attitude that made him what he was, he made smart choices such as Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense and 12 Monkeys that demonstrated a dramatic versatility.
It would be fair to point out then that Willis has strung along and sucked dry everything the Die Hard franchise has been worth, and then some more for good measure. This is accentuated further by starring in flops like the 2010 “comedy” Cop Out, Surrogates, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Expendables 2, Red and Red 2. 2012’s Looper was the exception to the new rule – that Bruce Willis is cashing in his cheques and isn’t really that bothered how good or otherwise a production is these days.
3 Johnny Depp
It is hard to find an actor with this much natural ability and charisma on screen, if only it was put to good use. The 53-year-old from Kentucky transcended his sex symbol label of the early 1990s to star in some of the most fascinating projects that had a genuine impact with audiences around the world. With films like Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape alongside a very youthful Leonardo Di Caprio, Blow, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Depp established himself in the upper echelon of actors.
Then he jumped aboard the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and things started to fall apart. Amid falling foul of the Australian authorities with their border control laws and a failing marriage to Amber Heard, he pushed the eccentricity to the brink with the likes of The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows, Mortdecai and remakes of Alice In Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is sad and disappointing that Depp would rather coast along the franchise train playing the same variations of the same characters.
2 Robert De Niro
What on earth happened? Alongside Al Pacino, Robert De Niro is arguably the greatest actor over two generations having set the big screen alight with classic motion pictures including Raging Bull, The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, The Dear Hunter, Analyze This, Heat – the list goes on and on. An Academy Award winner and icon of the acting craft, there is nothing left for De Niro to prove and presumably no bills left to pay.
So why then does he attach his name to a project with Zac Efron like Dirty Grandpa this year? Dropping himself to these standards is not worthy of the De Niro name and follows on from a string of bizarre choices like Last Vegas, Grudge Match and a host of other below par films. Ever since his role as Jack Byrnes in the 2000 production of Meet The Parents, De Niro sees comedy as a genuine outlet for his talents. Perhaps his career is illustrated best when he said in Casino, “There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way and the way that I do it.”
1 Adam Sandler
To most observers under the age of 20, the notion that Adam Sandler had the acting chops to be considered a sellout to begin with is a completely foreign concept. All they know is the guy that starred in a series of horrific flops – Jack and Jill, The Ridiculous 6, That’s My Boy, the Grown Ups franchise and plenty more that left audiences scratching their heads and looking at their watches. But for those who have been around long enough when Sandler burst onto the scene in the 1990s after a successful stint on Saturday Night Live know he has far more to offer than keeping Rob Schneider and David Spade gainfully employed in Hollywood.
The comedies were more poignant and cutting edge, from Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Mr. Deeds and The Wedding Singer where he showed a range between great comedic timing and quality drama to boot. His casting roll in the 2007 picture Reign Over Me followed an out-of-the-box performance in 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love where he depicted a broken man battling emotional ridicule and abuse. This is not to say that Sandler should only make serious dramas, but the quality of production in his filmography timeline drops off a cliff and has been doing so steadily for almost a decade. It feels as though Sandler has checked out from making good movies and for this reason alone he is Hollywood’s greatest sellout.