Some actors know how to keep things fresh. They’re always doing something different, which is why they’re our favorites. Others can still be great, but it’s obvious they’re just acting the same role repeatedly. They learned to do something well, and they won’t stop doing it until their careers end or someone better comes along and takes their place. Or, maybe it’s Hollywood that doesn’t see their potential. Either way, it’s the audience who is stuck watching an actor reprise the same role again and again in different movies.
For the actor, it’s great because they basically have roles guaranteed for them. Who doesn’t want a regular paycheck? Unfortunately, the fame and fortune is a bit of a catch-22. You do the same role enough times, and you’ll end up never being offered anything else. The audience could become alienated. It could ruin your career. Perhaps this is a prime example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” because some of these actors have been reprising the same role for more than twenty years. Some have even been nominated for and won numerous awards.
For the most part, the following 15 actors haven’t ruined their careers. They’ve found success in their typecast roles, but that doesn’t mean they should stick it out with those roles. These actors need to diversify. We really wish they would because who can stand to see Michael Cera play another indie doofus or watch another Jennifer Aniston film where she’s the star of a romantic comedy?
15 Will Smith - The Loner Or The Action Star
Will Smith made his big screen debut in 1995’s Bad Boys, and it marked the first time he’d play a smart-ass cop (or another military-esque figure). He’s frequently cast as part of a duo, often in a buddy action-comedy, and often as the non-threatening one. He has a second, equally common, typecast and that’s as the loner who rises to the occasion. You can see him play the buddy role in Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, Independence Day, Wild Wild West, and in every Men in Black film. You can see him play the loner who rises to a difficult occasion in films such as I, Robot, Hancock, I Am Legend, The Pursuit of Happiness, and many more. According to IMDB, Smith and Martin Lawrence are buddy-copping it up again in 2018 in an all new Bad Boys film, Bad Boys for Life. Little is known of the plot, but if we’re going by the plots of the other two films, it can be assumed some narcotics are going to flood the city, and it will be up to the crime fighters to track it to the source and end said source…
14 Helena Bonham Carter - Gothic Weirdo
Is there a film where Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t play a crazed gothic weirdo? She’s sometimes evil and sometimes supernatural but always eccentric. Since her breakout role in 1999’s Fight Club, Carter has been the go-to actress for films that require their female lead to be both breathtaking and bat-sh-t crazy. Tim Burton took an interest in her, and the two began dating, and she became his muse of sorts; thus, her typecasting was born. From 2003’s Big Fish to 2016’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, Carter has been impressing us with wild hair, blood-curdling screams, and pale skin for more than 17 years. When she’s not donning heavy makeup to play the Queen of Hearts or Harry Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange, she’s smoking heavily and speaking in that breathlessly real way of hers. She’s pouring some truth on her audience in the most cynical way possible. In every movie, she proves she’s the best at acting crazy.
13 Hugh Grant - The Cynical Man
Is there a film where Hugh Grant doesn’t play a blathering English gentlemen? He’s frequently typecast as a cynical man with a chip on his shoulder. His problems can only be remedied by the right woman, and usually, they are by the film’s end. You can see this character again and again in films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Nine Months, Notting Hill, Two Weeks Notice, and so many more. Does he have any real range, or is this simply how the movie industry views him? It’s possible he’s the most typecast actor on the planet, but it’s more likely this is all Grant knows to do. Wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to see Grant in something different… except he has been given that opportunity, hasn’t he? In Oscar-nominated About a Boy, he plays an immature (and cynical) mentor to a little boy. Instead of a woman to change his character, it’s the film’s other leading man, 12-year-old Marcus, who causes Grant’s character to change from a selfish and spoiled man to a kind and endearing one. Oh, and he also gets the girl…
12 Michael Cera - Awkward Geek
Because life imitates art, Michael Cera is an awkward indie geek in real life and in the movies. He’s got so little range, he even plays an awkward geek in Sausage Party, which was animated. His breakthrough roles were in Superbad and Juno where he played the awkward geek leading man, and it really worked for 2007 when this type of character was still novel and hipster culture wasn’t yet appropriated by eager posers. After those films, people grew tired of Cera’s consistent typecasting. Seriously, did anyone see Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist? It was the romantic comedy that wasn’t funny and that no one wanted. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a good movie, but it still relies heavily on Cera’s ability to play the dorky antihero. Since then, he’s starred in fewer and fewer movies. Personally, I’d like to see him play a sadistic villain or someone who is the anti-hipster -- someone who isn’t socially awkward in the slightest.
11 Jim Carrey - The Screwball
Jim Carrey is frequently typecast as the madcap screwball. He’s been playing this role since the early 1990s, when he was a rising stand-up comedian and one of the stars of In Living Color. Carrey’s Fire Marshall Bill character and Vanilla Ice impersonations made him a recognizable face, and it wasn’t long before he was the guy in all the zany comedies. His breakout role was in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. That year, he also starred in The Mask and Dumb & Dumber. He brought his antics to the set of Batman Forever and lent insanity to The Riddler character. You can see him reprise this role in The Cable Guy, Liar Liar, and Me, Myself & Irene. Basically, his entire catalog is whacky roles. There are a few films where this changes, such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, but for the most part, Carrey plays a single role again and again, but isn’t it always unique even if it’s the same thing?
10 Jennifer Aniston - The Love Interest
Save for 2014’s Cake, Aniston frequently plays the love interest in a romantic comedy. She’s the girl-next-door, the sweetheart, and the timeless beauty. You can see her recycle the same role in Wanderlust, Just Go With It, The Switch, The Bounty Hunter, The Break-Up, and Rumor Has It…You may be thinking, "But she’s doesn’t play a lovelorn character in Horrible Bosses." No, she took the role of Dale’s sex-addicted boss to show off her great body -- not within her usual acting range. Those rom-com roles weren’t coming as fast as they used to, and Aniston needed to prove she still had it. That’s why Wanderlust was released just a year later and We’re the Millers just a year after that. She got back in the rom-com saddle because she knows how to grab our attention. Office Christmas Party is her latest foray as the love interest and her second film with Jason Bateman.
9 Vince Vaughn - The Motor-Mouth Smartass
If Swingers didn’t exist, would Vince Vaughn? The film marks the time Vaughn debuted the character he would play again and again for all of time… the motor-mouth smartass. He may be abnormally sweaty, but in a lot of ways, he was charming (obnoxious, but also charming). Society was into it, but the novelty wore off. No one wants what Vaughn is dishing out anymore. He can save his one-liners, shave his face occasionally, and keep his sweaty paws off women. That campy womanizer act is so early-2000s. It’s just not funny anymore, and Vaughn’s going to have to switch it up if he wants to keep getting roles in romantic comedies and other blockbuster movies. His turn in HBO’s True Detective was good, but it bordered on his typecast. He didn’t tell many one-liners, but he was surly and vain. Vaughn’s got some movies releasing later this year and in 2018. Here’s hoping he’s breaking the cycle and trying something new before we all choose to forget him.
8 Robert De Niro - The Hardass
Isn’t it about time Robert De Niro asked casting agents, “You typecastin’ me? You typecastin’ me? Well, I’m the only one here. Who the f do you think you’re typecastin’?” If he’s not the hardass dad or grandpa, he’s the hardass mafia. If he’s not those two things, he’s the hardass cop, detective, or military man. He’s good at what he does, though, and most people aren’t complaining, but it’s one of those things. If Robert De Niro is in the film, there’s a good chance it’s a drama or mafia-type film. Even in Meet the Parents, a comedy, he plays an ex-CIA member and a hardass dad. He took a short hiatus from this typecast with The Intern, where he played a sort of desperate out-of-work intern and highlighted the realities of ageism, but he was quickly back in the badass saddle when that film didn’t do too well in theaters. He may be typecasted for the rest of his career, and you know what? I’m okay with that because De Niro is the perfect badass.
7 Christopher Walken - The Psychotic One
Christopher Walken (whose real name is Ronald Walker, FYI) frequently plays a psychotic person, usually a gangster. He may play the bad guy, such as in True Romance where he famously said (as Vincenzo Coccotti), “I’m the anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood…” Or, he may play a good guy with a sketchy history, such as in Joe Dirt, where he famously said, “You’re talking to me all wrong… It’s the wrong tone. You do it again, and I’ll stab you in the face with a soldering iron.” Tell me you didn’t read that in his voice, and I’ll assume you’re super young and have no clue who Walken is. Like Morgan Freeman, Walken has a famous voice and most people can identify it. He has a cold-as-ice stare, and the ability to play a character that has deep-rooted issues. He’s the perfect sociopath and is frequently cast as one. Regardless if he’s the villain or plays the role of a good guy, chances are high Walken is playing the part of a guy with a few screws loose.
6 Julia Roberts - The Go-Getter Who Usually Falls Apart
In most of her films, Julia Roberts plays a strong character who eventually falls apart. She’s got a wall up, but by the end of the third act, she’ll show her vulnerability. Basically, her films follow a simple motif. She’s a gutsy go-getter, capable of doing it all on her own, but something happens that causes her to fall apart. She’s been playing this role since the 1980s. See: Satisfaction and Mystic Pizza. In her most iconic role, Vivian in Pretty Woman, one of her most famous lines is, “I say who, I say when, I say…WHO.” Yet, she is blubbering. Her hardened shell is breaking. She is losing her power or truly never had it. You can see this character reprised again and again in films, such as My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, Runaway Bride, Mona Lisa Smile, and even Erin Brockovich. It’s hard to disagree with Movie Pilot, who note the only films she hasn’t been typecasted in are Closer, August: Osage County, and Sleeping with the Enemy.
5 Samuel L. Jackson - Badass Mofo
Ask yourself, who is Hollywood’s resident badass mofo? Chances are high, you thought of Samuel L. Jackson. He frequently plays this hardcore and intimidating character, and you know it works for him. He really pulls it off. It’s like, you know he can kick your ass, and he will if you’re not careful so don’t mess up around SLJ. He’s tough, threatening, and he swears a lot. Although Jackson was in plenty of movies before Pulp Fiction, most people consider it the first time he made a serious impact on them. The popularity of Pulp Fiction made Jackson a household name, and he’d go on to act in a lot more films. He very well may be the hardest working man in Hollywood. IMDB currently credits him with having acted in more than 170 films. Most of his movies do feature some variation of him kicking ass, screaming obscenities, and committing murder (or vigilante justice).
4 Morgan Freeman - The Wise Old Dude
From The Shawshank Redemption to Ted 2, Morgan Freeman plays a singular role. He’s the wise old dude in movies, the geriatric guru if you will. Despite being one of the most typecast people in Hollywood, he’s also a most beloved character. Seriously, who isn’t a fan of Morgan Freeman’s? He’s cool as a cucumber especially when he’s dropping nuggets of wisdom in another character’s lap, which has happened in basically every film he’s ever been. Sometimes, he riffs on this typecasting. Mostly, he’s a very serious version of himself, and it works. He may play the same role again and again, but people don’t mind because he’s awesome. His confident and commanding tone is instantly recognizable, so he does a lot of voice work too, such as narrations. He’s narrated March of the Penguins, Conan the Barbarian, and War of the Worlds. His obvious typecast has allowed him to play both heroes and villains, gods and monsters. What Freeman is doing is working well for him, so there’s really no reason to change.
3 Drew Barrymore - Girl Next Door
Let’s face it, Drew Barrymore had more range when she was a struggling child actor compared to today. E.T., Firestarter, and even 1992’s Poison Ivy showed off Barrymore’s range, but roles since then have been very contrived. She’s the girl-next-door, the romantic-comedy darling we're all a bit sick of. Examples of this include 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer, Never Been Kissed, and Music and Lyrics. She’s too sweet, too innocent, and too nauseatingly perfect. It would be nice to see her do another edgy film, but that seems unlikely. Even in the new Netflix series, Santa Clarita Diet, she plays a plucky mom. Yeah, she’s also an adorable zombie, but it’s still her traditional typecast. Maybe she’s just that cheerful in real life, so Hollywood casting agents can’t see her in anything different. Throughout her career, Barrymore has sometimes surprised us. She showed she had real emotional range in films such as 1995’s Boys on the Side and 2001’s Donnie Darko. Too bad she’s not shown much of that range since.
2 Tom Cruise - The Charming Hero
Isn’t Tom Cruise always the charming hero? Sure, he’s been in some mind-benders and done films that aren’t action, but his style rarely changes. He’s sometimes cocky, sometimes sincere, but almost always the hero. His breakout role was in 1983’s Risky Business. He played the handsome nerdy guy whose best friend wanted him to get laid, so he hooked him up with a call girl. What did he do after they destroyed his father’s car? He rose to the occasion because that’s what Cruise’s characters always do. You can see him play the hero in basically every movie he’s ever acted in except for Collateral and Tropic Thunder. In those films, Cruise really stepped away from his usual typecast role but quickly jumped back in with films like Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and every Mission Impossible (including the one that’s soon slated to hit theaters). Later this year, Cruise is coming out with a smaller production film titled American Made. It’s about a man who works as both a CIA agent and a drug runner, so maybe that will be a welcome break from the Cruise we’re all terribly used to.
1 Liam Neeson - The Quick-Thinking Vigilante
Liam Neeson has a very specific skillset. It’s not varied. Like, at all. He basically plays a quick-thinking vigilante with “a very particular set of skills.” Again, these aren’t acting skills, but rather the ability to talk slowly, to look like he’s thinking deeply, and to jog with a determined look on his face. Oh, and he’ll find your daughter if she’s sold into sexual slavery. When he’s not regurgitating the plot of the first Taken in Taken 2 and Taken 3, he’s reprising that same character for films, such as A Walk Among the Tombstones, The Grey, and Non-Stop. Old men are usually very frail, but Neeson isn’t your average old guy. He can kill you with a single karate chop or blow to the chest. Basically, in every movie, he’s able to take out a room full of guys, and he rarely uses a gun. Neeson is the best at what he does. Although his films often seem similar, they’re always entertaining in their own way. Perhaps they're a bit forgettable, but they’re watchable. And isn’t that what really matters anyway?