It’s said no one sets out to make a bad movie. Yet, when you see some, you have to wonder why the signs weren’t obvious. Every actor has at least one movie on their resume they badly regret (and a few have resumes seemingly made up of nothing but horrible films). It’s amazing how actors can read a script, agree to do it and then be shocked when the movie bombs. To be fair, in many cases, a script can be great only to be shifted when studio interference runs wild. That’s not to mention how a shoot can turn into a mess with fights and such. It’s sad to see actors doing their best only for their final efforts to be a letdown. Of course, some movies are terrible because of bad acting, in which case you can’t feel too sorry for those involved. But every now and then, you do.
Some actors clearly have done all they can for a movie. They put up with wild costumes or makeup, they do stunt work or other bits; it’s clear they’re trying their best. Yet the combination of a bad script, bad direction or studio messes turns their final efforts into garbage. It’s a shame as some horrible movies can boast one actual person trying their best to make it work. It’s almost as if they’re in an entirely different movie with their talent shining very well. Just by themselves, they can make the movie not just watchable but even entertaining and make you wish the rest around them could be just as great. In some cases, it’s an esteemed actor, in others, it’s someone surprising and it makes you realize why they took the role. Here are 15 actors who gave their all despite their movies sucking and why there’s a saving grace even in a flop.
15. Hilary Swank Learned Some Japanese For The Next Karate Kid
Everyone has to start somewhere…even a two-time Best Actress Oscar winner. In 1994, Columbia decided to revive an old franchise with The Next Karate Kid. Pat Morita was talked into reprising his role as Mr. Miyagi who catches up with an old friend in Boston. He’s introduced the man’s unruly granddaughter, played by a then-unknown Hilary Swank. Thinking she needs guidance, Miyagi takes her under his wing and teaches her to hone martial arts. Before long, she’s using them for confidence and then taking down a band of army bullies. Swank got into the role with training and learning some martial arts moves for real. She even studied some Japanese to get into it. The movie didn’t find an audience, lost amid the other releases that year and ended up a big flop. However, Swank’s commitment to any role would serve her well. Five years later, she starred in Boys Don’t Cry, which won her the Oscar. Another would follow as Swank showed that she could dedicate herself even to a movie that stunk.
14. Even Martin Freeman Couldn’t Make The Hobbit As Good As LOTR
When it was announced Peter Jackson was going to direct a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, fans went nuts. Thus, it was crushing when The Hobbit trilogy turned out to be a letdown. Most cite the issue was trying to drag the short book into a trilogy. There were way too many attempts to tie into LOTR in distracting ways. Also, the massive reliance on CGI proved way too distracting and thus it was a long and boring ride. It’s a shame as it had a good cast but overwhelmed by the spectacle and clearly not able to handle acting on so many green screens so often.
Yet the casting of the central character was a saving grace. Martin Freeman was perfect as the younger Bilbo Baggins, totally over his head but growing into a strong hero. Freeman held his own against the CGI Gollum, Smaug, and other threats, making it all feel real and his good humor and strength helped ground the film. Despite how bloated this trilogy was, Freeman made the part of Bilbo his own and shone well to make his parts fit the saga.
13. Halle Berry Trained Like Crazy For Catwoman
The idea of a movie based on the femme fatale from Batman comics is a great idea. However, making it with no connections to Batman, rather the woman transformed by some “cat goddess,” was a bit off. Ashley Judd was to star but she bowed out so it went to Halle Berry, fresh off her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball. Berry threw herself into the part with an incredible fitness regimen, detailing in magazines how she cut out sugars and other foods, huge workouts and more to get herself into shape. That included taking martial arts and even some gym classes to tone up her body to look good in the stunts. The topper was Berry putting up with a “costume” that was little more than torn cloth over her body to show it off more and obvious cheesecake.
The film was a tremendous bomb, ravaged by critics as one of the worst films of 2004. The plot was nonsensical and Berry had to do nutty things like acting like a cat, so despite her intense fitness, it was all for naught. However, Berry showed a great sense of humor about it. When she won Worst Actress at the Razzies, Berry showed up in person to accept the “honor” and is able to roll off this flop as at least she tried hard for it.
12. Jackie Earl Haley Reinvented Freddy But Nightmare On Elm Street 2010 Was Still Bad
The idea of remaking a classic like Nightmare on Elm Street seemed a bad idea. It got worse as the new version was savaged by both critics and fans as a lame retread. Rather than the psychological horror of the first, it went for cheap scares and bad FX. It just lacked the same spark and thus was quickly forgotten. However, surprisingly, the bit that most thought would be a disaster was the movie’s saving grace. To cast anyone but Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger appeared sacrilege. However, Jackie Earle Haley surprised by doing great in the role. Rather than copy Englund, Haley put his own stamp of menace onto the part with a fantastic makeup job of realistic burns. His Freddy was thrilling, not into wisecracks but intelligent and mocking as he takes his targets down. Even the movie’s haters had to acknowledge Haley was the best choice to take on the part after Englund and a shame the rest of the film couldn’t match his terrifying performance.
11. Gal Gadot Didn’t Disappoint But Justice League Did
There can’t be denying that Justice League is not the mega-hit expected. While a good international take may salvage it, it already has “bomb” status and Warner Bros expected to take a loss. Controversy rages over whether Zack Snyder’s original cut was good and ruined by the studio and Joss Whedon, or if they actually improved it. What’s true is that the gathering of DC’s heroes was a mess with bad plots, a ridiculous CGI foe and even the attempts to lighten up the darker earlier movies was not well received. Thankfully, there was still Gal Gadot. Months after her Wonder Woman was a solo hit, Gadot once more proved herself the MVP of this series. Her intro in the movie, of Diana taking down terrorists, was spectacular and had audiences cheering.
The movie was smart to have her in a leadership role; Gadot giving her all with the action sequences and even heart (the scene of her and Batman talking about their struggles was great). Many have said it’s a shame the rest of the DCCU doesn’t match Wonder’s success and Gadot proved she’s still the best person in the cast of heroes.
10. Michael Chiklis Refused To Voice Over A CGI ‘Thing’ And Suffered In Makeup Instead For Fantastic Four
There was a slew of issues in the making of Fantastic Four, based on Marvel’s flagship title. They wanted to base it more on the “Ultimate” version rather than Lee & Kirby. They insisted on Jessica Alba, a miscast, as the Invisible Woman, and they rendered Doctor Doom, the greatest Marvel villain, as a lame guy with metal skin. However, two performers were good. First was Chris Evans who perfectly captured the Human Torch as an arrogant showboat who loved being able to turn to flame. The second was how they managed Michael Chiklis as the Thing. Originally, the idea was Chiklis doing “normal” Ben Grimm, and then voice a CGI Thing. But Chiklis insisted on making it look real by putting up with a complex makeup job, adding nearly a hundred extra pounds of latex “rock” to pull the look off.
It was a great touch, making the Thing seem more real and thus audiences more invested in him. Chiklis backed it up by showing Ben’s heart under his hard exterior. The pain in his eyes when his girlfriend literally runs in fear from him is heart-breaking and you understand his bitterness at his turn. Amid all the bad dialogue and poor plot turns, Chiklis manages to make the Thing truly work and show how practical makeup still has a serious edge over CGI.
9. Andrew Garfield And Emma Stone Couldn’t Save The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Sony really thought that the Spider-Man movies could be their Marvel-sized franchise. It’s obvious how Amazing Spider-Man 2 was meant to set up a big cinematic universe with plans for movies on the Sinister Six, Black Cat, Venom, even Aunt May. However, the film ended up a huge box office disappointment while also crushing the hopes of fans with bad storytelling and running way too long. Jamie Foxx was horribly miscast as Electro and shoving in the Green Goblin was too distracting. Yet the stars could be counted on to ground things. Andrew Garfield made a great Peter Parker, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, handling the various super-fights and wanting to make a difference. He was also believable in the costume and stunt work for the character
Meanwhile, Emma Stone elevated Gwen Stacy beyond just “the girlfriend” with her own strength and humor. Their relationship was terrific with fine chemistry to carry the movie despite the CGI-overload. That paid off with the truly heartbreaking climax that each sold beautifully. While the movies are now forgotten with the MCU getting Spidey, Garfield and Stone did make this entry better than it deserved.
8. Charlize Theron Was Almost Paralyzed While Filming Aeon Flux
In 2003, Charlize Theron shocked everyone with her performance in Monster. Buried under makeup, Theron delivered an acting job that had critics gushing and won her every Best Actress trophy around, including the Oscar. She could do whatever she wanted after that and chose this adaption of the popular ‘90s cartoon. The sight of Theron in black hair and sleek bodysuit was very intriguing but sadly the movie turned out to be a huge letdown. The plot was confusing and the acting way too weak to get into. The flop status hides how Theron literally risked life and limb for the part. She underwent training for the fight scenes and insisted on doing her own stunts. That cost her as she took a bad fall, breaking her neck and coming within inches of being paralyzed. Theron was back at work quickly but it was notable how this wreck of a movie came close to ending not just her career but her life.
7. Tom Cruise Did His Own Singing In Rock Of Ages
The idea of this 2012 movie was good: A musical romance in the ‘80s with characters bursting into songs of the time. However, the final product was a mess despite its terrific cast with many citing Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as bad choices for the romantic leads and some of the plot was rather cheesy. But the movie did boast a great turn with Tom Cruise as rocker Stacee Jaxx. A throwback to the wild rockers of the time, he’s an arrogant jerk who doesn’t care about the damage he does with his partying and womanizing and such. Cruise clearly enjoyed the part, doing his own singing and actually looks great on stage. He shows the laid-back Stacee seemingly out of it constantly. However, there’s character growth as the man learns from his mistakes after realizing his manager is screwing over his former partners. He thus rises up to be a better person, a good acting job by Cruise. He really did a great job, much better than the rest of the film and while it played out badly, at least Cruise reminded fans of his star power majorly.
6. Margot Robbie Stole The Spotlight In Suicide Squad
It’s now accepted that Suicide Squad was a total disaster. Originally, it was a straight take on DC bad guys recruited into a secret mission, a really dark affair. But studio interference called for multiple reshoots and edits that messed it up and turned it into an often incomprehensible mess. There was also criticism for miscasts Will Smith and Jared Leto, who was too nutty as the Joker. However, most critics were kind to Margot Robbie, an inspired choice as Harley Quinn. Her outfit may have been crazy but it fit as Robbie got into the psychology of this lunatic; funny and driven and truly in love with the psychotic Joker. Robbie also did her own stunts, including complex acrobatics and easily stole every second of screen time. Many cited her as a strong part of the film and that if the character returns, Robbie is the only choice to play her, turning this otherwise mess of a movie into a compelling romp for her looney Harley.
5. Sofia Boutella Went Through Hours Of Makeup For The Mummy
Universal made a huge deal of their “Dark Universe,” a cinematic series based on their classic movie monsters. It would kick off with The Mummy and plans for more entries, complete with a big “cast photo” of the stars and even gave it its own theme music. Too bad they didn’t figure out how to make the first movie work. Mummy was a flop, ravaged by critics and too much time building up this “universe” rather than be a fun adventure. However, critics were kind to Sofia Boutella in the title role. The actress was well cast as this exotic beauty, an Egyptian princess who turns to darkness in her quest for power.
The really great stuff comes with Boutella putting up with the makeup to make her look a monster, with colored skin, contacts, and tattoos. She also handles the action sequences well, her experience as a dancer aiding her in moving like some otherworldly being. It’s a shame the movie flopped as it might have been good to get more of Boutella who at least made this film more memorable being on screen.
4. Meryl Streep Actually Sang And Played The Guitar For Ricki And The Flash
When presenting the nominees for Best Supporting Actress at the 2015 Oscars, Jared Leto said they were “four gifted performers and, in accordance with California state law, Meryl Streep.” The joke in Hollywood is Streep could do a five-minute cameo in an Adam Sandler movie and get a nomination for it. However, that theory was disproven by her turn in Ricki and the Flash, which was ignored after the movie was a flop. A shame as Streep actually was trying hard with the part. She played the title role of a would-be rocker stuck in bar gigs who comes home to help her daughter through a tough divorce. The story is rather trite, the screenplay is a collection of clichés, and the cast was wasted on what could be a Lifetime movie.
But Streep elevates it, doing well by singing and playing the guitar for real. She also looks great in the jeans and leather jacket, making the idea of her as a rocker believable. You can always count on Streep giving her all and making it look easy and this was no exception. The movie was a bomb but watching Streep rock it out is a reminder of why she’s one of the greatest actresses ever no matter the material.
3. Gina Gershon Knew How Bad Showgirls Would Be
In the annals of “so bad it’s good,” Showgirls stands tall. The 1995 movie had a big push as an NC-17 take on stripper life in Las Vegas, showcasing the ups and downs of that world. It turned into an epic disaster, a huge box office bomb and sadly, Elizabeth Berkley saw her career stalled because of it. But amid the bad performances, Gina Gershon gave a great one. She seemed to be the one person who knew that this was going to be a mess and so decided to put up with it. Her performance was more camp but still fun, making the most of the wicked lines and her flaunting skin wasn’t as blatant as others in the cast. If anything, Gershon got the best reviews of the movie and elevated her to stardom. She went on to have a better career than poor Berkley and still seen as one very sexy lady. To many, Gershon is the saving grace of the film as she at least knew what garbage it was and showed off nicely in it.
2. Raul Julia Was The Best Thing About Street Fighter
The tales of how this video game adaptation became a flop are legendary. There were fights on set, issues with the studio and Jean-Claude Van Damme was a wild force. Many say it’s not right that an actor as revered as Raul Julia had this as his final role. Julia took the part of villain M. Bison as his kids were fans of the game and he wanted to please them. He was actually deathly ill during filming but cast and crew speak with reverence of how, as soon as the cameras rolled, Julia was all business. He actually makes Bison a great force, stealing the movie, over the top but in a great way. Julia makes the most of his screen time, the best moment being when Chun-Li says she’s been waiting 20 years for revenge on Bison killing his father…only to hear that “to me…it was a Tuesday.” It may have been sad to see Julia at the end but he still gave what he could for this part to at least make it more memorable than the rest of his film.
1. Frank Langella’s Impressive Performance Beneath All That Makeup In Masters Of The Universe
The beloved hit cartoon boasts a great conflict involving an alien world of fantasy. The 1987 movie suffered by having the action moved to modern Los Angeles in an obvious cost-cutting move and thus not as epic as it could be. While Dolph Lundgren had the muscles for He-Man, his acting chops were obviously poor. But thankfully, the movie was brilliant to cast Frank Langella as Skeletor. The makeup job would be great today, let alone for 1987, completely burying Langella so he’s not recognized. Even better is how Langella approaches the role; rather than playing it camp, he’s terrifyingly straight. He turns the sometimes comedic Skeletor into the evil bad*ss he was meant to be; cool, powerful and dominant.
The moment he exterminates a failed underling while hissing “I am not in a giving vein this day” is chilling and Langella makes the role his own. It’s a shame the planned sequel never went through as Langella elevates the entire film to make a literal cartoon a stunning villain.
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