10 Great Actors in Bad Movies

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Acting, even in Hollywood, is a tough business. Sure, you say, all the fame and wealth, but that’s for a pretty small percentage of the people working. And even for those lucky few, they get to hear people talk about how entitled and stupid they are in public forums, constantly.

Plus they have to maintain their subtle craft while dealing with pressure from studios, their agents, even obnoxious directors who don’t always know what they want or what they’re doing. So I come here to praise the efforts behind these failed performances in bad movies, from the so-so in the mediocre to the horrific in the horrificker. Imagine the struggle to try and make these films/roles work, a struggle that does need to disappear into obscurity.

 

10. Harrison Ford, Sabrina (1995)

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You Know Him Better For: a little thing called The Conversation (1974), also Star Wars (1977-2015) and Indiana Jones (1981-forever), Blade Runner (1982), The Fugitive (1993), for being the grizzly guy with heart, girls wanting him to be in more movies, guys liking that he shoots people sometimes.

Why This Film Is No Good: Well, first of all, comparison can be a big old jerk. The original Sabrina (1954), directed by Billy Wilder, starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden, may be the greatest rom/com film of all time. So remaking such a beautiful classic is just asking for disappointment. Odd for a list like this, but I liked Sydney Pollack’s take on this tale. But not like “like like”. There’s an amiability to the characters and the story, Harrison Ford brings some strong energy, Greg Kinnear is likeable, Julia Ormond is underrated, but nothing transcendent or even diverting. It flowed forward, like an anecdote someone may tell at a party about how they met their girlfriend that you’ve heard two times already, but the emotional investment was low, the stakes even lower. I ask you, why remake something so literally?

 

9. Morgan Freeman, Deep Impact (1998)

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You Know Him Better For: Glory (1989), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Se7en (1995), some Batman movies (2005-2012), for being the sagely narrator/character in your cinema experience.

Why This Film Is No Good: Morgan Freeman as a black president is cool and like socially progressive in 1998, I get it. But his presidential stature and soothing voice can only carry technobabble about a giant comet heading toward Earth so far. I know, let’s cut between Tea Leoni and Elijah Wood so no one can spend too much time focusing on how cheesily the other one is doing. The greatest accomplishment of this movie is that it may not be the worst celestial object hitting the Earth movie of 1998 (Armageddon), but when your defense point is Michael Bay, you got unimpeachable problems. Some people may stand by this film, but don’t stand too close THERE’S A GIANT COMET HEADED TOWARDS THE EARTH!

 

8. Robert Downey Jr., U.S. Marshals (1998)

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You Know Him Better For: Chaplin (1992), Iron Man and a bunch of Marvel moviedom (2008-until the end of days), Tropic Thunder (2008), and a lot more stuff: basically for being the snarky sarcastic character in everything.

Why This Film Is No Good: 1998 was just a magical year for cinema, wasn’t it?
This is basically The Fugitive 2. Speaking of Harrison Ford…actually, let’s not and say he’s not a character in this movie. To be fair, while Wesley Snipes is not the greatest, his random replacement of Richard Kimble was not the issue with this movie. It was to bump up Tommy Lee Jones’ “I don’t care!” guy into the lead, and to give him both “depth” and the ability to change his mind, things that betrayed what The Fugitive established, basically making a generic mess out of the first movie. And poor RDJ. He just sort of gets swept under the rug as a generic federal agent. Imagine Tony Stark taking orders from Tommy Lee Jones (more on Tommy Lee in a second), and you can imagine how depressingly bland this movie is.

 

7. Marlon Brando, The Missouri Breaks (1976)

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You Know Him Better For: On The Waterfront (1954), The Godfather (1972), for being the quintessential temperamental actor who occasionally is just famous and brilliant and stuff.

Why This Film Is No Good: I have a bit of an extended metaphor, bear with me. To be a character in a western, it must be tiring. Hot weather, hard labor, shooting bad guys, just exhausting. And that feeling seems to pervasively infect the cast and crew of this western. Director Arthur Penn indulges in slow passages of wagon riding, long meandering dialogues about cattle rustling and the law and crap. Jack Nicholson tries to pull off some of his manic energy, but it often comes off as passivity or straight out laziness here. And I didn’t even get to Brando yet. He plays a hitman with an Irish accent that will have you wondering where his lucky charms are. Ok, a little out of place, and unnecessary, but fine. Who’s also Native American…and starts wearing dresses. No need to explain any of that either. And it’s not something that comes together in execution, and it seems to pat itself on the back, like “this is weird, isn’t it? That’s funny, maybe?” Marlon Brando acts like he’s in a different movie or maybe making his way to his trailer between takes with that passive delivery. And the plodding, meandering pace never resolves itself and you never think of this movie again.

 

6. Jim Carrey, Yes Man (2008)

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You Know Him Better For: Earth Girls Are Easy, which is actually not terrible (1988), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994), Dumb And Dumber (1994), Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), running into a room and being uncomfortably goofy (or AWESOME, depending on your demographic).

Why This Film Is No Good: Is Jim Carrey really a great actor, you may ask? Probably not, but Yes Man is a rare film that takes his lack of deep thespian-ism as a strength and a challenge. Liar, Liar (1997) was a diverting gimmick comedy that really over-performed financially. So why not do like the exact same movie over again? Oh, I’m sorry, instead of being compulsively unable to lie, now he is compulsively unable to refuse a yes or no proposition, so different. At least being a “Yes Man” gives the adventure a more positive bent, but that also means the stakes are lower and the mega-happy ending is more built in to the premise. And Zooey Deschanel is in this, as the love interest. From what I remember (repeat viewings not recommended) she didn’t have a whole lot to do that wasn’t Carrey related, which just makes the whole thing seem like vanity project for Jim.

 

5. Laurence Olivier, The Jazz Singer (1980)

THE JAZZ SINGER, Laurence Olivier, Neil Diamond, 1980

You Know Him Better For: Wuthering Heights (1939), Rebecca (1940), a lot of Shakespeare stuff, Spartacus (1960), Marathon Man (1976), Clash Of The Titans (1981), being that stuffy actor who now basically makes you feel like the previous generations of acting are classier than yours.

Why This Film Is No Good: As Wikipedia tells me, Olivier was getting old and wanted to acquire acting money for his soon to be heirs. As far as I now, this is the only one of those projects where the British Sir Laurence thought it would be a good idea to impersonate a Jewish cantor. And he’s not even subtle about it. The accent, so thick. And never mind the fact that he’s exchanging dramatic dialogue with Neil Diamond. Thereby setting up the dramatic moment when Olivier decides he likes Diamond’s music by hearing him play “America”. Really, that gets you into a forgiving tizzy? Really, “Sweet Caroline”, “Cherry, Cherry”, not doing it for you? (technically, Neil Diamond’s character wouldn’t have written those songs, but I stand by my point).

 

4. Tommy Lee Jones, Cobb (1994)

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You Know Him Better For: The Fugitive, again (1993), Men In Black franchise (1997-2012), No Country For Old Men (2007), Lincoln (2012), giving characters common sense Southern accented wisdom that you never knew you could sit through.

Why This Film Is No Good: I mentioned taking orders from Tommy Lee Jones. Well, after seeing this movie it might be hard to take him seriously for a while. A sportswriter (played crappily by Robert Wuhl, a casting decision based no doubt on low wages), is requested by none other than the aging Baseball legend Ty Cobb (Lee Jones), to write his autobiography. We’re to learn whether or not Cobb’s a good guy, so clearly over a feature length movie we’ll need some rising tension, some nuance….Or Cobb can sound like a Redneck constantly having some kind of tourette’s syndrome attack. He can shoot his gun in the air, he can drive like an idiot, he can be incredibly racist constantly (recent writings have questioned Cobb’s monstrous reputation, but this movie does not engage in your so called reading!). I think Tommy Lee Jones had to give back his Oscar when the Academy saw this movie.
Just look at Cobb’s crappy make-up. And like I mentioned, Robert Wuhl is a terrible lead. He just talks like a normal person, and he thinks putting some emphasis on some syllables and opening his eyes wider means acting.

 

3. Paul Newman, Cars (2006)

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You Know Him Better For: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), The Verdict (1982), a lot more, for bringing an earnest everyman approach mixed with serious acting chops, really an all time great actor.

Why This Film Is No Good: Ok, it’s a world populated by cars, but they’re alive and can talk and stuff. The premise is a little thin as it is, but let’s also make it a NASCAR movie, because that’s what the smart movie goers love, demographically. And just to mix it up a little, let’s make the dialogue terrible and characters sort of blur together. This film goes from bad to sad when you think of the fact that Paul Newman, in a solid albeit perfunctory performance, died after the movie was made. So his last movie was as the lazy genre troping disappointed Dad(mobile). After all the great original characters of his career. It makes the movie borderline unwatchable. Unless you’re under 8, then pretty colors vroom-vroom.

 

2. Ben Kingsley, The Love Guru (2008)

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You Know Him Better For: Gandhi (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Iron Man 3 (2013), some other stuff. While the reputation is fading, his performance as Gandhi would have me thinking “wow, Ben Kingsley has lowered himself to be in this movie…”

Why This Film Is No Good: Have you seen it? Heard of it? Maybe taken a glance at a poster? Then you probably already know. Mike Myers, with his really inconsistent success rate, tried again to create a surreal goofy movie universe. Wayne’s World (1992), Austin Powers (1997), oooh, I know, dick jokes about Indian gurus. Nailed it! And it’s all just dick jokes. Dick jokes that repeat. And annoying accents, and Jessica Alba being forced to carry the movie as “the normal one”, and that goddamn joke about Mariska Hargitay that wasn’t funny when it was supposed to be funny. A random cameo from Stephen Colbert that will have you saying “that was the best part, but it also wasn’t funny.” New dick jokes. Speaking of dick jokes, SIR Ben Kingsley takes on a new name, Guru Tugginmypudha. Subtle. And he’s, like, cross-eyed, because that worked for no comedy gag ever, talks like an Indian cartoon character (and not even a good one), and at least his presence was briefer than most of the characters.
More like the gross guru, am I right?

 

1. Peter Sellers, Trail Of The Pink Panther (1982)

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You Know Him Better For: The Ladykillers (1955), The Pink Panther films (1963-1982), Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964), Being There (1979), tons of other funny movies, for really being the auteur of goofy physical humor.

Why This Film Is No Good: Let me start out by saying I simply idolize all but the last two Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. Sellers engages in bumbling physical comedy and word play with that cartoonish French accent in funny ways, Blake Edwards’ comic set-ups are masterful, Henry Mancini’s music, those cartoons, sublime.
So, allow me to tell the story of Trail Of The Pink Panther. My source is very reliable (I know a guy who reads Wikipedia).

So, Peter Sellers, as one does, died. But the studio wanted to keep making more Pink Panther movies, with him. So, naturally, someone agreed and convinced everyone else to go through a movie, Trail Of The Pink Panther, that repackaged old footage and unused footage from the earlier movies, and some seated interviews with characters from older movies to tie the clips together (because that’s what Inspector Clouseau and the Panther movies were best at, plot dialogue). Some body doubles made it look like Sellers as Inspector Clouseau was “running away” from the police, instead of you know, being dead. The end, right? No, you know, the movie was terrible, it made no money, Sellers’ widow successfully sued the studio for staining the memory of her dead husband, but what the hell, let’s make the EXACT SAME MOVIE AGAIN.

But at least Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983), despite being pretty bad, at least tries to be different, even if it’s hard to tell them apart. They bring in a new American detective character, Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass), to lead the investigation to find Closeau. He’s a little lacking in the charisma, but hey, he’s not a dead guy. And you may wince when you get to Roger Moore’s Peter Sellers impersonation, but hey, at least it’s not clips of a dead guy (the bar is so low).

What’s depressing about both these movies is that they’re looking for Inspector Clouseau, but as an audience, you know the actor is dead. So you’re pinning your hopes on a resolution that can never be. And they’re comedies.

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Author: Jason Luna

Jason Luna is currently getting an MFA in Film Directing, and is also an actor, a film critic, a screenwriter, a print/video editor, and anything else creative you need. A winner of 1 million dollars on NBC’s “1 vs. 100” in 2008, Jason has written about game shows, tv, movies, and books for About.com, Geek Speak Magazine, and Boston University’s “The Comment” Magazine (which he also co-edited). He likes to think of himself as a feminist, thinks dogs are better than people, and really, really likes John Waters.

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