There a a million different factors that decide if a performance is considered “good” or not. Actors are one of the most important keys to filmmaking; their performances can make or break a film. The complete opposite is true as well; sometimes a movie’s only saving grace will be when one of the aforementioned performers steps up and makes a horrible movie watchable. We all know that the likes of Tom Hanks, Christian Bale, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, and Cate Blanchett are likely to put in a great performance even when paired with the worst of directors. Likewise, we know that we probably can’t count on Pauly Shore, Steven Seagal, or Ashton Kutcher to win any Oscars anytime soon.
But not every actor is such a sure bet. Some can give an Oscar-winning performance in one film and then turn around and put in something so awful that it’s hard to believe it’s the same person. Just to set some guidelines, we are not talking about “good actors who are in bad movies.” No, to make this list, they must constantly be jumping back and forth across the spectrum of great and godawful. Here are 15 Actors Who Constantly Flip Between Great and Terrible.
15. Johnny Depp
There’s no denying Johnny Depp’s impact on cinema. He’s given us characters like Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Raoul Duke, and Tim Burton’s interpretation of Ed Wood in the past and has even returned to his old form in last year’s Black Mass. When Depp is on, he’s really on; most of the above-mentioned roles have become legendary pop culture icons or academy award-nominated performances. The actor looks to continue this trend as he takes on the role of Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts series.
However, he has had a really bad habit over the last decade of taking roles (usually with Tim Burton) that require him to play some sort of zany, over the top character (usually in white makeup). His performances in these films tend to be confusing at best and uncomfortably bizarre at worst. Seriously, take one look at his Willy Wonka and tell us that’s a man who should be allowed around children. Although slightly less creepy, his interpretations of The Mad Hatter, Barnabus Collins, and Tonto all felt like variations on the exact same character. Then there was whatever he was trying to do in Mordecai. And Tusk. And Yoga Hosers. And whatever that was in Fantastic Beasts.
14. Sandra Bullock
Is being boring necessarily being “bad?” We definitely think so. And when Sandra Bullock phones it in, she phones it in. Remember Our Brand is Crisis? Neither does the rest of the world, with good reason! Few people wanted to pay $12 to sit and watch Bullock sleepwalk her way through a movie. 2015’s Minions had her constantly screaming into her microphone with little style or substance. To be fair, though, it was Minions. There was also that time where she seemed completely uninterested in a time-travel romance with Keanu Reeves.
But Bullock is an amazing actress when she wants to be. She won a the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side and was a strong contender for the same award when Gravity came out four years later. The actress has shown that she has comedy chops, too; The Heat was one of the most surprisingly funny films of 2014 and the Miss Congeniality movies are guilty pleasures of film lovers everywhere. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Crash (though the quality of the films themselves are debatable) even gave us an early glimpse of what Bullock herself was capable of.
13. Kristen Stewart
Believe it or not, Kristen Stewart does have more than one expression. If you’ve only seen her acting prowess in the Twilight films or something like Snow White and the Huntsman you probably would never guess. Public perception of Stewart hasn’t gotten much better, as she received similar critiques for her role in the recently released American Ultra. While the actress isn’t necessarily the worst part about any of the aforementioned films, her performances are bad enough that you’d think this girl had never acted in her life.
In order to see Kristen Stewart’s full potential, one must check out the indie scene. Critics universally praised her performance in 2010’s On The Road and she is the first American actress to win a Cesar Award, for her role in Clouds of Sils Maria. During the production of Still Alice, the legendary Julianne Moore went out of her way to call Stewart “an extraordinary actress,” and audiences agreed; some even claimed that she was better than Moore in the film. Let that one sink in for a moment.
If her past is any indication, we are in for another treat when Personal Shopper (an indie thriller/horror/drama film that is already getting praised for the actress’ performance) drops later this year.
12. Will Smith
Back in the ’90s there was absolutely nobody who could touch Will Smith. After a short but sweet career as a rapper, Smith starred in the hit comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air before going on to become the biggest movie star of the decade. Despite appearing in big budget action flicks like Bad Boys or Men in Black, the actor showed that he had some real dramatic skills when he was twice nominated for Best Actor Oscars. The first was for Ali, a bibliographical film about (who else?) Muhammad Ali. The second was for his soul-crushing performance in 2007’s The Pursuit of Happiness, where he played a down on his luck single father who tried to find steady work and a home for his young son.
Perhaps the first red flag that Smith came when he passed up on The Matrix in order to star in the campfest known as Wild Wild West. Our biggest fears were later confirmed when he began taking on a bunch of sappy Oscar-bait roles and ones where his son was the star. Seriously, that performance in After Earth was… something else. Then there are those films where he just shows up and plays himself, such as Hancock, I Am Legend, or Hitch. Those were all decent films, but seemed like they were starring the same character because of Smith’s lackluster performances.
11. Adam Sandler
He may be the subject of ridicule today, but Adam Sandler is one of the most successful stars in Hollywood. His movies have been called crass, crude, and downright insulting at times, but no matter what crazy shenanigans Sandler and his buddies get themselves into, these movies make hundreds of millions of dollars. Who’s laughing now? After the trainwrecks that were Pixels, The Ridiculous Six, and Jack and Jill, probably not Sandler’s dignity. Just about anything that shows up under the Happy Madison name nowadays is sure to feature an obnoxious and crude performance by the former SNL star.
But, when he feels like it, Adam Sandler can hit it out of the park. If you watched Reign Over Me, Punch Drunk Love, or Funny People you’d swear you were watching a completely different actor. Even in some of his better comedy films, like Click and Spanglish, Sandler will throw in a tear-jerking moment or two that shows he’s got better acting skills than he lets on. Of course, he then turns right around and releases That’s My Boy, but that’s beside the point…
10. Cuba Gooding Jr.
Talk about somebody who just completely dropped off the radar! Before his return to the spotlight as O.J. Simpson in last year’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Cuba Gooding Jr. hadn’t been taken seriously as an actor for a long, long time. Sure he got roles in Red Tails and Lee Daniel’s The Butler, but it had been a long time since he had scored a leading role. We believe his performances in Radio and Snow Dogs just may have had something to do with this.
Snow Dogs was about as big of a cash-in performance as you can get; if you just wanted to show up, make a few jokes for the kiddies, and then half-act your way through a movie, this was the perfect role. He’s also shown his not-so-great leading man skills in countless direct to DVD movies throughout the years. As far as Radio is concerned… we don’t even want to go there. Even Kirk Lazarus knows this kind of role is a career killer.
Despite his lows, Cuba Gooding Jr. has put in some incredible performances. His O.J. Simpson was phenomenal and earned him several award nominations. Obviously the performance everyone knows Gooding for is Jerry Maguire, which netted him an Academy Award. But don’t sleep on the actor’s performances in What Dreams May Come, in which he keeps pace with Robin Williams without missing a beat.
9. John Wayne
Easy there, pilgrim! Much like everyone else in the western world, we love John Wayne. He is the epitome of a movie star; everything that he starred in during his long career became an instant must-see and his larger-than-life personality is still appreciated to this day. In The Alamo he played frontier legend Davy Crockett. He won an Oscar for his performance in the original True Grit. Whenever somebody wants to emulate the typical American “Cowboy,” they look no further than this guy for inspiration.
But when John Wayne was bad, he was bad. Somebody decided that this Iowa-born Cowboy icon would be perfect to star as the Mongolian General Genghis Kahn. Yep. It went about as well as you’d expect; The Conqueror was a terrible movie with a terrible performance from Wayne and an even more cursed production. There was also a time when the Duke starred in a romantic comedy with Claudette Colbert, a strange departure from his typical fare and one in which he had no chemistry with his lead actress.
8. Mark Hamill
Hamill is the stuff of legends when it comes to Geek Culture; after all, he is the iconic Luke Skywalker, the hero of the most lucrative film franchise of all time! On top of this, he is considered by many to be the greatest actor to ever tackle the role of The Joker in the Batman franchise with three (and currently a fourth!) TV series, multiple video games, and an animated feature under his belt. He has also one of the best voice actors of our generation; Hamill has voiced characters in Adventure Time, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, The Regular Show, Ben 10, Metalocalypse, Johnny Bravo, and many more.
But there was a time right after the original Star Wars trilogy concluded when the actor set off to become a leading man. It definitely didn’t work out. The thing that makes Hamill such a great voice actor is his ability to go completely off the wall zany. Just…watch this clip from The Guyver and let us know how well that works in a live-action film. There was a whole slew of direct to DVD/VHS that starred the former Jedi, and most of them were either downright terrible or so hilariously corny that they were awesome.
7. Arnold Schwarzenegger
We truly feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger was destined to be on this list. Let’s just set the record straight before we begin: we know that objectively Schwarzenegger isn’t a “good” actor. He has not been nominated for any major awards and probably never will be. But he is entertaining as hell!
The actor has been the star of some of the greatest action movies ever made, playing the titular role in The Terminator franchise, Dutch in Predator, and Douglas Quaid in Total Recall. His burly Austrian accent makes him the perfect fodder for comedies such as Twins and Last Action Hero. But he has also shown us that he can break beyond his macho man image and play nuanced characters; in 2015 he received near universal praise for his role in Maggie.
When Ahnold is off, he is wildly off. We’ve lost count of how many times he makes a goofy face and mugged the camera whilst delivering one-liner after one-liner in Jingle All the Way and Kindergarten Cop. Then there’s the legendary awfulness that is Hercules in New York, or the over the top ridiculousness that he pulls in The Running Man. Also, as much as we hate to even utter this film’s name, there was the horror that is Batman & Robin, complete with Schwarzenegger yelling ice-themed puns like “Cool party!” and “What killed the dinosaurs? THE ICE AGE!”
6. Halle Berry
Never before have we seen a career come crashing down as quickly as Halle Berry’s. We know she is a great actress; Berry broke down barriers when she became the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress back in 2001. She most certainly deserved the award, as her role in Monster’s Ball was one for the ages. Though she has never quite reached this level again, her performances in films like Cloud Atlas and Things We Lost in the Fire were standouts.
But it seems like for every great performance in Berry’s filmography, there are three or four bad ones. We can forgive Movie 43, as it dragged in a bunch of big celebrities and completely wasted their talents. What we absolutely cannot forgive, however, is Catwoman. There’s really nothing positive to say about that disaster of a 2004 film, and Berry’s acting was just the cherry on top of the crappy cake. Then there are the X-Men films, where she looks completely lost next to actors like Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Famke Janssen. This trend appears to be continuing, as Halle Berry is starring in both the (probably bad) film Kidnap as well as (the probably good) Kingsmen: The Golden Circle.
5. Sylvester Stallone
We don’t want to rag on Sly Stallone too much, mostly because he’s a brilliant director and writer, but he has put in some absolutely terrible performances over the years. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot? Really, Sly?
Much like Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone has contributed to a bunch of terrible action and comedy films over the years. The appropriately titled Over the Top and the “so bad it’s good” Tango & Cash are just two of many films in a long list of crap. Even within his better franchises, Stallone flips back and forth; Rocky IV, Rocky V, and Rambo III all saw him putting in horribly lazy performances in series where he normally shone.
And shine he did! With the exception of the two entries we listed above, Stallone is always phenomenal in the Rocky/Creed series (snagging him two Oscar nominations). He also put on a haunting portrayal of PTSD during the post-Vietnam era in Rambo: First Blood and a brilliantly subtle performance in 1997’s Cop Land. Even in movies like The Expendables or Escape Plan the actor at least seems to be having fun with the roles. This is one of the great enigmas of our time.
4. Ben Affleck
To be completely fair, Affleck hasn’t put in a “terrible” performance in a few years. Recently he’s been on fire, starring in hit films The Town, Argo, and Gone Girl. You could even argue that the actor is going through a Renaissance right now considering he’s quickly regaining his status as an A-lister. If you had told us ten years ago that Ben Affleck was going to be one of the best interpretations of Batman to ever grace the screen we would have laughed in your face. But even in his early career the actor gave us some memorable roles; Good Will Hunting was obviously his breakout, but his comedic performances in Kevin Smith’s early films earned him some credit as well.
Then, Affleck starred in some movies in which he was so bad, it nearly killed his career. 2003 was not a fun year for this guy. First, he showed us how awful a superhero movie can be when he played Matt Murdock in Daredevil; the movie was so bad that studios were afraid to touch the property ever again. Then came Gigli, a film that is often considered one of the worst ever made and the one that effectively killed Affleck’s career. Despite this setback, he kept going, receiving four Razzie awards and being nominated by the company for worst actor of the decade in 2010. Yikes.
3. Keanu Reeves
It’s no secret that Keanu Reeves can completely own a role when he wants to. There’s nobody else we could possibly see as Neo. His performance in John Wick is a big reason the film was a sleeper hit and is getting a sequel. Point Break is arguably the best action film of ’90s. Even his comedic performances in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are top notch, though for different reasons.
There is literally no “in between” for Keanu Reeves. Let us remind you that this is the same guy that starred in Babes in Toyland early in his career and thought Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was a good idea. Then there are those movies that he just kind of blandly sleepwalks through, such as The Lake House or The Day the Earth Stood Still.
But nothing, nothing can compare to the horror that was his performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oh my goodness is this the stuff of legend! The weirdest part is that Dracula is actually a pretty good movie as a whole. But Reeves, who plays Jonathan Harker, absolutely cannot do a British accent to save his life, and spends the entire movie laughably trying to emulate one. It’s painful to watch.
2. Ben Kingsley
Sir Ben Kingsley is one of the handful of Hollywood stars to have been knighted by the Queen of England. If anyone deserves the honor, it is this classically trained Shakespearean actor. His remarkable performance in Gandhi earned him an Oscar– Kingsley has more Academy Award nominations than we can count, appearing in Oscar-nominated films like Schindler’s List, The House of Sand and Fog, and Bugsy. The actor has a legendary voice, as well. He starred in the live-action Jungle Book as Bagheera and his Mandarin in Iron Man 3 gave us the heebie-jeebies (until, well… you know).
So why did he have to star in BloodRayne of all movies– and what happened to his talent while filming it? Maybe he just had an off performance. That happens, right? …The Love Guru? As a character called Guru Tugginmypudha? There are no words to describe how disappointing it is to see Kingsley take on these roles. Even worse is the fact that his performances are just as bad as the films themselves! But he couldn’t stop there; he just had to go on and star in The Wackness. When you see an actor with as many Razzie nominations as he does Oscar noms, you know their talent can’t get much more “hot and cold.”
1. Nicolas Cage
Here it is, folks, the man who inspired this very list! Admit it, you all knew he was going to be #1. Nicolas Cage seems to have a switch in his brain that goes from “versatile actor” to “bat**** insane,” because those are the only two settings he seems to have for his movies. Believe it or not this guy has two Academy Award nominations (one of which he won) and four Golden Globe noms (one of which he also won); both wins came from his amazing portrayal of Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas, while his other nominations came from Adaptation, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Moonstruck. Cage has shown that he can also be (intentionally) hilarious in movies like Kick-Ass and Raising Arizona, furthering the evidence that he knows exactly what he’s doing.
As far as the bad goes? A bad Nicolas Cage movie is like an experience that you have to see with your own two eyes. If you’d like to see him scream about bees and punch a woman in the face while wearing a bear suit, go watch The Wicker Man. If that kind of zaniness isn’t your thing, check out either of the Ghost Rider films, where you see the actor trying to act normal whilst containing his inner insanity. And watch Vampire’s Kiss and Deadfall. Just… watch them. You can thank us later.
So how do you feel about this list? Did we miss any major actors who flip flop constantly? Think we’re wrong about some of these people? Let us know in the comments!