The bygone image of the starry-eyed ingenue stepping off a bus in L.A., her mind fueled by dreams of fame, is long dead. Today, the path to stardom is stark in its realism; the systemic cynicism that young idealist is bound to encounter is part and parcel of the dream. If its not based on a distortion of the stereotype, then it comes from a place of that hideous word they encourage in business schools around the country: synergy. As such, Hollywood has long been rife with terrible and bizarre casting decisions. And it’s left audiences with some memorably terrible performances.
“You know who’d be perfect for this Victorian-era British real estate man who is kidnapped by Dracula? Keanu Reeves,” is something that no one said ever. Well, except Francis Ford Coppola. And while Reeves is often quite good (and thoroughly underrated), Coppola has since admitted his decision in casting him in Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a financial decision rather than an artistic one; designed to draw in a younger audience.
Still, Hollywood is also littered with real-life accounts of actors who just wanted to make it big, despite harbouring much talent, and got rather far. What follows is a list of both performers who fell under the city’s curse and turned out worse for it, and others who just woke up one day and decided on a whim that they had what it took.
Most of them didn’t.
Here are 16 Actors Who Never Should Have Acted.
There’s no good way to discuss Body Of Evidence. It’s a boring, convoluted mess of a film, loaded with unnecessary sleaze and an overqualified cast that includes Willem Dafoe and a then-unknown Julianne Moore. Oh, and Madonna, unfortunately. There’s no question that the film is possibly one of the sleaziest of the 1990s. It’s a blatant attempt to regenerate the buzz and heat of Paul Verhoven’s Basic Instinct, but without any of the self-awareness. Its modern day equivalent would be The Girl On The Train, which strove desperately to be last year’s Gone Girl but instead embraced all of that film’s luridness and none of its subtlety.
And it stands as a testament to just how bad an actress Madonna is. She’s an artist who lives to shock – a career that’s only become more head-shakingly depressing with age. And her acting career, like anything else she’s done, is one long vanity project designed to rile up those old curmudgeons. More than in any other field, she fell the hardest as an actress.
15. Dennis Rodman
In the ’90s, Dennis Rodman was the enfant terrible of the NBA. On and off the court, his persona as a domineering, uber-confident rebel usurped talk of his athletic ability. And while there’s no denying the latter – he was once called the best rebounding forward in NBA history – the former wavers between an obvious cry of help and severe delusions of granduer.
So it should come as no surprise that Rodman saw himself as the next big thing in action films. In 1997, he made his screen debut alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme in the buddy picture Double Team. Rather than create a character, Rodman attempts to play himself, except holding a gun instead of a ball. His outlandish fashion sense, bland delivery and mostly clueless expression should lend itself to a so bad its good film – had the film itself been even remotely watchable.
14. Cindy Crawford
In the mid-90s, Cindy Crawford was the highest paid supermodel on the planet. Her appearances were ubiquitous, from runways to advertisements and, eventually, film.
For producer Joel Silver, the decision to put Crawford’s brand on a poster would recoup whatever budget within a weekend. Silver, a longtime Hollywood player whose credits include the Lethal Weapon franchise, essentially threw money at a reluctant Crawford until she agreed. One thing Silver hadn’t counted on, however, was that the second name on the marquis can also make a difference. Fair Game was an obvious cash-grab – based on the same novel that Stallone partly used as the basis for Cobra – and unable to attract anyone beyond William “I’m also a Baldwin” Baldwin. Its script was the stuff of sub-par Cinemax.
Crawford took the brunt of the criticism in the press, with some calling her “wooden” and “awkward”. She has no regrets.
13. Dennis Wilson and James Taylor
Drugs are never a good reason to take up acting. Dennis Hopper got away with it for years thanks to actual talent along with an entourage of more talent (and an amazing editor in Donn Cambern, who made poignant sense of Easy Rider). The same can’t be said of Beach Boy and Charles Manson cohort Dennis Wilson and James Taylor, who starred in Monte Hellman’s 1971 road movie Two Lane Blacktop. The film itself received good reviews and has only aged better as a snowglobe-peak into the counterculture of the era.
The film’s leads didn’t really get much attention. It’s fortunate for the duo that their roles, credited as “Driver” and “Mechanic”, are not very demanding. Nevertheless, when they are required to deliver lines, they sound like they’d better belong on Mystery Science Theatre.
12. Gene Simmons
Oh, how ego can distort male psyche. KISS may well be one of the most derided bands in history, but at its heart there is something empowering about four awkward guys acting like rock stars and, in their own terrible way, succeeding.
But Simmons didn’t stop there. He wanted it all, and he still does. This meant acting.
Simmons is fine when he’s playing himself, inflated ego intact. However, should the role require any change in personality, like his awful attempt at villainy in 1984’s Runaway, he just seems bored with the material.
By all accounts, from his reality show to interviews, he’s a man of little conviction. Like fellow hair enthusiast Donald Trump, he doesn’t see past his own bluster. This is antithetical to every school of thought on acting imaginable.
11. Howie Long
Howie Long may be a fine football player, but his acting abilities lend further credence to recent research into long-term brain damage from NFL concussions. After retiring from the league in 1993, he got his first acting role alongside John Travolta in the much maligned actioner Broken Arrow. When acting alongside a particularly hammy Travolta, it’s difficult to get any kind of notice, and Long’s lackey villain was so bland it’s difficult to remember he’s even there. Interestingly, his death scene led to a variation on the classic “Wilhelm Scream” in stock audio footage re-used in film, known as the “Howie Scream.”
It was only after Firestorm, what was to be his breakout action role, where his career derailed. The film is basically Cliffhanger, but with fire. After it flopped, and Long was criticized for being as dull as the plot, he only appeared in small roles in a few films. Worse, he clearly has no eye for material; in addition to Broken Arrow and Firestorm, he next appeared in a made for TNT Western and 3,000 Miles To Graceland.
10. Greta Garbo
So often do celebrities in magazines toss off a line about how they long for a day they won’t be recognized on the street; a day when they’ll simply be able to live a normal life. It’s typically met with a smirk by readers, who are aware that no one is being forced in front of the camera. But Garbo’s longing for a private life is both well-documented and, unlike many who fraudulently wish solitide, fulfilled.
Garbo was always a different sort, reportedly hating school and just wanting to play alone as a child in her native Sweden. While cinema may have seemed like an odd choice for such an introvert, she has her rightful place in cinema history, turning in countless wonderful performances in classics such as Grand Hotel and Ninotchka. Her dry wit and easy charm earned her three Best Actress nominations. And while her absence in film history would have deprived audiences from some of the finest moments of the 1930s, it also would have led to a happier existence for Garbo. According to her biographer, she despised her work. It was a chore just to get to the lot each day.
9. Vanilla Ice
During this 90s renaissance we are currently experiencing, a lot of pop culture is being re-examined by media critics. We’ve learned very little about ourselves so far, except that we’re still for some reason obsessed with theO.J. Simpson trial. As well as the fact that we still want to see Andrew Dice Clay pay for his past sins against taste and humility.
One thing we’re doubtful to look back on with fondness – if at all – is the brief but highly publicized existence of Vanilla Ice. Ice broke onto the scene in 1990 with a brand new edition…of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure.” If ever white people had to feel ashamed in that decade, this would be the time – one that coincided with the Rodney King beating.
Ice stuck around for three years before vanishing into obscurity until reality television became a thing. His worst offence is hard to pin down, but 1991’s Cool as Ice certainly ranks high. Studios and record producers set out to make Ice the James Dean of his generation, the bad boy for which the good girl pined. Alas, it was not to be, and the high camp of the film manages to transcend the flat line readings of treasures like, “Drop the zero, get with the hero.”
8. Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart is a terrible actor. Just ask Jon Stewart. The comedian has often joked about his appearances in Half-Baked, The Faculty, Death to Smoochy and Big Daddy. Perhaps his only legitimate attempt at a performance, rather than just a punchline, was 1998’s Playing By Heart, an ensemble romantic comedy in which he played Gillian Anderson’s romantic interest. Stewart has a natural charisma, but he’s lost here despite coming off as genuinely sweet.
His most hysterical attempt was Robert Rodriguez’ stunt casting in The Faculty as one of the alien-possessed teachers. Most of the staff is populated by oddball choices, including Aintitcoolnews founder Harry Knowles, but Stewart is one of the few who gets to actually play evil – attacking students Josh Hartnett and Elijah Wood before getting his fingers chopped off and a pen in the eye.
7. Matt “Son of J.D.” Salinger
What’s the opposite of nepotism? It’s hard to define, but that’s what Matt Salinger had. It can’t be easy being the son of one of the most influential authors of the 20th Century; that difficulty could only have been compounded by his father’s notorious reclusiveness. For years, the writer’s home was staked out by die-hard fans, hoping to catch a glimpse or, even better, ask him all the questions that alternately plagued and transformed their adolescence.
So one can imagine that Matt’s first major onscreen performance as Captain America in 1990 would lead to at least a few questions about the shadow his father cast. It didn’t help that Salinger’s performance was stiff and kind of boring. The film has seen a bit of a cult appreciation since the MCU has overtaken the big screens, with fans praising it for doing what it could with a limited budget. If anything, critics agreed it was better than the 1970s made-for-TV adaptation featuring Reb Brown (Space Mutiny).
6. George Carlin
George Carlin is arguably the best comedian of his generation, transforming from early Ed Sullivan appearances as a suit-and-tie comic into a pop-philosopher whose resonance is as lasting as it is funny. Of the people who left the world too early, Carlin and Hunter S. Thompson seem to be two at the forefront of voices we need under the current administration.
Carlin started out worshiping his idols, following in their footsteps into radio and then clean comedy. Those humble beginnings were working toward a goal: acting. According to his posthumous memoir, Carlin dreamed of being a Hollywood star in the mold of Danny Kaye. Unfortunately, his talents lay elsewhere. His acting roles in Outrageous Fortune, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl are as dry as they come. Other roles, such as his sitcom The George Carlin Show are less performances and more just venues for his standard routines. They’re still funny, but when neutered by television censors, they lack the kind of energy he brought to the stage.
5. Michael Jordan
Stellar athletes rarely translate to film well. In Michael Jordan’s case, his basketball prowess didn’t translate much of anywhere (read: baseball). Jordan didn’t take his acting career as far as, say, Shaquille O’Neal, but it’s still a black mark on an otherwise impressive resume. Space Jam is ostensibly a movie, occasionally an entertaining one, but its focus is primarily rooted in advertising and self-promotion. It’s existence was borne out of marketing, inspired by a Nike commercial.
Jordan deserves some credit for somewhat holding his own around animated characters, and for his willingness to mock his own career, but he doesn’t really excel at anything non-sports-related. The film, and Jordan, also received backlash from veteran Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones. Thankfully, a sequel starring Tiger Woods in a similar situation never came to fruition. In hindsight, that would have proven disastrous.
4. Roger “Brother of Bill” Clinton
Every political dynasty is bound to have a black sheep in their family. Jimmy Carter had his brother Billy. In the case of the Bush dynasty, their black sheep ran the country for eight years. And one need look no further than former Senator Ted Kennedy to get a tip of the shameful iceberg of Hyannis Port’s own. Clinton’s half-brother Roger was code-named “Headache” by the Secret Service, alluding to just how much trouble he caused. And though his President brother controversially pardoned him for a 1985 cocaine possession conviction, his rabble-rousing Arkansas good-old-boy persona still makes headlines. Just last year, he was arrested on a DUI in Redondo Beach.
He’s also a terrible actor, landing small roles in television shows such as Designing Women and films like Bio-Dome. Perhaps his largest role was in the DTV sequel Pumpkinhead 2: Bloodwings, where he plays Mayor Bubba. Mayor. Bubba.
He also has a second career as a musician, forming a rock band known as Dealer’s Choice. All this begs the question: When your family is constantly under the harsh spotlight and you clearly have issues, is it a great idea to have two high profile careers, one of which involves a band name that suggests both gambling and drugs?
3. Jake Lloyd
The days leading up to George Lucas’ return as a director, and to his beloved franchise to boot, were filled with anticipation. Audiences built it up in their heads as the Second Coming, despite warning signs of poor decision-making early on. Those born after the first 1977 release of Star Wars felt they’d no longer have to live vicariously through their parents’ tales of stumbling upon a masterpiece on Friday night in a drive-in.
Then, of course, it was released. Lucas cast ten-year-old Jake Lloyd in the role that no fan cared to see – a young Anakin Skywalker. Not until Barron Trump’s performance at the inauguration has a ten-year-old encountered so much rancor from audiences. Worse, his classmates teased and relentlessly tormented him about it. He retired from acting in 2001. The story doesn’t have a happy ending. He lives now under the name Jake Richardson and, according to his mother, suffers from schizophrenia – which resulted in an arrest for wreckless driving, driving without a license and resisting arrest.
2. Jay Leno
Jay Leno has a constant compulsion to perform. This was made painfully clear in journalist Bill Carter’s accounts of the two late night wars, The Late Shift and The War For Late Night. Throughout the books, Leno comes across as ruthless and power hungry, grasping every straw to stay on the air even when network higher ups had decided it was time to go. It’s not a flattering portrait, made worse by the fact that Leno takes pride in some of the cutthroat business decisions he made during the turmoil. Still, you can’t fault the man for his work ethic. Throughout his tenure as a late night host, he spent weekends at comedy clubs.
One avenue he thankfully only chose to explore only once. Collision Course was a buddy cop comedy shot in 1989, playing off Leno’s love of cars and co-star Pat Morita’s Japanese-ness. It’s meant to be a charming clash of cultures, but it winds up racist and awkward. The film was only released in 1992 to home video, after the production had originally run out of money.
1. Dennis Miller
Ranting comic Dennis Miller reached the pinnacle of his fame in the mid-to-late 90s, when HBO gave him his own talk show, Dennis Miller Live. He became known for his semi-obscure references that peppered otherwise straight-laced rants, as well as his high-pitched laugh. After 9/11, Miller basically soiled himself, his libertarian views giving way to hard right policies. The only place that would hire him after a short, disappointing run as a sports commentator was FOX News, and he didn’t last long there either.
Unfortunately, his acting career had a bit of a lifespan, at least for a few years. Like Stewart and Leno, Miller has no problem making fun of his performances, which found him playing supporting roles in 90s thrillers like The Net, Murder at 1600 and Never Talk To Strangers. Unfailingly, he was the comic relief best friend of the main character and, unfailingly, he would be killed off (he survives 1600, but not before being shot). The fact that he died so often in films eventually worked its way into a staple of his stand up.
He did manage one lead role in Tales From The Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood, in which he plays a character named Rafe Guttman, but more accurately should have been named “Dennis Miller”. He’s appeared a few times in recent years, including an episode of House of Cards, but at least he’s actually just playing himself.