Well-known Hollywood actors have a lot on their side: awards, commercial success, fame, money, and access to many new and exciting projects. But they also get sent many poorly hackneyed scripts that are looking for a name-brand actor to boost their chances of getting made. Usually, however, Hollywood’s A-list is well buffered from the bane of being in a bad film by a variety of agents and managers whose job is to filter out the good from the bad.
Usually. Even with a roster full of smart and well-meaning agents, managers, publicists, lawyers, assistants, and chauffeurs, major Hollywood players can still star in a flop.
This list intends to register some of the worst offenses when it comes to a stellar actor starring or co-starring in a bad film. Some of these actors have been in multiple flops, but for the purposes of this piece we chose to highlight some of the more spectacular failures. We delve a bit into what makes the actor great, what makes the movie not, and where the misstep was taken.
Here is Screen Rant’s list of 19 Times Great Actors Starred in Terrible Movies.
Charlize Theron in A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
The premise for this movie was cool, and even the trailer kind of made you want to go see it. But A Million Ways to Die in the West, a spoof on classic westerns, is no Blazing Saddles. It is full of many real and unreal dangers that came with living in frontier America in the 1880s, which is clever is clever because these dangers are often ignored in more “serious” westerns. But stale writing, odd casting choices, and gross-out humor for the sake of itself all swiftly ruin the proceedings.
Helmed by and starring Family Guy mastermind Seth MacFarlane, the funnyman quickly shows that he’s not leading man material. He looks awkward in every scene he’s in, trying haplessly to play off of talented performers like Neil Patrick Harris and Amanda Seyfried.
And perhaps no one escapes this movie as poorly as Charlize Theron. A statuesque beauty and acting juggernaut, Theron is known for her uncanny ability to transform into any role. Whether playing a fantastical road warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road or a serial-killing monster in — well, in Monster — she is clearly a top-notch actress who can do almost anything. And that is why it’s such a disappointment seeing her in The West. The limp dialogue and cookie-cutter characters are just insurmountable.
Al Pacino in Righteous Kill (2008)
Now, Heat was a stunning picture. Michael Mann’s 1995 magnum opus, centering around a master thief (Robert De Niro) and his crew, rushing to stay one step ahead of a smart detective (Pacino), was a way to have two strong actors play against each other. As good as the direction, cinematography, and writing, De Niro and Pacino were perfectly cast in their roles. Both were taut figures who seemed to calculate every move. The acting left an indelible mark, elevating the movie beyond any other cops-and-robbers flick before or since. It was also the first time that these two legendary actors had teamed up on film (outside of The Godfather Part II, in which they acted in different timelines and never met onscreen).
But 2008’s Righteous Kill was the opposite of Heat. There was a lot of hype built up about the second time we would get to see Pacino and De Niro onscreen together. That was the nature and extent of the publicity, which should have been a bad sign. To hear both actors’ names for one film did sound great though, and it lent the proceedings a weight and expectation that would be nearly impossible to live up to. Of course, it didn’t live up to the hype. Not nearly.
Pacino and De Niro were by now sixty-eight and sixty-five years old respectively, shoehorned into a cop thriller that didn’t have much else going for it. And instead of tenuously playing against each other as enemies that respected one another’s skill sets, they played play rumpled, wise-cracking detectives working a series of murder investigations. The film plays out as predictably as making toast, including the “twist” ending. Nothing of what makes Pacino — or De Niro, for that matter — so thrilling to watch is on display here.
Harrison Ford in Paranoia (2013)
There is not much in the movie world that is more frustrating than seeing our favorite actors starring in bland, inconsequential techno-thrillers. The main problem with Paranoia is that we cannot relate to the characters, and so we can’t really care when anything happens.
Liam Hemsworth stars as Adam, a young tech junkie who aspires to make it in the corporate world, so he can take financial care of his father. Adam is hired and groomed by a highly successful conglomerate, and CEO Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) takes him under his wing. Nicholas talks Adam into spying on his biggest business rival, Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford). Caught in a game of corporate espionage, Adam soon discovers that his fast-paced, well-heeled lifestyle isn’t what he had thought it’d be.
The eye-rolling plot and boring dialogue drag on until the film’s eventual ending. Everyone gives decent performances. But one cannot help but yearn for a Han Solo, an Indiana Jones, a cynical hero to come in and take a flamethrower to the proceedings.
Josh Brolin in Jonah Hex (2010)
Jonah Hex is a film about a Civil War soldier (Josh Brolin), who seeks revenge against a Confederate general (John Malkovich) who killed his family. Based on the DC character, the film does a poor job developing the hero and making his world understandable for general audiences. It makes jarring changes from realism to fantasy — Hex can communicate with the undead, and throughout the film he must fight both enemy soldiers and ridiculous-looking mutants.
Paul Giamatti in Lady in the Water (2006)
Say the name M. Night Shyamalan to most people, and you’ll get one of two reactions: A blank stare or a contorted, mocking face of disappointment. While there are hold-outs in the director’s camp, for the most part M. Night has been shedding fans for over a decade.
The reason is that with each successive film the director makes, they seem to get weirder, and not in a good way. From his first thriller, The Sixth Sense, he was a darling of the critics and was given a lot of access. After that,he made Unbreakable which was still pretty good except for the bad twist ending. And so we as the audience were subjected to what would demarcate the rest of Shyamalan’s career: Silly twist endings attached to the back of increasingly-suspect scripts. Signs and The Village are good examples of this.
Paul Giamatti stars in Shymalan’s 2006 outing Lady in the Water as a Cleveland Heep, a building manager who discovers a fairytale “narf” outside his building and, with the help of his tenants, tries to protect her from other fairytale creatures — angry monkeys. Yes it’s a silly premise. And Giamatti, who is especially breathless in his line delivery, does his best with the dialogue but unfortunately cannot resuscitate this mess.
Robert De Niro in Killing Season (2013)
Killing Season is a movie that was made in 2013, but shouldn’t have been made at all. It makes John Travolta look awful, and makes Robert De Niro look even worse.
A film about a Serbian tourist (Travolta) who hitchhikes his way into the Appalachians and takes refuge at the lodge of a retired American military man (De Niro), the movie doesn’t make much sense and suffers from atrocious writing. And whatever accent Travolta adopts does not sound anything like a realistic Serbian.
De Niro is best known for his actor-director partnership with the virtuosic Martin Scorsese. He’s played boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, and is the definitive mobster in movies like Goodfellas and Casino. To see him descend to the drivel that is Killing Season is a bummer.
Cuba Gooding Jr. in Boat Trip (2002)
Remember how good Cuba Gooding Jr. was in Jerry Macguire? He won an Academy Award, and a whole bunch of other awards, and he gave that memorable, great Oscar speech that is now the benchmark for everyone else’s Oscar speech. And before that he starred in Boyz ‘n’ the Hood, Outbreak, and A Few Good Men.
The guy has had quite the career. But he has had more than a few missteps along the way, too.
During the 2000’s, Gooding Jr. was still getting nominated, not for Oscars, but for Razzies. The acclaimed actor racked up a stunning five Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Actor, and arguably the most deserving of those went to his turn in 2002’s woeful Boat Trip.
Gooding Jr. plays (nobody “stars” in this film) a young guy who gets dumped by his girlfriend after a disastrous proposal (he gets sick in a hot air balloon — hah!), and in his newfound loneliness enlists his best friend, Nick (SNL alum Horatio Sanz), to join him on a singles cruise so he can clear his mind and meet some ladies. But the joke’s again on him, because it’s actually a gay cruise. This movie bathes in stereotypes, and would be offensive if it weren’t so stupid.
Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
On The Waterfront. The Godfather. Marlon Brando starred in some of the best movies ever made. He is widely considered to be one of the most elite actors ever to grace the screen. There is a great deal of mythology that surrounds him and his legend. He was notoriously hard to work with and he supposedly never read scripts. But everyone wanted to work with him. He was that good.
The Island of Dr. Moreau, on the other hand, was not. The 1996 film by director John Frankenheimer was an adaptation of the eponymous novel by H.G. Wells. The neat thing about the project was that it was meant to be directed by Richard Stanley — an independent filmmaker with a cult following who was just given the keys to his first studio film — and he regarded the tale of Moreau as one of his passion projects. It had a healthy budget, exotic locations, and a cast that included Brando and an at-his-zenith Val Kilmer.
But the project was hampered by a bevy of production issues, Brando’s tardiness and ideas about his character not the least of them. The budget soared, production got pushed out months, and the director was fired from his own film. John Frankenheimer — a great director, who made Grand Prix and Ronin — was brought in by the studio to sweep everything and everyone together into a finished product. And the results are cringe-worthy: You can see a ponderous Brando in creepy white body paint starring as the titular Moreau.
Roberto Benigni in Son of Pink Panther (1993)
There are two crucial things missing from Son of Pink Panther — Peter Sellers and a witty script. Those two components are what made the earlier Pink Panther films so cherished. After the loss of Sellers, someone apparently thought it’d be a good idea to make another Pink Panther film. They were mistaken.
Roberto Benigni, a funny and likable Italian comic actor, stepped into the role of Inspector Clouseau. And as funny as the actor is, he was the wrong choice for the part. Benigni’s brilliance is in his physical timing, but the Pink Panther was always more about what was said and how it was understood. It was more subtle than slapstick.
Sellers had a way of selling his bumbling inspector with a look of the eye, or a facial gesture that showed the audience that he was the clod. His verbal timing was Groucho-like, and his screen presence showed someone graceful, measured, and immeasurably affable. Sellers also had a way with accents and language — check out his verbal acuity in Dr. Strangelove — something that Benigni and, more importantly, the script sorely lack.
Natalie Portman in The Star Wars Prequels
Natalie Portman’s Queen Amadala was a bizarre and underwhelming character. The part waivered between droll conversations about trade disputes in claustrophobic green-screen environments and not-so-scintillating small talk between the queen and future hubby Anakin.
As with Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan Macgregor, and Liam Neeson, the Star Wars prequels were a rather sour note in Portman’s career. And like the aforementioned actors, whether it was her own choice or the director’s preference, Portman played her part with the charisma of a soup cracker. The monotone voice and awe-inspiring dialogue (“I love the water”) combined to make for a character you had no patience for, and movies you just wanted to end.
Ralph Fiennes in The Avengers (1998)
A 1998 movie remake of the 60’s TV series, this isn’t the Avengers you’re thinking about. The Avengers starred Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman as British spies Steed and Peel. Their mission: to stop a mad meterologist (Sean Connery) from destroying London with mega-storms. The villain’s singular demand for 10% of Britain’s GNP sounds laughable, somewhere between Dr. Evil and the takehome of real-life hedge fund managers. There have been worse ideas for movies, but the poorly written script and ridiculous ending sum up to a bad decision for all parties.
Just two years earlier, Fiennes starred in the critical-darling WWII epic The English Patient, which was so good there was even a Seinfeld episode devoted to talking about how good it was.
Denzel Washington in Out of Time (2003)
Out of Time is, put simply, out of touch. It’s a setup that is tried and true and could work well enough: Whitlock (Denzel Washington), a police chief presiding over a dreamy tract in the Florida Keys, is accused of the murder by arson of his estranged wife (Sanaa Lathan) and her lover (Dean Cain). He must exculpate himself with the help of an old love interest (Eva Mendes) while trying to stay one step ahead of the law in the process.
In this role, any lesser a screen presence than Denzel Washington — so, that means pretty much anyone — would have sunk with the film. The screenwriting is not only predictable but at times just silly, and the plot twists will have you rolling your eyes. It’s very possible that Washington has never turned in a poor performance in his life, which is perhaps the one grace this movie has saving it from total obsolescence.
Gary Oldman in Tiptoes (2003)
Tiptoes could have been called Tonedeaf. It is a sappy, forgettable comedy film directed by and featuring Gary Oldman, with a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, and Peter Dinklage.
Steve and his girlfriend Carol try to get pregnant, but when Carol discovers that everyone in Steve’s family is a dwarf, she starts worrying that their baby will be a dwarf, too. A digitally-morphed Gary Oldman plays Steve’s dwarf brother, Rolfe.
The film is a milquetoast romantic comedy wrapped in a slapsticky and at times offensive package. We are supposed to like Steve and Carol, but their fear of having a baby that’s different makes them a turn-off. The cast all does a fine job with the material, Oldman especially, but it just doesn’t keep the interest. We love Gary Oldman in The Professional, Air Force One, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He is one of this era’s finest actors. But Tiptoes was an unfortunate misstep.
Jack Nicholson in The Pledge (2001)
The problems were not impossible to overcome. The Pledge had more issues with pacing and minor plot points than anything else, things that could have been dealt with in production and made this a much more enticing movie. Otherwise, it had all the right pieces going for it.
Sean Penn brought thoughtful directing to the table, and Jack Nicholson starred as detective Jerry Black. The story goes that the detective on the eve of his retirement gets caught up in the murder investigation of a young girl. Black makes a pledge to the girl’s mother that he will find the killer. He goes on to discover that there have been other similar murders commited, and that the criminal is still out there looking for the next victim. Black becomes housemates with a woman (Robin Wright) and her daughter, and from there follows the case until its unfulfilling ending.
Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
The fourth Jaws film is a terrible film. Even the baneful Jaws 3D that preceded it did better with the critics and audiences. Jaws: The Revenge was a shoddily put together, illogical, ponderous thought experiment that hoped to answer the question: Did the world need a fourth installment from this series?
The answer is a resounding no. Rocky IV was like Mozart compared to this, and the fourth Terminator was Bach. Michael Caine somehow signed up for this disaster of a film, doing his best with the lines given to him. The mechanical shark is seen too much of and yet wreaks very little havoc in the course of the film. In a notorious moment in who-cares directing — it’s certainly not Spielberg this time, folks — viewers are privileged a shot of the hydraulic underside of the bot.
Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
Jeremy Irons brings intensity and intimacy to his roles. He’s the epitome of classically-trained stage and film actor, appearing in Shakespearian plays in London and costarring in the 2005 miniseries Elizabeth I, for which he won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe, and has lent his commanding presence to many critically-acclaimed films. That’s why when the English actor was cast as the villain in Die Hard with a Vengeance it was kitschy but we liked it. Fish out of water, it seemed.
Not so much with Dungeons & Dragons, which came out five years later. Based on a board game — you haven’t seen a Mille Bornes movie, have you? — the D&D flick was almost impossible to make, unless perhaps your name is Peter Jackson.
Irons stars as an evil warlock called Profion. Enough said? The special effects are poor, and the plot is busy and nonsensical. It tanked at the box-office, pulling in about $10 Million less than it cost to make.
Kevin Spacey in Edison Force (2005)
Edison Force has some decent camera work and direction. But it is just too simple, too ham-fisted, and is missing a strong lead character.
Justin Timberlake, in his leading-role debut, stars as a young, tenacious reporter in the city of Edison. He sees a local group of elite cops — a special unit called First Response Assault & Tactical (F.R.A.T.) — using excessive force, endangering civilians, and conducting themselves in many other corrupt ways. He sees them bailing out bad guys in court, which leads him to start asking questions no other reporter is, putting himself and his girlfriend in harm’s way.
Morgan Freeman co-stars as the journo’s grizzled editor, LL Cool J and Dylan McDermott portray a couple of criminal cops, and Kevin Spacey plays an honest politician out to help clean up the city.
Timberlake is no Morgan Freeman or Kevin Spacey, or even a Dylan McDermott for that matter, and that glaring lack of a central presence in this film means that we can never be absorbed in it. We’re always stuck just outside looking in.
Warren Beatty in Town & Country (2001)
Warren Beatty is a Hollywood icon. He directed and starred in the biopic Reds, which won three Academy Awards. He’s played the lead in other notable films, such as Bonnie and Clyde, Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait, Bugsy, and Bulworth. His next-door neighbor and best friend is Jack Nicholson. And like Nicholson, he’s been known to go on a date or two.
All of which creates quite a lore for the star, and which makes it all the more puzzling why he signed up for Town & Country, a bloated, $90 Million (in 2001) romantic comedy of sorts, about a upper-crust architect who’s having a mid-life crisis. Porter Stoddard (Beatty) and his bestie Griffin Morris (Garry Shandling) are both cheating on their wives, and after one is caught, the two men decide to take a vacation.
Along the way they meet more women with which to flirt and get into preposterous situations. Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn co-star in this universally panned box-office flop, which made just a touch over $10 Million.
Ray Liotta in The Son of No One (2011)
We all know and love Ray Liotta from Scorcese’s masterpiece Goodfellas. It cemented him as a great actor. He showed us he could go toe-to-toe in scenes with the likes of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Since then, the imposing lead hasn’t found quite the caliber of projects to work on. We saw too little of him in some pretty good movies, most notably as Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams, Gary Figgis in Cop Land, and voicing Tommy Vercetti in 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City video game. (Forgot about that last one, didn’t you?)
The 2011 cop thriller The Son of No One came and went in limited release to theaters, earning a dust-particle under $29k at the box office (not million – thousand). It was critically panned, the critics likely being among the few unlucky culprits who purchased the aforementioned tickets. Yet it’s strange that more people didn’t see this movie initially. It had a heckuva cast: a mustachioed Channing Tatum, Juliette Binoche, Tracy Morgan, a mustachioed Al Pacino, and Katie Holmes. Liotta co-stars as a hard-boiled cop on the NYPD. His performance was one of the better ones in the film, but nothing could save bizarre plot turns mixed with every cop cliche known to man.
Did we miss any other notoriously bad movies starring great actors? Let us know in the comments!