Actors are always a key selling point for a movie. That’s why they get their names above the title and are prominent in the marketing. Audiences love to see a bunch of their favorite stars teaming up on a new project. We’ve all had the experience of going to see a film strictly because of the cast, even if the subject matter wasn’t inherently interesting to us. That’s because great casts offer the promise of seeing something truly special.
Sometimes, though, it goes in the opposite direction. Strong casts are undone by a number of other factors, like poor writing, slack direction, or stories that simply don’t gel in the manner that they should. Times like these are disappointing because we realize that a lot of likable actors are being wasted on sub-par material. There’s an old saying: It takes a lot of talent to make a really bad movie. Below, we look at a number of examples where this was the case. Awesome folks came together to make films that ended up being unworthy of their skills — and our time.
Here are 15 Times Bad Movies Happened To Great Casts.
Cameron Crowe is a master writer/director whose films include Say Anything…, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous. His name is synonymous with smart mainstream entertainment. His 2015 Aloha came after a four-year hiatus, and everything about it seemed like it would represent Crowe at his finest. Bradley Cooper plays a disgraced military contractor who goes to Hawaii to help a rich industrialist (played by Bill Murray) launch a satellite. There, he’s reunited with his old girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). Emma Stone plays the Air Force watchdog assigned to keep tabs on him. The cast also includes John Krasinski, Danny McBride, and Alec Baldwin.
Unfortunately, Aloha couldn’t stand up to Crowe’s previous work. The studio wasn’t entirely sold on the quirky vision he had for the story, which led to behind-the-scenes conflict. The film was deemed by Sony brass to be too long, too different in tone from the script, and too muddled in explaining the subplot about the satellite. Aloha was recut several times over in an effort to find one that worked. They never quite figured that out, and the finished project ended up being critically panned and generally ignored by audiences.
Morgan was released on Labor Day this year. That weekend is a notorious dumping ground for movies the studios have no confidence in, and frankly, it isn’t hard to see why this film was picked for it. The story concerns a risk management analyst (Kate Mara) assigned to decide whether or not to terminate an artificially-created humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who just went berserk and stabbed one of her doctors (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in the eye. Paul Giamatti plays a psychologist brought in to help assess Morgan, and Michelle Yeoh plays the doctor Morgan considers her “mother.”
You have to wonder about any movie that works so diligently against the strengths of its cast members. Why cast the charismatic Kate Mara when you’re going to have her play a character who, by design, is emotionally flat? Why bring the always-engaging Paul Giamatti in for just one scene? Why hire Jennifer Jason Leigh — an actress who knows how to completely embody a character — and give her nothing of substance to do? And why, oh why, put legendary martial arts star Michelle Yeoh in a story that doesn’t give her a single action scene? These actors deserve so much more than what Morgan gave them.
13. Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages was a smash on Broadway, but on film, it was a bomb. And a turkey. And possibly a dog. The heavy metal musical featured Tom Cruise as a big-time rock star, Paul Giamatti as his manager, and Malin Akerman as the journalist sent to interview him. It also had Julianne Hough as an aspiring singer, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as a nightclub owner and his right-hand man, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as an uptight political wife trying to ban music that she deems offensive.
In theory, it all should have worked. In reality, Rock of Ages suffers from a number of problems, not the least of which is the painful miscasting of Cruise as an Axl Rose-ish musical giant. (Brand would have made a much better choice.) The movie also contains irritating shifts in tone. It can never quite decide whether it wants to be a serious musical, a social parody, or an innocent love story. In the end, most of the actors just flounder about in a picture that looks great and has awesome tunes, but is otherwise a huge mess.
12. Year One
Few things are as depressing as having a bunch of the top names in screen comedy assemble for a movie that turns out to have no laughs, and that’s exactly what happened with 2009’s Year One. Jack Black and Michael Cera play “hunter-gatherers” who are banished from their tribe. They go off on their own, encountering a series of Biblical figures along the way to Sodom. The supporting cast includes stars like Paul Rudd, David Cross, Olivia Wilde, Oliver Platt, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria, Bill Hader, and Harold Ramis (who also directed). You wouldn’t think a film could go wrong with that cast. Somehow, it does.
Year One strives for irreverence, but most of the jokes center around sex, toilet humor, and offensive gay stereotypes. Even worse, the screenplay thinks it’s funny to have Black and Cera speak modern, anachronistic dialogue that essentially plays to their own personas. Simply plopping two well-known comic actors into a period setting and having them act as though they’re in modern day just isn’t enough to generate laughter. The episodic nature of Year One is also a drag, ensuring that there’s never any story you can really become invested in. All in all, the picture has a lot of funny people doing a lot of unfunny shtick.
11. Gangster Squad
There was a lot of early excitement over Gangster Squad. Director Ruben Fleischer was hot off his hit Zombieland, and the period drama was blessed with a dream cast. Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, and Nick Nolte were all on board for the tale about a mob kingpin in 1949 Los Angeles. Everything about the project seemed very cool and very promising.
That didn’t last. When Gangster Squad finally made it to theaters (following a delay to remove a scene eerily reminiscent of the Aurora movie theater shooting), the reaction wasn’t great. Critics and audiences alike recognized that the film was incredibly stylish, but not much else. The plot and characters were not as engaging as they should have been, resulting in an end product that looked great but offered no kind of dramatic satisfaction. Gangster Squad was like watching a bunch of top-notch actors playing dress-up, and while it was probably a fun movie to make, it wasn’t necessarily a fun one to watch.
10. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
We all know Uwe Boll makes bad movies. One could even say that he’s the king of bad movies. What’s perplexing is that, over his career, he has somehow managed to convince (or coerce) quite a few big name actors to appear in his incompetent video game adaptations. Remember Ben Kingsley in Bloodrayne? The dude is an Oscar winner and a Knight Bachelor, for crying out loud! What does he need to work in an Uwe Boll film for?
For In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, the notorious director gave Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, and Burt Reynolds a reason to be embarrassed. (And if you’ve ever seen Cop and a Half, you know that Reynolds doesn’t embarrass easily.) Statham plays a man trying to rescue his kidnapped wife and avenge the death of his son. This entails him battling a race of animal-like warriors, not that the plot really matters though. In the Name of the King is typical Boll fare: incoherent, cheap looking, and full of action scenes staged with all the grace of a hippopotamus trying to dance ballet. We’re betting the top notch cast would prefer you forget their appearances in it.
9. The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel The Bonfire of the Vanities is one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century. It tells the story of Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street big shot who, while driving through the Bronx with his mistress, hits a young black man with his car and then tries to escape legal punishment for hit-and-run. Meanwhile, an opportunistic journalist, Peter Fallow, exploits the incident, igniting a racially-charged atmosphere in the city. The book slyly and smartly takes comic aim at racial, economic, and social disparity in the United States.
The cinematic adaptation was directed by Brian De Palma, who clearly had no clue how to transfer Wolfe’s stinging satire to the screen. Nice guy Tom Hanks is miscast as the narcissistic “Master of the Universe” Sherman McCoy. (He could probably pull the role off today, but back then, he lacked the gravitas to make it work.) Melanie Griffith is more suitably cast as the mistress, as is Bruce Willis as the boozy reporter, but their parts are weakly written. Morgan Freeman, Kim Cattrall, and Saul Rubinek round out the supporting cast. With a director more adept at satire, The Bonfire of the Vanities could have been amazing, but DePalma hits the jokes way too hard and makes them far too obvious, resulting in yet another case of a great book becoming a lousy movie.
8. The Monuments Men
Based on a fascinating true story, The Monuments Men is centered around an army lieutenant who takes a group of museum curators, art historians, and architects into Germany to retrieve works of art stolen by the Nazis. Any self-respecting WWII buff — or history fan, for that matter — would certainly jump at the chance to see this story brought to the screen, especially with a cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, and Cate Blanchett.
Before its release, The Monuments Men was considered to be a likely Oscar contender. Then people got a look at it. Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote, couldn’t find the right balance between the story’s comedic and dramatic moments. One minute, the movie plays like a serious historical drama, and in the next, it’s more like Ocean’s Eleven during the second World War. By his own admission, Clooney made several cuts of the film, trying to fiddle with the tone. He never quite got it, leading to a movie that was, pardon the expression, monumentally disappointing.
7. Machete Kills
Machete began life as a really cool fake trailer on the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse project. It then became an actual movie that lovingly saluted a certain type of exploitation picture. The film wasn’t a huge hit, but it did well enough to spawn a sequel called Machete Kills. Rodriguez put together an uncommonly impressive cast for an inexpensive genre film: Danny Trejo, Charlie Sheen, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Lady Gaga, Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Hudgens, Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Mel Gibson all participated in the madness.
Despite that enviable roster of thespians, Machete Kills was a bust. The whole premise was thin to begin with, and the first movie used up whatever appeal it had. The Machete character was, quite simply, played out by the time the sequel was released. It didn’t help that grindhouse cinema homages had proliferated since the debut of the fake Machete trailer. Pictures like Hobo With a Shotgun and Piranha 3D stole some of the thunder. Consequently, a lot of really talented actors got stuck in a tired, unoriginal film whose joke was well past its use-by date.
6. The Love Guru
Mike Myers was once a titan of big screen comedy, thanks largely to his popular Austin Powers trilogy. That came to a screeching halt with The Love Guru, a dismally unfunny movie that an all-star cast can’t even redeem. Myers plays Pitka, the best-selling author of pseudo-mystical self-help books who sets out to help a hockey player whose wife left him for one of his rivals. Also appearing in the film are Ben Kingsley, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, and a bunch of indisputably funny comedians like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Jim Gaffigan.
The basic problem with The Love Guru is that pretty much every joke in the movie is centered around the male genitals in some way, shape, or form. Kingsley, for instance, plays a character named Guru Tugginmypudha. Another character is named Suchabigknoba. There’s a scene where two characters fight with urine-soaked mops. You get the picture. Not even a who’s who of comic actors can make a single juvenile joke that’s repeated ad nauseum funny. The talented cast is wasted trying to bring life to gags that only an 11-year-old would find witty, and just like that, Myers’ time as an A-list comedic actor was gone forever.
5. Winter’s Tale
Winter’s Tale is a movie you wouldn’t believe was real if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. The premise is so fundamentally dumb that you can’t fathom why such a powerful cast signed on for it. Colin Farrell plays a thief in 1916 New York who falls in love with an heiress (Jessica Brown Findlay) and then travels through time when she dies. In the present day, he meets a woman (Jennifer Connelly) who may be the reincarnation of his beloved. Russell Crowe, meanwhile, plays a demon chasing him through time at the behest of the devil (Will Smith, playing wildly against type). Oh, and there’s a flying horse.
Writer/director Akiva Goldsman was apparently going for some kind of magical romance. What he delivered is an unholy mess with a story that meanders incomprehensibly. The moments intended to be fantastical come off as ludicrous, and Goldsman beats the entire tragic/romantic theme over the viewer’s head so forcefully that you may need to pop some Ibuprofen after watching it. With so many bizarre WTF? moments — especially anything involving the horse — there’s nothing for the actors to do but mire through one humiliating scene after the next. Winter’s Tale has developed a small core of fans who embrace its utter weirdness, but we can’t recommend watching Crowe, Connelly, Farrell, and Smith being subjected to such inanity.
4. Valentine’s Day
Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day is like a movie version of The Love Boat. It has a large roster of recognizable stars, each of whom appears in one of several semi-connected subplots about romance. Just look at these names: Jessica Alba (making her third appearance on this list, perhaps this isn’t a coincidence?), Kathy Bates, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, and Taylor Swift. We’d have probably saved time by listing who isn’t in this thing.
How can a movie with so much starpower be so bad? Well, the format is the culprit. With so many characters and plot threads to juggle, Valentine’s Day never devotes enough time to anyone or anything to be truly compelling. The characters are essentially cardboard cutouts of real people, and the individual stories are surface-level fluff and nothing more. A good romantic-comedy has one plot that is fully developed, which it then populates with three-dimensional characters. There’s simply too much going on here for the movie to be remotely meaningful. It’s like a romantic-comedy ate a bunch of other romantic-comedies and then regurgitated them all.
3. The Big Wedding
How many Oscar winners can a movie have and still suck? In the case of The Big Wedding, the answer is four. Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams all appear in this brain-dead comedy about a divorced couple who pretend to be married so as not to offend their son’s ultra-conservative future mother-in-law. That entails a series of escalating lies and wacky misunderstandings. Rounding out the all-star cast are Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Amanda Seyfried, and Topher Grace.
The excellence of the cast is inversely proportional to the quality of the screenplay. Writer/director Justin Zackham puts his actors in the most insipid story imaginable. The whole premise requires the characters to avoid logic at every single moment. If anyone in this movie showed even an iota of common sense, it would be over immediately. The jokes are just as dumb; there’s hardly a line of dialogue here that doesn’t entail some kind of sex-related gag. If you’ve ever wanted to see some of cinema’s finest actors carrying out material that’s way beneath them, here’s your chance (not that we recommend it).
It’s pretty safe to say that Emilio Estevez is no Robert Altman. Nonetheless, he attempted to make an Altman-esque ensemble drama with 2006’s Bobby, which he wrote and directed. The film is a tapestry of stories that all take place in and around the Ambassador Hotel on the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Get a load of this cast: Demi Moore, Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt, Shia LaBeouf, and Anthony Hopkins. Oh, and did we mention Christian Slater, Harry Belafonte, Ashton Kutcher, William H. Macy, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Lawrence Fishburne?
Estevez is undoubtedly trying to convey the widespread impact RFK’s death had on people. And while that’s an admirable goal, Bobby has nothing new or different to say about the tragic event. We already know that the assassination (coming on the heels of Robert’s older brother John F. Kennedy’s) left many Americans feeling demoralized. What’s the point in just restating the obvious? Everything about this picture is obvious and heavy-handed, and its efforts to be “significant” result in a pretentious and flat-out dull film. Not even a brilliant cast can make Estevez’s self-important script tolerable.
1. Movie 43
Half of Hollywood appears in the 2013 sketch comedy Movie 43. It’s a picture where every individual segment revolves around some sort of taboo subject. Kate Winslet, for example, plays a woman on a blind date with a man (Hugh Jackman) who has testicles on his neck. Meanwhile, Chloe Grace Moretz portrays a teen girl who tries to prevent her boyfriend from seeing that she’s just had her first period. Other skits star Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, Jason Sudeikis, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard, and Elizabeth Banks. See, we weren’t kidding when we said half of Hollywood is in this thing!
Movie 43 is the worst film anyone involved with it has ever made, and that includes Gerard Butler. A tasteless short is one thing; a bunch of tasteless shorts strung back-to-back for ninety minutes is another. The approach proves to be incredibly oppressive after a while. It all comes off desperate, like the filmmakers are utilizing shock value for its own sake. The skits are also deeply unfunny, which only makes that problem worse. Most of the actors — who were guilt-tripped into appearing — were so embarrassed by the film that they didn’t show up for the premiere or do anything to promote it. If nothing else, Movie 43 proves that no matter how many stars you jam into a movie, there’s no guarantee of quality.
What other bad movies featured amazing actors? Do you have any other notable examples of a great cast getting trapped in a crappy movie? Give us your picks in the comments.