While some actors seem allergic to appearing in a half-decent movie (hello Adam Sandler), there are other more selective stars who have carefully managed to avoid the ignominy of gracing an absolute stinker. From multiple Oscar winners and tragic Hollywood figures to bankable box-office draws and relative newcomers, we’ve picked 15 familiar faces who – ignoring the early blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, B-movies and straight-to-DVD affairs that every budding actor has to pay their dues on – pretty much personify the term quality control.
Some had their careers tragically cut short, leaving a slim but consistently strong body of work in their wake. Some have only achieved their Hollywood breakthrough in recent years and haven’t yet had the chance to taint their filmography. And there are some more enduring names who may have appeared in the odd below-par movie but have so far dodged the kind of turkeys that clean up at the Razzie Awards. But the one thing they do all have in common is an ability to say ‘no.’
Here are 15 Actors Who Have Never Starred In A Bad Movie.
15 Benedict Cumberbatch
Okay, so Julian Assange biopic The Fifth Estate didn’t exactly set the awards season alight like many expected, but it still wasn’t the abject failure that its dismal box office figures suggested either. And it’s the only notable blot on a career which has seen Benedict Cumberbatch emerge as one of the quintessential British actors of the 21st Century.
Indeed, name a recent big hit from across the pond and it’s likely that the classically-trained actor has played a part in it somewhere – from Atonement and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to War Horse and The Imitation Game, not forgetting his masterful portrayal of everyone’s favorite detective Sherlock Holmes, of course. But Cumberbatch has been just as impressive when he’s ventured into Hollywood territory, whether it’s playing Khan Noonien Singh in the Star Trek reboot, Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy or real life Democrat William Bulger in Black Mass.
14 Jessica Chastain
Unnecessary sequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War and schlocky horror Mama prove Jessica Chastain’s foresight isn’t always 100% accurate, but even so, neither one could be classed as an unmitigated cinematic disaster. And they’re the only real blips on an impressively eclectic resume which has seen the redhead tackle everything from gothic romances (Crimson Peak) and Shakespeare adaptations (Coriolanus) to animated sequels (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) and period crime dramas (A Most Violent Year) with aplomb, as well as pick up Oscar nods for her performances in The Help and Zero Dark Thirty.
Admittedly, Chastain also has a couple of films that greatly divided audiences at the time of their release. But whether you view Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life as a transfixing meditation on love and loss or simply pretentious drivel, and Interstellar as an audacious sci-fi classic or a snoozefest with delusions of grandeur, you have to admire Chastain for the boldness of her career choices.
13 Daniel Day-Lewis
Few other actors have extolled the virtues of quality not quantity more than Daniel Day-Lewis. The celebrated Englishman has only appeared in 20 films since making his cinematic debut with a bit part in Gandhi way back in 1982. But every single one, bar just two, has a rating of at least 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, with both touching LGBT drama My Beautiful Launderette and period classic A Room with a View achieving that elusive 100% figure.
The two films which perhaps blemish Day-Lewis’ glittering resume aren’t exactly full-on duds either. 2005’s provocative drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose had its harsh critics, but had just as many falling over themselves to praise its powerful performances and absorbing cinematography. And while his rather overblown performance in the all-singing, all-dancing Nine suggested Day-Lewis should give musicals a wide berth, the star-studded affair still picked up four nominations at the Academy Awards.
12 Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton’s appearance here is all the more remarkable considering the sheer volume of films she’s put her name to. The multilingual star has appeared in nearly six dozen movies since becoming Derek Jarman’s muse in the late '80s and yet not one of them could seriously be described as a bomb, with even relative disappointments such as The Beach, Vanilla Sky and The Zero Theorem all having their merits.
And although Swinton is more renowned for appearing in arthouse fare such as I Am Love, Only Lovers Left Alive and A Bigger Splash, she’s not averse to the odd blockbuster either, with the likes of Constantine and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe both benefiting from her steely presence. And with recent forays into mainstream comedy (Trainwreck) and comic book adaptations (Snowpiercer) proving to be just as inspired as those in her more familiar territory, it’s little wonder that Swinton is widely regarded as one of the finest actresses of her generation.
11 Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of those actors whose presences instantly elevated a poor film into a watchable one (see Patch Adams, Flawless), an average film into a good one (see God’s Pocket, The Savages) and a good film into a great one (see The Master, Synecdoche, New York). Indeed, it’s one of the reasons why his inclusion here is a no-brainer, and one of the reasons why his death in 2013 left many feeling that that Hollywood had been robbed of one of its modern greats.
Twister and The Boat That Rocked are just a couple of the other formulaic affairs which had the good fortune to feature Hoffman in its credits. While scene-stealing performances in Mission: Impossible III and Along Came Polly, not to mention his Oscar-winning portrayal of Truman Capote and poignant directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, proved that he could turn his hand to pretty much anything.
10 Matt Damon
One of Hollywood’s ultimate nice guys, Matt Damon has had a few misfires (Ocean’s Twelve, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Stuck on You) since he first came to attention as bully Charlie Dillon in 1992’s School Ties. But apart from an uncredited role in direct-to-DVD comedy The Third Wheel, the actor has so far dodged the kind of unadulterated dreck that once derailed his Good Will Hunting co-star and longtime pal Ben Affleck’s career back in the mid-00s.
The number of celebrated directors, both emerging and established, that Damon has chosen to work with has undoubtedly helped play a part. Indeed, there are few other contemporary stars who have been guided by such a high calibre of behind-the-camera talent, with Steven Soderbergh, Clint Eastwood, Paul Greengrass, Francis Ford Coppola, the Coen brothers, Ridley Scott, Gus Van Sant, Cameron Crowe, Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese just the tip of the iceberg.
9 James Dean
Like Cazale, counter-culture icon James Dean’s untimely passing left behind a small but hugely significant body of work showered with accolades. But whereas Cazale, perhaps unfairly, only picked up a solitary major nomination himself, Dean received nods at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Golden Globes, winning a Special Achievement Award for Best Dramatic Actor at the latter for his raw performance in East of Eden.
Bar four uncredited appearances in the early ‘50s, Dean only showed up on the big screen on two other occasions. But as teenage antihero Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause and cocky handyman Jett Rink in Giant, he made more of an impact than most of his contemporaries managed in decade-spanning careers. Of course, Dean sadly never got the chance to reap the rewards of his early success after losing his life in a car crash in California at the age of just 24.
8 Leonardo DiCaprio
After melting every teenage girl’s heart in Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio could easily have cashed in and took every generic leading man role going. Instead, he went out of his way to prove he was far more than a pretty face, whether it was playing a disaffected backpacker in The Beach, a vengeful orphan in Gangs of New York, or a real life reclusive genius in The Aviator – a move which ultimately saw DiCaprio becoming one of the most celebrated and respected actors of his generation.
The quality of DiCaprio’s films can perhaps be judged on the fact that arguably his biggest disappointment, J. Edgar, still landed in both the American Film Institute and National Board of Review’s Top 10 Films of 2011. And having finally picked up an Oscar for his intense turn in The Revenant, DiCaprio’s ability to spot a critical favorite only appears to be getting stronger.
7 Christian Bale
Considering the extraordinary lengths he often goes to for a role, you would expect method actor Christian Bale to ensure that all the effort was worth it. Whether it’s shedding 62 pounds to play an emaciated insomniac in The Machinist or packing on 100 pounds to play the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins, the Welshman’s committed approach has largely paid off in a career which has taken in everything from post-apocalyptic disasters and pitch black comedy horrors to gangster flicks and costume dramas.
Of course, it still remains a mystery as to why an actor with a pedigree as great as Bale signed up to star in a Terminator sequel helmed by style over substance master McG, but his astonishing outburst towards a poor unsuspecting photography director unarguably did more damage to his career than the inevitably hollow film itself. And compared to last year's Terminator: Genysis, the fourth chapter of the man vs. machine franchise was virtually a masterpiece.
6 Cillian Murphy
The underrated Cillian Murphy is one of those actors who has appeared in far more great films than you may remember. 28 Days Later, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Sunshine, Inception, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Batman Begins are just some of the movies in which his intense blue eyes and chiselled cheekbones have lit up the screen. Even his forays into pure popcorn cinema have been nothing less than entertaining, if sometimes ridiculously so, whether it’s playing a menacing terrorist operative in Red Eye, a ruthless timekeeper in In Time or an FBI agent in Transcendence.
Murphy’s track record is even more impressive when you consider how fearless the Irishman’s film roles have been, from a transgender woman searching for her long-lost mother in Breakfast on Pluto, to a quiet and unassuming schizophrenic in Peacock to real life Slovak World War II liberation fighter Josef Gabčík in Anthropoid.
5 River Phoenix
Hailed as the new James Dean as he grew from the cute kid of Explorers to the brooding pin-up of My Own Private Idaho, River Phoenix sadly experienced a similar tragic career trajectory as the rebellious 50s idol. Phoenix’s filmography at least managed to get into double figures before the star died from a drug overdose outside Hollywood nightclub Viper Room in 1993, but like Dean, he undeniably still had immeasurably more to offer.
Indeed, discounting his posthumous films and the so-so A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon and I Love You to Death, nearly every Phoenix film made was showered with praise. Running on Empty saw him pick up a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the aforementioned Stand By Me is widely regarded as the ultimate coming-of-age drama, while Robert Redford’s Sneakers and the aforementioned cult classic My Own Private Idaho both suggested that Phoenix hadn’t even come close to reaching his peak.
4 Ellen Page
Ever since her terrifying performance as abused-turned-abuser Hayley Stark in Hard Candy, Ellen Page’s name on a film’s credits has become a virtual guarantee of quality. There was the self-knowing awards favorite Juno, a successful foray into the comic book world as X-Men’s Kitty Pryde and a pivotal role in the mindbending Inception, not to mention memorable performances in inspired superhero comedy Super, socially-conscious thriller The East and underrated sports comedy Whip It.
Her little-known earlier work in the Canadian film industry, such as small-town comedy drama Wilby Wonderful and road movie Mouth to Mouth, is also worth checking out. She also had a small role in early seasons of the cult-favorite, potty-mouthed Trailer Park Boys TV series. While Ellen Page’s less successful efforts, such as meandering drama Touchy Feely and transparent Oscar-baiting Freeheld have been mere letdowns rather than downright embarrassments. And with Into the Forest and Tallulah recently adding to her canon of critical hits, Page’s winning streak shows no signs of coming to an end just yet.
3 Carey Mulligan
Emerging around the same time as Cumberbatch, fellow British thespian Carey Mulligan has enjoyed a similar career trajectory, mixing period fare (Pride and Prejudice, Far from the Madding Crowd) and low-key British dramas (And When Did You Last See Your Father?) with the odd venture into big-budget Hollywood fare (Public Enemies, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps). Of course, the latter may not have been entirely successful, or indeed necessary, but there was still plenty to enjoy about its commentary on the state of the modern financial world.
And in such a relatively short space of time, Mulligan has been courted by a whole host of celebrated directors, from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Steve McQueen (Shame) to the Coen brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby), while also shrewdly choosing to work with comparatively inexperienced names such as Sarah Gavron (Suffragette) and Shana Feste (The Greatest).
2 Cate Blanchett
Considering that only a handful of the 50-plus movies Cate Blanchett has appeared in since the mid-90s have a Rotten Tomatoes rating below 50%, the Australian actress’ extensive filmography may just be the most impressive of the lot. Only The Monuments Men, Charlotte Gray, The Man Who Cried and The Good German really let the side down, and yet even all these boast several positives.
Of course, her Oscar winning roles in The Aviator and Blue Jasmine and Oscar-nominated turns in the two Elizabeth movies, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There and Carol may be her most renowned. But Blanchett’s career is packed with similarly first-rate performances, whether it’s her portrayal of the titular crime reporter in the underrated Veronica Guerin, her villainous turn as a CIA officer in Hanna or her scene-stealing supporting roles in the likes of An Ideal Husband, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Coffee and Cigarettes.
1 John Cazale
The late character actor John Cazale may well have the most highest hit rate in Hollywood history. The star only appeared in five full-length features during his all-too-brief six-year career, but incredibly, every single one received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. Cazale first appeared on screen as Al Pacino’s weak-minded elder brother Fredo Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather and in between reprising his role in the 1974 sequel, also reunited with director Francis Ford Coppola on The Conversation.
Cazale then received a Golden Globe nod himself for his portrayal of real-life bank robber Salvatore Naturale in Dog Day Afternoon and, despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer shortly before filming began, he still managed to put in a great performance in 1978’s The Deer Hunter. Cazale lost his life just weeks after finishing his final scenes for Michael Cimino’s epic war drama, but received a posthumous credit in 1990 when archive footage of his Corleone character was used in yet another Oscar-nominated flick, The Godfather Part III.
What other actors really make a mistake? Let us know in the comments!