The perfect ingredients to make a great film can't be found in any kind of cinematic cook book. Producers and filmmakers come together, hoping that whatever it is they make turns out to be a critical and financial success. And making movies is hard work, involving many hands and helpers, to help guide a production through the inevitable problems behind and in front of the camera. All in all, it takes determination, passion, and a lot of money to make sure a movie comes out just right.
But even the best films can screw up in a major way when it comes to who's on camera. Movies often have a specific motivation for casting certain stars (popularity and getting butts in seats are big incentives, though finding the person who's simply the best fit for the job is usually the goal). Whatever the reasons, many a great movie has been soured by a bad actor or performance. While this list doesn't aim to say the actors in question are bad at what they do, it does seek to point out films that, while otherwise very well received, featured notably bad performances by one star in particular.
Here are 15 Actors That Ruined Great Movies.
15 Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker's Dracula
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula starred Gary Oldman as the titular Count in a film that claimed to be the most accurate adaptation of the original novel. It played fast and loose with some elements, but was more faithful overall to the source material than most other versions of the tale we've seen. It also helps that the film was well made, well liked, and acclaimed for its use of practical special effects.
Due to studio intervention, a certain American actor was tapped for the important role of Jonathan Harker: Keanu Reeves. Sporting a terrible British accent, awkward line delivery, and emotional moments that just come off as laughable, Reeves is easily the worst part of the film. It’s especially bad when he’s sharing the screen with heavyweights like the aforementioned Oldman and Anthony Hopkins.
14 Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: Days of Future Past
The sequel to First Class and a prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, Days of Future Past was well received by critics and fans alike. Adapting the popular comic arc by Chris Claremont, the film follows Wolverine as he goes back into the past to stop Raven (aka Mystique) from killing Bolivar Trask, the creator of the mutant killing Sentinels. Logan also meets up with Charles (Professor X) and Erik (Magneto), and they team up to prevent the dystopian future from which this version of Wolverine hails.
The issue with Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique has much to do with her minimal characterization as it does with her overall performance. Where Logan, Charles, and Erik are clearly complicated characters with complicated goals, Mystique seems reduced to a violence-seaking weapon that won’t let anyone stand in her way. With some dedicated intimate moments (or even a few throwaway lines), we could better understand why Mystique is the way she currently is. But as it stands, she is somewhat reduced to just a problem that needs to be solved by the other primary characters.
13 Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction/Django Unchained
By this point in time, anyone who loves movies knows who Quentin Tarantino is. Debuting with Reservoir Dogs, he went on to direct one of the most popular films of all-time (Pulp Fiction), as well as other critically acclaimed genre films (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained).
However, Tarantino has been known to sometimes insert himself in his own films for no good reason, and nowhere was that more distracting than in both Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. Whether he’s casually spouting racial slurs at Sam Jackson in Pulp, or sporting an awful Australian accent in Django, Tarantino’s acting has been known to be the one bad thing in otherwise excellent films. Plenty of other actors and filmmakers have called him out on it, but it doesn’t seem to have fazed him. At least film fans can be thankful that he only acts on occasion.
12 Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Godzilla
Hollywood’s last crack at the King of Monsters (from 1998) didn’t go very well, but almost everyone will agree that 2014’s version was a vast improvement. Sticking closely to the creature’s origins, Godzilla featured the titular beast as he roamed the world in search of catastrophic monsters that aimed to do harm. All the while, various humans do their best to track and limit any further destruction.
While many were excited to see Bryan Cranston in the film (and most did praise his performance), those same fans were disappointed to learn that the true protagonist of the film was Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character. Devoid of enthusiasm or sympathy, Taylor-Johnson’s acting not only paled in comparison to Cranston’s, but the latter didn’t get nearly as much screen time. While the film was still a success and enjoyed by plenty, ATJ remained a particular point of criticism.
11 Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III
It’s not easy making an unnecessary sequel to another sequel, especially one that was so critically acclaimed that it’s been called the greatest sequel of all-time. But that’s just what happened in 1990, when The Godfather Part III was released. Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino returned to finish off the story of Michael Corleone, who did his best to get out, but was ultimately pulled back into a life of crime.
While the film was still fairly well received (even if it’s nowhere near the achievements Parts I and II are), the one thing most disliked was Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone. Coming off as uninspired and having no chemistry with her supposed love interest, Coppola was cited as being out of her depth, and, even among those who loved the film, she was pointed out as its greatest weakness. While famed critic Roger Ebert defended her performance, his partner-in-crime Gene Siskel couldn’t do the same, though both praised the film overall.
10 Wu Tao in The Last Emperor
Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, The Last Emperor won nine Academy Awards and has endured as a classic epic detailing the life of the real last emperor of China, Puyi. The film mostly centers on actor John Lone’s adult portrayal of the titular leader, but as the tale takes a look at various different times in the character's life, the film also casts Richard Vuu and Tiger Tsou to play Puyi (at ages 3 and 8, respectfully). All three actors do a great job - especially when compared to Wu Tao, the actor who plays Puyi at age 15.
Because the film uses English as its main spoken language, many of the actors featured have noticeable accents, though almost none of them let that get in their way. However, in the case of Tao, his accent is not only noticeably heavier than Vuu’s or Tsou’s, but his acting is also more stilted and awkward. From his way of speaking to his less-than-expressive facial movements, Tao unfortunately couldn’t rise above his limitations.
9 January Jones in X-Men: First Class
After the critically derided X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the X-Men franchise softy reboot itself with First Class, a well-received hit that featured new actors in familiar roles and a different time period. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence, the film brought the franchise financial success and fan approval all around.
However, one of the things that pretty much everyone hated about First Class was the performance of January Jones as Emma Frost. Lacking emotion and a noticeably lackluster delivery (especially for what was supposed to be an easy-to-grasp character) were noted shortcomings by many a fan and critic. This is even more apparent when compared to her co-stars, who were acclaimed for their work in the film, especially Fassbender as Magneto and McAvoy as Xavier. Thankfully for those who weren’t a fan of Jones, her character never returned to the franchise - for obvious reasons.
8 Ryan O'Neal in Barry Lyndon
Another classic epic by the ever beloved Stanley Kubrick, Barry Lyndon tells the tale of an Irishman that manages to fight and sleaze his way to riches. Famous for its gorgeous cinematography and exquisite period detail, the film was not a massive financial success at the time, but it managed to win four Oscars and was mostly well-received.
However, some contemporary critics of the time (and even modern viewers) weren’t convinced by Ryan O’Neal. Playing the titular Barry Lyndon, O’Neal comes off as a bit awkward and out of place. It doesn’t help that O’Neal wasn’t actually from Ireland (though he has Irish heritage), and that he was most famous for being in soap operas and the film Love Story, thus making his acting and accent stick out more among his co-stars. That said, the film has managed to endure as an overlooked favorite, even if O’Neal can still be subject to criticism.
7 Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom
The second film in the Indiana Jones franchise, Temple of Doom saw Harrison Ford return as the titular Indy, helping out local villagers locate their children, as well as a lost stone. He’s accompanied by the ever popular Short Round, as well as the ever so hated Willie Scott.
While the film had a somewhat mixed response at the time, people seem to have come around on it over the years, and it's now very well liked among Indy and action-adventure fans….but the dislike for Kate Capshaw’s character has persisted. Whether she’s being annoying, yelping Indy’s name, or being a general nuisance for everyone around her, any fan of this film can agree that she’s the worst thing it has going for it. That said, Capshaw has admitted how terrible she thinks the character is, and director Steven Spielberg himself isn’t a big fan of the film itself.
6 Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York
Directed by Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York focused on the titular city during the mid-1800s, during which many Irish immigrated into the city. The film focuses on the infamous Five Points area of Manhattan, the people who lived there, and the ruthless men who were in charge. The film starred Leonardo DiCaprio and, most notably, Daniel Day-Lewis, whose character William Cutting is well regarded as a favorite among the actor’s fans.
The film also starred Cameron Diaz, who is often seen as a much inferior inclusion of the film. Whether it’s her awkward acting, atrocious accent, or complete lack of chemistry with DiCaprio, Diaz sticks out more than she should. While her performance may not have ruined the film’s overall reputation, there’s a reason she’s almost never mentioned when this film is talked about.
5 Forest Whitaker in Rogue One
Rogue One focuses on a group of soldiers who find the information critical for blowing up the Death Star. With an ensemble cast focused on just this single but important mission, the film is the first spin-off Star Wars film after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, and it proved to be a massive success.
The movie isn’t flawless, however, and one of its biggest issues comes in the form of actor Forest Whitaker. While the film is able to juggle and justify other characters with ease, Whitaker’s performance is bizarre, his voice is hard to understand, and his character as a whole is heavily underused. He essentially shows up for a few scenes here and there, and then is quickly gotten rid of in embarrassing fashion. It can be easily argued that he didn’t even need to exist, especially when his screen time was so minimal to begin with. Not that we wanted to spend more time with him anyway.
4 Jake Gyllenhaal in Okja
Directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), Okja is the simple story of a girl and her genetically-enhanced pig, and those that want to keep them apart. Distributed by and streamed over Netflix, the film has garnered much acclaim for being an imaginative and biting film about love and capitalism.
Among the familiar faces in the cast is none other than Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance in Okja has been deemed... questionable at best. While his role as Dr. Johnny might be intentionally wacky, it’s very possible Gyllenhaal went a bit overboard, resulting in a character that's turned off more than a few viewers. It might make more sense within the world of the film and the overall context presented, but even when you’re supposed to be crazy and wild, it can still come off as obnoxious.
3 Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element
Arguably Luc Besson’s crowning cinematic achievement, The Fifth Element stars Bruce Willis as a taxi driver in futuristic New York City, who gets swept up in an out-of-this-world adventure featuring the likes of Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman. With fantastic special (and make-up) effects, crazy costumes, and an endlessly entertaining cast of characters, the film has continued to gain a following in the nearly twenty years since its release.
However, there are some who can’t enjoy the film like others, due entirely to Chris Tucker. Playing the all-over-the-place Ruby Rhod, Tucker is high energy and in your face, something that definitely has turned some folks off. This is likely going to be the most contentious entry on our list, as Tucker’s performance certainly has its share of fans, but even his most vocal supporters should be able to understand why some find Ruby Rhod to be absolutely exhausting.
2 Katie Holmes in Batman Begins
Bringing back the Dark Knight after a few years away from the big screen (you can thank Batman & Robin for that), Batman Begins was a critically adored reintroduction of the wildly popular character. Directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, among many others, including Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson, the reboot was a triumph that changed the superhero movie genre forever.
The film also starred Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s old friend and love interest, Rachael Dawes. While almost everything about Batman Begins was well received, Holmes’ performance was not one of the high points. Described by many as an emotionless stock love interest character complete with poor line deliveries, Holmes was clearly not a favorite. Her role was later recast, with Maggie Gyllenhaal taking her place in The Dark Knight, and few would argue that the change wasn't for the best.
1 Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Based off Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s stars Audrey Hepburn as Holly, a socialite who makes her way in the world by engaging with wealthier folk. It’s easily Hepburn’s most iconic performance, and the movie itself won Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.
But while the film has mostly remained popular and acclaimed, Mickey Rooney’s performance as the Japanese Mr. Yunioshi has remained as controversial as ever. On top of being an exaggerated and offensive caricature of Asian-Americans, the very fact that it’s played by a Caucasian man is enough to reasonably bother those that would otherwise enjoy the film. Breakfast at Tiffany's is undoubtedly a classic, but Rooney's work has remained a sour spot in an otherwise well regarded piece of entertainment.
What other poor performances completely took you out of otherwise great movies? Let us know in the comments.
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