Anybody can think of a movie that a miscast actor just totally sank, or a film where egregious miscasting was just one of a dozen reasons why it never would have worked. Frankly, most of those movies aren’t even worth talking about. It’s far more unusual to think of the movies that have managed to carry on in spite of a miscasting, those films which maybe could’ve been great all the way through if it weren’t for just that one guy standing there looking kind of lost and quietly messing everything up.
These, then, are Screen Rant’s 11 Worst Castings in Good Movies. They would’ve been worst castings in great movies, but come on, look at that jerk. What is he even doing there? Does he not realize that his performance is just dragging the whole picture into a quagmire? Jerk.
Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October (1990)
It’s small wonder that Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) realizes that Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius (Sean Connery) plans to defect to the West… Ramius may be a Russian submarine captain, but his accent is already forty miles into Scotland. Connery had decades of high-profile acting experience as characters like James Bond or Henry Jones, Sr. (father of Indiana), was the right age and right look for the part, and could even summon up the fatalistic dignity that makes Russians so fascinating to the West.
But there was one thing “Scotland’s Greatest National Treasure” could never manage to do, and that was turn off the brogue… not in a last-days-of-the-Cold-War epic like The Hunt for Red October, or even in a movie like Highlander, where he was playing virtually the only character not of Scottish descent. Even his attempt to be Irish in The Untouchables was a pretty monumental failure.
Scarlett Johansson in The Prestige (2006)
Are you ready to see Scarlett Johansson as you’ve never seen her before? How about in a role involving espionage, but taking a back seat to other onscreen superheroes? As Olivia, ScarJo is involved with the Victorian magician Robert (Hugh Jackman), who sends her to become assistant to his rival Alfred (Christian Bale) so that she can spy on him and he can try to guess at Alfred’s newest, greatest trick. But naturally, she finds herself drawn to Alfred…
While she does enliven her scenes, Johansson never turns down the wattage enough to be convincing as a Victorian, let alone a chess piece in the heated game between two possibly-mad magicians. As Natasha Romanov the Marvel movies, she learned a bit more of the subtlety that escapes her here.
Tom Cruise in Valkyrie (2008)
Cruise said he was attracted to the role of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, the mastermind of a doomed German plot to kill Adolf Hitler, after seeing how much alike their faces looked in profile. Apparently nobody bothered to tell him that it was also important to sound like Stauffenberg, have something like the build of Stauffenberg (Cruise never looked more thoroughly his 5’7″ than he did here) and most importantly, act like Stauffenberg.
Even if he had attempted a German accent, Cruise would still be just the wrong kind of contemporary American superstar to lose himself in a period piece: in all his best roles (Mission: Impossible, Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Minority Report) he is still, essentially, playing Tom Cruise. If any German officers started acting as stiff and distracted as Cruise does in Valkyrie, the famously paranoid Hitler would’ve had him shot.
Bruce Willis in Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
There’s hiding your light under a bushel, and there’s posing as a mild-mannered reporter, and then there’s whatever Bruce Willis is doing in Moonrise Kingdom. It’s the touching story of two young lovers, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who defy the world to be together. Island Police Captain Duffy Sharp (Willis) has to deal with the situation when Sam’s parents disown him and “Social Services” (Tilda Swinton) threatens to take him away and treat him with electroshock therapy.
Willis plays the role straight and not “Bruce Willis-y” at all, but that’s just the problem. Knowing what sort of magnetism Willis can bring to his roles makes his subdued turn here look positively lethargic, and hurts the feeling of a bond between Sharp and Sam, which is, let’s just say, kind off necessary for the climax to work.
Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton in The Bourne Legacy (2012)
A rare double-header. The three previous Bourne films had paid off in spades for Universal Pictures, so naturally the company was game to try continuing the series, even if Matt Damon was no longer available. Renner, as Aaron Cross, essentially replaced Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, and Colonel Eric Byer (Norton) became the series’ scapegoat. Not only is Byer the series’ most hissable villain (killing everyone associated with the program), but also the secret mastermind between events in the other movies.
For the most part, the film maintained the taut direction of the rest of the series to date, and you’d think Renner and Norton’s Marvel credentials would qualify them for these new roles… until you stopped to think about it. Renner is best as a man of quiet dignity and control, and The Bourne Legacy is all about making him as frazzled as possible. And Norton was picked to render the Hulk because you can see in his eyes that he’s not just a monster, that he deserves sympathy. That stainlessness works well for various Hollywood monsters, but for Hollywood villains, not so much.
Simon Oakland in Psycho (1960)
Psycho dared big by killing Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in the first act, then whisked Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) off-screen after the climax, depriving the film of both its stars.
Explaining Norman’s psychosis was probably necessary in 1960, but the movie does so in the most annoying way imaginable, by bringing out Oakland as Dr. Fred Richman (the last name makes you hate him already, doesn’t it?) to chatter at the remaining leads about how Norman killed his mother, then sort of became her to absolve himself of the crime. Oakland built his career on playing compassionate tough guys, but for reasons unknown, played this scene with the enthusiasm of a Labrador retriever who has just discovered what steak is. “He wanted her,” he says to Marion’s own bereaved sister. “That set off ‘jealous mother’… and ‘mother’ killed the girl!”
Perhaps this would’ve come across as a black joke at Hitchcock’s own expense – for wasn’t he, too, enthusiastically telling stories of depraved killers, with little regard for their victims? – if Oakland were a more comical physical type, but as it is, figuring out what Hitch was thinking here is an even bigger puzzle than the mind of Norman Bates.
James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Lord knows L. Frank Baum himself churned out plenty of sequels and a few prequels himself. But when you’re casting cinema’s greatest likable charlatan, the last person you should go to is an actor known for understatement and restraint. For the most part, he simply looks like he’s playing the role ironically, like a hipster dude who grew up loving the original but is too cool now to do anything but go through the motions.
Or as theMichael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune put it, “Franco, who can be great on screen, is capable of many things. Rhetorical flourish and theatrical brio aren’t two of them. When asked to bamboozle the gullible customers on Earth or in Oz… you worry that he won’t make it through some of his lines alive.”
Neil Patrick Harris in Gone Girl (2014)
Maybe Harris and Franco should have just switched movies. Understatement and subtlety would work very well in Desi (Harris), the estranged, creepy ex-boyfriend whom Amy (Rosamund Pike) manipulates into giving her housing after her plan to disappear hits a serious snag. And Neil Patrick Harris is, like Franco, versatile and often brilliant, but his performances are generally full of theatrical flair and bravado.
Desi doesn’t get a single clever moment in Gone Girl: he’s Amy’s patsy almost throughout, but also deeply disturbing in his own way, as he just barely represses his desire to take Amy’s body as payment for his kindness. Parts of the performance feel like NPH playing Barney Stimson in a slow, minor key, but nobody really wanted to see Barney like this.
Emma Stone in Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
One could almost forgive this one. Stone clearly wanted a challenge as Sam, the bitter, social-media-obsessed daughter and assistant of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). It’s nothing like her usual good-girl assignments (The Help, Easy A, The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2). She threw herself into the role, dropping an almost disturbing amount of weight to suggest Sam’s substance-abuse problems and delivering a memorable outburst in front of Keaton that’s one of the movie’s most emotional moments.
But for all that, it’s more than a little distracting to see one of millennial Hollywood’s most recognizable “good girls” playing someone so prickly and troubled at the same time that Michael Keaton is basically playing himself – an early superhero actor who wonders if he has one great project left in him.
Of course, three decades ago, everyone thought Keaton as Batman would be the miscasting of the century. That’s the thing about miscasts. Sometimes you don’t know whether the actor is going to work until you try it.
Are we missing any other terrible casting mistakes? Let us know in the comments!
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