Celebrities have been involved in video games almost as long as they’ve been around, with games starring action icon Chuck Norris and rock legends Journey dating back to the early-80s. Since those questionable beginnings, video games and celebrities have often made for uneasy bedfellows, with neither doing much to elevate the other.
While there has certainly been some improvement in that front, with respected actors taking on well-received roles in acclaimed titles, there are still a lot of top-notch celebrities end up in terrible video games. Even worse, a great actor will occasionally score a gig in a high-profile title only to phone in their performance and draw the ire of the gaming crowd.
This list represents a combination of the aforementioned examples of well-known celebrities who, for one reason or another, have a video game role on their resume they probably aren’t too keen to talk about. In order to keep things fair, we didn’t include actors who appeared in video game tie-ins to movies or TV shows they were involved in, as stars are often contracted to do those games and can’t fully be held accountable for their quality.
In other words, all of these actors had the choice to pass on these questionable video games roles– and didn’t.
Here are 15 Embarrassing Video Game Appearances By A-List Celebrities.
15. Peter Dinklage – Destiny
With Peter Dinklage having roles in such major geek properties as Game of Thrones and X-Men: Days of Future Past, casting him in a video game seemed like a perfect fit. As a matter of fact, he lent both his voice and his likeness to the Telltale Games series based on Game of Thrones, reprising his role as Tyrion Lannister.
However, based on the performance he turned in for the 2014 sci-fi shooter Destiny, it would seem as though Dinklage doesn’t have much respect for the medium. Players were rightfully critical of Dinklage’s stiff, almost bored-sounding performance as robot guide Ghost.
When it came time for the release of Destiny‘s first expansion pack, veteran voice actor Nolan North wasn’t just brought in to replace Dinklage going forward – he even re-recorded all of Dinklage’s parts from the main game, effectively removing him from Destiny altogether. Ouch!
14. Mark Wahlberg – Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video
For years, Mark Wahlberg was a little embarrassed about his pop star beginnings in Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, even saying on an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio that “Marky Mark” was his least favorite word. He lightened up a bit a few years back, even going so far as to say he’d consider a Funky Bunch reunion. But it’s unlikely that he’ll have a sense of humor about his video game past anytime soon.
As part of the Sega CD’s “Make My Video” series of barely-interactive music video creation programs that also included Kris Kross and INXS, Wahlberg recorded some pretty cringe-worthy footage for the release focusing on the Funky Bunch. That the limited tech of the time made it look like Wahlberg’s parts were recorded on a flip phone and blown up to TV size didn’t help matters much.
13. Ellen Page – Beyond: Two Souls
Few modern game creators carry the torch of video games as interactive movies like David Cage, head of French developer Quantic Dream. Cage’s games are created by having actors perform the scenes while being digitally scanned and then turned into video game form.
Beyond: Two Souls marked Quantic Dream’s first foray into casting mainstream Hollywood talent, with heavy-hitters Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page taking the lead roles. Shortly after the game’s release, fully exposed photos of Page’s character surfaced on the internet, even though she never appears completely undressed in the game and she refused to let them scan her body.
It turns out that Quantic Dream went ahead and gave her character model full anatomy, even though they had no real reason to do so.
12. Bruce Willis – Apocalypse
Before finding blockbuster success with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, developer Neversoft cut their teeth on a pretty forgettable 3D shooter called Apocalypse. The only reason the game got any attention at all was due to the inclusion of Bruce Willis, who portrayed the main character.
Willis was originally just supposed to be the player’s sidekick, so all he recorded for the game was a bunch of one-liner, buddy-type dialogue. But realizing what a coup it was to get Willis– he didn’t even reprise his role in any of the Die Hard games– the developers decided to make him the main character instead.
Unable to afford getting Willis back to do any more lines, they instead had to somehow take a character who was only meant to rattle off quick jokes and make him the star of the game. The results, unsurprisingly, were terrible.
11. Kurt Cobain – Guitar Hero 5
The plastic-instrument-based music game genre got so big in the late-00s that companies could afford to get musical icons to appear as playable characters within the games. Things got a little weird when deceased rock stars began to make their way into Guitar Hero, but in the case of Jimi Hendrix, his family came out and said they were confident that the legendary guitarist would’ve loved it.
Less certain was how Kurt Cobain would’ve reacted to not only being a digital avatar in a video game by a major publisher, but being made to perform songs from the likes of Duran Duran and Taylor Swift.
It didn’t take long after the release of Guitar Hero 5 for the backlash against Cobain’s appearance and the ability to have him perform non-Nirvana songs, and the fact that he took his own life in part because of the pressures of commercialism.
10. Mickey Rourke – Rogue Warrior
After spending the ’80s as a successful and acclaimed leading man, Mickey Rourke’s personal troubles began to overshadow his career, at which point he took a few years off to be a professional boxer. While he waded back into Hollywood in the latter half of the ’90s, it was his role in 2005’s Sin City that marked a major return for the actor, which he parlayed into parts in Iron Man 2 and an Oscar-nominated turn in The Wrestler.
In the middle of that career renaissance, Rourke also took the major misstep of starring in the reviled action game Rogue Warrior. Playing real-life Navy vet Richard Marcinko, Rourke had to deliver lines like, “Chew on it, pencil d***” and “Suck my hairy b***, wrap them around your mouth” with complete sincerity.
9. Jeffrey Tambor – Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
The Leisure Suit Larry series has always been about pushing boundaries with adult humor and situations. But in the earlier days of the franchise, there was genuine charm to the risqué proceedings, which were as much about protagonist Larry hilariously striking out as actually closing the deal.
With 2004 revival Magma Cum Laude and its follow-up, Box Office Bust, Larry’s nephew– also named Larry– took over, and the adult elements of the game were amped up to include soft-core love and revealing scenes. Longtime fans didn’t like the on-the-nose approach of the new games, as the originals were more about what was implied than explicitly showing anything.
Bust also featured a skin-crawlingly gross version of the original Larry, which they somehow got respected actor Jeffrey Tambor to provide the voice for.
8. Clive Owen – Privateer 2: The Darkening
Once CD-ROM technology entered the video game space, game companies began to toy with the idea of games that played like interactive movies. While some established actors jumped on this bandwagon– more on them later– much of these types of games were cast using up-and-comers. The result of the latter is that future Oscar-nominated actor Clive Owen has a blemish on his resumé called Privateer 2: The Darkening.
Part of the Wing Commander franchise– which has featured a lot of respected actors in non-embarrassing roles– Privateer 2 is one of the lower points of the series, trying too hard to be an interactive movie and made by people who clearly had no idea how to write or direct a movie.
7. Steve Carell – Outlaw Golf/Volleyball
Back in 2002, Steve Carell was primarily known to mainstream audiences as “The Daily Show’s Steve Carell,” and was still paying his dues with various small roles in TV shows and movies. He also popped up as the commentator in a pair of games starring dancers and ethnic stereotypes and featuring R-rated humor.
To be fair, Outlaw Golf and Outlaw Volleyball are both decent games in and of themselves– it’s not the quality of the game mechanics that should make Carell ashamed of his participation in them. No, what should embarrass him is the content of the games, especially the terrible things he had to say.
Clearly just reading the lines of juvenile writers and not being asked to come up with his own material, Carell makes references to things like ” pole burn” and jokes about the size of the “tomahawks” of a female Native American character.
6. Dennis Hopper – Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller
For all the great stuff that Dennis Hopper has done, he was also an actor who seemed incapable of turning down roles– resulting in a lot of really unfortunate parts in his expansive resumé. In fact, speaking of video games, he also had the distinction of playing King Koopa in the legendarily awful Super Mario Bros. movie.
As astounding as it is, his Mario role isn’t even the worst thing he ever did in relation to a video game. That (dis)honor belongs to his involvement in 1994’s Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, where he pays a horrific-looking demon ironically named Mr. Beautiful who deals in peddling adult movies.
The game itself is so badly designed that some of the puzzles are literally unsolvable without outside help, because the clues you are given in the game are incorrect– a big deal for a game built entirely around puzzles.
5. John Goodman – Pyst
Without question, Pyst is the most obscure game on this list– which makes the all-in appearance by iconic actor John Goodman all the more baffling. Especially since the game was released right in the middle of his acclaimed run on Roseanne and following his roles in classic movies like Raising Arizona and Barton Fink, so he was definitely in a position to turn down such a dreadful project.
A parody of the computer game Myst that manages to be both painfully unfunny and painfully boring to play, Goodman not only appeared in the game shirtless in a hot tub but even sings the game’s theme song, giving a performance that is far too spirited than the material deserves.
4. Jeff Goldblum – Goosebumps: Return to Horrorland
Interestingly, one of Jeff Goldblum’s most entertaining appearances of all time– in any medium– was when he showed up after the end credits of the video game based on The Lost World and implored players to get some fresh air after spending so long cooped up inside playing a video game. It would’ve been irritating coming from anyone else, but his trademark quirky delivery made all the difference.
While still plenty entertaining because, Goldblum’s role in the video game Goosebumps: Return to Horrorland is far more questionable. He’s camping it up as a vampiric villain, but things start to get weird when Goldblum’s character essentially seduces the game’s protagonist into having a rather lengthy ballroom-style dance with her. It’s likely only because hardly anybody played the game that a bigger deal wasn’t about the uncomfortable scene.
3. Tom Arnold – Playboy: The Mansion
In 2005, Playboy: The Mansion took the basic concept of The Sims and made it all about photographing and sleeping with scantily clad models.
In further following its Sims-style approach, The Mansion eventually began to have celebrities join Hef and the Playmates. But while The Sims was able to score stars like Jennifer Lopez, Jon Bon Jovi, and Marilyn Monroe, The Mansion got actor Tom Arnold. Should Arnold be more embarrassed of The Mansion, or should The Mansion be more embarrassed by Tom Arnold?
It’s unsurprising that so many men love hanging out at the Playboy Mansion– but agreeing to be associated with this half-baked video game that would only excite 14-year-old boys is much, much more surprising.
2. Burgess Meredith (and others) – Ripper
While it’s easy to laugh at them now, there was plenty of reason in the mid-90s to be excited about the potential of FMV (full-motion video) games. While the genre was infamous for dusting off washed-up actors like Corey Haim and Dana Plato to star in its games, it was also able to get some respected actors to buy into the excitement for the then-budding game style.
Unfortunately, that just resulted in a lot of great actors who have something to be embarrassed about now.
Ripper, a strange– and not very good– game which combines the story of Jack the Ripper with a futuristic world, stars Christopher Walken, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, and Paul Giamatti, among others. While all are likely ashamed of the project in hindsight, it’s late Oscar winner Burgess Meredith who had the misfortune of Ripper being his final role before his death.
1. Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq Fu
In the ’90s, there were a few pro basketball stars that got so huge they couldn’t be contained by boring ol’ NBA video games. Charles Barkley starred in his own street ball game, Michael Jordan had a platforming adventure in the Windy City, and Shaquille O’Neal– making the worst decision of the three– headlined a fighting game that would go down as one of the worst video games ever made.
Shaq Fu was only talked about beyond its release because of how hilariously terrible it is. O’Neal himself has even admitted to being embarrassed by it, especially because he is a gamer.
Determined to redeem his video game legacy, he spearheaded a successor called Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, which was successfully crowdfunded via Indiegogo in 2014. It has yet to be released, or even have an official release date announced.
Did we miss any embarrassing celebrity roles in video games? Let us know in the comments!
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