While she's appeared in a wide variety of feature films, even earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her efforts, Kaley Cuoco is arguably best known for the characters she's played on television. Her breakout role was in the sitcom 8 Simple Rules, which led to her appearing on increasingly popular television shows and eventually getting a starring role on the now-famous sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Her contributions to the cinematic world shouldn't be overlooked, obviously, but her television roles have received much more critical praise and recognition than her film roles. In this list, we'll be putting both of them head-to-head to rank her 5 best and 5 worst overall roles, based on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes' film and TV rating system.
10 Worst: Gretchen in The Wedding Ringer (28%)
The 2015 rom-com The Wedding Ringer follows Doug Harris (Josh Gad), a semi-wealthy tax attorney who is getting married to Gretchen (Cuoco), the love of his life, in two weeks. The only problem is, he's doesn't have any friends to be groomsmen, and, running out of time, he follows a referral to a "best man services" business run by Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), from where he hires seven abnormal actors to pose as his groomsmen.
The film received terrible reviews, with its only real positive aspect being that you can occasionally catch glimpses of the comedic brilliance that should be expected in a film with Gad and Hart. Cuoco's shallow acting was especially criticized, winning her a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actress.
9 Best: Wanda in The Last Ride (44%)
This 2011 biopic about the last days of famed country music singer Hank Williams focuses on Silas (Jesse James), a socially awkward mechanic who is hired to chauffeur Williams to his final gigs. Cuoco stars alongside James as Wanda, a girl he is attracted to but acts clumsily around.
Some critics viewed her character as contrived, while others claimed her acting is solid and sometimes even praiseworthy. Unfortunately, reviews for the film were still mixed-to-negative, with many critics seeing it as unnecessary and uninspired, though it did receive some positive recognition for its story, which several reviewers argued showcases genuine nostalgia for a bygone era of American history.
8 Worst: Samantha in Hop (25%)
Hop, Illumination Entertainment's only film to combine live-action with animation, tells the story of E.B. (Russell Brand), a character exemplifying the classic "son who doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps" trope - except, in this case, he's a rabbit who's the son of the Easter Bunny. After running away to Los Angeles, he's discovered by Fred (James Marsden), a jobless slacker, and the paair must defeat an evil chick (that is, a young chicken) who wants to take over Easter.
Hop's negative reviews stemmed from its cliche-filled plot and overall unfunniness, and while Cuoco's portrayal of Fred's successful sister wasn't particularly bad, we definitely question her judgment in taking this role.
7 Best: Erin in Complete Savages (45%)
This short-running sitcom, executive produced by Mel Gibson and partially based on his experiences as a child, follows Nick Savage (Keith Carradine), a single dad who's trying to bring up his five misbehaving sons (Chris, Jack, Kyle, Sam, and T.J.) by himself.
Cuoco appears in the episode "For Whom the Cell Tolls" as Sam's date, Erin. Initially, she woos him, but he slowly starts to disconnect from her because of her obsessive cell phone use. The show received mixed reviews and was canceled after its first season, but Cuoco's performance received somewhat more enthusiastic reception and eventually led to her receiving roles on larger sitcoms.
6 Worst: Eleanor in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (15%)
In 2015's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (a sequel to the previous installment in the franchise, Chipwrecked), Cuoco replaces SNL legend Amy Poehler as Eleanor, a member of the Chipettes (the female counterparts of Alvin and his sidekicks). The film follows the titular rodents as they travel to Miami to stop their father Dave (Jason Lee) from proposing to his girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), as the chipmunks don't want to have to deal with her rude, teenage son Miles.
The film received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics, and again, while Cuoco's acting isn't terrible per se, roles that will hurt your reputation as an actress are usually bad roles to accept.
5 Best: Sasha in Prison Break (60%)
In 2007, Cuoco appeared in Prison Break, a television show about two brothers, Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. Burrows has been framed for murder and is being held at Fox River Penitentiary as he awaits his execution, so Scofield commits armed robbery and lets himself get caught so he can get into Fox River and break Burrows out - although he ends up releasing six other inmates as well, and the group becomes known as the Fox River Eight.
Cuoco appears in two episodes from season two as Sasha, a teenage girl who is protected from her alcoholic father by Haywire (a member of the Eight) and consequently tries to protect him from Bradley Bellick, the former lead corrections officer at the penitentiary who is now trying to hunt the escapees down. The show's first two seasons received critical acclaim, and Cuoco's acting during her brief tenure on the series was spot-on, so this is definitely one of her strongest roles.
4 Worst: Bonnie in Ladies Man (8%)
Ladies Man was a little-known sitcom that ran from 1999 to 2001. It follows Jimmy (Alfred Molina), a homeworking father who is forced to deal with numerous female family members living in his house, including his wife, mother, and daughter, among others.
Starting from the beginning of season two, Cuoco portrayed Jimmy's daughter Bonnie. She received little recognition, either positive or negative, for her role, but given how poor the reviews are for the show's scripting and humor (even comedy genius Betty White, who plays Jimmy's mom, couldn't deliver), we can't imagine she was given a lot to work with.
3 Best: Penny on The Big Bang Theory (81%)
For nearly twelve years, Cuoco's ongoing role in one of television's biggest hit sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory, was her best talking point. In the series, with follows a group of introverted, maladroit friends (headlined by Caltech physicists Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter), Cuoco plays Penny, an extroverted, socially apt wannabe actress who becomes Leonard's main love interest over the course of the series.
The show has received critical praise throughout its run, with panegyric reviews usually focusing on its well-developed humor and characters, as well as its use of real scientific subjects and accurate portrayal of geek culture.
2 Worst: Hannah in Authors Anonymous (7%)
In the 2014 film Authors Anonymous, Cuoco (who was also the film's executive producer) plays Hannah, a member of a group of unpublished writers looking for success. When Hannah becomes a surprise sensation nearly overnight and lands herself a movie deal, the other writers, still looking for paths to the fame and fortune they desire, become jealous and resentful.
Critics had a variety of different reasons to chastise the film: poor satire, one-dimensional characters, and lack of creativity, as well as what they perceived as wasted talent due to several big-name actors (including Cuoco herself) giving below-average performances.
1 Best: Harley in Harley Quinn (91%)
Despite the fact that it hasn't even been released yet, the DC Universe animated series Harley Quinn has already attracted praise from several major outlets. The series will follow Quinn, newly single after ending her relationship with the Joker, as she teams up with several other villains, including her best friend Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), to engage in general misbehavior. Meanwhile, she works towards achieving her ultimate goal: becoming a member of the biggest villain syndicate around, the Legion of Doom.
Comedy, animation, cast, characters, and story have all been the talking points of positive reviews for the series, with Cuoco's performance registering with critics and audiences as one of the best of her career. Where will this success take her in the future? We'll just have to wait and see.