Good Actors Who Make Bad Movies
Below is a list of good actors who make bad movies. For some, this is characteristic of their career, for others, it could be described as a slump. Some are arguably victims of the Oscar curse, some are simply victims of bad career choices. For others, their status as good actors is questionable, given the wide disparity between their best work and the rest of their output, whereas, for others, their talent is undeniable and all that is missing is a rigorous selection process when it comes to choosing their work. What is certain, however, is that they are all guilty of making some really bad movies, and none of them have the defence of a lack of talent, although some clearly couldn’t care less.
10. Adam Sandler
Okay, a controversial one. Is Adam Sandler a good actor? Well, that’s a debatable one, but I defy anyone to watch either Punch Drunk Love or Reign Over Me and say that he’s a bad actor. In the former he displays a dramatic depth and a capacity for conveying emotional torture that should have earned him an Oscar nomination, and did earn him a Golden Globe nomination. In the latter he isn’t quite so good, but he is thoroughly believable as the eccentric, bereaved man whose family died on 9/11. These are only two roles, but they show that lurking somewhere inside the irritating turd we all know as Adam Sandler is someone who, with the right director, can give some pretty good performances. It’s just a shame that he insists on appearing only in the worst kind of films, often written by himself.
9. Johnny Depp
Another controversial one, but for different reasons. No one can deny that Johnny Depp is a good actor, possibly amongst the greatest of his generation and one of my personal favourites. From Edward Scissorhands until Sweeney Todd he made dozens of films, some of them either great or good. Then… well, for the last 5 years Johnny Depp has made almost nothing but awful, self-indulgent films, usually requiring campy make-up and that tired, overdone English accent shtick that he just won’t stop doing. The Lone Ranger is just the latest in a string of turkeys (The Rum Diary, the last three Pirates movies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist, Dark Shadows) that makes me genuinely concerned that Johnny Depp has been replaced with some manner of robot with terrible taste in movies. I just hope he gets his mojo back.
8. Christopher Walken
This one actually has a good explanation: he never turns down work. Seriously, he just doesn’t and he never has. That’s why his filmography ranges from The Deer Hunter and Catch Me if You Can, to Gigli, Kangaroo Jack, Joe Dirt, and The Country Bears. This can’t be held against him, however, as his explanation for taking all the work offered to him is that he learns something from each job, which only makes him seem cooler. Also, he was in the video for Weapon of Choice, so he’s doubly cool.
7. Jim Carrey
Suffering from the same syndrome as Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey could easily be described as a good actor with a bad actor’s career… or at least a comedy actor’s career. He remains one of only a couple of actors to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor without an Oscar nomination (for The Truman Show) and his performances in Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind demonstrate that behind that rubber face lie some serious dramatic chops. There was a false dawn with the actually pretty good I Love You, Phillip Morris, but his career once again slumped into children’s comedies and mediocrity. His recent turn in Kickass 2 might have served as a showcase for his talents and relaunched his career, had he not turned on the film for being too violent. Maybe it will prove a turning point, only time will tell, but Jim Carrey remains an excellent actor who often falls well short of his potential.
6. Cuba Gooding jr
Okay, he might not be a good actor, but he was once, dammit! The guy must stand as one of the more unlikely Oscar winners of all time, given his recent slide into god-awful fare like Cruise Ship and Snow Dogs, but he was once considered a promising young actor. What’s more amazing is the fact that, prior to winning his Oscar, he was in some pretty good films, like Boyz n the Hood and A Few Good Men, but afterward he almost immediately starting making terrible films. It’s almost as if he won too young then just stopped caring, like he’d already won his Oscar and all that mattered afterwards was making money. Looking at his filmography post 2000, the only two films I had heard of were the famously awful Radio (which must have been part of the inspiration for the Simple Jack trailer in Tropic Thunder) and American Gangster, which is actually pretty good. It’s a shame, but he just doesn’t seem to care anymore, much like…
5. Adrien Brody
Oh, Adrien Brody, deserving winner of an Oscar for The Pianist and still the youngest best actor winner ever. What happened, Adrien Brody? Is it like I suspected? Did you just stop caring after you won your statue? If you’d been denied it, would you have hungered for one like Leonardo Di Caprio and made consistently strong work in the pursuit of one? Or is it an illusion? I know I often include you in this list in my head, but looking back, your filmography isn’t that bad. Maybe none of them measure up to The Pianist, but still not awful. I guess your inclusion is pre-emptive, and motivated by your performance in InAPPropriate Comedy as a gay policeman called Flirty Harry whose catchphrase is “go ahead, make me gay.” The sad truth of it might be that you were never that good, and that you were only really good in one very good film.
4. John Cusack
John Cusack used to be one of the coolest guys on Earth, with films like the seminal Stand by Me, the haunting Thin Red Line, the raucous Bullets Over Broadway, the lovely Say Anything…, the excellent The Grifters, the brilliantly weird Being John Malkovich, and the painfully cool Gross Pointe Blank and Hi Fidelity under his belt, Cusack could do no wrong. Then he could, and boy did he. As with all of these actors, he’s never specifically bad in the roles he takes, he just seems to have started taking bad roles. Ever since about the time of Identity, the good films in his filmography started thinning out, and had died away altogether by the time he made 2012. You have to reason that he’s self-aware enough to know how bad these films are, and has the wherewithal to claw his way back to making good films again. Although, as a footnote, I quite enjoyed Hot Tub Time Machine.
3. Forrest Whitaker
This is another Adrien Brody problem. How do you differentiate between a good actor who makes bad movies, and a mediocre actor who his gold dust once in their long career? Forrest Whitaker was undeniably magnificent in The Last King of Scotland, but both before and after that, his filmography was patchy at best. We have his appearance in the legendarily terrible Battlefield Earth in 2000, and his subsequent appearances in almost everything he’s been in since he won his Oscar. What is certain, though, is that, when he wants to, he can be very good, but he seems intent on wasting whatever talent he might have on terrible films.
2. Faye Dunaway
An old one for you now at number 2, but a deserving one. Yes, the fact that she doesn’t get much good work anymore doesn’t indicate any fault on her part, and could easily be attributed to the natural career decline of an actress in her 70s, but looking back to her post-Oscar career it becomes clear that something went catastrophically wrong. She went from brilliant films like Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Network and, ahem, The Towering Inferno, to absolute dreck like Mommie Dearest, Voyage of the Damned, The Wicked Lady, and Supergirl. You could make the argument that her career was damaged by negative press associated with her hysterically unhinged portrayal of Hollywood legend Joan Crawford, but that came a whole five years after Network and does not explain the drop off in quality thereafter, only going part of the way to explaining why her career never picked up again. Later on she ended up making TV movies and kids films like Dunston Checks In.
1. Nicolas Cage
It could only really be him, couldn’t it? He’s the archetypal good actor who makes bad films. His filmography veers wildly between the good (Moonstruck, Con Air, Peggy Sue Got Married, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Adaptation, Bad Lieutenant and Lord of War) to the hilariously, outrageously terrible (The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Drive Angry, Season of the Witch, Knowing, Bangkok Dangerous, Dead Fall and Kiss of Death), and has inspired comedy sketches based around his willingness to take any work offered to him, regardless of quality. He has a similar work ethic to Christopher Walken, the difference being that he is motivated by his colossal tax bill, which he seems hellbent on paying for with as many bad films as he can possibly act in. It’s a shame, because, when he wants to, he can be a genuinely good actor.
So, to conclude, there aren’t all that many things that can be drawn as general rules from these performers. Some, blessed with early, possibly premature, success, simply went into auto-pilot, accepting the high paying roles until all their artistic credibility was bled dry. Others, who hit pay dirt once, have yet to recapture the same form that saw them reach the pinnacle of their profession. Others simply got complacent with their lot as beloved movie stars and decided to coast in for a few years. Then, there’s Cage and Walken, who simply do everything offered to them, albeit for wildly different reasons. I guess, in the end, an actor should be judged by the quality of their performances, not the quality of the films they’re in. Most do not suffer too badly in that regard, with them often being the best thing in whatever turkey they have found themselves stranded in… except for Cage, who seems, at times, to actively revel in them.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Except for that small role in Pearl Harbor, I would say Cuba’s last great role was ‘Men of Honor.’ Since then it’s been either direct to video or crap like ‘Daddy Day Camp’ and ‘Norbit.’
Nic Cage is a fantastic actor and I’m even growing to love his terrible performances. Drive Angry was an amazing(ly bad) movie and I loved every second of it. I do miss his old performances, though. He made Adaptation the great movie that it is.
In reply to comment by Dast Lolo; Problem is poor management, I’d bet. More than one promising, talented star has been ruined by managers and agents who don’t know what they’re doing.
What he needs to do is develop his own projects to really show off what he can do, and pick his roles very carefully. Right now he seems like someone who would do just about anything for the money.
I am in 100% agreement with you on Johnny Depp. While he is undeniably one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, I still find it a shame that he’s known mainly for his character roles. I think many people want to see something different from him but the question is whether we will actually get it.
As for Brody, have you seen him in Detachment? I really loved that film.
I agree on Johnny Depp completely. I really like him, but sometimes I just don’t know what he’s doing. Adrien Brody is a sad mention. I actually forgot about him since the Pianist until I watched Midnight in Paris and was surprised to see him there. Jim Carrey is stereotyped into being a comedy actor that people do not realize that guy can really act.
I also loved Adam Sandler in Funny People, especially since he plays off his own persona so much. There’s a scene when he’s onstage and playing piano and singing in a very Sandler voice, but it’s heartbreaking in context. Also, in terms of less dramatic roles, he’s very endearing in The Wedding Singer. I want more Sandler films like that.
Nick Cage: terrible actor who makes horrendous films. I mean un chien andalou your eyes bad. Cusack though? You have his incredible films with the weight of an elephant on one side of the scale and his bad ones, a feather’s weight on the other side. I maintain he was forced into the thimbleful of poorer movies he’s made. The Paperboy was a recent return to good projects.
I’m thinking of it in terms of right now, as with Johnny Depp. He was great until just shy of a decade ago, then he just, I don’t know, settled into a funk.
Still think he’s great, though
Nic Cage confuses me as an actor. I think generally he has made a career out of being outrageously OTT and relentlessly mugging for the camera. But then occasionally he puts in a really great performance like in Adaptation or Kick Ass (I loved the way he channelled Adam West whenever taking the guise of Big Daddy).
Is he a good actor? Or was it just that his bizarre style worked in those movies?
This is a clever idea for a list and you write it very well, with a fun tone and a refreshing sense of humor. Although I wish you explained a little further what you mean by a bad movie because in reading many of your choices I was trying to figure out which bad movies you had in your mind and what your criteria was when selecting your actors.
Interesting article. I still remember watching Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and being so surprised at his moving and genuine performance. He definitely has the potential to be an amazing actor but I fear he is typecast as a comic “actor” in the industry.
Enjoyed reading this.
I’ve had this inherent dislike for Nicholas Cage because of his monotone voice, but I have a whole new respect for him after watching The Weather Man. It’s an excellent character study and his monotone style fits the role perfectly. I think he’s much better suited for dramas and mysteries than action flicks. Then again, I don’t feel that any actor or actress should confine themselves to one genre because they usually end up playing the same type of character when they do.
Anyway, great article topic and writing style. Thanks for sharing!
Agreed with Adam Sandleir, Johnny depp and Jim carrey – Jim carrey was pretty good in “Yes, Man”. He did the dramatic parts alright 🙂
Great list. I agree with pretty much everyone, but I believe Samuel L. Jackson belongs on here. Maybe replace him with Sandler.
Cool list! I definitely think Jim Carrey’s abilities as a dramatic actor have been drastically overlooked and underestimated. In my opinion, his performances in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are a couple of the best from the last quarter century. Truman was lightning in a bottle, allowing him to demonstrate his explosive charisma and physicality in a role that required significant dramatic heft. Meanwhile, Joel Barish demanded a level of nuance and subtlety that couldn’t be more different from his over-the-top brand of comedy. I haven’t seen Phillip Morris yet, but I truly hope the right projects start finding Carrey again. He’s such a singular talent.
Great list, I would also make a mention of John Travolta in the aftermath of Pulp Fiction, including Battlefield Earth and so on, I think Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler are really underrated and underused dramatic actors, especially love “I Love You, Philip Morris”.
Most certainly agree with Nicolas Cage being at number one! I love him in Con Air, but I have seen some trash after that! And Adam Sandler certainly has been in some awful films, the first one springing to my mind is Jack and Jill! Although I do love The Wedding Singer. Jennifer Aniston comes to my mind because she was a legend during the F.R.I.E.N.D.S era but some of the films she has done since then are awful! Good article!
The Depp thing is so sad. His very early stuff is fantastic, and even some of his later films, but nowadays just his appearance is enough to bring people to the box office, so we get shit like Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Sandler’s comedy used to be so much better, as well; I loved the Wedding Singer, as well as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. They’re all great, timeless comedies, but he seems to be selling out a bit too with his more recent work.
Sandler’s ‘You don’t mess with the Zohan’, ‘Funny People’ and ‘Bedtime Stories’ really do make him worthy of your list. A great comprehensive read, nice job.
This is a very detailed list. Many actors believe that quantity is more important than quality (though, I assume, their enormous paychecks may be controlling their decisions). Audiences respect actors who take a lot of different roles and are able to choose great scripts. Ryan Reynold and Taylor Kitsch are also good examples of charismatic actors who can never catch a break (don;t watch Green Lantern or Battleship!).
I completely call shenanigans on the inclusion of Adrien Brody. Yes, he won an Oscar for The Pianist, deservedly so. But he’s also been excellent in quality work like Summer of Sam, The Darjeeling Limited, Hollywoodland, Detatchment, Midnight in Paris. All these were made after his Oscar win. No way should Brody be on there.
Summer of Sam was before his oscar and I don’t like it. Of the others, the only one I’d say was actually good was Midnight in Paris. With him, it’s more a matter of relative mediocrity than actually being bad. Besides, that’s only four films in a decade, which isn’t a very good amount for such a prolific actor.
Solid list and well-thought-out article. When I started reading it was in my head that Nic Cage should be at the top of the list, and you certainly nailed that. One actor’s inclusion that I found interesting was that of John Cusack. You’re right — he’s been in some bad movies LATELY, but he has such a good catalog of quality films, on which you also provided detail. I almost feel that his resume has too much quality on it to categorize him as a guy who generally does bad movies. That’s really only been the case in the past few years or so.
Overall though, a great read! Thanks for posting!
Cusack was a difficult one, but I put him in more out of disappointment than anything. It was similar with Johnny Depp’s inclusion. Both have just hit slumps recently.
This was a really interesting article. I agree with what you’ve said, particularly on Johnny Depp. I like to believe that every actor/actress has the potential for greatness if they’re just given the right material, but that sometimes it just gets squandered. Blame typecasting, bad agents, a need for money, whatever.
I think Christopher Walken just enjoys the experience of making movies whether they’re good or awful. I find he’s often the best part of some really terrible movies.
Here’s the list of actors who make ONLY bad films because they are bad actors:
The Wilsons were good in The Royal Tennenbaums. Ben Affleck was good in Argo. I’m bragging when I say I’ve never seen a Vin Diesel flick. I am not a Vince Vaughn fan.
I just saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens and was disappointed in Harrison Ford, never a great actor, and Carrie Fischer. I can’t tell if she mailed it in or just can’t act. She just seems like a spoiled jaded old woman, bored by life. It was sad how she delivered the line, “May the Force Be with You,” as well as her strange ambiguous walk toward the female protagonist. The movie had these pauses for the audience to roar when she and Ford first appeared. Fell pretty flat, like Paulie Shore appearing in lieu of Olivier. He was in Apocalypse Now for a few moments, as was very young to be fair, but unlike someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, who is brilliant, it was clear Ford had a lot to learn.
I don’t believe Hollywood offers many options to black actors, such as Forrest Whitaker.