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.