What are the factors that determine the true greatness of an actor? Raw talent? Consistency? Versatility? It’s very complex because an actor is purely dependent on the script he’s working on and a lot depends on his instinctive abilities to choose a good script. Actors often benefit from frequent collaborations with great directors. The great Robert De Niro’s collaboration with Martin Scorsese is one of the most iconic in cinema. Among the contemporaries we have Joaquin Phoenix’s work with Paul Thomas Anderson that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
However, even great actors could screw up too. The script often turns out to be the culprit here or perhaps the actor was just looking to have some fun without giving himself too much to character preparations. This article takes a look at the list of 15 worst performances by great actors.
15. Angeline Jolie – Alexander (2004)
Certainly not among the finest actresses of all time but Jo can act. And act really well. We’ve seen her exploding as a mentally disturbed woman in ‘Girl Interrupted’ and she has also been memorable in ‘A Might Heart’ and ‘Challenging’. But her weaknesses as an actor was terribly exposed here in ‘Alexander’. She plays the mother of Alexander the great and her role is almost villainous as her character is intended to spew some venom. But she does not display the slightest bit of evilness in her role and falls flat on emotions. But then again it was perhaps the script that made us feel she was in the wrong plays but nevertheless it’s a highly forgettable performance.
14. Al Pacino – The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
I once came across a guy who said that Pacino’s performance in ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ is so hammy and ridiculous that he makes Tony Montana look like Michael Corleone. It’s a funny statement but hard to deny the truth in it. What happened to Al Pacino post ‘Scarface’ will remain one of cinema’s greatest mysteries. And ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ is probably the culmination of everything that was bad about his infamous look-at-me-while-I’m-acting style. Sure it’s entertaining at places. But what Pacino does here is chew the screen and chew the screen and then chew it a bit more to the point it makes you laugh because it’s unbelievably ludicrous. It just pains me to see him shouting all around for no reason and I’d like to think that the guy who immortalised Michael Corleone, Sonny Wortzik and Frank Serpico was someone else. This just cannot be him.
13. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Beach (2000)
Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably one of the greatest living actors in cinema today. With performances in ‘The Revenant’, ‘Blood Diamond’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, DiCaprio has cemented his status as one of the most consistent actors working in cinema today. But his lover boy image of the 90s is something he himself might want to forget. ‘The Beach’ was a film that highly benefited from his romantic hero image and it was his presence alone that helped the film turn into commercial success. In the film he plays Richard; a college student who travels to Thailand and ends up in a strange island. His character is so poorly written that not for once does his performance manages to come across as real.
12. Richard Burton – Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Richard Burton never really understood his own genius as an actor. It’s a shame how he wasted his potential when he could have truly gone on to become one of the greats in cinema. His performance as Father Philip Lamont, however, is one where he just kind of looked to have some fun and the result isn’t entirely disappointing as the performance has some great entertainment value. But this is, in no way, anywhere near a display of his genius as an actor. It was quite painful to see an actor of his skills and stature make a complete mockery of himself.
11. Jodie Foster – Elysium (2013)
There is absolutely no denying the brilliance of Jodie Foster as an actor. She has displayed her vulnerabilities and incredible range as an actor in films like ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘The Accused’ and ‘Maverick’. So when I say that she is one of the finest actresses to have ever graced the screen, I clearly know what I am talking about. But her performance as Defence Secretary Delacourt in this sci-fi thriller directed by Neill Blomkamp is undoubtedly the weakest of her career. She is clearly not comfortable in the role and you could see her struggling with that British accent and failing to bring out any kind of emotion or depth to the role in a film that is otherwise well and truly beyond average.
10. Russell Crowe – Les Miserables (2012)
This isn’t as bad as some of the other performances on the list but we all know Russel Crowe can do better than trying his hands out in something he is terrible at. The man is a horrible singer with worst voice you could ever imagine. Crowe has been brilliant in films like ‘The Insider’ and ‘L.A. Confidential’ but this is just not the kind of role that he’s made for and unsurprisingly he fails. And fails miserably.
9. Daniel Day Lewis – Nine (2009)
Yes, even Daniel Day Lewis can make a bad choice. The genius has never been or can never be as cringeworthy as he was here playing an Italian named Guido Contini, based on the great Federico Felini. His accent is shockingly bad and unbearable. And every moment he’s on screen, it becomes painful to watch. But then again an actor can only be as good as the movie and so there is nothing better he could have done here. It’s just a case of a bad movie choice.
8. Faye Dunaway – Mommie Dearest (1981)
Faye Dunaway is one of the finest actresses of her generation and has delivered some of the most most memorable acting performances in American cinema in films like ‘Chinatown’, ‘Network’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. But her performance in ‘Mommie Dearest’ as Joan Crawford is among the most controversial ever in cinema. It’s so wildly over-the-top and and painfully over dramatic that it murders an already terrible film. It’s shockingly hammy and she chews every single scene bringing in a strange entertainment value to the film. Dunaway is far, far better than this.
7. Michael Shannon – Elvis and Nixon (2016)
Michael Shannon is undoubtedly one of the finest actors working today but his turn as the King of Rock N’ Roll in Liza Johnson’s ‘Elvis and Nixon’ is probably his worst performance by far. He just doesn’t seem to fit in the role and is visibly struggling getting into the skin of the character. He doesn’t get any of the mannerisms right and it ultimately ends up coming off as hilarious. His performance just doesn’t seem to do justice to the film as he miserably fails to get the tone right.
6. Jon Voight – Anaconda (1997)
Oh, Mr. Voight how could you! The great actor who donned some of the finest roles ever in American cinema is in a completely different avatar here. This is just an example of an actor having fun with a script. Everything about Voight’s performance here is utterly ridiculous. The way he talks with a bizarre accent and how he chews the scenery is just next level hamming. But it’s weirdly funny and he makes a cringeworthy film a weirdly entertaining one and that’s the kind of stuff only a great actor is capable of.
5. Tommy Lee Jones – Batman Forever
Tommy Lee Jones is a fantastic actor known for his highly natural, subtle acting style. He effortlessly slips into the role and dissolves into the character he plays. However, his turn as Harvey Dent in Joel Schumacher’s ‘Batman Forever’, the third instalment of the Batman trilogy, is just downright laughable and silly. It may seem unfair because the entire trilogy is loaded with overacting but an actor as brilliant as Lee Jones just feels out of place here and his performance here has nothing to offer except a few laughs. A classic so-bad-that-it’s-good performance.
4. Forrest Whitaker – Battlefield Earth (2000)
We’ve all seen Forrest Whitaker smashing it out of the park in ‘The Last King of Scotland’ as Idi Amin in one of the most terrifying acting performances in recent times. But in this gigantic mess of a flick, he showed us a side we would have never really liked to see. He is unwatchable here as a dumb, freaky guy and the way he plays it doesn’t even entertain instead it becomes such a hard sit through. He is loud, brash and unbearable for the most part and it clearly shows that even hamming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
3. Clint Eastwood – Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Clint Eastwood starring in a musical drama. Well, I guess you can imagine how that would turn out to be. A blunder of epic proportions, Eastwood’s turn as a romantic freak, singing love songs is possible one of the most hilarious and cringeworthy acting performances of all time. Eastwood might not be among the most versatile actors of all time but the man does what he does best and has essayed some of the most iconic roles in cinema history. However, this was a terrible choice that he sure would have regretted and one he would like to erase from his memory.
2. Jessica Lange – Hush (1998)
Well, what can I say? Jessica Lange famously poured herself on to the screen as Frances Farmer in one of the most haunting performances in cinema back in 1982. She has been consistently great in films like ‘Tootsie’, ‘Country’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and ‘Music Box’. But her turn as Martha in the 1998 thriller ‘Hush’ is probably the only performance of hers that could be labelled as downright bad. But perhaps there isn’t a lot you could do when you have such a terrible script in hand. Lange brilliantly uses her rare ability in playing mentally troubled characters but the script wrecks her performance and ultimately makes it look so ridiculously overacted.
1. Robert De Niro – The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000)
Like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro too had lost his charm midway through his career. His choice of movies in the 80s and 90s was definitely better than some of the atrocious choices Pacino made. However this is probably the worst De Niro could ever get in terms of performance. This wasn’t the greatest of choices but De Niro’s performance here as “Fearless Leader” is downright terrible and extremely painful to watch. You couldn’t even call this a guilty pleasure because the man is so out of place and makes a mockery of himself. It is probably one of the worst choices an actor has ever made.