12 Horrible Performances In Brilliant Movies, From Hugh Grant To Jake Gyllenhaal
IIt’s much easier to be the saving grace of a bad movie than the worst part of a great movie.
The latter rarely makes sense – surely if a film is spinning on all cylinders and has a competent director behind it, every element will work just as well?
If only it were that simple. Although it’s rare, there are instances where really good films are undone by a single bad element. Sometimes it’s an accent gone wrong, or a distracted actor, or even something as simple as a casting mistake.
To shed light on this phenomenon, we’ve compiled 12 crooked performances in great movies, from the famously incongruous (Cameron Diaz in New York Gangs), to more controversial choices (Hugh Grant in love in fact? Yes really!)
And while you’re here, why not also taste the reverse of this strange occurrence – brilliant performances in otherwise terrible movies…
Jake Gyllenhaal in Prisoners
Gyllenhaal is guilty of overacting in Denis Villeneuve’s grimy child abduction thriller. While the other A-listers around him (including Hugh Jackman and Viola Davis) bury themselves in grief and rage, Gyllenhaal seems like he’s in for a different movie altogether. He’s all facial twitches and twitches, injecting an off-putting weirdness into a film that absolutely doesn’t need it.
January Jones in X-Men: First Class
the Mad Men star adopts a flat effect for this otherwise brilliant reboot of the franchise. In fairness to her, the character she plays – mutant henchwoman Emma Frost – is written off as arm candy and absolutely nothing more, but Jones still seems painfully indifferent.
Mark Hamill in Star Wars
First, a few caveats. Some of our greatest living actors failed to live up to George Lucas’ inability to write good dialogue, and Hamill improved immeasurably as an actor as he got older. In these first three Star Wars films, he also stars with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, two of the most charismatic actors in the history of cinema. That said, he still isn’t very good in the 1977 original. star wars, playing Luke Skywalker as if he was a 10-year-old kid. Maybe that was the point, but it’s still frustrating.
Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham
Keira Knightley must play it like Beckham what Mark Hamill is up to star wars: an actor who will blossom with age, but whose fresh-faced weaknesses are on full display in their first major film. Playing a young footballer, Knightley is distractedly wooden. She also agreed, admitting years later that she didn’t think she was very good at it.
Hugh Grant in Love Actually
Many may think Grant’s inclusion in this list is a travesty, both because he is Hugh Grant and/or because love in fact isn’t very good anyway – those people are wrong. But the actor is an unexpected weak link in an otherwise well-acted film. On paper, he should be working as Britain’s prime minister, but there’s a coy, slightly withdrawn quality to his performance here, as if he doesn’t particularly want to be there. Even her memorable Downing Street dance sequence appears to have been filmed at gunpoint.
Cameron Diaz in Gangs of New York
Sunny, glamorous (and now retired), Cameron Diaz has always been cast against type, most notably as John Cusack’s frizzy-haired tragicomic wife in Being John Malkovich. Occasionally, however, the duplicate would turn to “horribly poorly done.” Take New York Gangs, in which she played an Irish pickpocket and the film’s love interest for Leonardo DiCaprio. Even beyond the bad accent, Diaz is really only here so that this Martin Scorsese epic can have another A-list name on its poster.
Ryan O’Neal in Barry Lyndon
There’s an argument to be made that the poor empty-faced O’Neal cast here is the point, or a rare example of a void at the center of a film actually working in the film’s favor. But that might even give the great Stanley Kubrick a little too much credit. Forced to pitch it after Robert Redford squandered the opportunity, Kubrick seems to be painting around O’Neal – it’s a beautiful, witty and charming epic, if crippled by his vacant lead.
John Travolta in The Thin Red Line
Even in a film featuring cameos from George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and John C Reilly, John Travolta is somehow too famous for that. He only has a few minutes on screen, playing a military general, but he seems so out of step with the film’s more ethereal beats that he can’t help but shake the film.
Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained
A persistent cameo player in several of his films – and those of other people – Tarantino is always a bit distracting, but his presence in Django Unchained take the cake. It only has a few unfortunate lines of dialogue – including the unfortunate “Shut up, black!” – and also speaks with an ugly Aussie accent. Luckily, Jamie Foxx’s Django blew it up shortly after he arrived, saving us all in the process.
Russell Crowe in Les Miserables
Russell Crowe can’t sing, which doesn’t help when he’s cast in a film adaptation of The set. But he also seems uncomfortable in the film, struggling to project himself under a little blue hat. His terrible singing recalls Pierce Brosnan in Mama Mia! Except where Brosnan’s unique timbre added to this film’s rinky-dink charm, Crowe’s coarse growl feels out of place here, especially when his co-stars are all at the top of their game.
Jared Leto in Blade Runner 2049
Buried in the blade runner sequel is Leto’s overcooked performance as the film’s villain. He’s problematic in part because of the film’s script, which imposes hammered monologues on him and far too many opportunities to chew up the scenery, but Leto is generally insufferable here anyway. In Jared Leto’s most imaginable phrase, he also partially blinded himself to play the character, opting to wear blurry contact lenses that diminished his eyesight. All this exhausting effort is seen on the screen, to the detriment of the film.
Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Isn’t it annoying that an otherwise perfect film is infested with outrageous racism? More than just a questionable performance that destroys things, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is undermined by Mickey Rooney’s obnoxious caricature of an Asian person who is tragic even by 1961 standards. Wearing a fake tan and a pair of baby teeth – as well as duct tape to change the shape of his eyes – Rooney destroys the film on its own.