17 terrible performances by great actors, from Tom Hardy to Robert De Niro
EEven the best of us make mistakes sometimes – they just don’t end up being watched by millions of people around the world.
For actors, however, life is an endless series of criticisms. A bad movie performance can live in infamy just as long as a great one, and no actor is immune.
Whether it’s veteran legends like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, or stars at the top of their game like Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Hardy, even the best actors have proven themselves capable of turning really bad.
Sometimes these performances are met with nothing but disdain, mockery, and Razzie nominations – other times they thankfully manage to fly under the radar.
To be clear, the actors aren’t always the culprits; many of the performances on this list came in generally appalling films, with performers disappointed by shoddy scripts or filmmaking.
Here is The IndependentThe list of 17 of the absolute worst performances of some of the best actors in the world…
tom hank – Cloud Atlas (2012)
Hanks actually plays six different roles in the Wachowski sisters’ ambitious epic, and he’s by no means bad in any of them. But his performance as gangster-turned-novelist Dermot “Duster” Hoggins might just be the worst of Hanks’ entire career. Ridiculously wide, and with an ostensibly Irish accent that gives the impression of being a bad cockney, “Duster” is a creation best left in the trash.
Nicolas Cage – The Wicker Man (2006)
There have been few, if any, actors of Cage’s caliber to deliver so many poor performances to choose from; It’s a career of polarizing extremes. Although apologists may try to plead “stylistic risk-taking”, Cage’s work in the 2006 Wicker Man remake remains near the bottom of the pile – an exercise in rural horror that comes across as laughable excess. You’ll never be able to say “bees” the same way again after watching this.
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Halle Berry – Catwoman (2004)
Produced before superhero movies became as ubiquitous as oxygen, catwoman was a notorious dud on its first outing. Berry at the time was in the prime of her stardom, having won the Academy Award for Best Actress a few years prior. In its ignominious way, Berry’s catwoman her turn was also worthy of an award: she took home her Golden Raspberry award in person, joking in her lighthearted acceptance speech: “In order to give a really bad performance like I did, you need a lot of bad actors around you.”
Al Pacino – Jack and Jill (2011)
One of the greatest actors to ever live, Al Pacino is nevertheless known for giving his fair share of questionable (out)performances over the years. However, there’s none that remain quite as shocking as his brief appearance in Adam Sandler’s horribly wrong vehicle. Jack and Jill. Playing himself, Pacino weaves his way through a musical commercial for a drink called “dunkaccino.” It’s not very funny, and Pacino seems almost belittled by his very presence.
George Clooney – Batman & Robin (1997)
There’s no way the blame for this notorious superhero flop can be placed solely at Clooney’s doorstep; from head to toe, this movie was silly, self-indulgent, and poorly crafted. But the Ocean’s Eleven The star certainly isn’t covering himself in glory with his take on the Caped Crusader, resulting in what might be the worst on-screen Batman in memory.
Robert De Niro – Dirty Grandpa (2016)
Once considered by many to be the best actor on the planet, De Niro’s star has waned somewhat in recent years. Although it is still able to pull the size of the bag (see: The Irishman), his recent production offers a litany of telephone performances, little fockers at The comedian. In terms of pure, degrading “how did it get here” moments, there’s nothing to compare with dirty grandpahowever, in which De Niro plays an excited septuagenarian who accompanies his grandson (Zac Efron) to Florida for spring break.
Russell Crowe – The Mummy (2018)
The general dullness of this Tom Cruise vehicle helped disguise Crowe’s performance as Dr. Jekyll (of “and Mr. Hyde” fame), which was quietly the worst supporting turn of Crowe’s career. The scene in which Crowe slips away and transforms from bloodthirsty doctor to savage Mr. Hyde is one of the most giddy in recent memory, and the dodgy CGI is just icing on the cake. If Warner Bros.’ planned (and prematurely announced) “Dark Universe” had happened, Crowe would have had his own standalone movie as a bifurcated literary character. What a horrible, ancient curse that could have been.
Natalie Portman – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)
All three Star Wars prequels have been blessed with an abundance of skilled actors; all three also featured truly terrible performances, often by these same actors. Natalie Portman has never been well served by attack of the clones, but it remains one of his worst performances nonetheless. Sharing most of her scenes with Hayden Christensen’s sulky Anakin, Portman’s Padme Amidala is painfully woody and devoid of charisma; the turgid political intrigue surrounding the Galactic Senate also did not give Portman the chance to show off his considerable talents.
Robert Downey Jr – Dolittle (2020)
There have been few men as naturally charismatic as RDJ; the camera loves it, and the audience too. So it’s no small feat that his acting career after the success of Iron Man has pretty much been confined to Marvel’s Tony Stark – ever since The Avengers in 2012, his only significant non-MCU roles were The judge and Dolittle, both of which could be sympathetically described as disappointments. His role as a doctor who is fluent in animals in Dolittle has to be the worst, though – a charmless, tasteless take on a classic kiddie premise.
Tom Hardy-Capone (2020)
As an actor, Tom Hardy makes big choices. That’s what makes it great; that’s a big part of what imbued movies love Bronson Where Mad Max: Fury Road with such unique and specific energy. But those big choices don’t always pan out, leading to bizarre results in movies like last year’s bizarre Al Capone biopic. The film was fired up by viewers on social media, with one reviewer writing that Hardy “grunts, coughs, and pushes his way through scenes that lack any form of direction, likability, and/or purpose.”
Adam Sandler – The Ridiculous 6 (2015)
So many of Sandman’s performances can be described as broad, lowbrow, or just plain bad, it’s easy to forget what a terrific actor Sandler is. When he applies himself, either in his self-produced comedies or in more dramatic projects (love stuffed with punch; Meyerowicz’s stories; Uncut Gems), he can be a force to be reckoned with. In the Ridiculous 6, however, it is not even a force to be tolerated. Playing a white orphan who was raised by Native Americans in the Wild West, Sandler is, frankly, terrible. The film is equally mediocre and received a rare zero percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Leonardo DiCaprio – J Edgar (2011)
It’s a testament to DiCaprio’s consistency that there’s not much to choose from in terms of poor performance; J Edgar, however, is an outright stench. Filmed in the heady days before DiCaprio’s Best Actor win, the turgid biopic was a transparent ploy for Oscar gold and saw the actor don terrible prosthetics to play an elderly version of the controversial FBI director. He’s not much better off as young J Edgar Hoover, mind you – it’s a lenient bad movie, a movie that the Titanic the star fails to rise.
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Michael Caine – Jaws: Revenge (1987)
It should have been a coup to land Michael Caine for the fourth entry in the Jaws franchise. With Roy Scheider having left the franchise after Jaws 2, he needed some star presence. Alas, Caine didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. For his part, the British comedian was funny about the film’s dubious merits, saying: ‘I’ve never seen it, but by all accounts it’s terrible. However, I have seen the house he built, and it is wonderful.
Naomi Watts – Diana (2013)
This year saw an outstanding portrayal of the late Princess Diana on screen, as Kristen Stewart tackled the role in the bold, revisionist biopic spencer. Previous attempts to capture the ‘people’s princess’ weren’t so successful, however, with the 2013 biopic Diana standing as the nadir of Naomi Watts’ career. The Mulholland Drive The star is very bad at his attempt to inhabit the royal, but the film itself is a shoddy and poorly crafted job.
Idris Elba – Cats (2019)
Look at the screen during any frame of the musical 2019 Cats and you will see poor performance; this place could also have gone to Judi Dench, or Ian McKellen, or Ray Winstone. It’s not necessarily Idris Elba’s fault as much as the cursed CGI, but Macavity is a creepy, alien creation – and not in the way he’s supposed to be. The lofty heights of Threadof Stringer Bell has never felt so far.
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods (2014)
Meryl Streep’s place in the Hollywood Hall of Fame has long been in doubt. she practically has Oscar nominations on an annual subscription. Nonetheless, some of her acting performances and mannerisms have drawn questionable reactions from critics – with her role as a witch in In the woods standing as one of its lowest ebbs. Stephen Sondheim’s masterful musical was robbed of much of its charm and bite for this Disney-produced film adaptation, and Streep’s performance is hammy and off-putting. The section of the opening song where she has to rap is also nightmarish.
Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy (2020)
Glenn Close’s turn in this condescending slice of rural Americana might just be one of the worst performances ever nominated for an Academy Award. Close has proven herself to be one of the finest actresses of her generation – delivering diverse yet top-notch performances in everything since 2017 Wife to crime drama FX The shield – but as the hardened grandmother “Mamaw” in Hillbilly Elegy, Close is unfortunately too greedy. Everyone seems to agree that Close is long overdue for an Oscar win; Thank God it didn’t come for that.
This article was originally published in January 2022