Cinema’s most iconic action stars are never the best actors

Posted On
Posted By admin

It might sound like splitting hairs, but there’s nonetheless a distinct difference between an actor who makes action movies, and a fully-fledged action star.

The latter camp is made up of performers best known for their ass-kicking efforts that don’t try to stretch themselves all too often, and one of the most curious commonalities between them is that the overwhelming majority could hardly be branded as being genuine dramatic talents.

Arnold Schwarzenegger sits at the top of that particular pile, even if he’s technically a Golden Globe-winning thespian, having been rewarded with a ‘New Star of the Year – Actor’ gong for his breakthrough role in 1976’s Stay Hungry. In the broadest sense, though, the man can’t act.

And yet, despite having extremely limited dramatic capabilities, he became the face of the genre through a combination of unteachable screen presence, natural charisma, sheer determination, and the voracious appetite on the part of audiences to watch musclebound behemoths lay waste to small armies single-handedly.

Sylvester Stallone has three Academy Award nominations – two for acting – and is one of the all-time great action stars, but the Golden Raspberry Awards also named him as both ‘Worst Actor of the Decade’ for the 1980s and ‘Worst Actor of the Century’ for the entire period between 1900 and 1999. Still, that hasn’t dampened his reputation as a titan of running and gunning.

For more than 30 years, Keanu Reeves has been taking shots for his emotive shortcomings, but he’s still the guy who anchored Point Break, Speed, The Matrix, and John Wick to massive success. Jason Statham hasn’t appeared in a drama in forever, but he’s as reliable as they come when it applies to roundhouse kicking goons in the face. Vin Diesel sticks to what he knows, as does Dwayne Johnson, which has made them incredibly successful and eminently wealthy without even contemplating getting serious.

Action is pretty much the only genre where being a subpar actor doesn’t matter because it’s impossible to imagine somebody continually getting work in prestige dramas, awards-baiters, and bawdy comedies if they couldn’t do the bare minimum and turn the script into something even vaguely human. Can Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, or Chuck Norris act their way out of a paper bag? Of course they can’t, don’t be ridiculous, but every single one of them enjoyed a decades-long career.

Conversely, while Denzel Washington has mastered the art of balancing action stardom with acclaimed performances, two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn completely lost his head when he tried to mimic Liam Neeson’s resurgence with ill-judged vanity project The Gunman. Speaking of Neeson, he’s solid when he wants to be, but he’s been coasting through a repetitive string of formulaic thrillers since 2008 without ever experiencing the desire to move beyond second gear.

If anyone wants to pull the Tom Cruise card, it’s clear as day that he’s an excellent actor with the right material. He just actively ignores that material in favour of catering to his all-action persona. That’s not the same as being in the Schwarzenegger, Reeves, or Statham boat, because that trio quite simply don’t have it in them to deliver an Oscars-calibre turn. Cruise does, it just seems as though he doesn’t want to.

Harrison Ford gives off the impression he fell into superstardom by accident, Bruce Willis didn’t win any major trophies outside of small screen sitcoms Moonlighting and Friends, Bruce Lee never got the chance to prove his chops, Jackie Chan is more likely to win a lifetime achievement award more than anything else as he enters his elder statesman years, and yet they’re all synonymous with top-tier action heroics.

Mel Gibson would fall into the ‘maybe’ category considering he did straddled the divide before immolating his own career, and Oscar-winning timeless badass Michelle Yeoh may very well be the exception to the rule. However, for the most part, underwhelming acting has never been a roadblock to longevity in the arena of explosive epics, when unwavering commitment and radiant charisma often tend to do.

[embedded content]

Related Topics

Related Post