For the money: 10 terrible performances by incredible actors

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While the painstaking work of countless crewmembers are the real heroes of any given Hollywood flick, for better or for worse, the only people who seem to get the credit for such movies are the director and lead actors. Indeed, a famous director could walk down the street without the fear of being noticed, whereas if you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt or Sydney Sweeney, expect to be mobbed anytime you head to Tescos.

But, in many ways, this adulation is deserved, after all, without great actors, even the best script of all time would fall flat with a lack of proper conviction. The likes of DiCaprio and Robbie are the best of the best, too, being definitive movie stars who can be relied upon time and time again to deliver consistently fantastic performances. Yet, sadly for such actors, bad performances are something of an inevitability, even for the most careful stars.

Exploring the worst performances by the very best actors ever to strut the silver screen, this list will expose Oscar winners and Hollywood royalty, demonstrating that, beneath it all, they’re just as fallible as you or I.

Take a look at the list below, which explores movies from such acclaimed filmmakers as Adam McKay, Clint Eastwood, Baz Luhrmann, Christopher Nolan and Taika Waititi.

10 terrible performances by iconic actors

Cate Blanchett – Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay, 2021)

Australian actor Cate Blanchett might be a two-time Oscar winner, but that hasn’t stopped her from delivering the odd performance that fails to show the full breadth of her talents. From The Lord of the Rings franchise to The Aviator, I’m Not There, and Elizabeth, Blanchett has earned herself enough acclaim to be able to make such a misstep as she did in the overrated satire Don’t Look Up. Adam McKay’s divisive film saw Blanchett play Brie Evantee, the host of a morning talk show.

Her performance feels so obvious, proving herself to be too good of an actor to play a character written with so little nuance and depth. Blanchett should’ve known better than to take on the role of the brainless talk show host, which doesn’t give her any room to deliver a fantastic performance.

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Harrison Ford – Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood, 2013)

Movie fans the world over will recognise Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones or Han Solo of Star Wars fame, but you can bet your bottom dollar that no one remembers him as being Hyrum Graff in the terribly disappointing 2013 film Ender’s Game. Based on the sci-fi book of the same name by Orson Scott Card, the tale follows a young boy who is recruited to help fight an evil alien race.

Playing the Colonel, who recognises the talents of the lead character, Ford looks like he’s barely trying in the role, drawling each and every one of his lines as his mind drifts off into thinking about what he wants for dinner. Ford might be known for his grumpy persona, but this performance was unforgivable.

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John Malkovich – Eragon (Stefen Fangmeier, 2006)

Speaking of disappointing movies, Stefen Fangmeier’s adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s beloved fantasy novel Eragon was a letdown for millions across the world. A charming tale about a farm boy who discovers that his discovery of a dragon’s egg is the only thing that can save his home from destruction, Eragon should have been Game of Thrones-lite, especially with a cast that included the likes of Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich.

The result was anything but good, with Malkovich standing out as the most confusing element of the lot. An eccentric actor known for his starring roles in indie flicks, Malkovich looks like he doesn’t know where he is, playing the role of big baddie Galbatorix with almost no conviction or personality at all.

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Jodie Foster – Elysium (Neill Blomkamp, 2013)

Remember when the South African-Canadian movie director Neill Blomkamp was hailed as being the next big thing in the world of sci-fi? Better times, perhaps. Indeed, he followed up his stellar ‘Best Picture’ nominee District 9 with Elysium four years later, a decidedly more messy piece of cinema that told the story of Earth in 2154, where the poor still live on the planet and the rich reside in a futuristic overworld in the sky. 

While not entirely awful, the confused film is made worse by a number of bad performances, with Jodie Foster as the bureaucratic villain Delacourt being the worst of the bunch. Besides the fact that you’ll spend your entire time watching the film wondering if she’s using a French or South African accent, Foster simply doesn’t apply herself to the role, tentatively navigating it when she should be the threatening villain at the film’s centre.

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Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood, 2011)

Leonardo DiCaprio has been hailed as one of his generation’s best actors for so long that people have long questioned why it took him so long to finally win an Oscar. He took a golden statuette home in 2016 for The Revenant, but he had given many Academy Award-worthy performances before then. From What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Titanic and The Departed, DiCaprio’s filmography boasts many fantastic movies in which he has given equally impressive performances.

In 2011, however, he took on the role of J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar. While his performance wasn’t as bad as some of the others on this list, DiCaprio was hardly up to his normal speed here – perhaps because he’s buried beneath layers of terribly unconvincing makeup.

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Marion Cotillard – The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

After Marion Cotillard got her start in The Story of a Boy Who Wanted to Be Kissed back in 1994, she became a successful star of predominantly French movies, transitioning to Hollywood in the early 2000s. She found worldwide acclaim when she played Édith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, winning an Academy Award. Proving herself to be a multi-faceted actor capable of delivering incredible performances in both English and French, Cotillard began landing roles in many high-profile movies, like Inception, Midnight in Paris, and The Dark Knight Rises, as the years went on. 

Unfortunately, her performance in Christopher Nolan’s third movie in the Dark Knight franchise was less than impressive, becoming one of her worst roles to date. It was her death scene, which many believed she performed too dramatically, which was heavily criticised. “Sometimes there are failures,” she admitted, “And when you see this on screen, you’re thinking: ‘Why? Why did they keep that take?’”

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Naomi Watts – Diana (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2013)

It wasn’t until Naomi Watts appeared in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive in 2001 that she truly became recognised for her talents. Her dual role was widely acclaimed, and the film would be nothing without her incredible presence. She has received several prestigious awards and nominations over the years due to performances in acclaimed movies like Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 21 Grams and The Impossible.

Sadly, when she tried to portray Diana Spencer in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana in 2013, she found herself at the brunt of much criticism. Her performance earned her a Golden Raspberry nomination, although many critics argued that her bad portrayal of the people’s princess was down to a terrible script, leaving her with little to work with.

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Russell Crowe – Thor: Love and Thunder (Taika Waititi, 2022)

The Marvel superhero series isn’t exactly the epicentre of quality cinematic performances, but Taika Waititi’s 2022 film Thor: Love and Thunder was particularly poor, being a career worst for everyone, from supporting actor Natalie Portman to Russell Crowe, who played the colourful role of Zeus, the God of the sky. Appearing only for a portion of the runtime, Crowe very much establishes his mark, giving a memorably terrible performance.

Giving the character a controversial Greek accent, Crowe makes Zeus some sort of bumbling punchline. Playing him as if he was in a throwaway comedy skit, Crowe made no proper attempt to establish his Oscar-winning expertise, though what should be said is that Waititi’s awful script can’t have helped this.  

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Tom Hanks – Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022)

Tom Hanks has long been considered one of America’s most beloved actors ever since he appeared in movies like Splash and Big. Yet, when he starred in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis, which charted the rise and eventual death of The King of Rock and Roll, Hanks’ portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker was less than impressive. Playing Presley’s controlling manager, Hanks was a mess, evidently appearing to act far from top form due to restraints such as a fat suit and prosthetics.

The actor was awarded two Golden Raspberry Awards for his terrible performance. Not only did he win ‘Worst Supporting Actor’, but he was also given ‘Worst Screen Combo’ to share with himself and his bad prosthetics and accent. Maybe 2022 wasn’t Hanks’ year. He was nominated for a ‘Worst Actor’ Razzie for Disney’s Pinocchio at the same ceremony.

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Viola Davis – The First Lady (Aaron Cooley, 2022)

We finish our list not with a movie but with a TV series, with the Oscar-winning star of 2016’s Fences, Viola Davis, playing Michelle Obama in the Showtime programme The First Lady. Recounting the experiences of real-life first ladies during their time in the White House, Davis’ portrayal of Obama was joined by Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt.

Yet, despite arguably being the best actor of the trio, Davis delivers one of the strangest performances of her career, giving her real-life character strange facial expressions that didn’t correlate at all to the actual first lady. Heavily criticised, her performance wasn’t helped by the fact that the whole show felt like it was written by someone who had no clue about how politics operates.

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