Sean Penn, never the wallflower, has some opinions he’d like to share about his latest film, The Tree of Life. His thoughts may surprise you! (If you know absolutely nothing about Sean Penn, that is.) The actor told the French publication Le Figaro, “I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”
While Penn’s complaints may have resonated with the refund-refused moviegoers of Connecticut, most have seen it as rather bad form—particularly for a critically-acclaimed picture that is still in general release. On the other hand, he’s certainly not the first actor to publicly diss his own work; we’ve collected some of our favorites after the jump.
Bill Cosby, Leonard Part 6
Perhaps the most famous instance (in the modern era, anyway) of an actor castigating his own project came back in 1987. Bill Cosby was at the height of his Cosby Show fame when he took an idea for a spy spoof to Columbia Pictures, then under the ownership of his longtime corporate employer, Coca-Cola. Cos received story and producer credits for the resultant picture, Leonard Part 6, a flaccid comedy that suffered (probably in equal measures) under studio interference, the uncertain hand of director Paul Weiland, and Cosby’s own shaky premise. When Cosby got a look at the final product, he knew he had a bomb on his hands — but unlike most of the other actors on our list, he decided to get out in front of it, taking the rare (and financially disastrous) step advising fans in print and television interviews to stay away. They did. Critics, unfortunately, did not, roasting the movie as one of the year’s worst, though Cosby proved a good sport by showing up in person to collect the film’s three Golden Raspberry Awards (Worst Actor, Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay) — after he was promised that the statues would be made of 24 carat gold and Italian marble. In an attempt to make amends, Cos reteamed with his frequent collaborator Sidney Poitier for his next film, 1990’s Ghost Dad, and this time, he gave interviews announcing that fans could go see this one. So much for Cosby’s critical faculties; the maudlin, sappy Ghost Dad was even worse than the so-bad-it’s-good Leonard.
Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up
Judd Apatow’s 2007 follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin was, inarguably, a big cinematic break for leading lady Katherine Heigl, who had found success on television with Grey’s Anatomy, but whose film work to that point had been confined to lesser efforts like Valentine and 100 Girls. But Knocked Up was a giant hit, grossing over $200 million and propelling Heigl to the front ranks of rom-com leads, so it was a bit of a surprise when, in a promotional interview for 27 Dresses a few months later, she proclaimed the picture “a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.” And with that, Heigl went on to make such female-empowering fare as The Ugly Truth.
Mel Gibson, The Million Dollar Hotel
This oddball 2000 independent drama from acclaimed director Wim Wenders was co-written and co-produced by Bono and starred Jeremy Davies and Milla Jovovich, with supporting turns by Jimmy Smits, Amanda Plummer, Tim Roth, Gloria Stuart, and Mel Gibson. Gibson’s own production company, Icon, was responsible for the wildly uneven but still modestly intriguing picture, so his dismissal of it at an Australian press conference — “I thought it was boring as a dog’s ass” — was surprising (and, frankly, peculiar; is that an expression, boring as a dog’s ass?). Gibson later apologized for his slip-up: “I thought ‘God, why did I say that? I’m an idiot! I produced this film. I’m distributing it!’ It was pretty thoughtless of me, because a lot of people worked very hard on that film… So I really regret saying that. I have written a lot of apology letters about it.” (Just wait, Mel. You’ll soon be an expert on those!) The bad buzz generated by its big-name co-star certainly didn’t do the picture any favors stateside; it only played a single, one-screen engagement in New York before being unceremoniously shuffled off to DVD.
Richard Pryor, Stir Crazy
This 1980 Sidney Poitier-directed buddy comedy (the second of four collaborations with Gene Wilder) was Richard Pryor’s biggest box-office hit, but the comic sure couldn’t figure out why. He expressed his initial doubts in a notorious, coked-up on-set interview (above), announcing, “What do you wanna know about this movie? IT SUCKS!” A few months later, while the film was in post-production, Pryor nearly killed himself by fire in a notorious incident in his Hollywood home; Stir Crazy was released at the end of that year, and benefited somewhat from the public goodwill that followed Pryor’s near-death experience. But he never turned around on the film; when an offhand mention during a set at The Comedy Store in October of 1981 prompted wild applause and cheers from the audience, Pryor told them, “I really appreciate it, Gene appreciated that you all went to see it… But I saw the motherfucker, I don’t get it. You know what I mean? I watched the motherfucker, I said, ‘Bull-shit. My shit is over.’ I bought some land, immediately. I’m not trying to insult anybody’s intelligence — fuck it, you like what you like. But I guess nobody had nothing to do. They said, ‘Well shit, what do you wanna do?’ ‘Let’s go see Gene and that motherfucker that burnt up.'”
Jamie Lee Curtis, Virus
One-time “Scream Queen” Curtis made her long-awaited return to horror in 1998 with Halloween: H20, an enjoyable follow-up to the film that made her a star, so her 1999 shot at sci-fi/horror seemed promising, particularly since it was produced by Gale Anne Hurd (whose credits included Aliens and The Terminator). But the $75 million movie tanked in its January 1999 release, and the reviews were brutal. However, no one was more unforgiving than Curtis, who still had unkind words for it as recently as last year: “That’s a piece of shit movie. It’s an unbelievably bad movie; just bad from the bottom…It was maybe the only time I’ve known something was just bad and there was nothing I could do about it. I just do the best I can and there have been bad movies that have been wildly successful and great movies that have tanked, so you never know.” Curtis did see an upside, however, in a 2003 interview: “Rob Reiner for his 40th birthday had a bad show business party where everybody brought show business clips… That’s the only good reason to be in bad movies. Then when your friends have [bad] movies you can say ‘Ahhhh, I’ve got the best one.’ I’m bringing Virus.'”
Matthew Goode, Leap Year
This 2010 turkey was an attempt to make Amy Adams into a romantic comedy ingénue, and while we love Ms. Adams, the critics agreed that the results were just terrible. So, in fact, did co-star Matthew Goode (Match Point, A Single Man), who called it “turgid” in an interview a month after its release, admitting that he took the role primarily for its Irish locations, “so that I could come home at the weekends. It wasn’t because of the script, trust me. I was told it was going to be like The Quiet Man with a Vaughan Williams soundtrack, but in the end it turned out to have pop music all over it. Do I feel I let myself down? No. Was it a bad job? Yes, it was. But, you know, I had a nice time and I got paid.”
Mark Wahlberg, The Happening
Though she may wish to forget Leap Year, Amy Adams did manage to avoid one of the biggest bombs of her Fighter co-star Mark Wahlberg’s career. “We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did,” he told reporters at a press conference for their Oscar-winning 2010 effort. “She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … All right. The Happening. Fuck it. It is what it is. Fucking trees, man. The plants. Fuck it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook.” Wait, The Happening is bad? What? No!
Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games
Theron was still a starlet on the rise when she co-starred in Reindeer Games, an utterly brain-dead heist movie co-starring Ben Affleck and Gary Sinise and directed by the great John Frankenheimer, who was a long way from The Manchurian Candidate. The witless script (by Ehren Kruger, the Rhodes scholar who went on to pen Scream 3 and the last two Transfomers movies) serves two primary functions: to set up an utterly nonsensical eleventh-hour plot twist that even Shyamalan would pass on, and to create as many excuses as possible to get Theron naked. But the charmingly candid actress harbors no illusions about the film. “That was a bad, bad, bad movie,” she admitted in 2007. “But … I got to work with John Frankenheimer. I wasn’t lying to myself — that’s why I did it.”
Brad Pitt, The Devil’s Own
This 1997 drama, the final film of the great director Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men), should’ve been more memorable, if for no other reason than the teaming of venerable Harrison Ford with young Brad Pitt. But it was ultimately a mess, a sketchy mixture of domestic melodrama and Irish politics that couldn’t decide whether Pitt was a good guy or a bad guy, and why. Before the film’s release, Pitt offered up an explanation to Newsweek: “We had no script. Well, we had a great script but it got tossed for various reasons. To have to make something up as you go along — Jesus, what pressure. It was ridiculous…I don’t know why anyone would want to continue making that movie. We had nothing. The movie was the complete victim of this drowning studio head (Columbia Pictures’ Mark Canton) who said, ‘I don’t care. We’re making it. I don’t care what you have. Shoot something.’ I tried to (walk away) when there was a week before shooting and we had 20 pages of dogshit. And this script that I had loved was gone.” He also called the film “the most irresponsible bit of filmmaking — if you can even call it that — that I’ve ever seen.” His comments caused a firestorm, which he attempted to carefully walk back, though Ford publicly agreed with his young co-star (“I felt exactly the same way as he did, at time”). When the film was released that spring, it proved a critical and box-office disappointment.
Drew Barrymore, Wishful Thinking
What’s that? You’ve never heard of Wishful Thinking, the 1999 ensemble rom-com starring Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Beals, Jon Stewart, and James LeGros? Don’t worry; Drew is totally fine with that. The film was shot in 1996, while she was under an old-studio-style contract with Miramax, and was told by Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein that she had to make it if she wanted to appear in Miramax’s Woody Allen musical Everyone Says I Love You. “Gwyneth Paltrow had the same deal with Miramax and had to make The Pallbearer to get Emma,” she told Vogue in 1996. “And it’s so funny, because she totally busted Harvey Weinstein in an interview. So I’m like, not only hats off to Gwyneth Paltrow but I’m going to do it, too! I got fucking manipulated into doing a goddamn movie I hated!” Perhaps due to her comments, Miramax pushed the film off of its original spring ’97 release; it ultimately went straight to video oblivion.
Shia LaBeouf, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Say what you will about young Mr. LaBeouf, but he gives good interview. He was refreshingly forthright about the poor quality of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (of course, that didn’t stop him from going ahead and making a third Transformers film), and took his share of the blame for the rather disappointing fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series. “I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished,” he said last year. “You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg]. But the actor’s job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn’t do it. So that’s my fault. Simple.” However, he also wasn’t going to fall on the Crystal Skull sword by himself. “I’ll probably get a call,” he continued (and we’re betting he did). “But he needs to hear this. I love him. I love Steven. I have a relationship with Steven that supersedes our business work. And believe me, I talk to him often enough to know that I’m not out of line. And I would never disrespect the man. I think he’s a genius, and he’s given me my whole life. He’s done so much great work that there’s no need for him to feel vulnerable about one film. But when you drop the ball you drop the ball.”
Megan Fox, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
If this whole acting thing doesn’t work out for the lovely Ms. Fox, she might want to consider a second career in film criticism. Of Michael Bay’s 2009 follow-up to the film that made her a star, she said, “I don’t know how you saw it in IMAX without having a brain aneurysm or at least a migraine headache… I’m in the movie, and I read the script, and I watched the movie, and I still didn’t know what was happening. So I think if you haven’t read the script and you go and you see it and you understand it, I think you might be a genius. This is a movie for geniuses.” Director Michael Bay didn’t take too kindly to having his magnum opus slammed; he replaced her as the female lead for the third Transformers movie, and she went on to make…
Mickey Rourke, Passion Play
…this weirdo indie with Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke, who didn’t mince words about the film in a notorious pre-release interview with New York magazine. “Terrible,” he proclaimed. “Another terrible movie. But, you know, in your career and all the movies you make, you’re going to make dozens of terrible ones.” When his interviewer mentioned that the film was only getting a limited release, he had an explanation: “That’s because it’s not very good.” Fair enough. He apologized for his comments a few days later, telling New York, “(Director Mitch Glazer) is one of my best friends since we were kids. I loved working with him and would do it again tomorrow. I don’t know why I said that stupid shit. I love Mitch, I love Megan. My bad.” But a couple of weeks later, he slammed the picture again, telling a New York Observer reporter who was looking forward to it, “You shouldn’t be. It’s terrible… I don’t know if you’d even want to watch a slide show of that.”