10 B-List Actors Who Should Be A-Listers

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The Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle I Don’t Know How She Does It, in which Ms. Jessica Parker plays a woman has both children and a career OMG HOW DOES SHE DO IT, is out this week on DVD, giving you another opportunity to not see it. But the most confusing aspect of IDKHSDI (besides the fact that it exists) is its supporting cast, which is just full of people we like: Christina Hendricks, Seth Meyers, Jane Curtin, Busy Phillips, Kelsey Grammer, Greg Kinnear… and Pierce Brosnan. Wait, what? What’s Pierce Brosnan doing filling a supporting role in a warmed-over Sex in the City retread? He was JAMES FRICKING BOND, for God’s sake.

Brosnan is but one of many actors who either used to be A-list or should be, yet have inexplicably fallen to B-list status. Sometimes it’s voluntary; some actors choose to concentrate on smaller, supporting roles, or to focus on stage work and the like. But more often than not, a couple of unfortunate moves can create a narrative as to what kind of an actor someone is — what they can do, both qualitatively and financially — and that becomes the common wisdom. It’s a crap shoot. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten actors who aren’t getting the kind of work they deserve.

Pierce Brosnan

Not to beat a dead horse here, but seriously: from 007 to I Don’t Know How She Does It? More importantly, there’s more to Brosnan than Bond; his Thomas Crown Affair remake, sandwiched in the middle of his four Bond efforts, was a thoroughly entertaining caper picture, while his post-007 filmography has included some really first-rate work. The Matador, for example, was a criminally undervalued comedy with a disarming poignant streak, and his proto-Blair turn in The Ghost Writer was complicated and fascinating. His leading work these days is mostly concentrated on the indie market (its gain), but surely Hollywood can come up with better ways to utilize the suave Irishman than Mamma Mia and Remember Me.

Sarah Polley

Admittedly, Polley’s low profile appears to be her choice; after the longtime indie darling fronted the big-studio, big-grossing 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, she followed it up with several small pictures and a feature directorial debut, the astonishingly assured Away From Her. But her return to genre film, 2009’s Splice, was a non-starter, and she went back to work behind the camera, helming the forthcoming Take this Waltz. While we’re certainly looking forward to another directorial effort, anyone who marveled at her tremendous performances in late-’90s indies like Guinevere and The Sweet Hereafter can’t help but wonder what we’re missing these days.

John Leguizamo

Hollywood has never quite been able to figure out what the hell to do with this fast-talking comic dynamo, who has yet to find a film vehicle that even hinted at the versatility and skill on display in his one-man shows. He’s done some memorable supporting work (Carlito’s Way, To Wong Foo, Romeo + Juliet), but his occasional dramatic leads (like Empire and Summer of Sam) have underperformed, and suffice it to say that The Pest wasn’t exactly an ideal showcase for his comic talents. Whatever the reason, there’s got to be more invigorating work for Leguizamo than that endless stream of Ice Age movies.

Samantha Morton

This brilliant English thespian nabbed an Oscar nomination for her breakthrough role in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, and got another four years later for her heartbreaking work in Jim Sheridan’s In America. But in spite of occasional flirtations with stardom (like a supporting turn in Minority Report), Morton remains an undervalued talent, though her occasional performances in films like The Messenger and Synecdoche, New York continue to astonish us.

Billy Crudup

Morton’s Jesus’ Son co-star was branded the next big thing when he starred in Almost Famous, but we tend to forget that Cameron Crowe’s critical darling was a box-office disappointment. Co-star Kate Hudson followed it up with a string of horrid yet successful rom-coms; Crudup steered towards under-the-radar pictures like World Traveler and Stage Beauty, and his buzz factor subsided quickly. Though he’s fronted occasional big movies (Big Fish, Watchmen), he’s mostly doing supporting work these days. That’s a shame; his J. Edgar Hoover (in Public Enemies) was eons more interesting than Leonardo DiCaprio’s.

Laura Harring

David Lynch’s brilliantly enigmatic 2001 puzzler Mulholland Dr. featured two equally impressive, equally sultry up-and-comers: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. The picture propelled Watts into a productive decade, with an Oscar-nominated turn in 21 Grams, terrific performances in I Heart Huckabees, The Painted Veil, Fair Game, and Mother and Child, and starring roles in big hits like King Kong and The Ring. Meanwhile, her co-star’s most high-profile role was as Travolta’s wife in The Punisher. The wide berth between their post-Mulholland filmographies is as puzzling as anything in Lynch’s picture. (Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement.)

Chiwetel Ejoifor

Do us a favor: Go to your Netflix, or your Amazon, or BitTorrent, or however the hell you see movies, and watch Dirty Pretty Things, Stephen Frears’ gripping 2002 drama. Miramax pushed the presence of co-star Audrey Tautou (fresh off Amelie), but the star of the show was British actor Chiwetel Ejoifor, and the fact that he’s not a household name can only be explained by the fact that, well, it’s a hard name. But he’s done memorable work in Melinda and Melinda, Inside Man, Children of Men, Talk to Me, Serenity, American Gangster, and Redbelt, yet the big blockbusters (like Salt and 2012) strand him in underwritten supporting roles. Some smart studio filmmaker needs to find him a juicy leading role, and fast. Hey Chris Nolan, what’re you working on after Dark Knight Rises?

Thora Birch

For all the good that American Beauty did for Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, and Chris Cooper, the careers of their teen co-stars weirdly stagnated in the years after its release. Mena Suvari’s disappearance wasn’t surprising, and Wes Bentley apparently had some personal troubles, but what happened to Thora Birch? She was pitch-perfect in 2001’s Ghost World, and then all but vanished, spending the intervening decade doing minor TV work and movies we’ve never heard of (like Train and Dark Corners). Insiders blame her lackluster career turn on her manager/father, a former porn star whose constant presence, according to the AV Club, “has been noted as overbearing at best and creepy at worst.” Thora, do yourself a favor: dump daddy and get back to work.

Michael Kenneth Williams

It must be said: your leading man opportunities are probably limited when you’ve got a giant scar down the center of your face. But that just means that Williams should be doing big-screen villains and anti-heroes — y’know, like Omar Little and “Chalky” White. Or like the leading role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which is going to Jamie Foxx while Williams plays a supporting role. Look, we love Foxx as much as the next guy, but who wouldn’t rather see Williams as QT’s slave-turned-bounty hunter?

Ari Graynor

December’s Jonah Hill vehicle The Sitter sank at the box office, which is a shame — not because Hill needed it, but because we wouldn’t mind seeing Ari Graynor getting more work. This Boston beauty is a terrific actor, funny and believable and sexy as hell, though you wouldn’t know it from her brief (though memorable) turns in films like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Date Night, Whip It, and Youth in Revolt. You’ve gotta dig out her small films like An American Crime, Turn the River, and Holy Rollers, or take in some of her New York stage work. But mark our words: someone’s gonna cast her in the right movie, and she’s gonna be big. Just you watch.

Those are just a few of the actors we’d like to see more of… who are yours?