The Very Worst Performances of 10 Great Movie Actors


This Friday, Robert DeNiro once again does his very best to assure you that he’s actually not one of the finest screen actors of all time, via his mercilessly overcooked performance in the alarmingly bad paranormal thriller Red Lights. Badly miscast as a superstar psychic, the two-time Oscar winner conveys not a moment of credibility, and while it’s not the absolute worst work he’s done (more on that below), it got us thinking about some of our finest actors, and some of their less notable performances. After the jump, our list of ten truly terrible performances by ten highly respected thesps; add your own in the comments.

Robert De Niro THE FILM: The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle THE ROLE: Archvillain Fearless Leader, who antagonizes our heroes and mocks his own iconic “You talkin’ to me?” speech from Taxi Driver THE CRITICS RAVE: “The sight of De Niro chomping on a cigarette holder, squinting through a monocle calling to mind every unpalatable, puddle-deep villain from Dr. Evil and Col. Klink to Rod Steiger-in-whatever left me afraid to dream. When De Niro cashes in his ‘You talkin’ to me?’ self-parody voucher here, the moment reeks of untamed desperation. They didn’t even have the decency to save it for an outtake reel.” — Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner

Al Pacino THE FILM: Righteous Kill THE ROLE: New York cop David “Rooster” Fisk, opposite Heat/Godfather II co-star De Niro and, um, 50 Cent THE CRITICS RAVE: “Some people think Robert De Niro and Al Pacino would be a kick to watch just reading a phone book. Well, bring on that phone book… De Niro and Pacino don’t really act here, they visit the movie like two Gullivers slumming with the Lilliputians.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Helen Mirren THE FILM: National Treasure: Book of Secrets THE ROLE Dr. Emily Appleton, mother of Nicolas Cage’s globe-trotting artifact thief, and thus the woman who named him “Benjamin Franklin Gates” THE CRITICS RAVE: “One would at least think that an actress the caliber of Helen Mirren — less than 12 months removed from Oscar glory — could find a more dignified way of selling out than swinging from a branch as the crotchety Jane to Voight’s goofy Tarzan.” – Nick Schager, Slant

Christopher Walken THE FILM: The Country Bears THE ROLE: Reed Thimple, the villain of yet another Disney attempt to turn a theme park ride into a movie THE CRITICS RAVE: “Half the fun in movies like this is the send-ups by the guest stars, but Walken can only be roused to nibble — not chew — the scenery. And just for future reference, putting Walken in bunny slippers doesn’t make him funny — just weird.” – C.W. Nevius, San Francisco Chronicle

Judi Dench THE FILM: The Chronicles of Riddick THE ROLE: Aereon, a wise and spiritlike “Elemental” THE CRITICS RAVE: “Aereon… doesn’t seem to serve much more of a useful purpose than to give Dame Judi Dench an opportunity to appear in a science fiction movie.” — James Berardinelli, Reel Views

Richard Burton THE FILM: Exorcist II: The Heretic THE ROLE: Father Philip Lamont, a priest investigating the death of Father Merrin from the first film, and “EEEVILLLL” in general THE CRITICS RAVE: “Perhaps the very worst of many, many dismal performances… he is in fine form here, howling, growling, rolling his eyes, and barking out delicious lines such as the classic: ‘Kukumo can help me find Pazuzu!'” — Harry and Michael Medved, The Golden Turkey Awards

Forest Whitaker THE FILM: Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 THE ROLE: Ker, deputy to the evil Terl (star, co-producer, and true believer John Travolta) THE CRITICS RAVE: “Co-producer John Travolta is buried under what appear to be tons of makeup and padding to create a parody of one-dimensional villainy, and as his flunky, Forest Whitaker fares only slightly better by virtue of retaining his belly laugh.” — Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

Angelina Jolie THE FILM: Alexander THE ROLE: Olympias, mother of Alexander (played by Colin Farrell, one year her junior). THE CRITICS RAVE: “There is excessive churning on his murky relations with his mother. Matters aren’t greatly helped by a dragon lady performance by Jolie unaccountably enunciated in a Continental accent that sounds like a combination of Mata Hari and Count Dracula.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety

Daniel Day-Lewis THE FILM: Nine THE ROLE: Guido Contini, the singing and dancing version of ’s Guido Anselmi THE CRITICS RAVE: “Day-Lewis has never looked so creepy. His idea of playing Italian is to walk around hunched over, not shave and smoke constantly: What difference does it make if Guido straightens out his life, when he looks as if he’s going to be dead soon? Then he sings, but he doesn’t sound Italian. He sounds like Bela Lugosi.” – Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Chronicle

Marlon Brando THE FILM: The Island of Dr. Moreau THE ROLE: The titular doctor, who parades around the titular island in kimonos and head-buckets with the original “Mini-Me” by his side THE CRITICS RAVE: “Mr. Brando’s performance will be deemed interestingly audacious only by those who found Apocalypse Now too sane. While cast as a brilliant and dangerous pioneer in the field of genetic engineering, Mr. Brando treats this as an opportunity to play the Queen of England, for reasons that perhaps only he understands.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Those are our favorite terrible performances by otherwise-good actors — what are yours? Let us know in the comments!