We have nothing but respect for anyone who’s won an Academy Award. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, as Leonardo DiCaprio will back us up on. Some people burst onto the scene and deliver the goods in a high profile part early on in their careers, like Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o, but for most people it takes some time to work your way to fame, fortune and, if you’re lucky enough, massive critical acclaim. Along the way, you’re probably going to make a movie that you really wish could be expunged from your IMDb page the moment you take home that gold statue. Unfortunately for these actors, directors, and writers, that’s simply not the case. Here are some of the most embarrassing early movies of Oscar winners.
10. Octavia Spencer – The Sixth Man
Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help, which is pretty impressive considering her big scene involved her literally crapping in Bryce Dallas Howard’s pie and tricking her into eating it. Who knew the Academy was so fond of poop jokes? Anyway, Spencer really was a scene stealer, and rightfully took home the Oscar for her work. Kind of amazing for someone who had one of her first big roles in a Wayans brothers movie.
We’re not talking about one of the good Wayans. Spencer appeared in The Sixth Man, a 1997 supernatural basketball film starring Marlon Wayans and Kadeem Hardison as brothers who are star basketball players. Hardison’s character drops dead, but shenanigans abound when his ghost lingers to haunt Wayans and cause mischief on the basketball court, and it’s even worse than it sounds. Spencer had a small role that she probably wishes had been left on the cutting room floor.
9. Paul Haggis – Red Hot
Paul Haggis is a screenwriter and director who had one heck of a run in 2004 and 2005. Movies he wrote won Best Picture both years — first Million Dollar Baby, then Crash. He also wrote the scripts for Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Flags of our Fathers, which makes for a pretty badass resume.
He also worked as a writer on Walker, Texas Ranger and The Facts of Life, but the most embarrassing credit on his IMDb page is Red Hot, which was released in 1993 and centers on a Soviet rock band during the height of the Cold War. It’s like a more extreme version of Footloose, where instead of getting yelled at by the local minister for dancing you could get locked up in a Gulag by the KGB for playing the guitar. There’s probably a reason you’ve never heard of it, let alone seen it.
8. Tom Hanks – He Knows You’re Alone
You’d probably think that if we’re talking about early embarrassments for Tom Hanks we’d go sprinting straight to Bosom Buddies. But not only does Hanks not seem embarrassed by the show, he fully embraces it, having put his co-star Peter Scolari in several of his movies and even appeared in Adam Scott’s hilarious send-up of the opening titles in The Greatest Event in Television History. So instead we’re going with a movie called He Knows You’re Alone.
The movie came out in 1980 and proves that, yes, even Tom Hanks was at one time reduced to starring in a teen slasher film. The film was a pretty blatant attempt to cash in on the success of Halloween, and featured Hanks in a small role for his feature film debut. His character basically exists to tell the protagonist, a girl being stalked, that he thinks she’s full of crap, so he’s not exactly the lovable Tom Hanks we’re so accustomed to these days.
7. Hilary Swank – The Next Karate Kid
Long before she was a two-time Academy Award winner earning accolades for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank was another hot young Hollywood actress trying to make her way to stardom. Early on she popped up in shows like Growing Pains and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but to this day, other than being an Academy Award winner who forgot to thank her husband in her acceptance speech, she’s best known as The Next Karate Kid. And we’re assuming she hates that.
It’s not really a mystery why Hollywood keeps churning out sequels, remakes, and reboots to successful movies. The Karate Kid was a genuine phenomenon, so naturally the studios wanted to milk that cash cow for as long as possible. They probably should have known after Karate Kid III that the well was dry, but that didn’t stop them from trying to revamp the series with a new karate kid, this time played by Hilary Swank but still trained by Mr. Miyagi. It was laughably bad, and the fact that pretty much the only scene anyone remembers is when Miyagi walked in on Swank in her bra should tell you something about the film’s quality, or lack thereof.
6. Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellwegger – Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Back in 1994, both Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellwegger were still relative unknowns. McConaughey had at least stolen the show in Dazed and Confused, and had also appeared in Angels in the Outfield. As for Zellwegger, people forget she actually had a bit part in Dazed and Confused as well, and had also made an appearance in Reality Bites. So like many other young stars trying to get more exposure, they both appeared in a cheesy horror film — Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
Setting aside the title that makes you think Captain Picard will be beaming down to stop Leatherface for a moment, the film sports a humiliating 3.0 out of 10 rating on IMDb. For perspective, freaking Snakes on a Plane has 5.7. It was a horrible movie featuring McConaughey in a massively over the top performance as a psychotic killer, which you probably could have pieced together by noting that his character’s name is Vilmer Slaughter. Subtlety!
5. John Ridley – Undercover Brother
Just to get this out of the way, Undercover Brother isn’t a horrible movie. It’s pretty bad, and you probably forgot it even existed if you even saw it at all, but it does have a bit of a cult status and it gets occasional play on Comedy Central and BET. It’s basically a parody of Blaxploitation films mixed with a parody of spy films, with a group of black spies quite literally taking on a villain named The Man. It’s mostly notable for being one of the earliest indications that Neil Patrick Harris was about to have a major career resurgence in comedy.
That said, would you ever in a million years believe that a Blaxploitation comedy was written by the guy who wrote 12 Years a Slave? On John Ridley’s IMDb page it almost seems like 12 Years a Slave is the anomaly. This is a guy who wrote for Fresh Prince, Martin, and the Wanda Sykes Show, but as he continues trying to be a more serious writer with projects like a Jimi Hendrix biopic and a remake of Ben-Hur, we’re guessing he’d rather you forget about the early work and remember that he’s an Academy Award winner for 12 Years a Slave.
4. Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman – Human Nature
Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman are known for creating weird but brilliant films, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and Adaptation – for which they earned an Academy Award. What you probably don’t realize is that right in between Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, they did another film called Human Nature. And it was absolutely abysmal.
The plot revolves around a guy raised as an ape and attempts to humanize him, and some romantic entanglements that are about as weird as you’d expect from the minds of Gondry and Kaufman. It starred Rhys Ifans, Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette, and there’s murder, affairs, and just bizarre behavior from all parties involved. We had pretty much blocked this movie from our minds, and it’d probably be in Gondry and Kaufman’s best interest if they did the same.
3. James Cameron – Piranha 2: The Spawning
James Cameron is kind of a big deal. Here’s a guy who’s been a part of creating some of the most iconic characters and films in Hollywood history, with Terminator, Titanic and Avatar under his belt. But there’s one movie on his resume he’s tried desperately to distance himself from over the years, a movie that came out back in 1981, a movie released long before he won an Oscar as Best Director for his boat flick. That film? Piranha 2: The Spawning.
When we say he’s tried to distance himself from the film, we mean that literally. Cameron was one of multiple directors who worked on it, and he claims that the studio would never even let him look at his dailies, so he reportedly broke into the editing room and cut his own version of the film behind the backs of the producers. These days he’s quick to deny it as his directorial debut, and has been known to quip that the movie becomes enjoyable “halfway through when seen with a six pack of beer.” Then again, what movie doesn’t?
2. Sylvester Stallone – The Party at Kitty and Stud’s
A lot of people forget that Sylvester Stallone was actually nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting, having penned the script to Rocky long before robots, indestructible Russians and street fights became part of the mythology of everyone’s favorite underdog Philadelphia boxer. And as the movie also won Best Picture, we’re going to go ahead and chalk that up as an Academy Award win for the big galoot. Rocky introduced us to the Italian Stallion, which was a name retroactively given to a little film called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s to capitalize on Rocky’s success.
Let’s just get this out of the way: The Party at Kitty and Stud’s is basically a porno. If you’ve ever wanted to see Stallone’s little machine gun here’s your chance, as Sly goes full frontal in a movie that involves S&M, and has a plot that basically consists of “Stud,” played by Stallone, having sex with a bunch of women throughout this so-called “party.” Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a shining silver screen debut for Stallone. Still, he says he earned $200 for the film, and considering he was living in a bus station at the time we can’t say we blame him for taking the part.
1. Helen Mirren – Caligula
Since we’re on the topic of pornography, let’s jump right into a movie that the one and only Helen Mirren did back in 1979. If you know anything about Roman history, you already suspect that a movie called Caligula is going to be filled to the brim with freaky orgies, and you’d be correct. But what you probably wouldn’t expect is that it would have such a tremendous cast. Mirren wasn’t the only Oscar winner to appear in the film which, amazingly, was written by the legendary Gore Vidal.
The movie co-starred Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud, and Malcolm McDowell, so right now you’re probably wondering how a historical drama with such tremendous pedigree could wind up basically being a porno. Well, it was produced by a guy named Bob Guccione, whose name you might not recognize until we tell you he founded Penthouse Magazine. That’s part of the reason why, along with lots of gratuitous Helen Mirren nudity scattered throughout, there are random scenes of porn actors having very real sex cut into the film — Guccione felt that the movie needed a lot more hardcore humping. Who would have thought a movie about Caligula, produced by the guy behind Penthouse, would wind up so raunchy and controversial?