Top 10 Famously Limited (Bad) Actors Who Can Actually Act

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Some actors are chameleons. Upon first viewing of any movie Gary Oldman has ever been in, you likely found yourself asking, “Is that- is that Gary Oldman?” Then exclaiming, “Holy crap, that’s Gary Oldman!”

Other actors are whatever the opposite of a chameleon is. basically playing themselves role after role, and not always convincingly. Hey, who are we to judge? If we could pull seven-figure paydays for showing up somewhere to look, act, and talk like ourselves, we’d be far too busy snorting gold flakes and mainlining liquefied money to write any of these silly lists.

But it can be truly startling when such one-note actors seem to suddenly discover all the other notes. It sometimes happens, and here’s the proof …

10. Ryan Reynolds – The Nines

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This underrated 2007 psychological thriller was seen by about sixteen people, all of whose brains were on the floor by the time the credits were rolling. The film consists of three short, loosely connected films featuring the same three actors in different roles. If that sounds intriguing, take our advice and go watch the movie immediately; “underrated” and “intriguing” don’t really do it justice.

The three actors are Hope Davis (good actress), Melissa McCarthy (really good actress) and, um, Ryan Reynolds, who is usually known for genial mugging, and not much else.  Displaying a range not in evidence before or since, he creates three totally unique characters that are connected to each other in a way that … well, we won’t spoil it for you. But you won’t believe you’re watching Reynolds, who more than holds his own opposite McCarthy and Davis.

9. Jean-Claude Van Damme – JCVD

jcvd-monologue

Nobody would ever accuse Van Damme of being any kind of serious actor. French director Mabrouk El Mechri conceived and wrote this film, wherein Van Damme plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself caught up in a bank heist and, for awhile, it plays out exactly like the meta-joke it sounds like. But then a moment comes when you’re not sure if you should be laughing, and the “Muscles From Brussels“, well … crushes it.

Van Damme breaks the fourth wall to deliver an uninterrupted, six-minute monologue addressing his image, failed marriages, and substance abuse problems, that is startling in its directness and authenticity. Even though it’s primarily in another language, you can feel his earnestness and seriousness throughout. Nothing we’ve seen out of Van Damme before suggests he’s capable of such a thing; honestly, this kind of makes us wish he’d get cast in some more serious films, because the dude can obviously act.

8. Kristen Stewart – Welcome To The Rileys

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In this small indie drama, the famously wooden and sullen (or is it sullen and wooden?) Stewart plays a 16-year-old stripper who helps a family recover from the untimely death of their only daughter. Debuting at Sundance, the film cost $10 million to make and did a whole $300,000 box office. However, no less a critic than the late, great Roger Ebert said:


“Stewart is, quite simply, a wonderful actress. I must not hold the “Twilight” movies against her. She played the idiotic fall-girl written for her, as well as that silly girl could be played … in recent film after film, she shows a sure hand and an intrinsic power. I last saw her in “Welcome to the Rileys,” where she played a runaway working as a hooker in New Orleans. In both films she had many scenes with experienced older actors. In both she was rock solid.”

So the next time Stewart plays yet another bland, barely-emotional vessel for the male lead to love for no good reason, remember that it’s a sad result of the Hollywood Typecast Machine, and she can actually do much, much more.

NSFW language and content in the video:

7. Dwayne Johnson – Southland Tales

southland-tales-the-rock

Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly’s epic mindscrew is legendarily divisive. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the worst piece of crap anyone has ever crapped out into the crapper, or it’s some kind of twisted masterpiece (hint: “masterpiece” is the correct answer). At the center of it all is amnesiac actor Boxer Santaros, who thinks he is his character Jericho Cane, and is played by Dwayne Johnson. Yes, The Rock.

For a guy who’s built a career on his badass, cocky, uber-charismatic persona, Johnson conveys meek, befuddled powerlessness as Boxer so effectively, that it’s hard to believe it’s really him. In addition, when the Jericho Cane persona is on display, Johnson’s charisma leaps off the screen.

6. Hayden Christensen – Shattered Glass

hayden-christensen-shattered-glass

Hayden Christensen is most famous for playing a sentient block of wood in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and he’s one of the main reasons that trilogy is oft-maligned. However, in 2003, Christensen turned in a nervous, mannered performance as disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, the New Republic reporter who literally fabricated most of his stories. Hayden acts circles around veterans Peter Sarsgaard and Hank Azaria, and proves that sometimes, having the wrong director can make an otherwise-good actor look really, really bad.


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82 Comments

  1. ladysugarquill on

    Watching Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin in Episode III is the one time I cried in the cinema, apart from Les Miserables. The guy is awesome, and the only reason someone may think he’s not is because they’re too busy wanting him to be the imaginary version of Harrison Ford they saw when they were 15.

    (Hint: The acting in the original SW movies is alternatively wooden and cheesy. Take off the nostalgia glases.)

  2. I first thought The Rock could act when he was in Be Cool, he showed genuine comedic talent and was far and away the best thing in that movie that included a bunch of Oscar nominees.

  3. I think most of these actors suffer from a perception problem. They keep getting cast in these roles that don’t really let them show off what they can do. I disagree with the Rock’s entry in the list though, both because I think anyone who takes more than a half a glance at his career will see he has a very wide variety of roles, and because the one example they chose to show off his talents was probably the single worst movie I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen Superman IV. He has plenty of movies where he is more than a stereotypical meathead, even when he’s supposed to be playing a stereotypical meathead. As for Southland Tales, it was just dumb. There was no plot, and it was disappointing that they got all these great comedic actors and then wasted them. I spent the first half of the film waiting for the punchline, and the last half of the film waiting for it to be over.

      • That’s what made me think of it. Such a great channel. ๐Ÿ™‚ It really is a toss up between the two, but at the end of the day, as bad as it was, Superman at least had a plot, and some fight scenes. Southland Tales had confusion masquerading as depth.

  4. Nice list. I especially liked giving kudos to Haim in “Lucas” and Stallone in “Copland”… man, Sly stole that movie! But you missed #1. Elvis Presley. 2/3rds of every one of his films was a dud, but when he cooked, “King Creole”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Wild In The Country”, “Flaming Star” and even “Charro!”, he was very, very good. And it must be remembered that for his 25 year entertainment career 1952-1977, he spent the majority of that time 1956-1972 as a movie star. He was awful in a lot of movies, but that’s because the films were so bad. It just didn’t matter. When the role was meaty, he had the goods.

  5. Andy E. Nystrom on

    One actor I normally don’t care for is Tom Cruise, who too often relies on his movie-star smile for his performance. However, in Collateral he did a great job playing an aging assassin playing headgames with a taxi driver (Jamie Foxx) whom he forces into being his chauffeur for his latest round of killings. The two play each other very well and have a complex relationship.

  6. the_urban_prince on

    Wesley snipes, is a good dramatic actor, but like Stallone came to be known mostly as a brooding scary black man/martial artists. check out his more dramatic roles. when it comes to snipes being a good actor ALWAYS bet on black.

  7. I always thought that Will Smith was very a one-dimensional actor, always playing a smart-talking, wise-cracking ass-kicker, ALWAYS. Then I saw “Pursuit of Happiness”. Jesus, was I wrong.

  8. You forgot the worse actor of all time but I can see why you dont have him on this list because he is famous and yet he can’t act no matter how hard he tries….Ashton Kutcher!

  9. Ryan Reynolds is one of my favorite comedic actors. I adore him in rom-coms and action movies. Then, I watched Buried and I was blown away. Amazing performance. I’ll definately have to check out The Nines.

    Keanu Reeves is one I’ve never been a big fan of. I was ok with him in The Matrix movies. I even tolerate him in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing as Don John (WAY too many good actors in that, he’s gets ignored as soon as he’s off screen). I’m not going to go out of my way to see The Gift, but if I catch it on, maybe I’ll watch it.

    There is no hope for Nic Cage though. He’s him. In everything he does, it’s just him.

    K Stew is HORRIBLE. You can’t blame it on the material. She’s the same person in Adventureland. I won’t watch Welcome to the Rileys. I think the ONLY reason she was decent (or passable) in The Runaways is because Joan Jett was there, teaching her to show emotion.

    Speaking of K Stew, Rob Patt is pretty bad too. I thought I would give him a shot, thinking “it’s the material” and I watched Water For Elephants. Wow. I adore Cristoph Waltz. I’m fine with Reese Witherspoon. Rob was horrible though.

    there’s my two cents.

  10. Dwayne Johnson is actually not to bad an actor, he’s fairly convincing and his movies deliver! Even the over the top persona he does on WWE is entertaining and probably good training for his screen acting.

  11. These are only ‘good’ actors if you are very, very easily entertained/convinced. But most all the acting in Hollywood is awful.

  12. It’s true about Haydn Christensen; apparently he actually did tons of takes for Revenge of the Sith, way more than is normal, where he did some great sinister acting – but Lucas made him re-do and re-do it, take after take – until he got the whiny bitch emo performance we ended up with. Apparently THAT was what Lucas was going for….says it all, really.

  13. I would have to group so,e famous comedic actors in here or even in their own list…
    Adam Sandler usually makes movies solely for a paycheck but Punch Drunk Love and even Reign Over Me showed he has some chops.
    Ben Stiller was fantastic in Greenberg.
    Well Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction and Everything Must Go we’re great performances.
    Jonah Hill in Moneyball
    Vince Vaughn has even showed some good acting skills even in small roles like in Thumbsucker.
    James Franco in 127 Hours
    Andy Samberg did great in Celest and Jesse Forever
    Marlon Wayne’s was real good in Requim For. A Dream
    And even thought I do not really like Jck Black he got acclaim for Bernie
    Most these guys are known for making whacky comedies but they all have the ability to act unfortunately the indie movies don’t pay the bills.

  14. Totally agree about Stallone,The Rock,Keanu and Def Hayden in ‘Shattered Glass’,one of the best films of the past decade.Also check out Hayden in ‘Life as a House’ He has magnetism and talent to see against one of the biggest Chameleons,Kevin Kline.And if its available around,check out Keanu in My Own Private Idaho.He’s with one of my favorite actors,River Phoenix,and his role seems so shallow and funtime,you never assume that he will affect you,or his character’s about face will,by the close of the movie.But it does.And I will always stan for Stallone in Rocky IV.Dont even get me started.Life changing lines in that movie,delivered by him.Dwayne should be noted for being the ONE wrestler,who not only made it in Hollywood,but made it work.He’s been awesome in Everything.

  15. People hate Kristen Stewart because of the Twilight movies. The problem is that they gross much more money than most of her other films. She is an extremely underrated because of Twilight. There is just no denying that Twilight is awful. These are actors who just should have gotten better careers. The reasons why other actors and actresses are lauded is because they give good performances in movies that are successful. They are actors that just deserved better careers. The thing is an actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick are more popular is because of their performances in their more successful movies. As long as we can forget the crappy Twilight movies, which are based on books not popular for being a good series, we will not hate on Kristen Stewart. Emma Watson, again, gives better performances in successful movies. Harry Potter will always be better than Twilight. I can’t say the same thing about Taylor Lautner, on the other hand, or Tara Reid, or Megan Fox. The problem with Twilight is the script and direction. Stewart had nothing to play in Twilight. An actor or actress is considered good when they give good performance in successful movie.

  16. I actually had an inkling of Jet Li’s acting ability when I saw The One so I’m not surprised he could dish out a stellar performance. What about Jim Carrey? I’ve always liked Jim but the first time I thought he had range was when I watched him in The Majestic.

  17. Hayden Christensen was very good in Shattered Glass but he did NOT act circles around Peter Sarsgaard!! Puh-lease!

  18. You have got to be kidding me. Kristen Stewart and Hayden Christensen? Two of the worst actors in Hollywood.