6. Brad Dourif
So-called “film people” are usually clued-in to what general audiences remain woefully unaware of. That is certainly the case with Brad Dourif, who remains a staple of the horror genre for his always engaging performances.
Right out of the gate Dourif managed to impress, playing sympathetic Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Interestingly enough, Dourif has been known to give off a Nicholson-esque vibe, without the self-parody that has become a staple of Nicholson’s later performances.
Best known for voicing the delightfully demonic doll Chuckie in infinite Child’s Play movies, Dourif has made a career out of turning in great performances in otherwise schlocky films. While Exorcist III has a number of problems (the most significant of which can be blamed on meddling studio involvement), Dourif’s characterization of the Gemini Killer remains a highlight of the film for its capacity to terrify.
Dourif is also quite adept at camp, as illustrated by his portrayal of The Exterminator in the Stephen King anti-classic Graveyard Shift. Recent roles seem to pay homage to Dourif’s talents (such as the misguided Rob Zombie remake of Halloween), but he has yet to secure a place in dramatic pieces similar to Cuckoo’s Nest or John Huston’s Wise Blood.
7. Pam Grier
Pam Grier might come off as a strange choice for this list. After all, the woman is an icon of the Blaxploitation/Grindhouse genre. However, Grier has always been more than just a sum of her parts (which were on full display in movies like Black Mama White Mama).
While other actors were relegated to b-movie softcore hell for very obvious reasons (i.e. an obvious lack of ability), Grier has exhibited dynamic talent, most notably in Jackie Brown.
As controversial as it seems, Jackie Brown is perhaps one of Quentin Tarantino’s strongest movies. Though it lacks the bombast of Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill, it can’t be denied that the film is a tight, plot-driven experience (as opposed to riding the rails of pop culture indulgence or punchy dialogue like Tarantino’s other films).
At the center is Grier, who plays the titular character, a still vibrant woman inching perilously closer to her sell-by date. Much like Michael Keaton’s career-reviving turn in Birdman, Grier’s performance in Jackie Brown should have resulted in an avalanche of deep and meaningful roles. Instead, audiences remain unfortunately deprived of the full range of her talents.
8. Timothy Olyphant
On paper, Timothy Olyphant seems little more than a blandly handsome b-lister cast in a slew of forgettable movies. While he has found some success on TV, he has yet to achieve any sort of legitimate film role despite an abundance of affable charm and surprisingly impressive range that doesn’t get the workout it needs in movies like The Perfect Getaway (a Milla Jovovich vehicle that was little more than a 98-minute setup for an epic plot twist).
However, there is something eminently likable about Olyphant in virtually every role. Although Dreamcatcher definitely occupies the questionable wing of Stephen King’s film adaptations, Olyphant turns in a solid performance of an inebriated car salesman being accosted by a farting alien, as he does in the 2010 remake of The Crazies.
Olyphant is great at playing the well-worn cliché of the everyman while also permeating these roles with a bit more charm than actors of his caliber normally are capable of.
9. Sam Rockwell
Rockwell has an impressive range that can take him from a detestable inmate in The Green Mile to the lonely astronaut of Moon. With a predilection for playing questionable hillbilly types, Rockwell is somehow able to imbue these characters with a bit more humanity than the typical actor could muster.
While this ability has carried him through a solid career, the actor has yet to acquire that legitimate breakout role that would expose his talents to a larger audience.
Rockwell is probably best known for turning in memorable smaller performances in less notable (yet beloved) films. This is certainly the case with Galaxy Quest, an energetic sci-fi send up that remains a prize of cult movie lovers. However, Rockwell is at his most impressive in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
In a film replete with memorable performances, Rockwell is able to stand out among the expansive cast, and is the perfect counterpoint to Casey Affleck’s less accomplished Ford brother.
Rockwell was also certainly better than was warranted in Choke, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s 2001 novel, but the movie was an amateurish mess, falling apart in the hands of a novice director.
10. John Hawkes
In movies, John Hawkes is just like your mom’s ne’er do well drunkard boyfriend; you find yourself rooting for him despite all evidence to the contrary.
Whether he is playing a doomed fisherman with a taste for brash women (The Perfect Storm) or portraying a lovelorn single father in a performance artist’s idea of a romantic comedy (Me and You and Everyone We Know), Hawkes expresses an understated vulnerability not usually seen in character actors.
It seems that the movie industry just doesn’t know what to do with people like Hawkes, who lack the classical good looks that other actors seem to coast through their careers on.
Winter’s Bone was one of his most accomplished roles to date, where his vulnerability is replaced with a menacing quality that remains authentic without being melodramatic. He is also adept at playing a range of average guys, like the (also) doomed climber in Everest, who wants to show that world that the little guy is capable of achieving great things.
Author Bio: Eustacia Adams is a drinker with a writing problem. She has a degree in film theory and likes to annoy people with her meticulous knowledge of B-movie actors.