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The 10 Best Movie Performances from a Bad Actor

31 August 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Robbie Back

great performances from bad actors

The film industry is one of the hardest arenas to break into, let alone be respected in. These actors have gained notoriety for being some of Hollywood’s least praised. Are they bad actors? Or have they just made poor career moves (agents, collaborators, multi film deals etc.), received lacklustre direction, or settled into lazy type-casting roles that serve to secure them financially.

Even the actors revered for being the cream of the crop have had their off pictures. Di Caprio has The Beach, Clooney has Batman and Robin, and Kevin Spacey now has Nine Lives (he voices a cat, it’s just awful). Not every actor is a chameleon like Gary Oldman; some performers are excellent when they just play to their strengths.

Robert De Niro is a well respected actor (despite his recent comedic ventures) however if he was cast as the romantic lead in The Notebook, would he be a bad actor? Or do we just fire the casting agent? Choosing to work with the right directors, producers, and writers sets the groundwork for a great performance.

This is a luxury that most of these massive stars find available to them. An actor’s work ethic is the engine that drives their performance, but often it’s the direction they receive that allows their portrayal to complete the journey.

It is also important to remember that the title of “Bad Actor” is a temporary one. Had this list been compiled a decade earlier then Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck would find themselves under creative appraisal.

Were these performances flukes? Or were they perhaps just a sample of what these actors are truly capable of.


1. Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love (2002)


This story was delightfully original and with Paul Thomas Anderson writing and directing, the complete vision was heart warming and fully realised. Never have audiences rooted for Sandler like they have in this witty and bleakly gentle love story.

Contrary to the Sandler we’re used to seeing (wise cracking alpha male who holds all the social cards alongside a hot wife), this Sandler was vulnerable and lacking in confidence.

Critics adored the understated performance and praised his bravery in portraying an emotional loser. He clearly was tested as an actor and it was likely Paul Thomas Anderson who brought out the best in him.

Sandler’s problem is his laziness. Strange to imagine a successful film star holding such a description, but when you note his apparent refusal to work outside of director Dennis Dugan (Jack & Jill, Big Daddy, and Grown Ups), and the reoccurring cast of his best buddies (David Spade, Kevin James and Chris Rock) the picture of the slacker comedian becomes crystal clear.

You can imagine him showing up to each familiar set, high fiving the same ten people and then shouting “action!” Whether he fell out of love with comedy, or he just doesn’t get along with other cast and crews, the recent audience withdrawal from Sandler suggests they are catching on to his half-hearted antics.

Punch Drunk Love was a wonderful example of Adam Sandler’s grounded humour. However, given the recent Netflix efforts (The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6), Sandler’s return to humility doesn’t seem visible on the horizon.


2. Paul Walker in Hours (2013)

Paul Walker in Hours (2013)

Cynics will claim that Paul Walker made it on to this list due to his tragic death in 2013. Those cynics won’t have seen Hours. This cunningly simple thriller demonstrated in Paul Walker’s last year that he was capable of not only delivering a convincing performance, but also carrying a film. His portrayal of a desperate father was honest and compelling.

In real life Walker was considered a true family man (counter cultural for Hollywood). While Walker might not have deserved accolades for this performance, it was a brilliant example of him playing to his strengths. A similar picture that demonstrated this was 2001’s Joy Ride (or Road Kill depending on where you’re from).

There are many actors like Paul Walker. They aren’t your Christian Bale’s or Sam Rockwell’s. He was a function actor, meaning, he might not have been versatile, but he was fantastic in straight, story driven roles and excelled in thrillers. The Fast and Furious franchise might be what he is known for, but Hours should be remembered as one of his finest performances.


3. Kristen Stewart in Into the Wild (2007)

Kristen Stewart in Into the Wild (2007)

This beautiful tale of adolescence and survival featured several great performances. One of which, came from the famous moody girl. This film arriving a year before her life was ruined by fang wearing teenage nightmares, Into the Wild showed the softer side of Stewart. She displays a subtle innocence as she tries to entice Emile Hirsch’s character.

Her short role in this felt like a teaser for a stunning career packed with stellar performances. Stewart is no fool on camera; she graced the screen alongside Jodie Foster in David Fincher’s 2002 masterpiece Panic Room at the tender age of 12.

So why is she bad? Kristen Stewart is a classic example of a talented child star whose chops secured her a massive role (the vampire one), then discovered when she reached the top that fame is actually pretty awful. Stewart clearly possesses a love for the craft of acting, but fame might have left her too jaded.

Her performances now feel stiff and uncomfortable (Snow White and The Huntsman). Hopefully, if Stewart can disappear for a few years, she can return as a mature tour de force, with her talent and life experience fully realised.


4. Keanu Reeves in John Wick (2014)

John Wick

Keanu Reeves has regularly been described as “The Best Worst Actor”. Reeves is similar to Paul Walker in that he serves one particular function excellently. Keanu Reeves’ function is action. This neo-noir action thriller demonstrated Reeves at his best, playing a former assassin and doing all of his own stunts.

The hyper stylised cinematography is reminiscent of The Matrix without ripping it off as so many films do, criminally. The plot is simple and Keanu Reeves’ portrayal is sublime. Thankfully, this is an original action flick that is scheduled a sequel, making that all important first step towards creating original content for this generation.

Keanu Reeves is to be respected as he refuses to sit back and type-cast himself. The adaptation of the 2006 A Scanner Darkly was slightly jumbled, but showed off some great performances and stylish visuals.

He made a decent romantic effort reuniting with Speed cast member Sandra Bullock in The Lake House and remember when he was Diane Keaton’s love interest in Something’s Gotta Give? Reeves has enough respect for the craft to push himself. However, given how awesome John Wick is, audiences will be grateful that he has made a triumphant return to action.


5. Jason Statham in Snatch (2000)

Jason Statham in Snatch (2000)

Although this gangster outing feels like a rearrangement of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it is brilliant fun. The intertwining storylines are paced brilliantly, showcasing Jason Statham at the helm of the unlicensed boxing plotline.

Statham at this point, was a few years off settling for any old wooden tough guy role. He portrays a slightly more human character in this underworld of mobsters and gypsy crooks. This allows Statham to play a mildly comedic role, which he nails. He is effortlessly authentic and delivers his finest performance to date.

Jason Statham is missing out on the comedy market. He was actually the best bit about that Melissa McCarthy Spy movie. While his dedication to stunt work is admirable, his acting is taking a hit, churning out films like Parker and Homefront (please don’t make him do an American accent). Statham is a dark horse and perhaps when his body finally gives way, he will settle in to some true character driven roles.



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  • Other than Adam Sandler, this is a pretty terrible list. It’s just wrong.. Nick Cage?!?! Have you seen Leaving Las Vegas? The Weather Man? The Family Man? You’re just listing people who do so many movies that they snag alot of rotten ones. For the most part, all these people are fantastic actors (Yes even Kristen Stewart who’s proved herself on numerous occasions)

    • And Elvis.. yeah Elvis sucks lol

      • Marko Jovanovic

        Cage is “strange case” here. I mean yes he have good films (but if we compare his carrier for god sake!) , but is that movies good because of him or because he have “kind of acting” which are needed for that movies? For me it is second thing. Even that you did not mention, for me where he is at best (Adaptation. and Bringing Out the Dead). Also for me it is not fair to put in list cliche actors like Keanu Reeves, Stallone or even Statham there usage is strictly to action movies (which most of all is just entertaining and nothing more, if even that).

        But I agree there are more terrible actors with some great success. Elvis jeez…that is horrible…

    • Tim Turbo

      Reading the actual article instead of just the actor’s names in the list (which I guess is what you did) would be good idea. They clarify everything you complain about.

    • Hal Jordan

      Agreed. Matchstick Men isn’t the only good film of Nic Cage. The same for Stallone, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart. Terrible list.

      • Jules F. Melo Borges

        Sorry, but Stallone is basically an Ugly face nice to look at, decent for Action roles, but that’s it. He hasn’t done anything good since ‘Fist Blood’.

    • Afrikoka

      Did you read?

  • LilyG95

    I stopped reading when you included Kristen Stewart. Her performances in films like Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Camp X-Ray are phenomenal, and she’s proved herself as a great actress time and time again. Even in her older films like Adventureland and Welcome to the Rileys that she made during the Twilight years. She’s one of the best young actors at the moment, and receives so much shit for no damn reason.

  • jann1k

    To call Kristen Stewart bad after her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria is quite a stretch. And just because Statham is mainly cast in one dimensional action roles, he’s definitley not a bad actor.

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Sorry, but Statham is a log. From his earlier roles (Ghost from Mars) till now.

    • KartoffelKongen

      Stewart is great in pretty much anything that’s not Twilight

  • David

    Kristen Stewart is one of the best actresses we have working today.

    Examples: Speak, Clouds Of Sils Maria, Adventureland, Still Alice, Camp X-Ray, The Runaways, On the Road.

    Even when the movies are bad she delivers which makes it quite a fucking stretch to call her a bad actreess if you’ve only seen her in her first movies and Twilight, so get a fucking grip.

    Keanu a bad actor? Have you even watched “My Own Private Idaho”?

    Nick Cage? Seriously? Sit down.

    The content in this website is seriously going down in the last coouple of months.

    • Rudi

      Yes, this site is going down the drain very quickly. I’m not even going to mention all the rubbish in this list, the author is probably a troll that feeds on negative energy anyhow.

      Ending with a positive note, go see Equals if you’re a Kristen Stewart fan like me. It’s her best role to date – and that’s saying a lot in her case.

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      I pretty much agree with you except for…
      “Kristen Stewart is one of the best actresses we have working today.”
      Now, now, lets calm down…

  • Brandon Harrelson

    I came to complain about the inclusion of Kristen Stewart but see people are already doing it for me. Good job lol.

  • Let’s hear it for — James Franco, 127 Hours; Madonna, Evita; Sharon Stone, Casino; and Brad Douriff, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    • James franco, not the best but better than the almost all of the actos mentioned in this list

    • Sharon Stone and James Franco are good actors

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Brad Douriff, bad actor? Fuck-you.

      • I’d never say fuck you to a stranger. Especially over Brad Douriff. Kudos to that though.
        Can you name other great works from Douriff?
        I love CHILD’S PLAY as much as the next guy. But…
        And mind you we’re talking about a list that includes actual good actors too. Like Nicolas Cage, so it’s an iffy message board given that.

        • Jules F. Melo Borges

          “The 10 Best Movie Performances from a Bad Actor”

          • I’m reaching to see your point…

  • Jim Hotter

    Only person I agree with is Adam S, Jason Statham took the place of Arnie and is a better actor and fighter, Stallone did Rocky how dare you!!!!! How oh my God!!!!! Nick Cage was in a David Lynch film or have you forgotten MAD MAD MAD…..

    • Jules F. Melo Borges

      Stallone did Rocky… First Blood…
      Since then, he’s been making faces ugly faces just for the money. Even in the Rocky sequels.

  • Ted Wolf

    I was expecting Ronald Reagan in kings row or something like that

  • Michael

    keeanu reeves and nicholas cage have done some pretty sweet movies, the rock for example, and bill and teds excellent adventure. sylvester stallone is as good as you would expect from 80s action films, like rambo and judge dredd. Sorry but this list stinks

  • Wyatt W.B

    Keanu Reeves, Blake Lively, Nick Cage, and Kristen Stewart are all good actors/actresses.

    • Rudi

      Those are my favorites as well in this list about good actors. Even Adam Sandler is a good actor (also check out Reign Over Me), it’s just a shame he keeps on returning to those cheesy comedies.

      • Jules F. Melo Borges

        Sorry, man. Sandler is a mess. Even in Reign Over Me, he’s basically doing the same thing he always does… but in a Drama.

  • BaronMarx

    This poor excuse for an article and a few other recent stinkers are reason enough to compile a list of “People Who Should Never Be Allowed To Submit Another List to Taste of Cinema”.

  • frank mango

    i don’t give a shit what anyone says here or how bad the second season was of true detective season two vince vaughn absolutely killed it. he was great in it.

  • scottvolltrauer

    Robbie, I’m not discerning enough a viewer to assess actors strengths and weaknesses with refined acumen, but I do respect a gracious and honest assessment of a person’s work. If your “aspirations of becoming an author and screenwriter” don’t work out, Nick Cage could use you as a publicist!

  • Pato Pagliari

    This list should be in the list of worst list

  • Nicolas Cage, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart are all great and have done better work than the ones that were mentioned in here; The Shallows, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Cafe Society, Adventureland, Panic Room and Clouds of Sils Maria show that these actors can act better than what you say.

  • Nick Owens

    I’m really starting to dislike Taste of Cinema, the lists of this website are seriously going downhill, this being a prime example. I’m definitely going to have to find a replacement if this keeps up.
    Apart from Adam Sandler, I don’t think anyone else deserves to be on this list… maybe Elvis.

  • Still D.R.E.

    Stallone had Creed First Blood Rocky Rocky 3 and Nick Cage ain’t a bad actor he just overacts a lot terrible list

  • Unkle Amon

    Ben Affleck in Phatoms! He was the bomb there!

  • Batman

    Truman Show

  • Mäts Verschueren

    terrible list 🙂

  • Boris Georgiev

    F**k this list

  • Hey1138

    Not THAT bad a list. But Blake Lively is actually a good actress. Sometimes you judge one actor for the movies they’ve starred in, and she hasn’t been the luckiest of the bunch. But when she does get a good role, she’s quite competent.

    Same happens with other actors here, but her inclusion is the worst offender.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Keanu Reeves was good in The Last Time I Commited Suicide
    As for the rest he was serviceble in half of it, and bad in the other halc

  • Luke Chess

    If Rob has aspirations of becoming an author and screenwriter, he needs to learn how to write, and how to spell. I mean, “sights”? Come on! And the editor should have picked that up.

  • Jose F Rios

    Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  • Tim O’Hare

    Nicolas Cage would better belong on a 10 Worst Movie Performances Given by a Great Actor. He more than anyone on the list has proven himself to be brilliant on multiple occasions. I could see Adam Sandler as a Bad Actor because he is mostly bad. But still Sandler has been great on more than one occasion.

  • Vincent

    Rob, you are very young. Watch more movies, especially movies made before 1980 and then come back to making list. I’m not saying this is a bad list, it just shows you lack experience.

  • Bullet-Tooth Tony

    Sandler was fucking amazing in Reign over me.

  • Alan Michael Scott

    Tom Cruise in Magnolia

  • I’d have to add Courtney Love to this list for her jaw-dropping portrayal of Althea in “The People vs Larry Flynt”. I’m aware that she isn’t necessarily lauded as an actor but she has sporadically tried through the years with no success…