The 10 Best Movie Performances from a Bad Actor

6. Elvis Presley in Flaming Star (1960)

Elvis Presley in Flaming Star (1960)

Elvis Presley is the great actor that never was. He was known for being the singer who got shoehorned into films to pack seats with hysterical adolescent girls. Financially he was golden, however the industry just sort of laughed at him. In Flaming Star, the subject matter called for a serious performance, something Presley had been desperate to sink his teeth into.

After begging the studio to drop two of the four songs that were unnecessarily bloating the script, Presley was able to deliver a convincing and profound portrayal of a half-cast man caught in between two warring factions. Critics praised the performance but sadly audiences were displeased with the lack of singing content.

Elvis Presley was a victim of his fame. He had a bully for a manager, who pressured him into taking lucrative film deals that only served to further his mannequin reputation. Elvis’ dedication to lifting his parents out of poverty also forced his hand regarding his career choices.

The director of Flaming Star Don Siegel spoke about Elvis’ acting “Elvis could have been an acting star, not just a singing star; also, he would have been happier.”

Despite Presley’s sensitive performance, the dipping box office returns lead him to be cast in disposable sing along comedies like Blue Hawaii. He would never be taken seriously as an actor again. Flaming Star is a lasting testimony to the calibre of performance the King was capable of producing.


7. Vince Vaughn in Swingers (1996)


This 90’s cool-guy staple set a precedent for social interaction moving into the new millennium. Vince Vaughn was launched into the limelight with his suave portrayal of a struggling actor who chases the nightlife alongside his buddy Jon Favreau. His performance was energetic, fresh faced and likeable.

This picture alerted Steven Spielberg to Vaughn’s talents and he was then cast in 1997’s The Lost World. His fun loving demeanour and acutely observed social magnetism inspired critics to hype the future star.

Vaughn definitely became a star, with smash comedy hits like Old School, Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers he became a hugely bankable name and a member of “The Will Ferrell Brigade”. Why is he bad? He stopped pushing himself once fame arrived. Admittedly he boldly took on the role of Norman Bates in the shot for shot 1998 remake of Psycho, but it was swing and a miss.

After the huge success he had with comedies Vaughn settled into roles that allowed him to just play himself. Relentless improv and the same old alpha male gags have caused critics to withdraw their previous projections for a brilliant career.

If Vaughn could rekindle the fresh intensity he had with Swingers and approach his new roles with the same enthusiasm, he would be able to shake the naysayers. His undertaking of season two of True Detective is certainly a step in the right direction, with his performance garnering much praise.


8. Blake Lively in The Town (2010)

Blake Lively in The Town (2010)

This Bostonian crime drama delivered compelling performances from all involved, including the unlikely Blake Lively. Lively’s portrayal of a washed up Charlestown party girl, who sleeps in her makeup and tries to trap unsuspecting father figures is tragic and most of all, convincing. The Boston accent is often attempted, but rarely achieved.

Lively nails this portrayal, leading many critics who saw her performance to shower praise. Calibre of film was the key here. Lively saw the names alongside hers and felt she had better do her homework. Ben Affleck (who starred, directed and co-wrote the film) coaxed a brilliant performance out of her.

Blake Lively coasts off of her looks and while this film allowed her to wear little, it was glamour-less and a depressing vision of every father’s worst nightmare. Lively potentially has an agent who likes cashing in on her California image and doesn’t have a great deal of interest in pushing her.

Even in Oliver Stone’s thriller Savages she still appears more like eye candy despite her narrative role in the film. Lively needs to take more risks in roles that will expose the depths to her craft. Both Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively are starring in the Woody Allen film Cafe Society this year, which could be a turning point for both of their careers.


9. Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land (1997)

Stallone can be forgiven for the throw-away action he has championed in the last three decades. Cop Land hurt his career severely, and he claims that he struggled to get work for eight years afterwards.

This is criminal considering what a superb job Stallone did with this gritty film. His portrayal of a morally driven sheriff, up to his eyes in corruption was so perfectly understated; it tore away all of the stereotypes he had built for himself.

The film fit in nicely around the time that Hollywood had been “Tarantino’d”, however Sly’s performance isn’t ripped from anywhere but himself. It was honest and his 40lb weight gain scenes demonstrated a dissolving of his ego as well. Cop Land is a phenomenal career best from him.

Stallone’s main critique is that an actor has to work. One brilliant role (Rambo, Rocky) spawning many sequels (both with great fourth instalments) led him to become a caricature. People want what they know from Stallone and that is evident with The Expendables franchise.

While a true actor definitely lurks beneath the slurring action star, the public and the studios might not be willing to accept him. His role in Creed certainly blended the two brilliantly, simultaneously providing audiences with a familiar character while exhibiting some mature acting chops.


10. Nicolas Cage in Matchstick Men (2003)


Nicolas Cage for the most part, is far better than the rest of his peers on this list. His performance in Matchstick Men is stunning. A feat of true character exhibition and the praise that followed was well deserved. His portrayal of con man with obsessive compulsive disorder is bitingly funny and powerfully absorbing. He leads this slick film brilliantly and Matchstick Men is one of the best con flicks in recent years.

Thanks to the internet, Nicolas Cage has managed to become the poster boy for bad acting. Quite ludicrous when reviewing some of his earlier films and even some of his more recent ones.

The truth is Nic Cage doesn’t just have one great performance, he has many. Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Weatherman, Lord of War, Joe and Kickass all demonstrate wonderful performances from the polarising to the universally celebrated.

Why does he have his laughable reputation then? Nicolas Cage’s style of acting is divisive. Hollywood gradually leaned towards an acutely realistic style of acting in the new millennium, causing Cage’s operatic characters to appear over the top. He is however, hugely respected within the industry.

Roger Ebert sights him as one of the greats. Ethan Hawke claimed that “He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from this obsession with naturalism”.

Cage’s problem is simply the volume of bad work he has out there. With financial troubles causing him to take any role that was offered to him, he found himself starring in dreadful messes like Ghost Rider, Next, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (there’s loads more.)

However, a profoundly admirable quality must be highlighted in Cage’s work. Not once does he appear in these flops like an actor too good for the project. He never raises an eyebrow to the audience in an effort to spare himself whilst diminishing the source of his income.

His respect for acting runs so deep, that even when working on a car crash, he cannot bring himself to give anything less than his best. Sometimes it’s laughable, but on so many occasions he has been brilliant. If we were to cull 60% of his cinematic output, and include only his successes, then he would be held in the company of Hollywood’s finest.

Author Bio: Rob is a 24 year old Musician from Hampshire, who is currently pursuing fiction writing. Rob has aspirations of becoming an author and screenwriter.