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The 10 Most Overrated Movie Performances of The 21st Century

30 December 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Ian Flanagan

Sometimes the appeal of a famous movie performer will be totally lost on us. “Why does anybody care about this actor?” we ask ourselves, doubting our own judgment or everyone else’s. But even worse than that disconnect is when a newcomer or established star finds a role that makes critics gush, the Academy swoon and your own shoulders shrug. All these choruses of approval over something you merely acknowledge.

What follows includes a few good performances, but all of those actors making the cut have been adorned for certain roles long past what you could call a justifiable extent. Here are the 10 most overrated performances of our millennia thus far.


10. Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s long awaited third feature is by far his most experimental. Within it he makes a striking statement by minimalist, Kubrickian means, but Scarlett Johansson’s literally alien performance is a black hole at the center of a self-important film elevated by its visual virtues and improv filmmaking techniques.

Johansson has been typecast in robotic roles akin to Under the Skin, like in Lucy, the personality-less Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even this year as the cyborg Major in Ghost in the Shell. As thought provoking as the implications of her character may be in Under the Skin, the film doesn’t exactly showcase her ability to do so much with so little.

In fact, in the same year we saw her blossom in the exact opposite way. Nearly voiceless in Under the Skin, Johansson became the virtual girlfriend of our dreams in Her with just her rosy voice. The fruits of her labor through dialogue alone are wondrous compared to the vacant expressions of some of her least human work.


9. Russell Crowe, Gladiator


Though his career as somewhat of a flagship of masculinity in the 2000’s led to a handful of his best films a la Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Cinderella Man and 3:10 to Yuma, Gladiator is not a film that lets any of the subtleties of Russell Crowe’s abilities come forward.

Though scoped out with majestic intentions by Ridley Scott, Gladiator is a classically entertaining but hollowed-out slab of grand spectacle, Crowe being at least one reason why we are “entertained.” But when a borderline mustache-twirling villain in Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus upstages you, it’s pretty disappointing for an audience to be unmoved by such a mythic main character.

Given the heightened emotions of a historical epic like this, feelings should be magnified, not diminished, by the movie’s scale and story, especially when Maximus has a tragic backstory and revenge plot to unfold. Though far from unwatchable, Crowe’s blank slate of anger and despair doesn’t equate to any Academy Award worthiness.


8. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sir Mark Rylance is decent enough actor, but often limited to roles of utter boredom onscreen – and yes, that is including Dunkirk. His conviction between Bridge of Spies and Christopher Nolan’s new film are practically the same – solemn yet concerned. Like Oscar winners Alan Arkin or Christoph Waltz before him, Rylance is a respected older actor that requires nothing more on set than to be himself – in Rylance’s case reserved and stoic – and everyone erupted in hoopla without much of a reason afterward.

It’s hard to understand what people were so amazed by in his performance as Rudolf Abel, fine enough as Rylance was may be opposite Tom Hanks. Bridge of Spies, like Abel, is reserved and patient, and the film and Rylance don’t require anything to the order of captivation; effectively capturing contemplation is enough.

When juxtaposed with his next performance in Spielberg’s following film The BFG, there is an immense distinction between the separate realizations of Rylance’s acting potential. He brings the Big Friendly Giant to life through the awkwardness of motion capture and likely mounds of makeup, delivering a masterful portrayal of a silly character and a memorable one at that. The actor’s hidden talents were seemingly prematurely rewarded, and hopefully more challenging material awaits him outside the wheelhouse of standard historical dramas.


7. Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side (or Gravity)

It would be easy to criticize what Sandra Bullock brings forth in Gravity, as she is the central weakness of a film built to be marveled at but less than emotionally or intellectually invested in. Her character is both over-explained and totally cliché, and as our guiding figure amongst rubble and carnage above our atmosphere, she made the film’s elementary dialogue all the more noticeable.

But in The Blind Side she is probably the best thing the film has going for it – maybe the only thing. The subtle racism that seems so very blatant now was veiled by its unassuming connection with mainstream audiences. The film was probably the most profitable non-blockbuster of 2009, turning a modest budget over by hundreds of millions.

The charity of Leigh Anne Tuohy is celebrated through Bullock’s performance, and that would be great if she wasn’t problematically overshadowing Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher, the true star of the film. It’s as if the now NFL player is but a second-hand element at play in a film made to appeal to white guilt through the white saviors of the Tuohy family.


6. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech


Whether kicking ass or playing the romantic lead, Colin Firth has seldom stepped into really serious acting. His first real brush with Oscar glory came with a well-deserved nomination for his work in Tom Ford’s debut A Single Man, but his role of royalty in The King’s Speech was too programmed for Academy voters to be anything other than dutiful and forgettable.

Sure, when an actor undergoes physical transformations for the sake of authenticity – Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything is a good enough example – then ideally the inputted effort results in a remarkable acting accomplishment. But a stammer is the kind of physical condition that is easy to fake and even easier to make look difficult.

Despite a respectable performance from Colin Firth nonetheless, his talents displayed in this polished but pedestrian historical period piece have been sorely overpraised.



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  • David Johnson

    agree except for 2 and 4

    • Mortimer

      Leo should be No.1 on this list in my opinion.

  • FortesqueX

    “Under the Skin” itself is one of the most overrated movies ever. An artsy-farty remake of “Species.” Big f’ing deal.

    “Hey, let’s show a girl driving around for 45 minutes straight.”

    • Horacio Machado Flores

      You made my day

  • rtfilmcrew

    You could fill this list with Jennifer Lawrence roles and have it be 100% correct.

    • Winter’s Bone exists….

      • rtfilmcrew

        It does exist but there’s three things about that statement:

        1. Her role in that movie is good, maybe even pretty good, but nowhere near warranting the amount of accolades that she recieved for it. Thus it does qualify for being on an “overrated” list

        2. Her role in Winter’s Bone could’ve been filled by near anyone else and recieved the same result. The film is great for it’s writing, not so much for any specific performance.

        3. She has at least 10 other roles that could qualify for this list. As I said, you could easily fill this list solely with her overrated performances even if you do ignore her few good roles

  • Dan Comfort

    Depp’s performance as Sparrow was was good enough to green-light 4 sequels; it is hard to see how that can be overrated! And Firth, Scar-Jo, J-Law, and Keaton nailed their roles; if they are overrated, may all actors be so!

    • Ricardo Correia

      Sequels? He did not knew box office meant a performance was good, wow

  • This list is crap. Once I saw Scar-Jo 3:16’s name. It’s time to lay some can of whoop-ass and give this jabroni a Scar-Jo stunna!!!!

  • CatKitten Amy

    Emma Stone La La Land
    Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart
    Denzel – Training Days ( Unpopular Opinion )
    Halle Berry – Monster Ball
    Angie Jolie – Girl Interrupted
    Goop – SIL
    Brie Larson – Room ( Unpopular Opinion )

    • David Johnson

      I don’t think the Denzel one is unpopular

    • Trent Eon

      +1 on Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball

    • Thank you for the inclusion of Brie Larson. It was merely a good performance in a decent film. But anyone could have played the part equally as well.

    • Ricardo Correia

      Girl Interrupted is from 1999
      Also Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges are not overrated (altough they won Oscars), first because they both gave phenomenal performances, second because their performances are not very commented about even in sites likes this, which mensagens people don’t really rate them

  • Sujith Karunakaran

    Glad to see Gladiator and Silver linings here. My thoughts exactly..!

  • Sahin Parvin

    Michael Keaton and Russell Crowe??! Have u gone crazy?

    • Ricardo Correia

      Crowe!! He is a fine actor, but his performance in Gladiator is mediocre

  • Arshad Khan

    Jennifer Lawrence and Colin firth deserved it.

    • Ricardo Correia

      Lawrence? In which world is her performance better than Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty or Nora Aunor in Thy Womb?

  • Ricardo Correia

    Denzel Washington in Training Day and almost all films he has ever done

  • David

    Emma Stone in pretty much everything she’s been in.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, a really fine performance, but not as good as people say it is
    Sean Penn in Mystic River, overacts every second of it
    Colin Firth in A Single Man, the same thing as Penn, overacts all of it

    • Sailor Monsoon

      I love reading your comments because i honestly can’t tell if you’re a troll or not but either way, it’s hilarious

      • Ricardo Correia

        Nop, I was trolling, I meant every word I said

  • grootrm

    As a casual reader of this site I don’t appreciate these “overrrrrrrattttted!!!!” posts of actors or movies. This site 100% DEPENDS on said actors in order for the writers on this site to even eat and shelter themselves. If it weren’t for these actors, this site would not exist.

    And you attack them for it? Do you hate yourself that much?

    There should be a top 10 list of reasons why this site is ignorant of the saying that you should not bite the hand that feeds you.

    To the writer of this sorry excuse for a cinephile post: if it weren’t for these actors on this list, you’d be scrubbing toilets in the back of a Taco Bell. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

    • Andres Diaz Reyna

      Wow, you really projected yourself out there, mate.
      I like this lists because it brings to light a lot of actors whom have had a critically acclaimed piece on a movie when it was actually a decent, and normal one.
      For example: Johnny Depp. How many times have I listened to someone say that he’s great for that sparrow part? And maybe he was. But at the second movie got a bit tiresome.

  • shane scott-travis

    Shitty list.

  • Special_One

    Clearly the author of this list knows nothing about acting. Firth and Keaton’s performances are among the absolute best of the 21st century. If they’re overrated, everyone is. Bullock, Depp and Roberts do of course belong on the list, but everyone else on here did a great job.

    • Ricardo Correia

      Keaton is fine, nothing more

  • Sammy Swiegers

    You wouldn’t have this list if these performances weren’t memorable. You can nitpuck all you want about “not contributing” or “mechanical”, but in the end these folks dis what was NECESSARY to make these movies GOOD. In order to understand the “racism” (people don’t know how to use that word anymore) in The Blind Side…. Watch Gran Torino. It often is just what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    • Ricardo Correia

      He may not agreed that those films are any good, and no most of this performances aren’t good by any mean

  • Fabien Oman

    This list is like a parody of ToC, there’s no objectivity in it at all, because of course you’d have to know something about acting to have that.

    • Ricardo Correia

      Acting at his finest is not about objectivity
      There are 1 or 2 performances that I think are really good, but most of it deserves to be here
      What ones do you think should not?

      • Fabien Oman

        What most affects you in a performance is ultimately subjective, agreed, but without some mention of form does it not become a bit pointless? What I took exception to was the author criticising Russell Crowe for a lack of subtlety and nuance in Gladiator, but then describing Mark Rylance’s performance in Dunkirk as one of ‘utter boredom’ when it was a masterclass in these qualities. Which performances would you keep from this list?

        • Ricardo Correia

          Rylance and Firth, and maybe Scarllet (not because I think it is a great performance but because it is not highly rated so it is not overrated)

  • Jaimon John

    I Totaly agree with Jennifer Lawrence But disagree with Russell Crowe.

  • rastejante

    Perfect List