The Academy Award has long been the ultimate recognition for almost every aspect of cinema, especially when it comes to acting. Throughout the years, despite there being many controversial wins like Gwyneth Paltrow winning over Cate Blanchett during the 1999 Oscars, it’s still no denying that the many Academy-Award winning performances were at least somewhat decent.
However, a decent performance does not necessarily equate to a decent actor. The actors on this list have all won Oscars for their arguably great roles in other films, and some of them are even considered legendary actors. Nevertheless, these actors still managed to make the world of cinema question the very legitimacy of their craft with their outright abysmal performances in these films.
These are 10 terrible performances by Academy Award winning actors.
10. Denzel Washington as Robert McCall (The Equalizer)
In this unnecessary reboot of a classic TV series, Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a former CIA Black Ops operative sprung out of retirement in order to save a young girl from the clutches of the Russian Mob.
The Equalizer itself is not as terrible as the other films on this list, however, it has its fair share of flaws, one of the biggest being Denzel Washington’s flat performance of the titular Equalizer, with his role as a retired has-been almost mirroring the state of his career. However, the character’s return to glory does not unfortunately mirror Denzel’s return to form.
The scene where Washington’s character reaches his pinnacle and begins hunting down the members of the mob has Denzel wear that same emotionless face as seen in the film’s poster, but instead of inciting fear as a cold-blooded killer like Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Denzel made the world raise a collective eyebrow with his unnecessarily stiff portrayal of the character, which does not even fit the character’s hardened yet caring personality.
Nonetheless, giving him credit where credit is due, despite failing to portray the intimidating Equalizer, he does do an apt job in playing the old McCall, though a much more layered performance would be expected from the legendary two-time Academy Award winner.
9. Robert de Niro as Cartoon Fearless Leader (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle)
From the producer of the critically acclaimed Iron Giant, comes the not-so critically acclaimed The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In this also unnecessary live-action adaptation of a supposedly popular cartoon series, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle tells the story of a group of cartoon characters escaping into the real world with plans for evil, leaving it up to the titular Rocky and Bullwinkle to follow them into the real world as well and team up with a young FBI agent in hopes of stopping them.
Everything from the film’s title, premise, to even its poster seemed like a direct-to-DVD recipe for disaster that un-informed grandmothers buy for their grandchildren on Christmas. Who would have ever expected the film to boast a $76-million-dollar budget and the legendary actor of Taxi Driver fame, Robert de Niro, who gave undoubtedly one of the worst performances not only of his career, but in the history of cinema.
Fearless Leader, the character de Niro portrays, aside from being a completely uninspired rip-off of 007’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld and an absolutely terribly written character to begin with, is made exceptionally worse with de Niro’s lazy performance, complete with a ridiculously atrocious excuse for an English accent. De Niro even went the extra mile to parody his own legendary performance in Taxi Driver, what kind of an artist would you be to agree to insult the very performance that launched you into stardom?
The characters should have just stayed where they belonged, not in the real world.
8. Natalie Portman as Isabel (Your Highness)
Portman, one of the highest paid actresses and certainly one of the most iconic, has had a bad track record in her acting career, having substantially more misses than hits.
Your Highness is one such “miss”, and a surprise one with that. The unique blend of stoner-comedy with high fantasy, starring the comedy greats of our generation like James Franco and Danny McBride ended up being a clichéd, unfocused and more importantly unfunny mess.
Though the film was terribly written, one of the film’s main strength was the level of self-awareness with the characters, none of the actors seemed to be taking the film seriously, and gave the impression that they were just there to have fun, with the exception of Natalie Portman.
Portman’s portrayal of the female warrior Isabel was a redundant attempt to include a “Straight Man” stock character. Isabel’s seriousness and bravado in the face of absurdity, complemented by the clichéd do-gooder dialogue of her character and Portman’s delivery of the lines truly invokes cringe among audiences.
The film ended up being a critical and commercial failure, with Franco earning a Razzie nomination, however, at least Franco added some degree of humour to the film, instead of removing the humour, like what Portman did.
7. Jared Leto as The Joker (Suicide Squad)
Two years after shocking audiences with his Academy Award winning performance as Rayon, an AIDS-infected transvestite, made possible with his method-acting approach to the character, Jared Leto again shocked the world with his Razzie nominated performance as The Joker, also made possible with his method-acting approach to the character.
What set Leto’s portrayal as the Crown Prince of Crime apart from the previous performances by Ledger, Nicholson and Romero is his poor understanding of the character. Leto brought a Ledger-inspired Joker to a film that required the comic book antics of Nicholson and Romero. On top of that, Leto portrayed the joker in a fashion similar to an angsty spoiled rich kid like Chris D’Amico in the Kick-Ass duology rather than a deranged madman, and Leto’s natural charisma combined with the unnecessary romantic subplot and the character’s overall handsome look brought a level of antihero charm and humanity which was completely unfitting of the role of The Joker.
It was this awkward blend of crazy and charm, comic and grit, and the fact that Leto took the role so unbelievably seriously to the point where it not only tarnished his name as an actor, despite his consistent track record prior to Suicide Squad, but also the very idea of method-acting as a whole.
6. Jon Voight as Paul Serone (Anaconda)
To be elevated to a cult classic status just by being absolutely terrible is no easy feat for a film. Anaconda however, achieved such status, a film responsible for reviving the B-movie monster genre of the 50s, Anaconda centers around a group of documentary filmmakers taken hostage by a snake hunter, played by Jon Voight, in pursuit of the legendary anaconda.
Jon Voight’s portrayal as the psychopathic hunter was hilariously bad as the filmmakers casted a 60-year-old for a role meant for a 40-year-old. Instead of looking anywhere near intimidating, Voight appeared as more of a slightly fit grandfather on vacation rather than an established snake hunter.
Miscasting in terms of appearance was not the only flaw of the character. The way Voight portrays the character almost seemed as though he binge watched Godfather and Scarface prior to filming the scene and thought to himself that he could do exactly what Brando and Pacino did, before giving ridiculously butchered performances, complete with inconsistently terrible accents and hilarious faces.
The film’s impact and cult status can mainly be credited to Voight’s surprisingly comedic performance. Where Portman’s Isabel takes comedy out of a comedic film, Voight’s Paul Serone brings comedy to an arguably serious film.