6. Christian Bale – Terminator: Salvation (2009)
Certainly the recent “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014) could fill a spot here as a dud movie with a forgettable performance from Christian Bale, but in that specific case, one has to cut the talented performer some slack – making a big-budget historical epic with Ridley Scott is a default slot on the bucket list of any working actor. But making ‘Terminator 4’ with a guy called McG? Not so much.
The film was intended to refresh the ‘Terminator’ series by focusing exclusively on the future war and John Connor as a grizzled war vet fighting the good fight, but the muddled script and the average directing hampered further enthusiasm for this new proposed direction.
Bale as Connor was a casting coup that had many people excited, but unfortunately it’s a rare case of the actor really just phoning it in – it’s a flat and typical roll-out of the troubled leader role with little dimension on paper for the actor to play with, and he comes across as just plain angry and antisocial instead of compelling and empathetic.
It doesn’t help that the film’s story is hijacked by Sam Worthington’s less interesting lead, throwing Bale into a supporting part that lacks the vital screen-time to flesh the flat character into something worthy of his caliber. Add to that a miserable, frustrating production for the actor (anybody remember that infamous Bale onset meltdown that leaked?) and his adamant philosophy to ‘never’ work with McG again, and you have a rare misstep in Bale’s otherwise teflon filmography.
7. Leonardo DiCaprio – Gangs of New York (2002)
This one is an odd duck. Leo DiCaprio, regardless of his “Titanic” teen heartthrob reputation, was always a strong actor from the get-go, displaying a raw, unfiltered talent in his early years with lower-key movies like “The Basketball Diaries” and “Total Eclipse” before the long road of paying it off with Oscar glory in 2016.
This film also marked DiCaprio’s first collaboration with legendary director Martin Scorsese, and the two would enjoy a highly successful relationship that still continues strong today.
Yet in this flawed yet fascinating passion project for the aging director, DiCaprio’s lead is one of the highly caffeinated movie’s weaker elements. Saddled with the lead role as Irish hoodlum Amsterdam, in the hard-knock neighborhoods of Civil War-era Manhattan, DiCaprio’s revenge plot and dull romance story just fails to click or intrigue.
The usually strong actor struggles with an ‘Irish’ accent and his usual reliable charisma and energy hardly registers amidst Scorsese’s boisterous style (an element that would effortlessly sync up on their next collaboration). In all fairness, the actor had several elements working against him – this was his first big budget starring role after a couple of years out of the spotlight; he was matched with a tough perfectionist filmmaker (supposedly the two butted heads initially before becoming best buds).
Cameron Diaz is a walking chemistry vacuum as the even worst accented love interest; and most importantly, Daniel Day-Lewis as adversary Bill ‘The Butcher’ is the master actor at his barnstorming, scene-stealing best, sucking out absolutely any chance for any other performer to register in any form.
It’s hardly that DiCaprio comes off as bad, but he’s just surprisingly bland. Yet this was the first film that pushed him in the right direction as one of the hardest working and most talented leading men currently working, and one can assume that if he’d tackled the role nowadays he would’ve easily been able to hold his own and battle against Lewis blowing on all cylinders. But back then – not so much.
8. Scarlett Johansson – The Prestige (2006)
After the pop culture and award winning success of “Lost in Translation” (2003) Scarlett Johansson emerged as the definitive ‘It Girl’ of the early 2000s. Since then she’s turned in a series of stronger lower-key performances (“Under the Skin”, “Match Point”) coupled with big budget action films (“The Avengers”, “Lucy”), becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable actresses. Not one to rest solely on her looks, she’s made some interesting choices in projects and her performances always bring a presence and dynamic element to her roles.
Yet, there is an instance of her being painfully lacklustre – in Christopher Nolan’s otherwise masterful head-scratcher “The Prestige”.
The dense and compelling mind-mystery features Hollywood’s two strongest leading men – Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, playing competing magicians whose rivalry escalates to deadly heights. It’s one of Nolan’s most complex and demanding films, yet also his strongest; as a healthy middle ground between his clever indie roots and the more ambitious mandates he was heading for, it featured strong performances all around aside from Johansson as the assistant that comes between the men.
She suffers from that stumbling block an American actor is almost never able to achieve – a working class English accent. It’s painful to behold as she wrestles with the impossible garbled voice, unable to focus on delivering a decent performance due to the distraction, and she becomes the sole tarnish in this otherwise excellent movie.
It’s crazy to think that all the talent involved let it slide – there was enough bankable pedigree otherwise, and with Bale and Michael Caine both having grassroots in the rougher parts of the UK, her miscasting is as perplexing as the film’s mind-imploding end coda.
9. John Wayne – The Conqueror (1956)
In the mid-50s, Dick Powell and Howard Hughes teamed up to create a biopic centred around ruthless Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan. The source material definitely hints at a potentially exciting movie, full of intrigue, epic battles, and romance, yet their formula was flawed from the start with the most infamously off-point casting likely ever made – John Wayne as Genghis Khan.
Wayne is a screen legend, and here was at the height of his career and talent (that same year saw the release of his classic John Ford western “The Searchers”). He passionately advocated to land the lead in this film, most likely as a chance to impress as a dynamic and maverick character in a different type of role, but everything about his all-American screen strengths is painfully wrong for the Asian warrior (along with his ridiculous slanted eye makeup), with the connotations as subtly misplaced as a triangle shoved into a square slot. Nothing about it works regardless of the force and vigor he attempts to do with it.
Add to that the fact the whole ordeal was filmed next to a nuclear bomb test site, which resulted in several of the cast and crew members getting cancer later in their lives, and you have a masterpiece in ‘Bad Movie’ history, in every sense of the word.
10. Colin Farrell – Alexander (2004)
The Irish actor enjoyed a hotter-than-hot period in Hollywood after he stunned several with a captivating performance in “Tigerland” (2000). Yet after a series of solid starring roles in average movies that failed to click and dredged up his filmography, audiences soon grew tired of him and his maverick antics in the media.
Luckily he came back strong with “In Bruges” (2008), Martin McDonagh’s sensational dark comedy that delivered one of Farrell’s finest performance, as well as a final payoff to the hype with him proving once and for all that he’s an incredible actor, leading to a sturdy career since.
Before that, though, there was no darker moment in his stumbling period then Oliver Stone’s ‘Alexander the Great’ biopic – it was the film that was meant to truly capitulate the Irish rogue to the A-list, but the already conceptually flawed movie wasn’t helped with Farrell being at his most infuriating annoying.
Playing the legendary figure as a petulant man-child with mommy issues and a ridiculous blonde dye job truly vacuumed any excitement audiences would have of seeing this historical warrior finally brought to modern screens. It was a painful experience and one that made most people question his talents. Even in mediocre films he had been enjoyable, but “Alexander” was a blatant acting faceplant for which he was fully responsible.