Some of the most memorable performances in the history of cinema have come from great actors playing the dastardliest of villains. Whether it’s the sublime subtleties of Anthony Perkins’ performance as Norman Bates, the masterful physicality of Heath Ledger’s Joker or even the unforgettable voice of James Earl Jones coming out from behind the mask of Darth Vader.
However, it is not uncommon for even the best actors in the industry to fall short of the mark when playing the ‘bad guy’. Here are some examples of thespians misjudging the type of performance needed from them, or even in some cases, being completely out of their depth.
10. Chloë Grace Moretz – Carrie
To call Carrie White a villain seems to be more than a little harsh, after all she was product of an overbearing religious mother and the victim of constant torment from her sadistic school bullies. However, if you end up murdering your schoolmates and teachers it’s probably fair that she is made out to be the villain in what should have been her redemption story. The original Brain De Palm film is a bona fide masterpiece of horror, where Sissy Spacek plays the titular Carrie in what is now seen as one of the all time greatest performances in a horror film. When a remake was announced to come in 2013 with Chloë Grace Moretz taking over the role, it’s fair to say that hopes were high. Turns out, we really should have lowered our expectations.
Spacek played the role with such an incredible amount of awkwardness, so much so that she seemed more like an alien from another world than a troubled high schooler. Whereas it’s impossible to see Moretz as anything other than cool, to the effect that it’s utterly ridiculous to see her as the victim of mass bullying. Equally wrongheaded is the film’s direction to show Carrie as a ‘nottie-turned hottie’, or to present the troubled teenager’s discovery of her telekinetic powers as a superpower rather than a curse. Thankfully Moretz’s career hasn’t been affected too much by the film’s failure and continues to be a rising force in the movie business, Carrie however remains a blemish on an otherwise impressive career for an actress that’s not even past twenty-five yet.
9. Topher Grace – Spider-Man 3
After the huge success of Spider-Man 2, which still seen to this day as one of the best superhero movie ever made, the expectations going into the third film of Sam Raimi’s franchise could not have been higher. Then with the announcement that the web-slinger’s greatest foe, Venom would make his cinematic debut in the film, the excitement of Marvel’s fan boys only grew. So imagine the disappointment when they saw one of the most beloved comic book super villains of all time being reduced to a snarling glob of waste.
To be fair to Topher Grace, the end result of his performance as Venom was not entirely his fault. According to reports that came out after the film’s release, Raimi was never a fan of the character and only put him in the movie because of studio insistence, which in turn relegated Venom to one of three villains in the movie and was arguably the most ineffective and uninteresting of the bunch.
Raimi defended Grace by stating that Venom represented the dark side to Spider-Man. However the whole point of the character is that he is a terrifying violent psychopath, three traits that nobody would ever associate to Topher Grace, who instead played the role as a sniveling little weasel. Granted Tom Hardy’s version as the character in not the full vindication that the fans wanted, but it’s still a huge improvement over Grace’s bungled performance.
8. Cate Blanchett – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
There is absolutely no argument that Cate Blanchett is one of the best working actors today. She has proven time and time again of having unparalleled range while displaying an almost chameleonic immersion into the characters that she plays. Her immense talent has earned multiple awards, including two Oscar wins out of seven nominations. However when, it comes to her mainstream, summer blockbuster work, it’s fair to say that her work is hit and miss.
Her performance as the Soviet agent, Irina Spalko in the fourth Indiana Jones movie was in hindsight, not the best vehicle to showcase Blanchett’s acting abilities. For most of her screen time, she is relegated to being to being perhaps the most boring Russian villain in movie history, and that’s saying something.
Despite her attempts to give the character any kind of personality, she instead comes across as hammy. But perhaps the most damning indictment of this performance is that it comes in a franchise that has provided a wide array of classic villains who gave the audience a sense of menace that put everyone’s favourite archeologist in serious peril, there was however no feeling of this with Spalko who in the end was so uninteresting that it was impossible to take her as a threat to one of cinema’s greatest heroes.
7. Morgan Freeman – Wanted
Having a filmography that stretches back forty years, Morgan Freeman has built his reputation over those four decades to become one of Hollywood’s most well respected actors. Having being in many acclaimed films, his work with Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, the latter earning him his only Oscar to date, being the standouts in a very impressive career. However what he is not famous for is his reputation as a movie villain, Freeman tried to rectify that with the 2008 action film, Wanted, albeit to a less than stellar response compared to his previous work.
Wanted was praised at the time for it’s stylish action scenes and crass humour, but watching back with present eyes, it’s a blend of distasteful ‘lad’ humour that only thirteen-year-old boys would find amusing and set-pieces heavily inspired by much better action films, The Matrix being the most obvious. Freeman’s performance as the leader of a shadowy organization of assassins, who later turns out in a less than shocking twist to be the big bad, was singled out as a positive when the first reviews came in.
But again on rewatch, the actor is sleepwalking his way through the film, signifying that he could not care a single iota about how the movie turns out. That seems to be a constant trend in his recent movies, as it seems like it’s been years since we have seen a truly motivated performance out of an actor with such a prestigious pedigree as Freeman.
6. Helmut Bakaitis – The Matrix Reloaded
It is hard to think of a more revolutionary action film than 1999’s The Matrix, with it’s elaborate set-pieces, visual effects, cinematography and sheer value for entertainment, the Wachowski’s had truly struck gold. In the years since, the original film is still seen rightfully as a classic of the genre, however it has also become difficult to differentiate the film from its two sequels, which are nothing more than huge disappointments that only damage the reputation of the first film in the trilogy.
The one question that the first movie raised that fans clamoured to the sequels for an answer was who created the Matrix? Who is the puppet master in charge of our protagonist’s fate? Just who is exactly was the Architect? In the first sequel, we got that answer and the Architect revealed himself, portrayed on screen by Helmut Bakaitis. Yes, that Helmut Bakaitis, German born actor and star of Australian soap opera, Home and Away.
It’s fair to say that The Matrix Reloaded was Bakaitis big break into Hollywood and introduction to a worldwide audience, and it’s fair to say that within an almost ten minute scene where the Architect spouts endless exposition to Neo, cinema-goers everywhere where stunned as to how an actor with zero screen-presence and next to no reputation could land such an important role in one of the most highly anticipated sequels ever made. And to think Sean Connery turned the role down, oh what could have been.