Why Do Great Actors Make Bad Movies?

Bad Movies
Really Bruce….. ? Forest…not you as well…

So.  Bad Movies.

Ever seen ‘The Godfather.’  How about, ‘The Godfather: Part 2.’  Not bad right?  Yeah, I agree.  So Part 2 had a cast for the ages.  It included two of the finest actors of any generation, in the same film.  Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.  Wow.  The two hit the screen again a while later, with Michael Mann’s ‘Heat,’ another classic in its own right.  Boy oh boy, those are two actors right there.  Actors in the first degree.  Carlito’s Way, Scarface, Scent of a Woman.  Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Casino, Cape Fear.  Yeah, they’ve got resumes.

Fast forward to 2012, the present day basically.  Walking through the video store I see Mr Robert De Niro’s face on a film called ‘Freelancers’ in which he stars alongside 50 Cent.  A few films down, I see Mr Pacino.  Well actually, no, I don’t.  I see his name.  It is at the bottom of a cast list for ‘The Son Of No One,’ below the likes of Tracy Morgan and Katie Holmes.  The worst of it, is that his face is not on the cover.  Instead, he is an afterthought to a picture of Channing Tatum with a mustache that Michael Cera would be proud of.  I promptly puked all over the store’s carpet and exited as quickly as I could.  Then they both let me down together.  Righteous F’n Kill man.  Why did they do that to me?  I paid for a ticket though.  So I guess I’m the fool.

Bad Movies
Just look at that f***ing thing….

Now it seems like everywhere I turn, I’m living in a hideous nightmare in which all of my favorite actors  are plastered on DVD covers for movies that I know deep down in my heart they aren’t really in.  Bruce Willis, of ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ has been in like four movies with 50 Cent over the past 2 years.  Forest Whitaker has been in some absolute monstrosities.  Ray Liotta has been in EVERY bad crime movie in the past 5 years.  Every single one.  Look it up, I’m not shitting you.  No.  If you’re still reading, open a new tab and look it up (then come back).

So I’ve made my point.  The question is why?  There has to be a reason.  I mean, my assumption is to say they would never need to be in these films.  But am I being naive?  Am I missing something?  Well, here are some hypotheses that might help us investigate the issue a little bit.

Hypothesis 1 – They need the money.

So the assumption is always to say “oh they are so rich, they don’t need to be in these terrible movies.”       They probably don’t need to ever work again at all.  I’m guilty of saying that myself.  Let’s take a look though.  Sure, these men and women are mostly rich.  But, you have to remember that they have a lot of money, but they also live a life that costs a lot of money also.  If they want to live that way forever, they in some cases need to keep acting.  Plus we don’t know what these folks get up to.  Liza Minnelli got married like fifteen times.  Harrison Ford’s ex wife took him for $85 million when they untied the knot.

Charlie Sheen.

So….. it’s safe to say that this could be a problem.  But I just don’t think that’s it for the names I mentioned above.  They just aren’t struggling for money.  Simple as that.

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Hypothesis 2 – They have terrible agents

Well, in the world of Hollywood, we know that agents play a large role in things.  Some actors take a very large responsibility in their own art, and will pick their projects themselves, utilizing their agents simply to get the deals they want done.  Some actors though, will give their agents much more of the responsibility.  I mean, I know for a fact that Robert De Niro did NOT select Rocky and Bullwinkle himself.  Tell me otherwise and I’ll hit you.  Somebody told him he needed to do it, so he could gain popularity from the younger market, or some interesting shit like that.  It’s that simple.  It has to be.

But here’s the thing.  Agent or no agent – the client has the final say.  We’ve all seen ‘Entourage.’  If my agent handed me to screenplay for ‘Lay The Favorite’ I would tell him to lay on his favorite balls.  Unfortunately, Bruce Willis and Catherine Zera Jones said ‘yes’ instead.

Hypothesis 3 – The scripts they read don’t match the final product

So it’s common knowledge, in any industry, that most things don’t go as they are originally planned.  Some ideas sound fantastic on paper (literally in this case), but once they materialize, they aren’t quite so great.  Maybe the screenplay wasn’t as good as it seemed.  Maybe it just didn’t translate to the visual medium well enough.  Then of course there are the re-writes and changes that happen as a result of spoiled actors and directors, and people doing a job that is not theirs.  These things happen.  Maybe they happened to Robert, and Bruce, and Al.

Shut the f*** up.  Catch 44. was never, ever in a million years, on any planet or in any alternate dimension, a good screenplay.  So this one’s out.

Bad Movies
I am going to puke.

Hypothesis 4 – A lot of people owe a lot of favors to a lot of people. 

So in the world of Hollywood, one can only imagine the favors that are owed to people.  I mean, actors owe directors and writers.  Look at Keanu Reeves.  I actually like the guy, but he just isn’t very good.  But somehow he landed ‘The Matrix.’  He suited it perfectly.  But that’s a mild example.  How about Orlando Bloom.  By god, this guy couldn’t act or literally find his way physically, out of a paper bag.  Yet somehow he gets cast in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ which proved to be two of the most lucrative franchises ever.  I mean, this guy must have…. you know.  If he didn’t, he ought to after the fact.

Things can be the same in reverse too.  Sometimes a director may get lucky enough to solicit fantastic performances from actors who didn’t need to be in their films.  Either way, when these kind of things happen, you have to believe that in some cases, the favor giver may look for a favor in return when things are going so hot for them.  Actors and movies have runs.  Hills and valleys, if you will.  When one is on a hill, they may help someone who’s in a valley.  But when the man in the valley reaches the top of the hill……..

Or maybe these debts are a little dirtier.  I mean, Ray Liotta has to be doing something criminal right?   He’s in every movie that has a criminal in it…. as a criminal.  He owes so many people, that whenever they need to fill a spot in their cast they just call him and cash in.  Then he just acts like himself for 90 minutes and you’ve got a serviceable villain.  On a side note though, how about this for a twist.  Ray Liotta is NOT the one who turns out to be the bad guy.  Take that one to the bank screenwriters.

Hypothesis 5 – They just love to work.

Well, here is the high and mighty answer.  These guys just love their craft.  Look at Michael Caine.  What an actor.  The guy is amazing.  Effortless.  The guy could just kill it in one great movie every couple years, and just chill.  Live the life.  But this guy just works his ass off.  Like 4 movies a year sometimes.  That’s ridiculous.  Unfortunately it also means, he is just bound to be in some stinkers.  Which he has.  He can’t have that many debts to pay up, and he can’t be that broke.  So I guess in this case at least, this hypothesis might just hold true.


Well – after all that, where do I stand.  Five trains of thought on good actors in bad movies.  All of them could be true, in some cases.  All of them could be bull shit.  Great, so essentially, I’ve learned nothing and I have not solved the problem.

I’ll go to sleep tonight expecting another nightmare of Channing Tatum with the words ‘and Al Pacino’ where his dirty little mustache should be.


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  1. I think Nicolas Cage definitely falls into the first category. Regardless of what the panel thinks of his acting abilities, I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy– particularly his earlier stuff. From what I understand, he got absolutely HOSED financially, which is why he’s been starring in crappy movie after crappy movie; gotta pay the bills somehow. I’ve been waiting for him to turn the corner money-wise so he can get back to being selective with his roles, and I thought “Bad Lieutenant” might be it, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    And Charlie Sheen is a winner. Duh.

    • Nic Cage is a great example. Season of the Witch. Come on Nic. But yeah, I love the guy too, and if you’re broke you’re broke. C.R.E.A.M.

      He’ll bounce back. Charlie did….

  2. Keep in mind, rejecting a film does not give actors good street cred among directors. If they can’t trust you to stick to a film, many directors will just opt not to approach you for their movie.

    • That’s a good point – I’d say it depends if you ‘rejected’ it right off the bat or backed out after committing. Backing out certainly will do you no favors – conversely though, if the film production team does not deliver on promises they make the actors in terms of the direction of the film etc then I’d say the actors have the right to consider leaving. It’s a two way street – if you reel in an actor with false direction then you can expect them to be upset.

  3. Yes, I always say that a good actor in a bad movie is the actor must need money. Actors are actors and their popularity fades away and money runs dry. B movies never end. So they are forced to make em. Tuff to get a waiter job at 60.

    • Yeah you’re absolutely right – I think there is a sweet spot. When you’re young-ish (or at least look it) and then when you’re much older.

      Guys like Michael Caine are now doing a lot of fantastic movies because they’re the go-to actors at that age. The knack is the realize you’re old, and rebranding yourself as a character actor or something. Then find a killer role like Bruce Dern in Nebraska or something and fight for a sneaky Oscar.

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