Desperation comes in many different forms in Hollywood. We see actors who are desperate to make a name for themselves and those who are desperate to make a big splash. There are the actors made desperate by a lack of work and the ones who are desperate to change their lanes. But as difficult as desperation is to define, it’s even harder to measure. Who are we to call an actor desperate? Besides, even at their lowest points, actors are much more comfortable than the average folk.
Obviously, not all bad roles are taken out of desperation. Actors consider many different things when selecting parts in films. Some good scripts make bad movies and some bad movies pay great salaries. So, simply choosing a cast member from a bad film and accusing that actor of being desperate isn’t a sound strategy. But, we can look to the actor’s comments and their career trajectories to make more accurate assessments. We can spot films that appear out of place for some stars or identify roles that followed low-points in a career. While this formula might not be perfect, it should hold at least some water. After all, few stars speak negatively about their films and even fewer admit when they’re desperate. So, here we are, building formulas to spot weakness in celebrities.
Each actor on this list shares at least two things in common: they are all phenomenal talents, and they all took on horrible roles. Let’s try to answer why such great talents took such awful roles. Here are 20 celebs who accepted embarrassing roles but should have reconsidered.
20 Brendan Fraser – Furry Vengeance
Even at his best, Brendan Fraser never made critics feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He took part in some monumental failures along the road, but he got paid. Films like Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Inkheart or even The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor were not quality films, but actors would not need desperation to accept them. They certainly paid well.
But after The Mummy franchise came to an end, Fraser’s career seemed to be in a difficult spot. His last several films were critical failures, financial failures, or both. According to Fraser’s GQ interview, the offers were no longer coming in either. It comes as no surprise then that this is when he took the lead in Furry Vengeance. Above all else, this is the film that stands out as Fraser’s biggest mistake, a clear product of desperation.
19 Kate Hudson – A Little Bit of Heaven
In Kate Hudson’s life, 2011 gave her a new fiance (Matt Bellamy), a baby, and two films that failed to impress. Now, Hudson’s films do not always blow us away— after all, she’s a rom-com queen. The one 2011 film, Something Borrowed, is in line with what we often see from her. A decent performance in a somewhat watchable movie. But the other one she did in 2011, A Little Bit of Heaven, needs some form of explanation.
Assuming you’ve never seen the film, Hudson plays a woman with terminal colon cancer and gets three wishes. In the end, she dies but the audience gets laughs and a cheesy love story out of it. It is remarkably strange and, for anyone who’s lost a loved to cancer, it’s a bit insulting. Maybe Hudson just needed a quick film shoot to allow her to be pregnant in peace. Whatever the reason, we wonder if, during this lull in her career, bad rom-coms were all that were available.
18 Jon Voigt – Karate Dog
Jon Voigt works a lot. This is a man who did Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 in the same year that he did National Treasure and The Manchurian Candidate. But in 2005, Voigt’s barren calendar stands out more than most other years. Usually, this fine character actor finds a suitable film to fill his time, but in 2005, the choices appear limited. We come to this conclusion because, aside from the Pope John Paul II miniseries, Voigt’s only role that year is in The Karate Dog.
If you’ve not seen The Karate Dog, you might make it your mission. While it may be the ghastliest thing you see on screen, it’s remarkable as well. The audacity the filmmakers show in trying to convince the viewer that the man doing flips and roundhouse kicks on screen is the then-67-year-old Voigt make them legends. How this film came to be is unclear. We don’t know how Voigt got his paws on the script either, but we have to imagine desperation or boredom played a part.
17 Eva Longoria – Señorita Justice
Around the same time that Eva Longoria hit it big with a role on Desperate Housewives, she was trying to make it in the film industry as well. Though many people see Desperate Housewives as a part of her early career, Longoria had a lengthy career in television before that. She even commented on that perception in Maxim, saying, “I think it’s funny when people say I’m an overnight sensation because I’ve been working at it for 10 years.”
Knowing that she worked so hard to breakthrough, the fact that she chose a film role like the one in Señorita Justice adds up. At that point in her career, Longoria didn’t know what Desperate Housewives would become so, of course, she takes whatever is available to her. If that means a ridiculous action role in a film made on a shoestring budget, so be it.
16 Michelle Pfeiffer – Grease 2
Technically, every actor is desperate for their first leading role. Yet, Michelle Pfeiffer’s a little different because she is so honest about her first leading part in Grease 2. She openly admits that she was still learning how to act at that point in her career and she took what she could get. According to Hollywood.com, Pfeiffer “hated that film with a vengeance and could not believe how bad it was.” She added, “At the time, I was young and didn’t know any better.”
But, in her desperation to take on a big role, Pfeiffer’s career suffered. According to her agent’s book, Pfeiffer: Beyond the Age of Innocence, after Grease 2, “she couldn’t get any jobs. Nobody wanted to hire her.” Brian De Palma, the director of Scarface, Pfeiffer’s breakthrough film, wouldn’t even audition the actress because he saw Grease 2. If not for a producer convincing him to cast her, she might never have become the star we know her as today.
15 Paul Rudd – Gen-Y Cops (Gen-X Cops 2)
It might surprise you to learn that Gen-X Cops got a sequel. Better yet, it may surprise you to learn that there’s a movie called Gen-X Cops. Well, there is, and the sequel, Gen-X Cops II, features Paul Rudd. This was the year before Wet Hot American Summer. Yes, at this time (2000), Rudd was still a relative newcomer to film, but he made his acting debut about a decade earlier. It’s not like it was his first role.
For that reason, we believe that desperation played a part in the decision. Rudd even traveled to Hong Kong for the part. Sadly, it didn’t turn out all that well. Granted, he did land a part in Wet Hot American Summer not long after, but we doubt Gen-X Cops II helped him much.
14 Mila Kunis – Moving McAllister
In 2005, the creators and writers of That ’70s Show were winding down with the show and the cast, who were all famous only because of that show, were trying their hand at other things. Mila Kunis, who dabbled in film, tried to make the transition fulltime. It did not go all that smoothly. According to MTV News, her first big post-That ’70s Show film, Moving McAllister, filmed in 2005, didn’t get a release date until 2007. Then, it only lasted in theaters for a couple of weeks before they pulled the plug.
Though Kunis would eventually strike gold in 2008 with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the years between 2004 and 2007 featured several flops and troubled flicks for the actress. We can’t be certain that desperation played a part in her decisions, but it doesn’t seem like casting agents were beating down the door for her.
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13 Mickey Rourke – Passion Play
In 2009, Mickey Rourke’s name carried a lot of weight with it. Only a year out from his fantastic performance in The Wrestler and Marvel signed him to play a villain in Iron Man 2. But, according to Rourke in an interview with Crave Online, the experience working with Marvel soured him. He felt that much of his work and character decisions were ignored in the end.
So that brings us to Passion Play later that same year. Directed by Rourke’s friend and old schoolmate, Mitch Glazer, Passion Play is a much smaller film that offered Rourke the ability and freedom to do his own thing with a character. Now, unfortunately, the decision to take this role backfired. The film is not very good and, sadly, is reportedly a film that took Glazer 20 years to make. In a seemingly desperate effort to help a friend and exercise his creative license, Rourke missed the mark.
12 Charlie Sheen – 9/11
After Charlie Sheen’s public meltdown, he did a lot of things that we bet he isn’t proud of. But, he seems to have turned a new leaf. Now, he’s trying to resurrect a career that he seemed determined to flush down the toilet. One of his initiatives was to get back into serious acting. In an interview with THR, Sheen said, “The younger generation doesn’t know a lot of my work before the comedy, so they can get a sense there is another gear there… There is so much good product out there that I have to believe there is going to be room for me in something in the future.”
Oddly enough, for Sheen’s first foray back into the world of drama, he chose 9/11. This is odd because Sheen’s a 9/11 “Truther” and the film is an honest account of the events as they happened. Why would Sheen take this role if it goes against what he believes? Yep, you nailed it.
11 Richard Dreyfuss – Poseidon
In 2004, Richard Dreyfuss retired from acting very peacefully. In an interview with The Guardian that year, he said, “I’m not seeking to do any more movies, and they’re not seeking me. I’m quite happy with that situation.” Then, about one year later, Dreyfuss confused everyone by returning. But no incredible film or opportunity lured him back to the industry that he seemed so happy leaving behind. The film that got him back is Poseidon, a big-budget stinker. How? Why?
“Money, simple,” Dreyfuss said. “I announced my retirement just one number short of winning the Spanish national lottery. I waited until the tenth and then, ‘I’m retired!” Money may be the root of all evil, but it is also the cure for desperation. Sure, Dreyfuss’ version of desperation may be different than yours, but we all need money and some of us are willing to take part in bad films to get it.
10 Robert Patrick – Double Dragon
To be fair to Robert Patrick, he claims that he believed in the Double Dragon project in the beginning. In fact, he says that he is proud of his performance in the film. But it appears that in his desperation for the film to succeed, he bought in a little too much. He even let them dye his hair white because, in his words, “Within the reality of the movie, I guess it works. […] I’m willing to try. I try to be as brave as I can.” Well, it didn’t work. It never came close.
Leading up to Double Dragon, Patrick was busy. His post-Terminator 2 films, however, save maybe one (Fire in the Sky), were all related to his famous T-1000 role. This Double Dragon role in an action-comedy film presented him with the chance to break free from the character. Unfortunately, Patrick just overshot the landing.
9 Jamie Lee Curtis – Virus
Jamie Lee Curtis is a true professional. It takes a lot for her to speak negatively about one of her films. But she makes an exception of Virus. Though she never clearly stated why she took the role in this 1999 thriller horror, she did say in the Sunday Express, “It was maybe the only time I’ve known something was just bad and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Yet, in the years that followed the smash hit, True Lies, Curtis found herself involved in several massive misses. There was House Arrest with Kevin Pollack, which flatlined in theaters. She also did the half-hearted sequel to A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures. While Halloween H20 allowed her to relive her glory days, Curtis’ options at that time were likely not what they once were.
8 Sylvester Stallone – Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
Sylvester Stallone is not a fan of his film, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot— that much is clear. In an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, Stallone said that he regretted making the film. He also said that it “maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system, including alien productions we’ve never seen.” So, why did he take the role?
Well, according to Arnold Schwarzenegger at Beyond Fest 2017, the Arnold lured Sly to take the role by pretending that he wanted it. Stallone, ever in competition with Arnold, then took the part thinking he stole it. That’s the legend, but is it the truth? Maybe. But in 1992, Stallone’s career hit a snag. Rocky V concluded the franchise disappointingly and his prior film, Oscar, hit theaters DOA. Stallone certainly didn’t appear to be turning down incredible role after incredible role. Maybe Stallone accepting the part in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is more indicative of a low tide in his career.
7 Sandra Bullock – All About Steve
Sandra Bullock’s 2009 calendar year saw both highs and lows. She won Best Actress award for her part in The Blind Side, but she also won a Razzie for her role in All About Steve. But aside from being a producer on the latter film, why did Bullock take the part? Especially considering she had apparently Oscar-worthy options coming to her.
The truth is, All About Steve started filming in 2007, two years before its release. When Bullock took the part, two of her last big roles were in The Lake House and Premonition. Both films failed to gain any critical traction. According to the LA Times, The Blind Side offer came to her after Julia Roberts turned it down. This after about two years without a theatrical film release for Bullock. The bottom line is, the actress who took the part in All About Steve is the not the same one who accepted the Oscar for The Blind Side. Those women were on different career paths.
6 David Morrissey – Basic Instinct 2
Long before he played the Governor on The Walking Dead, David Morrissey starred on British television for the most part. One of his first big roles on film came with Basic Instinct 2, a really poorly conceived film that tried to leverage the success of its predecessor quite unsuccessfully. Now, the sequel came out in 2006, a whopping 14 years after Basic Instinct. The fact that the film was caught in developmental hell for years should have tipped off the stars. But, alas, it did not.
Morrissey, seemingly desperate to bring his skills to Hollywood films, took on the doomed role. According to The Daily Mail, before the production team ever got to filming, the star, Michael Douglas, dropped out and the director of the first film, Paul Verhoeven, declared that the script made him “sick.” Desperation is the only excuse that makes sense for Morrissey.
5 Denzel Washington – Heart Condition
There’s an amazing legend about Denzel Washington and the film, Heart Condition. Coming off a Best Supporting Actor win for his part in Glory, Denzel took the embarrassing role in Heart Condition after his agent allegedly convinced him to do it, a mistake that Denzel apparently fired the agent for. Sadly, according to The Ringer, this story is not true.
Heart Condition is a film about a racist cop who suffers a heart attack. When he wakes up, he learns he received a heart transplant from a black man (Washington) and the man’s ghost is now haunting him. Crazy, right? Well, the writer and director of the film, James Parriott said that, while luck played a big part in them getting Washington, the actor was a little desperate too. He said that shooting on Glory just wrapped, and “[Denzel] was … looking for his next project and was ready to just explode, and hadn’t yet,” Parriott said.
4 Christopher Lloyd – The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure
Christopher Lloyd does a lot of films. He usually pops up in strange places, and we’ve become accustomed to that. But that still could never prepare us to see him riding a giant sombrero in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure. Maybe seeing Cary Elwes a few scenes earlier as a cowboy in the film should have tipped us off that, but it didn’t.
Big name actors get lured to children’s films all the time, especially ones like The Oogieloves with big budgets. Maybe Lloyd’s fanbase is too old to identify him in this pretty embarrassing role. But have the available roles become so slim for the iconic Lloyd that he must perform in second-rate Teletubbies movies? If nothing else, this partnership shows how cruel show business is for an actor.
3 Tim Allen – Shaggy Dog and Zoom
After the Christmas-themed flop, Christmas with the Kranks, in 2004, Tim Allen didn’t appear in another film for two years. When he returned, he came back with three very questionable films: Shaggy Dog, Zoom and The Santa Clause 3. The Santa Clause 3 is forgivable because it closes out a franchise. The remake of The Shaggy Dog, mixed utter embarrassment, such as Allen licking Kristin Davis’ face, with some redeeming moments, though the negative reception is justified when you remember Allen running around on all fours a few times in the film.
The other film in that mix, however, Zoom, is very questionable. The large budget seems to indicate that Allen took the role because of the money, but, according to IGN, he helped write this film. In truth, it seems that Allen was desperate to catch lightning in a bottle twice, trying to recapture the glory from another satirical film, Galaxy Quest. Well, this time he didn’t catch lightning, he was struck by it.
2 John Cusack – Arsenal
John Cusack and his Arsenal castmate, Nicolas Cage, both seem to be anomalies in show business. They do great films and terrible films all without batting an eye. When they appeared together in Arsenal, fans couldn’t predict which way the film was going to go. It might be amazing or might be one of the worst things ever. Well, judging purely by the fact that it’s on this list, you can guess how it turned out.
The last decade hasn’t been very kind to Cusack. Though he found some nice, albeit small, character roles here and there, most of his films were misses. He came into 2017 with three films, hoping to erase the memory of 2016’s, Cell. But, again, both of these films were straight-to-video movies or flops, with Arsenal clearly the worst of the bunch. After its release in January of 2017, The LA Times questioned if it already captured the title of worst film of the year.
1 James Van Der Beek – Texas Rangers
James Van Der Beek gained massive popularity on television’s, Dawson’s Creek, but fans had their doubts about his ability to succeed in film. Though he surprised many in Varsity Blues, the film didn’t necessarily turn him into a movie star, nor did he stray too far from his Dawson character. His next big role, Texas Rangers, was something totally different for him. That film, which starred other guys trying to change their lanes, Ashton Kutcher, as well as Usher Raymond, flopped in a major way.
Though the scriptwriter, John Milius, blamed studio interference for ruining his script, it’s difficult to see how this film could ever work. Who could believe that Van Der Beek, Kutcher, and Usher are grizzled Texas Rangers? Was Van Der Beek so desperate to change the goody-two-shoes reputation that he went too far to the other side? That seems likely.
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