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Posted at 9:10 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Are these really the worst actors in Hollywood history?

By Jen Chaney

Is this man really one of the worst actors ever?
(File photo -- Reuters)

Complex Magazine has published a provocative list, one designed to add a dose of snark to the "bestest of the best" vibe of Oscar week.

It's a rundown of the 50 Worst Actors in Hollywood History. And I think it was created to purposely spark protest and venom, thereby compelling bloggers such as myself to write about it.

Mission accomplished.

Many of the actors on said list have, admittedly, starred in some dreadful films. But does this automatically make them the worst thespians in the vast pantheon of cinema? Despite his performance in "88 Minutes," does Al Pacino (No. 49) belong here? "Little Fockers" aside, does a legend like Robert De Niro (No. 44) -- who influenced a generation of talented performers -- really deserve to be called one of the worst actors in history, especially when Pauly Shore managed to escape this whole episode completely unscathed?

And why are Matthew Fox and Colin Farrell on this list? Or Brendan Fraser? Oh, wait. I kind of understand the Fraser thing since I sat through "Furry Vengeance." But the Complex list doesn't even mention that movie's name in its rundown of Fraser's failures. Truly, the credibility of this list -- which keeps each entry's identity shrouded in mystery in an effort to generate extra clicks -- is more questionable than Keanu Reeves's (No. 1) decision to star in "A Walk in the Clouds."

Am I the only one who finds this collection of alleged hacks ridiculous? Who are the actors who genuinely deserve to be on this list? Post a comment to blast other, more deserving no-talents, or to come to the defense of those who were unfairly insulted in this collection of allegedly wretched actors.

By Jen Chaney  | February 23, 2011; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Political Statement  
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DeNiro and Pacino are probably #1 and 2 as far as the most acclaimed, respected American actors of the past 50 years. (See The Godfather 1&2, Raging Bull, Serpico, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, etc.) This list should probably be worst role choices or something. Now, as for bad actors, Ashton Kutcher (how does this dope have a career?), Adam Sandler (again, an amazingly successful yet unfunny, stiff as board on screen performer) McCounaghey (just dreadful), the list goes on and on. Basically all rom-com actors are almost w/o exception terrible.

Posted by: dbunkr | February 23, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Whoever made up this list clearly never sat through an Elvis Pressley flick. He makes Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando.

Posted by: markst | February 23, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

The whole concept is ridiculous. First, it's completely subjective. Plus, actors have to work with the parts they're offered, which are sometimes pretty bad. That means they have to take chances that sometimes don't work -- look how close Johnny Depp came to parody in the Pirates movies. It's the rare Meryl Streep-type actor who never missteps, and that's largely because she chooses her roles carefully. Other actors avoid looking bad by not taking chances. Some of them get away with it -- John Wayne is the classic example -- but you don't get a lot of art.

Most of the really bad actors you've never really seen. They get weeded out pretty quickly. That said, Hollywood got the worst out of the way right at the beginning. Nelson Eddy has a wing all to himself in the worst actors gallery. In the modern world, Jean Claude Van Damme is right up there.

But let's leave off the "worst" lists; life is too short.

Posted by: groundhogdayguy | February 23, 2011 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Michael Cera. I thought he was good on AD, but that was before I realized he was only ever playing himself. Granted, there are a lot of actors who play themselves and get accolades for it, but none of them seem so annoying.

A lot of the guys listed in the 30s and 20s were accurate choices, though. But Vin Diesel is attractive and a D&D geek, which means he can't be a bad actor in my book. Sorry.

Posted by: dkp01 | February 23, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure if it makes him one of the worst actors ever, but I'm pretty sure Brendan Fraser has NEVER turned down a role. How else does someone go from Gods and Monsters and The Quiet American to Bedazzled and Furry Vengeance?

Posted by: amyg8r | February 23, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Without question, Pia "They're in the attic!" Zadora.

Posted by: jslaff | February 23, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Gary Busey. Gilbert Gottfried. Owen Wilson (the blonde one with the smucky-looking lips). Finally, Julia Roberts who always ends up playing Julia Roberts. She's a one-trick pony.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | February 23, 2011 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The question is: If an actor continually plays the same character in role after role (and often that character is just him/herself), does that make the actor bad?

If so, then yes, Robert DeNiro is not a good actor. He plays roughly the same character in every movie. The same might be said of Al Pacino. We might even say that they're really just playing themselves over and over.

On the other hand, if you LIKE this character and think DeNiro or Pacino does a good job playing themselves over and over, perhaps we can call them good actors. Humphrey Bogart plays Bogie in pretty much every movie, but we probably wouldn't regard him as a bad actor because we enjoy seeing Bogie on the screen.

Nonetheless, I think the BEST actors are those who can completely inhabit different characters -- think Meryl Streep in so many different movies or Charlize Theron in Monster.

Did Sofia Coppola make the list? She's terrible but she hasn't been in much.

Posted by: rlalumiere | February 23, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

There is always this little problem: What the "actor" cognoscenti think of performances and what the people who put money down - the fans- think.

Call it the John Wayne Effect or Clint Eastwood Effect or more recently the Keanu Effect. People flocking to see who the Elite Artistes hate. Who moan that a gay Brit lost 40 lbs and developed a facial tic and a convincing Ozark accent in a "family study" movie that lost 48 million dollars is 'overlooked except by those who know his brilliance', while the unwashed masses awarded Keanu and team 300 million in profit and their love for a "Matrix sequel".

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | February 23, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I think this list should have been called "Worst Performances by Great Actors". That seems more apropos for most of the actors on the list. And even then I take issue with some of the examples. I personally thought Robert DeNiro was hysterical in Stardust (a grossly underrated movie IMHO). I didn't make it all the way through the list, and I'm sure there are some actors on there who are genuinely deserving of the title. But otherwise this list smacks of movie snob pretension to me.

Posted by: StuckatWork | February 23, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

i'm with stuck - this list seems to be an 'angry former tree in school play turned RTF major who wishes he had a supermodel gf and has more talent in his pinky than _____' scenario...

let's qualify the metrics for this list... first - lets say 'you must have appeared in a major role in at least 20 films'... that gets rid of the anakin skywalker effect...
now you need to factor in box office receipts to give strong weight to flops... because people should, theoretically, have some say in what's 'good'...
then you need to offset every bad film with an award winning one (even if it wasnt for their performance)

Is Nick Cage near the top? sure... but at least he's earned it

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | February 23, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Seems as though a good portion of list are actors who are in big action flicks (Ahnold, Statham, Vin Diesel, etc.), started as or should've stayed as stand-up comedians (Sandler, Schneider, Kevin James, etc.) or are just pretty boys like Keanu or Christensen.

Every time I see a commercial for a movie with Nic Cage I always say to the hubby "Remember when he won AN OSCAR FOR LEAVING LAS VEGAS?!?!" One of my fave movies BTW. And now he's a cartoon of an actor now.

As for Pacino & DeNiro, as someone else said, if they're bad for playing the same character over & over then they should be included but if you like that fact then they're not.

Personally I'm tired of Pacino & DeNiro doing Pacino & DeNiro. They do it well, but it gets tiresome sometimes. Which is why I enjoyed seeing DeNiro on SNL making fun of all that & doing things on TV that he'd never do on the big screen, like dress in drag.

But overall I can't say I disagree with the majority of that list.

And I second Michael Cera. Granted he hasn't had a long spanning career, but he won't if he keeps playing Michael Cera.

Though as stated in this article & comments, some folks make a living doing the exact same role, so maybe Cera IS right on track for super success!

Posted by: wadejg | February 23, 2011 12:22 PM | Report abuse

The Fockers movies negate all positive reviews ever for Hoffman and De Niro. Ditto "Dick Tracy" and Pacino. If you're going to be a great actor, don't lower yourselves below the sludge line on purpose. Have some dignity. Aim upward.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | February 23, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Shaquille O'Neal in Kazaam is about the worst acting I've ever seen. But people can't hate on DeNiro and others for doing campy movies, Sir Ben Kingsley is one of the best living actors today and he does almost any movie offered because he loves the work. I don't think that being in Bloodrayne or Prince of Persia automatically negates Ghandi or Sexy Beast, etc.

Posted by: ozpunk | February 23, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

You can fool all of the people some of the time (DiNiro, Pacino, Brando, etc.), you can fool some of the people all of the time (Kevin Costner, Hugh Grant, Tom Cruise), but you can't fool all of the people all of the time (Claude Van Damme, Stevan Seagal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton...).

Posted by: kabuki3 | February 23, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I would put Pacino on the list along with Daniel Day-Lewis and Robin Williams, all of whom got some critical acclaim at various points in their careers but have all degenerated into delivering hammy, over-the-top performances that are caricatures.

I would dispute the likes of Shatner, Keanu and Ahhnold -- they do what they do best without the same pretense of doing "art."

I would have put Jeff Fahey (Lawnmower Man) on the list.

Posted by: MyPostEgo | February 23, 2011 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I couldn't get more than 10 into that list--I resent being used for web hits.

wade, re Nick Cage, I have the same kind of reaction when I see McConaughy and what he's devolved into--watched again "A Time To Kill" (1996) not long ago and it's just shocking, back then we were considering him one of the great up and coming young actors. A year later Matt Damon made the brilliant "The Rainmaker" -- look at the careers that followed both of those performances.

All in all I think the list is pointless--not to mention trotting out snide comments like Colin Farrell's "off set antics" to try to additionally justify him making the list when he hasn't had any "antics" for years (since he became a dad) is just shoddy. Someone like Statham doesn't have any pretensions of being a great actor, he's an action star.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | February 23, 2011 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Some actors can't act period. Others take any role because they love to work at their craft. Even campy, crappy roles can give a good actor room to expand. Think Tim Curry in Legend. He played the devil perfectly (no body does evil better than Tim Curry). Or De Niro in Stardust.

Sometimes an actor takes a crappy role for other reasons. Michael Caine famously did Jaws 4 because it shot in the Bahamas in January. I for one don't blame him.

On the other hand, if the Matrix had not been phenomenally successful, Keanu Reeves would still be making Bill & Ted Adventure movies.

Posted by: epjd | February 23, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@wadejg - DeNiro does do a scene in drag in Stardust - he plays a gay (semi-closeted) pirate. It is such a scene-chewing, hamming it up sort of role that you can't help but enjoy his performance. The man dances around in petticoats for goodness sake, kicking up his heels to the Can Can, how can you not enjoy that?

Posted by: StuckatWork | February 23, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

What, no Tom Arnold or Adam Sandler? This list is totally bogus!

Actually, I agree with a lot of the selections, actors who are pretty much lousy in everything they do. Then there are those who have had some bad roles, but also some outstanding roles, too. Like DeNiro.

I wonder what their list of the 50 best actors would look like!

Posted by: cjbriggs | February 23, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I notice that this list was all men. Does that mean they are going to do a 50 worst actresses list, too?

Posted by: cjbriggs | February 23, 2011 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I don't plan to read the list. There is "sparking debate," then there is stupidity: Al Pacino and Robert de Niro on the list? That alone will keep me from reading — and wasting any time on such idiocy.

Posted by: cfow1 | February 24, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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