For many actors, winning an Academy Award is the pinnacle of their career. But as is the case with any peak, inevitably there's a downhill slide. That's certainly not the case for all actors, many of whom maintain careers marked by impressive consistency. But some Academy Award winners went on to make some baffling, critically derided choices—and they don't even have the excuse of just starting out in the business. Almost all of these films came out after the stars had picked up that coveted Oscar statue. From misguided vanity projects to inexplicable disasters, these are the worst movies ever starring Oscar-winning actors. And for more bad movies, check out The Worst Movie of All Time, According to Critics.
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The Island of Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando
It's not really a surprise that The Island of Dr. Moreau, the 1996 adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel of the same name, turned out to be such a disaster. The film had a notoriously troubled production, particularly when it came to its star, Marlon Brando, whose performance in the titular role was a far cry from his Oscar-winning turn in On the Waterfront in 1954. Brando's refusal to learn his lines, which required the use of an earpiece, was one of many reasons the movie earned such abysmal reviews. And for more shocking transformations, here are 14 Actors Who Looked Unrecognizable in Major Movies.
Battlefield Earth, Forest Whitaker
Based on the 1982 novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Battlefield Earth was star John Travolta's pet project, though he struggled to find funding due to the film's associations with his controversial religion. When it finally did hit theaters in 2000, the muddled sci-fi flick was a box-office disaster. It has come to be regarded as one of the worst movies of all time. Thankfully, Travolta's co-star Forest Whitaker emerged mostly unscathed, and in 2007, he won an Oscar for portraying Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. And for more fun content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Catwoman, Halle Berry
Catwoman has always been one of the most beloved characters in the Batman franchise. A standalone film about the feline antihero starring Halle Berry—an Oscar winner for 2001's Monster's Ball—should have been a safe bet. Instead, the movie, which was only loosely based on the DC Comics character, earned savage reviews. On the plus side, critics largely defended Berry's performance, and Catwoman has become something of a camp classic since its 2004 release. And to see how the critics felt about movies featuring Catwoman's sometimes-nemesis, we're Ranking Every Batman Movie, From Worst Reviewed to Best.
Dirty Grandpa, Robert De Niro
There were certainly ways to mine comedy from the unlikely pairing of Zac Efron and Robert De Niro, but 2016's Dirty Grandpa wasn't the way to go. This raunchy, gross-out comedy got panned for its ageist, offensive humor. The critic for The Times wrote directly to De Niro, an Academy Award winner for The Godfather Part II in 1975 and Raging Bull in 1981: "Be ashamed, Robert De Niro, be deeply ashamed of every scene of Dirty Grandpa."
The Dark Tower, Matthew McConaughey
Before the McConaissance—after Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club—the actor made a number of movies he's probably not particularly proud of. But he's had misfires since then as well, including the disastrous 2017 adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. McConaughey plays Walter Padick (AKA Randall Flagg), one of King's most infamous villains, but he's ultimately forgettable in a movie that's "not even bad enough to be fun," as a critic for Little White Lies said. And for more actors with scary starts, check out these Celebrities You Forgot Were in Horror Movies.
Case 39, Renée Zellweger
We'll give Renée Zellweger a pass for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, a film she and McConaughey co-starred in before they were famous. But there's no excusing 2009's Case 39, which she starred in between her Oscar wins for Cold Mountain (2003) and Judy (2019). As Entertainment Weekly put it in a D- review, "Case 39 is an aggressively inept demon-seed chiller starring a bunch of grown-ups who should've known better." That means you, Renée.
The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman
Rob Reiner's maudlin 2007 dramedy The Bucket List brought together two Oscar winners: Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1976, Terms of Endearment in 1984, and As Good As It Gets in 1998) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby in 2005). They played terminally ill friends trying to accomplish everything they want to do before they die. Unlike many of the movies on this list, The Bucket List was a box-office hit that had its share of critical defenders. Most, however, agree that it's schmaltzy dreck. And for more bad movies, discover The Worst Movie That Came Out the Year You Graduated.
All About Steve, Sandra Bullock
The night before Sandra Bullock accepted her Academy Award for The Blind Side in 2010, she accepted a Razzie Award for All About Steve, becoming one of very few actors to pick up their Razzie in person. It's a good thing she had a sense of humor about All About Steve, which she also produced, because critics were not amused. The general consensus was that Bullock's romantic lead, the awkward Mary Horowitz, was too creepy and desperate to root for.
Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Jon Voight
Jon Voight has experienced his fair share of career ups and downs since he won the Academy Award for his performance in Coming Home in 1979. But it's hard to imagine a lower low than playing the villain in 2004's Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, which has the distinction of being one of the 0 percent movies on Rotten Tomatoes. And while Voight certainly fared the worst of all the non-baby actors in Superbabies, he's not the only Oscar winner to make an appearance: Whoopi Goldberg (who appears elsewhere on this list) has a cameo as herself. And for more clunkers, These Are the Movies on Rotten Tomatoes With 0 Percent Ratings.
Suicide Squad, Viola Davis and Jared Leto
Viola Davis finally won an Oscar for 2016's Fences after two previous nominations, but that doesn't mean she's shied away from more commercial work. Some has been good, and some… not so much. Take Suicide Squad, one of the DC Extended Universe's more maligned efforts, which also features Jared Leto (an Oscar winner for Dallas Buyers Club) as the Joker. While these performances weren't necessarily the problem, the film was a plot-less mess. According to one BBC critic, "Suicide Squad looked bright and promising in its run-up, but lands on the screen with a big-budget thud of missed opportunities."
Mother's Day, Julia Roberts
No matter how you feel about Julia Roberts, a 2001 Academy Award winner for Erin Brockovich, you can't believe she deserved the wig she was saddled with in 2016's Mother's Day. But that abomination of a hairpiece was only one of many dreadful elements in Garry Marshall's star-studded ensemble rom-com. Yes, the man who directed Roberts in Pretty Woman, the movie that helped make her a household name, also helmed Mother's Day, which a critic for The Guardian called "as feel-good and life-affirming as a fire in an asbestos factory neighboring a children's hospital."
The Rite, Anthony Hopkins
You've seen Anthony Hopkins as a brilliant cannibal serial killer—his role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is what earned him the Oscar in 1992—but have you seen him possessed by a demon? If not, you're not exactly missing out. While the completely forgettable exorcism flick The Rite did earn Hopkins himself some decent reviews in 2011, the movie as a whole was derided for being a much slower and less frightening take on The Exorcist.
Cats, Jennifer Hudson and Judi Dench
Is Cats one of the worst films ever made, or is it one of the best? It depends on who you ask. The 2019 movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical has been called a "descent into madness," but it had enough camp appeal to become an instant midnight movie, with "rowdy screenings" hosted by Alamo Drafthouse theaters across the country. And a huge part of that so-bad-it's-good enjoyment came out of seeing Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls in 2007) and Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love in 1999) debase themselves so thoroughly that no amount of digital fur technology could save them.
Mortdecai, Gwyneth Paltrow
The omnipresent ad campaign for 2015's Mortdecai was excessive, especially for a movie that no one really seems to remember. And yet, it existed, and starred Gwyneth Paltrow, another Academy Award winner for Shakespeare in Love. Paltrow has certainly made other not-great films, but something about Mortdecai's status as a completely forgettable flop makes it (paradoxically) stand out. In a review for rogerebert.com, Peter Sobczynski called it an "absolutely bewildering waste of time, talent, energy and money."
Jack and Jill, Al Pacino
In 2011's Jack and Jill, Al Pacino—a 1993 Academy Award winner for Scent of a Woman—is persuaded to star in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial to earn a date with Jill, played by Adam Sandler. Now, how can we explain him starring in this wretched movie? To be fair, while the film as a whole earned worse reviews than usual for the frequently maligned Sandler, reviewers seemed to dig Pacino's surprisingly oddball performance. Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum called him a "weird figure of nutty fun." Maybe Jack and Jill wasn't the worst choice for Pacino after all. And to see how the film itself fared among those on Sandler's resume, check out Ranking Every Adam Sandler Movie, From Worst Reviewed to Best.
Theodore Rex, Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg isn't just an Academy Award winner (for Ghost in 1991): She's an EGOT winner, having earned an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. And in 1996, she had to star alongside an anthropomorphic dinosaur in the bizarre buddy-cop comedy Theodore Rex. The story of how this ludicrous direct-to-video flop got made is fascinating in its own right, but the end result was one of the most embarrassing moments in its acclaimed star's career. (And remember, she also appeared in Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.)
The Reaping, Hilary Swank
Since winning the Academy Award for Boys Don't Cry in 2000, Hilary Swank has rarely gotten her due as an actor. But most of the films she's appeared in have at least earned better reviews than 2007's The Reaping, a biblical plague horror film roundly mocked for its all-too-appropriate tagline, "What hath God wrought?" As a critic for the San Francisco Chronicle noted, "What could Swank really have done with such a cliché-ridden screenplay, except turn it down?"
Aloha, Emma Stone
Emma Stone has learned her lesson after Aloha, a film she had to apologize for. It's not just that the 2015 movie wasn't good, though critics agreed it was one of director Cameron Crowe's worst films; it was also that Stone was playing a character of Hawaiian and Asian heritage. The whitewashing controversy around Aloha was its most notable sin, but only one of many reasons Stone—who went on to win the Academy Award for La La Land in 2017—would probably prefer it was never spoken of again.
Season of the Witch, Nicolas Cage
Picking the worst Nicolas Cage movie is a real challenge, both because the actor has made some impressively bad films, and because some of his "worst" movies are also his most delightful. Over the past several years, Cage—who won an Oscar for his 1995 performance in Leaving Las Vegas—has leaned into his over-the-top, unhinged persona, picking projects that allow him to let it all hang out. So while Season of the Witch got awful reviews upon its release in 2011, it's hard to believe Cage would feel particularly ashamed of it. Bad or not, he seems to be having fun!
Pinocchio, Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni's career following his Oscar win for 1999's Life Is Beautiful has been something of a mixed bag, but it would be hard to find a lower point than his 2002 adaptation of Pinocchio, which he directed and starred in as the title character. With a 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is widely regarded as one of the worst ever made. "What can one say about a balding 50-year-old actor playing an innocent boy carved from a log?" a San Francisco Chronicle critic wondered. Frankly, that's plenty. And for the latest TV shows that will make you cringe, check out The Worst TV Show of 2020, According to Critics.