It’s easy to make lists about the best because we remember the greats. De Niro in Raging Bull, Nicholson in Chinatown, Brando in On the Waterfront. We recall the work of great actors because we want to.
Bad actors usually get consigned to history. We don’t consider them worthy of our time, perhaps because their work on the screen appears so lacking in effort. We forget bad actors because erasing the bad is what we do; it’s why we often have such rose-tinted memories. As a result, it’s difficult to recollect great performances from uniformly bad performers because we tend to block out those actors in the first place. This list has an incredibly short memory: there’s only one performance here from before the 1990s.
It’s impossible to say objectively what a ‘terrible’ actor is. Quality in art is always subjective, though we have critics and friends to give us the consensus on who are commonly accepted as the ‘bad’ actors. Keanu Reeves might be a popular choice as a woeful modern actor; even though there are probably some who’ll still fight his corner, popular opinion says that Keanu Reeves cannot act. He wouldn’t even make this list because, in my opinion, his one great performance still eludes him.
Which makes things even harder. Normally, bad actors give consistently bad performances where good actors give consistently good ones. Actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman (the good) and Ashton Kutcher (the bad) decently stick within the guidelines of what’s expected of them. To make this list, you have to be regularly terrible, or have a reputation for being terrible, but still have one shining performance behind you that defied all expectations. These poor saps below are regularly bad, starring in bad movies, with reputations as bad performers following not far behind. Most are considered the worst in their field, undeserving of the fame that has been thrust upon them as stars of the flickering light. But it seems even terrible actors can still have that one great performance in them, as even these guys managed to blow us away once in their lives.
This article was first posted on October 22, 2012