Every now and then, an actor takes it upon themselves to act bigger and harder and louder than everyone else.
Sometimes the role demands such a performance. Other times it is a wonderful surprise that elevates not only a character, but an entire movie. And it’s always a joy to see an actor just allowed to let loose and go wild with a role. Usually if they’re enjoying themselves, we as viewers will enjoy watching them.
Now, here I'm going to look at examples of overacting that were great to the point of legendary. You may notice that a lot of these parts went to actors playing villains or clinically insane people. However, I will make a few things clear:
All the movies in this list are ones that I consider to be good movies. So a delightfully hammy performance in an otherwise rubbish film isn’t going to make the list (sorry, Street Fighter).
Also, overacting that is bad - however hilarious or a guilty pleasure it may be - won’t be on the list (sorry, The Room).
I’ve also avoided goofball comedy actors like Jim Carrey, Jack Black, Eddie Murphy etc. on the basis that manic performances are their bread and butter.
Look, just - let's celebrate the absurd where it almost didn't belong, okay?
10. David Patrick Kelly - The Warriors (1979)
We begin this list not with perhaps a more lesser known actor than some of the other heavyweights that will appear later on. David Patrick Kelly first came to my attention as a weaselly cronie in Commando. Then a second time as a weaselly cronie in The Crow. But his most iconic role is that of Luther, leader of the Rogues gang, in the cult chase-a-thon The Warriors.
The Warriors is a movie more lauded for its costumes and fight sequences than the acting prowess on show. But whenever Kelly is onscreen hamming it up, he is a pure joy.
Whether screaming ‘FOR WHAT?’ at a poor street vendor for asking him to pay, or his snivelling ‘Nooo… It wasn’t us... It was the Warriors!…’ when about to get his comeuppance, his manic performance never feels too much in the madcap, brightly coloured world of this movie.
The film’s best moment is Kelly deviously cooing ‘Waaaarriioooorrss…..Come out to plaaa-ee-aaaay!’ whilst clinking a bunch of bottles looking like Freddy Krueger caught doing the recycling.
And on top of that? This whole moment was completely improvised by Kelly. Now that’s how to steal a movie.