Almost every actor has at least one massive failure on his or her imdb page. A performance so hideous, you're liable to get punched if you bring that movie up on the red carpet. And some of the best actors have played some of the most hideous supervillains.
There's just something about doing a supervillain role that brings out the ham — and the cheese — in an otherwise awesome performer. Here are 10 egregious examples of actors we love totally humiliating themselves portraying supervillains.
Oh, and before anybody says anything, we're using "supervillain" slightly loosely here — it's not just villains from comic book superhero movies, necessarily.
10. James Marsters as Lord Piccolo in Dragonball Evolution
When I first saw this movie, I remember thinking that Marsters was one of the best things in it — which is not saying much. But I just rewatched this movie, because it was Thanksgiving and what else are you going to do? And I was shocked by just how terrible Marsters really is in this movie. His face is immobilized by a hundred layers of latex, and he tries to compensate by acting with his voice and body language, and winds up shouting a lot and doing weird O-faces, like when he sits in his orgasmic chair and releases his pent-up energy skywards. Spike would have some words to say about this tosser.
9. Faye Dunaway in Supergirl
Dunaway is a fantastic actor, but when she decided to play an evil witch who battles Supergirl for the affections of a car mechanic, she stepped outside her comfort zone. There was probably no way to say lines like, "One false step, Bluebird, and even if you don't — your friends will get the point!" without wrenching every bit of sassy evil from it. With her teeth. Dunaway spends a lot of the movie acting vampy and being a cougar before cougars were a thing, but then at the end she unleashes her wind machine and has to get her Eastwick on. Go to about 3:00 in the above video, and watch for the part where Dunaway shouts in a monotone, "Power of Shadow, DESTROY HER!"
8. Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever
Like Dunaway's performance in Supergirl, Jones' appearance in Joel Schumacher's first Batman film dates from an era when comic-book movies were not taken as seriously as they are today. It's actually kind of weird to watch a clip of Tommy Lee Jones, who can be an amazing actor when he wants to be, prancing around a ridiculous bifurcated set and discussing the merits of quail eggs versus raw donkey meat with his two girlfriends. It's hard to watch even two or three minutes of Jones doing weird silent movie eye movements and licking his lips like he has the worst case of drymouth in history. You get the impression that Jones was hideously uncomfortable, and determined to pass his discomfort on to everybody.
7. Nick Nolte in Hulk
Gah. You know, the idea of focusing on Bruce Banner's relationship with his evil father — drawing on years of comics storylines by Bill Mantlo and Peter David — isn't a terrible idea. But turning Daddy Banner into the film's main villain, who sends gamma-irradiated dogs against the Hulk, is just a terrible idea. And just watch the above clip, where Nolte goes into a paroxism of snarling and screaming and freaking out about the legions of soldiers who impose their petty rule and their tyrannical blah blah blah... As with a lot of these supervillain performances, Nolte is handed ridiculously hyperbolic dialogue: "Stop your bawling, you weak little speck of human trash." And then he goes completely nuts with it. You can absolutely believe he would try to eat a power cable, as he does towards the end of this clip.
6. John Malkovich in Jonah Hex
Malkovich is a fantastic actor, but he's had a whole chapter of his career recently where he does these sort of overblown, facial-tic-heavy, loony performances, including Transformers 3, Mutant Chronicles, Red and Color Me Kubrick. And Jonah Hex is one of his nuttier turns, as Quentin Turnbull, the Southern secessionist who blames Jonah Hex for the death of his son and wants to shoot fireballs at the President. This is actually a slightly more restrained Malkovich performance than some of his other recent ones, but he still brings the crazy, as he repeats over and over again that he's the man who took "everything you ever loved."
5. Thomas Haden Church in Spider-Man III
Church is actually one of the least horrible parts of Sam Raimi's third and final Spider-movie. He's such a terrific actor that he does a lot with the meager material he's handed in this film — but he still ends up getting dragged down. Just check out the clip at left. The only thing Church has to go on, playing Flint Marko, is that he's a man who's in a lot of pain. So there's lots of bugging out of the eyes and jutting of the teeth, to indicate "I'm in pain!". And everybody in the audience can empathize.
4. Samuel L. Jackson in The Spirit
There are no words. Really. Thank goodness some kind soul on Youtube has compiled two videos of "the Best of Samuel L. Jackson in The Spirit." Including his Samurai outfit and his Nazi outfit — the latter of which causes him to shout "Achtung!" while goose-stepping and talking about conquering the drug trade. Just go to 2:00 in this clip and watch the insane glee with which Jackson says, "The missing link between science — and magic!". Oh, and then there's the great bit at 3:50 where he painstakingly explains several times that being the ruler of the world means that "everybody will have to do what I say. They'll all have to do what I say!" You don't say.
3. Tom Hardy in Star Trek: Nemesis
Sigh. Tom Hardy is flavor of the month right now, for very good reason — he was brilliant in Inception, and we have every confidence he won't earn another spot on this list with The Dark Knight Rises. But when he played an evil clone of Jean-Luc Picard, who takes over the surprisingly wimpy Romulan Empire, Hardy reached his nadir. Wearing insane shoulderpads and a crazy black latex ensemble, he channels a style that Vila from Blake's 7 would call "Early Maniac." Actually, the above video is interesting — it's a comparison of Hardy's screen tests as Shinzon with the final scenes, showing that Hardy's original instincts were to downplay the role a lot. Someone, probably director Stuart Baird, pushed him to get a lot more exaggerated.
2. Kenneth Branagh in Wild Wild West
Branagh is a great Shakespearean actor, who acquitted himself superbly as the director of this year's Thor. And then there's his turn in this movie, otherwise known as Steampunk's most horrendous hour. Branagh keeps this weird leer on his face throughout most of the movie, as he trundles around in a ridiculously fake-looking wheelchair and delivers a succession of dreadful dialogue. Look at the above scene, where Will Smith and Kenneth Branagh deliver "clever" insults based on their respective characters' race and disability. And then there's the great bit where an exploding Abraham Lincoln head flies apart, to reveal a grinning Branagh, who shouts, "This is the future!" Wha?
1. Joseph Gordon Levitt In G.I. Joe
We could be here literally all day listing all of JGL's fantastic performances, including the ultra-challenging Mysterious Skin, and (500) Days of Summer. We can't wait to see him in Looper. But Levitt just totally fails to bring the awesome in the crucial role of Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe — alongside Christopher Eccleston, who also deserves a place on this list. Gordon Levitt is the deformed mad scientist brother of the Baroness, who's presumed dead but is actually just skulking around wearing a bad wig and a mask. Levitt brings a weird growl and exaggerated leer to the role, on those rare occasions when we're able to see much of him. It's sad, because he's over the top and silly — but he totally fails to capture the childish ranting lunacy of the cartoon version of Cobra Commander. He's both too silly and not silly enough. What's the point?
Thanks to Meredith, Cyriaque, Annalee and Alasdair for the suggestions!