Good actors know the value of a good villain; from Richard III to Dracula, some times the best bad guys are much more interesting than the heroes. Some times… but not always. Here are eight incredibly talented actors who completely wasted their talents as silly cinematic scoundrels.
1) Frank Langella as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe
Frank Langella received the Golden Glove for Most Promising Newcomer for playing George Prager in Diary of a Mad Housewife back in 1970. It's probably a safe bet to assume he didn't think that in 17 years he'd be playing the screaming, skull-faced villain in a cheap movies based on a toyline. Interestingly, Langella is totally fine with his performance, calling "Skeletor" one of his very favorite parts, possibly because his kid was a big He-Man fan at the time. Even if he's fine with it, we still feel bad for him.
2) Orson Welles as Unicron in Transformers: The Movie
By the '80s, the acclaimed, brilliant Orson Welles had pretty much given up trying to do anything of quality and would pretty much star in anything for a check. This included the voice of the planet-sized robot Unicron in Transformers: The Movie, although Welles voice was so modulated in the finished movie you can't even recognize it as him. It would be sad that the man who wrote, directed and starred in Citizen Kane's final role was the voice of a robot in a movie designed to sell toys, but better this than his infamous frozen peas commercial.
3) Jeremy Irons as Profion in Dungeons & Dragons
Jeremy Irons is a classically trained actor who has starred in countless Shakespeare plays and won an Academy Award for his role as Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune. He also starred as the evil wizard Profion in the first terrible D&D movie, where he ignored every single bit of his training to mercilessly ham it up in every single scene. Why would he ever stoop to such a role? Supposedly, Irons had just bought a castle and was in a spot of financial trouble. In possibly related news, Irons is rumored to drink a lot.
4) James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian
Although best known as the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, Jones is an award-winning actor and star of stage productions of On Golden Pond, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and countless Shakespeare plays. Director John Milius had stated that he hired Jones to play the villain Thulsa Doom in hopes of helping the quite inexperienced Arnold Schwarzenegger, which Jones kindly tried to do. But that still meant he had to put on a ridiculous wig, say ridiculous lines like "I wish to speak to you now. Where is the Eye of the Serpent? Rexor said that you gave it to a girl; probably for a mere night's pleasure. Such a loss. People have no grasp of what they do!" and turn into a snake.
5) Ben Kingsley as Kagan in Bloodrayne
Let's be honest. Ben Kinglsey — excuse me, Sir Ben Kingsley, since he was knighted for his contributions to cinema and his immense talent — has starred in a tremendous amount of shitty, shitty movies, including the live-action Thunderbirds. But even he should have known to stay away from Bloodrayne, a movie directed by Uwe Boll based on a videogame about an underdressed vampire with daddy issues (Kingsley being said daddy, obviously). Like in all his films, Kingsley tried to give the role the gravity portrayed the King of the Vampires deserved; he just didn't realize the role deserved no gravity.
6) Jon Voight as Kane in Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2
When Jon Voight shuffles off this mortal coil, he'll pretty much only be remembered for siring Angelina Jolie. This is fine, because although he won countless awards for his roles in Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home and The Champ, at a certain point he clearly gave up and began acting in anything that would write him a check. Sadly, Bratz: The Movie is not the most shameful of these roles. That honor would have to go to Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, in which he played the evil media tycoon Kane. One of the few films to have a 0% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, try to watch the above scene and not weep for a man whose career has not gone as planned.
7) Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith in Lost in Space
As the rumor goes, Gary Oldman was so distraught after the box office failure of 1994's Immortal Beloved, in which he played Beethoven, that he resolved from that point on to only star in commercial crap. Looking at his IMDB page, it's clear that's not strictly true, but suffice it to say there's no way pre-1994 Oldman would have consented to star opposite Friends' Matt LeBlanc as Dr. Smith in the awful movie adaptation of Lost in Space. Oldman plays Smith as he appeared in the classic TV series — supercilious, effete, sneering — but any character that doesn't utilize Oldman's raw emotion and gravitas is a waste of everybody's time.
8) Robert De Niro as Fearless Leader in Rocky & Bullwinkle
Raging Bull. The Godfather Part II. Goodfellas, Taxi Driver. The Deer Hunter. Cape Fear. These are just a few of the movie masterpieces Robert De Niro has made over his illustrious career and won a massive pile of awards for. After a filmography like that, you have to forgive him for deciding to take lighter comedic work (or attempted comedy, at least) like the Meet the Parents movies. But all the Godfather Part II's in the world will never make up for De Niro's appearance as Fearless Leader in the live-action Rocky & Bullwinkle film. What I'm sure was supposed to be a goofy kids flick became an abysmal pit of shame for all involved. And the world part is how the movie forced De Niro to basically shit over his iconic "You talkin' to me?" performance from Taxi Driver. Sigh.cccc