All week, The Ringer will be celebrating Good Bad Movies, those films that are so terrible they’re endlessly amusing and — dare we say it? — actually good. Please join us as we give the over-the-top action movies, low-budget romance thrillers, and peak ’80s cheese-fests the spotlights they deserve.
Whenever a bad movie comes out, we have a habit of making snap judgments about what it all means for those involved. Just last week, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy roared into the theaters with a 16 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and articles with headlines like, "Is Tom Cruise Still One Of Hollywood’s Most Bankable Stars?" followed. It’s probably not fun to be an actor in a bad movie — especially as waves of speculative "is his/her career over?" articles roll in on top of crummy reviews and worse box office projections. But good news: It isn’t that dire. If Cruise’s millions of dollars aren’t a good enough medicine, he ought to be relieved to know this: Great, massively famous actors making horrible movies is a time-honored Hollywood tradition.
As we combed through our definitive ranking of the best Good Bad Movies, we were shocked to realize how many of them starred some of the industry’s most revered talents. An even more surprising realization was how little impact these bad films had on these actors’ futures and legacies. When I say Sandra Bullock, you probably think Speed, or Gravity, or Miss Congeniality — and those movies all came after she put on a headset and had virtual intercourse with Sylvester Stallone in Demolition Man.
So there is hope for any actor who makes a bad choice, and really, for all of us. And if you still don’t believe me, please keep reading as we delve into the history of magnificent ensemble casts making horrific movies.
Denis Leary, Benjamin Bratt, and Nigel Hawthorne add some clout to the cast of Demolition Man, but most of this cast’s accolades come from Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock. What’s interesting here is these two came to the 1993 sci-fi action film — about an L.A. cop who is awoken from a cryogenic sleep to help future cops catch the ultimate bad guy (played by Wesley Snipes, who has no major award nominations to his name, because apparently Oscar voters didn’t see Blade) — at totally different points in their careers. Stallone is a great example of a former megastar cementing the notion that he’s past his prime by starring in a dumpster fire, while Bullock is a quintessential case of a young actress aiming for exposure above all else, including quality.
And it worked out for both of them — or, it at least didn’t affect their ability to continue working. Stallone continued to make mediocre-to-bad movies like Judge Dredd, Get Carter, and MULTIPLE Expendables movies, none of which kept the academy from nominating him for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Creed. And Bullock’s rigid, awkward performance is even more of a distant memory, thanks to two Oscar nominations (and one win). It’s really fun to watch Bullock accept an Oscar for The Blind Side and then immediately after that watch her explain to Sylvester Stallone that "all restaurants are Taco Bell now" in Demolition Man — you should try it.
Perhaps more amazing than John Travolta throwing away his status as a prestige actor (off of performances in Saturday Night Fever, Get Shorty, and Pulp Fiction) on a promotional video for Scientology is the way his costars were able to recover from Battlefield Earth. Seriously, look at Forest Whitaker and Barry Pepper in this movie:
How was this not career-ending?!?! Answer: because actors can get away with almost anything Hollywood. Whitaker went on to win an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance in The Last King of Scotland, while Pepper became a prestige TV-movie actor, locking down multiple Emmy nods for projects like 61* and The Kennedys. As the man responsible for rudely forcing Battlefield Earth on the general public, Travolta’s career took more of a hit. But let’s be honest: He had already made Face/Off; it’s not like he was in the middle of some renaissance. And! Since Battlefield Earth, he’s been nominated for Golden Globes for playing a mother and an overly tan lawyer, so nothing means anything.
Dear Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, and any other actress who has appeared as a superhero in a major critical flop: Look to the story of Catwoman for solace.
For Halle Berry, the 2004 bust is a classic example of an actor turning an Oscar into a paycheck, something no one should be ashamed of, because money is good and necessary and, as we’re learning, no mistake is too big to move past. Catwoman was released just three years after Monster’s Ball, and while it is certainly a pockmark on Berry’s résumé, it hasn’t kept her from collecting accolades. She earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for Their Eyes Were Watching God just a year after rubbing catnip all over her face; she produced the Emmy-nominated TV movie Lackawanna Blues. Elsewhere, costar Frances Conroy continued to rack up Emmy nominations for her role in Six Feet Under, almost simultaneously with Catwoman bombing.
It seems like a no-brainer to treat Catwoman as a cautionary tale, but it isn’t. It’s a useful blueprint for any Jessica Chastains looking to get into the superhero game. If you’re Chastain and you see Berry and Co. move on unmarred from a laughably bad movie like Catwoman, you gotta think, "What the hell do I have to lose?"
And more than that, it’s a model for how to respond to negative critiques. Berry won Worst Actress at the Razzies for her performance in Catwoman, and, instead of turning her nose up and pretending like the flop never happened, she embraced it with a sense of humor. She attended the ceremony to accept the award, delivering a speech that Razzies founder John J. B. Wilson told The Ringer was "the greatest thing in our entire history." Her handling of a mistake has become more memorable than the mistake itself.
‘Batman & Robin’
Clooney, Thurman, Schwarzenegger, and Silverstone at their peaks; it’s incredible what can happen when a group of good (or entertaining, at least) actors get together. Quality is never a guarantee in the movie industry.
Though George Clooney was a huge figure on TV and had a been in movies before (such as the rom-com One Fine Day and, of course, the classic Return of the Killer Tomatoes), Batman & Robin was his first real "big" movie — and it was a laughing stock. I’m sure if the internet in its current form existed in 1997, every blog would have been pondering whether Clooney should kick rocks and head back to television with his tail between his legs. And all of those blogs would have been extremely wrong; Clooney shrugged off B&R on his way to picking up 10 more Golden Globe nominations and Oscar nods for acting, writing, and directing. Elsewhere in the cast, Uma Thurman’s appearance in B&R didn’t stop her from getting cast as the lead in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series. (I bet it helped, actually; I bet Tarantino thought Poison Ivy was SO HOT.) And Schwarzenegger? Well, Schwarzenegger became governor of California.
Of all the movies on this list, Batman & Robin is the one that popular culture hasn’t let fade into obscurity. People will never tire of making jokes about George Clooney’s Batman nipples, and just last week director Joel Schumacher apologized to fans for making the movie. Still, the massive embarrassment of this movie hasn’t kept anyone from working. Right, NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell?
‘The River Wild’
The River Wild didn’t make our top 50 — it didn’t have enough cultural relevance — but it must be mentioned because its cast of Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, and John C. Reilly accounts for a staggering number of major award nominations. It’s also a testament to the unparalleled power Streep has over all of Hollywood. Not only did Streep dodge any shame from starring in The River Wild, moving on from a film described by Roger Ebert as "hardly worth the bother" to be nominated for 11 more Oscars and 19 more Golden Globes, but she was actually nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in the movie! That’s like if Nicolas Cage got a nomination for playing Cameron Poe in Con Air. Meryl is so next level; we’re over here celebrating actors who survived terrible roles, while she was out there locking down nominations for them.
Whereas Batman & Robin, Demolition Man, and Catwoman are inspiring in the way that they prove that no one can be reduced to a single mistake, The River Wild — and specifically Meryl Streep — is uplifting as a testament to how your biggest successes will always outweigh your biggest failures, to the point that some may even mistake the latter for the former.
Audrey Hepburn once said, "Everything I learned, I learned from the movies." I’m almost 100 percent positive she wasn’t talking about the kind of movies in which superheroes have protruding nipples, but hey, she could have been.