Weekend Roundtable: Actors Who’ve Lost Their Edge

Robert De Niro, once one of the most vital actors of his generation if not all time, has yet another bland, forgettable comedy coming out this week. He’s made a lot of those in the last decade and a half. In this week’s Roundtable, we look at some other sad cases of actors who’ve simply lost their edge.

Keep in mind that any actor might make one bad (or simply underwhelming) movie when in need of a paycheck. What we’re looking for here are people whose careers have taken a decided trend downwards in their later years.

Shannon Nutt

It’s almost as if, after Al Pacino finally won his first Oscar for 1992’s ‘Scent of a Woman’, he stopped trying to impress people. He still gave a few good performances in the years that followed (like the underrated ‘Donnie Brasco’ and his turn in ‘The Insider’), but for the most part, Pacino has been spending the last twenty years either over-acting or simply phoning it in.

In fact, the only good roles Pacino seems to do these days are for HBO TV movies or miniseries. His theatrical efforts, however, are nothing short of laughable. This is the guy who chose to do BOTH ‘Gigli’ and ‘Jack and Jill‘, cementing his legacy as an Oscar winner who was not in just one – but TWO – of cinema’s worst movies ever. The rest of the résumé doesn’t look great either: ‘S1m0ne’, ‘The Recruit’, ‘Two for the Money’, ’88 Minutes’, ‘Righteous Kill’, and even a few so bad you’ve probably never heard of them, like ‘People I Know’ and ‘The Humbling’.

Pacino can’t possibly be doing this for the money, right? Is he just one of those guys who always wants to be working? Who knows? But it seems like such a waste of good talent. I’d rather see this guy pop up on screen every five years in something good than five times a year in titles that range from mediocre to horrible.

Mike Attebery

What the hell has happened to John Cusack? Aside from the recent ‘Love & Mercy’, the actor has been making Top Ten lists of crap for years now. Some of his direct-to-video flicks seem to have been shot in a rotating, speed-dating approach. (I swear he’s wearing the same exact costume in the trailers for ‘Reclaim‘ and ‘Drive Hard‘.)

I’ve seen Cusack quoted several times as saying of the current superhero trend: “Now they just want you to put on tights. If you don’t put on the tights, they just want to get rid of you. And I’m not putting on the tights. So you know…” Would being in a Marvel movie be worse than being in ‘Con Air‘, ‘2012‘, or any of the Bruce Willis-level schlock he’s shot the last few years?

Both Robert Redford and Michael Douglas have turned in memorable performances in movies involving tights. The same goes for Robert Downey, Jr. I love John Cusack, but the three guys I just mentioned are all far more compelling actors. John, for f@ck’s sake, put on the goddamn tights!

Luke Hickman

After landing on the map with ‘Star Wars’, Harrison Ford used to exclusively star in fantastic films. When he wasn’t making great ‘Indiana Jones’ movies, his career in the 1980s and early ’90s was full of strong performances: ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Witness’, ‘The Mosquito Coast’, ‘Frantic’, ‘Presumed Innocent, two ‘Jack Ryan’ films, ‘The Fugitive’. The deeper into the ’90s you look, the worse his movies became. The descent started with ‘Air Force One‘, got worse with ‘Six Days Seven Nights’ and led up to the worst title in his resume: ‘Hollywood Homicide’. Ford has phoned-in nearly every role since then. In ‘Firewall’, ‘Extraordinary Measures’, ‘Morning Glory’, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘The Expendables 3’, his performances showed that he could not have cared less about his work. They felt like purely paycheck films. Here’s hoping that he gives a damn about ‘Star Wars’ come December.

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

Meaning no disrespect, what the heck happened to Eddie Murphy? Following his groundbreaking, must-see work on ‘Saturday Night Live’, the actor burst onto movie screens with a series of R-rated action comedies (and just plain comedies) that challenged the status quo of African-Americans in Hollywood but also spoke the state of race relations in our society at the time. While the movie doesn’t hold up all that well in my opinion, I would still contend that Murphy’s foul-mouthed, formidable Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ was a modern-day Mr. Tibbs, a fish out of water who refused to bow to anyone.

More than 30 years later, Murphy has performed legendarily raunchy standup routines, and later wowed us in the world of animation, using his undeniable skills to charm us in the ‘Shrek’ movies and even Disney’s ‘Mulan’. So why the switch to a seemingly endless series of toothless family comedies? I won’t rattle off a full list of his misfires, but the timing of ‘Norbit‘ had people wondering if his Oscar nomination for ‘Dreamgirls’ was a mistake. ‘Imagine That‘ was utterly forgettable, and despite a promising high concept, ‘A Thousand Words‘ bombed theatrically before limping quietly onto home video.

Josh Zyber

Marlon Brando is pretty much the poster child for actors who simply stop giving a shit. The man was once a legendary screen presence whose fiery passion riveted audiences in movies like ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘On the Waterfront’. Throughout the 1950s, his dedication to the Method style of acting helped to revolutionize the way that film actors approached their craft. Even as late as his 1972 one-two punch of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Last Tango in Paris’, his name and star power could still sell a movie.

Unfortunately, as the years went on, Brando grew more cantankerous and difficult to work with. His feuds with directors often became more notable than the movies they made together. He cut way back on his acting, and made no bones about the fact that he’d only accept a job when he needed money. When he did appear on screen, his performances became bizarrely affected and outlandish. The quality of his work hit its nadir in the 1996 sci-fi flop ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, his role in which was later endlessly parodied in numerous episodes of ‘South Park’. This was truly a sad decline for one of cinema’s greatest icons.

Which other actors and actresses have suffered disappointing career declines in their later years? Tell us about them in the Comments.


  1. Chris B

    What about Nic Cage? he at least used to be in interesting stuff like Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart , Matchstick Men etc. Hell he even won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. Nowadays he seems desperate for cash and willing to appear in virtually any movie his agent (who should be fired) brings to him. Shit like Ghost Rider and Season of the Witch…WTF?

  2. NJScorpio

    I really…really hate saying this. I’m going to go with one of my all time cinema favorites…Jackie Chan.

    Now, we can’t fault Mr. Chan for not doing the same kind of stunts he did 15 to 30 years ago. We aren’t going to see a new movie of the likes of Supercop or the original Who Am I? any time soon. I get that. But, what made Chan so appealing over many other martial arts stars is his humor. Both his ability to pull off physical humor, as well as what he’d incorporate into the films he directed. Yet now it seems Jackie Chan has abandoned his trademark, family friendly, Chaplin-esq humor for more serious fare. This does not seem to be working out very well for him. Even the most recent (Supercop) Police Story movie (I have yet to see it) has been reviewed as overly serious, and just not as fun to watch as his many (many) classic films.

    So on one hand, it’s hard to fault an aging martial arts star for their recent films not living up to their classics, in this case it’s not just an issue of physical ability (like with Tony Jaa). Jackie’s films have lost some of that magic that made them so special. When your current films make your work with Chris Tucker look like classics, then you know you are in trouble.

    • Deaditelord

      I have to mostly agree with you here, although I thought Jackie was very good in The Karate Kid remake. I wonder if he’s just not being offered those type of roles any longer? He never appears to be coasting in his movies.

      • NJScorpio

        I was thinking further about this before, and I think there are (at least) two main factors…

        (1) Comedy is “of the era”, and often that sort of stuff can’t be reproduced 10+ years down the line. Look at films like ‘The Jerk’, or “Blazing Saddles’. You just can’t make a comedy with THAT specific type of humor now. It would look very different. I think that some of the broad comedy of the 1980’s and early 90’s Chan films might be considered misogynistic, or at the very least dated. (This is not my view, but I can see that view existing.)

        (2) The Chinese market has changed. I don’t know enough about it, and it’s relation to the international film market, to really say specifically what caused the change. But, from what I gather, it used to be a special occasion for Chinese familes to make it to the movie theater. As such, the movies themselves had to appeal to a broad demographic as well as cover many genres. A comedy/action/drama/romance that you/Grandma/Grandson can enjoy. Similar to early Hollywood films. Now, it seems that his films are getting more focused, with some period dramas, etc., He worked better with catch all films, almost “classic Hollywood” style.

    • Bolo

      I also wish Chan had just retired at least ten years ago. I don’t even watch most of his stuff now. He’s not doing his legacy any favours.

  3. Chris M.

    I’m on board with the John Cusack assessment. I started feeling that way since Hot Tub Time Machine. At this point I think the time has come for John to bury the hatchet with Savage Steve Holland.

  4. Brian Darroch

    For me the last good movie that De Niro was in was Heat which is now 20 years old, since then both he and Pacino have been phoning them in. I thought Harrison Ford actually managed to act in 42 unlike most of his other films of the last 20 years

      • Shannon Nutt

        I mentioned two of those, but that doesn’t excuse the vast majority of others. As I said, I’d rather Pacino be more picky than only “show up” once every dozen films.

    • Shannon Nutt

      Honestly, I’ve never thought that Tom Hardy was/is a particularly good actor to begin with. He’s been in some good movies (and some really bad ones), but I’ve never been blown away by a performance.

      • Bolo

        For the most part he excels at playing nutters. His performance in ‘Bronson’ is probably his most attention-grabbing. But I thought his performance in ‘The Drop’ was incredibly well measured. The overall movie itself was pretty average, but he hit his mark with that character perfectly.

        I didn’t really like him as Mad Max. I liked the movie, but I found his performance kinda off.

      • Chris B

        Although I love Fury Road, even I an admit that it could have used more characterization, especially in the case of Max. I wouldn’t say he gave a bad performance though,I just don’t think he was given much to work with. The whole movie could have used an extra half hour at the begining to set things up and really get the audience enaged on more of an emotional level IMHO. Hopefully the next two movies (as I’ve read they are planning to do a trilogy) will help us get to know Max a lot better.

        As for Hardy not being a particularly good actor I have to respectfully disagree. Whether it’s his work in Locke, Bronson, Warrior, The Drop etc. he has one of the strongest presences of any actor working today. 20 bucks says he wins an Oscar within the next five years, and probably more after that.

  5. Shannon Nutt

    I don’t necessarily disagree with Luke about Harrison Ford, but I think he redeemed himself the last couple of years with a great performance in ’42’ and a really good one in ‘Ender’s Game’ (we’ll agree to disagree on that one, Luke). I didn’t hate him in Crystal Skull either…the storyline had some problems, but Ford’s performance was just fine. I suspect he’s going to do a really good job in The Force Awakens as well.

  6. Meryl Streep. I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t remember the last time she really blew me away with a performance. And that used to be the standard for Streep. She’s been trying to play against type with roles like the witch from Into The Woods or the rocker chick in Ricki And The Flash, but the jig is up. It was a great run-unparalleled by even the most well-liked actors of the last 50 years. But it’s time to hang it up, Meryl.

  7. charles contreras

    I thought Harrison Ford was kickass great in Air Force One. His character would be the kind of person that I would vote for any day. As for Al Pacino, I personally think he’s still the guy to watch. I liked him in Carlito’s Way, Heat, and just recently in Danny Collins as an aging pop star. I would never have thought I would see him in that role, but I’m glad I did. Danny Collins wasn’t a major Hollywood blockbuster, but that’s a good thing. I haven’t seen DeNiro yet in The Intern, but I think that, after all this time of building a solid career in film, if he, Pacino, Ford and others want to take a chance and tackle different types of roles or subject matter, I say why not. As the late, great Christopher Lee once said, after playing all those serious roles during his career, not once did he have an opportunity to portray a character who gets to say “Have a nice day”. And to that, fellow film fans, have a nice day, yourselves!

  8. William Henley

    Well, I guess I will take the low hanging fruit and say Adam Sandler (I can’t believe that not anyone has said this). Starting around Click, and pretty much everything since, has been horrible.

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