A great performance can leave a permanent impression on moviegoers. Then again, bad acting can leave a similarly permanent impression, but for much different reasons. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of awful performances ruin a movie scene, though none quite as badly as the ones you’re about to witness.
“LAWWW!” – JUDGE DREDD (1995)
Of all the ridiculous scenes in Danny Cannon’s dystopian disaster Judge Dredd, none play out quite as badly as the long-awaited confrontation between Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone) and Rico (Armand Assante) at the end of the movie. What begins as a slow-burning war of words quickly escalates to the point where Stallone and Assante forget how to pronounce basic English words. Assante’s climactic line reading of the word “law” is perhaps the scene’s most memorable moment, and remains as unintentionally hilarious today as it was 20 years ago. It also holds a special place in the Internet’s heart, thanks to multiple parodies, remixes, and more.
“OH GOD, OH MAN!” – TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE (1987)
Ryan O’Neal’s acting career essentially died with the release of Tough Guys Don’t Dance, which features one of the most uncomfortable and badly acted reaction scenes ever caught on film. In the scene, O’Neal’s reads a letter from Isabella Rossellini’s character, a former lover who is writing to tell him that his wife is having an affair with her husband. O’Neal’s response: shouting “Oh Man, Oh God” over, and over and over again, while dramatically standing on the edge of a cliff. To be fair: “Oh Man, Oh God” is such a terrible line of dialogue, not even an actor of Meryl Streep’s caliber could make it work. Still, O’Neal’s stiff, emotionless reading is so bad, it wouldn’t even land him a bit part in a high school production of Annie. No wonder writer-director Norman Mailer eventually apologized for keeping the scene in the final print.
“DIFFERENT PLACES!” – SHOWGIRLS (1995)
Pretty much any scene from Showgirls is bad enough to make this list. But the one that always sticks out as being The Very Worst happens towards the beginning of the movie, when Nomi meets her future roommate, Molly, for the first time. As we saw on Saved by the Bell, Elizabeth Berkley cranks each line up to 11. Here, she vigorously files her nails and pours ketchup over french fries as if she’s auditioning for a commercial about anger management. Eventually, after Molly inquires about Nomi’s past whereabouts, Berkley gets so cooked up, she throws her fries into the air, leans back and declares “DIFFERENT PLACES!” with a bubble caught in her throat. It’s enough bad acting to get anyone banned from Juilliard.
“HOW’D IT GET BURNED?!” – THE WICKER MAN (2006)
Nicolas Cage’s performance in The Wicker Man is so bad, people who haven’t even seen the movie are able to quote such such infamous lines as the ones featured in the next scene on our list. In this particular moment, Cage’s character—a policeman who interrogates a group of neo-Pagans after his daughter goes missing—discovers a burned doll he believes belonged to his daughter. Approaching one of the island’s women, he asks relentlessly, “How’d it get burned??” The question quickly becomes so repetitive, so overacted, the woman shouts, “I don’t know,” as if to say, “please shut up!” Can’t say we blame her.
“IS IT STILL RAINING? I HADN’T NOTICED” – FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994)
Andie MacDowell never quite lived up to the promise she displayed in movies from the late-1980s like Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Perhaps that was due to the wooden performance she gave in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, which features a truly terrible line reading that nearly derails an otherwise charming movie. At the end of the film, in the pouring rain, Hugh Grant delivers one of those classic, sappy “It was you all along” speeches to McDowell. “It wasn’t the person standing next to me in the veil, it’s the person standing next to me now, in the rain,” he says. McDowell interjects, saying the line “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed” with so little emotion, it’s as if she were actually the funeral featured in the film’s title.
“IT’S RAINING!” – COLD MOUNTAIN (2003)
Yes, it’s possible to win an Oscar for a bad performance. Just ask Renee Zellweger, who stomped and yelled and y’all-ed her way to Academy Award for her insanely over-the-top performance in Anthony Minghella’s Civil War tearjerker, Cold Mountain. In one particularly bad monologue, Zellweger’s character reacts to her abandoned father’s sudden return by comparing war to the weather. “They call this war a cloud over the land,” she declares. “But they made the weather. And then they stand in the rain and say, ‘S***, it’s rainin’!” Sorry, what?
Over-the-top disaster or pure genius? It’s still hard to figure out what the hell to make of Faye Dunaway’s insanely committed performance as Oscar-winning Joan Crawford in the 1981 critical disaster,Mommie Dearest. Whatever side you fall on, it’s hard not to marvel at the ridiculous scenes Dunaway agreed to perform. Among the many: the scene in which she flips out on her daughter, Christina, for keeping wire hangers in her bedroom closet. The scene is absurd on numerous levels (remember when Joan actually beats Christina with the wire hangers?), but Dunaway’s cracked-out line readings, which feature way, way, way more yelling, screaming and neck veins than necessary, truly take the cake. Though, to be fair, you’ve probably never looked at wire hangers the same way since.
“I DON’T LIKE SAND.” – STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
George Lucas’ ill-advised Star Wars prequels continue to linger in painful, awkward glory in the memories of former fans. And little is worse than Hayden Christiensen’s jaw-droppingly bad performance as Anakin Skywalker. Christensen’s performance reached its lowest of lows in Episode II – Attack of the Clones, during an attempt at bonding with Natalie Portman’s character, Padmé. “I don’t like sand,” he said. “It’s coarse, and rough and irritating.” Then, in full monotone glory, he declares, “And it gets everywhere!” The scene is a joke in itself; who the hell says that kind of stuff? But Christensen’s dull-as-nails performance only makes things worse. Even Portman appears to be holding in her laugh.
“WHAT? NO!” – THE HAPPENING (2008)
What do you do when you try to calm down a crazy lady? You deny her accusations with the convictions and believability of a four-year-old boy. That’s exactly what Mark Wahlberg did in his brief (but hilarious) confrontation with Betty Buckley in M. Night Shyamalan’s campy thriller The Happening, which only gets funnier with each reply. Even Wahlberg himself admitted the movie sucked during a press conference two years later. “You can’t blame me for wanting to try to play a science teacher, you know?” he laughed. “I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook.” With line readings as bad as this one, uh, not really?
“DAD?” – THE GODFATHER: PART III (1990)
SPOILER ALERT! Sofia Coppola’s performance in The Godfather: Part III is unquestionably a disaster; she ruined every scene she was in. We ultimately chose her death scene as her worst moment for two reasons. One, because, hooray, she died! And two, it was really, really, really bad to watch. Seeing her drop to her knees, then collapse onto stairs was the equivalent of watching a tree fall in the woods. Yes, she was being directed by her father, but c’mon, by this scene, someone should have yelled “CUT!”
“OH MY GODDDD!” – TROLL 2 (1990)
When you film a movie like Troll 2, the last thing you’re going to get is Oscar-caliber acting. Instead, you’re going to be subjected to the kind of bad performance delivered by co-star Darren Ewing, who plays one of the film’s nerdy teenagers, Arnold. Ewing’s worst (read: funniest) moment in the film comes just as Arnold realizes he’s going to be eaten alive by trolls. (Apparently, getting stabbed by a spear wasn’t warning enough.) Watching the chick he picked up in the woods turn into a plant, he exclaims, “They’re eating her—and then they’re going to eat me!” Then, as if he’s falling off a cliff to his sad, pitiful death, he screams, “Oh my Goddddd!” While Ewing’s delivery certainly contains more energy than Ryan O’Neal’s “Oh God, Oh Man” moment, it’s about as close as any actor has gotten to a true cinematic trainwreck. It’s no wonder Ewing waited 16 years before he tried acting again.