There are actors in the movie business who are renowned for their immense talent. We’re talking big names like Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, and Cate Blanchett. These are the stars who sweep awards shows, winning trophies for earth-shattering performances. And not only are they talented, but they consistently pick solid scripts and work with phenomenal directors, giving us movies that are widely hailed as all-time greats.
But then there are the actors whose work is a little less than astounding, the ones who’ve gotten more Razzie nominations than Oscars. Of course, that isn’t to say they aren’t getting roles anymore. It’s just that the roles they’re getting are in films that wind up at the bottom of nearly every critics’ list. But even these actors can sometimes surprise us. Just because they’ve had a career full of misses doesn’t mean they can’t have at least a single hit. Sometimes, lightning only strikes once, and for the actors on this list, they’ve only had one good movie apiece.
Rob Schneider’s one good film is Muppets from Space
Rob Schneider had a few bit parts in a couple films before landing Saturday Night Live in 1990, but roles like "Bellman" and "Dude 1" aren’t exactly what a thriving film career is made of. SNL did a lot for Schneider, and after he left in 1994, he went on to appear in a string of comedies that did moderately well financially (The Waterboy and Big Daddy both opened in first place at the box office). But hardly any of the films Schneider has appeared in throughout his 30-year career have actually been that good.
In fact, the closest thing Schneider has ever gotten to a critical hit was 1999’s Muppets from Space. That’s right. The only decent film Rob Schneider has ever appeared in stars a cast made up almost entirely of puppets. With a Rotten Tomatoes score that only just qualifies as good, the general consensus of Muppets from Space is that it’s "funny and clever enough to make for better-than-average family entertainment." Schneider plays a TV show producer who doesn’t actually have a whole lot to do with the overall plot of the film, but at least it’s a credited role. Plus, he got to act alongside some well-respected thespians like Kermit the Frog.
Marlon Wayans is fantastic in Requiem for a Dream
Marlon Wayans is probably best known for his work in films that spoof other, more successful films — stuff like the Scary Movie franchise or Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. While poorly rated comedies are Wayans’ specialty, he has, in fact, proven himself to be adept at dramatic acting, if only for a single role.
In 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, Wayans plays Tyrone C. Love, one of four main protagonists in the film who all struggle with crippling drug addictions. Along with Harry (Jared Leto), Tyrone’s attempt to sell heroin puts him in prison, where he becomes the target of a group of racist guards.
The Austin Chronicle called Wayans’ performance in the film "impressive and subdued," with subdued being the keyword here. In fact, if Wayans had perhaps focused more on toning down his over-the-top performance style, his later career could’ve gone beyond Fifty Shades of Black and its measly 7 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Kevin James is a joy to watch in Hitch
To be clear, Kevin James has actually had parts in a few well-received films … as a voice actor. While voice acting is certainly deserving of recognition, in this instance (to keep things on an even playing field), we’re only going to focus on live action roles. And when it comes to live action, James could use some work. In general, the actor tends to stick with physical comedy, which is great for a quick laugh, but it isn’t something that’s going to be bringing home any gold statues.
But the man has given one truly admirable performance. In 2005, James landed a co-starring role in Hitch, a film about the eponymous "date doctor" who falls for his biggest critic. James’ turn as Hitch’s client, Albert, is sweet and genuinely funny, while his on-screen buddy chemistry with the film’s star, Will Smith, certainly adds to the film’s appeal. It’s also nice to see that James can play a character who isn’t quite as bumbling and clumsy as Paul Blart. If he’d trust his comedic ability beyond just the physical, fat joke kind of humor, Kevin James could easily find himself in more redeeming roles.
Steven Seagal made his one good action movie with Under Siege
In the world of action cinema, Steven Seagal could quite literally be the king who reigns over every mediocre 1980s martial arts-heavy film ever made. The actor/black belt martial artist/reserve deputy sheriff/energy drink entrepreneur has made a lot of films over the course of his 30-year career (more than 50). But only one of those is actually worth watching.
In 1992, Seagal starred in Under Siege, an over-the-top action thriller about a group of terrorists who attempt to overtake a Navy battleship carrying a cache of nuclear warheads. Seagal plays the ship’s cook, who also happens to be a former SEAL and the last man that any terrorist would want to come up against. Under Siege only gets more ridiculous from there, but hands down, it’s one of the most entertaining action flicks ever put together.
Since its release, however, Steven Seagal’s career has been mostly relegated to direct-to-video releases that have tried (unsuccessfully) to live up to Under Siege‘s reputation. In other words, Seagal has put his own career … under siege.
Jaden Smith redeemed himself with Skate Kitchen
Jaden Smith has only been a working actor since 2006, so it may seem unfair to single him out for only having one good movie. But we’re going to do it anyway, because we’re not here to overlook such tragic filmmaking as 2013’s After Earth. And as much as we love Will Smith, it’s nice to know that Jayden’s highest rated film is one he’s done without his dad’s involvement.
Skate Kitchen falls somewhere between documentary and fiction. According to IndieWire, writer/director Crystal Moselle was taking the G train when she overheard a group of female skateboarders talking about tampons. Moselle was immediately intrigued and decided to make a movie with these skaters as her stars. Jayden Smith was a later addition to the movie, serving as "a recognizable face with a cast of newcomers."
Smith was an obvious choice as the only male member of the film, as he’d already immersed himself into New York City’s skate culture. The resulting film wound up being an authentic slice of life drama with a female focus. Smith’s role in the film is important, but he isn’t the driving force, so maybe he’s a better supporting character than leading man?
Hayden Christensen proved himself with Shattered Glass
Before he landed the role of a lifetime as Anakin Skywalker (in the trilogy that made Star Wars fans around the globe denounce George Lucas as a worthwhile filmmaker), Hayden Christensen had appeared in only a handful of films. The most notable was 2001’s Life as a House, in which the actor played a petulant teen opposite Kevin Kline’s dying house builder. But once the Star Wars prequel trilogy had wrapped, and Christensen was no longer forced to have lengthy conversations about sand, his career hit something of a standstill.
However, in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Christensen starred in Shattered Glass, the based-on-a-true story drama about Stephen Glass, a 20-something journalist for The New Republic who was caught fabricating his stories. Shattered Glass was proof that yes, Christensen could act, given material worth performing. With a near 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating, it’s a film that should’ve pointed to future success for its star. Sadly, Christensen has yet to recapture that level of acclaim. To date, the bulk of the actor’s filmography sits somewhere between 5 and 30 percent.
Annabelle Wallis is in one of the best X-Men movies
James Wan has built quite a successful horror franchise with the Conjuring Universe. But box office success does not equate to critical acclaim, so while 2014’s Annabelle may have been a serious cash grab for Warner Bros., it’s still barely mediocre in terms of quality. And it’s a near perfect representation of lead actress Annabelle Wallis’ film career thus far.
Wallis began her acting career in 2005 with Dil Jo Bhi Kahey…, an Indian romantic drama about a cross-cultural couple whose parents disapprove of their relationship. From there, the actress took roles in a few other equally unmemorable films, until she was cast as a co-ed in 2011’s X-Men: First Class, a film that successfully relaunched a dying franchise and put several actors on the map. One would think Wallace could’ve been counted among them, but since First Class, the only memorable thing the actress has done has been Annabelle. Well, Annabelle and 2017’s The Mummy reboot, but we’re pretty sure everyone would much rather just forget that movie ever happened.
Love Actually is Shannon Elizabeth’s best film
Shannon Elizabeth made a career for herself in the late ’90s/early ’00s playing the hot friend, hot daughter, or hot murder victim (in 2001’s Thirteen Ghosts, she was kind of all three rolled into one). So it makes sense that her role in 2003’s Love Actually — the only really good thing she’s ever been in — would be as "Harriet, the Sexy One." If you don’t remember, Harriet is the Wisconsin friend who shows up late to Collin’s sex party.
Since Love Actually, Elizabeth’s career trajectory has taken a steep decline. The bulk of her films have been TV movies or direct-to-video releases, and at least four of them have failed to crack above even a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The actress’ most recent film, 2017’s Swing Away, a sort of My Big Fat Greek Wedding golf movie, doesn’t even rate at all, on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.
Megan Fox shines in Friends with Kids
Megan Fox only had a handful of credits to her name prior to her breakout role in 2007’s Transformers, in which she played teenage car expert Mikaela Banes. While a Michael Bay movie adaptation of a Hasbro toy line may be super entertaining, Transformers is in no way deserving of critical accolades.
Fast forward a few years to 2012’s Friends with Kids, an ensemble comedy about the effect children have on relationships and Fox’s first major movie since leaving the Transformers franchise. Fox’s role as Mary Jane isn’t one of the film’s biggest selling points, but she plays a more realistic character than many of her other roles, and it proves that the actress has legitimate talent outside of the "hot girl who can fix cars" stereotype.
According to Empire, Friends with Kids‘ writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt was impressed with Fox when she initially met with her, and the actress was described as having "tremendous value" when she’s given the right role. Maybe there’s hope for Fox’s career yet.
Linda Blair starred in one of the greatest horror movies ever
Linda Blair was barely a teenager when she was cast as Regan MacNeil in 1973’s The Exorcist. The film, which centered on a young girl possessed by a demon, took home two Academy Awards in 1974 and has since become regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. It would also mark the height of Blair’s career, unfortunately. Since its release, the actress has failed to appear in anything of note.
In 2013, Blair spoke with Dread Central about the effect The Exorcist still has on audiences, even four decades after the fact. "You just don’t see movies like The Exorcist being made anymore," she said. "It’s an extremely intelligent film and it’s challenging, whether or not you get anything out of it spiritually. People have tried to master what Billy [William Friedkin] made in this movie and recreate it again and again, but they just haven’t ever been able to." And that goes for Blair herself, who tried recapturing that satanic glory with Exorcist II: The Heretic … which is widely considered one of the worst sequels ever made.
Jessica Alba hasn’t had critical success outside of Sin City
Jessica Alba has had steady working gigs in Hollywood since she first appeared in 1994’s Camp Nowhere. Over the course of 25 years, she’s appeared in over 60 films and TV shows, and she’s landed many starring roles. But when it comes to the types of movies those starring roles have been in, the actress has unfortunately been relegated to subpar releases like 2003’s Honey or 2005’s Fantastic Four. Two of her films hold the prestigious honor of carrying a zero percent scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alba may have once upon a time been a bankable star, regardless of how her films were judged by critics. But there’s one film she’s appeared in that’s been both a critical and commercial success: 2005’s Sin City. In the film, Alba plays Nancy Callahan, a stripper and potential murder victim who drives one of the movie’s various plots. Although she isn’t Sin City‘s star, Alba has a more prominent role than just a scene or two.
In the years following Sin City, Jessica Alba has turned her focus more toward her business endeavors than quality acting gigs. She founded The Honest Company in 2011, following the birth of her first child.
David Spade’s one good movie is Light Sleeper
David Spade is probably not one of those actors who comes to mind where serious drama is concerned. Terrible comedies about white trash janitors, sure, but not anything worth watching if you aren’t already inebriated in some way. He certainly isn’t someone you’d think of when talking about films made by Paul Schrader, the man responsible for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and First Reformed. But one of Spade’s first film roles came courtesy of the filmmaker, in 1992’s Light Sleeper.
While Spade’s role, "Theological Cokehead," is of little importance in the grand scheme of things, the fact that he was even in a film like Light Sleeper at the start of his career should’ve pointed to better future projects than Grandma’s Boy. Instead, Spade’s career took the same turn that many of his fellow Saturday Night Live cast members’ took — straight into a pit of cheap, mostly terrible comedy.