A great performance can leave a permanent impression on moviegoers. Then again, bad acting can leave a similarly permanent impression, but for very different reasons. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of awful acting, and these scenes represent some of the very worst.
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. 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 toward 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?
No. Wire. Hangers. EVER! – Mommie Dearest (1981)
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 much, much, much 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 painfully in fans’ memories. 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 hard to watch. Seeing her drop to her knees, then collapse onto the 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.
It’s burning! – Twilight (2008)
Just about everyone involved in the ballet studio-set climax to Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance can be accused of phoning it in, but Twilight‘s MVP Kristen Stewart takes top honors for worst performance in the scene (and any others involving her rampant lip-biting, too). In the story, her Bella has just been tricked into the impromptu lair of the murder-happy tracker vampire James (Cam Gigandet), who’d been wandering around bored while looking for someone to torment and eat until he stumbled across the Cullen clan and their protected human pet. Bella is dense enough to fall for his tricks—he played an old tape of her mom freaking out about her taking a tumble at that very site long ago—and lands herself smack dab in his toothy clutches.
Her hunky vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) shows up just in time to save her, but not before James has played a game of twig snap with her leg and gotten a venomous nibble of her hand. In Meyer’s book, the pain is supposed to be indescribably exquisite, but watching Stewart’s grunting and grimacing in the moment makes the tiny teeth marks look hilariously innocuous. Runners-up for worst acting moments in the movie: Pattinson in the "you are my life" scene and Gigandet’s sniffing, snarling eye-rolling when he first encounters Bella in the field.
I hate that jerk! – Dazed and Confused (1993)
Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age classic has given the world the gift of many Matthew McConaughey-isms (chiefly, "all right, all right, all right" and "l-i-v-i-n"), but it was also responsible for unbearable nuisance Mitch Kramer. The goober freshman (played by child actor Wiley Wiggins) was a categorical case in social awkwardness, so there was some lack of screen savvy to be expected from his portrayal.
But in the scene where he’s trying to flirt with Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) outside the Emporium, it’s full-tilt amateur hour. Instead of coming out with traditional acting devices like facial expressions, vocal inflection, and, you know, presence, Wiggins relied on eight—yes eight—cringe-worthy nose grabs, five hair tussles, and one super clumsy elbow nudge to coast through the scene. Linklater later accepted responsibility for letting this extra bad bit slip through the editing racks, telling the Daily Beast, "I just thought [the nose grab] was kind of an awkward gesture. I’m the director, so it’s on me! That’s a thing people only notice if it’s the third time you watch it. I just thought it was that young, awkward man kind of thing. Maybe it was one or two too many." Even one of those goofy gestures was one too many, really.
Gobble gobble – Gigli (2003)
Considering this is a movie whose 6% Rotten Tomatoes score is probably a little generous and in light of the way it ended the career of an otherwise solid filmmaker (writer-director Martin Brest), there are a lot of awful aspects to choose from. The stupidity of this thing extends all the way up to the title itself, so it’s a tall order to pick just one scene as the worst of the worst. Since Gigli was such a turkey at the box office, though, it makes sense to focus on the WTF factor of a scene that tried (and failed, miserably) to make Thanksgiving-themed cuisine a workable piece of sexually suggestive dialogue.
In the scene, Jennifer Lopez’s character, a lesbian named Ricki, has decided to make Ben Affleck’s buffoon of a hitman (the eponymous Gigli) the newest object of her affection, presumably to indulge his stare-and-drool courtship ritual that’s led up to that point. And although she’s nowhere near modest about her bod—an entire monologue had earlier been devoted to her explaining the sacred mystery of her lady region—she decides to invite him to bed with the codeword "turkey time," and when Affleck’s numbskull alter ego is too "uh, whaaaa" to get the innuendo, she follows that up by saying, "gobble gobble." Scream. It was gross, and it’s an evergreen highlight for both of their career blooper reels.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX? – Seven (1995)
With all due respect to Brad Pitt, this was a classic case of an actor completely missing the emotional mark of a movie moment and instead making a mockery of what should’ve been a pretty powerful scene. To be fair to Pitt, who played Detective Mills in the movie, he was working with three industry giants—director David Fincher and actors Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman, all at the top of their games—while he was still something of a Hollywood newcomer at the time. Compared to everyone else’s delivery in the "wrath" scene, though, his contribution was pretty inexcusable.
In the grand finale of John Doe’s deadly sins-inspired plan, Kevin Spacey’s killer character leads the detective duo out to the desert to a package containing … something. We’re led to believe it’s the head of Mills’ pregnant wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), an innocent and lovely lady who had nothing to do with any of this mess, although we never get to see the contents. Freeman as Somerset gets a gander at it first and his face dutifully reflects the grim reality of the situation, and the tension is staggering until Pitt starts screaming his lines and jumping around like a carnival clown instead of evoking any real sense of anguish. It’s a scene-ruiner upon revisit, and looking back we’re almost tempted to believe it was secretly Pitt’s talent that was actually hidden in the box.
NOT THE BEES! – The Wicker Man (2006)
There’s a reason Nicolas Cage is such a meme-able member of Hollywood: he’s pretty hilarious—often unintentionally so. Sometimes it totally works for him, like with his dead-panned double dose of "put the bunny back in the box" in Con Air. In the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man, though, the joke was only on him. In the film, he played a ill-fated detective who’s generously trekked out to parts unknown to look for his ex-fiancee’s daughter. What he ends up encountering is a cult of man-murdering witches who make it a game to let him feel like he’s just heroically rescued the girl, only to have her return him right into their clutches so they can sacrifice him to their bee-making mother spirit.
In the process of his torturous demise, the sisters enclose him in a mask of bees, making a wicker-wearing man to nod to the title. His flailing, screaming reaction—"What is it? What is that? Not the bees! NOT THE BEES!"—is monumentally funny, given the gravity of the situation. The film now enjoys a cult notoriety owed to Cage’s performance, which here is an outright classic example of overacting…powerful enough to earn a second place of dishonor on our list.
Bloody wolves chasing me – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
If Keanu Reeves could really take a Bill and Ted-style journey back in time, we hope he’d at least consider returning to the early ’90s and undoing everything he did in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. At the very least, he should retroactively hire himself a proper dialect coach, for crying out loud. Reeves’ British accent was so horrible that it actually distracted from Gary Oldman’s butt wig, which is saying something.
In one scene in particular, Reeves’ Jonathan Harker starts to realize that the Count is bad news and delivers a monologue recap of his Transylvanian adventures that includes the words "I’ve seen many strange things already—bloody wolves chasing me through a blue inferno." Even director Francis Ford Coppola, who’s practically president of the Keanu Reeves Fan Club, had to admit to Entertainment Weekly, "it was tough for him to affect an English accent. He tried so hard. That was the problem, actually—he wanted to do it perfectly and in trying to do it perfectly, it came off as stilted."
Who killed my father? – Alexander (2004)
Speaking of terrible accents, Angelina Jolie’s cadence as the fabled Olympias in Oliver Stone’s laughable historic epic Alexander was ridiculous, especially since no one else around her adopted the same accent, but her contrived dialect was nothing compared to whatever was happening with Colin Farrell in the movie. It wasn’t just his bad blonde dye job that made this stinker sink; he also couldn’t help but devolve into the kind of pure histrionics you might see from a baseball dugout—not the future conqueror of the Persian Empire.
In one scene, Alexander confronts his completely miscast mom (fun fact: Jolie is just one year older than Farrell) about her involvement in his father’s death and all hell breaks loose. The worst bit comes early on when he demands she tell him what she did to him, and between Farrell’s close-up nostril flare game and arm-thrashing rage and Jolie’s heinous made-up Macedonian tongue, the scene is a master class in D-list-worthy acting taught by two A-listers. The white snake was the best actor in the room during that scene, and it wasn’t even close.
I don’t want your life – Varsity Blues (1999)
1999 presented two major movie moments depicting sons rejecting stodgy old dads’ wishes for them to follow in footsteps, and let’s just say one of these things was not like the other. Jake Gyllenhaal’s breakthrough performance as Homer Hickam in October Sky featured him standing up to the status quo of making way to the mine shaft after school like his dear old dad. Instead he was literally literally shooting for the sky as a wannabe space cadet who builds rockets on the sly. It built to a poignant moment of father-son friction that totally resonated the way it should have. Meanwhile, James Van Der Beek’s showdown with his pop in Varsity Blues, which hit theaters a few weeks before, didn’t go over quite so well.
In the movie, Van Der Beek plays a backup high school quarterback named Mox who hikes his way to the starting squad after a terrible injury takes out the team’s original star. Somehow, even though his kid has barely made waves on the practice squad and spent most of his time reading books on the sidelines, this ignites some kind of long-held dream his dad’s head that he’ll become a football rock star. After he’s pushed too hard by making a fool of himself at the family picnic, Mox stands up and declares in his most exaggerated Southern accent, "I don’t want your life." It … was not a touchdown, needless to say. Honestly, the scene should’ve been reserved for the spoof Not Another Teen Movie.
Peter … you killed my father – Spider-Man 2 (2004)
James Franco made a jump to the blockbuster A-list with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, but it’s also a regular go-to source for some of his most accidentally farcical acting moments. His character spent the first sequel desperately seeking the web-slinging vigilante who killed his dad in the first film (even though he was actually impaled mid-surrender to Spider-Man), and when he did raise the mask to reveal his captured culprit, he discovered his best friend Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) was his new worst enemy.
Franco’s slack-jawed gape and awkward footwork in the scene of surprise was only bested in badness by his whispered threats about returning the pain he’d been caused. He stumbles and skitters away before furrowing his eyebrows and breathily accusing Peter of killing his father. Then, on the other end, there’s Maguire being completely subdued and one-dimensional—there’s even almost a smile lingering in his eyes as he utters his warnings of grave danger to their mutual love interest Mary Jane. The whole thing adds up to almost a cheesy parody—and a scene too cartoonish even for the comics.
You’re tearing me apart, Lisa! – The Room (2003)
Skip to any random scene in Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 writing, acting, and directing debut, and it’s painfully bad. The film is so poorly constructed that it’s been dubbed "the Citizen Kane of bad movies" and touted for its exposition of Hollywood’s "fabricated nature." It’s hard to narrow it down to just one laughable moment, but the most popular poor acting point came when Wiseau’s cuckolded Johnny confronts his thought-to-be-cheating fiancee with his now-iconically terrible plea: "Why, Lisa, why, Lisa, please talk to me, please! … You are tearing me apart, Lisa!" Believe it or not, he was inspired by James Dean, who uttered a virtually identical line in Rebel Without a Cause, but opted not to go for Wiseau’s method of hair-pulling, closed-eye snarling, and red-faced shouting.
Reportedly, there were even worse bits of dialogue left on the scripting table. One anonymous actor told Entertainment Weekly that viewers somehow got the better of two possible versions of the so-bad-it’s-great cult flick. "It was actually a lot longer," the actor said of the original screenplay. "There was stuff that was just unsayable. I know it’s hard to imagine there was stuff that was worse, but there was."
Wiseau has since defended the scene in question by saying it was just misunderstood and way above everyone’s heads. Yes, really. In the same unfollowable logic that plagues his perplexingly disjointed script, he told Stanford Daily, "From the beginning, we marketed it as a black comedy. People didn’t realize that that black comedy is leading to melodrama, which is not melodrama. Melodrama is something cannot relate to because of exaggeration. So when Johnny says, ‘You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!’—people don’t actually talk like that, but where I grew up, people actually exaggerated their relationships themselves in real life. … I wanted to put American culture to the movie." That’s exactly the kinda nonsense talk that got us here in the first place, but hey. People are still talking about this thing over a decade later, so he obviously did something right.