The most overacted moments in movie history

Even the best actors have their melodramatic moments, but every once in awhile, a performance goes from "a little over the top" to "insane." Maybe these performances are so over the top they circle back around to brilliant, or maybe they're just embarrassing. Either way, these clips offer examples of overacting at its hilarious finest.

Batman Forever - Tommy Lee Jones (1995)



Some actors are expected to take their performances too far—your Nicolas Cages, your William Shatners. This is, however, not something one would expect from Tommy Lee Jones. As one of the most reliably consistent character actors in movie history, Jones almost always turns out a restrained, nuanced, slow build of a performance. For example: his work in The Fugitive, No Country for Old Men, and even the Men in Black movies, which are still sci-fi comedies about aliens based on a comic book.

But while filming another movie based on a comic book property, Jones chose to go wild. In 1995's Batman Returns he portrays Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face. Part of the character's schtick is to make decisions based on coin flips, and in one scene in particular, Jones' performance is so manic as to be unsettling, furiously and rapidly delivering his lines while fiddling with that coin. And this is the first scene of the movie.

Con Air - John Malkovich (1997)

Playing a really bad guy is tricky business. Go too far, and the whole endeavor winds up coming across as laughably cartoonish…which is pretty much the opposite of the intended effect. If there's one actor who can unnerve an audience as a villain, it's John Malkovich. He's played memorably chilling creeps several times, such as his Oscar-nominated role as a would-be presidential assassin in In the Line of Fire. It went a bit differently with Con Air. In this action drama about the aftermath of a prisoner transport plane crash, Malkovich plays a master criminal who mockingly reads a note written by a little kid in a high-pitched voice. Then he threatens to shoot a stuffed animal. Too far, Malkovich. Too far.

Scarface - Al Pacino (1983)

Cocaine is a major part of Scarface, the 1983 Brian De Palma crime saga starring Al Pacino as Miami drug lord Tony Montana. Pacino, who's often quite winningly unhinged in his films, is operating at about 300 percent here, which could be chalked up to his character dipping into his own supply. But he really saves the best for the movie's climax. When surrounded by his rival's goons inside his own house, a wide-eyed Tony defends himself not with a gun (at least not at first), but with a grenade launcher. This is preceded by the classic (albeit bonkers) catchphrase "SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!"

Vampire's Kiss - Nicolas Cage (1988)

You can't talk about overacting without talking about Nicolas Cage, and here he is in one of his early moments of over-the-top glory. Long before his Wicker Man remake found him screaming about bees and punching a woman while wearing a bear suit, he released what might actually be the craziest movie of his career.

Vampire's Kiss stars Cage as an ad exec who gets bitten and thinks he's turning into a vampire—and apparently vampires are 100 percent insane, because that's how Cage plays his metamorphosis. This scene features Cage inquiring as to where a file has gone. When his secretary says it may have been misfiled, he goes full Cage. The very idea that something could be misfiled seems to come as a complete shock; he proceeds to go through the alphabet, in its entirety, to prove how easy the act of filing should be. Oh, and of course he's screaming through most of this. If only we could have seen the crew's faces as this scene was filmed. If they weren't holding back laughter, they must have been looking for the exits.

Battlefield Earth - John Travolta (2000)

John Travolta wanted to bring the central mythology of Scientology to life with Battlefield Earth. Instead, he created one of the worst movies of all time—and gave a completely bizarre performance in the bargain. On IMDb, the first keyword listed for this film is "bad acting." It's hard to disagree.

Battlefield Earth is about a terrible race of dreadlocked aliens who have enslaved humanity. Travolta stars as the main bad guy, Terl, who's later overthrown by the hero, Terry. Travolta decided Terl was a guy who loved a good laugh, doling out his version of an evil chuckle in almost every scene; never once does it sound convincing, or even less than completely stupid. If the goal was to make these gross aliens as unappealing as possible, then Travolta actually did a perfect job. A job we still never want to watch again.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - James Earl Jones (2005)

You know the moment we're "paying tribute" to here. The Star Wars prequels definitely had their share of lowlights, but Darth Vader's melodramatic cry at the end of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith might be the most memorable moment from the entire prequel trilogy—and not in a good way. If people liked the movies as much as they liked making memes from that "NOOOOOOO!!!," George Lucas would get a lot less hate mail.

James Earl Jones' voice makes (almost) anything sound regal and important. Darth Vader has had his share of potentially lame lines, but Jones' mellifluous delivery has always made it work. We like to imagine they caught Jones on a busy day here, and he had to give a Krusty-like quick VO performance. It's the only thing that could make sense of this crazy moment.

The Room - Tommy Wiseau (2003)

The Room is a legendarily bad movie—so filled with inept performances, bizarre acting choices, completely unnecessary scenes, and plot threads left dangling that it simply must be seen to be believed. That's all primarily the fault of Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, directed, and produced The Room and also stars as Johnny, a San Francisco finance guy caught up in a doomed love triangle. Keep in mind that in this scene, the writer, director, producer, and actor all agree that the performance is spot-on—because they're all the same person.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 - Michael Sheen (2012)

Michael Sheen is a wonderful actor. He's turned in brilliant performances in Masters of Sex, Frost/Nixon, The Queen, and many more. But when it came to Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, he went a little crazy as Aro, leader of the evil Volturi. In fact, in a series filled with unintentionally funny moments, Sheen's bizarre giggle in this clip might stand out as the most memorable. If you haven't watched the clip yet, please do. It's funny every time.

One might assume that Sheen just did this Twilight movie for the money, did only one take of every scene, and said "I'm not redoing anything, I'll be in my trailer." But he's too good for that. He actually offered an explanation of his big moment to MTV, saying, "I like the idea that, at times, for someone who has been alive centuries and centuries, one of the biggest problems is boredom. He's sort of seen everything and done everything. So when something new comes along, something surprising, then I think it would fill someone with delight. For a character who is so in control most of the time, there is something completely out of control inside. When something unexpected happens that delights him, that sort of hysterical quality can come out. In a laugh, it's a perfect, economical way of showing that."

It really does make perfect sense when you think about it—which means Sheen managed to turn an over-the-top moment into a secretly brilliant acting choice. Bravo.

Spawn - John Leguizamo (1997)

It's hard to blame John Leguizamo for his scenes in Spawn. He was put into a grotesque clown fatsuit and given lines of insanity. What choice did he have but to overact? In the film, he plays Violator, a character whose every move is big and gross. The character's obviously supposed to be unpleasant, but in the film he makes clowns even more unpleasant than they usually are. If we had the choice between meeting Twisty from American Horror Story and Violator, we'd probably go with Twisty. At least he wouldn't talk our ear off or randomly dress up in a cheerleader costume and recite an annoying chant.

Wild Wild West - Kenneth Branagh (1999)

In yet another example of a Shakespearean actor trying to bring a bit of theatrical flair to a role in a very silly blockbuster, Kenneth Branagh played the villainous Dr. Loveless in Wild Wild West. An infamous flop that snapped Will Smith's remarkable '90s streak of box office success, Wild Wild West is suspiciously devoid of humor for an action thriller/sci-fi/comedy hybrid—unless you love racist and little people jokes, in which case you might find this film delightful.

Among all the failed jokes, we have the spectacle of Branagh. His portrayal of Loveless is so consistently over the top, wildly veering from dramatic to simply insane, he's at least always interesting to watch. Branagh knows that a villain who winds up in a giant steampunk spider is not a man for subtlety. He took this literally Loveless role and made the most of it. Maybe he made a bit too much of a meal, but he's the best part of the film by far.

Karate Dog - Jon Voight (2005)

Karate Dog is a real film, and yes, it's about a dog who knows how to do karate, mostly in horrible CGI, who's voiced by Chevy Chase. Yes, it stars Academy Award winner Jon Voight as the villain out to stop the karate dog. And yes, it's directed by Bob Clark of Porky's and A Christmas Story fame. That guy's got range.

It's true that this is a kid's movie, and thus subject to a somewhat lower standard, and the genre of "dogs doing things dogs can't actually do" has spawned a great variety of hard-to-watch films. But Karate Dog is too much. The talking martial arts dog is a sole witness to a murder and the villains have to try to kill him to keep their conspiracy under wraps—not exactly a kid-friendly plot. Plus, Voight doesn't help things by playing everything at 11 from the word go. It pairs especially poorly with Chase's performance, which howls "I'm clearly doing this for the paycheck, get me out of this VO booth as soon as possible."

Maximum Overdrive - Ellen McElduff (1986)

Stephen King decided he wanted to give moviemaking a try, so he adapted his short story "Trucks" into Maximum Overdrive. The good things about the film: a full score by AC/DC. The bad things: everything else. A story about machines coming to life and trying to kill all humans manages to make even less sense than you'd think.

This was King's first time directing a film, and he later admitted that one major issue with the movie was that his co-director was cocaine. Not only were the end results subpar, but the production was fraught with problems. During one scene, a lawnmower hit a piece of wood, which shot out into the cinematographer's eye. He lost the eye, but won some money from the resultant lawsuit.

Despite all the problems, the film has one incredible highlight: the waitress. Ellen McElduff has one big scene, and she makes the absolute maximum of her opportunity. During the siege of the evil trucks, the waitress gets fed up with being pushed around by machines, and loudly wonders why she should be afraid when "we made you?" Most of her lines are "we made them" or "we made you," but she makes her screentime the best part of the movie. The fact McElduff would commit so hard to this one little scene in this obviously troubled film should be studied by actors worldwide. If you're going to have a small part in a crappy film, at least make it memorable.

Flash Gordon - Brian Blessed (1980)

Flash Gordon had an interesting cast: Brian Blessed, an acclaimed British Shakespearean actor with a big voice and personality, and Max von Sydow, a frequent collaborator with Ingmar Bergman who's considered one of Sweden's greatest actors, played second fiddle to Sam J. Jones, a former contestant on The Dating Game. That's it. Producer Dino De Laurentiis cast him on that appearance alone, since Kurt Russell had already turned down the role and Arnold Schwarzenegger was rejected because of his accent.

Watching Flash Gordon, you get the sense that Blessed knew he wasn't winning any Oscars for the film, so he just had as much fun as humanly possible playing a winged man who flies around in leather briefs and a breastplate while Queen plays on the soundtrack. Why not go over the top, right? (Side note: this is a pretty awful film, but it has an amazing soundtrack. The Flash Gordon theme is one of the best of all time and the movie deserves a remake just so someone has an excuse to use that song again.)

Mommie Dearest - Faye Dunaway (1981)

There are a few amazing things about Faye Dunaway's over-the-top performance in Mommie Dearest. For starters, she was playing Joan Crawford, a real-life Golden Age Hollywood actress, in a script based on a memoir by Crawford's adopted daughter Christina. Dunaway's portrayal of Crawford as a self-absorbed, violent monster ultimately meant that the would-be drama, widely derided upon release, has since come to be regarded as a camp comedy classic. The most famous scene sees Dunaway truly heading into the stratosphere—Crawford really hates wire hangers, and when she finds one in her daughter's closet, well, she's a little more than just disappointed.

Zardoz - John Alderton (1974)

Everything about Zardoz is weird. It features Sean Connery with a long braid and rocking the Borat swimsuit look for most of the film. It's a bizarro, trippy movie about a godlike creature called Zardoz who talks through a giant stone head, a group of immortals who don't believe in sex or sleep, and Connery running around with all his body hair on display.

In this scene, Connery doesn't get a chance to over act, since John Alderton, playing the well named role of Friend, has that covered. A group of young people wearing '60s Star Trek cast off costumes are giving aggressive spirit fingers to Alderton. But he's not having it. He will NOT go to the second level and doesn't mind conveying that through an array of weird screams and truly strange line reads. If the scene seems confusing, don't worry. It doesn't make anymore sense in the context of the film either. But we applaud Alderton for making the most of his odd moment in this terribly strange film.