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Beloved Actors That Have Spent Most Of Their Career Making Terrible Movies

As long as it's existed, the movie industry has been built on stars — those actors with so much charm and charisma that fans will buy a ticket just to watch them at work. And that's a good thing because a whole lot of these stars have built their careers on movies that no one would ever want to watch if anyone else was in them.

Some of these actors manage to coast on goodwill from their earliest star-making performances all the way through decades' worth of terrible decisions. Some of them have to settle for whatever scripts they can get in the face of discrimination based on their age, race, or gender. Others gain a fanbase precisely because they star in so many terrible movies, as viewers continue following them just to see what ridiculous trash they show up in next. Whatever the reason, here are the stars who continue to earn our love even as the movies they play in very much don't deserve it.

Christopher Lee has made a horrifying number of terrible movies

Christopher Lee is a true legend of horror thanks to his long stint at Hammer studios. How many other actors can say they've gotten to play Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and Mr. Hyde? Sure, these movies weren't always worthy of Lee's talents, but he was stuck with them because every time he turned down a role, producer Michael Carreras would say that Hammer had already sold the film on his name and basically tell him, "Think of all the people you know so well that you will put out of work!"

All those years of drudgery paid off at the end of Lee's life as the generation that grew up with his Hammer movies jumped at the chance to give their idol high-profile roles. But even that had its downsides. He joined Tim Burton's stable of favorite actors ... but just as the director was entering his divisive late period. He got to be in Star Wars, but that was in the even more divisive prequels. And he got an iconic role as the wizard Saruman in Lord of the Rings, but that meant he had to come back for the Hobbit trilogy.

And that's not even counting some of his truly awful movies, like Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf. But Lee's reputation was never tarnished by the roles he took, and his personal philosophy must have had a lot to do with that: "Every actor has to make terrible movies from time to time. The trick is to never be terrible in them."

Sylvester Stallone went in a really weird direction

Sylvester Stallone began his career as a promising young actor with a rich future of psychologically rich dramas ahead of him. His gritty working-class drama Rocky earned him comparisons to Marlon Brando, and it seemed likely he'd follow Brando's career path inhabiting vividly realistic characters in serious dramas. But with a couple exceptions, like 1997's Cop Land, Stallone went in a different, much sillier direction.

He became a kind of Italian-American Arnold Schwarzenegger, appearing in increasingly over-the-top action movies — including one that was literally called Over the Top – throughout the '80s and '90s. He even transformed the role that made him a star to fit his new trajectory, culminating in Rocky IV, a cartoon version of the Cold War straight out of G.I. Joe, complete with a cute, talking robot. He did the same with his haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo, turning the tortured antihero of First Blood into the ultimate American superman in its sequels. He only got goofier in his full-on comedies, like Rhinestone, where Dolly Parton tries and allegedly succeeds to turn him into a country star, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!, which teamed him with The Golden Girls' Estelle Getty.

John Travolta's career is filled with cinematic bombs

John Travolta seemed like he was going places when he transitioned from the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter to the gritty drama of Saturday Night Fever, supercharging the popularity of disco almost all by himself. But a string of failures trashed his career, including the universally panned Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive — directed by, of all people, Sylvester Stallone.

By 1994, he was so hard up for work that The Simpsons could imagine him waiting tables at a '70s-themed diner. Ironically, the very same year, superfan Quentin Tarantino revived his career with Pulp Fiction.

But Travolta's devotion to the Church of Scientology led him to sabotage himself all over again. Once he finally had the clout to adapt church founder L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi novel Battlefield Earth, it turned out to be a disaster that bumped him right back down to the Z-list. Since then, Travolta's stayed afloat in all kinds of terrible movies, including the back-to-back disasterpieces of The Fanatic and Gotti, the latter funded by real-world disaster MoviePass.

Bruce Willis either cares too much or not enough

As critic Nathan Rabin has pointed out, Bruce Willis has built his career out of a kind of knowing snark that other action stars have taken decades to catch up with. He doesn't take his material any more seriously than the most jaded viewer might, always projecting an air of above-it-all-ness.

Maybe that's why he's managed to stay so beloved even though so much of his career, especially in the new millennium, doesn't deserve to be taken very seriously at all. And ironically, despite the self-deprecating, regular Joe charm of his best performances, his ego has gotten him in trouble more than once. He released not one but two soul albums despite having the singing ability of your average drunk dad. And his constant micromanaging of his pet project, Hudson Hawk, caused the budget to skyrocket out of control, losing any hope of turning a profit.

But other projects show Willis not taking enough pride in himself, demeaning himself in increasingly less loved Die Hard sequels (from a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for the original to 8% for A Good Day to Die Hard) or wearing a pastel pink bunny suit in North — a movie so bad that even Roger Ebert could only say, "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it."

Keanu Reeves is the best ... but he's been in some terrible movies

It's hard to think of a movie star who's more beloved right now than Keanu Reeves. The internet has blown up his coolness and niceness as far as it once did with Chuck Norris' toughness.

So it's easy to forget that before he found his perfect role as John Wick, Reeves was known as one of the worst actors in Hollywood. His laidback, sometimes downright emotionless style was perfect for his iconic roles in Point Break, The Matrix, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but he fit much less well into period pieces like Much Ado About Nothing and Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even the action hero roles he specializes in frequently let him down, with critics tearing apart movies like Johnny Mnemonic or 47 Ronin.

Fortunately, Reeves stuck it out long enough to become an institution, and he's played off his reputation in some of his best parts, like John Wick — whose accomplishments are so legendary they seem to encompass every other roles Reeves has played — or his cameos in Toy Story 4 and his namesake Keanu.

The rise and fall and rise of Eddie Murphy

It would've been hard to imagine Eddie Murphy on this list when he started acting, transitioning from his hyped-up comedy specials and Saturday Night Live performances to a string of classics like Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and Coming to America. But as the '80s limped to a close, he started appearing in more and more mediocre movies. And instead of redeeming them, he coasted right through them, depending less on his charm and sharp comic instincts than cheesy costume gimmicks. It all blew up in his face in 2002 with The Adventures of Pluto Nash, an enormously expensive sci-fi epic that proved money can't buy you laughs and somehow managed to lose nearly all of its $100 million budget.

Murphy still staged a comeback with an Oscar-nominated turn to drama in the musical Dreamgirls. But even that failed to pan out, and it seems as likely as not that some of the blame for that can go to Norbit, which opened right when voters were casting their ballots. Still remembered as one of Murphy's very worst movies, it starred the comedian in a triple role as the nerdy hero, his monstrous and monstrously huge wife, and a hideous Asian stereotype. After that, it was back to gimmicky high-concept comedies and sappy family movies. But Murphy seems to be back on top again with another impressive role as comedy pioneer Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name, and this time, his reinvention seems more likely to stick.

Not even an Oscar could save Halle Berry's career

Hollywood is a tough town, and sure, men definitely have a hard time finding worthy parts in worthwhile films ... but women have it even worse. With so few good roles available to them, it's no wonder that even the most beloved actresses have spent most of their careers making trash.

Just look at Halle Berry. Even a major role in the blockbuster X-Men series and an Oscar for Monster's Ball couldn't save her from bottom-of-the-barrel movies like New Year's Eve and Movie 43. Her successes certainly didn't do anything to cancel out the megabombing of her own superhero franchise in Catwoman.

And unlike most of the men on this list, that one flop was enough to stall out her whole career. She only made five movies in the next five years, most of them in minor supporting roles. At least she got a chance to play a Bond girl before Catwoman put her career on ice. Too bad it was in one of the most hated 007 movies in the franchise's history.

Cameron Diaz has made some strange choices

While Cameron Diaz never got officially bumped down to the B-list, her career shows a major struggle for actresses. Whether you blame the sexism of filmmakers giving movies aimed at women the bare minimum of effort or the sexism of critics failing to appreciate them, most of her movies have gotten a tepid to outright hostile reception. Her career started out strong with star-making roles in The Mask and There's Something About Mary. But it was all downhill from there, with movies from What Happens in Vegas to Bad Teacher to Sex Tape wasting her comic talents on the same stories that countless stars had failed to sell before her.

Diaz's attempts to work outside the box, or in The Box, didn't help her reputation. That strange mishmash of alien conspiracies, possessed mall Santas, and perspective-defying digital makeup predictably baffled everyone who saw it, even people who went out of their way to see the premier. As of 2009, it was one of only 21 movies to receive an "F" from Cinemascore in the 50 years that they'd polled opening night audiences! And Diaz herself made it even weirder with a truly bizarre attempt at a Southern accent. She was back at it again with The Counselor, where she had to redub her whole performance after delivering all her lines in a Barbados accent, for reasons known only to her. And after Annie's failure to make bank or win praise, it seems that Diaz has actually retired from acting.

Angelina Jolie's entire career is a bit disappointing

For many years, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were the faces of movie star glamour. But that had more to do with their very public private lives than their on-screen appearances. Pitt is choosy with his roles, and while that's led him to work with great directors like Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen brothers, it also means multiplex audiences don't see much of him.

Jolie also doesn't appear in theaters as often as she does on gossip sites, but her roles have been far less prestigious. Her biggest success before she met Pitt was Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which was popular enough to earn a sequel but not to escape the video game movie curse with critics. Since then, she's continued to seek out action roles, but movies like Salt, Wanted, and The Tourist opened to lukewarm reviews and were quickly forgotten. The lack of meaty roles for actresses seems to have majorly affected Jolie — even when she's tried to find prestigious dramas like Alexander or Girl, Interrupted, the reviews have been disappointing.

Sure, she's tried to flip the script by taking the reins herself, but that hasn't helped her critical showing. Her direction on Unbreakable and By the Sea (which she and Pitt also starred in) generated some awards buzz, but the reviews dismissed them, fairly or not, as more interested in being taken seriously than telling their stories.

Michael Caine loves chasing that paycheck

Sir Michael Caine has built a reputation as one of the great British character actors. Older viewers will remember him as the bad boy of Get Carter and Aflie. Younger viewers grew up with him as Scrooge in A Muppet Christmas Carol and as Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy. But he's built as infamous of a reputation as the ultimate paycheck actor. He's just as likely to appear in prestigious literary adaptations as he is in airheaded B movies.

For instance, there's Jaws: The Revenge, a movie about, yes, a shark somehow developing the mental faculties for an abstract concept like revenge. It was so ridiculous that it killed a franchise that had already sent its killer fish to Sea World. When asked about the film, Caine explained, "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

In addition to awful Jaws sequel, Caine has starred in dreck like The Swarm, Gnomeo and Juliet, and Sherlock Gnomes, but after picking up those paychecks, we're sure he was able to make some nice renovations to that terrific house of his.

Ben Kingsley's career isn't all prestige and critical acclaim

Ben Kingsley has earned a knighthood for his acting. He also earned an Oscar for his performance as the great Indian revolutionary in Gandhi, and he's worked with legendary filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg in fantastic movies such as Hugo and Schindler's List, respectively. But most of his movies are pretty darned far from Oscar-caliber classics. 

Kingsley's spent most of his career playing over-the-top bad guys and goofy sidekicks in terrible comedies and sci-fi flicks. He's even worked with Uwe Boll, a man considered one of the very worst filmmakers who ever lived. According to Cinema Blend, he's not even trying to make his movies any good, since they allegedly seem to be a Producers-style scam to take advantage of German tax incentives.

And yet there Ben Kingsley was, playing an evil vampire in Boll's video game adaptation Bloodrayne. How did such a great talent and such a no-talent ever end up in the same room? "To be honest," he told Time, "I have always wanted to play a vampire, with the teeth and the long black cape. Let's say that my motives were somewhat immature for doing it." But since most of his worst roles don't involve cape-wearing, those will have to remain a mystery.

We love Nicolas Cage for his terrible movies

Many actors have ascended to the A-list in spite of their poor choice of roles. Nicolas Cage is that rare star who earned our love because of the particular flavor of terrible he specializes in, turning himself into a meme in the process.

Contrary to popular belief, Cage isn't a bad actor, exactly. His Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and his brilliant collaborations with great filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Spike Jonze, and the Coen brothers should make that clear. But his particular brand of manic-depressive weirdness is a delicate tool that not a lot of directors know how to use properly. And recently, his stranger-than-fiction lifestyle of collecting castles and dinosaurs has caught up with him, and he's taken whatever work he can to keep up with his back taxes, whether it involves fighting man-eating zoo animals or whizzing out fire as Ghost Rider.

But we shouldn't hold that against him. Nicolas Cage may not always find the most worthwhile movies, but when he doesn't phone it in, his presence always makes them worthwhile. Without Nicolas Cage, The Wicker Man might've just been dismissed and forgotten as a pointlessly hateful reworking of a beloved horror classic. But with Cage and his many unearthly freak-outs, it's become a camp classic and a fruitful source of deathless memes.