Wasted Potential in Hollywood

Last week, Jake Gyllenhaal appeared on The Daily Show to promote his new film, Source Code. Gyllenhaal was charming, funny and well-spoken throughout his interview with Jon Stewart. He reminded me that, once upon a time, I really liked Gyllenhaal. It began with Donnie Darko, and continued with Zodiac and Brokeback Mountain, in which Gyllenhaal proved he could actually act. His career choices since then have left much to be desired.

By most accounts, Source Code is a decent Hollywood action movie, but look at some of dreck Gyllenhall’s appeared in recently:

  • Love and Other Drugs
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  • Brothers
  • The Day After Tomorrow

This is clearly an actors who is receiving bad advice, can’t read scripts, or just can’t make good decisions. His next film is slated to be a David O. Russell joint, so there’s hope for the future, but most of the past half-decade has been a waste of talent.

When good likable actors and actresses appear in awful movies consistently, who’s to blame? Are they simply trying to make as much money as they can? Do they have bad taste? Do they not care? Are corporate studio and management types controlling them like in the days of yore? And how much culpability do these actors take for their bad movies? (I’m talking about leading men and women here, not character actors.) After all, they’re being asked in part to carry these films, so is it unfair to always blame the script and the director? In other words, should they be elevating their material in order to be considered a truly great movie star?

I would argue that these stars should be blamed for wasting their potential, for squandering their ability, and for helping to foist more godawful movies on a weary American public. These aren’t struggling young actors who can’t believe their big break and are just thrilled to be starring in a big-time film. These are established, bankable, famous people who should know better.

After the jump, we discuss the most egregious examples of wasted potential among Hollywood stars:

This isn’t meant to be a list of the people who make the worst movies. There are plenty of awful, hateful actors and actresses who make bad movies because that’s all they’re good for (what’s up, Josh Hartnett?). This is a discussion of people who are capable of more — people  who are letting us down, like Mr. Gyllenhaal.

Ben Affleck

Egad. Count me among those who consider Affleck a talented actor (and director), not just another lunkhead action star. But he’s done his damndest to prove me wrong over the years. After Good Will Hunting launched his career, Affleck repaid us all with these gems:

  • Armageddon
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Daredevil
  • Gigli
  • Jersey Girl
  • Surviving Christmas
  • Man About Town (?)
  • Paycheck
  • He’s Just Not That Into You

Even with a couple decent films like Hollywoodland, Affleck has a historically low batting average. He seems to be seeking redemption by directing a series of well-respected Boston fetish films, but is he too far gone? His rumored appearance in Baz Luhrmann’s 3D version of The Great Gatsby may tell the tale. That string of films above is like a series of slaps to the face. I actually find it hard to believe that his career is not some performance art piece, like James Franco appearing on General Hospital. Has Affleck compiled the first openly antagonistic filmography? I mean, he’s starred in at least five movies that are in contention for the worst film of all time. That’s impressive.

Kate Hudson

It was just one moment. One brief, wonderful moment when we all believed in Kate Hudson. Oh, those heady days in the aftermath of Almost Famous. We thought she might turn into our next Audrey Hepburn! It couldn’t have been a fluke, right? She was so so good in Almost Famous! So likable, so charming, so fucking cute. Who didn’t fall in love with her watching that movie? Then Kate Hudson took a giant shit on our collective chest:

  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
  • You, Me and Dupree
  • Raising Helen
  • Fool’s Gold
  • My Best Friend’s Girl
  • Bride Wars

I’m pretty sure that hell isn’t other people; it’s being tied to a chair and having to watch Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey banter for eternity.

Also, her next film, A Little Bit of Heaven, boasts this tagline: “It’s a comedy about a guarded woman who finds out she’s dying of cancer, but when she meets her match, the threat of falling in love is scarier than death.” And it co-stars Whoopi Goldberg as God. Since Hudson has only been in one good movie, she almost didn’t make this list, but she was so good in that movie that it makes her subsequent fallow period look even worse.

John Cusack

Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. How did we go from this:

To this:


It’s not like Cusack is the world’s greatest actor, but like Hudson, there’s something inherently likable about him. He brought a shaggy, underdog vibe to his early roles. He’s a relic from an era in which romantic comedies weren’t necessarily terrible. I mean, my God, he made Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, Eight Men Out, The Grifters, Grosse Pointe Blank…Was it just cynicism that destroyed his career? Was he tired of being underappreciated? And did that chip on his shoulder lead to this:

  • America’s Sweethearts
  • Serendipity (legitimately in the running for worst romantic comedy of all time)
  • Must Love Dogs
  • 2012
  • Identity
  • Hot Tub Time Machine

The last decade has been a waste. Ever since High Fidelity, Cusack lost his way. If he had retired in 2000, he’d have a fantastic filmography. Instead, he’s become a joke. I blame Jeremy Piven.

Diane Lane

It’s difficult to blame Lane for her recent films because there simply aren’t that many decent roles out there for women over 40. Nevertheless, Lane has proven she can act and she’s obviously stunning. So it’s tough to watch her wither away in films like:

  • Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Must Love Dogs
  • Nights in Rodanthe
  • Jumper
  • Secretariat

There just aren’t that many people alive who look like Diane Lane and are also more than competent at acting. That rare combination should lead Lane to at least a couple great roles — the kind that she’s never really had, despite her Oscar nomination.

Tom Hanks

You have no idea how much this pains me. (Probably about as much as it pains Hanks to have sired Chet Haze.) Hanks is probably my favorite actor of all time. It’s been a pleasure to watch him grow, beginning with Bosom Buddies, through his guest-starring appearances on Family Ties, and into an Oscar-caliber actor. Hanks is naturally funny and can clearly pull off all different kinds of roles. But he’s adrift in this millennium. Maybe after you win back-to-back Academy Awards, you lose your edge. Who knows?

  • The Ladykillers
  • Polar Express
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Charlie Wilson’s War
  • Angels & Demons

Hanks’s recent oeuvre isn’t as dreadful as, say, Affleck’s, but he has more talent so he must be judged by a higher standard. His ratio of ability:output is just as bad as the others’ on this list. I believe in you, Mr. Hanks. I believe in you. Stop making shitty Dan Brown novels into movies. And stop focusing on HBO miniseries. Pull yourself together.

To all of you on this list: you can do better. Expect more from yourselves. Don’t be content with mediocrity. Entertain us, goddamnit!


1 Comment

Filed under Film Has AIDS, The Dilemma

One response to “Wasted Potential in Hollywood

  1. Pingback: 2 Idiots Discuss: The Year In Film | Pop Culture Has AIDS

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