10 Actors who Stood Out Like Sore Thumbs in Period Films - Mania.com

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10 Actors who Stood Out Like Sore Thumbs in Period Films

Bad Casting Decisions Etched In Movie History

By Tim Janson     March 18, 2010

10 Actors who Stood Out Like Sore Thumbs in Period Films
© Mania/Bob Trate


Period films and costume epics have been a staple of Hollywood since the silent era when directors were cranking their cameras by hand. Through period films we can relive great moments in history or look to the future. But not every actor is capable of looking good in a toga or a powdered wig. There have been many missteps in casting over the years as directors try to fit square pegs into round holes with actors who have no business in being in a period film. Presented here is our list for 10 of the absolute worst cases of actors who stood out like sore thumbs in period films

10. Kate Capshaw - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

We hate to bag on Kate but the only good role she’s ever played is that of Mrs. Steven Spielberg. Even a director as talented as Spielberg could not make Capshaw the least bit believable as a nightclub singer in 1930s Shanghai. Kate vied with Ke Huy Quan (Shortround), as being the two worst things about the second Indiana Jones film. Not coincidentally, her acting career fizzled soon after this film.

9. Brad Pitt - Troy

This retelling of Homer’s “Iliad” concerning the Trojan War was a classic example of Hollywood overindulgence, dispensing with any remnant of being faithful to Greek mythology in order to allow actors to play dress up. There was no greater transgression than that of Brad Pitt as the hero Achilles. Rule #1: Don’t let pretty boys dress up as warriors…

8. Keanu Reeves - Much Ado About Nothing

This film adapts the Shakespeare comedy and was directed by notable Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branagh… all very good. Except that someone thought it would be a good idea to cast Keanu Reeves as Don John. Now I’m tempted to believe that Reeves stands out like a sore thumb in any film that doesn’t have “Matrix” in its title but seriously… Shakespeare? Who didn’t expect Reeves to say, “Hey Don Pedro, dude!”

7. Jeffrey Jones - Sleepy Hollow

Jones has become best known for roles in which be played sneaky characters such as the Principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day OffIn Tim Burton’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow,” Jones played Reverend Steenwyck. Complete with a ridiculous powdered wig, Jones looked like a drag queen who couldn’t afford to buy a more expensive outfit.

6. Matthew Broderick - Ladyhawke

After starring in War Games and before charming us in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Broderick starred in this fantasy film as a thief named Phillipe. Now the only thing more effeminate than the name of this film is the way Broderick is clinging to Rutger Hauer in the scene pictured below. Suffice to say that Broderick has stuck to more contemporary roles since then.

5. Edward G. Robinson - The Ten Commandments

Edward G. Robinson made a career out of playing tough gangster roles in films such as Little Caesar, Smart Money, and The Last GangsterIn Cecil B. DeMille’s grand biblical epic he played a Hebrew slave named Dathan, who betrayed his own people as an Egyptian informant. Now we can buy Yul Brynner as Rameses but hearing Robinson in his New York accent and lisp, say “Where’s your SHAVIOR NAW?” is one of the great lines in cinema.

4. Farrah Fawcett - Saturn 3

We love Farrah Fawcett, God rest her soul. For young males who grew up in the 1970s, she was our goddess. Fawcett was still a few years away from proving her acting ability in films like The Burning Bed when she co-starred in this film. Saturn 3 is one of the worst sci-fi films of the 1980s. The only thing sillier than Fawcett being in the film is that she played the love interest of Kirk Douglas, thirty years her senior. Of course, she did have a brief topless scene, the one redeeming quality to the film.

3. James Earl Jones - Conan the Barbarian

Jones played evil wizard Thulsa Doom in the 1982 adventure fantasy. Now not only was Thulsa Doom NOT a Conan villain (He was actually a Kull villain) but he was always depicted as having a skull for a head. Essentially, Jones was playing Conan foe Thoth-Amon, the snake-worshipping wizard but I guess the producers thought the name Thulsa Doom sounded better. Still, Jones, as leader of a hippie-like group of flower loving cultists looked positively ridiculous in his costumes and shoulder length hair.

2. Wilt Chamberlain - Conan the Destroyer

Not to be outdone by James Earl Jones, the Conan films offered even a worst casting choice, that of former basketball star Wilt Chamberlain as the villainous warrior Bombaata. Sure he was tall and fairly muscular but there was just one problem…the guy couldn’t act. He made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like an Oscar winner. His performance was just one of the many reasons a third Conan movie was never made.

1. John Wayne - The Conqueror

John Wayne is one of the greatest American actors and the ultimate tough guy. Best known for his western and war films, Wayne made a huge mistake when took the role of Mongol warrior Genghis Khan in this 1956. It’s a toss-up to what was worse… Wayne made to look like a Mongol warrior or his trying to feign an Asian accent. Making matters worse, the film was shot only 130 miles away from the Nevada nuclear testing site. Several cast members, including Wayne, would pass away from cancer.


Oh, the bad casting choices. Hollywood. If Hollywood choices bother the crap out of you, check out 6 Annoying Things Hollywood Needs to Stop Doing John Wayne's passing was mentioned, you should also read 4 Actor's Deaths More Shocking Than a Movie

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Showing items 1 - 10 of 42
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invisioner 3/18/2010 12:16:09 AM

 Okay, I have to admit, this is a pretty good list, I can't knock any of the choices, well, Farrah WAS the only part of the film really worth watching, as creepy as it was to be the hottest fem in the universe caught between Kirk Douglas, a killer rape robot and Harvey Keitel. I would just airlock myself.

FerretJohn 3/18/2010 1:10:35 AM

No, no, no, and no. Just about every choice here I have to disagree with. There was nothing wrong with either Capshaw or Pitts performances in their movies. Are you really that retarded that you're going to judge every Keanu Reeves performance with The Matrix or Bill & Ted? Jones and Broderick were decent, Matthew was a sneak-thief and escape artist, fast with the feet and faster with the mouth, his character was perfect for him. Farrah was hot in Saturn 3, and their age difference was a part of the movie. Aside from nitpicking about the name, James Earl Jones was the perfect villain for Conan. Wilt Chaimberlain? If he were cast as a wizard or schemer I'd have said bad casting, but he was the villains chief muscle, not a roll that required great stretches in thespianism. Edward G Robinson, ok that I'll give you, and John Wayne as Genghis Khan, even the Duke was wondering what he was thinking when he took that role.

You want bad casting, try Dungeon Siege. Jason Staitham as a fantasy hero, Ray Liotta as an evil wizard, or Burt Reynolds as a mideavil king (what a movie, pick your miscast). Junior, Arnold as a gynocological researcher. Or any movie that features Woody Allen as the romantic lead.

Side note: People keep talking about the Nevada test range, and certainly I'm sure that the place caused some of John Waynes health problems, but the cancer that did him in was from his 4 packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day habit. It was amazing he lived as long as he did with that chain-smoking.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 3/18/2010 2:24:56 AM

What's so ridiculous about Fawcett's character dating somebody thirty years her senior?  I think Michael Douglas is pretty much doing that and I definitely know that the girl who plays Alex on Lost is dating Jeff Goldblum.  Not so crazy now, huh?

karas1 3/18/2010 4:03:13 AM

Kate Capshaw wasn't great in Temple of Doom, but that had nothing to do with it being a period film.  I thought her lounge act in the beginning of the film, where she sings Anything Goes in chinese is the best part of her performance.

I thought Brad Pitt rocked as Achilles.  Your problem is that you think all warriors have to look like Wilt Chamberlin.  I believe in the poem Achilles was supposed to have been a very handsome man.

Keanu Reeves, yeah, bad casting.  Some people shouldn't do Shakespear.  He can't act very well and was certainly the weakest part of the film.  And casting him as Denzel Washington's half brother was just silly.  The first time I watched the film I spent the first half of it wondering if there was another Prince in the film that Reeves was supposed to have been the brother of.

Matther Broderick was perfect in Lady Hawke.  Why do you say the name of the film is effeminate?  Because it has the word Lady in it?  Very strange.  And if you were riding behind someone you'd hug him too so as not to fall off.

Ah, it must be 25 years since I saw Saturn 3 but I don't remember anything negative about her performance.  If there were only 2 people on a planet and one was male and the other female they'd hook up no matter what the age difference.  And since when is science fiction concidered "period"? 

James Earl Jones makes an awesome villian, no matter what you dress him in.

Wilt Chamberlain just plain can't act well, whether he is in a period film or a contemporary one.  So his being in a period film as opposed to a contemporary one doesn't make much difference.

Kara S

Kara S

marcd30319 3/18/2010 4:21:45 AM

As a historical aside, Edward G. Robinson's casting may have saved his acting career. Robinson was a very generous, supportive person to his friends who included a number of wannabe commies. Robinson's name started popping up on various black lists floating around Hollywood, but Cecil B. de Mille, an arch-conservative, didn't care and so he cast Eddie Robinson in The Ten Commandments.

jppintar326 3/18/2010 4:50:53 AM

Jeffrey Jones should also be on this list for Amadeus, playing the King of Austria.  Every time I see this movie, I want to say "what is Bueller's principal doing there as the king of Austria?"

Since the Conan movies are more fantasy than history, I give that one a pass.

#1 is tough to argue with.  John Wayne just looks silly as Genghis Khan,.  You can't buy him for a minute.  I'd also nominate him for his brief cameo in The Greatest Story Ever Told as a Roman Centurion at the Crucification!!!!  You are waiting for him to say "Truly this man was the Son of God Pilgrim."  His very presence took me out of the movie completely.

I'd nominate Brad Pitt for Legends of the Fall because he felt out of place even during World War I. 

How about Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic?  He looked and talked way too 1990s to be believable as a passenger on the Titanic. 

Keanu Reeves can also be nominated for Bram Stoker's Dreacula.


ponyboy76 3/18/2010 5:01:51 AM

IMO, that's a bad list. There were plenty of other actors that have been miscast. Keanu is such an easy target because no one really thinks that he can act unless he's playing a character with any dimension.

The only ones I really agree with are Kate Capshaw andJohn Wayne. There was absolutely nothing wrong with  Wilt Chamberlain or James Earl Jones. Jones looked pretty crazy with the makeup but his acting was fine. He came across as crazy religious tyrant. Chmaberlain didn't even have all that many lines for him to be considered as a bad actor. He was the muscle and someone for Conan to fight. You act like Arnold gave an Oscar pefromance. All he did was give you stare and say "Crom" a lot.

And as for Brad Pitt. You may not have liked the movie but Pitt was bad ass as Achilles. Read up on Achilles, he was supposed to spawned by the gods, so I dare say, he'd have to be a somewhat goodlooking human specimen, so it makes sense.

Bull$hit list.

mjones242 3/18/2010 5:15:32 AM

This piece is clearly mired in personal bias based on roles the actors/actresses have played previously (or afterwards). 

That being said, I will have to agree with Keanu Reeves being a fairly one-dimensional actor who was also the sole misstep in "Bram Stoker's Dracula".  Also, John Wayne as Genghis Khan is beyond ridiculous - hell, any period piece Wayne stood out like a sore thumb (ie. Roman Centurion in "The Greatest Story Ever Told").

As per the other choices, Robinson may not have tried to mask his accent but then again, who in "The Ten Commandments" did?!  Yet Yul gets a pass with his Russian accent? Hrmm....

James Earl Jones seems to be getting more flack here for his character's interpretation (you are correct that it's more based off of Thoth-Amon) than his actual performance which was absolutely enthralling and one of the best genre villains of all-time (IMHO of course).

The rest of those on this list I feel were fine or, at the very least, did what was expected of them for their role but did NOT stand out like a sore thumb.  Hell, I went into "Troy" expecting Brad Pitt to bomb the performance but he really sold me on his portrayal of Achilles.

To each his his/her own...

Wiseguy 3/18/2010 5:20:40 AM

Where's Richard Gere in that King Arthur movie? TERRIBLE

And I know many think of him as a golden boy now but Ledger as a knight was pretty bad IMO, forgot the title of the film

And Cage is also a knight in an upcoming flick, I don't have to see it to know it's a bad casting job

creekwoodkid 3/18/2010 5:26:07 AM

Why does Capshaw always get reamed on these lists. If your role is the annoying pri madonna, and you come off as annoying, well then it stands to reason you did a good job. So, why all the hate for Kate?

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