The right choice of actors can truly make or break a movie – and many box office flops are born from horrible casting choices. Whether it’s an actor who can’t help but provoke laughter in serious roles, or one whose popular public image clashes completely with an unsavoury character, miscast roles can be particularly embarrassing for Hollywood.
Here are some of the most baffling casting decisions in from film history, which live in infamy among fans and critics alike.
20. Jared Leto in Suicide Squad
Jared Leto faced a mammoth task in reviving DC villain the Joker, last portrayed on the big screen by the phenomenal Heath Ledger. But Leto’s swaggering, flashy Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad failed to impress, or even scare. Critic Billy Givens described Leto’s Joker as a “psychotic romantic more concerned with being cool than with sowing his usual chaos.”
Behind the scenes, Jared Leto’s antics – which he declared were part of his method acting – won him no brownie points with his fellow castmates. Reportedly he sent them a litany of strange gifts, from a live rat to pornographic magazines. Leto would later state, “The Joker is somebody who doesn’t really respect things like personal space or boundaries.”
19. Mike Myers in The Cat in the Hat
As The Cat in the Hat, legendary comedian Mike Myers was a little out of his comfort zone. His adult humour felt completely wrong in this children’s fantasy movie, which garnered 10 Golden Raspberry Awards. With a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the website’s critical consensus for this movie reads: “Filled with double entendres and potty humor, this Cat falls flat.”
Costing $90 million to produce, The Cat in the Hat was a commercial failure. Writing for Slate, David Edelstein noted: “With his genius comic radar, Myers must have sensed the slant was wrong but couldn’t turn back. Even under all that hair you can detect the expression of someone flapping his arms to keep a lead balloon aloft.”
18. Marlon Wayans in Little Man
In 2006’s Little Man, Marlon Wayans plays a short jewel thief who goes undercover as a baby. Wayans’ face was superimposed onto a nine-year-old actor with dwarfism. The combination of bizarre effects and Wayan’s particularly offensive casting choice lead the critic Mark Kermode to describe this film as being “possessed by the devil”. The film also garnered three Golden Raspberry Awards.
Produced by three of the Wayans brothers (Keenen Ivory and Shawn along with Marlon), Little Man was inspired by a 1954 Bugs Bunny cartoon called Baby Buggy Bunny, in which a gangster masquerades as an orphaned child in order to rob a bank. Needless to say, what works in animation doesn’t always translate to live action.
17. Angelina Jolie in Alexander
This epic historical drama follows the life of Alexander the Great, including his early education by his tutor Aristotle and mother Olympias, Queen of Macedon. If Colin Farrell wasn’t a strange enough choice to play the titular ancient king in Alexander, the decision to cast Angelina Jolie as his mother was even more bizarre. Though she plays Queen Olympias in the film, Jolie is in fact only one year older than Farrell.
However, Jolie wasn’t bothered by the age discrepancies in her role. ““I loved her actually,” she said of Olympias. “I mean, I felt that if I lived at that time, with the dangers she had and the threats she had and the lack of power she had as a woman, I would not have been that different from her.”
16. John Cusack in The Butler
John Cusack flopped as President Richard Nixon in The Butler – probably because he was just too likeable! Known for playing charming romantic leads, Cusack was unconvincing as this controversial leader. But this role held a lot of personal curiosity for Cusack. Before he began filming, Cusack explained his rationale for taking this unexpected role.
“I certainly know a lot about Nixon, because I knew Hunter [S. Thompson, the American journalist] real well, and he dug into Nixon’s past pretty much his whole life,” he said in a 2012 interview with Vulture. “He was a little obsessed with him. And I’m really interested in history and politics, so I know a lot about it.”
15. Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage turned the comic book character Johnny Blaze – a lovable thrill-seeker who hosts a spirit with immense supernatural powers – into a more sensitive, serious figure. Plenty of comic fans were displeased with this casting choice, and both 2007’s Ghost Rider and its sequel Spirit of Vengeance were panned by critics. Cage himself had a different explanation for why Ghost Rider and Spirit of Vengeance were so unpopular: their PG-13 rating.
Cage argued in a 2018 interview that the horror-tinged property “always should’ve been an R-rated movie. David Goyer had a brilliant script which I wanted to do with David, and for whatever reason they just didn’t let us make the movie… Heck, Deadpool was R-rated and that did great.”
14. Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern
Now a sensation as Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds is always the first to mock his past attempt at a superhero role. Off-the-wall Reynolds was wasted in 2011’s Green Lantern as Hal Jordan, a straight-laced pilot who is chosen to save the world. This actor has since pretended in jest that he has never even heard of Green Lantern. Reynolds’ leap in popularity between Green Lantern and Deadpool has also led him to speculate on what went so wrong with Hal Jordan.
“Deadpool always knew what it was,” he has commented. “With Green Lantern, I don’t think anyone ever figured out exactly what it was. That isn’t to say the hundreds of men and women didn’t work their fingers to the bone to make it as good as possible… At the time, it was a huge opportunity for me so I was excited to try and take part in it.”
13. Sean Connery in The Untouchables
Sean Connery won an Academy Award for playing Irish-American cop Jim Malone in The Untouchables, back in 1987. But in a recent Empire Magazine poll, fans voted that Jim Malone had the worst movie accent of all time. In his typical fashion, Sean Connery floats back to his own Scottish accent throughout the film, with lines like, “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun.”
Still, it’s worth noting that when Connery first played James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No, some critics (mostly Americans) mistook the actor’s thick Scots accent for an Irish brogue. In any case, accent issues didn’t bother the Academy, who gave Connery the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in The Untouchables.
12. Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell
The 2017 movie Ghost in the Shell cast Scarlett Johansson in her most controversial role to date. She plays Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character who originates from a manga franchise dating back to 1989. While Johansson’s performance was praised by critics, many fans felt a Japanese actress should have taken this iconic role. The film flopped at the box office.
However, Mamoru Oshii – a director who has produced two animated films based on the manga franchise – has weighed in on the issue and defended the casting decision because the character is non-human. “What issue could there possibly be with casting her?” he said to IGN. “The major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one.”
11. Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
As Reeves’ co-star Winona Ryder later recalled, “[Dracula] got the worst reviews. That movie, for some reason, every reviewer was like, “This is the worst movie in the world,” and it was really rough.” Dracula would win three Academy Awards, but critics and the public alike seemed to detest Keanu Reeves’ Jonathan Harker, the lawyer who becomes embroiled in Dracula’s affairs.
Reeves was particularly criticised for his attempts at an English accent. “He tried so hard,” director Francis Ford Coppola reflected. “That was the problem, actually — he wanted to do it perfectly and in trying to do it perfectly it came off as stilted. I tried to get him to just relax with it and not do it so fastidiously.”
10. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor of the Superman franchise is typically portrayed as a manipulative genius, who often keeps his cool to pull off outrageous crimes. And, originally, director Zack Snyder intended to stick with tradition. In fact, he wanted to cast an older, bald man in the role, and considered Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston. “Bryan Cranston would have been great, right?” Snyder later commented. “And by the way, he’s an amazing actor. Can you imagine how different the movie would be?”
However, Snyder instead cast Jesse Eisenberg in the role, after first contemplating casting him as upstart reporter Jimmy Olsen. The new Lex Luthor, crafted specifically for this energetic 32-year-old actor, was a spoiled intern prone to tantrums. The majority of fans hated this change to the original Luthor, with many saying that this character instead borrowed heavily from the various portrayals of the Joker.
9. Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
Both Kevin Costner and Christian Slater, in the roles of Robin and Will, were lambasted for their attempts at English accents in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Kevin Costner’s role here won him the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actor, with the blockbuster staple criticised for being too modern and for delivering his dialogue in a strangely stilted way.
One man who disagreed with this verdict, however, was the real-life Sheriff of Nottingham. This employee of Nottingham City Council travelled all the way to Los Angeles and brought two awards to Costner – The Freedom Of Nottingham Castle and The Freedom Of Sherwood Forest – to thank him for promoting tourism in Nottingham, England.
8. Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough
In the 19th James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is tasked with protecting the daughter of an assassinated billionaire, and becomes caught up in a nuclear meltdown plot. Dr Christmas Jones, an American nuclear physicist, is the movie’s glamourous Bond girl – and the role was won by rising star and fashion model Denise Richards. The character was almost universally panned, and is often described as the worst Bond girl of all time.
Fans felt that this scientist was totally lacking in realism, with critic Nathan Rabin noting that Richards’ acting was “so laughably awful that the film comes to a dead stop whenever she’s on screen”. Richards later countered the criticism by pointing out: “These Bond girls are so outrageous and if I did really look like a scientist, the Bond fans would have been disappointed.”
7. Russell Crowe in Les Misérables
Many musical fans were left severely disappointed by Russell Crowe’s performance in the hotly anticipated big-screen adaptation of Les Misérables. Released in 2012, this sung-through movie was not kind to weaker singers, as every tune was sung live on-set. In the role of police officer Javert, Crowe’s singing voice simply didn’t match up to audience expectations. Director Tom Hooper defended his unpopular casting decision for Javert, stating that Crowe’s acting chops were the most important factor.
“To find brilliant film actors who are brilliant singers – there are so few choices,” he said. “I ultimately stand by what Russell did. I love him in the film. I embraced a kind of raw attitude to the vocals that is unusual in the modern age.”
6. Ashton Kutcher in Jobs
Best known for playing comic and often ditzy roles, Ashton Kutcher was an unconvincing choice to play tech genius Steve Jobs in this 2013 drama. It was another box office flop, and E!Online even described Kutcher’s role as a “superficial and unsatisfying portrait of an icon who deserved better.” Josh Gad starred as Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Steve Jobs has been portrayed in four different feature films, which were released between 1999 and 2015. 2013’s Jobs was an independent movie, whereas its 2015 rival Steve Jobs was created by Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin, with Michael Fassbender earning far more enthusiastic reviews for his performance as Jobs than Kutcher ever got.
5. Vince Vaughn in Psycho (1998)
A modern remake of Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, 1998’s Psycho was directed by Gus Van Sant, who picked Vince Vaughn for the villainous lead role. Vaughn had recently won fame in the 1996 comedy-drama movie Swingers. However, accepting the role of Norman Bates didn’t necessarily do any favours to Vaughn’s career, or that of any of his co-stars, as it was widely felt that Van Sant’s – a word-for-word, shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s film in colour – was utterly pointless.
Aside from these criticisms of the film being inherently misconceived, Vaughn’s performance in Psycho was criticised as far inferior to Anthony Perkin’s previous incarnation of Bates. While Perkins played Bates as a polite and discreet young man, Vaughn’s Bates is instantly creepy, giving the game away from his earliest scenes.
4. Ben Affleck in Daredevil
Daredevil, the 2003 superhero movie, was declared a dull disappointment by many fans, despite performing well at the box office. Ben Affleck himself has declared that his role in Daredevil was a disaster. “I hate Daredevil so much … it frustrated me,” he told The New York Times. “The Netflix show  does really cool stuff. I feel like that was there for us to do with the character, and we never kind of got it right. I wanted to do one of those movies and sort of get it right.”
“A lot of stuff [in the movie] was kind of silly,” he reflected. Affleck also noted that “the most interesting thing about the movie, frankly”, was working with Tom Sullivan, a blind actor, to develop his character of Matt Murdoch. He has also begrudgingly noted that Daredevil’s negative reception spurred him into the role of Batman in later years.
3. Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
‘Whitewashing’ is frowned on in Hollywood today, and Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s is among the most infamous examples of the practice. Rooney, a white actor, donned prosthetics and heavy makeup to play I. Y. Yunioshi, Holly’s Japanese landlord. The movie’s lasting popularity has led director Blake Edwards to comment on the now infamous racism controversy: “Looking back, I wish I had never done it … and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it’s there, and onward and upward.”
At the age of 87, Rooney gave an interview in which he said he never would have taken the role if he believed it was offensive. However, he also claimed: “Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint. Every place I’ve gone in the world people say, ‘God, you were so funny.’ Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, ‘Mickey, you were out of this world.'”
2. Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III
When he was filming The Godfather Part III, director Francis Ford Coppola hit a problem. His star Winona Ryder dropped out of the project due to illness, and in a panic, he decided to cast his own daughter instead in the role of Mary Corleone. Young and inexperienced, Sofia Coppola was a huge disappointment in the movie to many fans of the franchise, with accusations of nepotism abounding.
Francis Ford Coppola has spoken of his guilty conscience over his daughter’s treatment. “They wanted to attack the picture when, for some, it didn’t live up to its promise. And they came after this 18-year-old girl, who had only done it for me. The daughter took the bullet for Michael Corleone — my daughter took the bullet for me.” Sofia Coppola has largely avoided acting since, instead enjoying great success as a writer and director.
1. Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen
Released in 2021, Dear Evan Hansen is the musical film adaptation that follows the misadventures of a teenager with severe anxiety. Ben Platt, famed for playing Evan Hansen in the stage musical of the same name, took the lead role – despite being in his late twenties during production. Disappointed fans were quick to note that Platt’s father was a producer for this movie, leading to claims of nepotism.
The efforts to make Platt seem younger were panned by critics and audiences alike. Writing for the Guardian, Adrian Horton noted: “the team behind Dear Evan Hansen put Platt in prosthetics and opaque, pasty makeup, along with a curly mop of hair, that strands the actor firmly in the uncanny valley. But the attempt to make Platt seem younger somehow renders him both older and inhuman – an act of near-sabotage so distracting it basically renders the movie unrecoverable.”