There are two distinctions that I'd like to make before you read this list. First, just because an actor is good doesn't mean they can believably embody any character. Second, there's a difference between a bad movie and a bad performance. Emile Hirsch's Speed Racer was surprisingly boring, but it wouldn't have grossed more if it starred a different actor—not unless that actor was Robert Pattinson. The plot was the problem not the actor. However, there are some films that could've been improved if a different actor starred in them. That's called a miscast.
Forest Whitaker - Our Family Wedding (2010)
I saw this family rom-com last week, hoping to catch comedian Carlos Mencia finally get his due and America Ferrara sport something besides braces and a poncho. But I was a little distracted by Forest Whitaker's unfunny performance. There's something about how his humor isn't reflected in his face that makes it seem like he's not telling a joke. If he was attempting "deadpan," it really wasn't working. So either some actors can't pull-off comedy or some actors need better direction in order to figure out which comedy style makes them funnier. I've never actually seen a comedy starring Whitaker. I've always seen him as an intimidating figure, from Panic Room to The Last King of Scotland. But I think it's great that he's trying a different genre. I just hope next time he'll find a director that can mold him better.
Everyone except Kristin Kreuk - Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
I reviewed this poor excuse for an action film last year. It was supposed to be Kristin Kreuk's big break. It wasn't. The intro says everyone sucked, but really the major eye sore was Chris Klein. It was like watching Steven Seagal and Zoolander's love child try to catch criminals and sleep with women. American Pie cannot be the highlight of his life. Even Sean William Scott is doing better than him. Critics were raving about him in Cop Out. Him. Stifler. The guy who pretended to drink his own pee. The guy who starred in Dude Where's my Car? That guy!!
Ben Affleck - Surviving Christmas (2004)
I think Ben Affleck is funny. Goofy and coy—he's the All-American boy-next-door. But his role as a douchebag in this holiday-themed family comedy wasn't even a little bit funny. No, actually, the only funny part was when he was assaulted by James Gandolfini. People shouldn't want to watch a film to watch a person get assaulted. That's sick. This, first of all, was a straight-to-DVD movie if I've ever seen one, making it unclear as to why the guy who starred in Pearl Harbor and Armageddon was in it. Secondly, who buys the grinning do-gooder as a schmuck? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Lastly, if your performance bears an unbelievably close resemblance to every performance by Dane Cook, then it isn't a role worth doing?
Halle Berry - Catwoman (2004)
Where do I begin? Forget the fact that she's black. I'm black-ish. I'm all for diversity. It's more about how incredibly insane Michelle Pfeiffer was in Michael Keaton's Batman, how she was driven to insanity, how her character is one of the most iconic sexy crazy women in film history, and how Halle Berry's incarnation paled in comparison. No one asked her to mimic Pfeiffer's version, the same way no one asked Christian Bale to mimic any other Batman incarnation. But she had to at least top her performance, and considering that Pfeiffer wore visibly-stitched pleather, meowed, and voluntarily electrocuted herself, the bar was set pretty low.
Matt Damon - Stuck on You (2003)
Watching Matt Damon go from the lovably dorky Linus (Ocean's Eleven) to a badass assassin (The Bourne Identity) to Greg Kinnear's siamese twin was like watching The Rock go from being a pro-wrestler to being the Tooth Fairy. Campy Will Ferrell humor isn't his schtick. Even if he were hit by a mack truck and never looked attractive again, it would not be his schtick.
Colin Farrell - Daredevil (2003)
Colin Farrell was never really a big-name actor. He was more of a celebrity personality because of his wild antics, heavy drinking, and sexual escapades. People didn't really expect much from him and they certainly didn't expect him to do saintly roles, so playing the villain Bullseye in Daredevil wasn't that big of a deal…until you saw him with a bullseye imprinted on his forehead--his bald head. Farrell was way too exposed as a celebrity to be taken seriously as a threat-spewing, dart-throwing, bald-headed bad guy. We were about as afraid of him as the road runner is of the coyote.
Ralph Fiennes - Maid in Manhattan (2002)
You know Fiennes, right? The guy who plays the snake-like abomination known to children everywhere as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, and who two months prior to the release of this film starred in Red Dragon opposite Hannibal Lecter? He was in a romantic comedy. Alright, so he did star in the English Patient and Schindler's List, charming the pants off American critics. But J. Lo? Really? You want us to believe that Ralph Fiennes would court J. Lo? Even Daniel Day-Lewis couldn't pull that off. No, they should've stuck with her usual brood of smart-ass Prince Charmings, like George Clooney and Matthew McConaughey.
Julia Roberts & Brad Pitt - The Mexican (2001)
At the beginning of the decade, Pitt was on a hot-streak: Fight Club, Snatch, and Ocean's Eleven. After this film, he starred in a flurry of crap (Troy and Ocean's Twelve) until he met Angelina Jolie, benefiting romantically and professionally. Julia Roberts was in a similar position. She'd just been critically praised for Notting Hill and Erin Brokovich. Both actors were in their prime—incredible apart, but unbearable together. Chances are they got the brilliant idea to do a film together while they were shooting Ocean's Eleven, and while they may have gotten along just fine, they didn't have any actual on-screen chemistry. Roberts tends to come off as the type of woman who needs a self-confident man, like George Clooney (Ocean's Eleven) or Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding), otherwise it just seems like she's out of their league. Pitt comes off as the kind of guy who is attracted to women who ooze sensuality, like Catherine Zeta Jones (Ocean's Twelve) and his very own wife (Mr. and Mrs. Smith). The bumbling idiot that Pitt was playing wasn't worthy of Roberts, and the last time Roberts was convincingly sexy was in Pretty Woman. In the end, they just weren't convincing enough.
Sandra Bullock - 28 Days (2000)
Yes it's true that it took her 20 something years to score an Oscar, let alone a nomination. But most of her fans know her as a beautiful, down-to-earth, funny woman—you know, Julia Roberts without the laugh—which is why her portrayal of an alcoholic in this drama was practically unwatchable. Perhaps the idea was that it would be easier to forgive her character of all of her transgressions if she had Bullock's puppy-dog eyes, but we held her at such a high moral standard that watching her self-destruct wasn't in the least bit appealing.
Madonna - The Next Best Thing (2000)
Right, so, Madonna is sort of known as a bad actress, even though most critics loved her in Desperately Seeking Susan, Evita, and A League of their Own. Her roles pretty much started sucking, ironically, after she married a director, torturing the masses with The Next Best Thing and Swept Away. I know what you're thinking. "Why aren't you listing Swept Away as the miscast?" I know everyone hated that movie, but I didn't. I hated the ending. It was basically Overboard on an island—some rich obnoxious woman learns humility and respect when her servant becomes her only savior. Maybe the love story was preposterous and maybe she overacted a bit, but she has rich and obnoxious mastered. The Next Best Thing, however, needed someone with a little more experience. Madonna played a woman who drunkenly has sex with her gay bff, resulting in a child. They decide to raise it together until she falls for someone else who she wants to make a family with. A custody battle ensues. This is a relatively serious topic and not something that can be played by a singer-turned-actress, let alone one that no one can take seriously. No matter how many children she adopts, we will never see her as a mom. She will forever be the woman on the cover of the Erotica album.
What other roles could've been done better by someone else?