Casting directors have it tough.
Even when they choose incredibly talented actors, they can end up ruining the film. That’s because talent isn’t the only consideration—especially when millions of dollars are on the line. Sometimes a great actor just isn’t right for a part. Sometimes casting directors make the wrong decision.
We’re talking about decisions like…
1. John Wayne in “The Conqueror”
In 1956, legendary actor John Wayne decided to try something new. He accepted the role of Mongol leader Genghis Khan in The Conqueror, an epic film from director Dick Powell.
You might have noticed the problem here. Wayne is the quintessential American Western hero, and his iconic drawl made him one of the most respected actors of his era. The Conqueror nearly erased his sizable reputation.
As you may have guessed, Wayne wasn’t believable as a Mongol conqueror, given that he wasn’t Asian. To his credit, he didn’t attempt a stereotypical accent, but that hardly makes up for the deeply offensive casting choice.
2. Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger”
In one of the more questionable casting decisions in recent memory, Johnny Depp, a white man, played the Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, an American Indian. With a bird on his head. So there’s the first problem.
Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers wrote, “Your expectations of how bad the Lone Ranger is can’t trump the reality.” The problem isn’t Depp, Travers insists. The actor tries valiantly to work against type, to “explode every cliche of the American Indian ever cooked up by racist…Hollywood.”
The more obvious problem is that the movie is boring, and Depp cannot save it. The filmmakers, who teamed up with Depp on his last epic swashbuckling franchise, are “just putting Pirates of the Caribbean in a saddle and pretending we won’t notice,” Travers wrote. “Burn.”
3. Ben Affleck in “Daredevil”
Back when superhero movies weren’t a sure bet, 20th Century Fox cast Ben Affleck in Daredevil. On paper, the film can’t miss. Jennifer Garner plays Elektra, while Colin Farrell is a serviceable Bullseye.
Unfortunately, the film falls apart. Affleck, who’s certainly a talented performer, fails to bring any life to the dull plot. Occasionally, he seems to forget that he’s playing a blind character, creating a few jarring sequences.
Daredevil is a clever, principled superhero, but Affleck just looks like a sort of brawny jock. Fortunately, Marvel Comics got it right by casting Charlie Cox in the role for the 2015 Netflix series.
4. Keanu Reeves in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”
Reeves hit his stride in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as half of an idiotic but charming, time-travelling duo. He followed that box-office success with more serious fare in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. His roles in those movies stretched his acting capabilities, but he gave good performances in both. Unfortunately, he reached his breaking point with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The movie itself was a success. It won three Oscars and took home double its budget at the box office. However, critics weren’t so kind to Reeves and his attempt at an English accent. Josh Winning of Total Film said, “You can visibly see Keanu attempting not to end every one of his lines with ‘dude’. The result? A performance that looks like the young actor’s perpetually constipated. Painful for all parties.”
Director Francis Ford Coppola remains satisfied with the film (which probably has a lot to do with those three Oscars). He did admit in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he could have done more to help Reeves perform at a higher caliber.
“He tried so hard. That was the problem, actually—he wanted to do it perfectly and in trying to do it perfectly it came off as stilted.” Coppola said. “I tried to get him to just relax with it and not do it so fastidiously.”
Thankfully, the panned performance didn’t have a negative impact on the relationship between the director and the actor. Coppola said, “To this day he’s a prince in my eyes.”
5. Jake Gyllenhaal in “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”
This movie literally has the word “Persia” in the title, but the producers still found a way to cast the least Middle Eastern actor on the planet. Come on, Hollywood.
Gyllenhaal’s turn as a swashbuckling Saudi isn’t bad, exactly. The performance is fine. The movie even finds a way to translate the video-game action (yep, it was based on a video game) to an enjoyable theater experience.
But the casting of the adorkable Gyllenhaal doesn’t leave much room for critical appreciation, as the film’s 36-percent score on Rotten Tomatoes attests. This movie came out in 2010, but it sunk into the sands of time almost immediately.
6. Nicolas Cage in “The Wicker Man”
The 2006 version of The Wicker Man is one of the worst movies of all time, and sadly, Nicolas Cage doesn’t do much to elevate it. The original 1973 version was a classic, but director/writer Neil LaBute tried to shoehorn a strange quasi-misogynistic plot into the remake.
Nicolas Cage plays the lead role earnestly, but that turned out to be a bad decision. Audiences laughed as the Academy Award-winning actor screeches out lines like “How’d it get burned?” with apparent sincerity, and when the film’s villains brought out a container of bees…well, let’s just say that the original version was better.
Still, we don’t blame Cage for trying. He’s the actor’s equivalent of a really nice sports car: totally capable in the right environment, but utterly useless on a dirt track. Unfortunately, The Wicker Man was a dirt track.
7. Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”
Far be it from us to criticize Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Roger Ebert may have hated it, but a generation of D&D-obsessed children watched it until the VHS tape wore out (or so we’ve been told).
Still, there’s no winning the argument that Costner was right for the role. He made a name for himself as an all-American tough guy in The Untouchables and a whole slew of baseball films. And he couldn’t shake that Americanness, not even when he was supposed to be playing English lord Sir Robin of Locksley.
Costner didn’t even make an attempt at an accent, leading his Robin Hood to feel like a motorcycle-riding transplant from an ’80s film about bar fights. Classic film. Classic casting mistake.
8. Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai”
A couple of years before Tom Cruise made an insane, leaping declaration of love on Oprah Winfrey’s couch, he played a Great White Savior with a katana. He was the “last” samurai in Japan, and we think we know why: All the authentic samurai were like, “Jeez, they’re letting anyone in these days. I’m out.”
The Last Samurai tells the story of a 19th-century American military adviser who figures out how to be a killer samurai in a few months, training with native Japanese warriors who have presumably been studying their entire lives. Hey, he just picks things up quickly. He’s Tom Cruise.
Anyway, this 2003 hit sparked a thousand conversations about cultural imperialism and Hollywood’s depiction of people of color (or lack thereof). In that, at least, it was an important film.
The items on this list just go to show that great acting is not enough. You also have to choose the right actor. Hopefully Hollywood will figure that out soon.