The 5 Worst Movie Star Performances In Musicals

The 5 Worst Movie Star Performances In Musicals

After a few of years since the last major effort (the ill-fated “Nine“), the live-action movie musical is back again, with two starry efforts due this year about as far away from each other as you can get. This Christmas will see the terribly serious-looking “Les Miserables” hit theaters, with a star-studded cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. But first is Rock of Ages,” which arrives in theaters tomorrow, with another A-list ensemble including Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones. 

Musicals have given serious career boosts to stars like Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Nicole Kidman and Eddie Murphy in recent years, but if you pick the wrong project, or are more self-confident about your pipes than you should be, it’s also the best way to embarass yourself completely. In honor of Alec Baldwin‘s tone-deaf belting in “Rock of Ages,” we’ve collected five of our favorite big-name performances in movie musicals that the stars would likely rather sweep under the carpet and delete from the resume. Check them out below, and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia!” (2008)
For all of the many flaws of “Mamma Mia!” (principally that it’s been directed by someone who appears to have never seen a movie before), it’s hard to argue that the cast aren’t throwing their all into it. Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are a little dull, but their elders — Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, and Christine Baranski — seem to be having a whale of a time. And if they’re not exactly going to be finalists on “The Voice,” they’re at least performing on the level of a relatively competent karaoke competitor. Then Pierce Brosnan arrives. Brosnan can be a hugely entertaining actor (see: “The Matador,” “The Thomas Crown Affair“), but he seems hopelessly adrift here. And then we discover why: while he doesn’t have all that many musical numbers, compared to his cast members, he’s got a couple of big ones, including an “S.O.S.” duet with Streep, and his voice can best be described as a cross between Joe Cocker, a deaf Chewbacca, and an oil tanker trying to warn smaller boats out of its path. It’s both the worst, and kind of the best, thing in the movie, and something that will permanently scar your eardrums.

Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick in “The Producers” (2005)
When Mel Brooks‘ classic 1968 comedy about the making of a Broadway disaster itself became a stage show, it was a colossal success, breaking box-office records, and earning a remarkable twelve Tony nominations, with stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick both nominated, and Lane winning. So what the hell happened when it came to the screen? While fitfully funny (thanks to some spirited performance from Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman), it was mostly a tone-deaf translation of the stage show with no feel for movie musicals, and that was never truer than in the performances of Lane and Broderick. It’s almost inexplicable the degree to which both stars (who’ve done plenty of fine film work over the years) completely failed to adjust what they were doing to fit the screen. The actors still feel like they’re trying to hit the back row of a 1,500-seat theater, rather than a camera eight feet away, and the results are almost grotesquely over the top, even by the standards of the genre — you feel like you’re being beaten up by a pair of mugging musical theater grads, rather than much-lauded stage veterans. And of course, they’re not just battling the ghosts of their own theater performances, but also the pitch-perfect ones by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in Brooks’ film, the comparisons becoming more brutal when on screen. It’s frankly beyond belief that no one, not least director Susan Stroman, didn’t think to take a little time between takes to suggest they tone it down a bit.

Gerard Butler in “Phantom of the Opera” (2004)
As pretty much every comments section piece on every piece we’ve ever written on Gerard Butler attests, the Scottish actor has a fervent female fan base who’ll ride to his defense at even the faintest breath of criticism directed towards him. But even they must surely feel that his title role in Joel Schumacher‘s disastrous take on Andrew Lloyd-Webber‘s Broadway smash was far from his finest hour. It should be an instantly iconic role, one that’s made stars of everyone from Lon Chaney to Michael Crawford, and yet Butler couldn’t be more anonymous — clearly struggling under the mask, he’s lacking entirely in charisma, in allure and in mystery, he’s just… there. All in all, it feels he’d be better fitted to one of the more out-there daytime soap operas than a film like this, and he can’t even sink to the levels of camp that Schumacher clearly wants the film to go to. And he just looks duller next to co-star Emmy Rossum, who’s actually pretty great in the film — it’s surprising she didn’t become bigger star as a result. And while Butler can handle the songs a little better than some of the people on this list, he still flounders a little to reach the high notes. Fortunately, no such struggles were needed when he led “300” and finally became a star.

Everyone in “Lost Horizon” (1973)
The film that pretty much served as the final nail in the coffin of the era of the mega-budget roadshow musical, “Lost Horizon” was a cataclysmic financial failure (nicknamed “Lost Investment” by some), and if a worse movie musical has been made, we certainly haven’t seen it. An adaptation of James Hilton‘s utopian novel, although closer to a remake of Frank Capra‘s 1937 film, it’s probably best described as a gonzo, hippyish musical version of “Lost,” about a group of archetypes who survive a plane crash and are accepted into the “perfect society” of Shangri-La in the Himalayas. The script by Larry Kramer is tonally all over the place (the writer would later deride it), Charles Jarrot‘s direction is entirely anonymous, and the songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (who were on the verge of severing their creative relationship and spend the next several years suing each other) are both ill-fitting and forgettable. And while the film has an impressive all-star cast, including Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman, John Gielgud, George Kennedy, Bobby Van, Michael York and Olivia Hussey, every one of them is fatally miscast and quite often can’t handle the tunes either. To pick one out would be unfair, especially given that we imagine they were all keen to forget the whole affair, but pretty much everyone is floundering like they were in an actual plane crash.

Clint Eastwood in “Paint Your Wagon” (1969)
In the words of one Bart Simpson, “Prepare yourself for the bloody mayhem and unholy carnage of Joshua Logan‘s ‘Paint Your Wagon.’ ” Bart, sadly, was misinformed, but “unholy” isn’t a bad description for a project that, frankly, is stunning it ever got made. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a Lerner and Loewe musical, written by Paddy Chayefsky, with a three-hour running time, revolving around a love triangle that’s more “Jules et Jim” than you might imagine. And those three actors? “A Bout De Souffle” star Jean Seberg, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. And not one of them can sing. Marvin is at least giving it full blast as a typically drunken layabout, and got a hit single out of it with ‘Wand’rin Star” (although it may not have made up for turning down “The Wild Bunch” to make this, or for having a voice like Nick Nolte trying to open a creaky gate). But Eastwood? Eastwood is thin and wispy in the vocal numbers, like a D-list Bobby Darin, not what you’d expect from the Man With No Name, and never for a second looks anything less than totally uncomfortable on screen, clearly deeply regretting his decision. Unsurprisingly, he never went back to the genre.

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Comments

Anon

Butler and Brosnan were AWFUL. And the "raw" argument makes sense! He's supposed to have a beautiful, angelic, TRAINED voice. Leroux wrote that his voice actually sounded like that of an angel, and he sang the woman's part of a duet — because his voice is GOOD, not raw.

But I disagree on the Producers! "Tone it down" a bit? It's a musical! Musicals are meant to be more than just people singing pop songs in a movie — there is SUPPOSED to be feeling behind the songs.

And Gemini71 is totally incorrect in saying that Erik represents excitement and rebellion. He represents to her MUSIC. He is unequivocally her muse, and nothing but.

Random

I used to think Butler did an astounding job, but after hearing Ramin and the rest of the play Phantoms. Yeah, great actor, not a bad singer, but they all wipe the floor with him.

Don't give me the "raw" argument, he's meant to be a musical genius with an unearthly angelic voice. He's supposed to teach Christine how to be a great singer for crying out loud!

I actually didn't like Micheal Crawford at first, too nasally for my tastes.
However, while I still get irked a bit by some of his notes, he's certainly grown on me.

Then I read the book. I was horrified by what Butler did to the Phantom. So toned down, so not threatening almost relying on his looks in a way. They didn't have to gore him out like in that Robert Englund version, but come one, he was like the Twilight of the Phantoms. (He did do a great job, though, so don't attack me fans!)

But then again, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

Gemini71

I disagree with Gerald Butler being on this list. If you think about what The Phantom represented to Christine: excitement, rebellion, edgy passion. These are character traits indicative of Gerry Butler's various on-screen performances. His voice was rougher, more rock and roll, and I think Joel Schumacher was right to cast him. He also, I have to say, choose wisely in casting Emmy Rossum as Christine.

Robert Connor

Lost Horizon cast couldn't handle the tunes? Damned with faint praise indeed, given that Ullman, Finch and Hussey were all dubbed by professional singers! Actually, I quite like Kellerman's tremulous tones in this, although her hoofing with Hussey in the library is hilarious.

Albert

I agree about most of them, especially the cast of "Lost Horizon", but I have to disagree about Eastwood. I thought he did pretty well considering the fact that he's not a singer. He's certainly got a better voice than Lee Marvin. And if you dislike him in "Paint Your Wagon", why didn't you include his singing in "Bronco Billy" (which I have not seen, but I did hear that he sings in it)?

sidsbowl

Hugh Jackman has a stellar broadway career. He's not my favorite actor, but the guy's very talented.

caseytheyank

Cmon, Butler should not be in this category! He has a nice, pleasant, even a good voice, but definitely not brilliant as some gals claim he is. I agree with Celtic Charm. Thought he showed fear, strength, courage, weakness and a variety of other emotions and was very appealing, even to some guys!

Todd

Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye Mr. Chips" was pretty bad. The fact that he can't sing a note is the least of his worries in this film.

CMC

I was very much surprised by Butlers voice. I loved him as the Phantom..he was both sexy and soft at the same time. His voice I thought sounded better then Michael Crawford who was way too nasal. I have both cds and like the movie version better.

Liz

I LOVED Gerard Butler in "Phantom"..As ALW said, the phantom has to have a rock and roll sensibility…Gerard's voice was raw and powerful. I remember seeing it in the theatre for the first time. I was awed, and the man in front of me when leaving exclaimed,"Wow! That gu's vocie ws powerful." I saw M. Crawford in the part, and I was so disappointed whenI went to
Broadway…Everyone was so in awe of him..why? His nasal , girlish wobbly vibrato was annoying…I know he had his Stage Door Janes, but he wsn't sexy, engaging, or empathetic. His English Music Hall timbre of his voice was quite effeminate. Butler's voice made me see the movie twenty times!!! And I didn't ev n know hwo handsome he was in the mask! Lay off him, you jealous critics!

Celtic Charm

Every button was pushed on the "creative" perception of Mr. Butler in POTO, which is allowed. Not only did Butler step into an iconic role he owned it. Musically Gerard Butler became the Phantom but more importantly he added superbly the human condition to the character. To understand and feel his performance you must go deep. Butler portrayed the Phantom as a monster when needed. The ingredient that Butler had the ability to add to this famous figure, was a soul.

Leslie

Yes! Gerik's on the list! I used to like Gerry in this role, but I opened my eyes to other Phantom versions.

Ella

You are so wrong about Gerard Butler's performance in "Phantom of the Opera." He was superb in his portrayal of the phantom. He was sexy, romantic, scary, sad and emotional – fantastic! When my husband and I saw the movie in the theater, we were absolutely mesmerized and couldn't wait to see it again. The critics were unnecessarily harsh towards this movie. Both Amazon and IMDB have high ratings for the movie and most people loved it. Their comments are for the most part GLOWING about Gerard's performance. The critics don't even like the stage play or Andrew Lloyd Webber so of course they were going to hate the movie. I felt that this critique of all of these actors was totally mean spirited!

cadavra

Of course Lane & Broderick are over the top in "The Producers." They're SUPPOSED to be over the top. Do you not understand the concept of burlesque? It was Ferrell and Thurman who were the weak links, but we understood that they were cast so there would be a couple of movie stars for box-office insurance–and as it turns out, they didn't help, after all. "Producers" is an excellent rendition of a tremendous show, and in years to come people will look back on it and realize that "we" blew it the first time around.

kingslayer

wow brosnan really went full retard there

Mikey M

No Michael Beck in Xanadu?

nolan

Pierce Bronan gave me a seizure 20 minutes ago

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