Winning an Oscar has many wonderful benefits. You get the acknowledgement of your peers, worldwide fame, the pick of some of the best roles around, and crucially, you get to up your asking price. Because yes, for every actor or actress that uses their newfound place in the history books to take their time and seek out another role worthy of their talents, there’s another who take the opportunity to sell out as quickly as possible.
It’s entirely understandable — many of these actors have struggled in relative obscurity for years if not decades, fighting for every role and break, so no one’s begrudging them the chance to strike while the iron’s hot and make a little dollar. But it can be a short-sighted approach; while some have managed to take a big studio project and still maintain respect, others have taken the first paycheck that came along, and harmed their careers, sometimes irrevocably. We call it ‘The Halle Berry Effect.’
So with the Oscars only three days away, it seems like a good time to run down some cautionary tales, and pick out ten of the worst post-Oscars projects picked by Academy Award winners in recent memory. We tried to be strict with the rules. The films had to be projects that the actors signed onto after their Oscar wins, rather than films they’d already shot or committed to. And the films had to be released within two years of their Oscar win (sparing Cuba Gooding Jr, who only started making any old rubbish after a tasteful break post-Oscar glory). Read our picks below, and don’t be surprised when Emmanuelle Riva signs on to “Night At The Museum 3” in a few weeks.
Halle Berry – “Gothika”
And where better to begin than with the actress who gives ‘The Halle Berry Effect’ its name? To be fair to her, the films that followed Halle Berry‘s “Monster’s Ball” Oscar at the start of 2002 couldn’t be blamed entirely on her — she was already shooting Bond movie “Die Another Day,” and was contractually obliged to return for “X2” (which is actually very good; in fact, it might be the best film that Berry made post-Oscar). But there’s no explaining away “Gothika,” the first film she actually chose to make after winning the award. Hailing from Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis‘ shingle Dark Castle (the people behind other B-list horror fare like “House on Haunted Hill” and “Thirteen Ghosts“), the film stars Berry as a psychiatrist in a creepy mental hospital (is there any other kind?) who, after encountering a ghost, wakes up a patient in her own asylum, accused of brutally murdering her husband (Charles S. Dutton). Berry isn’t bad in the film (which is directed by, of all people, “La Haine” helmer and “Amelie” actor Matthieu Kassovitz), but the script is so ludicrous and overblown, the style so overcranked, and the whole thing so generally reminiscent of a version of “Spellbound” for idiots, that it’s impossible to imagine the actress signing on for any reason other than a paycheck. There’s a degree to which we’re glad the film exists (co-star Robert Downey Jr‘s comeback began here, and he met his wife Susan, the film’s producer, during production), but we wish it didn’t serve as such a manifesto for the way that Berry’s career has gone since. The bulk of her output, from “Perfect Stranger” to this spring’s “The Call,” has been made up of this kind of bargain-bin potboiler — and that’s without mentioning “Catwoman,” the most infamous of her post-Oscar movies.
Angelina Jolie – “Lara Croft; Tomb Raider” & “Original Sin”
Still one of the biggest stars in the world, Angelina Jolie is undeniably a talented actress, something the Academy rubber-stamped when they gave her a Best Supporting Actress trophy for “Girl, Interrupted.” But as talented as she is, she doesn’t appear to be a good judge of scripts exactly; her post-Oscar resume, with a few exceptions (“A Mighty Heart,” “The Good Shepherd,” maybe “Beowulf” and “Mr. & Mrs Smith” if we were feeling especially generous) is like taking a trawl through some of the worst-reviewed films of the ’00s. And she got started pretty soon, signing on not long after her Academy victory to topline the video game adaptation “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” In a way, Jolie was a fair choice for the pneumatic Indiana Jones knock-off; she had clear action chops, looked the part, and could pull off a decent British accent. But that didn’t make the finished product any less terrible — an expensive, but uninvolving bore more concerned with its elaborate clock-punk scenery and idiotic action scenes than anything resembling story or character. She followed it up swiftly with another stinker, reteaming with her “Gia” director Michael Christofer on the spectacularly bad period erotic thriller “Original Sin,” with Antonio Banderas. The terrible choices just kept coming over the next few years — “Life Or Something Like It,” “Beyond Borders,” “Taking Lives,” “Shark Tale,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “Alexander,” “Changeling,” “Wanted,” “Salt,” “The Tourist.” Let’s hope she’s used the four year break between the last of those and next year’s “Maleficent” to rethink her approach to picking screenplays…
Helen Mirren – “National Treasure: Book Of Secrets”
Before winning her Oscar in 2007 for “The Queen,” Helen Mirren had been admirably averse to selling out. There were the occasional eyebrow-raising Hollywood project (“The Fiendish Plot Of Fu Manchu,” “2010,” “Teaching Mrs. Tingle“), but nothing that truly stunk of a paycheck. That changed almost as soon as she stepped off the Oscar podium, though. Only weeks after scoring her statue, she teamed up with Jerry Bruckheimer, joining the cast of the family-friendly Nicolas Cage sequel “National Treasure: Book Of Secrets.” Science has yet to explain how Nicolas Cage could possibly be the product of the DNA of Jon Voight (who gets to deliver the spectacular non sequitur “What is it about treasure that makes history so fascinating”) and Mirren, but that’s the case in Jon Turteltaub‘s bloated, ridiculous sequel. Mirren certainly brightens things up when she appears halfway through the film (she does appear to be actually conscious, unlike Ed Harris, who plays the villain by exactly replicating performances he’s given before), but it’s still clearly nothing much more than an excuse to buy a second home (as was her next role in the failed fantasy franchise-starting “Inkheart“). But, at least she gets to have a little more fun in those “Red” movies.
Jack Palance – “Cyborg 2”
Famously, Jack Palance took to the stage to do one-armed pushups when he won the Best Supporting Actor prize for “City Slickers,” believing that much of Hollywood thought he was too old, and trying to prove otherwise. But given that the next film he signed on to was “Cyborg 2,” maybe he shouldn’t have bothered. We can only assume that no offers came in for the veteran actor, because that’s the only reason we can imagine he’d agree to make Michael Schroeder‘s film, a sequel-in-name-only to the 1989 Jean Claude Van Damme “Terminator“/”Robocop” knock-off. The film stars a 17-year-old Angelina Jolie, in her first lead role, as Cash, a prototype cyborg assassin filled with liquid explosives (yup), who, guided by her cyborg mentor Mercy (Palance) and aided by trainer Colton (a post “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Elias Koteas), sets out to take down her evil creators. Palance, to his credit, isn’t actually on screen all that much (he can communicate through any electronic device, and so features mostly as a voice and close-ups of his eyes and mouth), until he pops up at the end, firing machine guns wildly and eventually blowing up. And he’s easily the most entertaining thing on screen when he does arrive, although that’s not saying an awful lot. It’s a direct-to-video movie in all but name (Trimark did in fact give it a theatrical release in November 1993), and is worth watching about as much you’d imagine a movie called “Cyborg 2” would be.
Kevin Spacey – “The Shipping News” & “K-Pax”
After his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “The Usual Suspects” in 1996, Spacey made some smart choices — “L.A. Confidential” and the lead in the above-average actioner “The Negotiator.” However, by the time that Spacey won his Best Actor Oscar for “American Beauty” in 2000, his picks had already started to waver. After the buzz for Sam Mendes‘ film began, Spacey signed onto the sickly ill-conceived melodrama “Pay It Forward,” with fellow Oscar winner Helen Hunt. The film was poorly received, but the actor seemed to use it as a model with his next two films (excluding indie “The Big Kahuna“), the equally saccharine “K-Pax,” and failed Oscar bait “The Shipping News.” The former sees Spacey play Prot, a mental patient who claims to be an alien, while the latter was a Harvey Weinstein-backed adaptation of E. Annie Proulx‘s Pulitzer Prize winning novel with an all-star cast in the safe hands of director Lasse Hallstrom. “K-Pax” is probably worse; the kind of film you suspect even Robin Williams would turn his nose up at. “The Shipping News” isn’t unwatchable (Spacey’s even ok in it), but it’s mostly boring, failing to capture the strengths of the novel, and proving to be something of a byword for botched, middlebrow prestige fare. Sadly, Spacey’s career has mostly continued on similar lines since, though he’s currently reminding us all of what he can do with “House of Cards.”
Rod Steiger – “The Illustrated Man”
While “In The Heat Of The Night” might have been a safe Best Picture winner in the year of “The Graduate” and “Bonnie & Clyde,” few would begrudge Rod Steiger his Best Actor Oscar. He’d already lost out for both “On The Waterfront” and “The Pawnbroker,” and was overdue. This bought Steiger more credit than he ever had before, but sadly, he used it on the 1969 adaptation of Ray Bradbury‘s seminal science fiction anthology “The Illustrated Man.” Directed by Steiger’s old friend Jack Smight, and starring his then-wife Claire Bloom, the film (which sees three unrelated sci-fi tales, each starring Steiger, Bloom and Robert Drivas, and narrated by Steiger’s heavily tattooed figure of the title) has all the hallmarks of a vanity project. And unfortunately, it never rises above it; the “Cloud Atlas” of its day, it’s to be praised for its ambition, but is decidedly lacking in its execution, particularly thanks to a swinging ’60s vibe that must have dated the film as soon as the credits started rolling, and a wildly over-the-top performance from Steiger.
Hilary Swank – “The Black Dahlia”
Like Spacey, Hilary Swank made some fairly respectable choices, at least after winning her first Best Actress Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry” in 2000. She managed to squeeze in “The Gift,” “Insomnia” and “The Affair of the Necklace,” all reasonably respectable picks, before going for the blockbuster inanity of “The Core.” Second time around, after her 2005 win for “Million Dollar Baby,” Swank wasn’t so wise, with her next part coming in Brian De Palma‘s wildly terrible 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy‘s crime classic “The Black Dahlia.” There are so many things wrong with the film that it’s hard to know where to start, but Swank’s performance doesn’t help. She’s incredibly miscast as bisexual femme fatale Madeleine Linscott, one of Ellroy’s most fascinating creations on the page. It’s not just that she looks nothing like victim Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), who the rest of the cast seem to believe she’s identical to — Swank just isn’t capable, at least not here, of the kind of morally ambiguous, demonically sexual character she’s been asked to pull off. With basically every other actor in the film equally adrift, and De Palma way off his A-game, it might somehow be the worst film anywhere on this list, not least because of the missed opportunity (David Fincher, among others, circled the script at one stage, and one can only imagine what a superior film he’d have turned in). Swank continued with the questionable choices, not least with the decidedly “Gothika“-like supernatural thriller “The Reaping,” and doesn’t look likely to pick up a third Oscar any time soon.
Charlize Theron – “Aeon Flux”
Charlize Theron might finally have managed to prove her blockbuster bona-fides with “Prometheus” and “Snow White & The Huntsman,” but her first attempt at pulling it off, soon after her Best Actress Oscar win for “Monster” in 2004, was a true disaster. Paramount wooed Theron to star in “Aeon Flux,” a long-in-the-works adaptation of the MTV animated series that was briefly popular in the mid 1990s. Directed by “Girlfight” helmer Karyn Kusama, who nearly crashed her career as soon as it had begun, and from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi that strips all of the subversion and humor from the source material, it stars Theron as the title character, a badass rebel in an underground rebellion hoping to overthrow the rulers of a dystopian future-state. For a film with such out-there costume and production design, it’s remarkably boring, with a mostly charisma-free cast (Marton Csokas! Jonny Lee Miller!), a plot that’s both rote and incomprehensible, barely-competent action sequences, and a performance from Theron that, given how great she can be elsewhere, is almost inexplicable. If anything, it’s notable only for being something of a perfect storm of actresses fallen prey to The Halle Berry Effect; along with Theron, there’s also Frances McDormand (accompanied by a sort of ginger Robert Smith hairdo), and “Hotel Rwanda” nominee Sophie Okonedo.
Rachel Weisz – “Fred Claus”
When she won her Oscar for ‘The Constant Gardener” in 2006, Rachel Weisz was already filming her follow-up, Darren Aronofsky‘s “The Fountain.” And while it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film (we love it), few could begrudge her that one. But excluding that, and a voice-only role in terrible fantasy movie “Eragon,” the next time Weisz was seen in theaters was in the worst role of her entire career; the love interest in the toxic Christmas movie “Fred Claus.” The ill-advised reunion between “Wedding Crashers” director and star David Dobkin and Vince Vaughn sees the latter play the title role, the estranged older brother to Santa (Paul Giamatti), who has to take over to save Christmas etc etc etc. And among the film’s many, many, many baffling decisions is Weisz, entirely wasted in an extended cameo as Wanda, Fred’s parking enforcement girlfriend (!). Weirdly mean-spirited, torn between being an improv-happy Vaughn vehicle and a kids’ flick, and more expensive than any comedy should ever be, the film’s entirely misjudged at every level, including Wanda, who exists only to nag Fred, disappear for most of the film, and then reconcile with him at the end. Why the filmmakers felt it was a good enough part to offer to an Oscar-winner like Weisz is one thing, why she’d feel obliged to take it is another.
Forest Whitaker – “Vantage Point” & “Street Kings”
A veteran character actor, Forest Whitaker certainly made the most of a rare lead role as Idi Amin in Kevin MacDonald‘s “The Last King of Scotland,” which won him the Best Actor Oscar in 2007. But things have been mostly downhill ever since, with Tyler Perry movies, direct-to-video actioners and a swiftly canceled TV procedural among the ignominies. And one can put it down to his post-Oscar career choices to a certain degree. Whitaker’s first post-Oscars project, Denzel Washington‘s “The Great Debaters” was reasonably respectable, even if it borrowed something from Kevin Spacey’s playbook. But the next two were more disastrous; big commercial sell-outs, in the ludicrous thriller “Vantage Point,” in which Whitaker mostly looks lost and confused in a nothing role, and “Street Kings,” in which the actor xeroxes Washington’s performance in “Training Day” to a much, much lesser effect. Here’s hoping the upcoming “Out of the Furnace” picks things up.
Also on the list of shame: Mercedes Reuhl (“Last Action Hero“), Dianne Weist (“The Associate“), Jennifer Hudson (“Sex And The City“), Louis Gosset Jr (“Jaws 3D“), Tommy Lee Jones (“Blown Away” & “Batman Forever“), Robin Williams (“Bicentennial Man“), Alan Arkin (“Get Smart“), Christoph Waltz (“The Green Hornet“), Sally Field (“Back Roads,” “Surrender‘), Holly Hunter (“Copycat“), Helen Hunt (“Dr. T & The Women“), Reese Witherspoon (“Rendition“), Sandra Bullock (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close“), Art Carney (“Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood“), Richard Dreyfuss (“The Competition“), Denzel Washington (“Out Of Time“) and Colin Firth (“Gambit“).