Good Actors You Didn’t Know Starred In Awful Direct-To-Video Movies – Looper
Good Actors You Didn’t Know Starred In Awful Direct-To-Video Movies – Looper
There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but a movie being released straight-to-video is often an indication of a low-quality film. Generally speaking, a straight-to-video release can refer to movies that hit physical media like DVD and Blu-Ray after a limited theatrical release or no theatrical release at all. In the internet age, straight-to-video can also mean a movie is released direct to video-on-demand services or receives a day-and-date release, which means it hits a small number of theaters and a VOD platform on the same day.
Original films produced for prestige streamers have ushered in a shift that proves theatrical releases are no longer the be-all-end-all mark of quality. The pandemic and the broad decline of movie theaters in general has reframed how the film industry looks at release options, but a lower tier of VOD and physical media releases still languish as unfavorable distribution paths.
Sometimes, big-name actors wind up starring in low-grade straight-to-video movies. It might mean their star power is dwindling and they are no longer being offered great roles; it could mean they wanted a quick paycheck and didn’t mind a step down in quality; or it could even mean that it’s time for them to get a new agent. Whatever the reason may be, it isn’t the fault of these actors that their direct-to-video movies turned out awful. Here are a few genuinely good actors who have starred in material far below their talents.
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas is a talented leading man noted for his slick, suave, and sophisticated manner in romances, thrillers, and action movies. He has given many great performances over the years with some of his best roles coming from his frequent collaborations with directors like Robert Rodriguez and Pedro Almodóvar. Banderas continues to do good work and even earned an Oscar nomination for Almodóvar’s 2019 film “Pain and Glory.”
In recent years, Banderas has begun to star in a few bad straight-to-video movies in between his bigger and better roles. These B-grade roles are all in the action genre, which Banderas is no stranger to having starred in much better action movies in the past such as “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” by Rodriguez. The worst of these are offerings like “Code Name Banshee” and “The Enforcer,” which were both released in 2022 alongside Banderas’s drastically higher-budgeted movies “Uncharted” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” If any of his straight-to-video action offerings are worth checking out, it is his 2017 movie “Acts of Vengeance” from director Isaac Florentine, a director who has consistently provided some of the best fight scenes at this smaller scale. The film’s plot is typically slight, but Banderas proves he has still got action chops when it comes to his near-wordless physical performance.
Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images
Nicolas Cage is one of the only A-list actors to fall head-first into a long stretch of terrible straight-to-video movies but still maintain relevance and come out the other side with a healthy and enviable modern-day career. After a few of his big-budget starring roles resulted in box-office flops, Cage’s cache as a leading man hit the skids. He explained to GQ “The phone stopped ringing.” With hefty personal expenses and astronomical debt, Cage was required to headline multiple straight-to-video movies every year to make ends meet when the big paychecks stopped coming.
Some of Cage’s worst movies from this unfortunate period include the likes of “USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage,” “The Humanity Bureau,” “211,” a “Taken” knockoff titled “Stolen,” and plenty of others. Cage is open about the fact that most of these straight-to-video movies were failures. At the same time, he wants it to be known that he always put 100% effort into each role, regardless of the quality of the movie. There were even a couple of gems to be found in his straight-to-video period that make the whole thing worthwhile, with Cage citing 2018’s “Mandy” as a great and successful example. Cage finally managed to clear his debts, and with starring roles in successful recent movies like “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” and “Pig,” Cage is back on an upward trajectory.
Monica Schipper/Getty Images
Kelsey Grammer is best known for his role as Frasier Crane, who appeared in over 200 episodes of “Cheers” before spinning off into his own series, “Frasier,” which ran for even longer. Grammer took home five Emmys for his work on “Frasier” and “The Simpsons” and was nominated for dozens of others. His performance on the Starz original series “Boss” also drew much acclaim, but the series was canceled after just two seasons.
While he has continued landing the occasional strong supporting role, Grammer’s more prominent roles have largely been confined to direct-to-video fare in recent years. 2020’s “Money Plane” likely represents his career lowlight as a movie that is so bad it’s good as something to laugh at in the vein of disasters like “The Room” or “Birdemic.” Other straight-to-video duds from the past couple of years include the likes of “Christmas in Paradise,” “7 Guardians of the Tomb,” and “Grand Isle” where he acts opposite Nicolas Cage. It has been a while since Grammer’s last great role. Hopefully, the upcoming “Frasier” reboot can give him the career resurgence he needs to begin getting bigger and better roles once again.
Tara Reid got off to an extremely promising start in the first phase of her career. The late ’90s was her golden age with roles in big movies like “American Pie,” “Cruel Intentions,” and “The Big Lebowski” all in a couple years. She had a few more good roles over the next couple of years but, by the late 2000s, her career began shifting towards more and more straight-to-video fare after a couple of big mainstream failures like “My Boss’s Daughter.” Bad low-budget straight-to-video movies like “7-10 Split” and “Vipers” marked a turning point for the worst. A paparazzi frenzy, a failed reality TV show called “Taradise,” and a bout of globetrotting partying were all factors that culminated in the downturn in her career.
The next phase of her career was defined by the “Sharknado” series and other mockbusters of its ilk. She appeared in all six mainline “Sharknado” movies alongside plenty of other trashy B-movies like “Ouija House,” “Bus Party to Hell,” “Trailer Park Shark,” “Tie the Knot,” and “Art of the Dead.” Reid’s only departures from the straight-to-video bargain bin since have been in the TV shows “Ghosts” on CBS and the Amazon Prime original series “The Boys,” but both appearances were small cameo roles in which she played herself. For as cheesy and ridiculous as they are, the “Sharknado” movies were extremely financially successful. Reid got on board the series as a producer toward the end and has begun producing her movies regularly, taking more control over the current phase of her career.
John Travolta’s career has had many ups and downs since he first hit the scene in the 1970s. He became a superstar with “Saturday Night Fever,” earning his first Oscar nomination before “Grease” sealed the deal on his A-list status. After a stretch as one of the top stars in the business, Travolta’s career was on the decline in the late ’80s and early ’90s with the talking baby “Look Who’s Talking” series defining his output.
Quentin Tarantino provided Travolta with the vehicle to make a major career resurgence in “Pulp Fiction” as Vincent Vega. The role earned Travolta his second and final Oscar nomination to date and returned him to A-lister status after his fall from grace. When speaking to Extra, Travolta said of Tarantino, “He gave me a whole new career in my second chapter of my life.” This second chapter had plenty of good movies in it, like “Get Shorty” and the cheesy but extremely entertaining “Face/Off.” Eventually, this second chapter as an international superstar came to a close, and Travolta’s roles began getting smaller again. Bad straight-to-video movies like “Paradise City,” “Speed Kills,” “Trading Paint,” and the entertainingly bad “The Fanatic” have become the norm for his modern output. His last starring role to receive a big, mainstream promotional push was 2018’s “Gotti,” but the film was a total box office disaster and joined the elite league of movies to earn a straight-up 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Relatively early on in his career, Cuba Gooding Jr. became an Oscar winner for his role in “Jerry Maguire.” This early win was the definitive peak of his career and, although he had other good roles, it was mostly downhill from there. Starring roles in critically reviled movies like “Shadowboxer” and “Boat Trip” set his filmography on a downward trajectory that was difficult to pull back from.
Many of Gooding Jr.’s movies began going direct-to-video. With the exception of an occasional small supporting role in a successful film like “American Gangster” or his family-friendly movies aimed at children like “Daddy Day Camp” and “Snow Dogs,” the majority of his output throughout the 2000s and early 2010s consisted of weak straight-to-video movies. “The Devil’s Tomb,” “Lies & Illusions,” “Hardwired,” “Sacrifice,” and “Absolute Deception,” amongst others represent his poor output throughout this unfortunate period.
He began making a comeback in the mid-2010s with supporting roles in acclaimed films like “The Butler” and “Selma.” His biggest return to form came in 2016 with his starring role as O.J. Simpson in “American Crime Story,” which earned him his first Emmy nomination. This handful of good roles hasn’t completely turned his career around, however, as he continues to star in terribly received straight-to-video movies like “The Weapon” as recently as 2023. Gooding Jr. also made his directorial debut in 2018 with “Bayou Caviar,” but this project also went direct-to-video and was met with negative reviews.
Christina Ricci is a talented performer with a thriving career on paper, but she has made a couple of unfavorable departures into straight-to-video territory in between her higher-profile projects. After getting her big break as Wednesday Addams in the 1991 “The Addams Family” movie, Ricci has led an enviable career with plenty of memorable roles along the way in movies like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Monster,” and “The Ice Storm.”
Her career remains in good shape in the modern day with popular television projects like “Yellowjackets” and a return to the “Addams Family” world with Netflix’s “Wednesday.” Ricci’s straight-to-video missteps aren’t the result of a career on the backslide but seem instead like her simply choosing the wrong role from time to time. The standout failures in this regard are 2012’s “War Flowers,” 2018’s “Distorted,” and 2022’s “Monstrous.” Luckily, these weaker efforts flew entirely under the radar and don’t seem to have had any negative effect on the trajectory of Ricci’s career.
Christian Slater had a fantastic early career. After his star-making role in the 1988 cult classic “Heathers,” Slater had plenty of great roles over the next few years in hits like “Interview with the Vampire” and “True Romance.” But his stardom fizzled out quickly after a couple of duds, like the atrocious Uwe Boll movie “Alone in the Dark.”
By the mid-2000s, the quality of Slater’s roles took a steep nosedive. His starring role in the 2006 direct-to-video sequel “Hollow Man II” would end up being a good indicator of the state of his career moving forward for the next several years. Terrible low-budget movies like “Stranded,” “Sacrifice,” “Way of the Wicked,” “Lies & Illusions,” “Dawn Rider,” “Soldiers of Fortune,” and “Assassins Run” would become his bread and butter for a long time. He managed to find a bit more success as a voice actor throughout this period and can be heard in small roles in animated projects like “Phineas and Ferb” and “Robot Chicken.”
When his career was at its lowest point, “Mr. Robot” came along to prove to the world that he was still a talented actor worthy of major roles. His parts have improved drastically since his resurgence from “Mr. Robot” with a role in the acclaimed film “The Wife” and more good TV roles coming his way in recent years.
Michael Jai White
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
Michael Jai White has proven time and time again that he is a fantastic actor and one of the best martial artists in the film industry when given a good role. His highest profile work has been in supporting roles in movies like “The Dark Knight” and “Dragged Across Concrete.” His best all-around role was in “Black Dynamite,” which allowed him to showcase his fighting abilities and his comedic chops to great effect.
Unfortunately, the majority of the movies White has starred in throughout his career haven’t been worthy of his talents. The bulk of his career has been spent starring in low-budget direct-to-video action movies. Some of these B-grade action flicks have been flawed yet quite entertaining, such as “Undisputed 2: Last Man Standing” or “Blood and Bone.” Many of the others have had fewer redeeming qualities. His filmography is peppered with straight-to-video movies like “Take Back,” “Rogue Hostage,” “The Commando,” “Assault on VA-33,” and plenty of others. White is routinely the best part of the movies he stars in, but there is only so much he can do to elevate a project when its starting point is so far beneath him.
From “Say Anything,” “Stand By Me,” and “Better Off Dead” in the ’80s to acclaimed movies like “Being John Malkovich,” “High Fidelity,” and “The Thin Red Line” later on, John Cusack has starred in many hits. It has only been recently in the 2010s and 2020s that Cusack’s roles have taken a turn toward straight-to-video fare. After a few of his starring vehicles like the Edgar Allen Poe film “The Raven” and the animated movie “Igor” severely underperformed at the box office, Cusack’s status as an audience draw was called into question.
Cusack’s movies began having reduced budgets and frequently wound up going direct-to-video. To his credit, he continued giving his all even as the roles got smaller. He gave two great performances in the direct-to-video thrillers “Grand Piano” and “The Frozen Ground” in villain roles opposite Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage respectively. As he did more and more of these direct-to-video movies, they eventually began turning out bad more often than good. “Singularity,” “Arsenal,” and “Blood Money” were all released in the space of a single year and were all met with overwhelmingly negative responses.
One of Cusack’s most recent projects was a lead role on the Amazon Prime original series “Utopia.” This could have helped bring him back into more mainstream projects, but he followed it up immediately with “Pursuit,” another awful straight-to-video movie released in 2022, which became the lowest-rated movie of his entire career.
Michael S. Schwartz/Getty Images
These days, Gary Busey is often written off for his eccentric personality. He has played many unique men on camera, like his role as an unhinged soldier in “Black Sheep,” but Busey’s real-life antics just might be wilder than anything he has done on screen. In the modern day, it’s easy to forget to Busey used to turn in many strong performances and played memorable roles in classic movies like “Lethal Weapon,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and “Point Break.” He even earned an Oscar nomination in 1979 for his starring role in “The Buddy Holly Story” in the early days of his career.
For Busey, there was a definitive turning point, which was a tragic motorcycle accident in 1988 that left him legally dead for a time before being revived. All the same, he continued to lead a healthy film career throughout the next decade. It was in the 2000s that Busey began regularly appearing in direct-to-video movies. “Frost: Portrait of a Vampire,” “Quigley,” “The Prize Fighter,” and other awful movies of this ilk became the norm for Busey’s output.
The trend has continued into recent years with Busey appearing in the likes of the “Sharknado” sequels, “Candiland,” “Mamaboy,” and “Bunker of Blood: Chapter 8: Butcher’s Bake Off: Hell’s Kitchen,” which sounds like a fake parody title but is a real movie from the notorious schlock factory Full Moon Features.
Lara Flynn Boyle
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
Lara Flynn Boyle had quite a drastic rise and fall from grace. Early on in her career, she landed roles in movies like “Poltergeist III,” “The Rookie,” and “The Dead Poets Society,” the last of which she was edited out of. Her real big break came in the world of television when she was cast as Donna Hayward on “Twin Peaks.” Though she was one of the most important characters in the TV show, her role was recast with Moira Kelly when the prequel movie “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” was made one year after the premature cancellation of the series. Her fractious exit from the property was owed in part to the real-life drama she was causing behind the scenes, which contributed to her growing negative reputation in the eyes of Hollywood.
Boyle had a handful of other prominent roles including a lengthy run on the ABC series “The Practice” and supporting roles in the movies “Wayne’s World” and “Men in Black II,” but the good roles grew few and farther between. She began taking on much smaller parts in order to keep working on notable projects, such as a one-off guest appearance on “Law & Order” and an uncredited, unnamed bit part in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” With her output significantly slowed down, Boyle began appearing in trashy straight-to-video movies in the late 2010s with titles like “Hansel & Gretel Get Baked” and “Cougar Hunting.”
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
Michael Madsen has proven himself to be an excellent actor in the films of Quentin Tarantino, but his body of work outside of his collaborations with that legendary director have left a lot to be desired. Madsen has starred in over 300 movies, and the majority of them have been disposable straight-to-video offerings. It is important to keep in mind that Madsen has only been acting since the 1980s with those 300 movies getting cranked out in the course of around 40 years, meaning his average output is about seven-and-a-half movies per year.
There have been some all-time classic films in that ocean of releases, such as the aforementioned Tarantino collaborations alongside movies like “Thelma & Louise,” “Fatal Instinct,” and “Donnie Brasco.” Unfortunately, the bulk of his output isn’t anywhere near this level of quality. Madsen seems to just like working and doesn’t pay too much attention to the quality of scripts he chooses. In the past two years alone he has pumped out the awful straight-to-video movies “Mission: The Prophet,” “Burial Ground Massacre,” “Damon’s Revenge,” “Waking Karma,” “Every Last One of Them,” “Christmas Thieves,” “Until We Meet Again,” “Incarnation,” and “Death Count.” He has another 20 or so movies in the works, so by the time you read this, he will probably have another straight-to-video movie or two on the market.
The great John Malkovich has given dozens of great performances over the years. From his Oscar and BAFTA nominated performances in “Places in the Heart” and “In the Line of Fire,” to crowd-pleasing roles in movies like “Burn After Reading,” “Con Air,” and his meta role in “Being John Malkovich,” he has done it all. For the vast majority of his career, Malkovich has consistently managed to pick interesting, high-quality roles. In recent years, however, Malkovich’s output has been far more inconsistent.
Malkovich may want to change up his agent because more and more of his roles have been in terribly received straight-to-video movies like “Rogue Hostage” and “The Survivalist” lately. This really only became a facet of his career in the 2020s, with the vast majority of his work beforehand being of a considerably higher caliber. In 2022 alone, Malkovich appeared in five of these lower-tier movies: “White Elephant,” “Savage Salvation,” “Mindcage,” “Shattered,” and “Chariot.” This late-stage career drop-off is a surprise coming from Malkovich as he has continued appearing in high-profile movies in recent years like “Deepwater Horizon” and “Bird Box” alongside TV shows like “Crossbones,” “Billions,” and “The New Pope” without a clear reason for his recent shift toward the trashy.
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images
Taryn Manning is best known for her role as Pennsatucky on all seven seasons of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” The show provided her with a good role to sink her teeth into and showcase her acting abilities, but her career outside of this series has found her acting in some questionable projects.
After appearing in notable movies like “8 Mile” and “Cold Mountain” early on in her career, Manning’s film roles haven’t often been sound choices. By the late 2000s, she was already starring in terrible straight-to-video movies like “The Devil’s Tomb” and “Cult.” A recurring role on “Sons of Anarchy” and her “Orange is the New Black” role afterwards helped raise her cache, but her choice of film roles continued to have her working consistently in badly rated straight-to-video movies even as she was starring on the hit Netflix show. Her recent movies “Every Last One of Them,” “The Gateway,” “Outsiders” “Last Call,” and “Pooling to Paradise” were all poorly received. Her 2021 movie “Karen,” which had a day-and-date release, was met with outright ridicule. Critics like Richard Roeper called it, “One of the worst movies of 2021” and Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com called it, “A bland piece of schlock.”