When an actor knocks their first role out of the park, they then have a lot to live up to. They usually start getting loads of offers to star in other films and with that comes piles ‘o cash. What I’ve been noticing is that some of these actors just start punching the time clock and go to sleep on the job. For like, decades, even. Here are 10 actors who have phoned in their roles for the better part of their career. And some are still doing it.
Breakthrough Role: Rocky
Other Decent Roles: First Blood, Cliffhanger
Roles Phoned In Since: Driven, Daylight, Rhinestone, Judge Dredd, The Specialist, Assassins
The guy has been nominated for an Oscar. Seriously. In Rocky, he was awesome and no one in the world could root against that character. Although a different character, we all still rooted for him in First Blood. Stallone was stoic and angry — quite opposite his Rocky Balboa persona. Then something happened. He got crazy rich and started making crap. Lots of crap. And playing the same character. I’ll give him props for gaining the weight and pretending to be deaf in Copland, but the list of horrible movies is long and painful. He’s turned to directing his franchises recently (Driven, Rambo, and Rocky Balboa) and has another effort on the horizon with The Expendables. Let’s hope it’s a return to form for Sly. He looks good for being 63-years-old, but he is a senior citizen after all. He could very well collapse or sh*t himself at any moment.
Breakthrough Role: A Time to Kill
Other Decent Role: Dazed and Confused (pre-A Time to Kill)
Roles Phoned In Since: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Sahara, Two for the Money, The Wedding Planner, We Are Marshall
This dude was the toast on the town when A Time to Kill came out. He looked like a young Paul Newman, turned in a great performance — which was very different than his stoner character in Dazed and Confused — and he had that Texas accent that chicks dig. Then he started playing himself…in every single film. He might have a fake beard in a period piece, or shave his head for a role, but they’re not signs of him going method. There is serious Matthew and romantic comedy Matthew, and neither appear to be acting. And what’s with all the damn leaning? Stand up straight!
Breakthrough Role: Almost Famous
Other Decent Role: Skeleton Key
Roles Phoned In Since: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Bride Wars, You, Me and Dupree, Alex and Emma
How did this person turn in that Penny Lane performance in Almost Famous? Ever since, she has been portraying a younger version Goldie Hawn, and her being Golden Hawn’s daughter is no excuse. And her mom was never accused of trying too hard as an actress either. Sure, they seem like nice people, but that doesn’t mean I want to stand in line to pay for their latest big screen release. I thought Ms. Hudson was maybe getting back on track when she starred in The Four Feathers and The Skeleton Key, but then she went and did Fool’s Gold with already inducted Matthew McConaughey. It was a perfect storm of the cinematic phone in.
Breakthrough Role: Major League
Other Decent Role: Passenger 57
Roles Phoned In Since: Undisputed, To Wong Fu, U.S. Marshals, Drop Zone, Blade Trinity.
“Always bet on black.” Hell yeah! How cool was Wesley Snipes back in his ‘coming up’ days, and such a gambling enabler. He had the acting chops and the coolness to go along with it. He was a great action star and had all the karate stuff going for him, too. Then we saw his next movie. Then the next. Then he didn’t pay his taxes, and it only got worse from there. Luckily Blade restored some of Wesley’s clout, but the resurgence was short lived. No longer is the joke "He’s Wesley Snipes black" relevant when describing how black someone or something is. And that makes me sad.
Breakthrough Role: Saving Private Ryan
Other Decent Role: Boiler Room
Roles Phoned In Since: Everything
I am among the very few that have seen Vin Diesel’s short film Multi-Facial that earned him his Saving Private Ryan role, and I have to admit, he was good. He delivers a monologue at the end that is well-acted and attention-grabbing. Then came Private Ryan and he was spot on in that. Maybe it’s because he was playing a meat head and didn’t have too many lines. And died in the first 40 minutes. The Vin — as he likes to be called on set — has his long-gestating Hannibal the Conqueror film coming up. This actually might be a good fit. Hannibal in a wife beater could definitely turn heads.
Breakthrough Role: Runaway Train
Other Decent Role: Pope of Greenwich Village
Roles Phoned In Since: Heaven’s Prisoners, The Dark Knight, National Security, The Prophecy II
How much does Eric Roberts hate his life? He had a couple of early roles that people loved and that he was great in. Then he helped his sister Julia Roberts get introduced into the business. She then went on to become a massive success and he has been phoning in roles since then. Sure, he’s done a TON of B-films, but even when he’s been cast in good films or TV, he still goes through the acting motions. Eric just can’t seem to get his early mojo back. Now his daughter Emma is even turning in better performances.
Breakthrough Role: Girlfight
Other Decent Role: "LOST"
Roles Phoned In Since: Blue Crush, BloodRayne, Avatar, Resident Evil, Battle in Seattle, S.W.A.T.
Michelle was a badass in her first role Girlfight. She’s attractive and her tough on-screen attitude was uber-sexy. However, the tough female Mexican persona hasn’t seen any changes since. She has at least pulled back the ‘head down, eyes up’ stare, but she is still playing the same tough female we loved at her start. And unlike many actresses, she has never changed anything about herself — her hair, clothes, style, etc. I actually think she may have been replaced by a robot. A robot that’s dial is stuck on a tough Mexican female setting. And no, we didn’t say it was from taco sauce. …Racist.
Okay, he wasn’t great in LOTR, but neither was Keanu in The Matrix. But it worked for the role. It’s no surprise that since his phoning it in during the Pirates films that he has stopped getting roles at the pace he was before. The quiet, whimsical, skinny dude act wears thin when you see it in every performance. He doesn’t hide his accent too well either, but I’ve overlooked that in other actors in the past. I’m just over the whispery voice and vapidness in the face. Every. Single. Movie.
Breakthrough Role: Tigerland
Other Decent Role: Phone Booth
Roles Phoned In Since: The Recruit, S.W.A.T., Alexander, Miami Vice, The New World
It’s impressive that he has such a thick Irish accent and can’t speak without cursing, yet mostly plays Americans that don’t curse constantly. I’ll give him that. But that doesn’t excuse some of the sleepwalking he’s done in films since he hit the big time. The scripts have been good and he has worked with some of the world’s top directors, so I’m unsure what went wrong. Luckily, it seems he’s getting back to what made us notice in the first place. In Bruges was great and he was also pretty solid in Crazy Heart. I’m thinking a comedy would be the next best choice for him. Reinvention never hurts. Unless it does.
Breakthrough Role: Trainspotting
Other Decent Role: Moulin Rouge!
Some Roles Phoned In Since: The Island, Down With Love, Eye of the Beholder, Angels & Demons
I loved Trainspotting and McGregor was excellent in it. And I’ve liked some of the other movies he’s been in since. Except I’ve noticed he’s kinda the same guy in every role. Moulin Rouge! was different for him — if I must admit that I’ve seen a musical — and he pulled it out. But whether it’s comedy or drama, he rehashes his characters over-and-over and doesn’t really seem interested in even being in the film. Maybe the money from the Star Wars flicks was enough to make him not want to work at it ever again. Or those films fractured his soul.