Casting for an established character can be tough. The audience is going to come into the theater with certain expectations. They have played the video game, read the book, seen the play, or otherwise gotten to know this character before anyone thought of turning the source material into a movie. If you’re doing the casting in this situation, you have to take into account all the normal parameters of casting (willingness, availability, budget, acting ability, compatiblity with the rest of the cast) as well as the added challenge of finding someone who looks and sounds the way the audience expects. Obviously, a certain degree of star power is also needed. Casting directors can sometimes be forgiven when they misread the original character, or fail to anticipate the audience’s expectations.
However, in some cases it becomes clear to the viewer that casting decision were made with a complete disregard – or perhaps even contempt – for the source material. When the need for star power or the ego of a particular actor leads to a gross mis-casting, fans become irate and feel their beloved characters have been co-opted for a quick buck at the expense of the world they enjoy so much. If you’ve been telling people for years how funny a particular book is, and the resulting movie is trash, you can’t very well wait for the book to get made into a movie again. That was its one shot, and someone ruined it for you because they didn’t care.
Below you will find the ten worst. Since this is so subjective, everyone will have their own nominees for the worst casting jobs. This list is by no means complete. The comments link is down there at the bottom if you feel the need to set me straight. So here we go…
A few ground rules:
- No more than one character per movie. If one movie has many bad picks, just highlight the worst.
- Only characters that make it to the screen count. Nick Cage as Superman probably would have made my #1, but the project was thankfully aborted.
- I’m only highlighting casting problems. This means I won’t be picking on George Clooney as Batman. The Clooney Batman movies were some of the worst ever made, but it isn’t Clooney’s fault the dialog was drivel. He might have made a passable Batman if the script had been sensible.
- Obviously I’m only going to list stuff I’m familiar with. The latest incarnation of Jane Austin or Anne of Green Gables might have been a foray into the world of idiotic casting, but I wouldn’t know the difference.
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Lord of the Rings
Hugo Weaving wasn’t a horrible choice for Elrond, but in a movie loaded with inspired casting decisions he stood out as someone who didn’t fit his character. Weaving seems too grave and menacing for the part. Elrond is very old and wise, but also gentle and thoughtful. He quietly observes the ills of the world and mourns them. Weaving’s Elrond seemed bitter and full of contempt for the other races of Middle Earth.
Better choice: Liam Neeson
Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp
I don’t know if you can call Wyatt Earp an established character, but he was a colorful individual, and bland man Costner feels all wrong.
Better choice: Kurt Russell gave us a very compelling Earp in the excellent Tombstone.
Mos Def as Ford Prefect
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy
I had my own ideas about who should have been in this movie. Aside from the choice of Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, the whole thing seemed mis-cast from beginning to end. Ford stood out as one of the worst. Mos Def did not project the image of an eccentric party animal set loose in the universe after a long exile. He seemed just as lost as Arthur.
Better Choice: I stand by my earlier choice of Johnny Depp.
Val Kilmer as Batman
In the long and grotesque rape of the Batman franchise, this movie was nowhere near the worst. The Clooney Batman movies stand out as almost deliberate in their efforts to reduce the character and the story to the most two-dimensional junk possible. Still, Kilmer as Batman is just strange. He’s a brilliant actor (underrated, IMO) but he doesn’t look or sound like Batman. Patrick Stewart is a brilliant actor as well, but I wouldn’t cast him as Batman, either. You need more than acting ability and name recognition, unless all you’re trying to do is make a buck. Ahem.
Better Choice: I can’t stand Clooney, although he looked the part. (Christian Bale would have been far too young when this movie was made, so we can’t consider him)
Christian Slater as Edward Carnby
Alone in the Dark
Let’s admit up front that bad casting is the least of the problems with this movie. Even if you had a perfect match, this movie was doomed from the start with a script that wasn’t worth reading, much less turning into a motion picture. Thoughtless casting is just one of countless sins this movie perpetrates without shame. Still, Carnby is supposed to be a tall, lean victorian fellow and it would be hard to get further from the mark than bad-boy Slater.
Better Choice: Don’t make the movie.
Heather Graham as Dr. Judy Robinson
Lost in Space
This is one of those movies where they must have worked very hard to displease fans. This wasn’t an easy movie to screw up, but they managed to pull it off. Heather Graham comes off as abrasive, tough, and pushy. That’s great if that’s what the role calls for, but this one doesn’t. You need someone a lot more empathetic and matronly, with a lot less attitude. She never made me believe she really cared about the kids. I imagine she was chosen for her looks, without regard to the original character. She’s a mother. That’s the thrust of her character. I know that seems so dull and sexist, but if you have a problem with it you probably shouldn’t be the one making this movie. The love of a mother and her reaction when her children are in danger is a fine center for a character, even if it doesn’t fit the California mindset.
Better Choice: Nicole Kidman, and a re-write
You might argue that I should at least wait until the thing comes out before proclaiming this to be one of the all-time worst casting decisions. However, I don’t think I need to see the final product. I mean, just look at him!
Beast is supposed to be young, agile, ape-like. He also hops around like a gorilla, does things with his feet, and hangs upside down. This is simply not a role for the a stiff, middle-aged commedian like Kelsey Grammer. He does not look the part and no ammount of makeup will fix that. He could actually be a good choice if they gave up on makeup and did Beast entirely in CGI, like Gollum in Lord of the Rings. But to try and turn Kelsey Grammer in the Beast with makeup? Pathetic.
Better Choice: Ron Pearlman – he did a fantastic job as Hellboy and a similar approach could make him into a great Beast.
Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic)
The Fantastic Four
How bad is it when you can’t cast for a comic book character? They have one attribute that you cannot ignore: The way they look. Reed Richards has a look that has been firmly established over many decades. The way he looks is just as important as what his super powers are, and a filmmaker deviates from the expectations of the fans at his own peril.
Reed Richards is middle aged. His hair is white at the edges. He’s tall and narrow. Are people with these attributes really that rare? Ioan Gruffudd is at least a decade too young. They weren’t even trying. The other characters in this movie were nearly as bad, with the exception of Chris Evans as Johnny Storm. A shameful mess.
Better Choice: William H. Macy or Laim Neeson
Raul Julia as Gen. M. Bison
I’ve never seen this, but it’s an infamous piece of cinema. In a movie based on a video game about huge musclebound men beating the crap out of each other, you would think that the most important attribute of the main villian is that he should be really big and strong. Well, it is, but he wasn’t. They hired a normal (perhaps even small) man and tried to make him look muscular using his costume. It didn’t work. All they did was make a beloved actor look like an idiot.
Better Choice: Pretty much anyone with muscles would have been a good start. This ain’t Shakespeare
Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan
The Hunt for Red October
Jack Ryan is a thoughtful, intelligent, quiet man. An observer. In other words, he is someone completely unlike Alec Baldwin. Baldwin was too young, cocky, arrogant, abrasive, and stupid to be believeable as Jack Ryan. This one earns my #1 because we’re talking about the main character of the story here. It doesn’t help that I don’t think Baldwin is a very impressive actor: He’s the least talented of the Baldwin brothers in my book. I’ve never seen him play anything with much depth.
The way the character was adapted for the movie was bad enough, but Baldwin built on those changes and made someone truly at odds with the original character.
Better Choice: Harrison Ford played Ryan in later movies, and did a fantastic job of capturing the character.
LATER: (March 19 2007) Re: Kelsey as Beast. I keep hearing how great he was. I have to admit that while not ideal, this can’t be an “all time casting worst”. It worked on at last some levels, and a lot of people enjoyed it.
Yeah, I should have waited until I saw the movie. Just because I couldn’t picture it didn’t mean it couldn’t work.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
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