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5 Hollywood Stars Who Squandered Their Goodwill

January 19th, 2012 · 23 Comments

Last night, while I was waiting for Top Chef, I decided to watch Devil on HBO On Demand. In case you don’t know this masterpiece, it’s mostly set in the elevator of a Philadelphia office building. The elevator gets stuck, and one by one, the five people in it are murdered. Because one of the passengers is Satan.

This is a pretty good idea for a movie—a supernatural update on the claustrophobic suspense of Lifeboat and other such tales. But the good idea gets trampled by the execution.

Consider that we learn about the Devil’s presence from a building security guard who is watching the elevator madness unfold on closed-circuit television. He proves the Devil’s nearby by dropping a piece of toast on the floor. When it lands jelly-side down, he says, “See? When he’s around, things always go wrong. The toast lands jelly-side down.”

This is not played as a joke.  Jellied carpeting is considered proof that El Diablo is in on the grounds.

I could spend more time dissecting this movie’s awfulness—what’s up, African-American with a criminal past and Hispanic gentleman who believes in “spirits!”—but the fact is, I wasn’t surprised it was awful. You see, it was executive produced and based on a story by M. Night Shayamalan. His name alone signals hackery.

That wasn’t always so, of course. There was a time when Shayamalan was a Golden God in Hollywood and with audiences. But now, he’s destroyed that goodwill.

And that got me thinking: Who else has pissed away the love they so rightfully earned? Who else is close to doing so?

I’m pleased to present this round-up of goodwill squanderers. Can you think of any more? Let’s discuss!

(Caveat: They have to have ruined themselves through their work and not through their tabloid behavior. Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson are not who we’re talking about here.)

The Squanderer: M. Night Shayamalan

Why We Used to Love Him: The Sixth Sense, y’all. It’s more than just a twist ending: It’s an elegant film that blends chilling suspense with nuanced writing and performances. That scene where Toni Collette breaks down in the car is memorable because it’s so human, not because it involves the ghost of her mother. The love continued through Unbreakable, which is imperfect but memorable, and Signs, which is cheesy and hokey but sometimes really scary.

When The Trouble Started: ‘Round about The Village, which intensified the creaky logic and self-righteous puffery of Signs. From there, Shayamalan clearly decided he was going to bless us with the wisdom of his films, which meant he payed less attention to story than to noxious moralizing. See: The Lady in the Water and The Happening.

Where We Are Now: At this point, the dude’s ego is even less endurable because his once-impeccable filmmaking has gotten sloppy. The Last Airbender? Please. Plus, he has the audacity to suggest that Devil is just “part one” of “the Night Chronicles,” as though the world needs more half-assed horror films.

Goodwill Levels: Entirely destroyed


The Squanderer: George Lucas

Why We Used to Love Him: Well, American Graffiti is a lovely, Oscar-nominated film that understands the bittersweet truth about growing up in… oh, okay. Star Wars.

When The Trouble Started: Honestly? Ewoks. Additional warning flares were shot when Lucas emerged from decades of behind-the-scenes special effecting to re-release his original trilogy with added scenes and altered effects. Couldn’t he leave well enough alone? But the death blow came when he unleashed the boring, horribly written, and terribly acted prequel trilogy. Is there any adult in the world who truly likes these movies?

Where We Are Now: Lucas has released 8 million versions of Star Wars, each time implying that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care why people loved the original films. His tinkering has almost made it impossible to remember what was so great about these movies to begin with, and by fucking up one of the most beloved pop culture touchstones of the last century, he has made a lot of people mad. (Oh, and complaining about his fans because they don’t support his endless bullshit is not a great way to get people back on his side.)

Goodwill Levels: Entirely destroyed


The Squanderer: Nicolas Cage

Why We Used to Love Him: Come on! He was the indie-cool actor of the 80s. From Valley Girl to Raising Arizona to Moonstruck, he was always turning in exciting work in offbeat films. And then in 1995, he delivered on all that promise with his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, which hasn’t lost any of its devastating power. And just to prove what a good guy he was, he occasionally shifted his indie gaze toward popcorn movies like Con Air. They were disposable, sure, but they were fun…

When The Trouble Started: … until they were all we had left. By 2002, Cage’s Oscar-nominated turn in Adaptation seemed like a distraction from his boundless enthusiasm for crap. Reflect, if you dare, on Cage’s recent CV: Knowing, Snake Eyes, 8MM, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Next, The Weather Man, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous, Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, and the one-two punch of the National Treasure movies.

If Cage’s career had started in 1996, the year he made The Rock, then he would seriously be enshrined as the worst movie star of our the last 15 years.

Where We Are Now: Cage is so deep in this rut that he may never get out. Instead of filming a spiritual sequel to Leaving Las Vegas, he’s filming a literal sequel to Ghost Rider, which was already the least essential superhero movie of all time. It’s possible that his upcoming film The Frozen Ground, based on the true story of an Alaskan serial killer, will be good, but since it co-stars John Cusack, his fellow squanderer of 80s cred, the odds are working against it.

Still: It’s hard to forget that this man can really act when he wants to.

Goodwill Levels: On life support. But the memory of the great films is strong enough to sustain mild hope that another will emerge.


The Squanderer: Meg Ryan

Why We Used to Love Her: Who didn’t love her? She was Gal of Our National Dreams! So spunky and cute and approachable and sweet and smart! When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle proved she could win our hearts, while Courage Under Fire and When a Man Loves a Woman suggested she could handle dramatic roles.

When The Trouble Started: I’d say she and Tom Hanks both started on downward slope with You’ve Got Mail, which was one visit too many to their cutsie-poo well. (Hanks’ descent didn’t kick off in earnest, however, until The Terminal.) After that, Ryan showed little understanding of what made her appealing. Her comedies became shrill (Hanging Up, The Women) and her dramas became weirdly dark (In The Cut, Against The Ropes.) If we want dark, we’ll go to Jodie Foster, thank you. We prefer Dramatic Meg Ryan to be nobly wounded or neurotic.

The real downside of these films, though, was how they exposed Ryan’s limited facility as a performer. Around 2000, people were claiming her Dennis-Quaid-cuckolding affair with Russell Crowe could harm her career, but that wouldn’t have mattered if she’d picked projects that showcased her particular strengths or if she’d been able to handle the material she did choose.

Where We Are Now: You may have heard that it’s hard for older women in Hollywood. Even Julia Roberts is struggling now, while Julianne Moore and Annette Bening and Laura Linney seem to be handling the dramatic roles just fine, thanks. That leaves Ryan without much to do.

Goodwill Levels: Perhaps “squandered” is the wrong word here. Perhaps we should say her goodwill has simply been overshadowed by our struggle to remember who she is.


The Squanderer: Johnny Depp

Why We Used to Love Him: Um… he was hot as hell. And he was tortured, brooding, and sensitive. And he brought those qualities to tortured, brooding, and sensitive movies like Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. And when he went mainstream, he did it by creating Captain Jack Sparrow with a performance so strange that no one else could have gotten away with it. That led to Oscar nominations and the amazing fact that an “outsider star” had become a regular star without losing his outsider status.

When The Trouble Started: But think about it… when was the last time Depp delivered a really great performance or appeared in a truly exciting film? Sweeney Todd was pretty good, but even that was four years ago. Otherwise, Deeps has been serving up reheated versions of his own persona, whether he’s making the 500th Pirates movie or pantsing around in yet another self-consciously rebellious movie about Hunter S. Thompson. And you know what? Ricky Gervais was right to mock The Tourist. It sucked. So did Alice in Wonderland and the interminable Public Enemies.

Where We Are Now: These days, Depp shows up at the Golden Globes using a bullshit British accent. He also seems disinterested in bathing, and while that’s hot on a twentysomething, it’s just sad on a man approaching 50. His upcoming films also suggest that his autopilot is still in charge. Dark Shadows may be good, but it may be another half-baked genre exercise. And you can practically see the tongue sticking out of The Lone Ranger‘s cheek.

Goodwill Levels: Slipping. Depp needs to make a great movie really soon, or his free pass may be revoked. And a cameo in 21 Jump Street is not what I mean.

Tags: Movies

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 twunch // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola all deserve at least honorable mention here. And isn’t Meg Ryan’s male analog Kevin Bacon?

  • 2 Mark Blankenship // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Hi Twunch — I heartily agree on the first three. As for Kevin Bacon: Wouldn’t you say that appearing in “Crazy, Stupid, Love’ and “X-Men: First Class” did good things for him this year? Even if some people disliked those movies, they were both relevant, and they underscored his ability to be a solid supporting player.

  • 3 Claire // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Before even reading the article my first thought was Johnny Depp. The new rumors that he cheated on his partner with Eva Green is not helping him.

  • 4 Will // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Take note, Robert Downey Jr.

  • 5 Matt // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for including Johnny Depp! I’ve actually never had goodwill for him – he acts via costume and accesories, and he excels in a strong movie (“Cry-Baby”) but can’t save a weak one (any collaboration with Tim Burton). Cf. Susan Sarandon, who is eminently watchable no matter how bad the production is (“Elizabethtown,” “The Banger Sisters”).

    Oddly, “Pirates” made me like him more – he does well in an entertaining cartoon – but he really needs to step away from the kohl.

  • 6 Matt // Jan 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    PS – I can spell “accessories”…sometimes.

  • 7 Tyliag // Jan 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Not that it needs to be said, cause it is obvious, but WORD on Cage. You barely scratched the surface with the dreck you mentioned him being in. He has been Awwwwefuuulll lately. From my understanding, his financial troubles have made him none too picky about projects he’s handed. “Does this script come with a paycheck? Ok. Good. I’ll do it.”

  • 8 John S // Jan 19, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I can’t really argue with much of this — I mean, Lucas? He could have ruled the SciFi world and buy himself a medium-sized European country if he’d made great prequels.

    But I’m afraid the 10-year-old me still stuck in my head has some kind of special place for the National Treasure movies, however horrible they may really be. To the 10-year-old me, they represent some of the greatest (remember, 10) of the Disney-style adventure movies of Yesteryear. They’re loaded with history and puzzles, some action and no violence-laden gore-fests as side-dishes.

    Just me?

    Oh, and you could probably write a whole second article on movie stars (actors, directors, what-have-you) who have squandered public good opinion but annoyingly continue to deliver on the screen (e.g. Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, etc) at least often enough that they don’t just go away.

  • 9 katy // Jan 20, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Aw, poor Meg Ryan probably just aged out of our good will. As you note, I’m sure her options are more limited these days. And the old cutesy-pie roles that were her bread-and-butter don’t make as much sense for a more mature actress.

    Harrison Ford might fall in that category too. I’m not sure what role I’d be happy with him in at this point. I think he’s too old for the quirky romantic comedy or marquee action film, so where does that leave Harrison?

    Actually, if I were either one of their agents, I’d tell them to stop looking for marquee roles and try to find smaller character roles in smaller films. Where they could surprise us. (“Did you know the alcoholic mother character in that indy Sundance film was Meg Ryan? I didn’t even recognize her!”)

  • 10 ferretrick // Jan 20, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Before I hit the jump, I thought, oh, Nicholas Cage is the poster child for this. Does he read the script before he signs on?

    Have you seen this video regarding that?

    Am I the only person that NEVER thought Johnny Depp was hot? Or that great an actor? Just me? Ok, then. My indifference lately though as turned to outright hate, as he already ruined Sweeney Todd (if you can’t sing, agree to be dubbed, or don’t take a role in a frickin’ MUSICAL. ESPECIALLLY ONE BY THE FAMOUSLY CHALLENGING TO SING STEPHEN SONDHEIM! THAT GOES FOR YOU TOO HELENA BON HAMMY CAN”T CARRY A TUNE TER! JESUS CHRIST!). Ahem. I feel better now.

    And now Depp’s poised to shit all over my beloved Dark Shadows. He is playing Barnabas Collins looking the aborted fetus of Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands? HATE!

    ANYWAY, another one…Jude Law. He might be getting it back with the Sherlock Holmes movies, but for a while. Remember the year of like six Jude Law movies, and all of them sucked? He burst onto the screen looking like a Norse God in Talented Mr Ripley, but then his looks started to go, he had the affair, and he went all Nicholas Cage, taking anything with a paycheck. I hope he’s turning it back around now.

  • 11 Bunting // Jan 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

    @rick: Not just you. Maybe it’s the 21JS rewatch (which I will get back to, swear to God), but I frequently find Depp underwhelming.

    @katy: “Did you know the alcoholic mother character in that indy Sundance film was Meg Ryan? I didn’t even recognize her!” Well, maybe if she hadn’t had her entire ass injected into her upper lip?

    Great piece, Blankenship.

  • 12 Susan // Jan 20, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I feel like Russell Crowe and Vince Vaughn could also fall into this category and not just because they grew pudgy.

    John S, I am with you on the National Treasure movies. Yes, they are dreck, but my inner 10 year old loves them like she loves Flight of the Navigator.

  • 13 Nick Davis // Jan 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I still have all the good will in the world for Meg Ryan. Hoping something can turn around there.

    Hanks, on the other hand… (You guys, World War II! Also the moon! Also World War II! Also the moon! Who else likes Social Studies? I grow my hair long! You guys, Larry Crowne!)

    Denzel is really flirting hard with this list, too.

    Robin Williams and John Travolta are like the spiritual godfathers of this list, so obvious as to not be worth mentioning. Except, I guess I did.

  • 14 Volvagia // Jan 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Nick: Actually, phrasing it more specifically it would be: You guys, Vietnam! Also the moon! Also a World War II film where I barely act and somehow get an Academy Award nomination! Also a Prison! Also an Island! Can you buy me as a hardened criminal twice? Here’s some Hot Chocolate! And, yes, I think appearing in a Dan Brown adaptation will help my career. Also, The First Gulf War! You guys, Larry Crowne! And that’s his ten most important live action films following Philadelphia.

  • 15 Kara // Jan 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    I still have some loyalty to Shayamalan, because he’s from and loyal to Philly and Philly is my hometown (I saw him in one of my favorite restaurants there once, with his super-cute family). I even TiVo’ed Devil, which is terrible. (Although I did get a kick out of the Devil being who I think of as Doug Heffernan’s mom. And I like Chris Messina and feel bad that he probably thought this would be his breakout movie.)

    Super-word re: Cage. I too have read that he’s broke as a joke so virtually all his movies are paycheck movies, and I get that we all have to make a living, but yeesh. And I’ll be honest and say that part of the reason I no longer like Meg Ryan is because she fucked her face ALL up. One of the worst lip jobs I’ve ever seen – she can’t even close her mouth all the way.

  • 16 katy // Jan 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Oh man, you all are right about poor Meg’s lips. I forgot about that. Still, it just makes me sad — somebody probably told her it would give her a youthful appearance.

    @Kara, I have a soft spot for Shayamalan too. Even though he’s made some terrible films and everyone is totally justified in rolling their eyes at him … well, I just think Sixth Sense is a masterpiece and he’ll be riding on my goodwill from that forever. Several of his other older films (Signs, Unbreakable, The Village) I considered flawed but very interesting, worth a second watch. Certainly not worthy of contempt anyway. Recently, though, he’s been a train wreck and I won’t deny it.

  • 17 Mark Blankenship // Jan 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    @katy — I hung on with M. Night until “The Village,” which really pushed me, screaming, over the edge. I just felt really insulted by the conclusion. Oh, look! It was always the present day! The outside world is dangerous, and don’t we all feel ashamed for making it so? Ugh.

  • 18 katy // Jan 21, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Mark, I actually liked The Village, including the ending. I know I’m in a tiny minority.

    Since I started teaching the middle school students, though, I read the middle-school-age novel that predates The Village by several years and has a really, really close plot line. I think there may even have been a law suit… and frankly, I see why. Oh, M. Night! Why do you break my heart?

  • 19 Bunting // Jan 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    @katy, so did I. The expositional voice-over made me mad, though. (But: not as mad as “The Crappening.”)

  • 20 Joanna // Jan 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Saw a corny opinion poll on another site with the question: Are celebrities happier than the rest of us.
    Over-whelming NO vote.
    This article puts the meat on the bones of that opinion.

  • 21 LauraMac // Jan 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    I didn’t hate the Village.. and I kind of almost love Bryce Dallas Howard. She is always interesting.

  • 22 Tyliag // Jan 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I was thinking the other day that you could almost do a list just based on former SNL cast members or it could be called “People who are Adam Sandler or Friends of Adam Sandler, or Adam Sandler.” Because Billy Madison was kinda cute f0 bajillion years ago but it’s twentieth remake is definately not cute now.

  • 23 Glenny From The Block // Feb 14, 2012 at 4:47 am

    Can we take a second to defend Meg Ryan in In The Cut? I mean, I don’t have the time to do it right now, but fascinating movie, AMAZING performance. Although it may be one of those movies that your enjoyment is based on where you sit on the ‘Bad Girl Is The Best Or Worst Single of Madonnas Career’ scale..

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