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The actors and actresses who most consistently appear in terrible movies

Adam Sandler.
Adam Sandler.
Jason LaVeris/Getty Images (Illustration: Zachary Crockett / Vox)

Some Hollywood actors and actresses, bless their souls, just don't have what it takes to please a film critic.

On the silver screen, they laugh. They cry. They wince dramatically, as if detecting the far-off aroma of bacon. And when their performance is done, a stodgy man at the Chicago Tribune or a curmudgeonly woman at the New York Times deems it "mind-numbingly juvenile" or "less thrilling than an audit."

Often this criticism is well-deserved. For every golden nugget of talent in Hollywood, there are a dozen lumps of coal — some of whom manage to compress themselves into diamonds, befriend casting directors, and land starring roles in films.

We were curious: Who among these big-name actors and actresses most routinely appears in terribly reviewed movies? And who most frequently wins critics' praise?

How we made our ranking

Zachary Crockett / Vox

Earlier this week, we crawled through a bunch of data from Metacritic to determine which big-budget blockbusters got the worst reviews. Metacritic's methodology is pretty straightforward: It aggregates movie reviews from major news outlets, weights them based on a variety of factors (more on that here), then gives them a composite score on a 0–100 scale (0 = terrible, 100 = resounding acclaim).

This time we turned to Metacritic to determine the scores of actors and actresses based on the films they've been in. To limit our search to relatively well-known performers, we set a series of criteria:

  • The actor/actress must have performed in at least 10 films (writing, directing, and producing credits were omitted).
  • At least one of these films had to have grossed $30 million or more at the box office, adjusted for inflation.
  • At least one of these films had to be within the past five years (we only wanted semi-active performers).

A note to our critics: This data isn't perfect or definitive. For one, our analysis is based on reviews of movie critics, whose opinions often differ greatly from the public's. The number of genuine reviews available for older films (pre-2000) is also somewhat limited on Metacritic.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

Lastly, it should be said that a film review is not always indicative of an individual actor's ability or talent. There are many factors that go into creating a good (or bad) movie — the screenplay, the direction, the supporting cast — and a critic may pan a movie for any number of reasons, even if the leading man or woman turned in an excellent performance.

Nonetheless, analyzing film reviews gives us a pretty good sense of where today's stars sit with critics and who tends to stay marooned in a sludgy mire of crappy films.

The worst-reviewed actors and actresses in Hollywood

So let's start at the bottom: Who are the worst-reviewed actors in Hollywood?

Below, we've included a percentage breakdown of each actor's films (negative = 0-39; mixed = 40-60; positive = 61-100), as well as the average score of all films he's appeared in. When reviewing these numbers, keep in mind that the overall average for actors and actresses who met our criteria was 54/100.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

You may recall Rob Schneider from classics like Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999) or The Hot Chick (2002). Thanks in part to these efforts, he is the worst critically rated actor in Hollywood.

Not a single one of the 16 films Schneider has appeared in has secured a Metacritic score higher than 54. Eleven of them received soul-crushingly bad reviews: In response to the sequel to Deuce Bigalow, 2005's European Gigolo, Roger Ebert once famously quipped, "Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks" — a line that later became the title of one of his books.

Three of the five statistically worst actors — Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, and Adam Sandler — recently starred together in Netflix's Ridiculous Six (2015). The film received some of the worst reviews in history: 18 percent on Metacritic, and 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Schneider's critical failure largely falls on the shoulders of Adam Sandler, who is ranked second here. The majority of the poorly reviewed films Schneider appears in are Sandler flicks, in which he plays a recurring character who yells, "You can do it!"

In his "golden era" — 1995 to 1999 — Sandler starred in a string of well-rated, relatively funny films. Then, starting with Little Nicky (2000), he began to realize that he could act in terrible films and still make money. His average Metacritic score has since plummeted from 52 to 36.

The actors on this list disproportionately appear in comedy or action films. This holds true for actresses as well: 80 percent of the movies the 15 worst-rated leading women star in are of the romantic comedy or action genres.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

Though Jennifer Love Hewitt's last movie was in 2013 (a low-budget rom-com called Jewtopia), her ability to star in poorly rated films is timeless: Of 10 total films, seven rank below 40 points on Metacritic.

Actresses like Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jennifer Lopez almost exclusively act in romantic comedies. Similarly, many women who take on leading roles in action films seem to have very low Metacritic scores — including Halle Berry, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2002.

The best-reviewed actors and actresses in Hollywood

Next, let's take a look at the actors and actresses who most routinely star in critically acclaimed films. Who are the film critic darlings?

Zachary Crockett / Vox

With an average score of 73, Daniel Day-Lewis seems impregnable to bad reviews. The 58-year-old Englishman is one of the most selective actors in the industry: In a career that has spanned nearly five decades, he's participated in only 11 films.

His judiciousness has paid off: No film of his has ever received a negative aggregate score. He's also won three Academy Awards for best actor in a lead role — a feat that is unmatched by any other actor in history.

While the worst-rated actors list was mostly composed of comedy and action stars, leading men in dramas dominate here. Actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sean Penn typically participate in more dynamic screenplays that allow for a wide emotional range.

Again, we see a similar trend for the top-reviewed actresses.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

Young stars like Carey Mulligan and Jennifer Lawrence rank high, but so do older actresses with established dramatic careers.

On the worst-rated actresses list Sharon Stone was the oldest, at 58. But here, four actresses are 60-plus: Charlotte Rampling (70), Meryl Streep (66), Maggie Smith (81), and Judi Dench (81).

With the notable exception of Jennifer Lawrence (who won an Oscar for her role in the comedy-drama The Silver Linings Playbook), these women are mostly known for their leading roles in drama films.

Film critics are harder on comedy and action films

To reiterate, the worst-rated actors/actresses star mostly in comedies and action films, while the best-rated are heavier on drama-oriented films.

What exactly is going on here? Is this indicative of a larger trend?

We took a random sample of 200 films from each genre listed on Metacritic, then averaged out the scores. As it turns out, critics rate comedies and action flicks much more harshly than dramas.

Zachary Crockett / Vox

This disparity between genres may partly explain why rom-com-heavy stars like Katherine Heigl and Vince Vaughn rank so unfavorably: Thespians who stick mainly to comedy forever relegate themselves to critics' least favorite genre.

While dramatic films provoke thought, and appeal to universal truths that we all contemplate, comedy is subjective and lends itself to polarized reviews. Comedy actors' poor showing here isn't necessarily indicative of bad acting.

Still, an actor's talent is at least a little bit correlated with the quality of the films he appears in. And if you have any doubts about that, we suggest you watch a Rob Schneider highlight reel.

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