Head-Spinning Facts About the Worst Ideas in the History of Acting

March 18, 2024 | Christine Tran

Head-Spinning Facts About the Worst Ideas in the History of Acting

Acting isn’t easy. If a production is lucky, they might be able to draw a great performance from their cast without physical injury, behind-the-scenes drama, or cringe-worthy script changes. But not every production is so lucky. Actors and writers alike have attempted, or just pitched, some wild ways to make movie (and TV) magic. Here are 42 baffling facts about weird to downright bad ideas in the history of acting.

1. From Spit-take to Take Down

Jim Carrey refused to ever break character while filming the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. For months, he was the legendary comedian. The film recreated Kaufman’s real-life feud with WWE wrestler Jerry Lawler on The David Letterman Show with the real Lawler actually present. Carrey demanded that Lawler put him in the wrestling hold that landed the real Kaufman in the hospital for three days. When Lawler—and the film’s insurance—denied Carrey his precious headlock, an enraged Carey spat in Lawler’s face, triggering a real physical fight.

Worst Ideas In The History of Acting

2. Flipping the Bird

In the 1969 British film Kes, a young boy befriends a kestrel bird amidst a dystopic European backdrop. After an argument, the boy’s brother later kills the bird and dumps it in the trash. David Bradley’s reaction is startling authentic because he really befriended the bird-actor. The film’s director falsely informed him that his winged buddy had perished in real life right before they filmed the scene. As “proof,” they had a real bird cadaver brought for him to hold! And they never told him the truth themselves: one full year after filming, Bradley traveled to Scotland and found for himself that his bird friend was alive and well.

Worst ideasKes, 1969,

3. Bella Swan: FBI

An action-packed Twilight? It almost happened when studios first optioned Stephanie Meyer’s famous vampire novels. Imagine Kristen Stewarts’s Bella as an action heroine, or Robert Pattinson as a genuinely scary vampire who murders swarms of army commandos when he’s not fighting against his nemesis, a Korean FBI agent who hunts vampires across the country. Of course, the final version was a little more faithful to Meyer’s literary ethos of PG-13 violence and sparkles.

Worst ideasWikimedia.Commons

4. My Dear Watson Has Some Trippy Ideas

Jude Law proposed “time travel” as the theme for the third Sherlock Holmes. Specifically, time travel on illicit substances. Robert Downey Jr. himself came around to the idea, suggesting that the substances should be edible. Speaking from experience, Jude? To quote the eloquent Downey, “You eat it and you go, 'Oh my God, I'm in 2024!” Unfortunately, the people in charge were not on board and Sherlock Holmes 3: The Case of Futuristic Fungi remains a sequel only in theory.

Worst ideasFlickr


5. Break a Leg (and Other Bones)

Daniel Day-Lewis asked to be wheeled around the set of as if he were actually paraplegic like his character. After hunching over the wheelchair for weeks on end, Day-Lewis ended up breaking two of his own ribs.

Worst ideasMy left foot, 1989, ITV Granada

6. Catching the Acting Bug (and Pneumonia)

Hi, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis again! Here to catch pneumonia on the set of Gangs of New York because he refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one, since the warmer coat didn’t exist in the 19th century. For this same movie, you should know that Day-Lewis also wandered the streets of Rome and picked fights with strangers—he could truly fill up this list all on his own.

Worst ideasGangs of New York, 2002, Miramax

7. Not Quite White

In 2015, the producers of Aloha cast the decidedly not-Hawaiian and not-Asian Emma Stone as the Hawaiian and Asian character, Alison Ng. The film received a fair amount of criticism for whitewashing. Stone herself felt like “the butt of many jokes” for her part and tried to defend her casting by saying, “The character was not supposed to look like her background, which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese.” Her input was met lukewarm response.


Worst ideasAloha, 2015, Columbia Pictures

8. Hollywood Roughhousing

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo came to blows on the set of Foxcatcher. At first, Ruffalo was holding back, so Tatum began yelling at him to get him in the zone. Ruffalo got so into it that he broke Tatum’s eardrum when he was only supposed to smack him. Tatum perhaps paid him back in another scene, when he inflicted a permanent neck injury on Ruffalo’s precious person.

Worst ideasFoxcatcher, 2015, Annapurna Pictures

9. Bad Grief

To prepare for his role as a grieving father in Rabbit Hole, Aaron Eckhart impersonated a bereaved parent, so he could infiltrate a grief support group. He proceeded to participate in the counseling with other parents, pretending all the while that he really did have a deceased child. He later admitted on the Howard Stern Show that what he did wasn’t exactly kosher, saying “It’s rude.”

Worst ideasRabbit Hole, 2010, Blossom Films


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10. Cheat Sheets

Not all bad acting ideas are the result of over-eager method actors. Some are the result of laziness. Take Marlon Brando, who instead of learning his owns lines, had his The Godfather co-star Robert Duvall hold up cue cards to his chest offscreen to be read in the moment.

Worst ideasWikimedia.Commons


11. What’s Your (Dental) Damage?

To embody a schizophrenic, homeless cellist in The Soloist, Jamie Foxx had his teeth chiseled down in order to make them actually crooked. In the words of my dentist, “You’re only given one set of adult teeth! Don’t waste them!”

Worst ideasThe soloist, 2009, DreamWorks Pictures

12. Extreme Spring Cleaning

To enter the persona of someone who’s lost everything in The Pianist, Adrien Brody dumped his apartment, his car, his phones, and even his girlfriend!

Worst ideasThe Pianist, 2002, CanalPlus

13. Growing Pains

In Billy Madison, Adam Sandler hit child actors in the face as hard as he could with real dodgeballs. That’s why the camera cuts away so fast after impact: kids would begin crying immediately after Sandler pummeled them. Pick on someone your own size, Sandler.

Worst ideasBilly Madison, 1995, Universal Pictures

14. The Not-So-Glory Days

At the age of 23, Kevin Bacon went back to high school…to prepare for his role in Footloose. It wasn’t any more pleasant the second time around, as Bacon’s classmates allegedly mocked his hair and clothes, and “mean girls” would follow him around to giggle at him.

Worst ideasFootloose, 1984, Paramount Pictures

15. We Hope She Got Her Shots!

To prepare for her role as Enchantress in Suicide Squad, Cara Delevingne got naked…off-set. She took to stripping to her birthday suit, taking to the woods, and howling at the full moon outside her sister’s country house. Since she was also convinced that Enchantress’ lair was a steamy, swamp-like place, Delevingne spent hours crawling around a hotel steam room.

Worst ideasSuicide Squad, 2016, Warner Bros.

16. The Only Limit is Your Imagination

Obviously, most of Nicolas Cage’s performance in Ghost Rider was abetted by CGI. Not wanting technology to undermine the intensity of his performance, Cage coated his face in cadaver paint and blanketed himself in a costume of Egyptian symbols and amulets while screaming straight into the mouths of his castmates. He called this technique “Nouveau Shamanic,” based on practices of ancient African performers. If you’ve never heard of “Nouveau Shamanic,” it’s because Cage completely made it up for this role.

Worst ideasGhost Rider, 2007, Columbia Pictures


17. Forbidden Fruit for a Reason

How does one embody the founder of Apple? According to Ashton Kutcher, who played Steve Jobs in Jobs, you become a fruitarian—a person who only eats fruit. It’s a diet that Jobs himself was obsessed with. The result? Just two days before filming, Kutcher was hospitalized for reported vitamin deficiencies and decreased bone density.


Worst ideasJobs, 2013, Open Road Films

18. It’s an Inside Joke, But No One’s Laughing

Jared Leto made headlines in 2016 for his inappropriate behavior while filming Suicide Squad. Among other off-putting “pranks,” Leto sent his co-star Margot Robbie creepy love letters and a lifeless rat in the mail. He also sent bullets to Will Smith (Get it? Because Smith played Deadshot?) and broadcast a video showing himself with a lifeless pig to the rest of the cast.

Worst ideasSuicide Squad, 2016, Warner Bros.

19. Tank(ed) Hygiene

Shia LaBeouf went four months without showering, and even cut his own face in order to realistically embody a tank crew worker in Fury (2014).

Worst ideasFurry, 2014, Columbia Pictures

20. The Island of Dr. Big Ego

As an acting legend by the time he filmed The Island of Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando’s diva-like demands could not be denied by the producers. Perhaps that’s why he demanded that he could not work without (1) a bucket hat and (2) a personal dwarf to befriend on set.

Worst ideasThe Island of Dr. Moreau, New Line Cinema

21. All Work and No Play Make Kubrick An Uncool Boss

Shelley Duvall’s memorably terrified performance in The Shining is the result of long-term mental torment. The film’s director, Stanley Kubrick, had the bright idea to put intense pressure on the actress and tell her that she was wasting everybody’s time and that all her ideas were terrible. He would also openly tell crew members “Don’t sympathize with Shelley.”

Worst ideasThe shining, 1980, Hawk Films

22. A Lukewarm Reception

As the original Star Wars trilogy came to a close, Mark Hamill had the idea that Luke Skywalker should be successfully won over to the Dark Side. In his version, evil Luke would try to kill Han before being pulled back to the Light Side at the last possible second. George Lucas shot down that idea like it was a stormtrooper.

Worst ideasStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, 2019, Lucas Film


 23. Down the Drain

Kevin Costner turned down the lead in The Shawshank Redemption to complete a film he deemed more important, Waterworld. Shawshank was nominated for multiple Oscars and is still a classic in the hearts of film buffs. In contrast, Waterworld was the biggest financial disaster of its time.

Worst ideasThe Shawshank Redemption, 1994, Castle Rock Entertainment

24. Oh Hai, Recasting

As if the making of The Room wasn’t chaotic enough, director and star Tommy Wiseau fired the actor he’d originally cast as Mark on the first day of production and replaced him with the film’s line producer, Greg Sestero.

Worst ideasThe room, 2003, Tommy Wiseau

25. Creepy Caper

Val Kilmer proposed a sequel to the 1995 thriller Heat. The problem? It was basically a vehicle for his character to make out with Natalie Portman. To add an even creepier layer to this pitch, a very young Portman had played the Al Pacino character’s stepdaughter in the first movie.

Worst ideasHeat, 1995, Regency Enterprises

26. Last Minute Mistakes

Originally, Winona Ryder was lined up to play Mary Corleone in The Godfather III. Unfortunately, she had to drop out after coming down with a 104-degree fever and upper-respiratory infection while filming Mermaids with Cher. Director Francis Ford Coppola quickly recast her with his daughter, the inexperienced Sofia Coppola, and the rest is Universally Panned Acting History.

Worst ideasWikimedia.Commons

27. Passed the Juice

O.J. Simpson was one of the first actors considered for the iconic T-800 in The Terminator. However, James Cameron passed because he just couldn’t realistically see Simpson as a killer…

Worst ideasFlickr

28. Ice Cold Success

While filming Way Down East, silent film star Lillian Gish suffered permanent nerve damage in several of her fingers. The film’s climax featured Gish floating unconscious down an ice floe headed towards a raging waterfall. It was Gish’s own idea to drape her hair and hands in the ice-cold water, a strike of dramatic inspiration that paid off in fame and frostbite.

Worst ideasWikipedia

29. Ghastly Sequels

Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Rupert Giles as a ghost hunter? If Anthony Stewart Head would have had his way, this might have happened. The Buffy actor suggested a spinoff for his Watcher character. Not so weird, right? Well, it was inspired by his stories of his own house which he claimed was haunted by “a little girl and her nanny.” Obviously, Buffy creators ghosted Head’s idea.

Worst ideasBuffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992,Mutant Enemy Productions

30. A Make-Under for the Better

Once upon a time, Jabba the Hutt wasn’t the gigantic slug was that we all know and love today. Instead, the Irish actor, Declan Mulholland was going to embody the Hutt in full human glory. George Lucas even filmed footage a jolly, human Jabba haggling with Han Solo …in English, no less! After production, however, Mulholland was completely cut from the film and replaced with a slimy puppet, just as the universe intended.

Worst ideasFlickr

31. Imperial Inspiration

We all remember Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, played with a dashing cockney accent by American actor James Marsters. The character was originally conceived to be Southern, so Marsters auditioned with a Southern Cajun accent. Luckily, they settled on a British accent and Spike made his name as the Sid Vicious-inspired Big Bad instead of as some pale guy from Bayou.

Worst ideasBuffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992,Mutant Enemy Productions

32. A Rocky Landing

While filming Rocky IV, Sylvester Stallone asked Dolph Lundgren to try and truly “knock him out.” It did not go well: later that night, Stallone noticed his blood pressure spike to 260, and he had to be taken via emergency jet to an intensive care unit. Lundgren had hit Stallone so hard that he banged his ribs, which caused swelling—an injury often seen in high-impact car accidents.

Worst ideasRocky IV, 1985, United Artists

33. Step by Painful Step

Was the Oscar nomination worth it? Billy Bob Thornton put crushed glass in his shoe to simulate his character’s limp in Sling Blade.

Worst ideasSling Blade, 1996, TSG

34. Gout Out

Jared Leto came down with gout as he gained 62 pounds to embody John Lennon’s killer in Chapter 27. Well, gout is often referred to as the ‘rich man’s disease,’ so how terrible could it have been?

Worst ideasChapter 27, 2007, Peace Arch Entertainment

35. Dirty Halle

Halle Berry visited a real crack den to prepare for her role in. She also didn’t bathe for two weeks.

Worst ideasJungle Fever, 1991, 40 acres

36. Shiver Me Timbers

When it came time to film his most famous role as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp had some great ideas. And also, some not-so-great ideas. Depp thought it would be cool for Sparrow to have lost his nose in a swordfight. His character would have tried to stitch it back to his face, leaving him with a blue nose from poor circulation. For a while, director Gore Verbinski tried to sell a noseless Jack idea to Disney, but—perhaps fortunately—it didn’t smell right to the studio.

Worst ideasWikimedia.Commons

37. TBH, I’d Watch It?

We all remember Adam West as the original caped crusader from the 1960s Batman TV series. Decades later, in 1989, West had big-screen aspirations for himself…as Batman’s dad. Did he forget Batman’s entire origin story? In West’s version, Batman’s dad would be alive—and West would somehow play Batman too.

Worst ideasBatman, 1989, Guber-Peters Company

38. To Boldly Retcon

Unsatisfied with Captain Kirk’s demise in Star Trek: Generations, William Shatner wrote a Star Trek novel wherein Kirk came back to life. In the novel, Star Trek: The Return, Romulans smuggle Kirk’s body away and use Borg technology to revive him…before he dies again to save the galaxy. Don’t worry—Kirk and Shatner’s ego survived another day in the afterlife to go on sick adventures with Spock’s dad.

Worst ideasStar Trek Generations, 1994, Paramount Pictures

39. Dermatologists Hate Him

To personify an injured Vietnam War veteran in Birdy, Nicholas Cage not only removed his teeth without anesthesia (his character wouldn’t have had the option), he also wore bandages on his face for five weeks. When he finally removed them, his skin was infected and riddled with ingrown hairs.

Worst ideasBirdy 1984, A&M Films films

40. Sweet, Chocolaty Irony

Ryan Gosling drank melted Haagen Daz ice cream bars to gain 62 pounds, all because he was concerned he looked too young to play a middle-aged dad in The Lovely Bones. Director Peter Jackson still didn’t like Gosling’s characterization, so he recast the role with Mark Wahlberg.

Worst ideasThe Lovely Bones, 2009 DreamWorks Pictures

41. Stalking His Way to Acclaim

Invading someone’s personal space is uncool—to make an understatement. But tell that to Jamie Dornan, who stalked a random woman off the train to get in a “serial killer” mindset for The Fall. Keeping a distance from his “target,” Dornan managed to see her reach her station and even lurk behind her for a couple of blocks. Did he take the same ‘method’ approach to his role in the Fifty Shades trilogy? I guess we’d have to ask his wife—who Dornan claims won’t watch the racy films anyway!

Worst ideasFifty shades, 2015, Trigger Street

42. Haw-Haw Horrifying

Robin Williams was one of the names attached to play Jack Torrence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It was decided that Williams was too “psychotic” for the part.

Worst ideasPicryl

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

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