Ever sat through a movie and thought of an actor, ‘Man, their heart really isn’t in this’?
Chances are they were contractually obliged to appear; an archaic practice where actors are held hostage to their contracts and have to slog through whatever movies their studio dictates.
These are the actors that were forced to make movies they didn’t want to be in…
Channing Tatum - G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
“I was pushed into doing that movie,” said Tatum in an interview with Howard Stern. Suddenly it all makes sense: the only way anyone would intentionally enter into a Stephen Sommers movie would be if they were either contractually obliged or were under the watchful eye of a vigilant sniper.
Tied to Paramount, Tatum couldn’t extract himself from the Hasbro toy-shifter but wound up being one of the better things in it (reminder: he tries to punch a hologram). By the time the sequel rolled around a few years later, Tatum was a superstar and managed to swing a pretty sweet deal: though he was still contracted to appear, he negotiated an early death for his character – it was the only way he could escape the Cobra-like villains at the studio.
Emily Blunt - Gulliver’s Travels
We doubt this decision causes the fabulously gifted Emily Blunt to lose much sleep these days, but it’s interesting to think what could have been. Fox had a Blunt in their pocket after the success of The Devil Wears Prada and the actress was clearly going places. In fact, Marvel was very keen for her to play the role of Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Fox had other ideas. Terrible ideas.
Blunt was instead contracted to play a thankless role in the shockingly poor and totally forgettable Jack Black comedy Gulliver’s Travels, which sank without trace. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson has played Natasha Romanoff in countless megabucks movies. Blunt will just have to console herself with being respected, talented, awesome and married to John Krasinski. Tough break, kid.
Natalie Portman - Thor: The Dark World
Maybe Natalie Portman was unclear of the Godfather-esque way superhero movie contracts are put together: just when she thought she was out, they pulled her back in. The Black Swan Oscar-winner signed on the dotted line to appear in 2011’s Thor, but when sequel The Dark World dawned, Portman performed a pirouette and attempted to tiptoe away, ballerina-style.
It didn’t help that her preferred director, Patty Jenkins, had been dumped by the studio, but Portman had to grin and bear it and suffer the indignity of being paid millions of dollars to make out with Chris Hemsworth. She’ll return for a starring role in Thor 4 after Taika Waititi revived the brand with the brilliant Thor: Ragnarok.
Val Kilmer - Top Gun
As Iceman, Val Kilmer gave Top Gun its chill at the height of his cool, but the actor was actually cold on the project from the very beginning. As part of one of those three-picture dealios you’ve been hearing so much about, Kilmer was in the hole for one more Paramount movie and a homoerotic film about volleyball and jets wasn’t doing it for him.
After meeting with Tony Scott, a downcast Kilmer stepped into the lift before someone jammed the door open. Says Val: “I heard this swooshing round the corner. The doors opened and Tony jumped in front of the lift and wouldn’t let me leave.” Kilmer claims he never wanted to make Top Gun but he’s glad he did, and is returning for the sequel later this year.
Ed Norton - The Italian Job
Norton has developed a reputation for being, how should we say… 'difficult’ over the years. After being the breakout star of sleeper hit courtroom thriller Primal Fear, Paramount tied Ed into a three-picture deal, but they couldn’t decide on a suitable vehicle for him and negotiations went back and forth for eight years without so much as a sniff of a new movie.
Eventually, the studio’s lawyers got involved and threatened Norton with legal action if he didn’t play the villain in their 2003 remake of The Italian Job, which is probably not the greatest motivation in the Actor’s Handbook. Norton relented and played the part with a heavy heart, but did no promotion for the movie and later said “My real fans should give this one a miss”.
Whoopi Goldberg - Theodore Rex
With hindsight, it’s hard to see how agreeing to star in a buddy cop movie with a sassy animatronic dinosaur ever seemed like a good idea, but that’s the situation that Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg found herself in on the first day of shooting Theodore Rex, one of the most comically ill-advised movies ever made.
Goldberg attempted to back out of the film at the eleventh hour but producers filed a lawsuit to prevent her from ghosting, citing the very expensive case where Kim Basinger got sued for backing out of erotic thriller Boxing Helena.
Whoopi, with a far more dour demeanour than her name suggests, gritted her teeth and made the film, which didn’t even make it to cinemas. “Don’t ask me why I did it,” she said in 2015. “They made me do it.” (*whispers*) Also you signed a contract saying you’d do it.
Marlon Brando - Desiree
Hire Brando and you can’t be surprised when Hurricane Marlon shows up to work and attempts to tear up your set like a trailer park. Brando was contractually obliged to play Napoleon in this 1954 epic, but he hated the script and had it down for a flop.
According to his co-stars, he basically did whatever he could to derail production, including but not limited to: purposely forgetting his lines; putting on a fake British accent; tossing around a football (not exactly period accurate); and, brilliantly, squirting extras with a fire hose on set. Even Hurricane Marlon couldn’t stop Desiree from being a success: it was nominated for two Oscars. Unsurprisingly. Brando wasn’t one of the nominees.
Keanu Reeves - The Watcher
In what has to rank as the most bizarre (and the most suspect) reason to make a movie, Keanu Reeves claims that a friend of his had forged his signature on a document obliging him to appear in The Watcher, a post-Bill & Ted indie serial killer thriller.
Reeves claimed that going through the courts would be too costly and had no proof of the swizz, so he went ahead and made the movie anyway; you’ll notice his name on the movie’s poster but not his face, as he conducted no press to support the film. It’s the Hollywood excuse equivalent of 'My dog ate my homework’.
Mike Myers - The Cat In The Hat
Sometimes actors fall in love with a script. Sometimes they’re lucky enough to find a passion project. But sometimes, actors make movies because studios are holding a gun to their head: Mike Myers made Dr Seuss flop The Cat In The Hat with all the zeal of a man on Death a Row.
The Wayne’s World star had agreed with Universal to bring Dieter, another of his Saturday Night Live creations, to the big screen, but the script they delivered was not to his liking, so he backed out.
Incensed that an actor displayed principles, Universal slapped him with a $3 million lawsuit and offered him this litter tray of a movie. Cut to years later and the movie receiving several Razzie nominations. Great work all round, everybody.
Jennifer Garner - Elektra
Jen knew. She knew Daredevil was rubbish. She knew an Elektra spin-off was an even more rubbish idea. And she knew there was nothing she could do to get out of it, bound by a watertight contract that meant she had no choice but to strap herself in to that garish red leather one more time.
Garner has never publicly bashed Elektra (even though she’d be quite within her right to do so), but her boyfriend at the time, Michael Vartan, claimed Jen told her it was “awful”. Along with Catwoman, the movie basically kneecapped female-fronted superhero flicks for over a decade; the fact that Garner doesn’t curse at the sky every time a mic is thrust under her nose is to her eternal credit.