Their names may be in lights at the Academy Awards, but most nominees have some cringe-worthy roles in their past. From Rooney Mara as a chubby hater on Law & Order to George Clooney’s nipple-y Batman suit. WATCH VIDEO.
1. Rooney Mara: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—Episode: “Fat”
Oscar Nominee: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Though she’s billed as “Tricia Mara”—a wise choice, in retrospect—one of actress Rooney Mara’s earliest roles was as Jessica Delay, a 17-year-old girl who is found brutally beaten and sodomized by two morbidly obese teens in the 20th episode of the seventh season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Later it’s discovered that the two attackers’ older brother was the victim in a similar attack by Delay and her boyfriend, who despise fat people so much that they post pictures online of themselves giving fat kids beat-downs. “It was so awful,” Mara, who went to on captivate audiences with her brilliant portrayal of icy Goth hacker Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, told Allure. “Me and my boyfriend—although I [didn’t] look old enough to have a boyfriend—went and beat up these fat people, and at the end of the show you find out that I used to be obese and I hate fat people. It’s ridiculous. Who would ever do that? Who would beat someone up because they’re fat?”
2. Gary Oldman: The Scarlet Letter
Oscar Nominee: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Gary Oldman is one of the finest, most versatile actors working today, and his Oscar nomination for his subtle turn as spy George Smiley in the espionage thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was well deserved. But opposite Demi Moore in 1995’s The Scarlet Letter, Oldman’s normally riveting scenery-chewing comes off as ridiculous. The erotic thriller, with its hammy performances and ridiculous sets, resembles a soft-core porn film that you’d find while channel-surfing Cinemax late at night. A huge flop, grossing just over $10 million against a $46 million budget, The Scarlet Letter was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Screen Couple (Moore and Oldman). Easy A’s Olive Pendergast (Emma Stone) said it best: “If you have a test on [The Scarlet Letter], rent the movie, but make sure it’s the original, not the Demi Moore version where she talks in a fake British accent and takes a lot of baths.”
3. Michelle Williams: Species
Oscar Nominee: My Week with Marilyn
Before she starred as Jen Lindley on the seminal teen TV drama Dawson’s Creek (1998–2003) and became one of the most celebrated actresses of her generation, earning three Oscar nominations (and counting), Michelle Williams was just another struggling young actress. In 1995 she starred in the sci-fi thriller Species as the teenage version of Natasha Henstridge’s “Sil”—an alien seductress created by splicing human and alien DNA who wishes to find a human male to impregnate her so she can give birth to evil alien babies. Williams’s “Young Sil” is prone to violent outbursts and eventually escapes from her containment facility to wreak havoc on the male population of Los Angeles. The sequence where Young Sil goes through puberty on a train, complete with ridiculous CGI tentacles, is like something you’d catch on Syfy (in other words: unintentionally hilarious).
4. George Clooney: Batman & Robin
Oscar Nominee: The Descendants
Joel Schumacher reportedly cast George Clooney in the role of billionaire industrialist-cum-vigilante superhero Bruce Wayne/Batman after having problems with Val Kilmer during the making of the franchise’s previous installment, Batman Forever. Schumacher thought Clooney would bring a lighter touch to the character. Instead, Batman & Robin devolved into a camp mess rife with homosexual innuendo (said to be at Schumacher’s behest) between Batman and Robin, as well as set designs that look like Disneyland on ecstasy. Plus, Clooney’s Bruce Wayne character doesn’t seem haunted at all, but more akin to the suave ladies man we’ve come to know off-screen. Oh, and of course there was that nipple-y Batman suit. “Had I known they were going to put nipples on the thing, I would have rethought it,” Clooney told Newsweek.
5. Octavia Spencer: Dinner for Schmucks
Oscar Nominee: The Help
It’s been a long road for character actress Octavia Spencer, who received her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Minny, the fiery, outspoken maid in The Help. She spent the first decade of her career in roles like “Neighbor in Alley” in S.W.A.T. or “Big Customer” in Beauty Shop. Her most unfortunate role, however, was the one right before The Help—in the atrocious 2010 comedy Dinner for Schmucks, opposite Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. In the film, about rich people who are rewarded for bringing the biggest moron to a dinner, Spencer plays “Madame Nora,” a woman who claims she can channel the spirits of dead animals (think: Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost gone haywire). The scene where she channels a dead lobster is … something else.
6. Brad Pitt: The Devil’s Own
Oscar Nominee: Moneyball
Brad Pitt has come a long way since he starred as the lovable stoner Floyd in True Romance, smoking weed out of a honey bottle and crashing on Michael Rappaport’s couch. He’s now considered one of our finest actors and had a huge 2011 with impressive turns in Moneyball, for which he received his third Oscar nomination, and The Tree of Life. Arguably his most unimpressive turn, however, was in 1997’s The Devil’s Own. Pitt starred as an IRA gunman who shacks up with an NYPD officer (Harrison Ford) and his family. Pitt looks as dashing as ever, but his ridiculous Irish accent belongs in the awful movie accents hall of fame, alongside John Malkovich in Rounders and Anne Hathaway in One Day. Oscar-winning filmmaker James Marsh (Man on Wire) singled The Devil’s Own out as a silly caricature of the Irish conflict, and Pitt would later denounce the movie as “the most irresponsible bit of film making—if you can even call it that—that I’ve ever seen.”
7. Viola Davis: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Oscar Nominee: The Help
After receiving plenty of awards for her work on the stage, including a Tony Award in 2001 for her turn in King Hedley II, Viola Davis gradually segued into film, earning her first Oscar nod for her 11-minute performance as a grieving mother in 2008’s Doubt. This year she’s the frontrunner for the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Aibileen Clark in The Help. It’s pretty tough for Davis to turn in a subpar performance, but her most embarrassing screen credit has to be the “Grandma” who raises gangster-turned-aspiring rapper Marcus (50 Cent) in the film based on the rapper’s life, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Aside from the fact that Davis was only 38 when she filmed the role of Marcus’s grandmother/caretaker (the actor who played the grandfather was 60, by comparison), the movie is an unintentionally hilarious disaster, despite being penned by Sopranos scribe Terence Winter and directed by six-time Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot).
8. Jonah Hill: Accepted
Oscar Nominee: Moneyball
Just eight years after making his big screen debut in I Heart Huckabees, 28-year-old Jonah Hill has become a bona fide A-lister with roles in the hits Superbad, Get Him to the Greek, and as sabermetrics whiz kid Peter Brand in Moneyball, for which he received his first Oscar nomination. Prior to all that—as well as his dramatic weight loss—he starred as Sherman Schrader, a nerdy fat kid who is ruthlessly picked on by his fraternity brothers in the 2006 comedy Accepted, opposite Justin Long and Blake Lively. Sherman shrieks like a girl, willingly drinks beers with loogies in them, and is even forced to dress up in a hotdog suit in the middle of campus and announce to his fellow students, “Ask me about my wiener!”
9. Christopher Plummer: Starcrash
Oscar Nominee: Beginners
Christopher Plummer has wowed audiences in a career that’s spanned seven decades and included the iconic role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He didn’t receive his first Oscar nomination until 2009’s The Last Station; now he looks like the odds-on favorite to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a gay, terminally ill father in Mike Mills’s Beginners. However, Plummer endured caked-on makeup and a truly ridiculous costume as “The Emperor of the Galaxy” in the 1978 Italian sci-fi catastrophe Starcrash. The film is like a Z-movie version of Star Wars boasting truly awful special effects, and features Caroline Munro and David Hasselhoff, who plays Plummer’s son in the film. It’s since become one of the most ridiculed films in the sci-fi canon, alongside Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.
10. Kenneth Branagh: Wild Wild West
Oscar Nominee: My Week With Marilyn
Acclaimed actor-filmmaker Kenneth Branagh has earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Actor and Best Director for his 1989 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V. But his role as the evil inventor Dr. Arliss Loveless in 1999’s Will Smith steampunk Western Wild Wild West was a low point. Loveless is an ex-Confederate scientist who hopes to get back at the North for winning the Civil War. He has no legs, so he shuttles about in a steam-powered wheelchair, sporting long, greasy locks, outrageous facial hair that looks like it was drawn on with black magic marker, and a truly bizarre Southern accent. Oh, and he’s racist to boot. Branagh received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actor for the role.