The 9 Most Memorable Paycheck Roles in Modern Cinema
The Paycheck Role has long been one of the more pejorative distinctions in Hollywood, associating generally respected actors with films in which you can virtually see them holding their noses on camera. Today's news of John Malkovich and Frances McDormand joining Transformers 3 inducts a new duo into this distinguished subculture. But there's also a chance they know that for every Robin Williams cash-grab or Robert De Niro slum job, there are a tiny handful of actors who have actually established milestones of one sort or another while pulling down big salaries in bad, misconceived, underwritten and/or otherwise ill-advised films. Only time will tell if Malkovich and McDormand join the elite whom The Movieline Nine has taxonomized here; weigh in with your own additions below.
9. Helen Mirren, National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
Plenty of actors have gone on from Oscar wins to disastrous big-money ignominy (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Billy Bob Thornton can duke it out for the worst of the worst). Few, however, have piled on the Paycheck Roles in such quick succession as Helen Mirren, who followed her turn in The Queen with the role of Dr. Emily Appleton -- Jon Voight's ex-wife and Nicolas Cage's mother -- in the aromatic 2007 blockbuster National Treasure: Book of Secrets. That part preceded the stinker Inkheart and the slightly more prestige-crowded (and thus slightly overbaked) State of Play, where she undertook the recent, even more shameless High-Class Harpy phase of her career -- capped with her Oscar-nominated performance in The Last Station. Mirren's is one of the few instances proving you can have your paycheck and eat the scenery, too.
8. John Gielgud, Arthur (1981)
And then there's Gielgud, who actually won an Oscar for his Paycheck Role as Dudley Moore's butler and confidante Hobson in the hit comedy. (Gielgud's other, more dignified effort that year, Chariots of Fire, won Best Picture.) Gielgud returned to the trough in 1988 for the execrable Arthur 2: On the Rocks; neither he nor the audience were as fortunate the second time around.
7. Peter O'Toole, Caligula (1979)
Gielgud and Mirren also drew some sizable salaries for this epic Roman porno-folly, bludgeoned into cult submission by its warring creative team of Bob Guccione, Gore Vidal and Tinto Brass. But those actors visibly couldn't wait to get into the limo and off to the bank, while O'Toole owned his part as the raving, syphillitic Emperor Tiberius. It's impossible to know whether or not he was just taking out his humiliation onscreen or matching the depravity note-for-note. In either case, O'Toole earned his money.
6. Uma Thurman, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
Thurman has driven (at least ridden shotgun in) some industrial-strength Paycheck Vehicles over the years (Batman & Robin, My Super Ex-Girlfriend), but her 10 minutes here as Medusa -- all black leather, lipstick, and genuinely icky snake up-do -- were one of the batshit highlights of a roundly batshit franchise flagship. By the time she shrieks to Percy, "I used to date... your... Daddy!" (i.e. Perseus), you know her perfect synthesis of Joan Crawford and Greek mythology is worth every cent Warners Bros. paid her.
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