No one ever said acting was easy. But some Hollywood actors and actresses do seem to have a natural gift for bringing their characters to life. Others struggle to make their roles believable from time to time. And still more are just plain awful, sometimes ruining whole movies with their subpar performances.
If you’re a fan of movies, you can probably name a few celebrities that fit into each of these categories. For every Matt Damon, there’s a Steven Seagal. For every Natalie Portman, there’s a Megan Fox. But there are some genuinely talented performers that have unfairly gotten a bad rap over the years, because of bad movie choices or a few questionable interpretations of a script. Here are six actors and actresses that deserve a bit more credit than they’ve been given.
1. Nicolas Cage
There is no denying that when given the opportunity, Nicolas Cage can chew scenery with the best of them. Given his over-the-top and just plain bizarre performances in films like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Outcast, and Vampire’s Kiss, it would be easy to dismiss the 52-year-old actor as one of Hollywood’s leading overactors.
But to do so would be to ignore the several really stellar performances he’s given over the years. From his pitch-perfect comedic performance in Raising Arizona to his stunningly nuanced take on a disturbed ambulance driver in Bringing Out the Dead, Nic Cage has more than proven he knows what to do with a great script. He’s also shown he can reel in his hysterical tendencies with convincing skill in the blockbuster Con Air and quirky dark comedy Matchstick Men. His Oscar-nominated portrayal of eccentric screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann and his (fictional) brother Donald in Spike Jonze’s 2002 masterpiece Adaptation could stand alone as a testament of the talent he has buried deep within him. So, too, could his devastating Oscar-winning portrayal of a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas. If only he could find a few more projects that actually let him showcase his skills.
2. Keira Knightley
She’s been called wooden and the “most annoying” actress ever. Since Keira Knightley burst onto the scene in the surprise mega hit Pirates of the Caribbean, she’s been considered Hollywood elite — and enjoyed more than a few high profile roles. But she’s often faced criticism for turning in stiff, uninspired performances in movies like Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Guinevere. And her recent penchant for playing stoic women in period pieces like Atonement, The Duchess, and Anna Karenina has given some the impression she’s a one-note performer.
Knightley has, in fact, turned in numerous buoyant and vulnerable performances over the years — from her fiercely competitive soccer player in Bend it Like Beckham to a bitter adolescent in Never Let Me Go. She’s also been nominated for an Academy Award twice, for her performances in Pride and Prejudice and the Alan Turing thriller The Imitation Game. All in all, she’s turned in a wide range of performances for an actress that’s been accused of only playing one type of character.
3. Channing Tatum
If you’re at all in tune with Hollywood lore, then you know by now that Channing Tatum got his start as a stripper. His big break in Hollywood came from the fun-but-hardly-Oscar-worthy teen dance drama, Step Up. And he’s built his career starring in dull romantic dramas like The Vow and raunchy hits like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. So it would be easy to dismiss him as another celebrity beefcake. But you’d be doing both Tatum and yourself a great disservice.
Tatum has proven on more than one occasion that he’s got some serious acting skills. He turned in a highly acclaimed and incredibly nuanced performance as wrestler Mark Schultz in Foxcatcher in 2014. He was hilariously on point as a ’50s-era Hollywood actor-dancer in Hail, Caesar! He even proved he could nail a comedic role without the benefit of his looks with his turn in The Book of Life. All in all, Channing Tatum has shown us he’s a versatile talent — and much more than just a pretty, uh, face.
4. Kirsten Dunst
Kirsten Dunst had a lot to live up to when she was cast as Mary Jane in the original Spider-Man movie franchise. Unfortunately, many lifelong Spidey fans found her performance as his girlfriend to be lackluster. That — coupled with her unique vocal inflections and appearances in much-maligned movies like Elizabethtown, Marie Antoinette and Mona Lisa Smile — has caused some to write her off as an actress. Which is really too bad, because her great performances far outweigh those that fell flat.
She stunned critics with her creepy performance as immortal child Claudia in Interview with the Vampire. And Dunst is one of the few child actresses of the 1990s that has transitioned into a successful adult career. She’s showcased her comedy chops in campy hits like Bring it On and played convincingly tragic characters in The Virgin Suicides and Melancholia. And as Peggy Blumquist, a beautician with a terrible secret, she was arguably the best part of Fargo‘s second season. These performances alone should be proof enough that Dunst is much better than the backlash she’s received.
5. Taylor Kitsch
Everything was going so well for Taylor Kitsch. Then came the one-two punch of John Carter and Battleship. He starred in them both. They were colossal failures, both critically and commercially. They came out in the same year. Things didn’t go so well for Taylor Kitsch after that. But hidden underneath the shame of 2012, Kitsch does have the makings of a genuinely talented actor.
You can see hints of it in his stellar performance as alcoholic football player Tim Riggins in NBC’s Friday Night Lights. It’s there in his underrated portrayals of an Apartheid-era photojournalist in The Bang Bang Club, an AIDS activist in The Normal Heart, and a Navy SEAL in Lone Survivor. It’s even almost there in his take on a repressed Los Angeles cop in the critically panned second season of True Detective. Kitsch may be running out of chances to redeem himself in Hollywood — but he has shown on more than one occasion that he does have what it takes.
6. Kristen Stewart
It’s easy to assume that Kristen Stewart is a dull, uninspiring actress. That’s because most casual movie fans have only seen her at her very worst — that is to say, as the star of the overwrought and over-hyped teen saga Twilight. But before she was Bella Swan, she turned in excellent performances in Panic Room, Into the Wild, and Speak. And after she was done falling in love with sparkly vampires, she turned her attention back to independent movies and proved she still had some life left in her.
Stewart has been praised for her vulnerable and layered performances in Camp X-Ray, Still Alice, and Welcome to the Rileys. She even became the first American actress to win a Cesar Award for her portrayal of a sharp, subdued personal assistant to the stars in The Clouds of Sils Maria. So while she may always be known primarily for her foray into YA superstardom, Kristen Stewart is way more talented than that infamous role would have you believe.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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