Follow me down the Inception style rabbit-hole here, folks. Last week, over on Salon, Matt Zoller Seitz put together a fine list of The Fantastic Five: 5 actors who have managed to turn in five consecutive flawless performances, a list that includes Robert DeNiro and Susan Sarandon. Seitz’s list was inspired by the “5 Test,” introduced by Steven Hyden of the Onion A/V Club, who asserted that the true test of a great musician is not one or two great albums, but a consistency of output. Similarly, Matt Singer over at IFC applied the 5 Test to directors, a test that very few directors have passed (Kubrick, Tarantino, for instance, but not Spielberg or even Hitchcock).
Excellence, however, is often overrated. A great actor can find that magical groove and ride it for years, although it’s often as much a function of the right director and script as it is in the performance. But how often does a great actor — as measured by an Oscar win — manage to make five sh*tty films in a row? It’s a lot less common than you think. Just by virtue of luck, most actors manage to stumble onto a decent or great film to ruin a streak of five consecutive critical flops. After all, it takes a certain box-office clout to be able to survive five clunkers in a row. Add “Oscar Winner,” and your universe is even smaller. The title alone affords you better scripts and more money. It’s not easy to screw up a huge opportunity like that. Not even Gwyneth Paltrow has managed the feat.
Granted, several Oscar winners have come close, but most usually find at least one movie to pull out of a tailspin. Anthony Hopkins had four stinkers in a row broken up by Titus for instance. Likewise, Al Pacino has had bad streaks, but he’s managed to make at least one occasional gem to break them up. The list of Oscar winners that have managed to make four bad movies in a row also includes Tim Robbins, Gary Oldman, Jamie Foxx, Reese Witherspoon (she needs another bad one to break five), Geoffrey Rush, and Ben Kingsley (twice). Oscar nominees who have five bad films in a row include Jullianne Moore and Harvey Keitel. Colin Firth and Forrest Whitaker also have streaks of five bad movies in a row, but those streaks came before their Oscar wins.
Indeed, only 10 living Oscar winners have managed to make five rotten movies in a row (as dictated by Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer). The grand poobah of the list, in fact, has made a whopping 16 bad movies in a row (and counting). But let’s start at the bottom and work our way to the most prolific maker of bad movies among Oscar winners, shall we?.
Note that I only include films that were released in theaters toward the five consecutive streak and exclude voice work in animated films, as well as documentaries where the Oscar winners appeared as themselves.
10. Nicole Kidman (5) 2007-2009: Invasion, Golden Compass, Margot at the Wedding, Australia, Nine
9. Joe Pesci (5) (1997 -2010): 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, Gone Fishin’, Lethal Weapon 4, The Good Shephard, Love Ranch
8. Robert DeNiro (5) (2002 – 2005): Showtime, City by the Sea, Analyze That, Meet the Fockers, Hide and Seek
7. Ben Affleck (7) (2002 – 2006): The Third Wheel, Daredevil, Gigli, Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas, Man About Town
6. Marisa Tomei (8) (2001-2006): Someone Like You, Just a Kiss, The Guru, Anger Management, Alfie Loverboy, Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School, The Factotum
5. Julia Roberts: (9) (1990-1996): Flatliners, Dying Young, Hook, Sleeping with the Enemy, The Pelican Brief, I Love Trouble, Ready to Wear, Something to Talk About, Mary Reilly
4. Kevin Spacey (9) (1999 – 2006): Ordinary Decent Criminal, Pay It Forward, The Shipping News, K-Pax, Austin Powers: Goldmember, The United States of Leland, The Life of David Gale, Beyond the Sea, Edison
3. Helen Hunt (10) (2000 – 2011): Pay It Forward, What Women Want, Dr. T. and the Woman, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, One Night at McCools, A Good Woman, Bobby, Then She Found Me, Every Day, Soul Surfer.
2. Robin Williams (13) (2004 – 2009): The Final Cut, Noel, House of D, The Night Listener, The Big White, Night at the Museum, The Night Listener, R.V., Everyone’s Hero, Man of the Year, License to Wed, August Rush, Old Dogs
1. Cuba Gooding, Jr. (16) (1999 – Present): Murder of Crows, Instinct, Chill Factor, Men of Honor, Rat Race, Pearl Harbor, Snow Dogs, Boat Trip, The Fighting Temptations, Radio, Home on the Range, Shadowboxer, Dirty, Daddy Day Camp, What Love Is, Norbit
- Geek & Sci-Fi