Every actor has to start somewhere—in some cases, that “somewhere” is at the absolute bottom of Hollywood. Some of the industry’s most famous and beloved stars and starlets started their careers in films so badly that we wonder how they ever got noticed in the first place.
Featured photo credit: Gage Skidmore
10Arnold Schwarzenegger Hercules in New York (1969)
At 22 years old, Arnold Schwarzenegger chose to star in the title role of Hercules in New York—a badly made comedy about the legendary hero’s struggles to defy his father, Zeus, and roam about in the land of mortals—specifically, in New York City. Being new to the country and still possessing his long last name, Schwarzenegger was credited as “Arnold Strong” or “Mr. Universe,” due to his prior bodybuilding fame. In addition, his thick Austrian accent was so strong that the film was actually released with his voice dubbed over.
Schwarzenegger has publicly disowned the film, stating that he regrets his appearance in it. He has even gone so far as to say that the film should be used as an interrogation tool in the War on Terrorism. Seeing as how the film features Arnold wrestling a man in a cheap bear costume, it is not hard to see why he feels this way.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)
Comedian Jim Carrey’s first film was a musical comedy costarring other well-known names like Gena Davis and Jeff Goldblum. The film, entitled Earth Girls are Easy, was about three sex-starved aliens who just happen to crash land in the backyard pool of a desirable woman.
The movie was plagued with production problems, rewrites, and the bankruptcy of the initial studio that backed its release. However, it eventually made it to theaters, receiving mixed reviews from both audiences and critics alike.
Noted for its musical numbers, disco scene, and the idea that three stranded aliens not only have two hearts, but incredibly long tongues, the film has become something of a cult classic. Despite merely having a supporting role as the alien “Wiploc,” Jim Carrey’s career would eventually eclipse the others’ by miles.
Revenge Of The Creature (1955)
Yes, “Dirty Harry” himself was in this little-known sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The film is noted for being the only 3-D sequel to a 3-D film in history, and also for being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The plot picks up where the previous film left off, with the Creature being captured and confined to an aquarium in Florida. During its captivity, it falls in love with one of the scientists studying it—this forms part of a bizarre love triangle as the object of its affections is also in love with one of her fellow scientists. The creature eventually escapes and takes its beloved to the ocean (for the honeymoon, one can gather). Eventually, the other scientist tracks it down and rescues her from its clutches.
Clint Eastwood plays a minor role in the film as a lab technician named Jennings. Thankfully for his career, this appearance is brief, with his role consisting of him arguing with one of the main scientists studying the creature about whether it ate a lab rat or not. Still, this was his first role in a Hollywood feature film, and it would open the door for him to a career filled with iconic roles as both actor and director.
The Party At Kitty And Stud’s (1970)
Earning $200 for two days’ work, Sylvester Stallone landed the starring role in a softcore pornographic film called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (later re-released as The Italian Stallion and even Bocky, after Stallone and his Rocky Balboa character became famous). Stallone himself has always hated this film—he only agreed to it out of desperation, as he was homeless and sleeping in a bus station at the time. In his words during a Playboy Magazine interview, “It was either do that movie or rob someone because I was at the end—at the very end—of my rope.”
Despite its reputation, the film is very tame by today’s standards and features very little in the way of graphic sex. That being said, sometimes re-releases splice in hardcore sex footage starring replacement actors who bear some similarity to Stallone. However, few have fallen for this trickery and the film has continually failed to gain any real recognition or success. We’re sure Stallone is eternally thankful for this.
Masters Of The Universe (1987)
Anyone who grew up during the 1980s will remember He-Man, the barbarian warrior toy which not only spawned a Saturday morning cartoon, but a full-length feature film as well. What few know is that “Friends” star Courteney Cox appeared in this film as well—much to her regret, as the film was both a critical and commercial failure.
Running over budget and entirely unfaithful to the source material, this film was lauded as a “Star Wars rip-off” and even a subtlety disguised “gay love story.” The plot, however, involves He-Man rescuing an Earth girl (Cox) from the clutches of Skeletor after she unknowingly found the “Cosmic Key,” an artifact which allows travel to any place or time in the universe.
Most fans of the toy line have written off this film as a bad mistake and cheap marketing ploy, and one can be sure Courteney herself has done likewise. The filmed bombed badly and quickly, going from No. 1 in the box office its first week of release to dropping off the chart immediately after. It failed to even make its money back, ultimately grossing $17 million against a $22 million budget.
Cannon Studios, the production company behind Masters of the Universe, went bankrupt partly because of this film. Due to that fact alone, it is amazing that Courteney Cox’s career and fame rose to the levels it eventually did.
BMX Bandits (1983)
Seen above promoting the movie on Australian TV, Nicole Kidman’s first starring role was in a film called BMX Bandits. The plot involves a trio of teenagers whose lives become entangled with those of a gang of bank robbers after they discover a box full of walkie-talkies that can pick up police radio frequencies. The bandits—desperate to get the devices back—end up chasing the trio through Sydney in bungling attempts to rub them out. In the end, the inept robbers are foiled and the kids live happily ever after, it being a children’s comedy and all.
Chosen from more than 200 actresses who auditioned for the part, Kidman had to receive training on how to ride a BMX bike properly, even though she had a stunt double (an 18-year-old man in a wig) for the most difficult scenes. Despite both the training and the stuntman, Nicole still managed to sprain her ankle during filming by jumping over a gravestone.
This film would lead to Kidman landing parts in many low-budget Australian films—such as Nightmaster—before she would be recognized by American audiences for her role in the thriller Dead Calm. After that film’s success, her career took off, and she was never forced to ride another BMX again.
The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976)
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane was made in the same year as Taxi Driver—the films were certainly of a different quality, but combined they led Jodie Foster down the path to winning two Academy Awards in the future.
The plot involves a child whose parents divorce—and as a result, she is hidden away by her father in a remote town so her mother cannot gain custody of her. Soon after, he commits suicide and leaves her to fend for herself. Suspicions are raised in the town from various people—ranging from her landlady to the landlady’s pedophile son. A series of devious moves on the girl’s part and a few fortunate circumstances prevent anyone in the town from finding out her secret, and in the end she is left in peace.
Foster, who was 13 at the time of filming, objected to the film on many levels, and has always stated that she regrets choosing it as her film debut. According to her, “when people are there to simply do a job that they don’t have any passion for, those are nearly always bad films.”
Her biggest issue probably concerns the inclusion of a full nude scene involving her character. As she was only 13, her older sister, Connie, was used as a double for that scene. This, plus a scene involving a lit cigarette and a hamster, caused Jodie a lot of stress during filming and led her to eventually disown the film. Despite her hatred of the film, it is notable for several reasons—it stars Martin Sheen as the pedophile, and its soundtrack was composed by Howard Shore (who would also go on to have much success in Hollywood).
A Certain Sacrifice (1979)
A Certain Sacrifice is a film so bad that Madonna herself tried to have it banned from release. Despite popular notion, this film is not pornography, but rather a failed attempt at a thriller/drama involving streetwalkers and Satanic sacrifices. Madonna herself only appears topless during two scenes, as the rest of the movie plays out as a surreal tale of revenge.
The film hit theaters in 1985, just as Madonna’s musical career was taking off (though it was actually made six years prior). Like Stallone, Madonna only did the film out of desperation (she received a cool $100 for her work) and never thought it would come back to haunt her. She was reportedly so mad over the release of the film that she took its director to court. However, she lost the rights to have its distribution blocked.
The film remains a stain on an otherwise notable career (at least musically—she has appeared in many, many bad films since then) and is at best a curiosity piece. Much time has passed since the film’s creation and many people aren’t even aware that it exists, although midnight screenings still occur from time to time.
The Cry Baby Killer (1958)
A cult film thought to be lost until it resurfaced on DVD in 2006, this film marks the screen debut of renowned actor Jack Nicholson as a young delinquent with a panic attack problem. Produced by Roger Corman, a known B-movie director, The Cry Baby Killer is about as amateurish and nonsensical as most of his other works. Seeing Nicholson perform is eye-opening to say the least, and cringe-inducing as well.
Corman himself has stated that this film didn’t earn him any profits, and he and Nicholson would go on to work together for 10 years afterward making B-film after B-film, including the original Little Shop of Horrors. Jack would not hit it big until the film Easy Rider was released in 1969, long after his relationship with Corman had faded from his memory.
Endless Love (1981)
Although Endless Love was a modest success, its biggest contribution to culture is probably its eponymous theme song sung by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Also, it introduced the world to Tom Cruise.
Scott Spencer, who wrote the novel that the film was based on, publicly trashed the movie upon release as a poor adaptation of his work. And although it stars some well-known names—Brooke Shields, James Spader, Jamie Gertz—most would agree that he was right, as the film is very slow and melodramatic and does not stick to the source material faithfully.
Thankfully for Cruise, his part in the film was very minor, and though the film was quickly forgotten by the public, he would not be, going on to star in such major hits as Risky Business and Top Gun.