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There comes a time in every major actor's career when they attempt to put the lighthearted comedies and inane chick flicks behind them and tackle a more serious role. The kind of role that will get them the one thing that every Hollywood actor craves: free cocaine. And also an Academy Award nomination.


The award is made entirely of golden cocaine [citation needed]

Sometimes, it works. Other times, not so much.

6
The Biopic

There is a famous Hollywood rule that we made up for this article that goes like this- if it worked for Gary Busey, there is no reason it won't work for you.

How effective is the biopic in earning Hollywood credibility? Busey actually scored a Best Actor nomination for playing Buddy Holly in the aptly titled The Buddy Holly Story.


Yeah, this guy

This simple formula rarely fails. Pick a deceased (or soon to be deceased) musician, artist or mathematician, make sure they're the sort of person the New York media could conceivably refer to as brilliant, insert a big name actor (or Gary Busey) to play the role; watch movie critics and audiences far and wide go apeshit.

The best thing about the biopic is that Hollywood is free to embellish the back story as much as they would like. How do you know Ray Charles didn't really walk on the moon? Were you there? No, so shut up and watch the movie. Speaking of Ray Charles, Jamie Foxx took home a Best Actor trophy also for his heroic portrayal of a young Stevie Wonder playing Ray Charles.


Seriously, this fucking guy

For Example:

Prior to 2005, Reese Witherspoon was best known for playing the ditzy lawyer in Legally Blonde or for playing the ditzy ______ in _______. Then came Walk the Line. By simply adopting a southern accent, dying her hair black and not cringing as Joaquin Phoenix spent two hours making Johnny Cash look like the victim of severe head trauma, Witherspoon walked away with her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Other Famous Examples Include:

Robert Downey, Jr. in Chaplin

Bill Paxton in Apollo 13

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth

Hell, Phoenix got nominated for Best Actor also. Seriously, this shit cannot fail. Unless you make one crucial mistake (foreshadowing alert!).

The Exception That Proves the Rule:

As insane as he may be, you have to admit Russell Crowe is also a pretty shitty musician. Fortunately for him, he's an actor. Up to a few years ago, Crowe got nominated every time he managed to leave the house without hurling a phone at somebody. Hell, it almost seemed like cheating when he took the starring role in the biopic Cinderella Man, in which he played a blue collar boxer who gave America something to root for during the Great Depression.

Crowe's depiction of former heavyweight boxing champ James J. Braddock was almost universally praised. After SAG and Golden Globe nominations, he put on his Oscar crapping diapers and got ready for an Academy Award nomination ... that never came.

Crowe forgot that to get your biopic performance lauded as ingenious, you have to pretend to be someone the Academy has heard associated with the word genius, or at the very least someone they've heard of in the first place. Braddock was a blue collar boxer and a family man. Hell, the guy didn't even have a heroin problem. Crowe might as well have been playing Gandhi.

Astute readers will point out that Ben Kingsley took home an Oscar for playing Gandhi, and that Robert De Niro took home an Oscar for playing a decidedly non-brilliant boxer. But astute readers are about to get served by trick number five ...

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5
Physical Transformation (a.k.a. Hot Chick Goes Ugly, Hot Dude Starves Himself/Gets Fat)

Yes, Kingsley and De Niro both utilized the Christian Bale principle of "dropping and gaining weight like a high school wrestler = extraordinary acting ability."

By comparison, the ladies have it easy. Many actresses who have built their careers on being pleasant to look at finally decide the only way to be taken seriously is to ugly it up for a role. "See? I intentionally ruined my beauty, yet still enthralled audiences! I'm not just a pretty face and pair of perfect boobies!"

For Example:

If there was a Mt. Rushmore for hot chicks who uglied it up for respect, all four faces would be Charlize Theron. In Monster, she didn't just apply a little extra facial hair or gain a few pounds. That wouldn't do the trick. Instead, she went from this...

To this...

The woman found the forest where the wood for ugly sticks is grown, then went crashing through it while strapped to the grill of a semi. That's dedication to the craft if we've ever seen it.

Would Monster have been an awesome flick if she still looked her normal, outrageously fuckable self? Absolutely. But Charlize went the extra mile, and Hollywood noticed.

Up to that point, Theron could be found slumming it in horseshit like Reindeer Games and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.

Other Famous Examples Include:

Salma Hayek in Frida

Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich

Nicole Kidman in The Hours

Christian Bale in The Machinist

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull

Ben Kingsley in Gandhi

The Exception That Proves the Rule :

You may have noticed that women can get away with wearing a less attractive Halloween mask, but we expect our men to actually undergo physical transformations. Mel Gibson found out the hard way that it doesn't work both ways when he made his directorial debut with The Man Without a Face, a film that asked audiences to imagine a world in which women didn't want to fuck Mel Gibson.


FAAAAKE!

Despite turning in a strong performance in a movie that Roger Ebert was gay for, the only recognition the film got were a couple of acting nods from The Young Artist awards, and even they went to the kids in the movie. Having learned his lesson, Gibson went on to sweep the Oscars a few years later with a historical biopic that climaxed with Gibson getting disemboweled for 15 minutes.

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4
The Comedic Actor Turned Serious

Much like the beautiful woman who learns to hate the fact that people find her beautiful, so does every comic actor eventually grow to hate the sound of laughter. "If the audience REALLY loved me," they think while making cocaine snow angels on their floor, "then they wouldn't CARE if I made them laugh or not!"

Thus, they take on their obligatory serious role. Some make the transition easier than others. Robin Williams, for example, seamlessly morphed from obnoxious "funny" guy to creepy weirdo while remarkably never breaking character. Could it be that Robin Williams has been creepy and off putting his entire career? (Yes.)

For Example:

Bill Murray briefly flirted with dramatic acting in 1984's The Razor's Edge, a film that damn near nobody saw because they were busy seeing Ghostbusters for the 15th time. After that brief dabbling in drama, Murray took on an endless array of comedic roles, some of them were classics in Groundhog Day, What About Bob), some of them were Space Jam. But he finally hit dramatic gold with 2003's Lost In Translation.

His role as jaded actor Bob Harris earned him a Best Actor nomination. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Murray would subsequently chuck his new found serious actor cred right out the goddamn window by taking on the lead voice role in Garfield. But hey, how many times has Will Ferrell been nominated for an Oscar?

Other Famous Examples Include:

Will Smith in 6 Degrees of Seperation

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (His previous credits included sitcoms, Big and Splash)

Eddie Murphy in Dream Girls

Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love

Jamie Foxx in Any Given Sunday (The role that put him on the map, thus allowing him to exploit rule #6)

The Exception That Proves the Rule :

We're not sure why it is, but "Being Jim Carrey" seems to be the only exception to this rule. As laughable as the thought may be today, we can say with complete sincerity that Jim Carrey should be an Academy Award Best Actor winner. After 1998's The Truman Show cleaned up at the Golden Globes, including a Best Actor win for Carrey, it was all but certain that he would at least get a Best Actor nod at the Academy Awards later that year. Inexplicably, he did not.

Instead, the award went to the clearly insane Roberto Benigni who proceeded to give the most obnoxious acceptance speech in Hollywood history. Carrey didn't give up on his serious actor dream though. He played the brilliant comedian Andy Kaufman in the biopic Man on the Moon, doing his damnedest to not be funny the entire time. In 2001, he played the lead role in The Majestic, a film that would have garnered a mountain of awards if the Academy recognized outstanding achievement in the field of making audiences want to punch a film projector until it explodes.

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3
The Outsider Who Inspires a Ragtag Group of Kids

Everybody needs a little inspiration from time to time. Some people (us) draw their inspiration from the magic of Jagermeister and truck stop speed. For those with slightly more concern for the well-being of their liver, nothing is quite as inspiring as a tale of long odds overcome, courtesy of a teacher or principal who is out of his element.

Also, for whatever reason, it seems to help if the teacher in question has his own naturally occurring dermatological challenge to overcome. Hey, we don't make up the rules people.

For Example:

Before making the leap to the silver screen, acne scarred Edward James Olmos was already pretty well respected as an actor. In 1985, he won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his portrayal of Lieutenant Martin Castillo, the only non-hilarious character on Miami Vice. But as Don Johnson would soon learn, it's a long road from television star to film star. That road is littered with bumps, potholes and unintentionally hilarious movie posters.

But Olmos was not fucking around. Olmos cemented his place as a respected actor with his role in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver. His portrayal of Jaime Escalante, a math teacher who turns a rebellious group of East L.A. school kids into calculus wizards, earned him a Best Actor nomination.

He would go on to enjoy a career filled with well respected roles in films like American Me, My Family/Mi Familia and Selena. Granted, it's no Nash Bridges, but it's a living.

Other Famous Examples Include:

Robin Williams's chest hair in Dead Poets Society

The weird stuff on Morgan Freeman's face in Lean on Me (the role which took him from soap operas to Driving Miss Daisy)

The Exception That Proves the Rule :

Like an inverted version of rule five, the less people want to have sex with you, the better this role works. Meryl Streep managed to get an Oscar nod for Music of the Heart, when she was well past the age that anyone wanted to see her naked. Antonio Banderas got laughed out of theaters in Take the Lead. Everybody was pretty sure Freedom Writers was terrible, which is about how certain most people are that they'd have sex with its star Hillary Swank. And the one objectively hot actress who tried it made Dangerous Minds, one of the most objectively ridiculous movies of the 90s.

It should be noted that, just as we expect our good looking actors to actually disfigure their bodies, we expect our ugly actors playing teachers to actually have weird shit going on with their skin.


"I will teach you to pay it forward with my face burns."

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2
Get Retarded!

Movie goers love the mentally challenged. Or rather, the quirky, innocent versions who show up in one inspirational movie after another. This is most likely because rooting for them on screen makes us feel better for avoiding them at all costs in real life.

For Example:

Before building a successful career playing himself in a string of blockbuster films, Billy Bob Thornton actually stretched a bit to play the role of Karl Childers, a mentally impaired man who befriends a young boy in Sling Blade. Not only did Thornton get nominated for Best Actor, he also won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and nailed Angelina Jolie. Repeatedly! And he didn't even have to adopt a fleet of kids to do it. Now that is success.

Meanwhile the annals of Academy Award history are littered with actors who earned buku actor cred by playing mentally handicapped characters. Dustin Hoffmann won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Rainman. Tom Hanks did the same with his role in Forrest Gump. Even the women got in on the act when Jodie Foster was nominated for her lead role in Nell. You 'member dat?

Other Famous Examples Include:

Leonardo DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape

Giovanni Ribisi in The Other Sister

John Malkovich in Of Mice and Men

The Exception That Proves the Rule :

In 2001's I Am Sam, Sean Penn swung for the retard fences and came up short. Was his portrayal of a mentally retarded man accurate? Hell yes. If you met him on the street, you'd be fooled. Come to think of it, if you met Sean Penn on the street out of character you'd get the same result. But that's beside the point. Even though he was nominated, Penn still went home with no award.

Why? As Robert Downey, Jr. famously warned in the comedy Tropic Thunder, taking on the role of a mentally handicapped person is tricky ("Never go full retard!"). To take home the gold you need to play the kind of mental handicap that just makes you quirky--or even better, gives you special powers somehow. You can't actually show audiences what life is like for these people. Who the fuck wants that?

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1
When All Else Fails... Go Gay

Being the kind of movie star who can do both blockbusters and award-winners means treading a fine line. You need to go edgy, in the sense that your roles will touch on controversial subjects, but not so edgy that it will turn off middle-America. So you can't do two hours of you in a dark room, shitting on an American flag while off in one corner a robot molests a child, for instance.


Or can you?

Instead, you need to hit that controversial sweet spot where you're challenging the beliefs of some people out there, but not so many that you can't still fill many theaters with people who agree with you (and who will purchase a ticket as a means of congratulating themselves for being so enlightened). Once upon a time it was racism, and then abortion. But right now, gay rights are where it's at.

For Example:

Who the fuck is Hilary Swank? That's probably what most people were asking when word of mouth spread that they should probably check out this Boys Don't Cry flick. Before that, Swank had a brief run on Beverly Hills 90210 and starred in Karate Kid Pt. 4, a film that we're pretty sure doesn't actually exist.


Except that there's evidence.

She was paid a total of $3,000 dollars for her work in Boys Don't Cry, but the notoriety gained by playing a homely looking dude was priceless. Overnight, Swank went from nobody to Academy Award winning actress. Her immediate success can be attributed to the fact that she is one of the first to stack the above techniques by going gay, biopic and ugly in the same role.

Holy shit, we're surprised they didn't just rename the Oscar after her.

The Exception That Proves the Rule :

Who are we kidding?

This...

Shit...

Always...

Works...


Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.


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For careers that were destroyed after winning the big one, check out 5 Great Careers Destroyed By The Post-Oscar Curse. Or find out about some movies that were likely cursed, in The Insane True Stories Behind 6 Cursed Movies.

And stop by our Top Picks to see Swaim's first gay role (he didn't know the cameras were on).

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