There are a million actors in Hollywood and across the globe, all vying for a finite number of roles each year. For some it simply takes a headshot to find a break, others a painstaking process coming up through the ranks, bombing hundreds of auditions and finally landing that one part that shows the world what you have.
Others just release a sex-tape or talk about their famous parents… Hi Rumer Willis!
Today isn’t about the bigger names or the A Listers, but those that are perhaps well known – or at least recognizable – but never managed to scale the great heights and stay there. Maybe they’re not talented enough, maybe they declined or flunked the wrong audition, maybe they just have a B movie look? But for the most part true success eluded the guys n gals below, and when life gives you lemons sometimes you have to turf them, suck it up and forge a career in B movies.
The ‘best of’ B movie actors & actresses
This list aims to identify the sub-groups that tend to reoccur in B-movies, the names within those groups, how long they lasted and their respective high points (if any).
“Did you know I was a professional sportsman once?”
I’m not talking about the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar cameos or the Mike Tyson Hangover bits. Not even the tragic – and short lived – Shaq experiment.
These guys might be misguided enough to list their current occupation as ‘actor’, rather than ‘ex-sportsman’.
Strangely enough this charismatic wrestler turned B actor appears in two of the more under-rated cool little films of the 80s – ‘Hell Comes to Frogtown’ and ‘They Live!!!’, both of which are deliciously cheesy fun if you catch yourself in the right mood. And this is despite his prior claim to fame being a loud mouthed wrestler who rocked a kilt in his fights.
Piper seemed to know he was a one trick pony but milked his one trick well with a swagger and sense of cool that was as misguided as it was inexplicably likable.
By the way, imdb seems to show he’s been acting ever since, just in nothing you’ve seen or heard of.
Career Duration: Even saying ‘career’ is generous, but apparently over 20 years now, with two projects already slated for 2013!
High Points: Hell Comes to Frogtown. They Live.
A more recent entry, Vinnie can’t act and has no discernible skill aside from lookin’ ‘ard, but since being cast in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels he has amassed dozens of credits on both the big screen and TV.
This former soccer hooligan – at least it was onfield and not off – has been the quiet yet menacing guy in several films. In real life I am guessing that Vinnie is actually a bit smarter than he lets on, he has no issues with dialogue and seems to sensibly ‘stay within his lane’ and not try things he really shouldn’t.
A couple years ago saw a potential new path for Vinnie with him playing the silent serial killer Mahogany in Midnight Meat Train, as I mentioned in my review there was never a better role for the man; just stay quiet, look determined and occasionally beat someone to death. Perfect.
Career Duration: A decade and a ‘alf innit (and counting).
High Points: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Snatch. The Midnight Meat Train. All those times when he looked ‘ard…
An ex-skateboard pro turned actor when Kevin Smith thought him funny enough to put in front of a camera, Jason Lee – like Vinnie Jones – consistently plays roles that don’t demand much actual ‘acting’, more being likable while saying your lines.
To justify his B List inclusion more accurately; when your claim to fame is cameos in bodily fluid movies (Kevin Smith we’re looking at you!), a habitual loser in a sadly defunct TV sit-com, and more recently and deplorably playing alongside animated chipmunks, where else do you belong?
Career Duration: 15 years and counting.
High Points: Chasing Amy. Almost Famous. My Name is Earl (TV). NOT Underdog!
Honourable Mentions in this category: The Rock (Currently working his way back down to B). Every other WWF and WWE guy including Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena. A bunch of ex-NFL players including Brian Bosworth (Google/image him for a laugh), Fred Williamson and ‘Apollo Creed’ himself; Carl Weathers.
And Gina Carano your time is coming…
The ‘Too Cool for the Mainstream’ guy.
The Mainstream loves a cool good looking guy. Wait let me expand on that; the Mainstream loves a cool good looking WHITE guy.
Sure Denzel Washington might be the exception that proves the rule and Morgan Freeman and Samuel L Jackson might’ve gained acceptance through sheer career endurance, but there have been dozens of charismatic handsome dudes and dudettes that shined momentarily before slipping through the cracks to the B List gutters.
LDP started strong with La Bamba, gaining commercial success and critical acclaim. Then came the Young Guns flicks alongside an ensemble of ‘it’ guys, but look at what happened next; Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Keifer Sutherland went on to bigger and better things and Dermot Mulroney is still getting work, but in the decade that followed LDP saw a few supporting roles, a few ‘we need an Indian guy’ niche roles and a whole bunch of straight to VHS specials. Where is his 24? His Two and a Half Men?
LDP is still acting, still handsome and still mostly ignored by the public through no real fault of his own.
Career duration: 25 years and counting.
High Points: La Bamba. Young Guns. The First Power. Renegades.
Wesley was the unexpected cool cat in Major League, the epitome of black-guy cool in Mo’ Better Blues, New Jack City and Jungle Fever, then was even granted a trial period for a few years as headliner in his own action flicks with Drop Zone, Boiling Point and Passenger 57, but he never seemed to step up to the bigs.
The late 90s saw his face gradually move further and further back on the poster, he popped back into the spotlight with two good Blade films before the third either killed off his confidence or his career, depending on which way you look at it.
Since then he has either been too busy or too in jail (for not paying taxes) to continue his career, with an average of one credit per year in the last decade in mostly unheard of projects.
For a moment Wesley Snipes was the hands down coolest cat in Hollywood. But only a moment.
Career duration: 25 years and counting.
High Points: Michael Jackson’s Bad music video. Major League. Blade 2. Jungle Fever. New Jack City.
Now keep in mind this was pre-Morpheus Fishburne, before he got his eternal-cool card from the nerd kids and before his daughter rode his name recognition coat-tails all the way to momentary porn stardom.
Fishburne lied about his age to get a part in Apocalypse Now, then played various soldiers, hoodlums and henchmen for a decade or so, and while he has been in oodles of titles he never managed to strike it big until he shaved his head, put on the leather coat and picked up the phone to check out how his surfie hacker mate Neo was going.
It’s probably a little harsh to call a guy with this level of class and a resume of his quality B list, but then I didn’t tell Mr Fishburne to take parts in Fled, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and Biker Boyz.
Career duration: 40 years and counting.
High Points: Apocalypse Now. The Color Purple. King of New York. Boyz n the Hood. Deep Cover. The Matrix. What’s Love got to do with it? Event Horizon. Mystic River. Akeelah and the Bee.
Wow. In retrospect I was way off. I apologise to Mr Fishburne and immediately retract my nomination for this ‘All the way A’ grade actor.
Honourable Mentions in this category: Jamie Foxx. Vincent Cassell. Jeffrey Wright.
“Now I kick you in the face? Yes?”
Every generation of teenage boys needs a mindless well muscled foreigner to look up to. While Arnold and Stallone went on to big box office success vast wasteland are filled with forgotten fan clubs and misguided movie projects from guys trying to emulate the greats mentioned above.
Believe it or not the duo below are actually two of the more successful…
A prime example? Hell I devoted months of my movie watching spare time to covering 2 dozen of his best / brightest / most entertaining / films… actually more accurately seven weeks was wading through the tripe to get to the good ones.
JCVD possesses precious few qualities that warrant attention or praise aside from flexibility and a misguided sense of self-confidence – unless you count a haircut that wouldn’t look out of place on a Lego figure. Yet he has managed to carve out a career by selling himself by focusing on territories and regions ignored by others.
He saw a niche market in bare-chested karate flicks and turned it into a career. He realized that his mug on the cover guaranteed a profit if the starting budget was low enough and exploited this fact for a decade.
To paraphrase the immortal Blues Brothers film JCVD proved over the journey that he could play both kinds: tepid and lackluster. Despite this there is perhaps no better example of a B career than Mr Van Damme, prior to his minor voice role in Kung Fu Panda 2 he had barely scared the box-office and never cracked the 50M mark in the US, but many non-US regions obviously loved him though, with 4 such grossing films and several more just below.
Sure the quality level was constantly low and the budgets and scripts similarly skint, but Van Damme identified his market and spent three decades and counting working it – one shirtless split at a time.
Career duration: 25 years and counting.
High Points: Maximum Risk. Double Impact. Bloodsport. (Dozens of other movies with practically the same titles. They’re all the same.)
Unlike JCVD Steven Seagal has become such a cartoon that he has embraced it and turned it into somewhat of a mini-revival, with his own reality show, nudge-nudge cameos in films like Machete and advertising campaigns that pull the piss out of his famous seriousness.
The whitest wannabe ninja in history, Seagal had a short hot streak in the early 90s borne out of his sorta-karate, sorta streetfighting style. His ever present furrowed brow and girlish pony tail made him look like a confused waiter, and his decision to demand that many of his films show his caring and environmental side was perhaps a few years too early before such things became ‘cool’ – or marketable.
All this was unfortunately offset by the knowledge that this over-serious girly-hippy could no doubt kick your arse and leave you crumpled in a broken limbed pile of sorry (graphic broken limbs was kind of his trademark move for a few movies).
The mainstream moved on quite quickly from the Seagal era after Nico: Marked for Death and Under Siege, by the time the Under Siege sequel was released and consumers realized that a Playboy Playmate wasn’t jumping out of a cake to redeem this movie, Seagal’s career was for all intents and purposes, dead.
Yet somehow his pony-tail still lives on.
Career Duration: 20 years and counting.
High Points: Above the Law. Under Siege.
Honourable Mentions in this category: Jeff Speakman. Dolph Lundgren. Charles Bronson. Chuck Norris.
“Sure I can play the scene topless.”
this group of actresses to willingly disrobe and show their mammaries at the drop of a teenage jaw.
Career Duration: I hope it never ends…
High Points: Basic Instinct (Sharon Stone). Species (Natasha Henstridge). American Pie (Shannon Elizabeth). Piranha 3 (Kelly Brook and blonde friend).
Honourable Mentions in this category: Natasha Henstridge. Sharon Stone. Shannon Elizabeth. Kate Winslet. Kelly Brook. Kim Basinger. Heather Graham. Demi Moore.
The scream queens
A good horror movie is often reliant on two things; the bad guy/thing/whatever trying to hack n slash, and the primary targets of the afore-mentioned hacking and slashing.
Here are a few women unlucky enough to be repeatedly marked for death.
The original and the best. A few minor TV roles in the late 70s were quickly forgotten when John Carpenter practically revolutionized the hack’n’slash with Halloween, then decided that this young woman would be his cinematic muse.
Curtis immediately became the poor unfortunate woman under threat by all sorts of nefarious creatures and people in stuff like The Fog, Terror Train, Prom Night and of course the inevitable Halloween sequels – all the way to Halloween H20 in 1998.
Trading Places in the 80s proved that she could crack a joke – and that she had enormous cans and wasn’t afraid to use them, A Fish Called Wanda saw her hold her own in a great ensemble and Blue Steel was her only real leading role in a decade of supporting others.
Of course True Lies was a notable exception to the B rule, a huge blockbuster in which she had a major role to play, if there was one film to be remembered for I would choose this over Halloween if I was JLC, even though it wasn’t as much of a landmark as the Carpenter masterpiece.
Now resigned to family friendly inoffensive trash like Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Christmas with the Kranks, Curtis is now more famous as ‘can you believe she was in Halloween?’ and by simply being in the industry for so long. Something I think the friendly and unguarded JLC openly acknowledges in her interviews.
Career duration: 30 years and counting.
High Points: Halloween. True Lies. A Fish Called Wanda. Trading Places.
Upon imdb-ing Ms Wuhrer I was amazed to see she started out as ‘random hot chick’ in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane – though a memorable one – put another way her outfit in the minor role was discussed with the following “You got to shave before you leave the house in a dress like that… and I don’t mean your legs.”
In reality Ms Wuhrer could also be a “Yes I’ll do the scene topless”, but I was eventually beaten down by sheer weight of shlocky titles: Beastmaster 2, Thinner, Anaconda, Eight Legged Freaks and also a couple The Prophecy and Hellraiser straight to DVD sequels, along with sporadic TV roles.
It might be telling that despite a resume boasting 68 credits I can’t remember Kari Wuhrer as standing out in anything, aside from perhaps the momentary eye candy in Ford Fairlane – when in truth the role could have been any hot chick in Los Angeles.
Career duration: 20 years and counting.
High Points: You tell me… I only remember her from Anaconda because I watched it recently.
Shawnee Smith has been acting regularly since her roles in Summer School and the cool The Blob remake in the late 80s, her ‘sort of but not really’ hotness and distinctive nasal voice make her somehow familiar but aside from a few years in the sun on the underrated Ted Danson sit-com Becker she never really had a role that garnered attention.
Then came Saw, in reality a minor bit part in the original that in classic Hollywood style turned into a recurring role in each increasingly crappy sequel. She didn’t even get a last name until the sequel, but when all the stars jumped ship on the unnecessarily intricate ‘torture with a message’ flicks, like a junior staff member in an office full of soon to be retirees she progressed quickly simply because no-one else was there.
Ultimately as Saw lost its edge and increasingly turned to more pretty teenage fodder poor Shawnee was given the boot again, and in recent years she keeps plugging away in TV guest star roles and the occasional B movie, such as The Grudge 3 from a couple years ago.
Career duration: 25 years and counting.
High Points: Saw 2. Becker.
Honourable Mentions in this category: Danielle Harris. Amber Heard. Asia Argento
Amusing in small doses, can’t possibly carry a film…
Is it all that unfair to say that these gents are hardly leading men due to their… well… ugliness?
I would also have Kristen Wiig in here, but with roles in reasonable sized films like Paul, MacGruber and Knocked Up her position as B list might be understating things. Even if I think with her limited ‘under-her-breath awkward comments’ and ‘unexpected potty-talk’ shtick might soon relegate her to a career downsizing. (I am ignoring Bridesmaids because I hated it so.)
I find Jon Lovitz hilarious, his smarmy aloofness is at odds with his appearance and his whiny nasal voice is constantly used to spit disparaging remarks and ridiculous comments.
His inclusion on cast lists has momentarily made stuff like City Slickers 2 and Little Nicky more bearable, and of course his repeat visits to the Simpsons are stuff of legend.
But could you watch an hour of Lovitz? No chance really, he is unfortunately quite dreadfully ugly and that shtick would likely get old real fast – something my Man Rob Schneider steadfastly refuses to acknowledge (regrettably all the way to the bank).
Career Duration: 25 years and still a go-to guy to spice up a sitcom with a guest spot.
High Points: His small role on Big. The Wedding Singer. Little Nicky.
Johnny Legz has had one of the more gradual rises to ‘sort of’ renown in history. His early career is littered with ‘hispanic youth’ roles in gang related stuff and action films, but after Romeo and Juliet saw his star momentarily rise he became something of the annoying yappy sidekick or bit character.
This was never more prominent and successful than his recurring character in the Ice Age films, that of Sid the sloth.
But Legz has continued making a great many films, with his roles diminishing in prominence as the budget of the film increases, and I was amazed to come to the realization that I have seen him in 7 films that he has made since 2008, but I only really remembered him in two of them (the awful A Vanishing on 7th Street and The Ministers).
Career Duration: 25 years of lisping and annoying his way through minor roles.
High Points: Romeo and Juliet. Spawn. Ice Age. Land of the Dead. My Name is Earl.
Trust me folks this man is B. Time and career gravity will soon find a way for him to settle back where he belongs, as a bit player in mainstream films and/or a direct to DVD staple who ‘is really a stand-up at heart’.
Sure The Hangover(s) have seen Mr G develop quite the cult following, but Due Date and Dinner for Schmucks only served to confirm that we have already run the gamut of his comedy chops, and that all that is left is for him to continue the uber-serious but pathetic without realizing it thing for the next couple years before it becomes evident enough that Hollywood will chuck his bedraggled hairy fat corpse to the kerb to see out his career in cameos and the clubs – because even though you don’t make millions there, that’s where the heart is.
Career Duration: 10 years so far – two of them famous!
High Point: Is and will always be The Hangover – even though it wasn’t even that great. I haven’t seen The Campaign, judging by reviews and box office brevity neither has anyone else.
Honourable Mentions in this category: Bill Hader (but at least he seems to realise it!). Kevin James. Jonah Hill. Kevin Pollack.
He’s got something… but it’s not ‘it’.
These guys constantly seem to have something coming soon – often with their mug on the cover – but with no real justification for their existence.
Whether it’s thanks to background appearances or one notorious scene, the names below are happy enough to milk whatever limited talent they have for all it’s worth.
It’s fair to say that quite often I hate these guys.
They’ve all had a crack over the years. All managed to extract millions from an unthinking public without anything other than the fact that they look like their relatives to set them apart. Yet point a camera at any Wayans and they immediately contort their face into a twisted grin, adopt a ridiculous voice and start acting momentarily amusing. The result is we seem to throw some money at them before moments later wondering why we chuckled and regretting our rash expenditure.
In a pinch I would say that Damon Wayans was the original and the best (whatever that means here), but over the years we’ve seen Shawn, Marlon, Keenan Ivory and now even Damon Jr (!) entering the biz.
It seems that as long as they can breed we might never be rid of these mildly talented Wayans’s. Especially if we keep shilling out money for dross like White Chicks and Scary Movie.
Career duration: 25 years and counting.
Family High Points: The Last Boy Scout. Mo’ Money (Sort of.) I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. The opposite of what Marlon Wayans appears in next…
- I fucking hate Rob Schneider.
- I don’t care that he was on Saturday Night Live.
- I don’t care that he is buddies with other famous comedians.
- I don’t care that some people like him primarily because he is so pug-ugly that he couldn’t possibly be threatening.
- I don’t care that just counting the films where he has headlined he can boast about 200 Million in box office receipts. (Wait. What?)
- I still fucking hate Rob Schneider.
Career Duration: Too long.
High Point: The day after he retires.
It seems that half of my CD collection ends up appearing in half of my DVD rentals eventually. Yet for every Mos Def with talent there are a DMX / Fifty Cent combo. Even one hit wonders like Ice’s T & Cube have Master P, Eminem, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Method Man, The Game, Big Boi, Redman, Snoop Dogg and I could go on.
The jury is out on Common, Ludacris, and Andre 3000, and Marky Mark and Will Smith get pass marks because they have both been acting for way longer than they rapped… for good reason with Messr Wahlberg.
Most ‘careers’ go like this:
- / The pimp/gangster/pusher/rapper cameo for street cred.
- / The 4 minute bit part in the ensemble where you tell everyone you are now an ‘actor’.
- / The co-star role with Jet Li / JCVD / Steven Seagal.
- / The wacky comedy with your boyz to sho your range.
- / Back to the hoochie mama videos and courvasier.
- / Only for a select few; the reality show or the recurring role as the streetwise cop.
Career Duration: Ice T in New Jack was in 1991, and it seems it ain’t ever gon’ stop… these guys are going ‘till the breakadawn…
Group High Points: Boyz n the Hood (Ice Cube). New Jack City (Ice T). Ali (Will Smith). Pimp My Ride (Xzibit), not really…
Honourable Mentions in this category: The Napoleon Dynamite guy. Practically anyone who ever had a role in a 90s Sandler film.
Briefly famous, now eking out a career in the minors.
Then come the guys that often burst from the blocks into the movie-going consciousness, seemingly from nowhere, before a string of duds or a lack of opportunities saw them fall from grace.
But with nowhere else to go rather than fade gracefully they pressed on, taking any role they could and grafting out a career often spanning decades.
After the ‘use by’ date arrives most vanish never to be remembered again, however keen movie watchers will immediately know the following, even if they don’t always know from where…
The man behind another marathon, Rutger Hauer was most famous for being Rutger Hauer – the guy that was in all them Rutger Hauer movies. This despite the fact that most people couldn’t name more than one even when pressed.
But Rutger is perhaps the best example of B, he can nab a cameo in a big budget classy pic and not stand out as out of his depth (Batman Begins. Sin City.), then in the next breath be the headline act in Hobo with a Shotgun.
Rutger had his hot streak in the 90s by starring in some of the better examples of B movie goodness, before a steady period of deteriorating quality and returns consigned him to a period of – shall we say – inactivity?
In the last few years he has reinvented himself as the bit actor for hire with the aforementioned titles and recent-ish stuff like The Rite.
I hope this means he can hand pick his smaller budget stuff from here on, and having seen ‘Hobo’ I hope that he gets better at it.
Career Duration: 30 years and counting.
High Points: Blade Runner. Ladyhawke. Blind Fury. (Not even Rutger would lay claim to Sin City and Batman Begins as being ‘his’.
Perhaps the man who most readily embraced his position in Hollywood, (his first book was subtitled “Confessions of a B Movie Actor) Bruce plugs away at anything he can become involved in.
With the Evil Dead trilogy and the Sam Raimi enabled Spiderman trilogy cameos he probably has enough money to retire (perhaps not enough to ‘Retire Hollywood Style’), so he has the luxury of working on his terms. That means occasionally releasing a book, some TV shows to pay the bills (Jack of All Trades. Brisco County Jr. Burn Notice) and even directing and releasing his own movie (The Man with the Screaming Brain). When the mood strikes him he makes appearances at conventions, his distinctive voice can be heard on video games and animated films, and he indulges by making small-time documentaries.
He’s most definitely a complicated man, even if he takes great pains to convince you he really isn’t.
And in between all of the above he carefully – but not too carefully – cherry picks which movie roles he wants (Bubba Ho-Tep. My Name is Bruce. Alien Apocalypse.)
Everyone loves Bruce – even if he seems a little embarrassed by it.
Career Duration: 30 years and going strong.
High Points: The Evil Dead trilogy. In truth that’s it, even Bubba Ho-Tep is over-rated.
Jenny B was just a ‘kid’ when she voluntarily entered herself in the ‘Wet T Shirt with leggings’ contest in Flashdance. Since then she has rarely been the headline in anything but still can list over 60 separate roles.
In recent decades this has meant picking up the scraps discarded by others – usually in straight to DVD horror sequels like The Prophecy 2 and The Grudge 2 – but in recent times her ‘vintage’ has seen her graduate into the Mother roles, most recently in The Book of Eli.
Maybe the least immediately recognizable name on this list, but the fact is I have heard of a good proportion of the titles on her resume and yet would recommend none of them means I will reward her consistency of effort, if not quality.
Career Duration: 30 years and (according to imdb) still kicking.
High Points: Ummmmm… I seem to remember Vampire’s Kiss was OK?? The Prophecy 2 was alright… She guested on Frasier???
Honourable Mentions in this category: Jeff Daniels. Keanu Reeves. Charlie Sheen (it’s true). Emilio Estevez.
By my count there are well over 3o actors and actresses listed above (some thrown into the same bracket for brevity). Most had projects released last year and/or now projects yet to be released in 2013, yet there is a fair chance (unless it is a small part in an animated film) that you won’t have heard of it. An even bigger chance you haven’t and won’t see it.
But someone will… probably me eventually. Enough ‘someones’ to keep these good folks in the industry until they retire in semi-opulence or the agents simply stop returning their calls.
Or unless they get their call up once again to the ‘bigs’. Anyone not named ‘Leguizamo’, ‘Galifianakis’ or ‘Hauer’ might not want to hold their breath…