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Objects of the class “Whoopi Goldberg”

I’m talking about actors who are undeniably talented but are almost always in bad movies, or at least movies that aren’t worthy of their talent. Sure, Whoopi was in The Color Purple, but that’s it. Other examples: Martin Short. Michael Keaton (well, I liked Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously, but they’re still not worthy of his talent).

Do they have bad taste, or just bad luck?

What’s the opposite? William Holden. (I can’t think of any more recent examples of mediocre actors who’ve appeared in several great movies, but I’m sure there are some.)

P.S. This goes in some sort of series with Objects of the class “Weekend at Bernie’s” (which, as the commenters said, include Heathers and Zelig as well).


  1. Keaton was also good in Jackie Brown and Night Shift, and Beetlejuice had its moments.

    By contrast, I can't think of a single good movie Martin Short has had any major role in.

  2. James says:

    I have two:

    Cuba Gooding Jr.

    Christopher Walken

  3. C. Zorn says:

    Connect the dots:

    Whoopi Goldberg -> Tracy Ullman (via Jumpin Jack Flash) -> John Ritter (via Panic) -> Jennifer Tilly (via Bride of Chucky) -> Ted Danson (and Whoopi Goldberg again!) (via Made in America).

    I love IMDB…

  4. Keanu Reeves as another of the opposite?

  5. A related object class: Jeremy Irons.

    Talented British ators willing to appear in the most schlocky American films you can think of.

    Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are members of that class.

  6. Phil says:

    Robin Williams is another comedian who, like Whoopi and Short, is a name you don't want to see in the opening credits of a movie. He was very good in Mrs. Doubtfire, pretty good in Dead Poets, OK (but not great) in Good Will Hunting, but everything else I can think of — and I can think of a lot of 'em — was a disaster.

    I think he just chooses bad movies. His gifts for improv and frenetic kitchen-sink humor get tiring after half an hour, which perhaps he realizes, but he reacts by choosing movies characterized by mawkish sentimentality.

    I think Martin Short has the same problem, a mismatch between his gifts and the movie format.

    I'm not sure what Whoopi's problem is, or Michael Keaton's.

    I wonder if all of these people have fewer choices than we think. Maybe they had some bad movies early on, got a rep as movie-killers, and now never get offered good roles.

  7. Andrew says:


    You forgot Garp. He was awesome in Garp.

  8. evgen says:

    I think Robin Williams' problem is that the zany "stream of deranged consciousness" humor he is good at in standup or interviews translates very poorly to film. Oddly enough, his best work seems to be dramatic roles with a little wriggle room for humor (although I really love some of his creepy roles like in One Hour Photo.)

    If the film is a comedy and you see Robin Williams in the opening credits you are not going to be pleased, but if the film is edgy or a drama you might end up really liking his work. Some day before I die I want to see him do some serious work in a Martin Scorsese film…

  9. Dan says:

    Richard Pryor. Bad movies all the way (except "Richard Pryor in Concert")

  10. Greg says:

    Everyone's forgetting Keaton's best movies: Burton's Batman and sequel!
    Still, these may be cancelled out by Multiplicity and the one where his wife is a ghost on the radio…

  11. Oh and Brad Pitt is a stalwart member of the William Holdern class.

  12. CTV says:

    Heathers was a brilliant movie. I'm just sayin'.

  13. Citronella says:

    Funny, I'd put Michael Keaton in the other class. He was in my opinion the only negative point about Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns…

  14. Clay says:


    The following database, cross-referenced with records of Oscar nominations and critical awards, may be another good data source for answering this question.

  15. Andy Fugard says:

    Oh come on, Jumpin' Jack Flash was an awesome film! You gotta give her that one too :-) Because of that film, everyone knows the tune's in key b-flat.