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The Five Most Overqualified Casts in Terrible Movies

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It's got De Niro and Pacino. What could go wrong?

Nothing helps market a movie more than a big-name movie star… unless it’s two movie stars. Or three. Or six. No matter how bad your movie is, you can just keep adding stars to the mix until the audience is so overwhelmed they accept whatever is happening onscreen. To commemorate the release of a film using just such a ploy (New Year’s Eve), we’re looking at five other films with casts that should have made up for any other shortcomings. Except… they didn’t.

1. All the King’s Men (2006)

Overqualified Cast: Sean Penn, Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson

When you remake an award-winning film that was itself based on a classic piece of literature, Oscar buzz is sure to follow. After spending a year on the shelf, All The King's Men came out as a boring, drawn-out version of a film people already beloved the way it was. Sean Penn’s scenery-chewing is the least of the film’s problems; director Steve Zaillian (who penned American Gangster and Schindler’s List and therefore could clearly have done better) beats you over the head to make his points. The cast, all normally reliable in their own projects, turn in clunky performances that make this movie the definition of "unnecessary remake." 

2. The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Overqualified Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Griffith, F. Murray Abraham

With Brian DePalma attached to a big-budget version of one of the bestselling novels of 1987, this Tom Wolfe adaptation seemed destined for greatness. That is, until the leads were cast. Tom Hanks’ all-American boyishness made him a poor choice to play an egotistical Wall Street trader and Bruce Willis, fresh off two Die Hards, made for an even less convincing journalist. Willis was notoriously hard to work with on the set, and F. Murray Abraham chose to not even be credited because of a contract dispute. Basically, the horribly miscast cast in this film hated making it, and the feeling translates really well.

3. Righteous Kill  (2008)

Overqualified Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Brian Dennehy, Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo

Before Righteous Kill, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino had only appeared together in two films. So, when director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes) decided to pair the two as a couple of New York City detectives, buzz immediately surrounded the project. Unfortunately, this pairing came about fifteen years too late — by this point, De Niro and Pacino were largely playing campy versions of their greatest hits. Apparently, the hope was that they'd be able to sustain their chemistry from Heat, or even spark some Godfather-like magic by virtue of being on the same set together, but apparently they both elected to just cash the check and sleepwalk through.  Not even a sex scene with Carla Gugino can make this film watchable.

4. Crash (2004)

Overqualified Cast: Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Terrence Howard, Michael Pena, Thandie Newton

Many praised Crash for its look at racism, but just as many saw it as full of blustery artifice, making a lot of noise about race without actually having anything to say.The cast is made up of a rainbow of one-dimensional stereotypes, each one more patronizing than the last, and the performances are broadly drawn sketches set to hammy performances (Sandra Bullock is Rich Bitch White Woman! Terrence Howard is Meek Light-Skinned Black Man!). Howard would go on to wow critics in Hustle & Flow the year after, and Don Cheadle was nominated the same year for his role in Hotel Rwanda. How they got stuck in the feel-good mishmash of Crash is anyone's guess. 

5. Heaven's Gate (1980)

Overqualified Cast: Christopher Walken, Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt, Mickey Rourke, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston

After The Deer Hunter, director Michael Cimino had enough clout (and hubris) to make Heaven's Gate, a sweeping Western epic. But almost as soon as it began, production fell behind schedule, thanks to Cimino, who tore down an entire set because it "didn't look right" and delayed an entire shoot until a cloud he liked rolled into frame. Isabella Huppert’s French accent becomes a character in and of itself, and her chemistry as one-third of a love triangle with Kriis Kristofferson and Christopher Walken is so bad as to be toxic. Finally, tales of cows slaughtered for prop intestines, real cockfights, and the "accidental" exploding of a horse are the reason films today now carry a disclaimer from the American Humane Society. Heaven's Gate stands as one the most costly flops in film history and a reminder that good talent can't solve all your problems.