10 awesome performances in films everyone ignores

When it comes to movies, I always pay attention to casting and I feel it’s a thing that can easily make or break a film. In any event good performers can save what would have otherwise not been a very interesting film (e.g. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale) and in some cases a good cast may be the main reason to even see a film (Clue, Bram Stoker’s Dracula).

However, there are then fantastic performances that fly completely under the radar and people completely ignore either because of the other actors’ performances, because the characters played aren’t at the focus of the story or, sometimes, simply because the film in which they performed wasn’t very well received.

This list is dedicated to those performances which I feel deserve more attention than they have received. I hope people decide to give a few of these movies a watch. Also feel free to name other forgotten awesome acting performances in the comments. I would have made a list of honourable mentions but if I had, we’d be here all day.

Let’s get on with it…

#1. Frank Langella as Skeletor (Masters of the Universe)

Frank Langella is an actor who I think is essentially incapable of giving a bad performance, whether in relatively minor roles (as the villainous dean in Junior) or when playing well established movie villains (the 1979 version of Dracula). However, it’s the role that introduced me to the acting excellence of Langella which I feel gets criminally under-appreciated simply because the movie itself was a dud at the box-office.

And that of course is Langella’s brilliant performance as the Master of Snake Mountain in the highly under-rated 1987 film adaption of Masters of the Universe (which is due to receive a new film adaption in 2019). What speaks volumes about Langella’s talent is the fact that he was literally hired at the last second when several other Hollywood big hitters had turned down the role.

Yet Langella owns the part. His brilliant make-up and detailed costume give him a strong look but its his strong mannerisms and that powerful Langella voice that make the role so memorable. Mr. Langella has himself said that he loved the role despite the layers of uncomfortable make up he was forced to wear.

MOTU 1987 is generally a very overlooked classic 80s film and if there is one actor whose performance demands respect it’s Langella’s (and on equal ground, the late Billy Barty as Gwildor).

#2. Deborah Kara Unger as Dahlia (Silent Hill)

I’ve actually pointed out this excellent performance before in my list of best performances in video-game films, but I feel this needs to be repeated. Silent Hill is still unquestionably the best movie based on a video-game and I feel it’s slowly beginning to acquire the respect it deserves both from fans of the games and the horror film community as a whole. It’s one of the most visceral and powerful movies I’ve ever seen.

And one of the things which makes it so excellent is Dahlia, the mother of Alessa, the girl who takes her revenge on the citizens of Silent Hill by damning it in an eternal mist and spawning horrifying monsters to punish them. Dahlia is a weird ghostly figure who taunts and is taunted by the townspeople.

Already in her first encounter with Rose, she’s plenty creepy, but she keeps on appearing in the background of the film all the way through, adding some ghostly sorrow to the mix. Admittedly, she takes a backseat to all the horrors of Silent Hill, but I feel Deborah Kara Unger’s performance is just excellent. She even came back (if only for one scene) in the film’s considerably less awesome sequel.

#3. Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker (the Rush Hour series)

I’m continually puzzled by the hatred received by the Rush Hour films, especially instalments 2 and 3, which I’ve previously confessed to liking even better than the original. People always seem to want to put down the proliferation of the series down to Jackie Chan being a work-horse, Brett Ratner’s greed or something else equally petty.

But the truth is, if you’ve ever stopped to actually watch any of the Rush Hour films, the reason for their success is the golden screen chemistry of its two stars. Jackie has stated that Chris Tucker is pretty much his best actor friend and the joy of these two interacting on screen just comes through brilliantly.

Of course, if you watch closely, you also realise that Jackie clearly doesn’t understand all of the jokes he spouts (or why they’re funny) but just have a look at the blooper reels for these movies, and you’ll see that he is just as sharp as Tucker and that the two of them really do enjoy sharing the screen. Plus, their characters’ relationship keeps evolving excellently through all three instalments which is the reason I love these films so much.

#4. Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)

The proverbial Bond girls don’t typically garner huge praise for their acting talent (with less than a handful of exceptions such as Halle Berry) but if you asked who I thought was the single most awesome Bond girl of all time, Natalya Simonova wins the prize hands down.

Played by Polish-Swedish actress Izabella Scorupco (who sadly hasn’t been in many other films), Natalya is just a fucking badass. She survives the villains plot to destroy a Siberian military base, escapes with nothing but a dog sled, hunts down the ones responsible and continues to not take shit from Bond right up to the finale.

Yes, Xenia Onatopp (played by Famke Jansen of X-Men fame) is better remembered for her rib crushing thighs and is awesome in her own right – but I feel tough and scrappy Natalya always gets unfairly forgotten, just because her name isn’t just another non-subtle pussy joke or pun. And as for those proverbial acting skills which Bond girls infamously lack, Scorupco puts every other Bond girl to shame with her devastated performance (after Onatopp slaughters her co-workers) and her determined grin when she climbs out of the devastated Severnaya facility.

#5. Raul Julia as M. Bison (Street Fighter)

Another great performance from another video-game film, this time the often maligned but equally now a strong cult following-having mid-90s Jean-Claude Van Damme affair, Street Fighter.

Much like another mid-90s fighting game feature, Mortal Kombat, this movie features an iconic villainous performance by a highly talented person. However, whereas Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s iconic Shang Tsung is almost synonymous with MK, I feel fewer people bring up Julia’s amazing final film role from Street Fighter.

Julia carries the role of Bison not just with conviction but with incredibly gravitas. He goes on long, eloquent tangents – makes memorable threats and finally goes toe-to-toe with Van Damme. You do not know what acting greatness is until you hear a man in red leather quoting the bible while levitating in the air.

Julia gets so wrapped up in his character that everything he does on screen is just a joy to watch. I feel Neal McDonough who ended up inheriting the role for the disappointing 2009 Street Fighter affair, The Legend of Chun Li, should have really taken a few pointers from Julia’s brilliant performance.

#6. Pam Grier as Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is probably the Quentin Tarantino film which I hear people talk about the least. It’s disappointing because I feel it’s probably one of Tarantino’s best for the reasons why a lot of people tend to dismiss it. It’s not over-the-top and doesn’t feature people getting hijacked into sex lairs, but it does have brilliant characters and some of the best written dialogue from Tarantino.

Of course, its aesthetic is a throw back to the 1970s – but what also really sells it is the cast. The film is about a washed out stewardess getting wrapped up in a drug smuggling act by a heartless local criminal and her budding romance with a bail bondsman named Max. In fact, Grier’s opposite Robert Forster would probably deserve an honourable mention. The twilight years romance between these two is really heart-warming and the honest performance from Grier makes all the difference.

#7. Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin (Star Wars: Episode 4)

Another actor from whom it’s impossible to see a bad performance is Mr. Hammer Films himself, Peter Cushing. However, as much as he is recognised for his roles as Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing, I feel one movie which would not be the same without him is the very first Star Wars.

As the callous Admiral in charge of the Death Star, Tarkin coldly destroys Leia’s home world and takes no guff from his inferiors or even from the galaxy’s leading badass Darth Vader. Cushing is the precursor of the Emperor in this film, someone whose awesomeness owns the whole screen in the absence of the true evil of the galaxy. Even people who hate Episode I admire Darth Maul, Count Dooku gets mad respect and so does General Grievous. But I think Cushing deserves just as much recognition.

Incidentally, Cushing also had a hilarious cameo in the mid-80s Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker  production Top Secret! which is worth checking out.

#8. Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann (Ghostbusters 2016)

Love or hate the latest cinematic entry of the Ghostbusters series, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones became two of my new favourite actresses as a result of it. Jones’s parts in Ghostbusters are already well-known and, same as with the movie, you’ll either love or hate ’em. But if there’s one member of the new Ghostbusters who didn’t get to shine enough it was Holtzmann.

Holtz is the techy screwball of the group with a weird personality and maybe not-at-all subtle girl-crush on Abby and Erin. Plus, McKinnon’s physical mannerisms and reactions to things are just priceless. It’s a shame Holtzie kinda falls into the background (especially since she’s the one who designs the Busters’ gear) and I would have loved for there to have been a sequel just to see more of her.

So yeah, definitely someone who fell in the shadow of the movie she was in. I look forward to more similar performances from McKinnon.

#9. Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm (Fantastic Four)

The 2005 Fantastic Four movie at least has a strong cult following even if its been heavily derided for its comedic style (which doesn’t make sense to me). One serious performance which I think has been unfairly looked over by most with this movie was Chiklis’s excellent job as Ben Grimm. Much like Langella, you have to remember that Chiklis had to wear crazy prosthetics for the part yet his charm and character really come through.

Even more to the point (and what I think is the single most overlooked aspect of the first of the two Fan-4 films featuring him) Ben Grimm’s tragic love life and transformation were handled with incredible tact. His encounters with both Debbie and Alicia are some of the biggest emotional high points of the film.

I did enjoy the newer cinematic interpretation of Ben Grimm as well but I feel the mid-2000s version really deserves way more respect that it’s gotten so far.

#10. Michael J. Fox as Milo Thatch (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)

Okay, let’s be honest. You think Michael J. Fox and you really only think of one thing: Back to the Future. Which is fair as it’s probably one of the best series of comedy films ever made. However, outside time travelling DeLoreans, there are really few roles Fox has done that people remember. This one, they should…

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is my personal favourite Disney movie and a big reason for it is its rich cast of characters who are all extremely interesting and way more fleshed out than in your typical Disney fair. Most of all, I’ve always loved Milo, his enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge as well as his dedication to doing good.

Milo is a character who would not be as sympathetic as he is without Fox’s amazing vocal delivery. His performance oozes youthful energy but without losing that Michael J. edge that you love from him. Definitely this is a role people should recognise the man for just as much as being time-travelling teenager.

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