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6 Oscar Winning Actresses Who Can't Actually Act

Updated on February 1, 2011
Helen Hunt
Helen Hunt
Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie
Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow
Renee Zellweger
Renee Zellweger
Reese Witherspoon
Reese Witherspoon
Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron

     This survey covers six Hollywood actresses whose talent and promise did not live up to the hype of their Oscar wins. All made bad career decisions after they won the coveted statue, even appearing in sub-par movies that didn’t do their questionable talent any good. Watching how many of these women’s career trajectories have turned out lately, one is left to wonder: can these actresses really act or was their win the result of a fluke or a clever ploy by their PR handlers?

1. Helen Hunt

     Try sitting down to watch Helen Hunt act in Pay it Forward and 10 minutes into the movie you’ll be wondering how the hell this woman won over Helena Bonham Carter (The Wings of the Dove ), Julie Christie (Afterglow ), Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown ), and Kate Winslet (Titanic ) in the 1997 Oscar awards. Helen Hunt not only plays the same uneducated, trashy character she essayed in her Oscar-winning role in As Good As It Gets , she’s just painful to watch, period. Not by a long stretch would you call her an intelligent actress since she spent the entire movie emoting her feelings to death, while wearing a perpetually worried and aggrieved expression on her face. As the single mom of a forward-thinking 11-year old, she’s nursing a huge beef against the world, her mother, her husband, her son, and her son’s social studies teacher because she’s alone, carrying too much baggage, and has no idea what “euphemism” means. In revenge, she takes out all her repressed anger and disappointments on her hapless audience, who is left squirming in their seats, repressing the urge to reach out to the screen and slap her face silly. Other actresses, like Sally Field in Places in the Heart, have played on-the-brink characters with full grace while the audience sits back and feels for their struggle and plight. It only takes a Helen Hunt to overact and destroy that empathetic connection. Does anyone even remember that she was the female lead in What Women Want and Castaway? Still, the question begs an answer: how come this woman won an Oscar?

2. Angelina Jolie

     Angelina Jolie is one of the brightest actively working actresses in Hollywood. She’s on par with the world’s best. She’s passionate, funny, sexy and compassionate to boot. She wowed critics and fans alike in Gia where she played a bisexual and troubled supermodel. When she won a best supporting actress for Girl, Interrupted in 1999, she practically stole the whole show from poor Winona Ryder who was the lead and one of the movie’s producers. But this was before she won the coveted Oscar, before her marriage to Billy Bob and the kissing episode with her own brother; before she reinvented herself as the go-to gal for strong kickass leads like the Lara Croft series and Mr. and Mrs. Smith ; before she won even greater fame as a roving UN ambassador and the successful half of the Brangelina power couple. She’s a famed beauty, an attentive mom, a great humanitarian and yet eleven years after she won an Oscar, Angelina seemed to have stuck herself in a bind, acting wise. The girl who stampeded her way to superstardom with her immense talent has morphed into a larger-than-life, clinically-immaculate Brand, whose acting persona is as icy and distant as the Aurora Borealis itself. Angelina has lost her sense of humor, her warmth, the tentative winning smile that won millions of hearts when she allowed herself to be interviewed during a humanitarian work in Namibia while three months pregnant. That Angelina seemed more human, more vulnerable, more real than all her latest movie roles combined. Nowadays, when we go and see an Angelina Jolie movie, we are treated to the sight of a haughty goddess who seldom smiles, seldom laughs, wears dark clothes all the time and seldom exchanges banter with her co-stars. The once lovely and warm woman has become pure ice. We know why she won an Oscar. The question now is does she?

3. Gwyneth Paltrow

     Gwyneth Paltrow was 26 when she won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love (1998). Before that, she appeared in several frothy movies including the movie version of Jane Austen’s Emma that singled her out as Hollywood’s latest and most pedigreed ingénue. (She is the daughter, after all, of actress Blythe Danner and TV and film producer Bruce Paltrow.) Paltrow was the “It” girl of her day, squired by Ben Affleck and Brad Pitt, whom she was engaged to for six months. Paltrow stayed in the game for one last hurrah in the critically acclaimed The Talented Mr. Ripley but it was downhill for the questionably talented actress from then on. Her bad career choices after her Oscar win include Bounce, Shallow Hal and the excruciating View from the Top. A one-eyed Angelina Jolie even stole a movie from under her feet in the sci-fi adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, proving perhaps that Angie can out-act a dazed-looking Paltrow, an eye-patch and green background if she puts her mind to it. Perhaps the last movie that called into mind the reason why Paltrow won the most coveted Oscar statue was The Royal Tenenbaums where she played a perpetually depressed playwright. Afterwards, Paltrow went the same way as other Oscar winning actresses before her by reviving, short of her 40th birthday, the ingénue persona that made her famous by playing third lead (after Jeff Bridges) in the smash hit Iron Man, which is really the story of how Robert Downey, Jr. rose from the brink of disaster to become a respected and critically-acclaimed A-list actor. Paltrow recovered ground by appearing as a funny, short-skirt wearing sub teacher in an episode of Glee. Her performance was great. Not great, however, was her turn as a washed out country singer in the critically panned Country Strong. There is talk that Paltrow will make another appearance in Glee, since it is well known that she can carry a tune. Perhaps this is where Paltrow’s talent really lies. To make a big splash in the small screen like Glenn Close since obviously the question of whether she can carry a movie to critical and commercial success has been put to rest by the dead-in-the-water performance of her last movie in the box office.

4. Renee Zellweger

     What happened to Renee Zellweger? The last time we saw the actress she was stranded in deep snow wearing impossibly high heels while parading before a group of hicks in the disastrous rom-com New in Town. Renee shot to global fame in Jerry Maguire, playing the sweet and loyal single mom to Tom Cruise’s confusingly aggrieved talent handler. A few years later, she took home a best supporting actress Oscar statue for her turn as Nicole Kidman’s hick-chick pal in Cold Mountain, and then, nothing. Well, she did appear as Russell Crowe’s wife in the so-so Cinderella Man but that was it. After her phenomenal Oscar win, Ms. Zellweger seemed to have channeled her creative talents into remaking her appearance: losing weight and obviously doing surgery to her face. One critic even called her rabbity, dimply pout “the strangest facial expression in Hollywood”, which means that Ms. Zellweger has gone the same way of other aging actresses in the youth-obsessed landmine of her profession: called on Mr. Botox to give her an occasional helping hand. Speaking of Nicole Kidman, she would have been in this list if the actress hasn’t gone and done quirky, challenging indie movies that not only beefed up her resume but added to her gravitas as a consummate actress. True, she has Golden Compass, The Invasion, and Australia in her list of duds but she has also Margo at the Wedding and Rabbit Hole to make up for it. Also, with or without an Oscar trophy, the lady can act, which is more that we can say about Ms. Zellweger’s questionable talent.

5. Reese Witherspoon

     Reese Witherspoon has the same career trajectory as Angelina’s: Formidable talent gone to waste after winning the coveted Oscar. Ms. Witherspoon is more known today as the latest squeeze of this and that upcoming actor than she is for her thespian skills. Ms. Witherspoon took home an Oscar in 2005, which has the leanest pickings of actresses for the best actress category. Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice, Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents , Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, Charlize Theron in North Country. When the picking is as lean as this, go for box office supremacy which is what members of the Academy did and why Ms. Witherspoon won. Legally Blonde? Come now, any actress worth her salt can play Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and still make it to the top of the box office list. The role doesn’t need an Oscar-winning actress to make it work, for Christ’s sake. Put a leggy, bosomy, blonde anybody in Reese’s place and Legally Blonde would still rake in money. What’s special about Rendition? Well, it launched the short-lived Gyllenhaall-Witherspoon affair and nothing else. Critics snorted at it and the movie basically died unmourned at the box office. Oh, yea. It also served as a launch-pad for Ms. Witherspoon’s much-ballyhooed makeover phase after her divorce from the equally talent-challenged Ryan Philippe.

6. Charlize Theron

     When an actress of Charlize Theron’s beauty and talent (?) stars opposite Will Smith and almost goes unmentioned in the press releases, it means she is in deep shit, Oscar or not. You’ve all seen Hancock, right? Did you know or even care that Charlize Theron played Mary, the other super being who was also Will’s ex-wife? Did you even recognize the Oscar-winning actress? Charlize Theron went the same way as Gwyneth Paltrow did in Iron Man and like Gwyneth fell flat on her beautiful face. Lately, Ms. Theron has been absent as well from the red carpets of Hollywood’s major awards night. The only good thing Ms. Theron hasn’t done in service to her “art” is have her well-chiseled face remade like many of her unfortunate contemporaries.


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    • profile image


      10 months ago

      Since when did acting equate to being yourself in every role? So boring and predictable. It used to be about convincing us you were someone else. Look at Gary Oldman for a prime example of what acting should be.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Marlee Matlin can't act! Hearing judges could not tell if she deserved the awards. She can't even cry on the set.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Halle Berry is an awful actress and is currently bringing down what could be a great tv show. I never thought she was oscar worthy - she just happened to put in an ok performance in the right year

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Jolie is horrible. All she does is purse her lips and squint her eyes.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I think you make some very strong points. Too many audiences mistake the cachet of Oscar attention for actual acting ability. I'm afraid the two are not mutually exclusive. There have been some horrible choices in both nominees and winners in both 'Actor' and 'Actress' categories over the years. I will be one of the minority in saying that although Cate Blanchett has talent, I think she is insufferable on-screen. I never believe her in many roles because she tries to hard to steal scenes from her fellow performers. I thought everybody aside from her was great in "Blue Jasmine". With Cate I know I am watching a performance. She never allows me to forget that fact. I don't judge acting ability or range anywhere near as much as believability. Cate is too mechanical, I can see the wheels turning behind her eyes.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Interesting list: which I think would have as many disagreeing with your conclusions as would supporting them.

      However, there are many Oscar winners whose worthiness few would deny, e.g. Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Connelly, Katherine Hepburn, Betty Davis, et al.

      The future also looks bright with the emergence of exceptionally talented young actresses who have announced their arrival in the last few years (Jennifer Lawrence, Saoirse Ronan, Abigail Breslin, Chloe Moritz and several others).

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I think Halle Berry should be added to this list. She's done abysmal and really is only known for her ever-changing personal life. I agree with your list- these actresses have something that made them when the Oscar but did not find the work that suits them afterward. I definitely think this serves as proof there is a best-actress Oscar curse. Great job!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      5 years ago from London, England

      Interesting hub but I agree with ar.colton. In my opinion these are all good actresses and some of them sure do brighten up the screen. :)

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 

      5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I wonder if you haven't seem the great work some of these women have done.

      Jolie - Girl, Interrupted + Gia

      Witherspoon - Walk the Line

      Charlize Theron - Monster + The Astronaut's Wife

      Renee Zellweger - Down With Love + Cold Mountain

      Gwythen Paltrow- Proof + Se7en

      Helent Hunt I can't say, she was before my time. But I would suggest doing your research before writing hubs like this.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      5 years ago from Pune, India


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This list is horrible. How did you even learn to write? Oh, you shouldn't be a writer. did you see Jolie in Girl, Interrupted? And Reese is a beautiful actor. Ok, watch Man in the Moon. You make me want to vomit. Bad movies don't make bad actors. Tom Hardy has done his share of crap movies but the guy is currently the most in demand actor in Hollywood right now and his performances (even in bad movies) is chillingly good.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Charlize Theron has a perfect face. And I mean literally perfect. These other women are heinous trolls compared to Charlize. As for her acting, it is serviceable. Way better than squinty Hunt and squinty/pouty Zellweger. Slightly better than artificial Angelina and boring Paltrow. I would say on par with Witherspoon.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      yeah, I was actually wondering if somebody on this planet would agree with me about Chalize Theron...I know she tries hard to choose interesting roles like in Monster, and is not afraid to look ugly etc...but still! I believe that doesn't matter what character she performs, she still lacks depth...I dont know...something is missing in her way of acting.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You can't write, filthy whore! How's THAT for criticism???

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      How can leave out Halle Berry. She is the most undeserving of all.

    • funmontrealgirl profile image


      7 years ago from Montreal

      There seems to be a pattern here in your list. These actresses after winning an Oscar, so-so movies after? I think some of them have the talent but not all of them have been given the chance to be selective in their scripts and the movies they make.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Dude, kinda harsh, doncha think? First off, I'm going to echo everything that DASAMERMAN wrote and add some additional ideas. Some of these women are quite gifted and should not be judged on their talent based upon the movies/scripts they have chosen. Let's face it, the industry throws boatloads of $$ at these actors and since they never know when the next job is going to come along, they often take the $$ and run. Understandable, if you ask me. Also, as women in an industry that values youth and beauty, the clock is ticking and it's a crap shoot as to who is going to last past age 40. Which, by the way, RARELY happens to men in the industry. Lastly, I think it's important to point out that the Oscars, like every other award ceremony are HIGHLY political and the winner isn't always the "best", but often the most popular or sympathetic at the time. (see Marlee Matlin). Frankly, I think Julia Roberts sucks and she's the highest paid female actor in the industry.

    • Cogerson profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia

      Interesting list...I think you could argue that had at least one great role.....and that they won their Oscar for that great role....but I agree with everybody but Reese Witherspoon

    • dasamerman profile image


      7 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      First off, just because an actor or actress hasn't been in movies in a while doesn't mean they can't act. Look at Daniel Day-Lewis. Over the last 20 years, he's only been in 10 films. And he's one of the greatest actors of our time. What does that mean? He's very selective and he's very private. That absolutely doesn't mean he can't act.

      Also keep in mind that a lot of these women have families to tend to. They're not superhuman and they can't always be in five movies a year. No! They're people just like us and they need to be there for their loved ones (I've heard having children can make things stressful. Maybe that's why Jolie isn't as cheery as she once was). And winning the Oscar simply means that you're more valuable in the business and, since acting is how these women make a living, it's not surprising that they would use their "Oscar-winning" brand to make a bit more money to support themselves and their family. Just because they were in some bad movies doesn't mean they can't act.

      If they couldn't act, then they would not have had such long, fruitful careers in show business. If they couldn't act, they wouldn't have won their Oscar. To win an Oscar for Best Actress, your performance has to amaze members of the Academy's acting branch, which is filled with talented, experienced actors who know a good performance when they see one. If all these ladies' performances have been viewed and positively judged by their peers enough to take home a golden statue, then they must have SOME acting capabilities.

    • Mamelody profile image


      7 years ago

      I do agree with you that all these actresses suck but Charlize did deserve her Oscar in Monster as she did deliver a good performance.

      But you must know winning an oscar simply means "hi welcome to saying goodbye to your acting career!" Most actors/actresses who win Oscars end up shaming themselves by their bad choice of movies.

    • Sarine profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Ohio


    • irenemaria profile image


      7 years ago from Sweden

      You are a tough judge!


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