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The 5 Worst Movie Star Performances In Musicals

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 14, 2012 3:14 PM
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Lost Horizon
Everyone in "Lost Horizon" (1973)
The film that pretty much served as the final nail in the coffin of the era of the mega-budget roadshow musical, "Lost Horizon" was a cataclysmic financial failure (nicknamed "Lost Investment" by some), and if a worse movie musical has been made, we certainly haven't seen it. An adaptation of James Hilton's utopian novel, although closer to a remake of Frank Capra's 1937 film, it's probably best described as a gonzo, hippyish musical version of "Lost," about a group of archetypes who survive a plane crash and are accepted into the "perfect society" of Shangri-La in the Himalayas. The script by Larry Kramer is tonally all over the place (the writer would later deride it), Charles Jarrot's direction is entirely anonymous, and the songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (who were on the verge of severing their creative relationship and spend the next several years suing each other) are both ill-fitting and forgettable. And while the film has an impressive all-star cast, including Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman, John Gielgud, George Kennedy, Bobby Van, Michael York and Olivia Hussey, every one of them is fatally miscast and quite often can't handle the tunes either. To pick one out would be unfair, especially given that we imagine they were all keen to forget the whole affair, but pretty much everyone is floundering like they were in an actual plane crash.

Clint Eastwood Paint Your Wagon
Clint Eastwood in "Paint Your Wagon"
In the words of one Bart Simpson, "Prepare yourself for the bloody mayhem and unholy carnage of Joshua Logan's 'Paint Your Wagon.' " Bart, sadly, was misinformed, but "unholy" isn't a bad description for a project that, frankly, is stunning it ever got made. If you've never seen it, it's a Lerner and Loewe musical, written by Paddy Chayefsky, with a three-hour running time, revolving around a love triangle that's more "Jules et Jim" than you might imagine. And those three actors? "A Bout De Souffle" star Jean Seberg, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. And not one of them can sing. Marvin is at least giving it full blast as a typically drunken layabout, and got a hit single out of it with 'Wand'rin Star" (although it may not have made up for turning down "The Wild Bunch" to make this, or for having a voice like Nick Nolte trying to open a creaky gate). But Eastwood? Eastwood is thin and wispy in the vocal numbers, like a D-list Bobby Darin, not what you'd expect from the Man With No Name, and never for a second looks anything less than totally uncomfortable on screen, clearly deeply regretting his decision. Unsurprisingly, he never went back to the genre.

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  • Anon | May 6, 2014 7:40 AMReply

    Butler and Brosnan were AWFUL. And the "raw" argument makes sense! He's supposed to have a beautiful, angelic, TRAINED voice. Leroux wrote that his voice actually sounded like that of an angel, and he sang the woman's part of a duet -- because his voice is GOOD, not raw.

    But I disagree on the Producers! "Tone it down" a bit? It's a musical! Musicals are meant to be more than just people singing pop songs in a movie -- there is SUPPOSED to be feeling behind the songs.

    And Gemini71 is totally incorrect in saying that Erik represents excitement and rebellion. He represents to her MUSIC. He is unequivocally her muse, and nothing but.

  • Random | October 1, 2012 1:04 PMReply

    I used to think Butler did an astounding job, but after hearing Ramin and the rest of the play Phantoms. Yeah, great actor, not a bad singer, but they all wipe the floor with him.

    Don't give me the "raw" argument, he's meant to be a musical genius with an unearthly angelic voice. He's supposed to teach Christine how to be a great singer for crying out loud!

    I actually didn't like Micheal Crawford at first, too nasally for my tastes.
    However, while I still get irked a bit by some of his notes, he's certainly grown on me.

    Then I read the book. I was horrified by what Butler did to the Phantom. So toned down, so not threatening almost relying on his looks in a way. They didn't have to gore him out like in that Robert Englund version, but come one, he was like the Twilight of the Phantoms. (He did do a great job, though, so don't attack me fans!)

    But then again, beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

  • Gemini71 | August 4, 2012 4:39 PMReply

    I disagree with Gerald Butler being on this list. If you think about what The Phantom represented to Christine: excitement, rebellion, edgy passion. These are character traits indicative of Gerry Butler's various on-screen performances. His voice was rougher, more rock and roll, and I think Joel Schumacher was right to cast him. He also, I have to say, choose wisely in casting Emmy Rossum as Christine.

  • Robert Connor | July 30, 2012 7:33 AMReply

    Lost Horizon cast couldn't handle the tunes? Damned with faint praise indeed, given that Ullman, Finch and Hussey were all dubbed by professional singers! Actually, I quite like Kellerman's tremulous tones in this, although her hoofing with Hussey in the library is hilarious.

  • Albert | June 26, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    I agree about most of them, especially the cast of "Lost Horizon", but I have to disagree about Eastwood. I thought he did pretty well considering the fact that he's not a singer. He's certainly got a better voice than Lee Marvin. And if you dislike him in "Paint Your Wagon", why didn't you include his singing in "Bronco Billy" (which I have not seen, but I did hear that he sings in it)?

  • sidsbowl | June 18, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    Hugh Jackman has a stellar broadway career. He's not my favorite actor, but the guy's very talented.

  • Spike | September 13, 2012 1:55 AM

    I want to see him play King Arthur Pendragon in a new version of Camelot; come on, Hollywood, the man's not getting any younger.

  • caseytheyank | June 17, 2012 11:32 PMReply

    Cmon, Butler should not be in this category! He has a nice, pleasant, even a good voice, but definitely not brilliant as some gals claim he is. I agree with Celtic Charm. Thought he showed fear, strength, courage, weakness and a variety of other emotions and was very appealing, even to some guys!

  • Todd | June 17, 2012 5:39 PMReply

    Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye Mr. Chips" was pretty bad. The fact that he can't sing a note is the least of his worries in this film.

  • CMC | June 17, 2012 7:56 AMReply

    I was very much surprised by Butlers voice. I loved him as the Phantom..he was both sexy and soft at the same time. His voice I thought sounded better then Michael Crawford who was way too nasal. I have both cds and like the movie version better.

  • Liz | June 16, 2012 3:13 PMReply

    I LOVED Gerard Butler in "Phantom"..As ALW said, the phantom has to have a rock and roll sensibility...Gerard's voice was raw and powerful. I remember seeing it in the theatre for the first time. I was awed, and the man in front of me when leaving exclaimed,"Wow! That gu's vocie ws powerful." I saw M. Crawford in the part, and I was so disappointed whenI went to
    Broadway...Everyone was so in awe of him..why? His nasal , girlish wobbly vibrato was annoying...I know he had his Stage Door Janes, but he wsn't sexy, engaging, or empathetic. His English Music Hall timbre of his voice was quite effeminate. Butler's voice made me see the movie twenty times!!! And I didn't ev n know hwo handsome he was in the mask! Lay off him, you jealous critics!

  • Celtic Charm | June 16, 2012 6:19 AMReply

    Every button was pushed on the "creative" perception of Mr. Butler in POTO, which is allowed. Not only did Butler step into an iconic role he owned it. Musically Gerard Butler became the Phantom but more importantly he added superbly the human condition to the character. To understand and feel his performance you must go deep. Butler portrayed the Phantom as a monster when needed. The ingredient that Butler had the ability to add to this famous figure, was a soul.

  • Leslie | June 15, 2012 8:17 PMReply

    Yes! Gerik's on the list! I used to like Gerry in this role, but I opened my eyes to other Phantom versions.

  • Ella | June 14, 2012 11:07 PMReply

    You are so wrong about Gerard Butler's performance in "Phantom of the Opera." He was superb in his portrayal of the phantom. He was sexy, romantic, scary, sad and emotional - fantastic! When my husband and I saw the movie in the theater, we were absolutely mesmerized and couldn't wait to see it again. The critics were unnecessarily harsh towards this movie. Both Amazon and IMDB have high ratings for the movie and most people loved it. Their comments are for the most part GLOWING about Gerard's performance. The critics don't even like the stage play or Andrew Lloyd Webber so of course they were going to hate the movie. I felt that this critique of all of these actors was totally mean spirited!

  • Sean C | June 15, 2012 5:53 PM

    Sadly, no, he was not. He was equally floundering when he played Dracula in Dracula 2000, but then again, the whole script was a mess, from start to finish, so to blame it all on him is like blaming the sinking of the Titanic on one specific rivet.

    Butler can be good in certain roles, but lately, ie since 300, he has picked nothing but bad roles.

  • zoe | June 14, 2012 11:21 PM

    "As pretty much every comments section piece on every piece we've ever written on Gerard Butler attests, the Scottish actor has a fervent female fan base who'll ride to his defense at even the faintest breath of criticism directed towards him."

  • cadavra | June 14, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Of course Lane & Broderick are over the top in "The Producers." They're SUPPOSED to be over the top. Do you not understand the concept of burlesque? It was Ferrell and Thurman who were the weak links, but we understood that they were cast so there would be a couple of movie stars for box-office insurance--and as it turns out, they didn't help, after all. "Producers" is an excellent rendition of a tremendous show, and in years to come people will look back on it and realize that "we" blew it the first time around.

  • Anon | May 6, 2014 7:42 AM

    I agree completely!

  • Sean C | June 15, 2012 5:56 PM

    The best production of The Producers, was the original Mel Brooks film, the Producers.

    I agree, Uma and Will were not great in it, but the biggest flaw was the Removal of LSD, Lorenzo St. Dubois. The character is hilarious in the original, and his omission was a terrible decision.

  • kingslayer | June 14, 2012 5:03 PMReply

    wow brosnan really went full retard there

  • Mikey M | June 14, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    No Michael Beck in Xanadu?

  • Sean C | June 15, 2012 6:07 PM

    Michael Beck is bad in Xanadu (His casting was a Joel Silver mistake that has gone down in history as one of the worst casting decisions ever.) but he never sings in the film, so he doesn't count.

    I'm surprised nobody from 'At long Last, love' was included in that list. Most notably Cybill Shepherd.
    Anyone who has heard her singing...then ouch, just ouch.

  • nolan | June 14, 2012 3:41 PMReply

    Pierce Bronan gave me a seizure 20 minutes ago

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