Top 20 Amazing Overacting Actors

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Top 20 Amazing Overacting Actors

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
These actors have perfected the art of overacting. For this list, we'll be looking at the actors who notoriously go over the top that we love! Our countdown includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Travolta, Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, and more!
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Top 20 Amazing Overacting Actors


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Amazing Overacting Actors.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the actors who notoriously go over the top that we love!

Who’s your favorite overacting actor? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Bruce Campbell

Films as over-the-top as the “Evil Dead” series deserve an equally over-the-top hero. And Bruce Campbell is the perfect choice for the role of Ash Williams. The actor's expressive face and unwavering commitment to every role, big or small, have made him a cult favorite. Whether playing himself in “My Name is Bruce,” a mummy-fighting Elvis in “Bubba Ho-Tep,” or any number of small roles in the original “Spider-Man” series, Campbell gives it his all. He might refer to himself as a “B movie actor.” But in terms of great overacting, Campbell is an A-lister.

#19: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

One of the best things about “Seinfeld” was that the cast wasn’t afraid to go the extra mile. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus earned some of our biggest laughs for how far she was willing to go. As Elaine Benes, Louis-Dreyfus operates at both a physical and vocal maximum, shoving people violently during good times, and screaming in rage during bad ones. While Elaine can certainly be normal and levelheaded, once something causes a reaction, there’s little hope in suppressing it. And if you think Elaine might be in need of some professional help, you’re not alone. In an interview, Louis-Dreyfus referred to her character as “nuts.” That might be true, but we’re still nuts for her and her incredible acting.

#18: Adam West

For a certain generation, the name most associated with Batman isn’t Christian Bale or Robert Pattinson, but Adam West. While the 60s TV show was far more comedic than other “Batman” adaptations, it remains a delight thanks to West’s unique portrayal of the Caped Crusader and Bruce Wayne. Rather than downplay the show’s absurd dialogue and ridiculous scenarios, West’s acting style reinforces just how crazy it all is. West’s association with the Batman role led to typecasting. But he remained a pop culture fixture, particularly with his role as unhinged Quahog mayor Adam West on “Family Guy.” To put it simply, West was the best.

#17: Alan Rickman

There aren’t many actors whose mere presence can turn a movie from “meh” to marvelous quite like Alan Rickman. The late English actor demanded our attention both through his resonant voice and also his intense presence. His performance as antagonist the Sheriff of Nottingham in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is a highlight of an otherwise average film. And we have to partially credit "Die Hard's" success to Rickman making Hans Gruber as slimy as possible. A stage actor for years before he hit the big screen in “Die Hard,” Rickman might’ve played numerous villains. But he remains an acting hero.

#16: Christopher Lloyd

Would the “Back to the Future” films be the same without Christopher Lloyd as the wonderfully eccentric Dr. Emmett Brown? We don’t think so. Lloyd might have been in his 40s when the first “Back to the Future” movie was made. But he perfectly played Doc Brown as a nutty old genius. Other notable roles include menacing Judge Doom in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and bug-eyed relative Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family.” In all of these roles and more, Lloyd never lets his makeup or costumes distract from his pure zest for his craft. While Lloyd’s characters might not be “all there,” he knows how to bring method to his madness.

#15: John Travolta

John Travolta rose to stardom thanks to his incredible charisma. But sometimes, that screen presence stops being charming and starts being something else entirely. While Travolta can be subdued, in certain roles, he’ll unlock something that we’ve never seen before. Sometimes, this works, like his turn as mother Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” or his interpretation of Nicolas Cage in “Face/Off.” Other times, it doesn’t, like when he played alien Terl in notorious flop “Battlefield Earth.” But while Travolta could’ve just leaned on a handsome face and a nice smile, we admire him for being willing to take on roles that, even if they’re not always great, get us talking.

#14: Winona Ryder

In the 80s and 90s, Winona Ryder embodied a certain kind of cool vibe. But her most recent high-profile role is anything but relaxed. As Joyce Byers, mother on “Stranger Things,” Ryder is a basket of nerves who only becomes more frantic the scarier things get. While Joyce might seem a little unbalanced at times, Ryder shows how she’s driven by love for her children and will do anything for them. No one should have to experience what Joyce goes through on “Stranger Things.” But we’re grateful to Ryder for capturing these intense emotions so well.

#13: John Malkovich

“Being John Malkovich” was the perfect movie premise. Because if there was ever an actor whose head we’ve ever wanted to get inside of, it’s Malkovich. The actor has a knack for taking already-eccentric characters and giving them an extra dose of personality through his mannerisms, both physical and verbal. Many of these characters are villainous, such as his Oscar-nominated turn as an assassin in “In the Line of Fire” or ultimate inmate Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom. But Malkovich’s unmistakable presence means we can’t entirely hate them. While John Malkovich doesn’t usually lead his movies, he always steals the show.

#12: Adam Sandler

We’re so used to Adam Sandler’s comedic persona that it’s easy to forget about how jarring it must be to people unfamiliar with it. In early comedies like “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” and “Big Daddy,” Sandler plays characters who might look like grown men but who, in terms of maturity, act like complete children. And even as he’s expanded his range, that kind of rage and intensity has remained present. In his critically acclaimed turn as a gambling-addicted jeweler in “Uncut Gems,” Sandler reworked his comedic energy into something thrilling and disturbing. His characters aren’t always likable, but Adam Sandler knows how to give a livewire performance.

#11: Bette Davis

In order to truly understand movie acting, you need to be well-versed in classic Hollywood. And no actor, past or present, could ever replicate what Davis does. Getting her start on Broadway, Davis specialized in playing characters who were unsympathetic on paper and even worse in practice. But it was her commitment to playing roles like waitress Mildred in “Of Human Bondage” and jealous sister Jane in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” that made these films so memorable. Davis’ performances are as broad as her characters. And she’s able to reach levels of intensity other actors only poke at. There will never be another Bette Davis, which is why we continue to cherish her work. And of course, we can’t forget her iconic eyes.

#10: Robin Williams

Robin Williams could put more energy into one scene than most actors could into a whole movie. While the late actor turned in multiple accomplished and subdued dramatic performances, his most memorable roles tended to be his most energetic ones. In films like “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Mrs. Doubtfire,” Williams was a fountain of improvisation and incredible voices. And speaking of which, Williams also created one of the greatest characters of all-time using only his voice when he played the Genie in “Aladdin.” There was no phoning it in when it came to Robin Williams, and we’ll never stop missing him.

#9: Samuel L. Jackson

We’re not sure what’s more impressive: the size of Samuel L. Jackson’s acting resumé or the amount of energy he brings to his performances. Our favorite Jackson roles tend to be his most intense ones, where he uses words we’re not permitted to use on this channel. In films like “Pulp Fiction” and “A Time to Kill,” Jackson goes above and beyond to demonstrate unfiltered rage. And while his characters aren’t always monologuing or swearing, there’s always the possibility that they’re going to reach their breaking point. When they do, we feel like he’s yelling right at us. Is it any wonder he played a character named “Nick Fury?”

#8: Jack Nicholson

With his devilish grin and unpredictable eyes, Jack Nicholson is unlike any movie star. And the power of his performances matches the power of his expressions. Whether playing a psychiatric patient in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a murderous father in “The Shining,” or the Joker in “Batman,” Nicholson is fascinating to watch, and occasionally, a little scary. Even later roles, like mob boss Frank Costello in “The Departed” contain Nicholson’s relentless intensity. Nicholson hasn’t appeared on the big screen in more than a decade. But his charisma and acting trademarks continue to wow us.

#7: Tim Curry

Some people were born to play eccentrics. Case in point: Tim Curry. The English actor first came to prominence playing the stylish Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Since that cult classic, Curry’s resumé has been filled with theatrical performances, including the Lord of Darkness in “Legend,” Rooster in “Annie,” and Pennywise the Clown in “It.” Curry’s sonorous voice is so recognizable that we can tell it’s him even under mounds of makeup. While health issues have shifted Curry’s career focus to voice acting, he’s always someone who can bring excitement and gravitas through his words alone.

#6: Helena Bonham Carter

For a time, if there was a new Tim Burton movie coming up, there was also bound to be a memorable performance from Helena Bonham Carter. The English actress was both Burton's partner as well as a muse, giving films like "Big Fish," "Sweeney Todd," and "Alice in Wonderland" an additional helping of quirkiness. Beyond her collaborations with Burton, Carter has brought to life memorable characters like Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange in the “Harry Potter” films and the Fairy Godmother in Disney’s “Cinderella” remake. Though her professional partnership with Burton seems to have ended due to their relationship ending, we can still depend on Helena Bonham Carter to create characters as iconic as their costumes.

#5: Gary Oldman

Some actors play essentially the same character in every movie. That doesn’t describe Gary Oldman. When it comes to Oldman, there’s only one thing you can count on: complete unpredictability. Oldman also tends to go big. Roles like corrupt DEA agent Stansfield in “Léon: The Professional” and Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” each display different sides of his theatricality. A versatile actor who can play everyone from Sid Vicious to Commissioner Gordon, Gary Oldman knows when to go big and how to do it. When he finally won an Oscar for “Darkest Hour,” it felt long overdue.

#4: Willem Dafoe

In another timeline, Willem Dafoe would be a great silent movie star. He was nominated for an Oscar for playing “Nosferatu” star Max Schreck, and his expressive face has been put to great use by many directors. In films like “Spider-Man” and “The Lighthouse,” Dafoe steals scenes with only a few glances. And when things hit the fan, they do so in a spectacular fashion. And we, of course, have to mention his unhinged performance as an FBI agent in “The Boondock Saints.” When it comes to energetic actors, we’re something of Willem Dafoe fans ourselves.

#3: Al Pacino

He might be fairly calm in films like “The Godfather” series and “Serpico,” but many of Al Pacino’s most memorable roles have been ones where he starts a little hot and only gets more heated from there. Performances like kingpin Tony Montana in “Scarface” and salesman Richard Roma in “Glengarry Glen Ross” are teeming with a kind of intensity few other actors are capable of. Of course, sometimes Pacino goes so big, no screen can contain him. But we have to commend any actor who can play a “Dick Tracy” villain, Satan, and himself as Adam Sandler’s love interest and bring the same amount of dedication to all three.

#2: Jim Carrey

If there’s an opposite of deadpan humor, Jim Carrey has perfected it. The comedy superstar is one of the biggest box office draws of all-time thanks to his unforgettable on-screen persona. Classic Carrey comedies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Mask” rely on his willingness to play the broadest characters possible and then go even bigger. Within the first few minutes of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” we knew two things: We had never seen anyone quite like Carrey before, and we would want to see everything he did. Although Carrey has shown his dramatic chops in other films, we’ll always think first of his rubber-faced energy.

#1: Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage has made many great movies. He’s also made many bad ones. But what they have in common is their star’s devotion to his craft. Watching Nicolas Cage act is like watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar; he does it with so much passion, it’s like he’s inventing his own kind of artform. Referring to his style as "Nouveau Shamanic," Cage tends to say no to subtlety and yes to full-on madness. This has led to some beautifully intense performances in films like "Face/Off" and "Mandy.” Even if you go into a Cage movie thinking you know what you’re in for, he’ll still manage to surprise you. And for that, he’s our favorite overactor.
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