Here are some characters for which performers had to push their skills to the limit.
Each actor's career in the entertainment industry can evolve in a thousand different ways depending on the paths they follow and the projects they undertake. Some stars stand out mostly for their flawless comedic roles, and then there are those who truly embrace drama and manage to thrill the audience with each and every one of their performances. In terms of the kind of roles they choose to portray, things can also differ quite a bit: many actors stand out for their versatility and the range of characters they play, while others base their careers on portraying the same roles over and over again.
Over time, artists also stick to a certain way of performing that makes them shine throughout their careers. However, there is a particular acting style in which very few actors have managed to stand out for the right reasons: overacting. While these kinds of performances are often undervalued, when properly executed, they can lead a character or a film to stardom. Delivering a convincing over-the-top performance is not easy, but some actors have been able to do it successfully over the years, thus earning critical and public acclaim for their roles. Generally, these over-the-top characters are the ones that steal the audience's attention, keeping them on the edge of their seats as they tense up with every step the characters take. Here are 10 of the most acclaimed over-the-top movie performances in movie history.
In the 1976 film, Network, Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, the anchorman for the UBS Evening News who, after many years working for the show, discovers that he is about to be fired due to a drop in ratings. Faced with this situation, the man, who has been struggling for years, goes on the air and threatens to commit suicide live, which ultimately leads to an improvement in the network's numbers, saving his job and creating a different kind of content, but not for long. Joining Finch in this Sidney Lumet film are Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Wesley Addy. The role of Howard Beale was Finch's final, as he passed away in 1977. That same year, he became the first actor to receive an Oscar for Best Actor following his death.
The Harry Potter saga has featured a wide selection of villains and wicked characters over its eight installments, but there is one particular witch who, in spite of her villainy, succeeded in winning the audience's heart: Bellatrix Lestrange. This character, impeccably played by Helena Bonham Carter, was first featured in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, originally as a supporting character. However, as the movies went on, she gained more and more momentum thanks to her deranged personality and evil nature. Bellatrix is capable of extreme cruelty out of her love for Voldemort, which drives her to become the first female Death Eater and perpetrate atrocities in his name. At the same time, she is the only one who stands by him even when all his other minions turn their backs on him.
2016 saw the release of Split, a thriller by M. Night Shyamalan that served as the second installment of the Unbreakable trilogy. This production stars James McAvoy as Kevin, a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder who has 23 different identities. One day, one of his alters takes control and kidnaps three terrified teenage girls, who must figure out a way to escape from him. This movie proved to be a challenge for McAvoy, as he had to embody many contrasting personas, moving from gentleness to madness steadily. For this role, which he reprised in the 2019 film Glass, McAvoy received the San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor.
By now, Gary Oldman's versatility when it comes to his roles cannot be doubted. Among his most memorable over-the-top performances is certainly Norman Stansfield, the antagonist in the film Léon: The Professional. This Luc Besson film features Oldman alongside Jean Reno and Natalie Portman and centers on Léon and Mathilda, a hitman and a girl who lost her entire family and wishes to avenge her brother's death by killing his murderer, Stansfield. All of the leads in this production were widely acclaimed for their performances. Oldman, however, not only enjoyed critical and popular acclaim, but also succeeded in making the unhinged and violent DEA agent Norman one of the most popular villains in film history.
There is something peculiar that tends to happen in many Disney movies, and it is that, overall, the audience seems to appreciate their villains far more than their heroes. Among the company's all-time favorite villains is Cruella de Vil, who has been portrayed by a number of actresses in different productions, with Glenn Close's being one of the most fondly remembered performances. Close played this villain in the 1966 live-action 101 Dalmatians, a production that also featured Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson, and Joan Plowright. This outstanding actress was able to convey the glamorous and utterly unhinged personality of this fashion designer, as well as her obsession with animal fur that drove her towards committing major atrocities in the name of fashion. Close reprised this emblematic role in this production's sequel, 102 Dalmatians.
Robert Eggers' film The Lighthouse was released in 2019 and quickly became a hit with critics, mostly thanks to the performances of two of the industry's greatest actors: Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Lighthouse follows Ephraim Winslow and Thomas Wake, two 1890s wickies who must face a very long and confusing shift together after being stranded in the aftermath of a severe storm. Dafoe plays Wake, a highly experienced, misaligned and aggressive lighthouse keeper who keeps breaking down and seems to have a very complex connection with the light at the top of the lighthouse. For this role, Willem won a Satellite Award and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor, among other nominations.
The part of Annie Wilkes in the psychological thriller Misery earned Kathy Bates worldwide acclaim, as well as an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award among many other accolades. This Rob Reiner production is a movie adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name, and features a hard-core fan who kidnaps her favorite writer and tortures him into changing the fate of one of the characters in his novels. Bates is impeccable playing this nurse, who initially seems to be a sweet and harmless lady, but gradually shows her true colors over the course of the film, proving that she is capable of anything to ensure that Misery, the fictional character she is obsessed with, gets the ending she thinks she deserves, even if that means putting an end to her creator's life.
In the 1983 film Scarface, Al Pacino plays Tony Montana, one of the most iconic roles of his entire career. This Brian De Palma film is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name and follows Cuban refugee Tony's journey to becoming a wealthy drug lord that, obsessed with power and violence, destroys everything he cares about along the way. This character is wild, smart, and extremely violent, with a frightening and disturbing attitude that captivated audiences and made him one of the most memorable characters in the industry. For this role, Pacino earned a Golden Globe Award nomination.
Jack Nicholson's performance as Jack Torrance in The Shining is one of the most acclaimed over-the-top movie roles of all time. This 1980 production written and produced by Stanley Kubrick is another adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and features Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and Danny Lloyd alongside Nicholson. The Shining follows Jack, a writer suffering from a creative block who takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the lonely Overlook Hotel, a place that will eventually damage his mental health and turn him into a menace to his own family. Nicholson was able to add his personal touch to Jack Torrance's character, delivering a disturbing and aggressive performance that became increasingly uncomfortable throughout the film, thus turning Torrance into one of cinema's most memorable characters.
Rounding out this list is an actor who has made a career out of over-the-top performances: Nicolas Cage. While Cage has a number of exaggerated performances in his portfolio, one of the most memorable is possibly his role as Edward Malus in The Wicker Man, a film that is both loved and hated by many. This 2006 film is a remake of the 1973 film of the same name directed by Neil LaBute, and follows a cop who sets out on a mission to find his ex-fiancée's daughter on a faraway island inhabited by a group of neo-pagans. The Wicker Man failed to succeed at the box office and was heavily panned by critics. However, it is still worth watching for the performance of this one-of-a-kind actor, and also because it spawned some pretty popular internet memes.