It is an oft-repeated axiom that nobody sets out to make a bad movie. This may be true, but through sheer incompetence and hubris, bad movies still get made all of the time. Many of these films ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the television program wherein cheesy movies were screened, whilst a man and two robot puppets lampooned them. Most of the time, these films were littered with unqualified actors and lesser members of the Estevez family. However, on occasion, a good actor ends up in a bad movie. (Lest we forget that Sandra Bullock won the Oscar and the Razzie in short order.) Here are 10 actors who, through a cruel twist of fate (or the desire for a paycheck), ended up in a movie that was featured on MST3K.
The one-named actress who technically has two names was celebrated for both her acting and singing skills. In addition to being nominated for two Grammys, she earned Oscar nominations for Carnal Knowledge and Tommy. She played a love interest for Elvis! However, early in her career, she also played the femme fatale in Kitten with a Whip. In the film, she stars alongside John Forsythe, who played Charlie on Charlie’s Angels as a sinister, damaged teenager. Her performance, to put it nicely, is enthusiastic. Others may call it bonkers and unhinged. Either way, it’s certainly memorable, for better or worse.
Ann-Margret may have been nominated for two Oscars, but Balsam actually won Best Supporting Actor for his role in A Thousand Clowns. He was in a litany of well-known movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and All the President’s Men. But he was also in Mitchell, alongside several other notable actors such as Joe Don Baker, John Saxon, Merlin Olsen, and Linda Evans. It’s actually one of the better movies ever featured on MST3K, but that is the faintest of praise one can be damned with. Balsam is one of a handful of crooked criminal types Baker’s Mitchell tangles with. It doesn’t turn out well for him. You don’t mess with the chubby blue line.
He won the Best Actor Oscar for Marty. He was McHale in McHale’s Navy. He was in Airwolf! Yes, it was a fine, eclectic career for Borgnine, and along the way he played the role of “Grandfather” in the last movie to ever technically be shown on MST3K, Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders. You know Peter Falk’s role in The Princess Bride? This is basically a knockoff of that, but in a much worse movie. To be fair, it does have more evil monkey toys.
Yes, Beau is overshadowed by his brother Jeff, and perhaps even by his father Lloyd, who was in a couple of movies that ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well. That being said, and with all due respect to the star of Jane Austen’s Mafia!, Beau is probably a bit of a better actor than his old man. However, despite being Lloyd’s son, Beau still had to start somewhere, and that somewhere included the interminable 1965 film Village of the Giants. Basically, some douchebag teens crash their car, walk to a town, become giants, terrorize the town, and then become regular-sized people and leave. The only thing really worth noting is that, in the role of the young inventor who creates the formula that causes giants to exist, is a very young Ron Howard.
These two are a package deal, because they appeared in the same film. The resume for neither of these legends really needs to be elaborated upon. In 1969, they starred in a movie called Marooned, which was then redistributed as Space Travelers by the good, cheap folks at Film Ventures International. The movie also actually won an Academy Award, for Best Visual Effects—the only such film in the catalog of MST3K. Despite this fact, and despite the clear acting talent of both Hackman and Peck, the movie ended up being a bit of a bust.
The deep, sonorous voice of Jones is unforgettable to anybody who has watched the original Star Wars trilogy or The Lion King. Given his gravitas, it is not surprising that he was cast as the father figure to the lead character in the 1985 film City Limits. That being said, Jones’ presence is overshadowed by Kim Catrall, and by Crow’s song of admiration for her.
Lee has a knighthood, but, given his prominence within the world of genre films, it isn’t terribly surprising he ended up in a bad movie or two. Or, you know, a million. He did play Dracula for Hammer Horror, after all. The low point, though (and bear in mind we are talking about a guy who was in the Star Wars prequels), is definitely The Castle of Fu Manchu. This is, arguably, the worst movie ever shown on MST3K. It’s a confusing, dull slog and, to top it all off, Lee plays the titular Fu Manchu—who is Asian, which, of course, Lee is not.
Palance won an Academy Award for the movie City Slickers, which is a funny sentence to write, solely because it is true. But he had a long, storied career before that. He also pulls double duty here, because he was in two movies that ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There’s Outlaw of Gor, and there’s Angel’s Revenge, where he appeared alongside such notable names as Jim Backus, Alan Hale Jr., and Peter Lawford. At least Palance got to witness a Gilligan’s Island reunion of sorts.
Back in the day, if you needed a villain in a Western, you hired Van Cleef. He was the “Bad” in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly! He’s also the rare gentleman who showed up in more than two MST3K episodes, although that be mentioned with an asterisk. He was in It Conquered the World, and then he was in the episodes for Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II. You see, there was a TV show called The Master, which co-starred Van Cleef as a ninja. After the show was canceled, episodes were edited together and turned into VHS movies, and thus Master Ninja I and Master Ninja II were born. By the way, Van Cleef’s co-stars in It Conquered the World included Peter Graves and Beverly Garland, who are also in competition for appearing in the most MST3K episodes.
Yes, Vaughn was in Superman III, but let’s not hold that against him. He was not the problem with that movie, and he has better films and television programs to his name, even though two of the final films he was in were BASEketball and Pootie Tang. Before all that, though, he was just another dude who found himself working on a Roger Corman production—a great way to find yourself on MST3K. The movie was called Teenage Cave Man. Vaughn, apparently, has called it the worst movie ever made. Hey, we’ve all got to start somewhere.
Chris Morgan is the author of the book The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Twelve Classic Episodes and the Movies They Lampoon, available now.