Acclaimed actors who also make straight-to-video movies

·4-min read
Nicolas Cage as Nic Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate
Nicolas Cage as Nic Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

Sustaining a career at the tippity-top of your chosen industry is hard, especially in Hollywood. It doesn’t matter how many Academy voters you’ve wowed or critics you’ve left smugly stroking their chin, if your goal is to be around for the long haul, then you’re bound to make a few stinkers along the way.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Nicolas Cage. Currently riding a wave of praise for his film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — a movie that sees him go full Cage alongside The Mandalorian’s Pedro Pascal — it’s a welcome return to form for the Con-Air star and full-on acting conundrum.

Over the years, he’s starred in his own share of direct-to-DVD fodder but during a recent chat with GQ, he insisted that even during those dark days, he still brought his A-game. “I never phoned it in,” he revealed. “If there was a misconception it was that. That I was doing it and not caring. I was caring.”

Thankfully, he’s not alone in bargain-bin purgatory. In fact, there’s plenty of Oscar nominees that have been unafraid to lend their face to some questionable direct-to-DVD flicks over the years.

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Robert De Niro

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 09: Robert De Niro appears at the opening ceremony for the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2021 in New York City.  De Niro co-founded the festival, which is now in its 20th year. (Photo by Carlo Allegri-Pool/Getty Images)
Robert De Niro at the opening ceremony for the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2021. (Carlo Allegri-Pool/Getty Images)

He may be The Deer Hunter, a young Don Vito Corleone and one of the finest actors of his — or any — generation but even Robert De Niro has struggled staying in cinema at times.

A quick scan of his IMDB page reveals all his usual hits, but plenty of “what are those?” moments too. 2015’s Heist placed him alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a movie that largely came and went, while 2013’s Killing Season with John Travolta, 2012’s Crossfire featuring 50 Cent and Killer Elite with Jason Statham all have the gun-toting, awkwardly photoshopped posters you’d expect to find after hours of late night scrolling on Amazon Prime.

John Travolta

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 04: Actor John Travolta attends the American Cinematheque Presents a John Travolta Double Feature of
John Travolta may not be in blockbusters, but he remains busy. (Getty Images for ABA)

John Travolta’s five-decade career spans Grease highs, Battlefield Earth lows and Pulp Fiction-shaped unlikely comebacks. Earning two Best Actor nods (one for 1978’s Saturday Night Fever and one for 1995’s Pulp Fiction), the well known Scientologist has carved out a career as unpredictable, varied and fascinating as his hairline.

John Travolta in The Fanatic. (Dazzler Media)
John Travolta in The Fanatic. (Dazzler Media)

Much like Cage, you get the sense that he still gives it his all - and it’s a delight seeing Travolta really sink his teeth into daring new roles (See: American Crime Story). That said, forgettable fare like 2016’s I Am Wrath, 2015’s Criminal Activities and 2019’s The Fanatic by Fred Durst are hardly greased lightning.

John Cusack

John Cusack in Love & Mercy (L) and the Southern Fury poster
John Cusack in Love & Mercy (L) and the Southern Fury poster

River Runs Red, Southern Fury, Blood Money, Singularity… you’ll find John Cusack’s face on the posters for each of these direct-to-streamer releases — however the star’s screen-time varies heavily.

Despite making time for chunkier hits like Cell with Samuel L. Jackson and the US retooling of Utopia in recent years, the Say Anything actor clearly isn’t above the occasional big-paycheque cameo.

However perhaps this move is unsurprising, especially considering his recent comments about his own stardom and how big franchises are killing Hollywood hits.

John Malkovich

John Malkovich attends 'The New Pope' photocall during the 76th Venice Film Festival. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)
John Malkovich attends 'The New Pope' photocall during the 76th Venice Film Festival. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Visit John Malkovich’s IMDB résumé and you’ll discover he has 15 projects currently in various stages of production; a handy reminder that this guy makes a lot of stuff.

Rather unsurprisingly then, it’s a little less shocking to learn that nearly half of these coming-soon titles are directed by relative newcomers or co-staring unfamiliar faces. His turns in classics like Con Air, The Man in the Iron Mask and Being John Malkovich cemented his leading man status — which he’s seemingly had to rely on to reclaim his fortune via a string of streamers after infamously losing bags of cash to fraudster Bernie Madoff a few years back.

Mickey Rourke

The early 2010’s saw Mickey Rourke on his way to a major comeback thanks to Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City and Daron Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

However while the ride launched him to a BAFTA win and within acceptance-speech-distance of an Academy Award, just a few years later we found Rourke parlaying his newfound heat into lucrative cameo appearances in small budget indies.

Posters for gritty actioners like 2015’s Blunt Force Trauma and 2016’s Weaponized both feature his face lurking cautiously in the background — but its his overly-poetic voice-over in alien-doc Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers that has pay-day written all over it.

Watch a clip of Mickey Rourke in Warhunt

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