Jack Black is having a go at a dramatic role this week, appearing alongside Nicole Kidmman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Margot at the Wedding. This got me thinking about comedians. I was originally going to do a piece here called "When Comedians Go Bad" where I would basically make fun of a lot of comedians who failed miserably as dramatic actors. Kind of like one of those shows you see on Spike TV, When Police Chases Go Wrong or something of that nature. And while it's true many comedians fail in terms of box office when making the adjustment from comedy to drama, there are a surprising number of success stories. Where many comedians do falter is not so much in the critical arena, but in terms of the box office.
As a result, I decided to rank the actors in terms of total success, both at the box office and artistically. And away we go!
1.) Tom Hanks
Now here's a real success story, eh? Once upon a time Tom Hanks was a beloved icon of mine from stupid comedies in the '80s like Splash and Volunteers. Now he's an Oscar contender almost every time he signs on the dotted line. Who would have thought that when he was busy stuffing his bra on the set of Bosom Buddies?
2.) Will Smith
Oh yeah... Will was the Fresh Prince! Big Willie's earned himself two Oscar nominations and enough acclaim to go around. He actually has the trifecta: comedy star, dramatic star, and action star. Not even Hanks has that kind of cred.
3.) Robin Williams
Williams is one of the most successful comedians-turned-dramatic actors on this list. He's also among the most talented. In recent years he has shined in serious fare like Good Will Hunting and One Hour Photo. He just doesn't shine in comedies (anymore). Oh, irony.
4.) Jamie Foxx
If you would have told me ten years ago that the gap-toothed guy who played "I rock yo world" Wanda on In Living Color would have an Oscar for Best Actor I'd have told you, "Homey, don't play that!" I no longer see Wanda when I watch Foxx in movies like Jarhead. But I do still see the gap in his teeth.
5.) Bill Murray
Murray is my favorite kind of success story. The guy was murdered in his first stab at drama when he made The Razor's Edge in 1984. Slowly but surely though, the guy has turned himself into a viable dramatic - and Oscar nominated - actor to reckon with. The problem is I think the public still wants to see Bill do more comedies and I think they definitely have had their fill of Wes Anderson collaborations.
6.) Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi struck gold on what was basically her first try. She broke out with The Color Purple in 1985, her second movie, which was pretty big for her career. She had instant credibility after that. The good news is she threw all that credibility out the window when she decided to mascot Hollywood Squares
7.) Steve Martin
Here's another pretty smooth transition. How does an audience buy serious turns like the ones in Grand Canyon or The Spanish Prisoner when the guy on screen was both The Man With Two Brains and The Jerk? That's no small feat. The only reason Whoopi outranks him is cause she has an Oscar. But who would have thought saying "yes" to a Patrick Swayze movie could have such lofty returns? It's okay, though. Steve doesn't need an Oscar. All he needs is this thermos... and this remote control... and this ashtray... and this lamp... and that's all he needs! Except this magazine... and this chair ...
8.) Jim Carrey
Poor Jim Carrey. The guy is a pretty darn good dramatic actor but he gets little box office love for it. Audiences just have no desire to see him go legit. Keep at it, Jimbo. You're bound to hit black at some point.
9.) Adam Sandler
Sandler's turned in at least three serious performances that I liked a good deal, the most recent one being Reign Over Me. They're also three of his worst films in terms of box office success. Artistic success? Definitely. Commercial success? I can only say what I tell Jim when I see him (which is never): Keep chugging along, Adam.
10.) Ben Stiller
Years ago Stiller went for the super serious turn in Permanent Midnight. He didn't fall flat on his face. He wasn't amazing, but he wasn't bad either. But it's clear that if he's going serious, he better be playing the straight man.
BONUS!! 11.) Chris Rock
Things got a little too positive around these parts so I had to mention at least one total artistic disaster. Chris Rock is one of the top three comedians working today. One problem, though: he can't act. He's smart. He's funny. He can't act. Even in not-so-serious fare like Lethal Weapon or Bad Company he just isn't believable. And it's a bad thing that his best performance in a movie is as Pookie, the crackhead in New Jack City. I love the guy but it must be said.
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Dre writes three times a week for Film.com. Email him!