From “eh” to “You’re not even trying are you? You’re just talking,” to “Oh, God, my ears are bleeding,” here are 11 of the most egregious examples of actors proving that singing is its own damn skill set, so maybe it should be left to the professionals.
This is probably the only time I’ll write about Marlon Brando and Paris Hilton in the same post.
Tom Cruise, Rock of Ages
Help him, Xenu! Save your disciple from bad career choices! Not that Malin Akerman comes off too well, either. Or Alec Baldwin. Or… you know what? Let’s not talk about Rock of Ages anymore.
Gerard Butler, Phantom of the Opera
“He’s not that bad. I don’t know why people keep saying he— *gets to 1:51* Oh. Oh, OK. Ouch.” Butler isn’t terrible, but the Phantom isn’t a role you can play unless you have some serious pipes, and he doesn’t. Stick to Scottish Vikings, Gerry B.
Christian Bale, Newsies
Every time the world conspires to try to get me to take Christian Bale too seriously (WHERE ARE THE OTHER DRUGS GOING) I remember that time he singtalked his way through a Disney musical in the early ’90s, and I smile. Now, Newsies is a good movie, and Bale’s good in it - it’s easy to see why director Kenny Ortega saw his breakout performance in Empire of the Sun back in ‘87 and thought, “Wow, this kid has some serious raw talent and natural charisma and cheekbones. I should make him tap dance.” Unfortunately, Ortega didn’t think “but can he fucking sing” was a make-or-break requirement for casting Baby Bale as the lead in a movie musical. Baby Bale cannot sing. At all. He’s flat, his accent is whatever-the-fuck. He doesn’t even try. I will listen to “King of New York” until my ears bleed, but “Santa Fe” (Santa Faaaaaaaay) made the cut from my phone a long time ago.
Marlon Brando, Guys & Dolls
Brando was a lot of things, but “a good singer” was not one of ‘em. (“In a longtime S&M relationship with James Dean” was, though. Maybe. Probably.) Chalk “Luck Be a Lady” up as another one in the “OK, but I can just talk in a vaguely rhythmic fashion, right?” category.
Rex Harrison, Doctor Dolittle
Perhaps the most egregious of a lead actor not actually singing in his movie musical, though, is Rex Harrison in Doctor Dolittle. “If I were asked to sing in hippopotamus/I’d say, ‘Why not-a-mus?’” Really, Rex? ‘Cause you ain’t singing now! It’s worth noting that Doctor Dolittle is most famous nowadays for garnering nine Oscar nominations in 1968, despite the fact that everyone thought it sucked. One of those nominations was for Best Picture, making Doctor Dolittle the odd bad movie out alongside fellow nominees The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. (For a good look at the rea$ons behind why that happened, read Mark Harris’ excellent Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood.)
Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge
I might catch some hell for this, but… look, Ewan McGregor is not a particularly good singer. He just isn’t. It’s not as noticeable in Velvet Goldmine, because punk singers can sing like they’re gargling broken glass and no one gives a shit. But in Moulin Rouge he’s being called upon to belt out these big, emotional musical numbers, and his voice veers more into “THE ‘POWER’ IN POWER BALLADS MEANS SHOUTING, RIGHT?” territory. It’s something I am 100% willing to overlook given how swoonworthy he is in Moulin Rouge, and he’s far from the worst singer on this list, but still, it ain’t pretty.
He is, though.
Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia!
Unlike Baby Bale, Rex Harrison, and Marlon Brando, Pierce Brosnan actually made an effort to sing (instead of singtalk) in his musical. I can’t decide whether that makes it better or worse.
Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
In a statement that might invalidate this entire list: I do not totally hate Russell Crowe in Les Mis. There you go. I feel a little sorry for him, because you can tell he was REALLY, REALLY INTO playing Javert, but he was cast in a role that he had zero—ZE-RO—chance of being able to pull off, vocally. He tried, bless his cotton Australian socks. He’d have been fine in parts where he’s not required to sing, except that Les Mis is all singing, all the time. As with most things, I am fine with blaming Tom Hooper for this one. Here, have a palate cleanser.
Everyone who isn’t Sarah Brightman or Anthony Head, Repo! The Genetic Opera
I know that Repo star Paul Sorvino is a legit opera singer. I also don’t care. Opera singtalking is all the circles of hell, rolled up into one Paris Hilton-shaped skin suit. Take every single person in the Repo cast, aside from Sarah Brightman, dub them with Anthony Head’s voice (yes, even Paris Hilton’s character), and I still would not watch this steaming tryhard shitpile a second time. “It’s the new Rocky Horror!” No. NO. Rocky Horror involved some modicum of talent and didn’t make me hate my life. “Once More With Feeling” is on Netflix Instant. I’ll just watch that again.
Michael Caine, The Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine singing sounds… exactly like you’d think it would. I can’t even complain about it.
Elizabeth Taylor, A Little Night Music
“Weak” isn’t a word I’d ever associate with Liz Taylor, but her thin, reedy voice in the Sondheim-penned A Little Night Music lives up to the description. To everyone who watched the above video, I offer the following as consolation: