This Friday, Arnold Schwarzenegger does something you’d have never quite predicted: he plays the leading role in an indie drama. Even more surprisingly, he’s very good in it. His quiet turn as a Midwestern farmer in the family drama/zombie flick Maggie is both a strong performance and a smart move for the aging actor, whose action vehicles haven’t exactly burned up the box office lately; when what you do isn’t working anymore, it’s a good idea to try something new. But for every Robin Williams, Matthew McConaughey, or Albert Brooks who transformed their screen persona successfully, there’s another who didn’t quite pull it off.
Sylvester Stallone, Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
Stallone and Schwarzenegger spent much of the 1980s battling for box office dominance, so when Stallone’s star started to falter around the turn of the decade (thanks to the under-performing Over the Top, Rambo III, Lock Up, and Rocky V), it probably made sense to take a page from Arnie, who’d had back-to-back comedy hits with Twins and Kindergarten Cop. And he was smart enough to get John Landis to direct the screwball-style mobster comedy Oscar, which actually isn’t that bad a movie — it’s fast and fun and reasonably amusing. But audiences clearly weren’t feeling Stallone as a comedy star, and Oscar ended up topping out at $23 million, another in his string of flops. And by the time it tanked, he already had another comedy in the can: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, a painfully unfunny attempt to meld Sly’s tough-guy style with the comedy stylings of Golden Girls co-star Estelle Getty. It, too, bombed, and though he had a brief comeback the following year thanks to medium hits Cliffhanger and Demolition Man, Stallone spent most of the ‘90s turning out flops. (Credit where due: when he tried playing against type again, in the 1997 indie drama CopLand, he fared far better.)