The Most Overqualified Performances In '90s Action Movies

List Rules
Vote up the most surprisingly classy performances from '90s action movies.

The 1990s were stacked with action movies. Good, bad, transcendent, just okay - every weekend offered a new movie about a muscled-up hero beating the odds to stop the theft of Tomahawk missiles or a gruesome villain who wants the world to bow to their whims. The best and the worst of these movies feature overqualified actors in roles that could just as easily be filled by jobbers.

Depending on how you look at it, these stars are either slumming it or see something special in these deeply campy action roles. It's also just as likely these overqualified actors want to have fun playing villains and heavies with big names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise. 

Which of these actors gives the most surprisingly classy performance, and who's just trying to get some of that sweet, '90s action money?


  • A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a two-time Academy Award winner, and a straight-up knight, Anthony Hopkins is the kind of actor who makes everything he's in appear a little more prestigious than it actually is. That being said, it's still incredibly strange he plays the elder Zorro in one of the goofiest action movies of the '90s.

    It's frankly weird Hopkins agreed to be in a big-screen adaptation of a forgotten TV serial, but the guy is firing on all cylinders as an elder statesman of swashbuckling. He's clearly having fun in this movie and somehow manages to outshine peak-hot Antonio Banderas. That's no small feat.

    467 votes
  • Willem Dafoe may be the strangest action star of the modern era. Trained in the world of experimental theater, Dafoe's earliest on-screen performances are full of snakelike menace. He's not the kind of actor whom audiences expect to see in a big-budget sequel to a major '90s action movie. That's why he's perfect as John Geiger in Speed 2.

    On the whole, Speed 2 doesn't live up to its predecessor, but Dafoe's role as an unhinged former employee of a cruise company who steals a ship so he can rob its vault is about as perfect as you can get. Dafoe plays this role in a way that's anything but straight. The character, Geiger, has copper poisoning and has to undergo leech treatments twice a day, which means multiple scenes feature Dafoe writhing with leeches in a tub. It's brilliant. He's the reason to watch Speed 2.

    354 votes
  • Raul Julia left us far too soon. He passed in 1994 from complications due to stomach cancer, but he never stopped working. His earliest roles were in plays like Macbeth and Othello at the New York Shakespeare Festival, but he soon moved onto Broadway. Even his biggest performances are tinged with subtleties that were clearly learned on the stage.

    Most audience members know Julia from his role as Gomez in The Addams Family, but this was a guy who loved to work - hence his appearance as M. Bison in the bonkers AF Street Fighter movie. He pops on screen in a way no one else does in this film, and when he delivers his truly hokey dialogue, it's so much fun. 

    The knowledge Julia was ill during the filming of Street Fighter makes his stellar performance all the more impressive. He's not just acting circles around his co-stars - he's in another film entirely. 

    394 votes
  • Alan Rickman is easily the most overqualified actor to ever appear in an action movie. A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a Tony Award nominee, and a BAFTA Award winner, he can handle any kind of character he's saddled with.

    It makes sense when he shows up in Die Hard and the Harry Potter films - those movies are full of accomplished thespians who are having fun playing in genre films, but Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a unique piece of cinema. This mind-boggling take on the Robin Hood story is clearly supposed to be a vehicle for Kevin Costner, but the film orbits around Rickman's absurd take on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Rickman plays the sheriff like he's a constantly exploding nuclear bomb. So, the scenery is safe from being chewed while he's on screen. It's a shame no one can keep up with him (well, except for Sean Connery in the single scene in which he appears). 

    513 votes
  • Al Pacino's earliest works, from The Panic in Needle Park to the first two Godfather films, are known for subtle performances. That all changed in the 1980s with Cruising and Scarface. Pacino got big and loud, but he still managed to match the tone for his films. The same can't be said for Dick Tracy, one of the strangest big-budget projects of the 20th century.

    Directed by Warren Beatty and starring Madonna, Dick Tracy features Pacino playing Alphonse "Big Boy" Caprice at a full 10. If he could go to 20, that's where he'd be. It's weird enough Dustin Hoffman and Mandy Patinkin are also in Dick Tracy, but neither of them are acting like screaming lunatics. If Beatty revealed Pacino did nothing but drink espresso and gobble Adderall before each day, it would make perfect sense. But here's the thing - it's impossible to take your eyes off of him. By the end of the movie, it's clear Pacino understands he's playing a caricature and everyone else is underplaying their role. 

    288 votes
  • Tommy Lee Jones got his start on Broadway, but even if he jumped straight to the silver screen, he would have been an actor whose appearance screams gravitas. He's an intense on-screen presence who can take a pulpy film like Under Siege or The Fugitive and make it feel important.

    Still, it's inconceivable he plays Two-Face in Batman Forever opposite Jim Carrey as the Riddler. By all accounts, Jones isn't a fan of comic book movies or working with an actor like Carrey, but even if that's the case, he still turns in a performance for the ages. Jones chews scenery. He performs both sides of Two-Face's persona as if they're two different characters, and he never turns away from being particularly unhinged. Maybe Jones should act in movies he actively hates more often.

    377 votes