Zac Efron leaves the singing and dancing behind for this week’s Charlie St. Cloud, a drama that proves just how earnestly he can stare into the distance. Looking at Efron’s pensive mug on the poster, we were reminded of other teen idols who tried to prove they had dramatic depth…and just how funny most of their efforts really were. Ladies and gentlemen, break out your old issues of Tiger Beat, because it’s time for Teen Idols Who Tried to Get Serious!
Scott Baio, The Boy Who Drank Too Much and Stoned
Hey, if you spent most of your screen time with Erin Moran and Willie Aames, you’d be looking for a little chemical therapy, too — but you’d still probably be able to keep it together long enough to read a few lines of these Afterschool Special scripts, toss them in the trash, and punch your agent in the neck. At least there weren’t any surprises with the titles, right?
Did It Work? In terms of unintentional humor, either of these were just as successful as Baio’s VH1 reality shows (or his Twitter feed). But no.
David Cassidy, David Cassidy: Man Under Cover
A Partridge no more, David Cassidy tried to prove his dramatic mettle by strapping on a holster and hitting the streets of Los Angeles as undercover police officer Dan Shay. No dummies, the execs at NBC slapped Cassidy’s name in front of the luridly promising series title, but viewers weren’t impressed — or maybe they figured that with Charlie’s Angels jiggling around the tube, there were already enough pistol-packing crime fighters with perfectly feathered hair.
Did It Work? No. In fact, it pretty much killed Cassidy’s acting career — unless you count cheesy Vegas revues as “acting.”
Kirk Cameron, Listen to Me
In which the whiniest Seaver attempts to leave his sitcom roots behind — and wash down the horrible aftertaste of his co-starring role in the Dudley Moore “comedy” Like Father, Like Son — by going toe-to-toe with Jamie Gertz in a drama about a college debate team. Yes, you read that right: a movie about a college debate team. Roy Scheider, what are you doing here?
Did It Work? No, but Cameron didn’t need it to — he had a promising career in insulting quizzes to look forward to, as well as the starring role in the classic Christian firefighter movie Fireproof.
Michael J. Fox, Light of Day, Bright Lights, Big City, and Casualties of War
More than most of the actors on this list, Fox had the opportunity to show his dramatic chops early and often, thanks to Family Ties’ propensity for Very Special Episodes. Still, when film directors called on him in the late ‘80s, it was mostly for comedic fluff like The Secret of My Success; Fox had to take his serious shots where he could find them, and to his credit, he managed to score some halfway decent scripts. His performance in Casualties of War is a career highlight. Light of Day? Not so much.
Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands
Depp had scored other film roles since breaking out on 21 Jump Street, but nothing screams “tear up your issues of Tiger Beat” like caking on the whiteface, strapping knives onto your hands, and filming an oddball hit with Tim Burton.
Did It Work? Yes, although you could argue that without Edward Scissorhands, there would be no Alice in Wonderland. Damn.
Miley Cyrus, The Last Song
It’s always flattering to discover that you’ve become someone’s muse. But when Miley Cyrus heard that Nicholas Sparks was writing a screenplay specifically for her, she should have filed a restraining order, because it was guaranteed to suck in the most cheesily melodramatic way. Enter The Last Song, a cynical rehash of all Sparks’ favorite themes: Pretty boys and girls falling in love even though one of them will soon get dead. At least this one wasn’t a hit.
Did It Work? Not even a little — in fact, as The Last Song tanked, critics stomped on Cyrus all the way down, gleefully pointing out all the ways her performance stunk.
Fred Savage, No One Would Tell
When you’ve spent the last umpteen years embodying ‘60s nostalgia with your baby face and big puppy-dog eyes on a show as shamelessly heartwarming as The Wonder Years, what’s the only way to take a belated stab at avoiding typecasting? By starring in a TV movie where you beat the shit out of Candace Cameron from Full House. If only the script had called on Savage to assault Bob Saget, John Stamos, and Dave Coulier, he might have had a ratings hit.
Did It Work? It pretty much spelled the end of Savage’s acting career. He’s gone on to direct, but since his filmography includes stuff like Daddy Day Care, it’s hard to call that a happy ending. For anyone.
John Travolta, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
Yes, it was based on a true story. But that doesn’t excuse the heaping mounds of corn in this made-for-TV cult classic, which was supposed to prove that Travolta could do more than Welcome Back, Kotter.
Did It Work? Well, no, but Travolta was too pretty to be stopped, and it wasn’t long before he teamed up with the Bee Gees to own the late ‘70s.
Luke Perry, 8 Seconds
Released at the peak of Luke Perry’s 90210 fame, 8 Seconds was supposed to be huge — it had a soundtrack stuffed with country songs, right after Garth Brooks made country cool again, and it had a pair of young TV stars in Perry and Northern Exposure’s Cynthia Geary. Plus, it was about a real-life rodeo star who died violently in the arena! Who doesn’t want to watch that? Oh, right. Nobody.
Did It Work? Not even a little. When part of your career includes a long stint as a “special guest star” on late-period episodes of 90210, you’d better hope your last name includes “Spelling.”
Mark Hamill, The Big Red One
The original victim of the Skywalker curse that would go on to claim Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen, Mark Hamill was supposedly the star of Star Wars. But while Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher have enjoyed healthy careers, Hamill has been stuck doing voiceover work. Looking back, it’s easy to say Hamill was the worst actor in the bunch, but he was stuck in a pretty thankless role, and while he was at the peak of his fame, his schedule didn’t afford much time for much besides Star Wars. His best shot at breaking away came here.
Did It Work? No, and it’s sort of a shame; The Big Red One is a solid film, and Hamill does solid work in it. Watching it, you’d never suspect he’d be attempting a career comeback at the end of the decade by starring in something as rank as Slipstream.