8 famous actors who had some surprising final film roles

They would probably like us to forget these movies.

Images: Right, Universal Studios; left, Warner Bros. 

An actor has to have several memorable performances, and maybe an Academy Award or two, to become a bona fide screen legend. No time produced more legends than the golden age of Hollywood. Movie theater marquees flashed the names "Kelly," "Brando" and "Monroe" in order to draw audiences away from their television sets and into the theater. 

But the end of the studio era left some movie stars pining for good roles in their old age. While some were successful, others settled for roles far beneath their level of expertise. A hit was hard to come by, and misses started to become more common. 

In the case of these eight actors, those career misses happened at the end of their film careers. They were definitely memorable performances, but for all the wrong reasons. Here's a look at the shocking last roles of some of Hollywood's biggest legends.

1. Gene Kelly

He could sing, he could act, and he could tap dance like no other. Gene Kelly was the biggest triple threat of the 1950s, charming audiences in Singing in the Rain and An American in Paris. But the heyday of the Hollywood musical didn't last, and Kelly's last film appearance was much more underwhelming. Kelly starred as the has-been big band leader and construction mogul Danny McGuire in the notorious flop Xanadu in 1980. 

Image: Universal Studios

2. Marlon Brando

A Streetcar Named Desire, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now... Those films barely begin to scratch the surface of Brando's illustrious acting career. But there's one movie Brando would have probably liked to bury: 2004's unreleased animated feature Big Bug Man. The screen legend lent his voice to Mrs. Sour, and during the single day he worked on the film, he reportedly showed up to the recording booth in a blonde wig, dress, white gloves and full makeup. Whether the film was good or not, we've got to appreciate his commitment. 

Image: Studio-Free Studio

3. Elizabeth Taylor

By the 1990s, Elizabeth Taylor had taken a step back from acting to focus more on HIV/AIDS activism. But that didn't mean she completely stopped accepting roles. In addition to making cameo appearances on sitcoms and soap operas, Taylor played Pearl Slaghoople in 1994's live-action feature film The Flintstones

What's even better, Taylor's last acting performance was in the 2001 TV movie These Old Broads, which also starred one-time rival Debbie Reynolds, Shirley McClaine and Joan Collins. 

Image: Universal Studios

4. Ethel Merman

One of the most unusual roles of Merman's career is also one of her funniest. In 1980, the actress made a cameo appearance in Airplane! as a shell-shocked solider who believes he's Ethel Merman. The soldier busts out singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" until he's restrained and sedated, thereby putting a close to Merman's film career. 

Image: Paramount Pictures

5. Joan Crawford

With a name like Troga movie can only be so good. In her final film role, Crawford plays a scientist who tries to domesticate a primitive caveman that she discovers. Unfortunately, the movie was universally panned by critics, and Crawford retired from acting shortly after this disaster. 

Image: Warner Bros. 

6. Groucho Marx

In his late 70s, Marx decided to accept the role of "God," a mob boss, in the 1968 film Skidoo. He later regretted the decision, saying he looked like he was embalmed when he saw himself onscreen. Despite it being his final film role, Marx went on to say, "Both my performance and the film were God-awful."

Image: Paramount Pictures

7. Lauren Bacall

It doesn't feel right that Lauren Bacall was in the presence of teen sensations Josh Hutcherson and Hayden Panettiere for her final film role, but that's how the screen siren's career came to a close in 2012. Hopefully Bacall taught the young actors a thing or two in The Forger, a film about art forgery.

Image: Experience Media Studios

8. Fred Astaire

Maybe Astaire was secretly a horror fan? His last film role was 1981's Ghost Story, which features a group of old men who love a good spook. The film also featured Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Melvyn Douglas and John Houseman. Ghost Story wasn't just Astaire's final film either. Only Houseman went on to make more movies. Now that's scary. 

Image: Universal Pictures

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GenoCuddy 19 months ago
I recorded a podcast discussing final films of once prominent Hollywood stars, listen to the discussion here: https://soundcloud.com/onlinemovieshow/swan-song?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing
VAC 19 months ago
I swear I must be the only one who like Xanadu. I loved Gene Kelly's dancing with Olivia Newton John and his singing. Yes the story line was a little hokey but still had some fine acting, soundtrack and dancing.
rycki1138 VAC 19 months ago
I liked Xanadu, also.
jconrad rycki1138 19 months ago
Mee too.
jeopardyhead 19 months ago
I forget the name of the movie, but you left out Veronica Lake, whose last role got her a Golden Turkey Award nomination for The Worst Performance as a Crazed Nazi Scientist.
jeopardyhead jeopardyhead 19 months ago
Also, it could have been worse. Gene Kelly's last movie could have been Viva Knievel!
GenoCuddy jeopardyhead 19 months ago
The film was FLESH FEAST, I recorded a podcast on swan songs: https://soundcloud.com/onlinemovieshow/swan-song?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing
AndrewHuxleyMiller 32 months ago
Gleason was reluctant to make Nothing in Common. Dir. Garry Marshall asked him, "Do you really want your final film to be Smokey and ths Bandit 3?" Gleason did Nothing in Common.
babyboomer56 42 months ago
I love Airplane and the scene with Ethel Merman is hilarious. I really enjoyed Ghost Story. It's a very good and scary horror story without being gross or bloody (just a sex scene between two of the younger actors that wasn't necessary.)
BrianMoore 42 months ago
Almost all of these are depressing except for the Ethel Merman one.
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