Ten Surprising Performances by Movie Actors and Actresses

John Wayne playing a cowboy? Nobody bats an eye. Cast him as Mongol ruler Genghis Khan? Now you’ve got people talking.

Viewers used to take Leslie Nielsen “seriously”…Airplane! and Police Squad! changed all that. If moviegoers were surprised to see comic actor Michael Keaton take on the lead role in the serious drama Clean and Sober, they were positively bowled over when he accepted the title role for the “dark” re-imagining of legendary comics character Batman. Halle Berry was generally regarded as a lightweight performer—the hottie from The Flintstones, BAPS, and X-Men—until she scorched the screen with her unforgettable performance in Monster’s Ball.

One of moviegoing’s great pleasures is to watch an actor defy expectations and change up their game right before your eyes. Sometimes the surprise is a great one; other times, the shock can do serious damage to a career. Movie Irv and his guest are here to share picks for their favorite “surprise” performances on the screen: