Eight Legendary Foreign Actresses Who Did Not Make It In Hollywood.

They were the darlings of the art house circuit. Their work in a language other than English is some of the greatest ever captured on film. Yet, when it came to making their Hollywood debut, they floundered. French actresses have a terrible track record since their English tends to be heavily accented, and all that glamour and mystique vanishes when you can’t understand a word they say. There are always exceptions, and Oscar-winning French actresses Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard showed that, by choosing their English language roles carefully, they could also become respected actresses in Hollywood. Then there is Gong Li, who knew minimal English and played most of her two Hollywood movies phonetically before giving up. Actresses whose native tongue is one of the Germanic languages tend to have less of an inflection. However, bad choices put the kibosh on Liv Ullmann’s Hollywood career. And Hana Schygulla. And you cannot turn back the clock.


Liv Ullmann’s Hollywood career began and ended with “Lost Horizon” in 1973. Add to this such insults to humanity as “Pope Joan,” “40 Carrots”, “Zandy’s Bride,” and “The Abdication,” and you begin to wonder if Ullmann was TRYING to end her Hollywood career. Did she have any advisers? Did she have a Hollywood agent? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “ To have one movie fail is unfortunate. To have a half dozen fail is positively careless.” For Liv, the only thing American audiences will remember, if they remember her, is her co-presenting the Best Actor Oscar of 1972 with Roger Moore at the 1973 Oscars. The world was shocked to see not that category’s winner, Marlon Brando, on the stage but his chosen surrogate, Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather, and her famous gesture of refusal. Instead of shock, however, Liv wears a beautifully composed and understanding expression. It may rank among her best performances. At least she had that!

Isabelle Adjani


Isabelle Adjani, who no one can understand when she speaks in English, was on the cover of Time magazine in the summer of 1977. She was all set to appear in her Hollywood debut, Walter Hill’s “The Driver”. It was a disaster, and her Hollywood career ended where it began. She consolidated that mistake with “ Ishtar” and “Diabolique.”


Isabelle Huppert, who no one can understand when she speaks English, thought she was making her Hollywood debut in a masterpiece. Unfortunately, that “masterpiece” was called “Heaven’s Gate”. And the rest is history. She more than consolidated that mistake with such turkeys as “The Bedroom Window,” “I Heart Huckabees,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Louder Than Bombs,” and “Greta.” OMG! Only in “Amateur” does she deliver a few fleeting moments of quasi-interpretable, English-language-delivered pleasure.

Jeanne Moreau


Orson Welles may have called the late Jeanne Moreau: “The Greatest Actress in the World,” but when it came to going Hollywood, her choices were exciting but futile: “ Monty Walsh” and “The Last Tycoon” were mediocre movies, but Jeanne was embarrassing, particularly as the Greta Garbo-like star in Kazan’s swan song. And again, like many of her Gallic colleagues, she was challenging to understand when she spoke English.


Catherine Deneuve may have made an almost-great horror movie, “Repulsion,” with hip new director Roman Polanski, in London in 1965, but the dialogue was minimal. Unfortunately, her Hollywood debut consisted of the wretched “Mayerling” with Omar Sheriff and the equally misguided “April Fools” with Jack Lemmon. Again, her magnificent appeal when speaking French was shredded to pieces when she expressed her emotions in English. She did improve, however, and by the time she did Tony Scott’s lesbian chic “Lakmé”- inspired cult classic “The Hunger” with Susan Sarandon and David Bowie, we were ready to accept her as a 5,000-year-old vampire!

Marie-France Pisier


The late Marie-France Pisier was riding high after her starring role in the French crossover smash “ Cousin Cousine” in 1976 when she was offered the leading role in Twentieth Century Fox’s big release for the summer of 1977 “Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight” as the ruthless Noelle Page. Unfortunately, under the deadweight direction of Charles Jarrott, the movie sank like a stone in water, and Ms. Pisier was sent back to France, never to return. However, her character Noelle did get a lovely theme all to herself courtesy of Michel Legrand. As for TCF, they had a “smaller” movie waiting in the wings that summer, just in case. It was called “Star Wars”.

Gong Li


Gong Li. The wondrous, delicate Gong Li was the star of the early nineties art house scene, with one breathtaking Zhang Yimou release after another. The problem was that she could not speak English. That did not stop her from doing two high-profile Hollywood English language movies where she read and “expressed” her lines phonetically: “ Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Miami Vice.” She won a few early awards for the former before fading fast. The latter was a disaster, and she left Hollywood.

Hanna Schygulla


Fassbinder’s muse and critics’ darling Hanna Schygulla had an impressive decade-long run of art house smashes from “ The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” to “The Marriage of Maria Braun“ to “Lili Marleen” to “ La Nuit de Varennes” until she decided to go Hollywood with a forgettable performance in a dreadful film “Delta Force.” Why destroy your career like this? Was it the persuasive powers of Golan and Globus (the Weinsteins of their day)? Only Hanna knows.

Popular Articles

There Was A Crooked Man (1970) Film Review    B+

There Was A Crooked Man (1970) Film Review B+

Hume Cronyn and John Randolph are our happy and well-adjusted gay couple. Yes, they fight and bicker all the time. However, they are clearly madly in love with each other.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Film Review  A+

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Film Review A+

In “Kind Hearts and Coronets”: Alec Guinness has fun playing all eight (or nine) of the unfortunate D’Ascoynes, including Lady Agatha D’Ascoyne. The photograph shows Dennis Price with Joan Greenwood who plays that little minx Sibella.

Subscribe for the latest reviews right in your inbox!