What is… Scenery Chewing?

Scenery chewing or scene chewing is a phrase used to describe overacting. It comes from the thought that those who are so wrapped up in their own acting performance leave teeth marks in the scenery and props.

Scenery chewing can be unintentional, which is often down to bad acting, or can be intentional when a role calls for an exaggerated performance.

Here are some examples of actors chewing the scenery, both in a good way and a bad way…

Intentional scenery chewing

This scene from The Shining is a classic example of scenery chewing but one that is totally required for the role, and has since become an iconic piece of cinema. Madness and insanity is a common source of scenery chewing, but most of the time it’s essential to get those emotions across.

Jim Carey is one of the most obvious examples of overacting, and this example from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective sums him up. No doubt the role calls for this kind of overacting but many would no doubt also argue it’s Carey’s dodgy acting as well.

Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his role as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs despite only being on screen for about 16 minutes. His twisted portrayal of the serial killer is another example of how scenery chewing can help show mentally unstable characterisation.

Unintentional scene chewing

Hayden Christianson is just one of many things wrong with the Star Wars prequels and this clip shows why as he delivers his lines with the emotional weight of a beach ball.

Not only is Jon Voight incredibly pervy and creepy in this scene but it’s so over the top it makes J-Lo look like Cate Blanchett.

The Ultimate Scenery Chew. Nic Cage in the remake of The Wicker Man is truly a sight to behold and is well worth a watch just for how unbelievably laughable it is.

Are there any examples of scenery chewing that stick in your memory? If so, drop a comment below…

For more entries in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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45 thoughts on “What is… Scenery Chewing?

  1. Myerla says:

    Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, utterly awesome. He makes the film watchable all by himself, plus rumours have it that Alan Rickman so out-acted Kevin Costner that Costner demanded, as producer, that Rickman’s scenes be cut hence why you see more of Rickman in the director’s cut.

  2. Brittani says:

    Great idea for a post! That Anakin Skywalker scene is a perfect example of bad scene chewing. God, Hayden Christensen is so awful, what were they thinking when they used these takes in the final film?

  3. 70srichard says:

    Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, “Oh I’m just getting started” and in And Justice for All “I’m out of order?, you’re out of order…”.

  4. sati says:

    Oh man, Wicker Man is the funniest unintentional comedy of all time. Also whenever I read how short Hopkins screentime was I cannot believe it – he was so vivid in this movie it feels like he was in it 3x longer than he actually was.

  5. Awesome post as always Chris! Always looking forward to learn something from your post 😀
    I never realized Hopkins screen time was that short! He’s just that great i guess!

  6. jjames36 says:

    These are all good examples, especially Nicholson.

    But the best example, I think, is from another Kubrick film: A Clockwork Orange. Malcolm McDowell couldn’t be more scene-chewingly over-the-top if he tried. Which is exactly what the flick wanted from him, of course.

  7. theipc says:

    Love these posts!!! And Cage in The Wicker Man is……. HORRIBLE!!!!

  8. Mark Walker says:

    Love this little feature, Chris. How about Pacino in Heat? “She’s got a great ass!” (Or most of Pacino’s recent roles for that matter)

  9. Great post, Chris! And great examples! Hayden Christensen is a terrible actor, and I really laughed at Jon Voight’s clip! An example of intentional scenery chewing that I loved recently is Sharlto Copley in Elysium!

  10. chris2508 says:

    An interesting and informative piece here Chris. Daniel-Day Lewis, Drainage!

  11. Now that’s a great post! Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood is chewing of the chewiest nature.

  12. ruth says:

    Oh I actually knew this term, I’m just curious where they got that term from. Ahah, Nic Cage is the quintessential scene-chewer, that’s part of his appeal. Good stuff as always, Chris!

  13. Nick Powell says:

    I was worried for a moment you were not going to mention Nic Cage. Then I got to the end end. Cage is the master chewer-of-scenes. Love it. Great writeup!

  14. ckckred says:

    The Wicker Man is awful but Cage makes the movie incredibly watchable. I’ve always noticed that James Spader chews up his screentime… and typically not in a good way.

  15. thomasjford says:

    What? Nicholas Cage, scene chewing? Never! Terrible actor in my opinion. Agree with most of the others but I think Jim Carrey doesn’t chew scenery as such, that is just his acting style (over the top and physical).

    And yeah, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson are the kings of scene chewing! but in a good way!

  16. NOT THE BEES! Such great examples here. I think Robert De Niro does a fair bit of scene-chewing in Cape Fear. Both literally and non-literally, if you catch my drift. I like that film though. Also Daniel Day Lewis does a whole bunch of chewing in all of his films!

  17. davecrewe says:

    I’ve only ever heard the phrase “scenery chewing” or “chewing the scenery,” since it, as you say, refers to the idea of literally eating the props/surrounding. Nitpicks aside, nice write up!

  18. hybridZone says:

    Daniel Day Lewis in There will be Blood was an awesome scene chewing experience, but Ewan Brenmer role is Jack the Giant Slayer was scene chewing to the extreme.

  19. Nostra says:

    Don’t know if you listen to Hollywood Babble-On, but each week they have a segment called exquisite acting with these type of examples. Nicolas Cage is pretty good at it 😉

    This one is an awesome example

  20. Dan says:

    Great intro to scene-chewing. I do hate it when a performance feels out of place and overdone. But I love your example of Jack Nicholson in The Shining compared with a more subtle example of how it can go wrong in Anaconda.

    One of the best scene-chewers of recent memory – Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight!

  21. dave says:

    The term “chewing the scenery” makes sense – an actor onstage was overacting so much he was chewing the scenery. “Chewing the scene” is not the term and it doesn’t really make sense to me.

  22. Mette M. K. says:

    Hahah, that John Void scene is priceless!

  23. Paul S says:

    John Voight = King Lear!

  24. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Terry:

    Giving the ladies some attention:

    Faye Dunaway portraying Joan Crawford during the “Wire Coat Hanger” scene in ‘Mommy, Dearest’.

    Bette Davis trying to bring George Sanders down a peg or two. And failing miserably in ‘All About Eve’.

    Tippi Hedren losing it in a few “discussions” with her daughter, Sissy Spacek in ‘Carrie’.

    Darlanne Fleugel trying to read the riot act to William Petersen just before the botched diamond heist and failed ambush in ‘To Live and Die in L.A.’.

    Guys:

    Bruce Dern in any of several scenes in ‘Coming Home’ and ‘Black Sunday’.

    Kevin Spacey in the “quiet suburban dinner scene” in “American Beauty’.

    Joe Pantaliano’s drunken rant before the shoot out in ‘Bound’.

  25. Chris, I love your list, and what a fun post. I’ll ditto Kevin/Jack’s list and I will add any actor who plays the The Joker in Batman and DDLewis in Gangs of New York and Leo DiCaprio in Wolf on Wall Street–well heck, add Leo or many movies, he’s a great scenery chewer.

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