Bad sci-fi and fantasy movies aren’t merely the province of low-budget quickies. Sometimes all the money and talent in Hollywood can’t save the world from celluloid disasters. So, rather than just a list of bad movies, this is a list of bad movies that had no excuse: movies by respected filmmakers, or from major studios. Movies with box office stars, or sequels to other movies that were great.
These are the epic fails of fantasy and sci-fi.
And this time, the list has been compiled not from a reader vote, but by an panel comprising the SFX team, the SFX bloggers and a few of our special friends, including Paul Cornell, Joe Abercrombie, Jayne Nelson and Steve O’Brien. So feel free to call us all sorts of names…
50 Lost In Space (1998)
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Lost In Space isn’t such a bad film… until the Robinson family actually gets lost, and then it degenerates into a very bad film. That’s when you begin to realise the folly of basing a film on a ’60s TV show format that has “weekly episodic format” hardwired into its DNA. In the small screen the concept of “lost” in space was merely a hook upon which to hang stories. In the film, “lost” needs to become the plot engine. Sadly, screen director Stephen Hopkins and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman lost the plot completely, and turned the film into an insipid, visually bland time travel tale about a father/son relationship. So where does that leave the women in the family? Ironically, in a story about the fourth dimension all females on board are reduced to two-dimensional clichés, defined by one or two characters tropes each. Gary Oldman continues to channel the camp spirit of the original Dr Zachary Smith as if he hasn’t got the memo about how this film version is playing it straight. In the end, you think he’s made the right decision; if you have to appear in this dross you may as well have some fun while you’re there.
Worst thing about it: Blawp, the CG space monkey, which actually looks less convincing than Zoonie the Lazoon in Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL5 . The film was originally shot with Blawp being played by a Jim Henson Workshop creation, with the CGI version later slapped on over the top. They needn’t have bothered.(opens in new tab)
49 Popeye (1980)
Director: Robert Altman(opens in new tab)
Legend has it that Robert Altman, director of such acclaimed movies as MASH and Nashville in the early ’70s, only took on Popeye because, after a series of flops, he needed a hit to help him finance the kind of films he really wanted to make again. This is, in itself, not a bad plan. One fatal flaw – Popeye flopped. Very, very badly.
It’s not difficult to see why. Although the film has been reclaimed by some strange revisionists as a misunderstood classic, the rest of just see a musical which has no decent musical numbers at all (well, can you name any? “Popeye The Sailor Man” excepted, ’cos that wasn’t written for the film); an action film with embarrassingly-staged stunts; a comedy film with little to laugh at; and a much-loved cartoon that has been reimagined as some social satire about class warfare, with support characters who have been altered out of all recognition. If you though all that talk about taxes was a bit dull and out-of-place in The Phantom Menace, then steer well clear of Popeye .
The worst thing about it: The songs. They may have been written by Harry Nilsson (famous for such soaringly simple pop beauty as “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Without You”) but there are no classics here. They range from forgettable to unlistenable, made even worse by the range of irritating comedy voices they’re sung in (Robin Williams as Popeye sings like a goat on helium and Bluto sounds like Krusty the Clown).
48 Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Director: Robert Longo(opens in new tab)
The idea of William Gibson, the author who defined cyberpunk, writing the screenplay to a film based on another of his cyberpunk stories seemed so exciting back in the early ’90s. This was going to be Neuromancer on screen, surely? Sadly, Gibson proved to be one of those writers whose talents didn’t extend to screenplays. Although based on a thoroughly enticing idea – that Keanu Reeve’s head is so empty, you could fill it with data and use him as some kind of digital carrier pigeon – once you get past the set-up, the film descends into an incoherent series of set pieces randomly cut and pasted from various Gibson stories. Reeves’s standout acting moment is a rant about room service – “Listen. You listen to me. You see that city over there? THAT’S where I’m supposed to be. Not down here with the dogs, and the garbage, and the f**king last month’s newspapers blowing back and forth. I’ve had it with them, I’ve had it with you, I’ve had it with ALL THIS – I WANT ROOM SERVICE!!!” The Oscar is still in the post...
Worst thing about it: The psychic dolphin – it’s an idea that works on paper, but just looks embarrassingly naff on screen (not helped by the fact that the film came out while seaQuest DSV, which featured an irritating talking dolphin, was airing on TV).
47 Dungeons And Dragons (2000)
Director: Courtney Solomon(opens in new tab)
Quite where the $35 million was spent on this film is utterly mystifying. There are home made Lord Of The Rings skits on YouTube these days that are better looking. From the gaudy sets, to the plastic props, to the Pound Shop fancy dress costumes and the inept FX, this is a symphony of crapness. The acting is uniformly terrible (and there are some good actors here too – Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch), as if all the cast is in a pact to piss off the director as much as possible (and yes, that is Tom Baker in the photo). In fact, it’s so terrible, that under normal circumstances it would be much higher in a “worst of” list, except that in this case, we think everybody involved knew it was a bit crap…
The worst thing about it: The script – it’s laughably poor on any level (bad dialogue, simplistic plotting, dire characters) but even as an adaptation of Dungeons And Dragons the game, it is awesomely contemptuous of its source material. There’s a dwarf and an elf in it, because there are dwarves and elves in the game, but they have sod all to do except look ridiculous.
46 Spider-Man III (2007)
Director: Sam Raimi(opens in new tab)
So much has been written about the “failure” of Spider-Man 3 , it easy to forget it was actually a massive hit – in terms of box office the biggest of the three Raimi/Spidey films. So Raimi clearly made a crowd-pleaser if not a fan pleaser. Part of the problem was one of expectation.
The first two Spider-Man films were both deliriously good. Raimi had defined a new way of telling superhero films on screen. But then inexplicably, he seemed to transform, Jekyll & Hyde style, from Burton-Raimi to Schumacher-Raimi, giving us, in Spider-Man 3 , a film that suffered the same overblown overload of elements as Batman Forever and Batman And Robin (though thankfully with fewer puns). Too many villains (Venom, Green Goblin, Sandman); too many plotlines; too many gimmicks (disco dancing Peter Parker!). The film in itself isn’t that bad, but as the third part of an otherwise outstanding trilogy, it felt, and still feels for many, like some kind of betrayal of trust.
The worst things about it: Venom being completely and utterly wasted. Though the dance routine comes close…
45 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)
Director: George Lucas(opens in new tab)
There will be those who think the voting panel must be mad to include Attack Of The Clones in this list, and not The Phantom Menace , but we stand by our judgement. Episode I may have some major problems, but at least it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Episode II has a middle, a middle and more middle, and none of it is very interesting. Episode I had two great lightsaber battles. Episode II has Yoda flying about like green ping pong ball. Episode I had the (admittedly overlong but still spectacular) pod race. Episode II had C3PO’s comedy slapstick on a conveyor belt. And while Episode I had some ropey dialogue, it didn’t go anywhere nears as low as Episode II ’s “I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.”
The worst thing about it: C3PO’s inability to SHUT THE F**K UP!
44 RoboCop III (1993)
Director: Fred Dekker(opens in new tab)
RoboCop 2 may have lacked the wit, social satire and human story of the original film, but it was a competently made, entertaining follow-up. RoboCop 3 was neither competently made nor entertaining. With a plot borrowed from *batteries not included (we kid you not – it’s “plucky homeowners versus eviction by nasty businessmen”), it’s a cheap, lame effort, which throws in gimmicks like Ninjabots in a failed effort to liven things up. Frank Miller may be credited as a screenwriter, but little of his input remains. A better proof of the law of diminishing returns is difficult to find.
The worst thing about it: When RoboCop suddenly grows wings and flies.
43 Judge Dredd (1995)
Director: Danny Cannon(opens in new tab)
With a new incarnation of 2000AD ’s legendary lawman rumbling towards the big screen, spare a thought for Hollywood's first swing at it. It had so much promise! A much-loved comic property, a multi-million dollar budget plus a supporting cast of Max von Sydow's calibre, it would be our first chance to see Mega-City One brought to life. But lumbered with Sylvester Stallone as the lead (no way they'd draft in a mega-star and then keep his face covered up!) and handed to a green director, it pleased neither fans nor mainstream audiences. Didn't help that the conspiracy plot was clichéd or that the addition of Fergee in a sidekick role fell humourlessly flat. Stallone himself – who won a Razzie Award for it – later confessed to Uncut magazine: "I do look back on Judge Dredd as a real missed opportunity... Just think of all the opportunities there were to do interesting stuff with the Cursed Earth scenes. It didn't live up to what it could have been. It probably should have been much more comic, really humorous, and fun." You said it, Sly.
The worst thing about it: Dredd taking his helmet off (or “Send in the clones!”).
42 Blade Trinity (2004)
Director: David S Goyer(opens in new tab)
David S Goyer may be celebrated these days as the scriptwriter behind Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but his earlier attempt to make a leap into the director’s chair himself saw him come a bit of a cropper. Blade Trinity was his third Blade script, but the first time he’d taken over the megaphone duties.
“Movies are full of shit,” the opening narration tells us, with uncanny foresight. Blade 2 may have been vacuous and noisy, but at least it had some visual flair, a budget and a half-decent gimmick (those memorable vampires with gaping maws). Blade: Trinity is similarly vacuous, but has no notable production values or original ideas to fill the gap. A subplot about vampires giving Blade bad PR fizzles out after 20 minutes. After that it’s Blade and his new buddies – a group of vampire hunters called Nightstalkers – versus the drabbest Dracula ever put on screen.
Okay, you don’t expect Shakespearean scripts from films like this, but it doesn’t even deliver on what you do expect. The fight scenes are little more than bar room brawls; the weaponry is humdrum; the FX are sparse and unspectacular; the locations drab. There’s a massively increased humour quotient, which occasionally hits home, but mostly relies on Blade’s irritating comedy sidekick saying “F**k!” and “Dick!” a lot. And the less said about Wesley Snipes’s delivery of “coochie-coo”, the better...
The worst thing about it: A vampire Pomeranian pooch.
41 Star Trek Insurrection (1998)
Director: Jonathan Frakes(opens in new tab)
Another possible surprise in this list – after all, perceived wisdom is that The Final Frontier and Nemesis are the true dogs of the Trek franchise. But we beg your indulgence. No, actually we don’t because that would require you to watch Insurrection again, and we wouldn’t want to put you through that. So trust us instead, because we watched it again for the sake of this feature – Insurrection is dispiritingly bad.
You may not recall how bad, because most of it is so very, very dull it's instantly forgettable. But never has the criticism “it’s like a long TV episode” been more apt than here. And not even a decent episode. The meagre A-plot is some trite toot about bland settlers versus cosmetic surgery-obsessed aliens, while, as increasingly became the case with Next Gen movies, there’s a pointless Data-centric B-plot ham-fistedly bolted on, seemingly because Brent Spiner wouldn’t have appeared unless he had x-amount of lines.
The original cut was even more tedious, apparently, because they had to reshoot the ending with more action and explosions. The mind boggles, and then runs for cover.
The worst thing about it: Data, Worf and Picard singing Gilbert and Sullivan .
40 The Hulk (2003)
Director: Ang Lee(opens in new tab)
The best thing about the first Hulk movie was that it was directed by Ang Lee. Not because he made a particularly good job of it, but mainly because, until The Amazing Spider-Man ’s Marc Webb, he was the greatest gift for headline writers – “You won’t like him when he’s Ang Lee.”
The Hulk has a lot a great things going for it – some really good, comic book-style editing, a great Hulk battle in the desert with the green goliath hurling tanks around – but dear lord, it’s boring. Now, don't get us wrong. There’s no reason why a comic book movie shouldn’t have lots of dialogue and character scenes. They don’t have to be dumb fun. The problem with The Hulk is that while there‘s lots of dialogue, it’s never really saying anything interesting (when you can hear it, that is – Nick Nolte is a terrible mumbler) and the attempts at giving the film a human story are laughably thin.
But Ang Lee forges ahead, making his performers act their little hearts out, delivering rum speeches about repressed memories and gamma radiation like they’re doing Shakespeare. The end result is often insufferably pompous, and made even more ludicrous when juxtaposed with mutant dogs and giant jellyfish.
The worst thing about it: The giant mutant poodle.
39 Ghosts Of Mars (2001)
Director: John Carpenter(opens in new tab)
“And that’s all you have to tell us?” asks the head of a hearing that’s been debriefing Natasha Henstridge’s Martian police woman, Ballard, at the end of Ghosts Of Mars . All ? She’s just told them that the incorporeal original inhabitants of Mars have awoken and are possessing human colonists and turning them into murderous, self-mutilating fetishists. What more do you need to hear?
Of course, the hearing would be forgiven for thinking she’s talking a lot of cock and bull. In fact, it’s entirely possible. Considering the entire film is told from Ballard’s point of view, you could interpret the whole film as her trying to disguise the fact that she been shagging the convicted killer (Ice T) she was sent to transport. Okay, it would be one hell of a complicated, elaborate lie, but a) she’s a drug addict, so she’s probably high and getting carried away and b) it would excuse the fact the story is a bit cack.
The thing is, there's some stuff going on here that’s nearly clever. The film is told in flashback, but with flashbacks within flashbacks, within flashbacks as Ballard tells the hearing what people have told her. There are fade cuts within scenes, giving the film a dream-like quality. The film is clearly challenging you not to accept everything on face value. The eventual revelation about the origins of the Martian threat is downright naff, but is that deliberate? It’s an explanation that’s so much like something out of Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy films, maybe Carpenter is hinting it’s all just some toot Ballard has made up?
The problem is, if this is Carpenter’s intention, he’s wasting such subtlety on Ghost Of Mars . Ultimately, what you’re watching a pretty humdrum, run-of-the-mill alien horror film, with some distasteful, fetishised moments of gore, thin characters, embarrassing dialogue and cheap-looking FX. At times, it feels almost wilfully awful, such as a bizarrely Keystone Cops moment when Ice T’s mates come to rescue him and end up being stuck in a cell with him.
The worst thing about it: The totally gratuitous scene where a guy hacks his own thumb off. It’s purely in the film to make Beavis and Buttheads go, “Cool!”(opens in new tab)
38 Scooby-Doo (2002)
Director: Raja Gosnell(opens in new tab)
Scooby-Don’t make us sit through this again.
The worst thing about it: The fact that Matthew Lillard is so brilliant as Shaggy just emphasises how dreadful just about everything else in the movie is. Your heart goes out to him for putting in so much effort when there’s so little point trying.
37 Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004)
Director: Alexander Witt(opens in new tab)
The first Resident Evil is a surprisingly fun, brains-to-the-walls zombie action movie, with a superb lead character in Alice, but things took a serious turn for the rotten in the sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse . Annoying characters, a dumb script, flaccid, incomprehensible action sequences and a storyline that took a whiz over the potential of the two games it was based on – Resident Evils 2 and 3 .
Arguably the worst thing about Apocalypse is that it makes one of the games’ most menacing opponents, the Nemesis, into a mess of magic appearances, a laughable lack of mobility and utterly ridiculous make-up. Say what you will about Paul Anderson, but he knows how to bolt a film together with a bit of flair and the direction here is a disaster, little surprise famed second unit director Alexander Witt hasn’t helmed a feature since. Avoid like the (zombie) plague.
The worst thing about it: The face even a mother couldn’t love .
36 X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Director: Brett Ratner(opens in new tab)
Mutants! Everybody loves mutants! Brett Ratner knew that going into X-Men: The Last Stand thanks to the previous two X -films – clever, action-packed movies with a fantastic ensemble cast and wildly popular takes on classic comic book characters.
The third part of the trilogy, however, was like following two courses of exquisite cuisine with a turd in an ice cream bowl. Disparate plots lines weaved all over the place, desperately trying to connect as thousands of new mutants were introduced, each as underdeveloped as the next. The script appeared to have had all traces of wit surgically removed, and much-loved X-Men were treated with disdain. An unforgivable misuse of Marvel’s mightiest mutants (not to mention the outrageous $210 million budget), The Last Stand should be scrubbed from history, and in time probably will be.
The worst thing about it: Four words: "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch."
35 The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions (2003)(opens in new tab)
Okay, we lied. There are actually 51 films in this list. But the two latter Matrix films are like some double-headed dragon, or two sides the same curate’s egg – the inside and the outside. Concordantly and forthwith we shall regard each as one and, quid pro quo, one as each…
Aaaarggghh, no we’ve been infected by Architect-speak!
So, what are Reloaded and Revolutions doing on this list? Where to start? That bizarre rave in the cave that goes on for an eternity. The architect. The FX battles that go on so long it’s like they’re waging a war of attrition on the audience. The architect. The quasi-religious ending. The architect. The nonsense resolution to the cliffhanger (“Oh, how did I suddenly get special powers in the real world?” “Because you did, okay!”). The architect. Keanu Reeves looking increasingly as bored as everyone watching the film. The architect. Self-consciously surreal scenes that are just confusing for confusing’s sake. A complete inability to feel empathy for any character.
The worst thing about it: Did we mention the architect? “You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant.” Shut up… just SHUT UP!
34 Jack Frost (1998)
Director: Troy Miller(opens in new tab)
A kids’ film about a talking snowman? Well, sure, you’re thinking, it's probably no Citizen Kane but sticking it in a list of worst movies is probably a bit cruel. It can’t be any worse than similar fare like Flubber or those Eddie Murphy Dr Doolittle films.
Only those lucky enough never to have seen this truly terrifying film could think that. The rest of us bare the scars forever.
The synopsis should be enough to put you off forever. Michael Keaton plays Jack Frost, a neglectful dad who dies before he has time to prove to his son that he loves him. The next Christmas, Jack returns as a sentient snowman (so just be thankful he wasn’t called Jack Schitt). And now he has to melt the heart of his son before he melts himself. Sadly a sick bag is not provided.
Aside from overdosing on trite sentimentality the film also suffers from the fact that the Snowman itself, which presumably is supposed to look cute, actually looks like one of Chucky’s playmates.
The worst thing about it: Carry On -style references to snow “balls”…
33 Mission To Mars (2000)
Director: Brian De Palma(opens in new tab)
Brian De Palma – what were you thinking? Whether you interpret Mission To Mars as rip-off, homage or subtle piss-take (all of which have been proposed) there's no way to get round one basic fact: Mission To Mars wants to be a crimson-hued 2001 , with a giant face in place of the monolith.
Of course it fails, mainly because it’s all so on-the-nose. The secret of 2001 ’s enduring popularity is its very inscrutability; it’s a Rubick’s tesseract of a movie, a Teflon puzzle the demands but simultaneously repels interpretation. It holds its cards close to its chest and only hints at answers. Mission To Mars may have what looks like a quasi-religious finale, but in fact it’s revelations are all rather banal, the stuff hack sci-fi writers had been tossing out for decades.
Like 2 001 , Mission To Mars tries to realistically portray the reality of near-future space travel, but whereas Kubrick’s films balances the tedium with the wonder of exploration and techno-fetishism, De Palma’s just makes the journey feel very, very boring.
De Palma pulls lots of cinematic tricks out of the bag, but there’s an overwhelming artificiality to the film. Some De Palma fans claim this is deliberate (an “artificial” gravity sign can even be seen on screen during one CG FX sequence); he’s highlighting the experience as a filmic one, even so far as having the aliens show the astronauts a “film” by way of a denouement at the climax. Well, hey, film studies students, bully for you if you can glean some satisfaction out of the film by deconstructing it that way. For the rest of us it, it’s a cheap-looking, hokey, slow-moving waste of time.
The worst thing about it: The tedious space travel scenes.
32 Aliens Vs Predator Requiem (2007)
Directors: Colin Strause, Greg Strause(opens in new tab)
One of the worst nightmares to hit the big screen. Not because Requiem is in any way an efficient horror movie, but because this is everything you feared it could have been; trite, silly, cheap and annoying.
Requiem is totally bereft of ideas – good or bad. The only vague element of originality it can boast – an Alien/Predator crossbreed (apparently known as a Predalien, though thankfully that clumsy term never actually makes it into the script) – is a hand-me-down from the cliffhanger of the first movie. Even then, the film doesn’t do anything with the idea – you just get an Alien with dreadlocks killing and salivating, just the same as Aliens always have done. Whoopee-freakin’-doo.
The setting this time is one so beloved of cash-conscious SF: small-town America. When the ship from the end of the first film crash-lands in Cheapsville USA, the Alien/Predator hybrid escapes and starts making babies with the locals in its usual tender, chest-bursting manner. In comes a lone Predator to deal with the problem, trying to cleanse Earth of these new aliens one-by-one without leaving any trace of alien infestation (quite why he’s so ecologically-minded is never made clear – why not just nuke the place and be done with it?)
What follows is a cliché-embracing, entirely plotless film as a dull bunch of characters get picked off one-by-one. Some clunky in-jokes (oooh, he’s called Dallas… oooh, that shot’s just like the one in Alien 3) fail to raise any goodwill and the dialogue rarely rises above functional exposition.
As requiems go, it’s a like flicking fag ash into an open grave.
The worst thing about it: The “twist” ending that’s more likely to induce groans or confusion than raised eyebrows.
31 Inspector Gadget (1999)
Director: David Kellogg(opens in new tab)
Apparently aimed at hyperactive pre-school sprogs with learning difficulties and the attention span of an amnesiac gnat, this Disney kiddies’ movie offers 80 frenetic minutes of brain cell-destroying tedium.
As bumbling Riverton security guard John Brown, Godzilla star Matthew Broderick once again plays second fiddle to computer-generated effects. When evil billionaire Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) and his lardy henchman try to steal a top secret invention, Scolex loses a hand and Brown gets blown to pieces. Fortunately, the dead scientist’s daughter, Brenda (Joely Fisher), is on hand to reconstruct Brown into bionic crime-fighter Inspector Gadget – what Riverton’s cynical police chief (Dabney Coleman) disparagingly refers to as “Columbo and Nintendo rolled into one.” Among the 14,000 handy gadgets at the cyborg cop’s disposal are extending hydraulic arms, Rollerblades that sprout from his feet and a detachable ear.
The comedy is too broad and the extent to which everyone over-acts can be gauged by the fact that Rupert Everett seems positively restrained. Broderick, in particular, misjudges all three of his contrasting incarnations. Stupid, soulless and sick-making.
The worst thing about it: There’s a cute kid, a cute dog and a jive-talking Gadgetmobile – take your pick.
30 Underdog (2008)
Director: Frederik Du Chau(opens in new tab)
To use an over-used yet appropriate cliché, being mean about Underdog really does feel a bit like kicking a puppy. There are arguments for going easy on the poor thing: it’s enthusiastic in its storytelling; its central messages about friendship and heroism are well-intended; and hey, it is a kids’ film after all.
But that’s really the problem. On the whole, the best family films are the ones that are designed to capture everyone’s imaginations, regardless of age – children appreciate not being talked down to, and as an adult it’s always fun to pick up on jokes and references that younger audiences don’t. Underdog , however, is very self-consciously aimed at kids, and as such, many of its elements feel like they’ve been added purely because they’re on some marketing executive’s big list of What Children Like. Dog-related puns at every opportunity: check. Toilet humour: check. “Comedy” dialogue from the dim-witted villains: check. It actually manages to go beyond merely “not working” and into “just plain contrived”.
Add in some disappointingly weak performances (Peter Dinklage seems bored as mad scientist Barsinister) and dodgy CGI on the talking dogs ( The Cat From Outer Space pulled this off better, and its feline star never moved its mouth) and it all amounts to a bit of a dog’s dinner. And if you think that’s a poor gag, it’s probably better than anything in the film itself.
The worst thing about it: The running gag with Underdog trying to come up with a rhyming catchphrase. “Unless you’re a kid, hold on to your bucks; take it from us – Underdog sucks.”
29 My Favorite Martian (1999)
Director: Donald Petrie(opens in new tab)
The movie equivalent of a drunk with a megaphone telling you a really long and unfunny joke, My Favorite Martian is probably the worst in a very long list of very bad cinematic updates of classic TV comedies. That’s quite an achievement with The Flintstones and Sgt Bilko also in the running, but My Favorite Martian has the whiff of big-screen necrophilia.
A comedy in which comedy is replaced by people shouting, waving their eyes and gurning, My Favorite Martian has Christopher Lloyd as a wacky alien (for which read, an alien that acts like Christopher Lloyd does in any comedy) being taken in by deadbeat journo Tim (Jeff Daniels) who passes him off as his Uncle Martin. Predictably, said alien initially has no truck with this thing we call emotions, but pretty soon he warms to the world of saliva exchanges and triple-scoop ice cream. Togged out in surfer gear he declares, “I’ve got the touch on two planets.” It’s not the comedy touch, sadly.
The worst thing about it: Uncle Martin’s living space suit, Zoot, a silvery cast-off-from-the-Graceland-wardrobe excuse for Mask -style smart-arsery.
28 Mary Reilly (1996)
Director: Stephen Frears(opens in new tab)
In a list of films by people who should have known better this remake of the Jekyll & Hyde story from the maid’s point of view definitely deserves a place. Director Stephen Frears has a near unblemished list of critic-friendly films such as High Fidelity , The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons , Prick Up Your Ears and Tamara Drewe , while Julia Robert wins Oscars, dontchaknow. But here they both hit career lows.
Roberts is hopelessly miscast as an Irish maid, and not just because her Irish accent sounds about as authentic as The Geoff Love Orchestra Plays The Music Of Star Wars . John Malkovich as Jekyll and Hyde isn’t much better; he spends much of the film apparently doing an impression of a Victorian dresser, except sometimes he has a goatee and a limp.
But the most mystifying thing of all is that the film doesn’t seem to be about anything. Notoriously it went through multiple re-edits and reshoots, so maybe the original intention was hacked away, but it’s difficult to imagine what it might have been. What we’re left with is confused and confusing; a tableau of visual clichés (hell, The Muppets' Christmas Carol looks like it could have been filming just off camera on the same sets) framing a bunch of American actors mumbling lines they seem embarrassed to have to say.
The worst thing about it: Julia Roberts’s accent.
27 The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl (2005)
Director: Robert Rodriguez(opens in new tab)
Robert Rodriguez tries to recapture the charm of the Spy Kids movies with this children's film about a boy who becomes involved in the adventures of his own fantasy creations, Sharkboy (a pre- Twilight Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (someone who’s pretty much vanished since). He fails.
Instead of the anarchic wit of the Spy Kids films, here we get an overdose of twee wrapped up in cloud of anodyne. Gaudy, cheap-looking, trite and noisy, it looks like a dozen episodes of a particularly uninspired children’s TV series edited together.
The worst thing about it: When the action moves to the planet Drool, dream logic kicks in. Which may make some kinda sense since the action takes place in a dream fantasy world created by young Max, but the “anything goes” approach makes the film bloody irritating to watch. It's like channel hopping gone mad!
26 Southland Tales (2006)
Director: Richard Kelly(opens in new tab)
You hear that sucking sound? That’s director Richard Kelly’s career going down the drain. After the deliriously-received Donnie Darko, we were all convinced he was going to be the NEXT BIG THING. Instead he delivered the NEXT BIG FLOP. But only after cutting it and recutting it for what seemed an eternity.
Darko was a beguilingly cryptic film, but Southland Tales was the cinematic equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube that somebody had knobbled by introducing random squares of extra colours. Set in a near-future Los Angeles (4 July 2008) as it stands on the brink of some undefined social, economic and environmental disaster, the film jolts between various random plotlines: an action star who's stricken with amnesia; an ageing porn star developing her own reality television project; a Republican vice president; a police officer who's been kidnapped by his brother; a mad scientist.
It’s packed with stunt casting – Dwayne Johnson playing a character who’s clearly The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, a few comedians – and everyone is required to act like they’re in a piss-take of a David Lynch film. It’s mannered, it’s weird for weird’s sake, it’s impenetrable and it’s headache inducing. Maybe there is all some great logic behind it; but the amount of mental energy required just to stay awake couldn’t be worth any great epiphany you might eventually be struck by.
The worst thing about it: It made people take another look at Donnie Darko , and think, “Hmm, maybe it wasn’t all that…”
25 Zardoz (1974)
Director: John Boorman(opens in new tab)
One of those unlucky directors to have multiple entries in this list, John Boorman’s main crime is that he comes a cropper when he tries too hard. His best films – Deliverance , Hope And Glory , The Emerald Forest – are all relatively lean, mean, simply-told affairs, not without a mild dusting of “deeper themes” admittedly, but they’re pretty much take ’em or leave ’em; you can enjoy the films as gripping stories without analysing them.
The problem with his two out-and-out flops (especially the one you’ll be coming across higher up this list) is when he gets all arthousey and pretentious. With Zardoz he seems to be doing it to try to cover up the fact that this is a very silly sci-fi B-movie at heart. Not that one look at Sean Connery in a red nappy and porn movie moustache would make you think anything otherwise.
Zardoz is the ’70s in cinematic form. Connery is a savage from the wastelands who hitches a lift inside a giant flying head the savages worship as God back to the Vortex. This is where the Eternals live their decadent lives, knitting lentils, bonking, meditating and no doubt listening to Nana Mouskouri LPs. They’re a bunch of hippies basically, but not idealistic, hedonistic ’60s hippies; they’re the hippies who survived into the next decade, moved to California and tried to turn the counter-culture into a quasi-religion.
There’s even a militant feminist who despises the penis, but Connery’s soon having his wicked way with her. Maybe Zardoz isn’t so much the ’70s on film, as Boorman’s issues with the ’70s on film.
The whole thing also has a Wizard Of Oz theme going on; that’s how the film gets its title: Wi ZARD of OZ (which is amusing to anyone of a certain age who remembers the children’s series Issi Noho ). But why Oz is evoked isn’t entirely clear. The film hardly hides anything behind the curtain – certainly not its female breasts – as the rottenness and indolence of the Eternal society is pretty obvious from the start. Maybe, in the end, Boorman is the wizard, desperately trying to make a naff film look like it means something. In which case, the veil is so threadbare you don’t need to lift it to see behind it.
The worst thing about it: It makes the sight of a lot of good-looking naked women look not just unsexy, but disturbing…
24 Thunderbirds (2004)
Director: Jonathan Frakes(opens in new tab)
The film for which the word travesty was invented. Claims that George Lucas or Michael Bay have ridden roughshod over cherished childhood memories pale into insignificance when compared to the celluloid carnage Jonathan ( Star Trek ) Frakes inflicted on Thunderbirds .
Not that you’d need to have seen, or even ever heard of, Thunderbirds to know that this film stinks to high heaven.
Under the mistaken impression that a film for children has to be full of children, Thunderbirds turns a solid gold format into Five Go Hiking On Tracy Island. The older Tracy brothers are turned into a boy band who look about as tough and heroic as the Wiggles and spend most of the film on the sidelines, along with their majestic rescue craft. Alan and Tintin are reimagined as teenagers, teamed up with Brains’s irritating sproglet, and given the spotlight. This means the entire middle section of the film has nothing to do with Thunderbirds and everything to do with keeping the budget down – it’s just an extended chase scene around Tracy Island, with the kids on the run from The Hood.
Full of slapstick humour (yep, there’s gloop a-plenty), gaudy sets, ill-staged stunts and cringe-inducing dialogue, it feels more like a cheap Spy Kids cash-in than Thunderbirds . When the familiar theme tune kicks in, it almost seems to be mocking you.
The worst thing about it: There’s hardly any Thunderbird action in it.
23 The Spirit (2008)
Director: Frank Miller(opens in new tab)
“My city screams,” declares the domino-masked crimefighter. But that’s not the sound of a metropolis in torment. That’s the restless spectre of comic book legend Will Eisner, rightly appalled by what Frank Miller has done to his baby.
Miller may talk up his reverence for his old friend’s work, but from the pseudo- Sin City opening, all stark monochrome and snow, it’s obvious that he’s determined to stamp, no, jackboot, his vision on this project. It’s the same creative presumption that sees him bin the hero’s immortal blue suit for a black number, a sin against iconicism as daft as dressing Superman in mauve.
But Miller doesn’t only stumble on four-colour aesthetics. Somehow he misses the entire heart of Eisner’s canon. The original Spirit tales were humanitarian fables of fate and redemption, the struggles of deadbeat souls seen with a wise, warm eye. There are no human beings in Miller’s city, no little people. He populates it with a circus of grotesques, from Samuel L Jackson’s gun-toting, mascara-eyed villain to Eve Mendes’s bling-obsessed femme fatale
Where Eisner specialised in a silky, smoky sense of noir erotica, Miller deals in simple kink. There’s an unsubtle, creepy salaciousness here. Women become dolls draped with Miller’s fetishes, from the Times Square-hooker look to Nazi exploitation chic. Even The Spirit doesn’t escape a whiff of misplaced perversity: “The city is my sweetheart, my plaything,” he tells us, with the lascivious rasp of a man who frots himself against fire hydrants when no-one is looking.
Sure, it’s gorgeous, if wearyingly so. The cinematography is sublime, and Miller is talented enough to deliver little sunbursts of beauty. But no amount of flash can camouflage the career-low performances, the scaffolding where characterisation should be, the pitiful cod ’40s dialogue, or the monstrously fumbled comedy. Jackson wallops The Spirit with a loo seat then cries, “Toilets are always funny!” – if you’ve ever wondered what humour sounds like in the icy vacuum of space, now’s your chance to find out.
The worst thing about it: Just watch this clip…
22 Van Helsing (2004)
Director: Stephen Sommers(opens in new tab)
Not so much a film as an exercise in CG porn, Van Helsing is a good idea gone hideously wrong in the hands of a director who doesn’t know the meaning of excess.
A monster mash featuring a kick-ass Van Helsing hunting down various classic horror movie baddies in a rip-roaring, fanciful yarn in the Indiana Jones vein… well, that’s what it should have been. Instead we got a charmless succession of ever more bloated set-pieces featuring seaside postcard caricatures of The Wolfman, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein, et al . Even Dracula doesn’t escape the CG makeover – instead of just fangs, when he goes in to bite someone he has a massive digital maw. We wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hugh Jackman’s stubble was a post-production CG addition.
The normally reliable Jackman appears overwhelmed by the sheer epic naffness of the project and decides the only way to cope is act like he’s in a pantomime (and he’s not far wrong). Kate Beckinsale clearly realises she’s only there for window dressing and gamely plays along, but Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula is just pain hammy.
The worst thing about it: The ghastly CGI revamps of the classic horror monsters.
21 The Avengers (1998)
Director: Jeremiah S Chechik(opens in new tab)
The best version of this ill-fated big screen version of The Avengers is the trailer (below). It contains clips that never made it into the final film that seem to capture the wacky vibe of the original TV series much better than the final version ever managed. Not that reinstating them in a director’s cut would improve the film much; that would just make this celluloid endurance test longer.
There is just so much wrong with this film, but most of it seems to drip down from the disastrous central casting, which proves that the director hadn’t got a clue what he was making. Ralph Fiennes is a bland as a bank clerk with not a hint of Patrick Macnee’s playful charm. Uma Thurman might as well be a Barbie doll – she fills the costumes well, but she’s stiff, charisma-free and hampered with an accent that sticks in her mouth like a gob full of candyfloss.
The plot is incoherent, the action scenes are bungled and the trademark Avengers weirdness is reimagined as slapstick from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. And you have to wonder about the credentials of any director who casts the eloquent Eddie Izzard in a near silent role.
The worst thing about it: The teddy bear scene. In theory having a high-level meeting where everyone’s dressed as teddy bears might seem like a very Avengers -ish thing to do, but not when there’s absolutely no reason they should be dressed as giant teddy bears. The film is about controlling the weather, so, at a stretch, snowmen might make sense. Or everybody holding umbrellas as it rains indoors. But why the bleedin’ hell giant teddy bears?
20 Pluto Nash (2002)
Director: Ron Underwood(opens in new tab)
Pluto Nash is a comedy. At least we think it is. Y'see there’s this chase scene at the beginning, and it's scored with comedy music. Not that anything in the chase itself is actually particularly funny. Neither is it particularly exciting or dramatic or interesting.
Which pretty much sums up the film itself.
In the land of the one-line pitch, it's difficult to understand why Hollywood gave Pluto the green light. Aside from serving as a starring vehicle to Eddie Murphy (who gives his least energetic performance ever – which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view) there is nothing marketable about the movie. It’s a limp gangster movie, with a Western vibe set on the Moon in the future. Murphy as Nash is a successful nightclub owner who falls foul of an evil gambling mogul. Cue some seriously flaccid slapstick, some poorly-staged action scenes (a low gravity shoot out looks like it was shot in the ’60s), some thuddingly obvious gags about future technology and a spattering of innuendo the Carry On team would have binned as substandard (a pretty French maid robot programmed to regularly drop her feather duster and bend over to pick it up; a sexually voracious fruit machine telling punters they might get lucky; “You know how hard it is to get wood on the Moon?”… you get the idea).
Murphy barely has a funny line to capitalise on. 99% of the comedy relies on Bruno (Randy Quaid), Nash’s bumbling, archaic, perma-smiling robot bodyguard. Considering he’s one of the most ill-conceived, embarrassing comic creations ever to blot the silver screen, this is a bad, bad move.
The actors all recite their lines like they’re at the first read-through. There’s no consistent tone. The cinematography and lighting is as flatly bland as an ’80s TV show, highlighting the artificiality of the sets. It’s difficult to believe this is from the same director who gave us Tremors .
The worst thing about it: A picture says a thousand words…(opens in new tab)
19 Howard The Duck (1986)
Director: William Huyck(opens in new tab)
So dire is this film’s reputation (“Howard The Turkey!”), that if you haven’t seen it, there’s the sneaking suspicion it can’t be as bad as people make out. That if you go back and watch it now, you’ll discover a misunderstood classic; a film before its time; a flawed gem that dared to be different.
It’s 100% crud.
The central thing wrong about it is the duck, and he’s very wrong in oh so many ways. Not only is the costume rubbish, but as a character he’s totally charmless. Sure, in the comics Howard is a curmudgeonly cynic, and if that were how he was portrayed on screen, it may have worked. Instead, the movie Howard is Marty McFly with a bad hangover, desperate to be loved by grouchy in a whiny, annoying way. And the less said about his moves on Marty McFly’s ex, Lea Thompson, the better.
But the Duck is only one of many problems. Script, acting, direction, stunts and special FX all battle it out to see which can be the most inept. The script wins, though the stop-motion monster at the end (almost unbelievably created by Star Wars ’ AT-AT animator Phil Tippett) is shamefully poor.
The weirdest thing about the film, though, is how smuttty it gets at times. Look, we’re not being prudes, but for a family entertainment film, it has some very distasteful moments. A gag about duck condoms? Really?
The worst thing about it: The seduction/borderline bestiality scene.
18 Eragon (2006)
Director: Stefan Fangmeier(opens in new tab)
Eragon the movie is onto a loser from the start: it’s based on one of the lamest fantasy novels ever written. If anything, the film improves on the book because it takes a lot less time to sit through it and you don’t have to put up with Christopher Paolini’s insipid, silly word-filled prose.
The story is, basically, Star Wars with dragons, and never becomes any less trite than that sounds. It plods its way mechanically through the tropes of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces like it's ticking off a check list. If you aren’t tipped off by the scene where Eragon returns home to find that his uncle’s been murdered by the imperial boot boys, then the scene with him staring into the sunset will have you wondering where the other sun has gone. And what it doesn’t nick from Star Wars it pilfers from Lord Of The Rings .
To be fair, the film reproduces the book on screen competently, if hardly with any great wit or imagination, but the total lack of anything even faintly original about the exercise makes Eragon one of the most utterly dispiritingly pointless movies ever made.
The worst thing about it: “I’ve seen things you can’t imagine,” says Jeremy Irons’s Obi-Wan avatar at one point. He’s lying.
17 The Island Of Doctor Moreau (1996)
Directors: Richard Stanley/John Frankenheimer(opens in new tab)
To call this version of HG Wells’s classic “troubled” is an understatement. Val Kilmer was acting a dick on set, making all sorts of demands. (Brando pointed out to him: “You're confusing your talents with the size of your paycheck.") Original director Richard Stanley was sacked (legend has it he sneaked back on set and posed as an extra). John Frankenheimer came on board and immediately demanded a rewrite, with new pages of script arriving while the film was shooting.
It was all a bit of a mess and it showed on screen. Badly. The performances are erratic. The script is meandering and full of plot holes. The costumes and make-up are by turns either substandard or downright bizarre. And there’s some embarrassing moralising tagged on as if someone at the last moment went, “But… what’s this film actually about.”
But head and shoulders above that – making sure this film will always gain a place in worst movies ever made polls – are two monumentally appalling performances from Brando and Kilmer, for very different reasons. Brando seems to be seeing how far into the realms of pantomime he can go before Frankenheimer has a seizure, while Kilmer does a stunningly accurate impression of an animated corpse.
The worst thing about it: Brando’s costumes, especially the bucket he wears on his head at one point.
16 The Haunting (1999)
Director: Jan de Bont(opens in new tab)
A contender for the most ill-conceived remake ever, director Jan de Bont takes a classic horror movie that was a triumph of subtlety and suggestion, and gives it a sledgehammer CGI makeover. Noisy, vapid and overwrought, it mistakes in-your-face FX for tension and terror.
The worst thing about it: Just compare the two scene below and you tell us:
15 Escape From LA (1996)
Director: John Carpenter(opens in new tab)
The main reason why the sequel to Escape From New York isn’t a patch on the original? Because it makes Snake Plissken look cheesy .
It’s a shame, because the cast is studded with cult favourites, including Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier and Bruce Campbell. Shame none of them get anything particular interesting to do.
It’s not Kurt Russell’s fault, either: for a 44-year-old man, he still looks pretty good in an eye patch and skin-tight leather. The problem is what he’s called upon to do. At one point Snake is revealed to be an ace basketball player. At another, he hang-glides in to save the day. But the final humiliation comes when Snake surfs along on the top of a tsunami, to the accompaniment of twangy guitar, looking like a complete and utter tool. You feel embarrassed for him.
The worst thing about it: The CGI in the surfing sequence, which manages to make a similar scene in Die Another Day look good.
14 Elektra (2005)
Director: Rob Bowman(opens in new tab)
It’s difficult to say exactly why Elektra is so weirdly awful. Maybe it’s because the script is invisible, the action meaningless, the actors uninterested, the locations anonymous. Maybe it was never a goer from the start: a spin-off from 2003’s Daredevil, which hadn’t exactly set the world alight, it also arrived not long after Halle Berry clinker Catwoman , the pair of films clubbing together to set the female superhero movement back years. Not that the female superhero movement was especially strong, particularly on screen, in the first place.
Muddled in both tone and storyline, Elektra feels like it’s made of little bits and pieces of other movies (including kung fu flicks). It just never goes anywhere: you hope for a big finish, perhaps a change of scenery, but nothing ever comes. After the triumph of the first two Spider-Man films, it dragged Marvel right back down to Howard The Duck level.
The worst thing about it: Terence Stamp as blind martial arts master Stick. He’s as wooden as a woodpecker-infested forest.
13 Street Fighter (1994)
Director: Steven E de Souza(opens in new tab)
Poor old Raul Julia – the film is dedicated to his memory (he died shortly after making it) but as an epitaph it's a bit like having a public toilet named in your memory.
He plays the villainous General Bison in the film of the Capcom beat-’em-up. With dreams of being the evilest military dictator of all time, he and his minions storm the Shadaloo City, and demand a $20 billion ransom, which will go as a downpayment on forming his own dictatorship, Bisonopolis.
Cue Jean-Claude Van Dame and Kylie Minogue as Colonel Guile and Cammy who with their crack team of soldiers, are sent by the Allied Nations to give Bison a good seeing to. And, um, that’s about it. A plot that makes Victoria Beckham look bloated.
Which wouldn’t be too bad if the vacuum were filled by some decent action. This is, after all, based on a beat-’em-up. But the fights are lame at best, bungled at worst. True martial artists must regard it as the funniest film ever made. Attempts at real humour fall flat, the FX looks like they’ve been half-inched directly from the game and half the Street Fighter characters are reduced to barely more than cameos. Minogue is indescribably unconvincing as an action woman. The score sounds like it was written and recorded in a day.
The worst thing about it: The hairy Hulk version of Blanka.
12 A Sound Of Thunder (2005)
Director: Peter Hyams(opens in new tab)
A Sound Of Thunder , based on the seminal short story by Ray Bradbury, looks so much like one of those cheap, cash-in TV movies that Syfy pumps out for its US channel, that it’s difficult believe that it was distributed by a major studio and directed by the man who has given us Capricorn One , 2010 and Outland . It’s a crime that Bradbury’s tale wasn’t given the respect and budget it deserved.
The film kicks off roughly following the short story. A company offers hunters the ultimate thrill by sending them back in time to take pot shots at dinosaurs. Well, one particular dinosaur, at least. Y’see, aware that making changes to the past can alter the future, the company carefully controls the hunts so that nothing changes (the dinosaur in question is due to croak anyway). But then one of the temporal tourists steps off the designated path… and the butterfly effect takes over.
It’s a great concept, but the film muddies the simplicity of it with “time wave” and corporate nastiness and all sorts of other cheap scriptwriting tricks that actually mean nothing makes much sense any more. It all ends up with big monster chasing unmemorable characters around cheesy sets.
But all this might have been forgivable if the film didn’t look like a mid ’90s episode of TV sci-fi. The FX are truly, truly dire, and the other design departments don’t exactly cover themselves in glory either. Ben Kingsley (a man who whose oeuvre is well represented in this list) is forced to wear one of the most unconvincing wigs in cinema history.
The worst thing about it: The considerably unspecial FX in general, but especially a "walking down the street” moment against a CG backdrop which is so poor, it would have been better to put the actors on a treadmill and have a painted backdrop behind them.
11 Rollerball (2002)
Director: John McTiernan(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)
Rollerball has clearly been cut to blazes. It’s impossible not to notice the characters who clearly had subplots that have ended up on the cutting room floor; or the fact that the action scenes often have no narrative flow or continuity; or the way the plot has holes the size of the Tunguska. Yet nobody has ever clamoured for a director's cut of Rollerball , because for once, the producers with the scissors did us all a favour; the idea of sitting through even more of this drivel is too hideous to contemplate.
The central, stifling problem is Rollerball itself. In the original film, it looked like a genuinely bad-ass, high adrenaline sport. In the remake it looks small-scale, tame and totally impractical. Sure, people are getting killed by the end, but it comes across more like a piece of WWE theatre as opposed to the cage fighting version in the ’70s movie. When you make a film about a sport, and you can’t make that sport look exciting, you’re in serious trouble.
Look beyond the sporting scenes all you can see is a landscape of celluloid sludge. The mind boggles at the utter pointlessness of opening scene – with star Chris Klein luging through busy city streets to show what a daredevil he is. But it’s a luge! It looks ridiculous! All that’s missing is a surfer soundtrack. Quite how this scene remained when so much else was cut is incomprehensible.
There’s an attempt at satire but it’s so blunt and naive its laughable. The film attempts to emulate RoboCop ’s parody adverts, but never gets beyond annoying random, noisy blipverts. There’s random, gratuitous nudity and unmotivated sex scenes. There’s a ghastly heavy metal soundtrack – that’s not a critical assessment of the music itself, more the sledgehammer way it's thrust into the audio mix. It often feels less like a movie, and more like a sex-obsessed teenage boy channel surfing for tits and violence.
The worst thing about it: It got a release.
10 Exorcist II The Heretic (1977)
Director: John Boorman(opens in new tab)
If nothing else, Exorcist II: The Heretic probably lays claim to being the only horror film in history to boast a tap dance routine (feel free to correct us). Though the tap dance scene here would seem to conclusively prove that tap dance has no place in horror.
It’s a typically ludicrously misfiring scene in a film full of misfiring scenes. It lulls you into a false sense of security in the first 20 minutes or so when it looks like it’s just going to be thuddingly dull, before rapidly going utterly insane. Ever thought you’d see James Earl Jones dressed as a giant locust? No. Then you’re in for a treat here.
The original, while not exactly cinema verité, was deeply rooted in the real world, with an almost documentary approach at times, and that’s why its horror worked. Exorcist II is full-on supernatural hogwash, bordering on sci-fi, with an outlandish psychiatric clinic full of hexagonal, glass-walled cubicles, dream sychronising devices, psychic links, telepathy and a wind demon.
Richard Burton, acting with all the animation of an Easter Island statue, plays a priest charged with investigating the death of Father Merrin in the original film, and discovering that Regan is far from free of possession. Through some ripe plotting, this leads Burton to a mud village in Africa where swarms of locusts get in on the act.
At times pretentious, at times downright silly, and at times just very, very dull (you lose count of the number of shots of people walking very, very slowly up stairs) it climaxes with the house from the original film being destroyed by use of some of the shoddiest physical effects ever. One of those gloriously bad films everybody should see once, just so they can have a jolly good laugh. If only at James Earl Jones in a giant locust suit.(opens in new tab)
The worst thing about it: The cast spend most of the time intoning the gadawful dialogue like Speak and Spell machines.
9 Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
Director: Russell Mulcahy(opens in new tab)
A sequel so bad that the director walked out of his own premiere then re-released the film twice, retconning out some of the worst decisions. For example: aliens. Out of nowhere the swords-and-sorcery mystery of 1986's original was replaced by some bullshit backstory about extraterrestrials from the planet Zeist (a rationale Russell Mulcahy erased from his 1995 "Renegade Version"). The coolest bits about the original Highlander were historical sword battles so for some reason the studio set The Quickening in the future with a confused environmental message about the ozone layer (and some serious dodgy FX). And then Sean Connery's Juan Ramirez comes back, completely undermining his poignant death at the hands of the Kurgan. Random and pointless.
The worst thing about it: Zeist goons dueling on Back To The Future -inspired hoverboards.
8 Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
Director: Sidney J Furie(opens in new tab)
One sign that a franchise has lost its way is when they start having to give subtitles to the films. Numbers aren’t enough any more; the makers know they have a rotten product and do all they possibly can to pep up their movie. Hence Superman IV being lumbered with its hippyish “Quest For Peace” soupcon. (Many of you are presumably screaming at the screen that Superman III was rubbish too, but this reviewer thinks it’s a smashing flick. So ya boo shucks.)
The worst Superman movie ever made, Quest For Peace essentially treats its audience with contempt . This is a film made incredibly cheaply, with rubbish special effects and script, crudely hacked down to a short running time, but shamelessly trading on the Superman name. It tries to pretend it’s a dynamic superhero movie, it even tries to pretend it has some political relevance. But it’s rotten to the core, the 2CV of Superman films, rolling off the production line following the previous Mercedes, Jaguar and Ford Cortina.
And lest we forget, this was a movie that was made in flipping Milton Keynes!
The worst thing about it: Superman’s toe-curling speech to the UN at the end.
7 Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)
Director: Michael Bay(opens in new tab)
The first Transformers movie was brash and flawed but entertaining popcorn fun nonetheless. The sequel, however, is complacent, cluttered and foolish, all unforgivable cinematic sins. With nostalgia for the toy line at an all-time high and Star Trek ’s Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman on writing duties, Revenge Of The Fallen should have been the biggest of big-screen blowouts, but even the $200 million budget couldn't compensate for the lack of a coherent plot. One confused gung-ho fight scene ploughs into the next with the relentlessness of a shellshocked fever dream, punctuated only by Arab stereotypes, borderline-offensive jive-talking mini-bots and Shia LeBeouf shrieking.
The worst thing abut it: Devastator's wrecking ball testicles.
6 Battlefield Earth (2000)
Director: Roger Christian(opens in new tab)
Breathtakingly dreadful on every level, if Battlefield Earth was supposed to be Travolta’s way of giving Scientology a recruiting drive, he failed miserably. In fact he probably did more to turn L Ron Hubbard’s church into a laughing stock, as people previously unaware of the connection were suddenly going, “the founder of Scientology wrote this tosh?”
To be honest, this is another film on this list hamstrung by the fact that it’s based on dodgy source material. Hubbard’s sci-fi “epic” was cheesy and old fashioned when it was published in 1982. The film, however, not only embraces the novel’s many faults, it adds in a whole load of new debilitating faults for good measure. Not the least of which is John Travolta starring as a dreadlocked Klingon who has eaten all the pies, spouting lines that shrivel with embarrassment as soon as they leave his mouth (“ While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!”)
It’s set in the year 3000, when Earth has been under the rule of the evil Psychlos for nearly a millennium. But when the Psychlos try to make humans mine for gold in radioactive areas, the downtrodden strike back, using some Harrier jump jets and nuclear bombs they find in a museum… We’re not making this up, honestly. Because museums are always displaying working nuclear bombs with a sell-by date of 1000 years, aren’t they?
Daft, anorexic plot aside, you also have to endure some hideous production design; lots of tedious horse riding scenes that make the film look like one of those cheap European sword’n’sandal movies of the ’60s; acting so hammy it hurts; a deliriously unashamed overuse of wacky camera angles and slow motion seemingly just to prolong the agony); and threadbare special effects.
The worst thing about it: There’s too much to choose from, but the truly toe-curling thing about the film is when it tries to make the Psychlos funny, with “witty” banter, especially a moment involving a new alien secretary with an impractically long CG tongue. “ She's stupid enough not to be a menace, good-looking enough to be decorative; she gets drunk with economical speed... and has other advantages.”(opens in new tab)
5 Catwoman (2004)
Director: Pitof(opens in new tab)
A would-be blockbuster that might as well have a large “Kick Me” sign attached to its back.
Dumping the original Selina Kyle version of Catwoman, the pathologically daft screenplay lazily throws The Crow , The Mask and Spider-Man into a blender, and then adds some ridiculous mythology about Egyptian cats creating a line of masked female avengers throughout the ages. The latest recruit for running around wearing a hilariously awful fetish outfit is unlucky designer Halle Berry; a meek, unconfident loser until she’s bumped off by her nefarious beauty tycoon employers Lambert Wilson and Sharon Stone.
Fortunately for her, an unconvincing CGI moggie is on hand to provide a resurrection, and she’s soon back among the living with funky feline superpowers, an all-new attitude and a worrying craving for catnip. In between romancing bland cop Benjamin Bratt and a brief spot of jewel thievery, it’s time for payback, which naturally involves mono-monikered French director Pitof throwing in extended shots of Ms Berry’s glistening physique and wiggling backside.
Shot like a two-hour Pussycat Dolls video, the action sequences are sliced up into MTV fast-cut incoherence, and the unconvincing CGI work is bafflingly showcased in one gratuitous shot after another.
It might have been survivable if treated as Charlie’s Angels -style unashamed trash, but the script makes the mistake of trying to play the ridiculous “Catwoman vs the Evil Make-up Company” plotline with a straight face. Messages of female empowerment don’t fit comfortably with all the lad-mag titillation.
The worst thing about it: Berry is a stilted, laughably unsexy Catwoman, missing out on the essential psychosis of the character and simply showing off her cleavage at every opportunity.
4 Immortals (2011)
Director: Tarsem Singh(opens in new tab)
You were expecting 300 meets Clash Of The Titans ? Tough luck. You’ve got Meet The Spartans meets a Pet Shop Boys video. Though, arguably, Immortals is funnier than Spartans . Albeit, unintentionally. Well, you try not laughing when all the warriors start bashing on their shields and the scene threatens to become that “We Will Rock You” moment from A Knight’s Tale .
Corny, camp and contrived, Immortals tries to give the Theseus myth a modern makeover but – despite the latest CG and voguish 3D, slow motion, blood-confetti-ing action scenes – comes across as depressingly old-fashioned instead. The stilted storytelling is more ploddingly episodic than the least memorable Ray Harryhausen mythological road movie. The wimpy gods look like they’ve walked off the set of a Xena: Warrior Princess porn parody. ; the sets are uniformly stagey and bland (causing a jarring disconnect with the CG at times); the Oracles have been dressed in novelty lampshades; and the Titans appear to be trapped in a giant football table. The film aims for “striking” but more often looks plain ludicrous. And that’s when it’s not just ripping off Lord Of The Rings – honestly, at one point the film appears to have relocated to Mordor.
The actors try their best (except Rourke, who just growls as usual) but bland direction and pompous dialogue suck the energy out of the performances.
If there’s one thing Immortals gets right, it’s the headgear. Multi-spiked golden crowns, enormous iron bulls, triple-tiered red lampshades… it’s a carnival of hats. Mickey Rourke wears one that looks like a sarlacc pit attached to a lobster claw. It’s magnificent.
Immortals doesn’t lack a sense of wonder, though. You spend most of the film wondering why they bothered making it.
The worst thing about it: Changes to the myth are arbitrary at best and banal at worst (the Minotaur is reimagined as some bloke in a spiky mask). You get the feeling they’ve been made more for budgetary reasons than artistic ones.
3 Planet Of The Apes (2001)
Director: Tim Burton(opens in new tab)
Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, what were you thinking? You had a blockbuster handed to you on a plate, and you had to go and mess around with it and cock it all up. We thought you were remaking Planet Of The Apes . You thought you were remaking The Flintstones .
To be fair, there’s a lot to like about Burton’s Planet Of The Apes . The sad fact is, though, that what’s bad about it is so bad, you really don’t have much goodwill to admire the make-up or Tim Roth’s brilliant turn as the villainous Thade.
For a good deal of the first half of the movie, after Mark Wahlberg’s astronaut Leo Davidson has gone through a timey-wimey anomaly of Moffat proportions and landed on the Ape-ruled planet, the film feels like a weak comedy, in which ape society is just our society but hairier. So we get apes in toupees, apes in night dresses, apes sniffing their underarm hair, apes with performing dwarves… it’s all pretty obvious stuff. Too many of the simian characters are played for laughs, and the artificial-sets only reinforce the idea that we’re in an alternative Bedrock.
Then the film takes a more serious turn, with lots and lots of very long and not particularly interesting battle scenes. But not so serious that it can’t have fun with time travel, with various spaceships popping out of the anomaly at different time periods to make the thin plot seem a little bit less ploddingly linear. Meanwhile, Leo, who’s actually a quite loathsome character who keeps making monkey jibes long after he’s learnt that apes have feelings, manages to being about peace between humans and apes in about three days.
The apes bouncing around the sets like squash balls rapidly becomes tedious too.
The worst thing about it: The twist ending that tries to evoke the classic “Statue Of Liberty” twist from the original, but makes no sense at all. Burton later admitted it made no sense, and was just a cliffhanger for any potential sequel to try and explain. Now there’s optimism for you.(opens in new tab)
2 Batman And Robin (1997)
Director: Joel Schumacher(opens in new tab)
It’s like Tim Burton needn’t have bothered. While Burton steered the Batman franchise away from the campy trappings of the ’60s TV series, his replacement Joel Schumacher seemed to think he was remaking the Adam West/Burt Ward show. The rot began with Batman Forever , but had truly set in by Batman And Robin . The result is damned near unwatchable.
The thing is, even if Schumacher wanted to do a big screen version of the ’60s Batman, he hasn’t even made a good job of that. The ’60s series had charm and wit. Batman And Robin has puns and bat-nipples.
How did it suck? Let us count the ways.
• Arnold Schwarzenegger delivering every ice pun ever written as Mr Freeze (“You’re not sending me to the cooler!”, “I'm afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy”, “Ice to meet you.”).
• The gaudy, panto sets and neon colour scheme
• The godawful stunts, with people flying around on Kirby wire like some stage production of Peter Pan
• Incomprehensibly directed fight scenes
• Bane reimagined as a grunting, dim, Mexican wrestling heavy
• Bat-nipples on the Bat-suit
• Alicia Silverstone proving clueless as Batgirl
• Chris O’Donnell in permawhinge mode as Robin
• A tacked-on, unconvincing emotional plot about Alfred on the verge of death
• Uma Thurman’s cringe-worthy comedy performance as a pre-Poison Ivy nerdy scientist
• Uma Thurman’s cringe-worthy comedy performance as Poison Ivy
• The complete absence of any exploration of the dark side of Batman’s psyche, which was key to the Burton movies
• George Clooney on automatic
• Oh, just about everything
Worst thing about it: Joel Schumacher
1 The Happening (2008)
Director: M Night Shyamalan(opens in new tab)
Ah, The Happening , the movie everybody loves to hate. It received votes from almost everyone who took part in compiling this list, and was way out in front when all the sums had been done. It didn’t just (lose?) this poll, it did it in awesome style. There was a yawning chasm between this and Batman And Robin .
So why is it so reviled? Ironically, the reason stated time and time again was, “NOTHING HAPPENS!” After a mildly intriguing opening it does indeed rapidly become a film about people gawping vacantly at vegetation.
And initially it all looked so promising. After a couple of misfires, M Night Shyamalan, it seemed from the intriguing trailers, was back on course for a Sixth Sense -style chiller. Strange things were happening, and they seemed to be big, Earth-shattering things. On an ordinary day, hundreds of people suddenly stop moving for a few moments before committing suicide. With rumours of a terrorist attack circulating, charisma-free science teacher Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) flees with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), best friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and Julian's daughter Jess. But as the phenomenon spreads across the North-Eastern US, Elliot begins to wonder if it's really a terrorist attack after all...
The Happening 's biggest flaw is that there's no surprise, no twists, no reason to carry on watching. If you're reasonably movie-savvy you'll figure out what's causing the mass suicides in the first scene or two, and if you're not, then the film tells you within the first half-hour. With the cat out of the bag, the only thing left to sustain it is the protagonists' quest to reach safety, but any power that may have had is eradicated by wooden performances from the stars. Wahlberg plays every scene with a single, vaguely-confused facial expression (imagine a bear in a sushi restaurant, who’s just been handed some chopsticks...) and a tone of voice to match.
Round it all off with a denouement that could only be considered a twist if it were your first ever exposure to a piece of drama, and all The Happening amounts to is a clumsily handled environmentalist trope that's largely bereft of tension.
But most of all, it is just incredibly, mindbogglingly, energy-suckingly dull. And no amount of nicely-shot trees or bizarre gardening accidents can disguise the fact.
The worst thing about it: The lawnmower accident, which generally is met with guffaws of laughter rather than horror.