I do my best not to see bad movies. If you look at my average ratings for the films I see, they tend to be pretty high. That’s not me being too soft in my reviews, it’s just that I’m fairly selective in what I see (and getting more selective as time goes by). However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t seen some real stinkers in the last 10 years. It’s probably a good thing, because it makes me appreciate the good ones more, but it’s hard to feel good about seeing a crap film when you’ve spent 9 dollars on the ticket and 2 hours of your life you can’t get back. Bad movies, for me, tend to fall into three categories: generally awful movies, disappointments, and overhyped/overrated films. So without further ado, here’s part one of my worst movies of the decade list, numbers 16-11. I’m only counting movies I actually saw in the theaters, so there’s no Gigli or Jackass or Napoleon Dynamite, as much as I’d like to include them.
I’ve seen many mindless action movies in my life, the escapist popcorn-flicks, good for a Saturday afternoon when there’s nothing better to do. It was great fun to go with my dad after he’d get home from golf, and go sit in a dark, cool theater, grab a Coke flavored Icee and watch something full of explosions. So when I say that Transformers destroyed my ability to enjoy mindless action movies, understand the full significance of that. Admittedly, the dumb got dumber over the last decade, but Transformers was my breaking point. A moronic and overly complicated plot, with a horrible MacGuffin stupidly named the “Allspark” (which at one point is big enough to need the Hoover Dam to cover it, and at the next moment is small enough for a human to run around with), are vastly outweighed by some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen. Jon Turturro’s FBI agent gets the brunt of the bad writing, playing a character so dumb he’s an insult to the government, which is saying something. Add a horrible “slapstick” sequence involving 20 foot tall robots hiding in the backyard from the main character’s parents with some sex jokes mixed in and you’ve spoiled the big budget fun for me for a long time. But the biggest offense is spending countless hundreds of millions of dollars on major special effects, and then filming in the most extreme quick-cutting, music video style sure to induce seizures in even the most ADD of viewers. The final 45 minutes of action are nearly impossible to unscramble enough to figure out what’s going on, even on repeat viewings (yes, I saw one of the worst films of the decade more than once). Even a few genuinely cool moments (courtesy of producer Steven Spielberg) can’t save this trashy billion dollar-grossing success. Ugh, why do the bad movies have to make so much money?
15. There Will Be Blood
This movie is pretty much the opposite of the previous. A critical darling, winner of several Oscars, this one had so much potential. Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this one should have been everything everyone said it was. Unfortunately, beneath the powerhouse performances, and the moody and artistic directing, there was nothing of interest. An overly long, boring story, about characters with no redeeming attributes. I can deal with a good tragedy, with anti-heroes, and with movies about horrible people, but when there’s nothing to learn, and no point to the story, then it’s not worth my time. With the exception of the great “I drink your milkshake!” line, this movie was a total waste of time, powerful performances aside.
14. The Core
I went into this film with low expectations, and it didn’t disappoint. A ridiculous premise, shoddy special effects, silly dialogue and a cast with absolutely no chemistry all combine to make a memorably cheesy crapfest. It feels like something that would be on at 2 in the morning on the Sci-fi (or SyFy) channel, and it probably is. But add to that some of the most absurd science ever seen in a movie and it begins to approach legendary status. The giant geode sequence early on in the adventure is laughably silly, and maybe intentionally so. It actually makes me smile to think of the writers coming up with that one. But when you have a throwaway line to explain the miraculous escape at the end of the film, and it’s as scientifically misinformed as, “They’ve found some space between two tectonic plates near Hawaii,” you’ve gone past endearingly cheesy to insulting (fyi, Hawaii is actually smack-dab in the middle of a tectonic plate). Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and Stanley Tucci do their best to try to make it entertaining, but jumpstarting the Earth’s spinning core with nuclear bombs will never make sense, no matter who spouts the techno babble. (I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I actually own this one on DVD.)
13. Battlefield Earth
This one is a classic. The studio wanted to cash in on John Travolta’s resurgent fame, Travolta himself wanting to spread his scientologist message, and viewers wanting to have their brains bashed out by stupidity combined to form a perfect storm of horribleness that can only come about every once in a while, much to the relief of the world. A story of giant dreadlocked aliens in the year 3000 who have taken over Earth and use it for its resources, and the human resistance that pops up, is full of moments that take even the most basic logic and crush it under its mighty insanity. Humans have devolved to living in caves and fighting for their lives, barely able to function, yet they somehow not only manage to learn how to fly harrier jets, but rewire nuclear bombs. But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that they find an entire hanger of harrier jets in perfect condition AFTER 1000 YEARS! It doesn’t even pretend to make sense. Add all of that to the purple tinge that pervades the whole movie, and you get the perfect recipe for nightmares (John Travolta with dreadlocks, perfectly working 1000 year old equipment all vaguely tinted purple, this is what wakes me up in the middle of the night.). Universally regarded as one of the worst movies ever made, it would be a crime not to include it on this list. The sad thing is, the book (of which the movie is only the first third) is actually pretty good, and mostly scientology-free. But the sadder thing is, I also own this one on DVD.
12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Some movies should never be remade. The off-the-wall perfection of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has endeared itself to many over the years, and the brilliance of Gene Wilder can’t be overstated. But I was hopeful that the brilliance of Tim Burton combined with the talent of Johnny Depp would be more than enough to offer a fresh take on this classic. Instead we got lousy CG squirrels, a flat script, and the goofiest performance of Johnny Depp’s career. It’s insulting to the original source material, and even more insulting to the first, transcendent adaptation. It’s all candy-colored coating with no warm, chocolaty center, all the morals to learn so heavy-handed that they can be easily glossed over, the usually beautiful worlds of Tim Burton forsaken for the most obvious and cheap substitutes, like someone doing an impression of Burton, and the music ear-splittingly stupid and horrific. Sometimes it’s not only best to leave things alone, but it’s almost criminal not to.
11. The Sum of All Fears
Sometimes a bad movie is just a victim of horrible timing. The only thing worse than releasing a movie that involves a nuclear bomb destroying all of Baltimore is releasing the movie after 9/11. While the timing is what qualifies this film for inclusion in the worst of the decade, even had it had a more fortunate schedule, it’s plenty bad on its own. It’s long been my dad’s theory that Tom Clancy gets paid by the word for the books he writes, and the convoluted and over-the-top plot certainly carried over from its source material. Equally boring and tedious, even an all star cast (Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell and Liev Schreiber) can’t make it exciting or interesting. A long way from The Hunt for Red October, this political thriller should have been left on the shelf.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the worst films of the decade, where you’ll find super heroes, sequels, remakes, big-budget spectacles, and just plain trash. Also be on the lookout for part 1 of the best films of the decade in the next day or two, and maybe some suggestions of a few diamonds in the rough you might have missed over the last 10 years.