Guides | July 2, 2009 | Comments ()
Three years ago, when we first reflected on the history of bloated, big-budget spectacles, our Worst Blockbusters list went on to become one of the most popular posts in the history of the site. It may be no coincidence, either, that DHS seized our hard drives two days after it published. There have been four blockbuster seasons since then, and as part of our fifth anniversary celebration, we felt it appropriate to update the list, adding several movies released since May 2006 in addition to one glaring oversight missing from the original list. The result: The 15 Worst Blockbusters of All Time.
In a culture obsessed with the here and now, it might be easy to forget that Michael Bay, Will Smith, Bret Ratner, Roland Emmerich, Adam Sandler, and Bruce Willis have been polluting suburban multiplexes for a generation. Indeed, for at least the last 12 or 15 years, the studios’ goal in producing summer movies hasn’t been creating a quality product for mass consumption; as Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing write in Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession, it’s become about designing a megabudget spectacle built to “decimate everything in its path before self-destructing.”
In 2003, the average movie registered 41 percent of its total box-office take in its first weekend, and that portion is higher now — just this year, Friday the 13th grossed 65 percent of its final gross in its opening weekend, and Wolverine grossed 48 percent of its final tally in its opening weekend. The major studios understand that the formula for success has absolutely nothing to do with quality; it’s about creating enough hype and hiding your film from critics long enough to sneak a $50 million opening past the American public before they realize they’ve been hoodwinked into spending three hours’ wages for two hours of Kevin James’ fart jokes. Certainly, there have been exceptions to the rule; for every dozen movies like Independence Day or Twister, there is the occasional Bourne Identity, Star Trek, or Pixar film to keep our faith in the studio system alive. But, more often than not, those films that break the $100 million mark are empty spectacles that take more than they give.
It was this thought that originally inspired us to look back at the history of the blockbuster and reminisce about how we’ve all wasted our money in years past. In ranking the worst blockbusters of all time, three factors were taken into consideration: General consensus among Pajiba staffers; the overall critical success as ranked by Rotten Tomatoes; and box-office success. The final list isn’t a list of the absolute worst blockbusters — you won’t see Catwoman or Speed Racer, for instance, because they were box-office failures — these are the worst of the most successful blockbusters, which is to say: It acknowledges the degree of disappointment felt by the film lover confronted by one of these over-hyped movies when it misfires.
To be sure, there were a number of worthy candidates that didn’t make the cut, including the two Matrix sequels, Con Air, The Cat in the Hat, The Fast and the Furious, Click, xXx, and Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. But, in the end, we believe this is a solid list that appropriately reflects the absolute worst of the worst among the top-grossing blockbusters, carefully weighing the money made against the suffering induced, and ranked in order of sheer heinousness.
15. X-Men: Wolverine ($177 million and counting)
Where does one begin with this film? There’s a difficult conundrum when it comes to movies based on comic books. Do you review the film as a fan, as a reader of the comics? Or do you review the film in a vacuum, regardless of whether you’ve read the comics? Is that even possible? However, regardless of what perspective one takes, there’s one important fact about X-Men Origins: Wolverine that is pretty much incontrovertible: It’s fucking stupid. Completely, utterly ridiculous. Worse still? It could have been not just good, but great, using the exact same tools. it’s guilty of even worse crimes than X-Men 3 — taking an absolutely A+ cast, letting them give very good, if limited, performances, and then writing them all into the goddamn ground. You already have one of the greatest rivalries, between Wolverine and Sabretooth. Deadpool is already a fantastic character. Rather than use the already compelling story lines, they just throw the kitchen sink into it, and we’re left to watch it drown in it’s own excess. For that is the greatest sin here — taking a promising, popular concept and trying to inject it with magical movie steroids. Not surprisingly, it ends up pathetic and limp. —TK
14.The Rock ($134 million)
The Rock holds a special place in my heart: It’s the one movie I’ve wanted to walk out on but couldn’t. I was in college then, and I had gone to see it with a group of friends — friends who, strangely, did not feel compelled to leave after the first 20 minutes — at a theater far from campus. So I was forced to sit through two-and-a-quarter hours of Sean Connery strutting, Nick Cage lumbering, and Anthony Clark (as the queeny “stylist” who left a bitter aftertaste out of all proportion to his miniscule screen time) mincing.
As the second collaboration of Michael Bay and Jerry “Mr. Blockbuster” Bruckheimer, the duo that would go on to inflict Armageddon and Pearl Harbor (both found below) on a sadly compliant public, The Rock is a perfect illustration of the blockbuster paradigm Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson perfected with Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, and Bad Boys, their first collaboration with Bay: inane, derivative scripts; flashy visuals; and excess testosterone.
Here, Connery, Cage, and Ed Harris — all talented, appealing actors, in other movies — play the flat, unconvincing leads while a prodigious cast of character actors, including David Morse, Philip Baker Hall, John C. McGinley, and the late, great John Spencer, suffer the ignominy of supporting roles. From the preposterous opening scene, in which Harris stands speechifying at his wife’s graveside in the middle of a typhoon, to its Hallmark-card epilogue, nothing in this movie bears any resemblance to reality, or, for that matter, to entertainment. — Jeremy C. Fox
13. Van Helsing ($120 million)
There’s a reason why the Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll aren’t tossed together into one movie very often — it’s fucking moronic. But don’t even bother to point this out to Stephen Sommers, who makes films notable for their cross-blending of Indiana Jones-style adventure, monster-movie homage, and ripe human fecal matter — I doubt he’d get the joke.
Van Helsing represents one of the worst kinds of blockbuster formulas: Wantonly bad writing; attractive leads who don’t even bother to act and endure any pretense that will allow them to bear their gleaming, well-toned flesh; and ubiquitous CGI effects that, while painstakingly detailed, somehow look less real than forced-perspective puppets and foam latex.
At least Monster Squad had camp. — Phillip Stephens
12. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($317 million)
The greatest disappointment of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — and in a movie where (among other things) a young hero swings among vines like Tarzan, there are several disappointments — is that the filmmakers lacked the confidence to wholeheartedly embrace the character they’d created and instead resorted to riffing on his age and that of the entire series. Director Steven Spielberg and producer/story man George Lucas hauled something magical out of thin air when they gave life to Indiana Jones more than 25 years ago, but rather than return to that parallel fictional universe, they’ve tried to drag Indy into our own, and they wind up getting stuck halfway between worlds. The first half of the film is stronger, but also more weirdly apologetic about the fact that Indy has returned at all, as if screenwriter David Koepp were given instructions to act mildly embarrassed about the project for the first 50 pages. Much of the film is a meta-nod to the others, eschewing character-based humor or revelation for knowing winks at the audience. I can’t believe this is the script that convinced the principles to make another film. Spielberg is a smart and gifted filmmaker, and though he always maintained a certain intellectual distance from the material even while putting his heart into it, not until now has that distance become tinged with irony or, horrifyingly, the aroma of parody. — Daniel Carlson
11. Pearl Harbor ($198 million)
Bruckheimer and Bay strike again, in their penultimate collaboration (the two haven’t worked together since 2003’s Bad Boys II, though both continue to create insipid crap with others). Pearl Harbor displays just how little film progressed in the 70 years subsequent to Howard Hughes’ early talkie Hell’s Angels — both films weave back and forth between stunning aeronautical feats (in Hughes’ case, all real, in Bay’s, mostly CG) and a hackneyed love-triangle plot.
Sporting Southern accents picked up at Thelma and Louise’s tag sale, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are all callow vainglory and macho bonhomie until a dame comes between them. Said dame is played by Kate Beckinsale, who, lovely as she is, displays no particular personality and seems replaceable by any other hot tamale of the era. Fortunately, just when it seems the rivalry for her dewy glances will forever rend the bond between Affleck and Hartnett, World War II comes along to save their friendship. This sappy prelude to the attacks goes on for as long as a normal movie, but why rush when you’ve set aside over three hours to spool out your ungainly melodrama?
With the CG-intensive battle scenes, B&B would like to evoke the horrors of war a la Saving Private Ryan, but this is really a hodgepodge of Titanic and Top Gun and, as with Titanic, the true horror is that a historic catastrophe is treated as nothing more than a backdrop to a tin-eared soap opera. Bay never met a lily he couldn’t gild, and Hans Zimmer’s syrupy orchestral score is just the icing on this goopy cake of prosaic postcard Americana, random slow-motion, endless aerial shots, and a 40-minute sequence of identical CG explosions. — JCF
10. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry ($120 million)
Are you tired of the sudden growth of films that treat homosexuals as actual people with actual, complex emotions? Isn’t it disgusting? It’s vile, right? Hetero-torture porn. It’s an affront to God-fearing breeders like you and me, am I right? If God wanted men to use the rear door, he would’ve stitched on an ass labia. Am I right? There’s a reason God invented AIDS, and it wasn’t so that cubicle monkeys could guilt you into ponying up $5 to sponsor a co-worker’s effort to walk around a track a few miles and wear a pretty ribbon. (Clearly, the walk-a-thon industry was behind the spread of the disease).The genius of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is in its premise: Two male firefighters, Chuck (Adam Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James), get hitched so that they can share domestic partner benefits. And therein lies the comedic gold: There are no gay firefighters in America! I mean, seriously: Who would believe that? Firemen shower together. They hold big hoses and shake them around merrily. They slide down freakin’ poles, people. Gay people don’t do that. And that’s why Chuck and Larry works — we’re never led to believe that homosexuality is an actual threat to our nation’s fire departments, because if there’s one thing that I couldn’t bear, it’s the notion that some muscle-bound chubby chaser might pull me from 20 foot flames and bring me to safety (seriously: If there are gay fireman out there and you’re called to my house, just let me and my family perish with a little dignity, please). The thought makes me sick, and it makes Bruce Springsteen sick, too. — DR
9. Meet the Fockers ($279 million)
That a joke about the name of its lead character, Gaylord Focker, is referenced at least 24 times in its 115 minutes says about all you need to know about Meet the Fockers. It is an orgy of one-note jokes that outstayed their welcome in its precursor, only to be dragged back out, repackaged with more star power, and re-gifted like a Clay Aiken Christmas CD.
Meet the Fockers may not represent the first time that two of the greatest actors of any generation — Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro — have shared screen time, but it’s certainly the worst, and that Barbara Streisand would trade in her Hollywood wattage for a role where she essentially plays Mrs. Roper with a psychology degree is just plain embarrassing. Indeed, the whole Meet the Fockers exercise is empty, tedious, and about as enjoyable as one of the blows to the head that Ben Stiller inevitably suffers in every movie he’s in.
Meet the Fockers does have one thing going for it, however, but even that is empty consolation for most of us: If you relish the opportunity to see how far the mighty have fallen, Fockers offers it in spades. What does it say, after all, that Hoffman, De Niro, and Streisand (who have 18 Oscar nominations and six wins among them) are playing second fiddle to an actor whose most famous onscreen moment involved a wad of his own semen hanging from his ear? — DR
8. Armageddon ($201 million)
This is one of the movies that, for me, acts as a kind of litmus test of intelligence and higher-order thinking. Basically, anyone who likes this movie is at best misguided and at worst an outright moron who should be informed immediately of this film’s utter lack of redeeming qualities and told to keep their love for it a secret, lest people find them out and permanently ostracize them from society. Not even the inexplicable presence of the likable Owen Wilson can make me feel anything but contempt for this film. The third collaboration on this list between director Michael Bay and uber-producer/Faustian role model Jerry Bruckheimer is an exercise in bloated excess and phony emotion, a mix they would take to its extreme later in Pearl Harbor.
For a movie with a $140 million budget, the effects are downright pitiful. The blue, hazy asteroid never conveys the sense of epic scope it deserves, perhaps because Bay’s camera doesn’t hold a shot for more than four seconds. And on an asteroid the size of Texas, how do the separated men regroup? I know that’s a stupid thing to get hung up on, but that’s a lot of land to cover, and trying to reason out the logistics was the only thing that kept me watching in the first place.
Ultimately, not a single thing in Armageddon is emotionally honest, from the animal crackers to the melodramatic martyrdom. Bay’s close-ups of plaques honoring fallen Apollo astronauts are cheap echoes of a kind of nationalism he can never adequately sell; it’s almost like he wants to be Frank Capra, but he’s too cynical to know the difference between American sentiment and making a buck. Armageddon is a blockbuster of the worst kind: pretending to be deep, while reveling in its superficiality. And don’t even get me started on Affleck. — Daniel Carlson
7. Patch Adams ($135 million)
I hate this movie. There’s really no better way to put it. I could start off talking about films on the grand scale of human existence, pouring out prose so purple you wouldn’t even know what I was saying but, when it comes down to it, I just hate this movie so much.
Where to begin? First, kids with cancer need chemo, not clown noses. Second, having Monica Potter’s character get shotgunned is a brutal, cold, alienating turn of events but, the first time I saw the film, I found myself envying her because she took the easy way out, while the rest of us had to sit there and suffer through another preachy, treacly, cloying, saccharine, just damned awful movie from Robin Williams. The man has made 2.5 good movies in his career (Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, and parts of Dead Poets Society), and he thinks that entitles him to shove crap like this down our throats, substituting platitudes for dialogue and cheap audience manipulation for dramatic arcs. By the time the butterfly lands on Patch and heals his spirit, I knew I was watching a masterpiece of awful filmmaking.
I love film. A lot. I think it has the ability to show us the profound beauties of which we as a people are capable, those moments of accidental grace when two characters suddenly stumble into forgiveness or hope or pain or love. It’s a powerful medium, responsible for a unique kind of cultural mindset and nostalgia. And Patch Adams is a desecration of all that, a profaning of the art form to its lowest point.
I don’t know what else to say: I just hate this movie. — DC
6. Big Momma’s House ($117 million)
The premise of Big Momma’s House is that our dear friend Martin Lawrence must go undercover by pretending to be Big Momma, a ginormous black grandmother with a fondness for floral-print muumuus. The first time I saw this tripe (in the theater — please don’t ask me why), I fell asleep for about 40 minutes, and that was by far the best part of the whole film. The second time I tried watching it, while preparing to write this blurb, I was forced to turn it off about a half-hour in, out of sheer mental frustration.
The scene that did me in involved Martin/Momma acting as a midwife and trying to use a turkey baster, tongs, and a plunger to deliver the baby. And, quite frankly, it’s a miracle I even made it that far since, at the 10-minute mark of this celluloid disaster, there was a hit-to-the-groin gag followed immediately by a scene where Martin is hiding in a bathtub while the real Big Momma is right on the other side of the shower curtain taking an enormously noisy shit, grunting and uttering things like “Whoooo, stewed prunes going right through me!” Not even Paul Giamatti (as Martin’s FBI partner) or Terrance Howard (as the it’s-hard-out-here-for-a-struggling-actor villain) come anywhere close to saving this wretch. And yet, if you still remain curious about this film, save the rental fee and the 100 minutes of your life and simply stick your head in a toilet for a good minute or two while having a loved one repeatedly kick you in the ass. Trust me; you’ll still come out ahead. — Seth Freilich
5. Wild Wild West ($113 million)
There’s a now famous story, as relayed by Kevin Smith, that illustrates most of what you need to know about Wild Wild West.. It was produced by Jon Peters, who was also attached to a Superman sequel in the late 90s. One of his major requests, in asking Smith to write a draft of the Superman script, was to have the Man of Steel battle a giant spider in the third act. Fortunately, the Superman sequel never took off, but unfortunately, Peters decided, instead, to incorporate the giant mechanical spider into the third act of Wild Wild West.
Essentially, Wild Wild West is one of the worst illustrations of concept first, script second. The film, based on a 1960’s television show set in 1869, inexplicably meshed modern hip hop references and mock-jive in a post-civil war America full of James Bond gadgetry and an evil inventor. You’d think with that much incongruity — there’s a black man in a cowboy hat with a position of authority, for God’s sake — that director Barry Sonnenfeld and its star Will Smith could have some fun with it. However, the jokes, if you can even call them that, fall flat, buried apparently underneath the piles and piles of money thrown on the screen. — DR
4. Titanic ($600 million)
This pretty much sums up everything you need to know about Titanic: While the actual ship sank in about two hours and 40 minutes, the damn movie ran for almost three-and-a-quarter hours. James Cameron’s self-indulgent pet project simply needed that extra half-hour to ensure that the viewers’ souls were sucked completely dry. And that’s why this movie blows. Well, that and Celine Dion. — SF
3. Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace ($431 million)
For almost 20 years we waited, pined, and yearned. And then it happened: George Lucas announced that Star Wars — the greatest phenomenon in all of pop culture history — was coming back. Untold throngs went giddy — an honest-to-God cultural fervor erupted, and not just among geeks and thirtysomething fanboys.
And then it sucked. It sucked a gigantic, meaty mountain of ass.
I’m through with living in denial: George Lucas’ prequel trilogy more or less sucked from beginning to end, and nowhere was this risible fiasco more apparent than in Episode I — The Phantom Menace — a title that alone warrants damnation.
I don’t use the word “sellout” often because the term itself has become so cliche, but George Lucas is the absolute definition of the word. He took one of the world’s most beloved science fiction universes and turned it into a goddamn farce: laughable racial caricatures; vile, unsympathetic protagonists who deliver ridiculous dialogue in a manner so stilted that it makes Tara Reid look like Spencer Tracy; and a giant seahorse named Jar Jar who speaks in Antebellum blaccent.
It needs to be said: George Lucas sucks. The years of Brobdingnagian success have clearly addled his brain to the point that he can no longer process reality and realize his material is now wretched dross, and no one dares point it out to him. His second trilogy was the most uncreative endeavor possible: A guaranteed smash-hit with no substance whatsoever, never mind that it cheated and frustrated millions of people. — PS
2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($170 million and heading toward $300 million plus )
Revenge of the Fallen is little more than a series of explosions transposed with shots of Megan Fox’s cleavage and/or ass. Mr. Bay sees what he cannot have in the bedroom, and out of those phallic frustrations, he obliterates everything in his wake like a petulant little child who destroys the contents of his toy chest because he’s been denied an ice cream cone. Those Transformers are his toys; the big screen is his bedroom; and sexual competence is the ice cream cone that will forever elude him. Serial killers are often associated with small-penis syndrome and though there may be little veracity in that theory, it’s apparent that Michael Bay shares the same hedonistic soullessness of a Ted Bundy or Leonard Lake. There’s not an ounce of life in the Fallen’s script. But there is little denying that the man knows how to film an action sequence — 44 years of practice borne out of sexual insufficiency will make a person an expert. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is Bush League, and I mean that in a purely political sense. It’s chest-thumping, racially-insensitive, sexually provocative redmeat bullshit designed to get needle dicks hard. And that’s fine, if you’re a hormone-addled pubescent Beavis who gets his rocks off on blowing up frogs. — DR
1. Batman & Robin ($107 million)
From the very first exchange between Batman and his sexually ambiguous protege (“I want a car. Chicks dig the car.”/ “This is why Superman works alone.”), Batman & Robin didn’t have a goddamn chance. Written by Akiva Goldsman, the script alone might have warranted its own separate award for inadequacy, so replete was it with puns, mangled idioms, and lazy one-liners that it felt as though it were written by a high-school junior charged with composing yearbook headlines.
As much as George Clooney, tongue firmly in cheek, likes to take credit for the downfall of the franchise’s initial go-round, the fact is, he’s the only one who managed to survive the film unscathed. I mean, lookit: If you don’t count Terminator 3, a film also considered for this list, Batman & Robin basically ended the previously successful film careers of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris O’Donnell, and Alicia Silverstone and, were it not for Quentin Tarantino and his fondness for legs that don’t stop, Uma Thurman might have been perpetually stuck in the six-year rut she was in before the Kill Bill franchise came along and resurrected her star.
It’d be foolish, though, to blame any of the cast members directly for making Batman & Robin the worst blockbuster of all time; incompetence of this magnitude can only be reserved for the George W. Bush of Hollywood directors, Joel Schumacher, a man so feebleminded that, were he charged with directing the war on terror, the entire armed services would be outfitted with Bat nipples (suggesting a new “Don’t ask, don’t need to tell” policy in our military). It is Schumacher, after all, who thought it’d be a swell idea to strip away the best elements in the Batman tradition — dark mythology, sinister mysteries, and the rare comic-book character with a modicum of real-world relatability — and leave only the “BAMS!” “POWS!” and “KABOOMS!” of the campy ’60s TV series, which he amped to unnecessary levels with 125 minutes of zipless zingers, garish colors seemingly pulled from J. Crew catalogues, and, for God’s sake, Coolio (whose own musical career, naturally, stalled after B & R’s release).
Indeed, as Robin so eloquently explained to Poison Ivy in one of the film’s penultimate scenes: “I hate to disappoint you, but rubber lips are immune to your charms.”
If only we were all so immune. — DR