We’re rapidly inching past the point where great movies of note are making the transition to Blu-ray, and getting more of the dreck — in gorgeous high-def and lossless sound. And thus, this week, we have the Blu-ray release of Congo, the notorious 1995 talking-ape turkey adapted from the Michael Crichton novel. Those who haven’t forgotten it (and most have) hold the movie in fairly low regard; at the time of its release, I can even recall a few tossing it in with the worst movies of all time. But let’s get real: Congo is a masterpiece compared to these true terrors from Hollywood’s hall of shame.
50. Plan 9 From Outer Space
The 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards crowned Plan 9 the worst movie ever made, and it’s a label that stuck, lending the previously obscure grade-Z sci-fi mess from Ed Wood a bit of unexpected notoriety. And let’s be clear: Plan 9 is awful. But it’s not even the worst movie Ed Wood ever made (see #26), and it falls squarely into the realm of films that are so poorly done — so incompetent on pretty much every level — that they transcend their terribleness and enter the realm of the comically exhilarating.
49. Miami Connection
And that description goes double for this uproarious mishmash of martial arts, ‘80s rock, and orphan melodrama. Originally released in 1987, it was barely seen and sank without a trace, only to be rediscovered after an Alamo Drafthouse programmer blind-bought a print on eBay for $50 in 2009. The acting is putrid, the tonal shifts are whiplash-inducing, and the music… well, play the video above, and enjoy.
Your film editor may be just about the only person who even remembers this 2004 atrocity, a morally bankrupt ode to vigilante justice whose most troublesome trait is its confident assumption that the audience shares its shaky morality and skewed sense of fair play. The story of a Hollywood star who gets away with murdering the paparazzi who pursue him, it was produced by Mel Gibson (uh-huh) and directed by first-and-only-time filmmaker Paul Abascal, whose previous credits of note were as Mr. Gibson’s hair stylist on the Lethal Weapon movies.
47. The Thing With Two Heads
Dig this premise, jive turkeys: a wealthy, dying white racist (Ray Milland) finds his head transplanted onto the body of a black death row inmate (Rosie Grier). Its distributor couldn’t figure out how the hell to market this peculiar mishmash of blaxpoitation, low-rent sci-fi, and The Defiant Ones, so it desperately tried to sell the movie as a comedy, complete with a poster explaining, “The doctor blew it — He transplanted a WHITE BIGOT’S HEAD on a SOUL BROTHER’S BODY! Man, they’re really in deeeeeep trouble!” Indeed.
This 2001 effort was supposed to transform Mariah Carey into the next Cher; instead, it made her into the next Madonna (cinematically speaking, at least). The “elusive chanteuse” would subsequently blame its widely ridiculed failure on its release date; the soundtrack came out on September 11, 2001, the movie ten days later. Maybe so — or maybe they’d just made the 9/11 of singer-turned-actor movies.
45. Ghost Dad
Most lists of the worst movies ever made will go out of their way to include Leonard Part 6, Bill Cosby’s well-known 1987 boondoggle, a failed spy spoof made at the height of his Cosby Show success. Cosby famously used the Leonard’s publicity tour to disown the movie (in spite of the fact that he produced it and wrote the story). Three years later, when he released the family comedy Ghost Dad, he hit the talk show circuit again, assuring moviegoers that it was okay to see this one. Joke was on them — the turgid and strained Ghost Dad is actually a far worse film than the uneven but occasionally amusing Leonard. And aside from its many other lapses, it also marks the last time Sidney Poitier stepped behind the camera. Then again, it’s never a good idea to return to the scene of a crime.
Back in 1995, director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to make a big-budget, big-studio NC-17 movie, opening up the possibility of genuinely grown-up movies that could make an impact and a profit. And they blew it, by producing a slab of dumbed-down, pork-fried garbage that’s become the campy, unintentional laugh-fest of our time. “It doesn’t suck,” heroine Nomi says throughout the movie. She’s clearly not talking about the film she’s inhabiting.
43. The Jazz Singer
It’s one thing to dare doing a modern-day remake of the quaint and dated Jazz Singer, Hollywood’s first “talkie”; it’s quite another to expect a pop star and first-time actor to fill Al Jolson’s shoes. Yet that’s what director Richard Fleisher (Soylent Green) did in 1980, when he cast soft-pop crooner Neil Diamond as a rising star whose power ballads take the country by storm, to the chagrin of his Cantor father (Laurence Olivier, chewing the scenery like it’s his first meal in weeks).
42. Color of Night
The box-office success of Basic Instinct prompted a rash of snicker-worthy pseudo-sexy “erotic thrillers” of rapidly increasing incompetence (Sliver, Body of Evidence, Blown Away, Poison Ivy, The Crush). But the goofiest of the bunch is this sublimely silly 1994 “mystery,” whose makers hoped that the sight of a constantly naked Jane March and a fleeting glimpse of Bruce Willis’ little Bruno would distract from one of the nuttiest (yet most obvious) plot twists in cinematic history.
41. The Happening
Lest his domination become too overwhelming, we elected to only pick one M. Night Shyamalan picture for this list — but oh, what a decision. The clunkiness of The Last Airbender? The silliness of The Village? The pompous self-importance of The Lady in the Water? But ultimately, you can’t argue with the crippling power of Mark Wahlberg as a science teacher taking on evil plants.
40. Nothing But Trouble
Sure, Ghostbusters basically printed money, but that still doesn’t explain why, seven years later, Warner Brothers handed first-time director Dan Aykroyd $50 million to make a laugh-free comedy about a New Jersey village under the iron fist of a decrepit judge with a dick for a nose (Aykroyd). It’s an ugly, unsettling, bizarrely unfunny movie, its “jokes” so removed from anything resembling humor that it almost plays like something created by an alien race. And worst of all, Aykroyd wastes Chevy Chase (back when he was actually amusing) and John Candy (in a dual role).
39. The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies
Enterprising would-be filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler directed, produced, and starred in this 1964 dog, billed upon release as “the first monster musical.” It’s a wildly incoherent grab bag of murder, music, and endless fortune-telling sequences — but it boasts an oddly respectable pedigree (future award-winning cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and László Kovács were among its camera operators), and a few very vocal admirers. Chief among them was Lester Bangs, who wrote of the film: “it will remain as an artifact in years to come to which scholars and searchers for truth can turn and say, ‘This was trash!’” Hear, hear.
The Incredibly Strange Creatures… originally went out to theaters via Fairway-International Pictures, run by writer/producer Arch Hall Sr. to produce and distribute the drive-in movies he made with his son, Arch Hall Jr., in the starring role. Their home movies might’ve been more entertaining. The worst of the bunch is 1962’s Eegah, a painfully dull 1962 caveman movie/rock musical notorious for its terrible songs, the repulsive “shaving cream” scene, and the out-of-nowhere line “Watch out for snakes!” It, like Strange Creatures and several other films on our list, came into the public consciousness via the poor souls at Mystery Science Theater, who had to watch all of this garbage many more times than we did.
37. Mac and Me
The rip-off movie has been around almost as long as the movies themselves; after Charlie Chaplin became one of the cinema’s first superstars, screens were inundated with short films starring Chaplin impersonators. But few rip-offs were as blatant and shameless as this 1988 E.T. copycat, which replicated the 1982 hit (right down to the alien’s love for Reese’s Pieces, here changed to Skittles) and added a healthy dose of product placement, including a five-minute set piece in a McDonald’s (above), complete with guest appearance by Ronald McDonald.
36. The Pod People
Then again, Mac and Me looks like, well, E.T. next to this 1983 Spanish rip-off, which features another lovable alien and a little boy who befriends him (he can do “magic things!”), alongside eight or 12 other plots about poachers, a lost (and terrible) rock band, and the alien’s killer mother. Another MST3K favorite, and in the words of its most loathsome character, “It stinks!”
The effects are laughable, the caricatures are broad, and the jokes land with a thud in this brutally bad 1988 horror-comedy, one of a seemingly endless string of Gremlins rip-offs — see also Critters, Munchies, Ghoulies, and Troll. Most of those movies begat inexplicable sequels (stay tuned for one of them), and Hobgoblins even managed to do the same, after it became “popular” 20 years after release, thanks to (all together now) Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The filmography of Halle Berry is full of oddities, but none is more inexplicable than this 1997 comedy from director Robert Townsend (who usually knows better), featuring future Oscar winner Berry and recent Oscar winner Martin Landau. It’s the tone-deaf story of two homegirls who befriend a rich millionaire, and there’s not a laugh in it; Roger Ebert gave it a rare zero-star review, writing, “My guess is that African Americans will be offended by the movie, and whites will be embarrassed. The movie will bring us all together, I imagine, in paralyzing boredom.”
33. The Creeping Terror
Drive-in movies were an easy way to make a quick buck back in the ‘50s and ‘60s — you threw a monster movie together on the cheap, put it in front of a teenage audience that was mostly there to drink beer and make out, and wait for the profits to roll in. And they did, but sometimes the results were so incompetent that they even stood out among those throwaways. Which brings us to The Creeping Terror, a laughably bad monster movie primarily remembered (with, again, an assist from MST3K) for its living-room-rug monster and its nonstop narration, which takes the place of location sound that was either lost or never recorded (depending on whose story you believe).
32. Jack Frost
If you can make a strong family-targeted Christmas movie, it’s the gift that keeps on giving: you get an audience starved for holiday entertainment, and fresh revenues every damn year. But if you make a terrible family-targeted Christmas movie, well, you end up with Jack Frost. It’s the story of a rock star (Michael Keaton) who puts career over family and dies in a Christmas car wreck. (Happy Holidays!) A year later, he comes back to life — in the form of a CGI snowman that’s, inconveniently enough, more terrifying than the villain of the cheapo horror movie that shares Jack Frost’s title. Frost was an expensive flop that contributed to Keaton’s infrequent film appearances over the last decade and a half; when you hear Birdman described as his “comeback” movie, this is part of what he’s coming back from.
31. Cool as Ice
If you crossed a BuzzFeed listicle with an episode of Full House, scored it with Boyz II Men, stuffed it in a Beanie Baby, and dunked it in a jug of Crystal Pepsi, you still wouldn’t have as dated a ‘90s artifact as the sole starring vehicle of one-hit wonder Vanilla Ice, who was already washed up by the time this neon-soaked small-town romance hit screens in fall of 1991. But it survives today, as a stark reminder of how very careful we must be about letting motorcycle-riding white rappers advise our daughters on who to drop and who to get with.
There’s an argument to be made — and a persuasive one! — that Adam Sandler has made worse films than this 2006 hit, and there are so many to choose from: the self-parodic Jack and Jill, the product placement-fest Grown-Ups 2, the xenophobic gay-panic nightmare I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and so many more, all of them marked by a halfhearted indifference towards basic concepts like “jokes” and “comedy,” to say nothing of their reliance on the dubious talents of Sandler’s pals and sycophants. But for my money, nothing he’s made shows more contempt for the intelligence of its audience than Click, whose variations on its gimmick (man gets a “universal remote” that allows him to fast-forward, pause, and visit chapters of his universe) consist mostly of Sandler freezing people so he can punch them or fart on them. But that’s not the insulting part: that comes in the third act, when the picture suddenly tries to transform itself into a heartfelt drama, with sappy music and wailing, overwrought death scenes as Sandler revisits the life he fast-forwarded through in what amounts to a remake of It’s a Wonderful Life for the exceptionally stupid (who are, in turn, about the only ones who will swallow its final, clichéd “twist”).
29. Exit to Eden
Of all the bad ideas that director Garry Marshall has ever had — and keep in mind, this is the man who directed The Other Sister, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve — none was worse than adapting Anne Rice’s erotic novel into wacky buddy-cop comedy, which gave us the opportunity to observe Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell in leather fetish gear. And the movie-going public is still not entirely certain what they did to deserve that.
28. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Here’s a movie so bad, it didn’t just get the Mystery Science Theater treatment; both of that show’s spin-offs (Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax) revisited it, and got two more “riffs” out of it. That’s an awful lot of terrible for one feature film, but the shoe fits — from the treacly holiday messaging to the preposterous effects to “Dropo,” perhaps the most irritating character ever committed to celluloid, this is the cinematic equivalent to a stocking full of coal.
27. The Twilight Saga
It would be impossible to pick the worst of the bunch, or to rank them in any kind of definitive order, so let’s just lump all five of these laughably brain-dead piles of mumbly dead-eyed YA sparkly vampire nonsense into one entry and be done with it, shall we?
26. Glen or Glenda
WITNESS! The birth of the cinematic style of Edward D. Wood, Jr.! SEE! A nonsensical mish-mash of stock footage, blown takes, and warring narration! MARVEL! At the dopey dialogue, stiff performances, and bargain-basement production values! And, most of all, THRILL! To the picture so bad, so disjointed, so amateurish, that even decades of neglect couldn’t keep it down!
25. From Justin to Kelly
American Idol fever was at its absolute peak in 2003, and even a nation enraptured by that singing competition still couldn’t be persuaded to plunk down their hard-earned cash for this warmed-over would-be Grease starring first season winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini (remember him?). It was conceived as an extension of the show, a contractual obligation that, thankfully, was not amended to future seasons after its very poor commercial and critical reception. Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman put it best: “Set in Miami during spring break, it’s like Grease: The Next Generation acted out by the food-court staff at SeaWorld.”
24. Disco Godfather
Dolemite himself, Rudy Ray Moore, managed to fall prey to the end of both the Blaxpoitation craze and the disco craze with this bananas tale of a cop-turned-nightclub-owner who takes on the underworld after his nephew Bucky gets hooked on angel dust. We’re getting into real you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it territory here, between the woefully inept filmmaking and the actorly stylings of Mr. Ray Moore (who has two speeds: over the top and waaaay over the top). It’s a schlock masterpiece, so put your weight on it, everybody.
The poor timing of this excruciating mix of fatty-fall-down jokes and deliriously minstrel-show-esque stereotypes may well have cost Eddie Murpy his Dreamgirls Oscar — which isn’t exactly fair, but it certainly seems like justice. For it’s not just a poorly made movie, but a loathsome and distasteful one to boot, consisting of a single joke, told over and over and over and over and over again, that wasn’t funny the first time. The joke is that fat people are physically repulsive, disgusting creatures. It’s mean, angry, vile, and misogynistic, and some of that might be forgivable if Norbit were funny. It isn’t. There is, no exaggeration, not one laugh to be found in it. It marked Eddie Murphy’s creative nadir (which is saying something), and if we’re lucky, it’s the worst film he’ll ever make. I shudder to imagine one that’s worse.
22. Howard the Duck
Marvel movies got off to rather an inauspicious beginning with this notorious 1986 goose egg (sorry) from executive producer George Lucas, whose attempts to turn an adult comic book into a family sci-fi adventure resulted in a movie for no one. Painfully stupid, narratively inept, grotesquely overlong, it’s remembered today for its total lack of logic (events happen on screen, in a form that appears to have been organized by words and character names on pieces of paper, but all reason has been abandoned somewhere along the way) and the nightmarishly disturbing scene of human/duck foreplay between our hero and poor Lea Thompson.
21. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Then again, it’s not like DC doesn’t have a couple of skeletons rattling around in its closet. In the mid-‘80s, after the disappointing Superman III, the original trilogy’s producers sold the Superman rights to Canon Films, best known as the exploitation outfit responsible for the Breakin’ movies and various Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson vehicles. True to form, they slashed the budget to the bone, resulting in a chintzy-looking installment that runs barely 90 minutes and is handicapped by its dopey script and subtle-as-a-sledgehammer messaging.
Poor Halle Berry again, who made a series of bad decisions following her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball in 2002, but none of them worse (or more of a career staller) than starring in this goofy, campy (and not in a good way) attempt to wring some new life out of the Batman movie universe. That would happen the next year, with Batman Begins; by then, this box-office and critical bomb had been long, long forgotten, except by the poor souls who subjected themselves to it.
19. The Transformers Saga
As with Twilight, good luck picking the worst one — and yes, I’m even including the 2007 original, which has somehow gained a reputation as being infinitely better than its far inferior sequels. But they’re all the same: overlong, overdone, headache-inducing cacophonies of clanging metal, roaring engines, and choppy explosions, done in a dead-serious, flag-waving tone just this side of Private Ryan (aside from the even more painful scenes of leering “comic relief”). Their domestic grosses total $1.3 billion (with a B!) dollars, which is about as persuasive an argument as I’ve heard for just burning movies to the ground and starting over.
18. Jaws: The Revenge
The still-untouched height (depth?) of desperate sequels, the fourth — and so far, fingers crossed, last — entry in the Jaws series introduced us to the idea of a Great White Shark that could actually follow a family from Martha’s Vineyard to the Bahamas, to get revenge for the deaths in the earlier films. Or, as the widely mocked (and occasionally imitated) poster tagline put it, “This time it’s personal.” A box office bomb and critical whipping boy, it contains one of the most egregious gaffes in movie history: Michael Caine’s plane crashes into the ocean, and he not only survives, but does so with dry clothes.
17. The Human Centipede
An evil genius abducts two lost girls to complete his “human centipede” in this cinematic ode to literal ass-to-mouth, which attracted no shortage of attention (and a reportedly even more repulsive sequel) thanks to the “wait, you’re fucking kidding me, they actually made a movie about that?” factor. Pushing buttons is all good and well, but The Human Centipede doesn’t actually have anything to say — it’s just a cinematic geek show, with no engagement past feeling bad for the (topless, of course) actresses who have to spend half the film with their face in someone else’s ass. (However much they paid these actors, it wasn’t enough.) Director Tom Six’s sadism runs parallel to the madman at his story’s center, but his is worse, because it really happened.
16. The Terror of Tiny Town
This 1938 Western comes advertised as a “rollickin’, rootin’, tootin, shootin’ saga of the great outdoors” starring “Jed Buell’s Midgets.” The resulting waking nightmare tells one joke and one joke only: hey, look at all the little people in a seemingly incongruous Western setting. Its tropes are presumably played for laugh, but it’s not like the clichés are spoofed in any kind of a witty way; they’re merely enacted by people who are shorter than we’re used to seeing. In other words, it’s an hour or so of pointing and laughing — a dull, lifeless mess, running a mere 62 minutes, but all of them so agonizing that the film feels longer than Shoah.
15. White Chicks
The Wayans Brothers haven’t exactly been a gift to the cinema, but none of their other efforts is as stunningly, bafflingly terrible as this 2004 buddy cop movie, in which the duo play FBI agents who don whiteface drag to impersonate a pair of Paris Hilton-esque socialites. It’s Some Like It Hot for people with brain damage, sunk irreparably by the simple, unstated fact that the makeup effects are so terrible they don’t look like white chicks, or even human beings. And yet everyone on screen just acts like they’re who and what they say they are, a disconnect even more shocking than the film’s box office success ($113 million worldwide). That we allowed both cinema and humanity to continue after that success says a lot about our patience and forgiveness as a people.
14. Robot Monster
The prototypical terrible, micro-budgeted ‘50s sci-fi movie, Phil Tucker’s 1953 camp classic concerns an evil alien called “Ro-Man,” played by a man in a gorilla suit with an astronaut helmet. The hodgepodge of stock footage, farcical effects, and goofily “thought-provoking” dialogue (“I cannot — yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I must — but I cannot!”) became a popular favorite among early bad-movie aficionados thanks to its many television viewings, and later generations via Mystery Science Theater 3000, which tackled the movie in its very first season.
13. Alone in the Dark
The filmography of professional video game adapter and bad movie purveyor Uwe Boll is filled with stunningly terrible movies: House of the Dead, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Postal, and the BloodRayne trilogy (trilogy!). But one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest, for one reason and one reason only: Tara Reid as a scientist. (You can tell, because she wears glasses!)
12. Highlander II: The Quickening
The original 1986 Highlander was a sleeper hit, gradually finding an audience via VHS and television. The sequel, released five years later, reassembled much of the cast (including Sean Connery) and director Russell Mulcahy, but the results were… well, problematic, thanks to slashed budgets, locations issues, and general ineptitude. Numerous alternate versions and special editions have been released through the years, all aiming to fix the movie’s many problems, but a reputation is a hard thing to repair; Roger Ebert correctly predicted its fate in his original review, calling it “the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I’ve seen in many a long day — a movie almost awesome in its badness. Wherever science fiction fans gather, in decades and generations to come, this film will be remembered in hushed tones as one of the immortal low points of the genre.”
11. I Spit on Your Grave
This 1978 exploitation movie all but redefines the word “sleazy,” a rape-and-revenge fantasy with something to offend and repulse just about any viewer. Ebert deemed it the worst movie he’d ever seen, a “vile bag of garbage… told with moronic simplicity,” but it acquired enough of a cult cachet among a certain kind of viewer to inspire a 2010 remake, which just goes to show that pretty much anything can get remade these days, no matter how putrid.
10. Batman and Robin
“It’s not the worst movie ever,” wrote MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson in his book Movie Megacheese, of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 disaster. “No, indeed. It’s the worst thing ever. Yes, it’s the single worst thing that we as human beings have ever produced in recorded history. (There may have been a viler clay tablet somewhere in prehistory, but we mustn’t spend time speculating on that.)” It was a genuinely spectacular implosion of a huge movie franchise, one that seemed indestructible when Schumacher took it over two years earlier with the smash Batman Forever. But given free reign, Schumacher cooked up a groan-worthy stew of uncomfortably fetishized closeups, horrifying puns, and “extreme” sports; it took the series eight years to recover, by gently assuring us that none of this ever happened.
9. The Friedberg/Seltzer Oeuvre
You may as well lump them all together, because they all bleed together in cinematic hell: the “parody” efforts of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, which include Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck. They’re sad, limp affairs that have all but single-handedly reduced the “spoof movie” from parody to mere quotation: From Napoleon Dynamite to Borat to the “Leave Britney alone!” guy, no payoff delights these comic geniuses more than cutting away to the flavor of the month, presumably causing the audience to roar with laughter, smack themselves on the forehead, and exclaim, “Hot damn, how the hell’d the Kardashians end up in thar? Hyuck, hyuck!” Their most recent efforts, the Hunger Games parody The Starving Games and the Hangover riff Best Night Ever, both sunk without a trace, meaning the jig might finally be up for these two rip-off artists.
8. Troll 2
The various cinematic crimes of Troll 2 have been well documented in the rather delightful documentary Best Worst Movie: the puzzling plot, the dubious titling (there are no trolls in it, and it is unrelated to the 1986 Troll), the clumsy dialogue (“You can’t piss on hospitality! I won’t allow it!”), and the wildly amateurish acting turned it into a very popular piece of junk art. But it’s kept this far from the top spot simply for begetting Best Worst Movie, a terrific movie and thoughtful mediation on the nature of so-good-they’re-bad movies themselves.
7. The Room
The cult that has popped up around this weird combination of cable softcore flick and failed psychological drama is based on one thing and one thing alone: the bizarre and inexplicable onscreen presence of writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau, an apparent mental case whose impenetrable accent and eccentric line readings render the whole movie a slow-motion car crash that you just can’t look away from.
6. Reefer Madness
Made in 1936 with the financing of a church group and intended as a serious morality tale (its original title was Tell Your Children), Reefer Madness dramatizes the dangers of this “new drug menace,” “marihuana.” The reefer scene comes to life in a dealer’s apartment, which is hotbed of bad music, insane dancing, and illicit sex, where one puff of the demon weed turns the smoker into a deranged lunatic. Hilariously overcooked and feverishly paranoid, it became a counterculture fave in the early 1970s among the very audience it was presumably “targeting.”
5. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
This 1987 stinker might have very well gone down as just another horror rip-off — and make no mistake, it is certainly that, an 88-minute movie that spends over a third of its running time on repackaged scenes from the notorious 1984 original. But the performance of Eric Freeman in the leading role catapulted this from forgotten follow-up to cult comedy, thanks in no small part to the meme-friendly “GARBAGE DAY!” scene. Garbage day, indeed.
4. Battlefield Earth
The annals of bad movie history are filled with vanity projects gone awry: Glitter, After Earth, On Deadly Ground, The Postman, Under the Cherry Moon. But none is as egregious — nor as unwatchable — as this 2000 flop, in which John Travolta leveraged six years of post-Pulp Fiction goodwill to bring to the screen a sci-fi novel from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Travolta’s own high-profile association with the religion lent the picture an unshakable whiff of indoctrination, but even if that weren’t the case, the picture’s butt-ugly production design, self-conscious camerawork, and hammy acting (mostly from Travolta himself) would’ve surely done it in.
3. The Beast of Yucca Flats
Ed Wood may have received all the dubious accolades and the biopic treatment, but he was Ingmar Bergman compared to Coleman Francis, whose three feature films test the patience of even the most ardent bad-movie lovers. The first and worst of the bunch is 1961’s Beast of Yucca Flats, a film which asks us to believe that Swedish wrestler and Wood fave Tor Johnson is a Russian scientist (that’s an even bigger stretch than Tara Reid) who wanders into a nuclear test and turns into a killer beast. Yucca Flats is most memorable for its director’s stubborn refusal to even attempt sync sound; the dialogue scenes are played with characters’ backs to the screen, or out of frame, or even (most hilariously) with the camera on the listener rather than the speaker. To fill the awkward silences, a narrator barks such mumbo-jumbo as, “Flag on the moon. How did it get there?” and “Find the Beast and kill him. Kill, or be killed. Man’s inhumanity to man.” It runs all of 54 minutes, and those who can survive it deserve some kind of prize.
2. Manos, The Hands of Fate
Written, directed, produced by, and starring Harold P. Warren, a Texas insurance and fertilizer salesman (sometimes the jokes just write themselves), this 1966 horror (I guess?) movie would’ve likely disappeared forever had it not been rediscovered for Mystery Science Theater 3000, where the 1993 episode became one of the show’s most popular. It’s easy to see why: it’s a stunningly amateurish effort, filled with lengthy and inexplicable sequences of driving, staring, stammering, and weirdness. The clumsy lighting scheme fills the frame with moths; the endless opening credit sequence is missing the vital ingredient of credits. It’s one of those movies you watch in slack-jawed wonder, unsure of how such a thing ever made it out of someone’s brain and onto celluloid.
1. Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Say what you will about Manos or Beast, but the sheer mechanical and chemical nature of the film process required some minimal degree of proficiency to get a movie to the screen. But there’s no such firewall in the digital age, and that brings us to the top of the heap, the cream of the crop, the worst movie all time (in this viewer’s eyes, anyway): a film so wildly incompetent, so unfamiliar with even the most basic principles of film grammar, that it really must be seen to be believed. The dialogue is nonsensical, the acting is laughably wooden, shots don’t match, sound disappears and reappears willy-nilly, shots crossfade in mid-scene, eye-lines are all over the place, extras are either entirely absent (bars and restaurants are suspiciously empty) or hilariously uncompliant (traffic proceeds as normal during the titular event). But the birds themselves are the topper: they don’t even appear until a good halfway through the film, interrupting a ghastly romantic drama, and when they do show up, the staggeringly terrible computer effects make them look less like real birds than the targets of the old Nintendo Duck Hunt game, hovering in one place, flying in formation, and exploding at random. It all looks like it was shot and edited on someone’s iPhone in about three hours, but give it this much: unlike countless other throwaway movies, once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it. Or, as the guys in Rifftrax put it, “I don’t think anyone told this movie that it’s in a movie.”