“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999)
There’ll probably never again be a film with the feverish level of anticipation of this one. The revival of the biggest franchise in film history, after nearly twenty years, rode the tail of hugely successful re-releases, and came just as the internet, and sites like Ain’t It Cool News, were coming of age. Even the trailer felt like a massive event. Which all meant that the film just felt like a bigger let down. Unlike some of these films, it has a couple of redeeming features--the podrace sequence is an outstanding set-piece, and the fight at the end is one of the best in the series, thanks in part to Ray Park’s striking villain Darth Maul. But the rest is a sterile bore (a trade embargo, you say? How THRILLING!), with very little of the grimy, playful joy of the original films, and way more casual racism (Jar-Jar gets the press, but the Asian-accented villains, and Arab-ish scrap dealer Watto are worse). And the performers, even ones more talented than young Jake Lloyd, are tangibly drowning in green screen. All of the prequels are bad, but this rivals the Christmas Special as the absolute low watermark for the entire franchise. Plus side: it gives J.J. Abrams a lower bar to clear come December 2015.
Nadir: Every excruciatingly stiff line-reading. It seems no one on set had the balls to echo Harrison Ford, and tell the director “you can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.”
“Batman & Robin” (1997)
Though “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” makes a pretty good fist of getting close to it, it feels unlike we’ll ever see a worse superhero movie than “Batman & Robin,” a monumentally ill-conceived disaster zone that still astonishes with how entirely unsuccessful it is at every single level. After the darkness of Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” unnerved Warner Bros. executives, Joel Schumacher gave the franchise a fresh-lick of kid-friendly paint with 1995’s “Batman Forever,” presumably to their delight, because whatever was wrong with that film is doubly so in the follow-up. Every costume and set seems designed as a toy first and as something to be shown on screen second, Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay appears to be inspired by a deranged child’s retelling of a plot from the 1960s TV series, and even the action is atrocious. The dark and gritty way of the subsequent Christopher Nolan films isn’t the only way to paint the character, but the pantomime of “Batman & Robin” is certainly the worst of all possible scenarios.
Nadir: Mr. Freeze's puns are legendary, but George Clooney’s Batman bidding on Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy with his Bat-Credit Card is pretty much unbeatable.
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
It feels like we’ve been calling out this one quite frequently of late, most recently as part of our Worst Superhero Villains
piece, but lest you think that’s some sort of tacit bid to get ‘Supes 4’ reclaimed as a cult favorite, let us quickly disavow you: this movie stinks.
And as bad as the plot and the script are (Luthor creates Nuclear Man to defeat Superman; they fight on the moon; Superman wins) and as utterly amateurish the effects and costumes, the worst aspect is seeing the great Gene Hackman
teamed with the most annoying sidekick/nephew character ever created in Jon Cryer
’s Lenny Luthor. This film truly put two in the heart and one in the head of a franchise that had been on trembly legs since the dire “Superman III
,” and even Christopher Reeve
looks profoundly uncomfortable throughout in a role he pretty much owned otherwise. Nadir:
Anything with Cryer in it, but since we can’t find any clips of him (the only explanation is the internet has gone sentient and is protecting itself) here’s a battle scene that hints at what we’re getting at.
No one was really expecting “R.I.P.D” to be good. It was a hugely expensive summer movie that was delayed an entire year, starring the coming-off-a-series-of-flops Ryan Reynolds, and that was released, in a bid to keep marketing costs down, with little fanfare by Universal. But few were probably expecting it to be as bad as it actually was. “R.I.P.D” isn’t a film like “Hudson Hawk” or “Waterworld,” fair-to-middling movies tarnished with the brush of being a gigantic flop. It’s a rancid, unfunny disaster that probably deserved to lose the people who made it the eight figures that it did. A cynical attempt to exactly meld “Men In Black” and “Ghostbusters” (though it is, at least, based on a presumably equally cynical comic book), it pairs an adrift Ryan Reynolds with an over-the-top Jeff Bridges to battle yet another shitting portal in the sky and Kevin Bacon, who you partly suspect might have died early in production and is being pushed around “Weekend At Bernie's”-style by some poor PA. It’s never funny, the effects and design are dreadful, and it’s never interesting. If anything, it deserved to do worse.
Nadir: The moment where you realize that Ryan Reynolds’ character has literally done nothing the entire film.
“Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997)
Really, the signs were there with the godawful pun right there in the title, but we still came out of “Speed 2” stunned at how risibly awful it was, despite being from the same director as the terrific “Speed” and bringing back newly-minted star Sandra Bullock. Set on an ocean liner this time, with a blocklike Jason Patric making us really miss the comparatively Shakespearean range of Keanu Reeves (I know!), and featuring a villain in Willem Dafoe whose defining characteristic is that he believes in bleeding himself with leeches, there is no point at which this film even scrabbles its fingertips at believability. Which would be fine if it were at all exciting, but you know, big lumbering boats just don’t go that fast—a problem, given the title and supposed premise.
Nadir: People literally strolling away in terror as the ship approaches the marina. Slowly. You get a bit of it in this fan-made homage to the guy who does the knots countdown.