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The 20 Worst Summer Blockbusters Ever

by The Playlist Staff
May 6, 2014 4:02 PM
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Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace
“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” (1987)
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.
“R.I.P.D.” (2013)
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.
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  • ? | June 14, 2014 10:10 PMReply

    star wars,transformers, why are those on here they weren't that bad or batman and robin what was wrong with that!!!!????

  • Jessa | June 12, 2014 10:03 AMReply

    A tardy comment to express unapologetic love for Far And Away! All he knew was Joseph loves Shannon. THAT WAS ALL HE KNEW.

  • jawsnnn | June 8, 2014 11:18 AMReply

    ......six years before it blew its nose on “Watchmen,” .........

    Watchmen was actually a pretty decent, faithful and watchable movie that gets bashed on for no reason. It was not as good as the graphic novel. But Watchmen the graphic novel is a monument of achievement for any piece of art. To expect a film adaptation to come even close to it is unrealistic.

  • Dan | June 5, 2014 9:36 PMReply

    The attack sequence of Pearl Harbor is fantastic. The love triangle is of course dreck, and the Doolittle Raid addendum they tacked on so the movie wouldn't end with America on the losing side feels rushed, but the titular event the film exists to portray is solid.

  • Hagbard Celine | June 4, 2014 8:37 PMReply

    Viermaliges Glück

    Rolling from the past into the future. It works always !
    For me the absolute Fantasy Masterpieces.

    Willow, Goonies, Legend and Krull.

  • Rick | June 2, 2014 1:52 AMReply

    I actually liked Masters Of The Universe when I was a kid but I haven't seen it in a long time. I do often like cheesy movie so I'd probably still like it.

  • Duder NME | May 24, 2014 11:04 AMReply

    Yet another blogger misunderstands The Phantom Menace. It was never solely about a trade embargo, and the various aliens are only projections of a viewer's own inherent racism (which I'm sure you've been told about and decided to ignore anyway), leaving the rest to baseless subjective expectation, as if Lucas owed anything to a bunch of faux stockholders. Oh, but at least we got a tired "childhood rape" meme out of it. Way to contribute to being "fans", internet.

  • ? | June 14, 2014 10:13 PM

    i agree with al 100%

  • al | June 13, 2014 9:05 AM

    No the all the Star Wars movies were awesome I have no idea what you are talking about. So was Pearl Harbor and ALEG. The other movies ok in my list but honestly how you going to write that Green Lantern sucked and did not put Dare Devil or Electra in the same Category they all sucked but Green Lantern was good compared to them Two. Transformers 2 plot sucked the action was pretty awesome.

  • Mike | June 4, 2014 2:35 PM

    Oh come on. The Phantom Menace is a dreadful movie. You can stick your head in the sand as much as you like & try to convince yourself that it was not that bad. But it was & I didn't need anyone to tell me it sucked. Oh no... It's Star Wars... so it can't suck.... WRONG!!!!!!

  • Piablo | May 20, 2014 10:54 AMReply

    "The jive-talking robots Skids and Mudflaps, caricatures so racist that they’d be shocking in the 1940s."

    This is getting to be real annoying. Why are 'jive talking' robots racist? Much like the 80's were characterized by the california surf craze and the hippyish 'cowabunga man' way of talking, today is about the urban centers. Like it or not, 'jive talking' is beyond blacks and beyond urban ghettos. It's all races, all localities, and there's nothing racist about it.

  • Duder NME | May 24, 2014 11:11 AM

    The staff has never heard of "wiggers". They seems to misunderstand a lot.

  • John Matrix | May 14, 2014 7:20 PMReply

    Some real stinkers on this list. A few observations:

    - A friend once said "I beg you not to watch Speed 2." I should have listened to him.
    - Batman & Robin was bad, but I didn't hate it. I thought Batman Forever was much worse.
    - The raven flying out of Jonah Hex's mouth was one of the funniest things I've seen in years.
    - I enjoyed Masters of the Universe. I was a teenager at the time, but still...

  • Sanker from india | May 8, 2014 11:18 PMReply

    "Likable star Ryan Reynolds"
    What?! What?! WHAAAAATT?!?!?!

  • Kevin | May 8, 2014 12:52 PMReply

    I agree with most of these, although Jonah Hex is getting a bit of a bad rap here. Lordy, it's a terrible movie, but I actually enjoyed myself at it. The second Pirates film comes to mind as one that was wayyyyy worse.

  • jason | May 7, 2014 5:30 PMReply

    Slumdog Millionaire

  • Narrator | May 10, 2014 11:52 PM

    You don't really "get" the concept of summer blockbusters, do you? Slumdog Millionaire was A) made with a budget of $15 million that B) had a limited release in C) November.

  • NewYorker | May 7, 2014 3:59 PMReply

    i actulley love almost alot of these films, watched Batman & Robin alot when its on tv like the Hub or IFC. i also liked Phantom Menace, Green Lantern, Super Mario Bro &, The Happening(better then M Night's last 2 films)

  • Aline | May 7, 2014 11:32 AMReply

    Feels like there were a lot of bad movies in 1987.

  • Anthony | May 7, 2014 10:50 AMReply

    Star Wars Episode I wasn't that bad as reviews gave it, yes Jar Jar Binks was annoying, but I saw it 5 times in theatres

  • Leigh | May 7, 2014 2:45 AMReply

    After the awesome "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", which until the new JJ Abrams Trek came out was the most successful Star Trek movie out of all of them (U.S. Box Office when adjusted for inflation is 230 million, but I bet that's low), the atrocity known as "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" premiered in June of 1989. It grossed less than half of "Home" and is considered by most to be the worst film of the franchise.

  • Duder NME | May 24, 2014 11:09 AM

    Red matter < Row Row Row Your Boat? Granted, a stretch, but wuh?

  • Mark | May 7, 2014 3:51 PM

    Worst film of the franchise, until JJ Abrams came along.

  • Alex Gradet | May 6, 2014 7:18 PMReply

    "'Rocky V' is very hard to sit through; 'Lost in Space' we've all kind of forgotten about but yep, it was shit."

    Not defending their quality (they have none), but the former was released in November, 1990, and the latter in April '98 (famously unseating Titanic at the top of the weekend charts). So neither belongs on a summer list anyway.

  • cirkusfolk | May 6, 2014 7:05 PMReply

    Where is the shit that is The Hangover 3? Only fair if you have Sex and City 2. Oh, and I'll defend Cocktail til I die!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 6, 2014 10:56 PM

    +1 for Cocktail.

  • ASFan | May 6, 2014 6:03 PMReply

    I disliked Pirates 4 more than Pirates 3 by a distance.

  • James | May 6, 2014 5:24 PMReply

    Masters of the Universe is a great movie. Shame on you all.....
    I HAVE THE POWER!!!!!!!!!!

  • Duder NME | May 24, 2014 11:12 AM


  • Mojo | May 6, 2014 5:15 PMReply

    Went to a $1 theater and sat through a double-feature of Jaws 4 and Superman 4 when I was a kid. I have never paid $1 to watch a movie again. So that meant watching "Phantom Menace" at full price.

  • That Kid | May 6, 2014 4:55 PMReply

    For those who can, or are brave enough to, remember Max Payne. Or better yet, don't.

  • Chris | May 6, 2014 4:42 PMReply

    You definitely picked the wrong Shyamalan. "The Happening" is bad, but not "The Last Airbender"-bad. Not even close.

  • cirkusfolk | May 6, 2014 7:04 PM

    Same with After Earth.

  • Rob | May 6, 2014 4:34 PMReply

    Seen most of these movies. I love League of Extraordinary Gentlemen just because it was so terrible. But Green Lantern... wow. God awful.

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