“Masters of the Universe” (1987)
Reading old-timey reviews of this Mattel masterpiece is a real blast from a pre-“Transformers,” pre-“Lego Movie,” pre-“Battleship” past—almost all of them include a “well, what can you expect from a movie based on a toy?”-type comment. What a funny world people lived in in the late 80s when it wasn’t obvious that small pieces of moulded plastic could be ported over to billion-dollar movie franchises! But it must be said, as bad as many subsequent toy films have been, ‘Masters’ is hard to beat. Based on the He-Man universe largely created because Mattel passed up the opportunity to make "Star Wars" figures (oh, someone got so fired) and needed to create a rival franchise, the film "boasts" Dolph Lundgren as a perfectly cast He-Man, Frank Langella as Skeletor and Some Lady as Evil-lyn who is, grab onto your garters, a baddie. Despite some pretty decent sets, the film is a scarcely watchable hotchpotch of bits that you think you’ve seen in other movies, done better, and the based-on-a-toy thing really does make itself felt—the mythology is wafer-thin, and the plot is super-basic: big muscly guy looks for MacGuffin. Still, wasn’t Courteney Cox young here?
Nadir: Lundgren being comprehensively outacted by the dwarf encased in latex playing the irritating Gwildor.
Sometimes, when a film gets a reputation for being a “flopbuster” on this massive scale, it can be instructive to go back and look at it again when the dust has settled a bit (we’d argue “Waterworld” for example, is one film that is not quite as grim as its contemporary reviews would have had us believe). But not in this case. Ten years old this July, “Catwoman” is still terribleness and reeking as if it were out yesterday. Razzie-winner (and accepter, amazingly) Halle Berry delivers every line with the jaunty insouciance she famously brought to the “toad struck by lightning” line in “X-Men,” while Evil Avon Lady Sharon Stone snarls and mugs as an arch-villain so freaking lame her dastardly plan involves face cream.
Nadir: The cat puns. “What a purrrrrfect idea” being the among the worst.
“Battlefield Earth” (2000)
Ah, the passion project. The ego-driven, hubristic result of having too much star power and not enough people telling you “that’s a terrible idea.” There’s always a weird fascination in seeing a movie of that kind. But fascination only gets you so far. In fact, when the time comes to actually watch “Battlefield Earth,” it gets you about ten minutes in before you start to lose the will to live. In headlining an adaptation of the sci-fi opus from Scientology bigwig L. Ron Hubbard about the human rebellion against alien conquerors the Psychlos, John Travolta was already painting a great big target on his back, but the finished project (directed by production designer/2nd unit helmer Roger Christian, a “Star Wars” and “Alien” veteran) made that deserving: the shitty source material was only dragged down further by the lousy script, ugly look and cheap effects (backers Franchise Pictures were actually successfully sued by co-financiers for inflating the budget). It’s a film so all-around disastrous that you almost feel bad for picking on it again. Almost.
Nadir: The way that Barry Pepper mispronounces his inspirational speech so that it sounds like he’s saying “let it be said that we took this one chance, and fart.”
"Van Helsing" (2004)
Freshly-minted star Hugh Jackman taking on not just Dracula, but also Frankenstein and the Wolfman, in a new movie from the director of global hit “The Mummy” (which, in its first installment, was fun in a rollicking action-adventure kind of way) sounds on paper like a reasonable time at the movies. Instead, it’s a spectacularly ugly, borderline nonsensical mishmash with a dour, up-itself plotline, mostly uninspired character design, and insipid casting--Richard Roxburgh feels more like a member of Adam Ant’s backing band than the famous vampiric count, and Jackman’s basically playing Wolverine in a pointy hat, but to lesser effect than that sounds. Perhaps among the film’s greatest crimes is that it inspired the “Underworld”/”I Frankenstein”/”Legion” sub-genre of supernatural creatures portrayed with terrible CGI, but worse could be on the way: Kurtzman & Orci have been developing a reboot…
Nadir: Hugh Jackman sees a vision of Kate Beckinsale in heaven. And Reeechard Roxburgh's accent as Draaacula.
“The Happening” (2008)
So we’re stretching "blockbuster" here as M. Night Shyamalan’s sixth feature had a budget of under $50m, but with a June opening date, on almost 3,000 screens, it still qualifies. Shyamalan had been on a downward slide since his debut one-two (and this writer is a “Signs” apologist too), and had reached a low ebb with the witless “Lady in the Water,” but still no one knew how bad things could get. And then “The Happening” happened. By this stage in his Benjamin Button regression, it actually feels like Shyamalan’s forgotten the very basics—the framing’s all off, eyelines don’t match (which takes skill with Zooey Deschanel because she’s 85% eye), and the performances are among the most bizarre ever (holla, Mark Wahlberg). But we have to confess to a certain fascination with this film and how mesmerizingly awful it is, veering between unintentionally funny, outright stupid and crushingly dull, and based around the single lamest premise of all time, in which TREES done it BECAUSE THE ENVIRONMENT.
Nadir: A plethora of amazing Wahlberg moments to choose from, but our favorite is the “what is it you’re not telling us?” scene, and the closest we could get to that was this clip:
But what about…? But where is…? Hold onto your retainers, of course there are many other dire movies to have graced our screens in the dog days of summer than this slim selection of 20. And some that missed the cut are very, very bad indeed: "Wild Wild West" is a perennial contender on lists of this type for good reason; the "Total Recall" remake is a more recent bid for the uncoveted "most creatively moribund" ribbon; Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" could also have placed, though its badness lacked the surprise value of "The Happening"; Stallone's "Judge Dredd" was a famous folly; "The Da Vinci Code" is so awful that its terrible sequel "Angels and Demons" seemed a slight improvement; "Rocky V" is very hard to sit through; "Lost in Space" we've all kind of forgotten about but yep, it was shit; Tom Cruise's dose of paddywhackery "Far And Away" was horrible, especially for the Irish among us; while "Highlander 2," "Howard the Duck" "Red Sonja" "Sheena" and "Charlie's Angels 2" were also considered.
As we've mentioned throughout, there are also those rare titles that have been slightly reappraised in recent years (perhaps only by us, but anyway), and have therefore been shifted up a grade from "excruciatingly bad" to merely "appallingly bad," such as "Waterworld," and "Hudson Hawk" while some are just so bland in their shitness that we couldn't be bothered to write about them: "Babylon A.D.," "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," "Godzilla" and Tim Burton's useless "The Planet of the Apes." Some spirited attacks were mounted on some slightly more leftfield choices too: "Cocktail" is a truly obnoxious bastard of a film; the two of us who remember "Mobsters" can tell you it's worse than "Gangster Squad," which is saying something; 'Matrix 2' and 'Pirates 3' are the least of their franchises by some distance while more recent candidates, whom only the passage of time will tell if they're hall-of-infamy-worthy or not, include: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and "After Earth."
Here's wishing you a totally anomalous summer 2014 of nothing but awesome tentpoles. Oh, wait, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" has already killed that dream.