Movies That Could Make Me Hate Movies

I don’t walk out of movies. Nor do I start one at home and throw in the towel before the end, no matter how worthless, no matter how bad.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a fact. I don’t understand my fidelity to finishing even the trashiest garbage, but there is something about leaving a theater or turning off a DVD that makes my skin crawl. It just feels wrong, like shooting kittens or mugging little old ladies. I walked out of a movie once at the urging of a friend and I’ve regretted it ever since. Yes, the movie was rotten (and no I have never gone back and finished it), but once I left I felt like it was an act of moral cowardice. Not quite on the level of Red Badge of Courage, but something along those lines.

Thanks to Thomas Pynchon’s last book I have finally given up this personal obligation to finish with books. Somehow I came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t enjoying what I was reading and not getting anything meaningful out of it, I could put the book down and move on to something else. No sense in wasting countless hours indulging Pynchon in his nonsensical garbage.

Why can’t I do the same for movies? Of course the time commitment is much less, but I have been frustrated, angered, and made miserable by countless movies. Why is it OK to be tortured for two hours? Why put up with any misery even if it’s only two hours worth?

I’m beginning to suspect my movie love is obsessive. I feel the need to see everything (except The Human Centipede – I’m doing just fine without that) and part of seeing everything is seeing all of everything – warts and all. How can I tell what was wrong with a movie if I don’t see all of it? Or how do I know there won’t be something worth seeing in the last reel?

So I compiled at list of movies that have caused me the most displeasure. I won’t go so far as to say these are the worst movies ever made since I haven’t seen everything, especially largely reviled movies like Frozen Assets and Ishtar (and Jerry Lewis still won’t let me see The Day the Clown Cried). Plus I’m largely giving a pass to low budget pieces of crap.  It’s easy to rag on incompetence. I prefer to highlight the worst movie made by supposedly competent filmmakers. Those who made Manos: Hands of Fate, Black Ninja, or Monster a Go-Go didn’t have a basic understanding of the world around them or the people in it, let alone basic cinematic grammar and ragging on them would be like picking on the retarded girl in the playground.

So here is a collection of movies that I wish I had been able to walk out on, movies that have no redeeming qualities, movies that were conceived, developed, filmed, edited, and screened with no vision, creativity, or aesthetic. They are, in a word, excrement.

In no particular order:

Zardoz (1974) Dir./Wr. John Boorman

In fairness to writer, director, and producer John Boorman, he did have a vision with this one, though it was so misguided I can’t believe no one pulled him aside and asked what the deal was with the giant flying head that vomits guns. This is one of those post-apocalyptic pretensions that trick filmmakers into believing they are saying something profound about contemporary society. There’s a lot of goofiness about immortality, mind control, and Sean Connery dressed in … well, I’m not sure what he’s dressed in, but it surely wasn’t flattering. If you’ve never suffered though this one, here’s a trailer:

I hope that doesn’t delude you into thinking it will be a campy good time. It isn’t. It’s deadly dull, taking all the worst of Planet of the Apes and mashing it up with the worst of 2001. The trailer is incomprehensible and the movie doesn’t clear much up.

The Scarlet Letter (1995) Dir. Roland Joffe, Wr. Douglas Day Stewart

Watching this incarnation of The Scarlet Letter I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a colossal joke. It seems more like the product of a movie that’s satirizing the way Hollywood bastardizes art for commercial success, like Alan Alda’s Sweet Liberty, than an actual movie that people thought was a good idea. I kept waiting for the camera to swing around and catch the battles behind the scenes to maintain some fidelity to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. But that never happens and Joffe packs in one embarrassment after another: Indian attacks, witch trials, anachronistic feminism, and, worst of all, Rev. Dimsdale’s heroism and even a happy ending! Blech.

Hollywood: Making Complex, Thoughtful Literature Shallow and Titillating Since 1915

Just because they say it is “freely adapted” from the novel doesn’t excuse the corrupt process that brought this monstrosity into being. Here’s an idea: If you don’t like the story of one of the greatest American novels ever written, don’t use it as the basis for your movie. Make up an original story. But would that have been too hard? I guess so. While they’re at it they should re-do The Great Gatsby and instead of that downer ending, why not let Jay and Daisy live happily ever after? Or they could “re-imagine” Moby-Dick where Ahab learns the evils of whaling and teams up with his new pal Moby to battle an evil whaling conglomerate in the style of Flipper or Free Willy.

Movers and Shakers (1985) Dir. William Asher, Wr. Charles Grodin

So bad I couldn't even find a decent picture or video clip for it.

Sometimes you see a bad movie and think that it must have looked like a good idea on paper, but somewhere along the production line it fell apart. I can’t imagine how Movers and Shakers looked good on paper or any other material. Charles Grodin, often a very funny actor, wrote the abysmally unfunny screenplay about a studio executive (Walter Matthau) who makes a promise on his best friend’s death bed that he will make a movie out of his favorite book: a how-to sex manual. Matthau spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out how to make the movie. Unfortunately it is painfully unfunny. Steve Martin pops in for a misguided cameo as an aging screen idol. He’s not believable or funny. (And Penny Marshall is his girlfriend?!) Nothing in the movie is remotely funny. It’s just dull, dull, dull, which is strange with so much good talent attached. Gilda Radner is in it for God’s sake! You know it sucks when Gilda Radner can’t make me laugh.

This material could only have been funny if it was grounded in real life, if we believe that there actually is a movie they could make, no matter how bad it would be. How about a promise to re-make a Swedish sex film? That could have been funny. Or how about making The Scarlet Letter with a happy ending … oh, wait.

Jud Süss (1940) Dir. Veit Harlan, Wr. Veit Harlan and E. W. Möller

OK, this is a virulently anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda piece, so was I even expecting to like it? Originally I would have said no, but a friend of mine urged me to see it. It is, he insisted, a good movie if you can get past the anti-Jewish stuff. I figured he must have seen something worthwhile in it so I checked it out. I’m now convinced my friend stands as another exhibit in the case against film school. He spent too much time there looking at pretty pictures and not learning about life. For some reason he thinks it’s possible to separate the anti-Semitic text from the images.

I’ve been lenient on lots of movies for racism. You have to judge them by the time they were made, so it isn’t fair to condemn Gone with the Wind for its racist depictions of blacks. But the difference is Gone with the Wind could have existed without those characters. Jud Süss cannot exist without the conniving, money grubbing Jew manipulating the state for his and his peoples’ own needs at the expense of defenseless gentiles.  Jud Süss argues a point that ultimately justified the Holocaust for many Germans. I can’t get excited about that. Oh, and objectively speaking, even if I was able to ignore the hooked noses and raping of the pure gentile girl, it’s still a shockingly boring movie. Just look at this clip. It should be filled with tension: a girl appealing to the Jewish finance minister for the life of her husband, but he only has one thing on his mind. It’s paced at about the same clip as my 94-year-old grandmother’s stories about spilling tea on Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Happening (2008) Dir/Wr. M. Night Shyamalan

I’ve always like Mark Wahlberg so it hurts me to say he delivers one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture in this clunker. I’ve never, however, liked M. Night Shyamalan so I feel justified laying the blame for Wahlberg’s terrible performance at his feet. It was the director’s job to curb Wahlberg’s habit of ending every statement with a question mark, but for some reason the hack Shyamalan just patted him on the back and moved on. Shyamalan got lucky with The Sixth Sense, a pretty bad movie that relies on a gimmick to impress people. And Shyamalan has made one piece of trash after another since then, making The Sixth Sense look more and more like Casablanca. As much as I hated The Last Airbender, even that was a step up from the utter failure that was The Happening. The set up has possibilities but, as usual, Shyamalan, fumbles them. Large groups of people begin killing themselves along the eastern seaboard. Are terrorists releasing toxins in the air that make people kill themselves? Of course not! It’s something much sillier than that. RiffTrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000 in their new form, lampooned the film brilliantly in this clip:

Well, it wasn’t really fair. I mean Wahlberg actually says to himself, “Be scientific, douchebag.”  It’s as if Shyamalan wrote the gags for them. (Though it isn’t as bad as my favorite Shyamalan example of bad writing. From The Last Airbender: “We have to show them we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.” Yeah, OK.) Can we stop pretending that this guy ever had any talent?

The Sting, Part II (1983) Dir. Jeremy Kagan, Wr. David S. Ward

You know you’re in trouble when the director of a sequel goes to great pains to assure everyone that his movie isn’t really a sequel. Instead it’s “inspired by and a continuation of” the first, highly successful film. How something can be inspired by and a continuation of a film without being a sequel isn’t all that clear, but the studio had to know they had a momentous flop on their hands. Mac Davis, whoever that is, just can’t fill Robert Redford’s shoes. And I love Jackie Gleason, but he should have known better when he was offered a role originated by Paul Newman.

Not even the poster is all that interesting

And this is where the producers get tricky. They knew Davis and Gleason weren’t exactly Redford and Newman so they slightly changed their names and said, “Ta-dah! They’re not really playing the same parts. It’s completely different … but the same.”

I think The Sting is a fine movie, but years of far better grifter movies have diminished its stature. That said, The Sting Part II is rotten, lifeless, devoid of any creative instincts that weren’t plundered from another source, that watching it makes The Sting look like the classic everyone seems to think it is. I wish I could find a clip of the movie somewhere so you can see for yourself how everyone is wooden, especially Terri Garr putting on a crummy French accent. I guess the incompetence of the accent was supposed to be funny but, like everything else in the movie, it just comes off as incompetent.

The Haunted Mansion (2003) Dir. Rob Minkoff, Wr. David Berenbaum

Eddie Murphy in a haunted house could have been funny in 1983, not 2003.

It’s sad when movies don’t fulfill their genre requirements. When romances aren’t romantic. When thrillers aren’t thrilling. When dramas aren’t dramatic. They’re all sad. But there is nothing sadder than a comedy that isn’t funny. I grow increasingly embarrassed when someone is trying ever so hard to be funny, but ends up being as funny as a stroke. There are few comedies I’ve seen that are as wretchedly unfunnny as The Haunted Mansion, a crude attempt to cash in on the success of another film based on a Disneyland attraction, The Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Haunted Mansion has long been one of the most popular attractions at Disneyland. As a child I always looked forward to the stretching room, the ballroom filled with dancing ghosts, and the crowded cemetery. I had no way of knowing that crass studio executives would get their hands on some of these beloved scenes and try to pervert them into a cash cow movie franchise.

I don’t have a problem with them making it into a movie, so long as the movie isn’t terrible. But all they saw were the dollar signs of Johnny Depp’s franchise and didn’t want to be bothered with the hard work of developing a creative, funny script. They rushed out a bore of a script filled with punchlines that wouldn’t make a first grader laugh. To turn a disaster into a catastrophe, they then cast Eddie Murphy in the lead. Now I love a lot of what Murphy has done in the past, but he hasn’t been on his game in years (decades maybe). I would say that casting Murphy in the part is a clever attempt to subvert the old movies where black actors are comically afraid of ghosts (“Feets don’t fail me now!”), but I doubt that much though went into it. Murphy is just as terrible as the written material and what we end up with is a mess that Murphy, Wallace Shawn, Terrence Stamp, and everyone else associated with it are probably more than happy to pretend never happened.

And now we learn that Guillermo Del Toro is out to remake the movie and, hopefully, erase the memory of the terrible film that preceded it.

If all movies were as bad as these seven I would have renounced film and buried my nose in books years ago. Luckily they aren’t. What are some of your cinematic horror stories? I’d love to hear about the movies you hate with a passion.

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Movies That Could Make Me Hate Movies

  1. This post was so enjoyable to read. I haven’t seen or heard of any of these movies and it sounds like I haven’t missed anything! I’m not sure what I would include on my list of worst movies; I’ve still seen so few overall.

    • I recall you complaining about Happy Feet

      • That’s what came to mind while I was composing my comment, but I can’t tell whether I hated it so much because it was bad, or because everyone else seemed to be lining up to see who could praise it more highly. Either way, yes, I did hate it, and I’m annoyed to see there’s a sequel coming.

        • Superb post that I’ve taken the time to flag up on my FB page – so hope it brings you a little extra traffic. In full agreement with The Happening, but I’d append St. Elmo’s Fire, Absolute Beginners, Backdraft and The Human Centipede (you’ve done a good job of avoiding this crap), just off the top of my head. Like yourself I make a habit out of watching even the most woeful of cinematic offerings to the very end. Until recently I’d only ever walked out of the cinema once (Backdraft), although now Scr4m can join Ron Howard’s lonely, unloved whelp of a movie on the naughty stool.

        • Thank you Rohan. I appreciate your kind words. I still haven’t seen Absolute Beginners but all the rest are worthy nominations, especially the terrible St. Elmo’s Fire. I saw that movie when I was a kid (around when it first came out) and it terrified me. I thought I would have to be an obnoxious jackass when I grew up. I have to admit I had a good time in Scream 4, though it isn’t a masterpiece.

          Oh, and I didn’t mention it in the post: The movie I walked out of was Bram Stoker’s Dracula back in 1992. I dread revisiting it.

        • Hate for a movie always intensifies as the rest of the world praises it. Can’t you see how bad it is!!! But they can’t and just smile like they feel sorry for you. Yes, I see there is a sequel. I venture to guess you will be passing it up.

  2. What a great post! A few of the films you mention I haven’t seen thankfully…but those that you did I agree are complete garbage – though for me The Happening was so bad it was funny (though not as “so bad it’s good” as the hilarious 2012). I am also of the opinion that the WORST films are those that were intended to be good or were made by people who previously did good work. I did a similar post years ago -http://theschleicherspin.com/2007/07/03/the-unlucky-seven-the-worst-films-of-all-time/ – and I stand by all the films I listed there:

    They
    A History of Violence
    In the Bedroom
    8MM
    Armageddon
    Signs
    Moulin Rouge

    And in addition –

    Patch Adams
    Pay it Forward
    The Green Mile
    Psycho (the pointless Gus Van Sant version)
    Lady in the Water
    I Am Legend
    The Day the Earth Stood Sill (the remake – obviously)
    Slumdog Millionaire

    And recently – one that I couldn’t even sit through because it was such an inhumane piece of excrement – I Saw the Devil.

    Yes, yes, I know many controversial choices on here – but it’s so much more interesting to talk about these films than the works of Ed Wood or Uwe Bol or any given romantic comedy or horror film that comes down the pike every other week.

    • Hot holy hell – how could I leave The Passion of the Christ and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things off the list?! In fact, those two might top it.

      • I had never heard of The Heart is Deceitful… so I just read up on it. All I can say is wow.How have I never heard of this? Asia Argento? Peter Fonda? Jeremy Renner? Cross dressing kids. Careful, you might have me thinking this could turn into a so bad it’s good kind of movie.

        • Jason – trust me, you want to avoid it. It’s beyond vile, though it does show just how tortured Asia Argento is. Just as her father should’ve been arrested for abusing her through film, she should’ve been arrested for abusing the kids through this film and for subsequenty abusing the audience.

    • Oh, how could I forget Signs. I didn’t want to pick on anyone too much, though Shyamalan deserves it, but Signs should have competed for the spot The Happening took.

      I absolutely agree that the worst movies are movies intended to be good — though many low budget failures are intended to be good too (Manos: Hands of Fate comes to mind). I haven’t seen all that you list here, but none of the ones I saw ruined my day the way my choices did. I remember liking 8MM, though I haven’t seen it since it was released. I Am Legend is bad, but I didn’t hate it (though it’s another movie version that misses the point of the book). At least I liked Will Smith in it. And Slumdog Millionaire is rotten, but I think it was made worse for us by all the incomprehensible praise it got.

      We’ve talked about it before, but I didn’t dislike I Saw the Devil, though as time passes I have to admit I like it less and less.

      The rest on your list I agree completely, especially The Passion of the Christ and Armageddon. These are the movies mad scientists would make me watch on a loop to make me go crazy.

  3. This is an engaging and beautifully laid out topic thread, with choices that are hard to contest. All but two anyway. Borman’s ZARDOZ came out during my college hay days, when I was the newspapers’s film critic. I mounted an impassioned defense of it, though even at it’s best I know it’s rather an uneven effort. But still some great ideas and visuals. Like you I see garbage all the time, to the tune of 80 to 100 in theatres alone each and every year. And Mr. Shyamalan is a prime target. I rate his HAPPENING a noble failure. His best film of all is THE VILLAGE. Yes David Schleicher, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is utter excrement. The best SCARLETT LETTER of them all of course is Sjostrom’s silent classic with Lillian Gish. I’d have to give it some further thought to compose my own list.

    I actually met the star and director of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE at the film’s NYC premiere last night and posed with each. I have a friend who claims the film was the most sickening he’s ever seen. Be rest assured you can do without it. Ha!

    • Sam Zardoz isn’t uneven at all. Uneven implies that there were good and bad moments. There were neither. It was all awful. I watched this thing with my mouth open. I couldn’t believe the incompetence of it. I do, however, admire your bravery for defending it. I’d like to know what you thought was good about it back then. (I’m sure you don’t remember now unless you’ve recently seen it.)

      I hope you refrained from punching the director of The Human Centipede. I almost saw it until more than one person told me if I know the premise, I know the movie. I won’t get anything more out of it. I’ll take them at their word. Are they still doing a sequel?

  4. You couldn’t pay me to watch the Happy Feet sequel. At least, you’d have to pay me quite a lot!

  5. You and I must take a similar approach to bad filmmaking, cos I’ve said for years there is a taxonomy of bad cinema whereby the worst films are the ones made by people who we might’ve expected to know better, that are so misguided from their very conception that they’re kind of irredeemable. As such, I’d probably name Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell as the worst thing I’ve ever seen (narrowly beating Irreversible, which I saw just a few months earlier).

    A failed seriously-intended “big” film is almost always a sadder spectacle than a failed B movie let down by inexperience, budget, etc, and almost always less fun. A film like Monster a Go Go, which you cite, is dreadful by almost every generally accepted standard, but there’s something almost perversely admirable about the sheer nerve with which the film’s ending kind of renders everything in the film nonsensical; it kind of says “yeah, this makes no sense at all… want to make something of it?” Conversely, when Shyamalan pulled out a similarly nonsensical twist in The Village, it just made me angry.

    • I love that you call Monster A Go Go “perversely admirable.” I agree with that. It’s not that I don’t expect much from B-movies (there have been some amazing low budget films), but when I see a bad one I’m not surprised. Seeing a not just bad, but terrible movie from people “expected to know better” is jaw dropping. Monster A Go Go, Black Ninja, and Dangerous Men didn’t have to be developed and green lit by a major studio that is known for pinching pennies. Those movies don’t have the financial or intellectual resources that Zardoz, The Haunted Mansion, or The Happening had. I suspect, and I’ve been saying this for years, that the culture of fear in Hollywood makes it impossible for people who know better to tell their bosses they’re on a dead end path. Everyone is so afraid of losing their job or losing their funding that they stroke Shyamalan’s ego, acting as gutless yes men, all the while just waiting for their opportunity to get their big break. If people could be bolder in Hollywood things would be different. The culture of boldness and experimentation in the 1970s is sorely missed today.

  6. Jason – not sure if you are a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan – but on the most recent episode there was a joke about The Sting II where Larry asked Jeff if he had seen The Sting, and Jeff replied, “No, but I saw The Sting II.” Then Larry looked at him flabbergasted and moaned, “Who sees The Sting II without seeing The Sting?”

    And I thought, “Who the hell would watch The Sting II at all?” and couldn’t help but think of your post!

    • I used to watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but haven’t since I canceled my HBO several years ago. That’s a hilarious exchange. My thought would have been who has HEARD of The Sting Part II? Most people I mention it to didn’t even know it existed. And maybe that is right. It should be forgotten. But, yes, I am that sad sort who would watch it .. and, worse yet, write about it. I am ill.

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