[EDITOR’S NOTE: This list was written completely independently of my “Best Movies” list, and neither one of us had any idea what the other had selected – LYT]
It’s no secret – not is it even a remotely original observation – that nerds are currently standing astride all of popular culture like a mighty colossus. The trend continues: The highest-grossing films of the year continue to be either a) comic book adaptations, b) YA fiction adaptations, c) reboots of popular properties from the ’80s and ’90s, or d) sequels to any of the above. Many have said this is a great epoch in which to be a fanboy, and the announced slate of upcoming nerd-friendly feature films (Terminator vs. Ultron! Jurassic Hobbits vs. Justice League Chew!) has the nerd world (i.e., every teenage boy on Earth) veritably vibrating with excitement.
But as nerds steward the taste of the universe, we go down some very scary paths, dear readers. For every celebrated nerd flick, there are three or four nerd-friendly movies that are so bad, they make the hair stand up on end. For every sugar-fueled orgy of Marvel praise, we have to contend with three or four fetid puddles of nerd-induced sick, festering on the floor, hoping to be ignored. This may be a good time to be a nerd, but nerd rulership has dictated the creation of some of the most insufferable cinematic experiences imaginable.
The following list, dear readers, is a bottom-10 list, detailing the very worst 2014’s nerd culture had to offer. Some were big-budget blockbusters. Some were crappy, half-forgotten horror flicks. Some dealt with irresponsible themes. Others were sick jokes played on the audience. As we ponder these ten cinematic atrocities together, dear readers, always remember: We bring this on ourselves. In a roundabout way, we ask for movies like Batman & Robin, and Catwoman and Star Trek Into Darkness. We have no one to blame but ourselves when we get them.
John R. Leonetti (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, The Butterfly Effect 2) directed this misguided, cheap and laughably bad horror cheapie that was a prequel to the prologue to The Conjuring. Annabelle, if you recall, was a possessed porcelain doll that has been described by its current owners as the single most haunted and evil object they had ever encountered. The movie Annabelle tells the story of the doll and how it, several decades ago, terrorized a handsome white suburban couple in SoCal.
This couple (played by Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton) is perhaps the single most banal and insipid pair of WASPs ever to grace the silver screen. They are the very definition of horror movie chattel, reciting dialogue in a purely pneumatic fashion, forcing the plot forward, with the director never once bothering to infuse either of them with anything resembling a personality. We can only wait patiently in our seats for the mayhem to begin. We wait and we wait and we wait for Annabelle to spring to life, take up a sharpened object, and drive it into someone’s kneecap.
And we never get that moment. No. Annabelle, despite being built up as a rival to Chucky, never fulfills her promise as a deliverer of violence. The chases, the mayhem, the blood – the things we go to horror movies like this for – are never given to us. I don’t need every horror film to be cheap and dumb mayhem-fests, of course, but when a film is poised to deliver and then doesn’t, then I will only walk away frustrated and betrayed. Annabelle is rated R, but it feels as boring and as safe as any G-rated film I’ve ever seen.
Also, Annabelle doesn’t look scary. “Angry” eyebrows to not a monster make.
I will have to give full credit to Kiefer Sutherland for trying as hard as he did to give this dumbass sword-and-sandal flick some sort of energy. Sutherland plays a horny Roman senator named Corvus who has come to Pompeii (immediately prior to Vesuvius’ famous eruption) to essentially claim a bride. He declares his dialogue, rather than speak it. He chews scenery with aplomb. I admire what he tried to do, as he seemed to be the only actor who realized he was in a clunky, dumb, historical exploitation actioner.
The hero (Kit Harrington) and his ladylove (Emily Browning) are stone cold drags in comparison, and the film that surrounds them is a smoky and forgettable mess of bad writing. This is ancient history by way of comic books. Pompeii marks the unfortunate continuation of a bad genre of films that began with the loathsome and fascistic 300, and continues through, well, 300: Rise of and Empire. Which was also pretty rotten, incidentally.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson made two notable sci-fi films (Event Horizon and Soldier) before devolving into the hack behind the Resident Evil film series. Pompeii is, I fear, Anderson’s attempt at a prestige picture. It was the first time he tackled a real-life event (and no, The Three Musketeers doesn’t even remotely count), and I think it may have the biggest budget of any of his films. But Pompeii is not prestige. It’s not history. It’s not even a good reference point. It’s just bad filmmaking.
Filmmakers: Stay away from ancient Rome until you know how to do it right.
8. The Legend of Hercules
And speaking of bad ancient mayhem movies, one couldn’t do much worse than Renny Harlin’s ultra-cheap The Legend of Hercules, the single most boring Hercules film ever made. And yes, I include the Steve Reeves and Alan Steele films in that statement.
The Legend of Hercules has three strikes against it: For one, the script is terribly written. One cannot follow the basic plot, and the leaps in storytelling logic are so great that one begins to wonder if a few vital scenes were edited out. For another, the production seems to have run out of money, and the cheap – perhaps incomplete? – special effects begin to function as a laughable hindrance to any sort of legitimate enjoyment. And thirdly, the film’s lead actor, a bohunkular buttsteak named Kellan Lutz, is one of the most charisma-free Hercules’ I have encountered.
The Legend of Hercules feels like a rough draft. It looks and plays like an audition piece for a proper movie to be made at a future date. It’s as if the entire project is the place-holding scratch track for a big-budget Hercules film coming in 2017. Only it’s not. This is the finished product. I rarely see major studio releases look this shabby.
When Brett Ratner outdoes you, something has gone horribly wrong.
7. I, Frankenstein
The setup: Frankenstein’s monster has survived into the near future, and is now a superhero who fights other monsters. Okay, I’m with you so far. The premise is not a bad one. At least on paper. That’s an idea that could make for a pretty fun little Saturday matinee. Heck, I love monster mayhem as much as the next guy, and I typically like – at least on an intellectual level – movies that exploit Universal Monster imagery.
It’s too bad that the actual film, I, Frankenstein, is such a drab and fatuous affair. Aaron Eckhart pours out all he has into the title role, trying to bring an iota of mere credence to this myth-hefty mess. Frankenstein becomes embroiled in a battle between God-created gargoyles (?) and evil demons from Hell. The film is stuffed with cheap CGI, as gray-skinned creatures whirl and clash against each other without any sort of weight or reality. You may also notice that the film features no incidental humans. When gargoyles and demons fight in the street, they are handily free of witnesses.
One would think that a film full of gargoyles and demons and Frankenstein’s monster would at least deliver a campy thrill. It only delivers dumbness.
Actual scene in the film: An underground nest of Frankenstein-monsters-to-be are being fed life through a tube by an evil villain. A digital readout on each body indicates how much life it has. Can a Frankenstein monster be only 74% alive?
I understand that teenage girls (and boys too) often feel marginalized, but the way recent YA movies have dealt with that feeling has been the most disgusting form of indulgent pandering that I have ever seen. Most YA movies (anything from Harry Potter to Twilight) cater to a lazy teen fantasy that one only needs to be born great – to be a special, special snowflake – to become the leader of a magical rebellion. No hard work is required. You just have that special talent, you unique flower.
Divergent, based on a series of YA novels, is about such a girl (played by Shailene Woodley) being raised in a post-apocalyptic city where people are handily divided into color-coded castes in order to fulfill a single duty for the rest of their lives. Our heroine realizes that she can fit into more than one of these castes, making her a “divergent,” i.e. vaguely dangerous to society in some way. She decides to join a group of soldiers to fight off a threat that is never defined. The film is about her trying really hard to fit in with the other soldiers, and how fighting and violence give her life meaning.
Divergent is a film that panders shamelessly to teens’ baser ego trips, all while celebrating the joyous fascism that a military-guided society produces. Also, its mythology doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Can you please explain to me why Divergents are considered so dangerous in this universe? And why does this society need a military? What or whom are they fighting? And who cares?
Plenty of people, it turns out. The second film in the series, Insurgent, is due in theaters in March.
5. The Pyramid
I hate this movie so much, I find myself not wanting to talk about it. The Pyramid is a found-footage(ish) horror film that came out in early December and has already been forgotten by the world at large. This is for the best. No one should watch The Pyramid for any reason. It’s not even bad enough to stand out as a curio. It’s just a dumb, bad, movie.
So these Egyptologists have found a pyramid 250 miles south of Cairo, and it has three sides, and they are excited to go inside and they send a Mars rover inside to check stuff out, but when something breaks the probe, they have to go in after it, and there’s some sort of time sensitivity because of riots 250 miles way, but the Egyptologists are resolute to explore a new pyramid, and they trek inside, and they break stuff and they scream and get scared, and there are some booby traps and also some cat monsters roaming around, and they begin to say illogical things about the Freemasons, and then there’s more screaming and more cat monsters, and the archeologists sure are awful about breaking all this ancient stuff, aren’t they? Also the leading lady is flimsy and dainty, and the boyfriends are all whiny assholes, and, and, and…
You know what? I have nothing I want to say about The Pyramid. Thinking about it is making my face hurt. Let’s just ignore this one, and maybe it will go away. Oh wait. That already happened.
I honestly don’t know why films like this are hits. Maleficent is one of the highest grossing films of the year (as of this writing, it has made $241 million, making it the 6th highest domestic grosser of the year, just behind another film on this list.
Maleficent is a live-action re-telling of the 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty, told from the perspective of the villainess. It’s another effing origin story. Maleficent (Angeline Jolie), it turns out, was a benevolent, demonic fairy who was essentially raped by her human childhood sweetheart (seriously, the rape imagery is hard to ignore) and became a vengeful queen of the magical wasteland. In this universe, Maleficent is depicted as the only reasonably capable creature in a world full of blithering idiots, bumbling guards, and hateful cartoons. She is, in short, the ultimate Mary Sue.
What sort of message is this film giving to young girls? If you are wronged, it’s o.k. to be evil? That evil is an acceptable life choice because it denotes “attitude?” Are villains are all really just heroes in disguise? If so, is it o.k. to aspire to be villainous? Violent revenge, in the eyes of this movie, is totally fine. And it’s for kids.
Also, Maleficent is the ugliest, most over-designed mess of CGI crap since Alice in Wonderland. I want this trend of repurposed Disney films to stop immediately. But we’re getting Pan anyway.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
There’s so much going on in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, that it’s easy to assume that you’re being entertained. How can one not love at least one of the many, many, many plot threads being weaved through this haphazard tapestry?
Only The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a tapestry. It’s more like a burrito with too much filling. And eating it will only make you sick. It’s a screenwriting garbage disposal, combining at least eight different movies into a single film event that is just plain confusing and maybe even a little tiring. Many people complain about the bloated ridiculousness of Batman & Robin, denoting in some instances that it killed off superhero movies for nearly a decade. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 won’t kill the genre (we’re still suckers enough to keep on buying no matter what), but it’s bad in the same way. Too many characters, too much plot, and way too many weird and misguided ideas.
What’s in this film? Harry Osborn with Goblinitis, conspiracies involving Peter Parker’s parents, a secret underground enclave of supervillain stuff, a different underground enclave of supercomputers, a late-film mourning period, a subplot with Aunt May’s night job, Gwen Stacy’s frustrated romance, an electrical supervillain, a wicked German doctor with a supervillain tank, and a triple-whammy finale with an honest-to-goodness musical number playing over it. There has been one (1) very good Spider-Man film (that would be Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2). This film may finally prove that we’ll never get another.
Between this and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, we may finally realize that Spider-Man is destined to remain forever lost in arty weirdness.
2. Transformers: Age of Extinction
Why do we pay money to see Michael Bay films? What is the weird compulsion that drives people to return, time and time again, after the man has consistently proven to be one of the most obnoxious schlockmeisters in the Hollywood firmament? This film is literally the highest-grossing film of the year (worldwide), having made over a billion dollars. All of Bay’s films are hits (Pain & Gain notwithstanding), and yet people hate him. What sort of twisted game are we playing?
Bay is the master of visual noise. His particular brand of swirling action cacophony has been pushing audience endurance well beyond the point of mere tolerance for years, and I feel his work has come to a sick head with Transformers: Age of Extinction, a film I once described as the biggest, longest, loudest, explodiest film ever made. Age of Extinction is a 165-minute extravaganza of bullet-flavored violence, centered on giant alien robots who occasionally turn into cars or planes, and their fight to remain on Earth.
This film has a lot of ambition: It seems to want to distill every single base little-boy fantasy you had from age 7 to age 12 into a single mass of exploding robot car elbows. Watching it is an endurance test of the highest order. The most pleasant part of the film is going outdoors when it’s over, reminding yourself that there still may be sanity in the world.
Extinction is nigh. Of my sanity.
Kevin Smith – once so revered in the indie film circuit – has played a dirty trick on us. You see, on his podcast, he once spitballed an idea for a film that he felt had what was perhaps the most ridiculous premise imaginable: A young man is kidnapped by a psychopath with a penchant for walruses, and is transformed via surgery into a human/walrus creature. Smith asked his Twitter followers if he should actually make this film. The response was overwhelmingly #WalrusYes.
The resulting film, Tusk, plays a lot like The Human Centipede. The protagonist becomes increasingly distressed as he realizes his mad kidnapper (a very good Michael Parks) really has an ambition to make him into a walrus creature. So far, so good. Not great art, but a serviceable geek show. But then Smith begins throwing in weird comic choices, mostly in the form of the awfully unfunny Guy Lapointe (really Johnny Depp in makeup) who is allowed to chatter – ENDLESSLY – about nothing in particular. It’s seriously painful to watch.
And then, over the credits, we hear Smith’s original podcast, wherein he giggles that the film we just watched was essentially a gag, with the audience as the butt of the joke. Sorry, kids, but I openly admit that I tricked you into watching a film that I was never committed to. This was a larf, and you were the fool. This is a bold middle finger from a filmmaker who once welcomed us in with warm references and casual sex talk. Now he’s making meta geek shows designed to piss us off.
Angered enfant terrible, or just plain asshole? You decide.
Previously by Witney Seibold:
12 Reasons Why I Should Direct the Next Star Trek Movie
8 Reasons Video Games Will Never Make Good Movies
10 Reasons Why VCRs are Better than What we Have Now