The Worst Films of 2016: A Wednesday Listicle

Look, all in all, 2016 was an absolutely sh*tty year for filmmaking. Sure, the last two months have boasted some incredible films (we’ll get to those), and the early months of the year had some pretty decent comedies and action films, the bulk of the year settled on an idea of average that oftentimes left me wondering if it’s even worth continuing as a critic. Granted, there were only about twelve to fifteen films (that I saw) that were egregiously bad, but there were also only about twenty films that were truly good either. Most chose to be flawed, average, or below average, often leaving me cold, angry or confused. However, as now is a time of reflection, I’m going to spend the next two weeks looking at the best of the best and the worst of the worst. And I can’t think of a better way to start off this retrospective than by officially announcing the biggest sh*tbags I’ve seen all year with the Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016!

There were plenty of Dishonorable Mentions this year. Films that were disappointing include Woody Allen’s Café Society and Indignation, which had good moments (Steve Carrell’s performance, the Debate between Tracy Letts and Logan Lerman), but overwhelmingly left me annoyed and irritated, films that were ok but never reached their potential like DC’s Batman v. Superman, Rooster Teeth’s Lazer Team, and the adaptation of the cult TV series of the same name, Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland (which I am a producer on, full disclosure). I was left cold and annoyed at horror film The Invitation and biopic Genius, and I felt the Barack and Michelle rom-com Southside With You was a wholly uninteresting movie. Films like Lights Out and Triple Nine had interesting casts and direction, but ended up being simply bad, and while I found it to be a bad movie, there were enough truly balls-out action sequences that I couldn’t call Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows the worst of the worst. Then there’s the bad movies I didn’t get to (or didn’t want to get to), like any Adam Sandler movie on Netflix, or The Angry Birds Movie, or Independence Day: Resurgence. And finally, there’s the film that I wish had made my Bottom Ten. I really hated this year’s Snowden, finding it poorly acted, written, directed, and weirdly inaccurate to an otherwise interesting tale. I expected this film to be a capstone on my list of worst, but I ended up seeing ten worse films. Go figure. Anyway, I feel this is enough of a set-up for this list, and I really just want to get this over with. So let’s dive into the Ten Worst Movies of 2016.

10. Gods Of Egypt

Egyptian mythology is not as well-loved as, say, Greek mythology of Roman mythology, but that doesn’t mean it is any less deep. While it’s been a long time since I’ve studied, I remember the fascinating tales of Horus and Set, Osiris and Ra, and of course Isis and Anubis. These are tales that could be as interesting as the legends of Hercules and Troy. Too bad that the piece of garbage Gods of Egypt is the best that Hollywood could come up with.

From the opening monologue by some random character in his old age (note: they never explain who this narrator is, he just sort of appears, and then randomly notes that he was a character in the story) to the terrible CGI to the waste of actors ranging from good to great, like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a whiny, Jaime Lannister-esque hero, Gerard Butler as the villainous Set (whose motivations make no god*amned sense), Chadwick Boseman as the most egregiously wasted smart guy in the history of film, and Geoffrey Rush just wasting his talent by barely trying (not that he was given much to do), everything about this movie was egregiously bad. At best, this film was blind to Egyptian history and mythology. At worst, it was offensive and patronizing.

I think the most egregious scene in the movie is the Sphinx scene. Most people are familiar with the myth of the Sphinx: head of a human, body of a lion, wings of an eagle who forces all passers-by to answer a riddle. It’s a fascinating myth, and one that they choose to place in the film. And then: it’s wasted. The CGI on the Sphinx is hideous, the sound mixing renders the voice of the sphinx indecipherable (to this day I can’t tell you what the riddle is), then the Sphinx refuses to accept many respectable answers until Brenton Thwaites (the worst actor in this movie, by a mile) offers up some half-hearted bullsh*t, forcing the Sphinx to say “Oh, bother” and explode. It’s one of the dumbest scenes of the year, and perfectly sums up why this movie is such a useless piece of garbage. 

9. Search Party

The saying goes that bad drama and bad horror can be salvageable because they are funny, but bad comedy is terrible because there are no jokes. Such is the case with Search Party, a comedy starring several of my favorite comedians that ended up being one of the unfunniest movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s something of a wannabe Hangover, a film about friends trying to locate a groom who was kidnapped in Mexico trying to locate his bitter bride-to-be, and his groomsmen set out to rescue him. Not a terrible setup off the bat. And the team of groomsmen are T.J Miller, Adam Pally, and Thomas Middleditch, so things are looking up. And then you look at the supporting cast, which includes Alison Brie, Krysten Ritter, Jon Glaser, JB Smoove, Rosa Salazar, Garfunkel and Oates (one of my favorite comedy groups), and Jason Mantzoukas, and you think this movie should be invincible. And then it starts.

Every joke is unfunny, racist, or vulgar. There’s no semblance of plot or joke setup. And there’s only one funny scene, where Ritter and Mantzoukas try to steal Pally’s kidney. It’s the closest to a laugh the movie comes, and even that would be the least funny scene in any other movie. I don’t even know how to write about this movie, it just left me so disinterested. Two hundred words is about two hundred and one more than needed to be spared on this piece of garbage.

8. The Forest

Let’s ignore for a second that the idea of setting a horror movie instead of Aokigahara Forest, the “Suicide Forest,” a Japanese landmark, without a single Japanese character of importance, is incredible weird and incredibly offensive. Let’s just judge this movie on what is presented to us by the writers, directors, and actors. You’re still left with an egregiously bad horror film with nonsensical twists and turns.

I love Natalie Dormer. Actually, that’s an understatement. I love Natalie Dormer. She’s fantastic on Game of Thrones, she’s stolen everything she’s been in, from The Counselor to The Tudors. And the idea of her leading a movie is too much to pass up. It’s a shame she’s so terrible in this film. Playing twins Sara and Jess Price, nothing about their life story makes sense, you cannot tell them apart, and she never portrays a sense of fear needed to make a horror movie work. See, the audience is only afraid if the character is afraid (or if they know something the audience doesn’t). If the character is nonchalant about the threats she encounters, then the audience will be nonchalant about the threats she encounters. Thus, every “jump” scare in the film falls flat, leaving me disinterested and scareless throughout. Of course, maybe that’s because it builds to an incomprehensible twist.

I still couldn’t tell you how this film ends, even though it’s supposed to “explain” the whole plot. I don’t know if I want to be able to explain it. All I know is I never want to see this movie again for as long as I live.

7. Nine Lives

Look, it was inevitable that the movie where Kevin Spacey gets turned into a cat by Christopher Walken to learn a lesson about loving his family would be on my bottom ten list. This film was going to be a nightmare regardless. But I will say that while it’s still one of the worst films of the year, it’s still a movie worth seeing, if only for the “so-bad-it’s good” aspect of it all.

Kevin Spacey is so disinterested in this movie, it’s kind of fascinating. His droll and sarcastic voice, when paired with a CGI cat, is beautifully stupid. The jokes about the cat getting drunk and pissing in Cheryl Hines’ purse are abundant, and the fact they can only teach him lessons by Walken threatening to neuter him are hilariously discomforting. And let’s not forget the fact that Spacey becomes a cat by being thrown off a skyscraper by his corrupt partner. So yeah, there’s an entire real estate business subplot in this movie. For the kids.

The writing is ridiculous, the acting is uninterested, and the direction is garbage, but man, I could watch this movie over and over again. Sure, the story behind the making of this film is more interesting than the film itself, but so what? As terrible as it is, I have no qualms with watching a ridiculously terrible movie about Kevin Spacey turning into a cat, and you shouldn’t either. Just know that it is one of the worst movies of the year while you’re doing it.

6. Collateral Beauty

Ugh. This is the only film I reviewed that made this list. And God, was it awful. I didn’t have high expectations even when the script was called “one of Hollywood’s hottest screenplays,” considering Allan Loeb had only written films that were average, like 21, below average, like Rock of Ages and Just Go With It, and absolute garbage, like The Switch. I still wasn’t won over by the cast, even though I like Will Smith and Helen Mirren and love Edward Norton and Michael Peña. And my expectations were lowered by news that test screenings were disastrous. However, despite all of these trepidations, I could, in no way, foresee the disaster looming on the horizon.

Truth be told, as the movie began, and Will Smith gave a clichéd, slightly inaccurate speech about the importance of advertising, I didn’t hate it. It was cheesy, but not egregiously bad. And then it starts. And we see they’ve killed Smith’s young daughter (what the f*ck…). And he portrays depression literally the exact same way Cuba Gooding, Jr. portrays autism in Radio (What The F*ck…). And then his friends, the “heroes” of the film, decided to get him deemed mentally incompetent by hiring actors to portray Death, Time, and Love (WHAT THE F*CK!!!!!!!) Yes, this is the plot of the movie, and it’s as horrifying as it sounds.

The film stumbles and bumbles through stupid plot point and twist on the way to its finale. And holy sh*t that finale. There are two twists in this film. One of these twists is easy to see coming, but is no less insufferable. The other twist? Well, you might be able to see it coming about five minutes before it happens. At which point you start murmuring to yourself, “No. No no no. Dear God, no.” But it keeps coming. And then it unveils itself as one of the worst twists in film of all time. It’s so offensive and infuriating, I don’t know how I didn’t walk out right then. Maybe it was the knowledge there were only about ten more minutes. Maybe it was an attempt to see how this stupidity played out. Eiter way, it was the bullsh*t cherry on top of a dumpster sundae.

You can read my full review here

5. Warcraft

Poor Duncan Jones. I really wanted to like this movie. Jones has had a tough year. His film was delayed multiple times, he needed to finish it to afford making is dream project Mute, and despite “playing the game,” he still put his all into the project, making it a passion project in and of itself. As if the stress of making the movie wasn’t enough, his father, David Bowie, died at the beginning of the year. And then the movie got beaten up at the box office as well as with critics, with many of them treating him truly terribly. I wanted to defend him for making a wonderful, underrated film. I really wanted to. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

I realized that things weren’t going well when I was around the 2/3 point and I realized I had no idea what was going on. The names were indecipherable, the plot incomprehensible, and the editing sloppy and unintelligible. There was no way to even come close to understanding what was going on. Now, this isn’t completely Jones’ fault-he directed this film as well as anyone could hope. But it is his fault for going to broad. Now, I don’t believe movies should explain everything to their audiences. That’s why no film can match up to Star Wars in terms of world building. But you do need to allow the audience to have the pieces to understand what’s going on. For example, Star Wars doesn’t explain the fact that some worlds have two suns, or who the aliens are, or what the Empire is. But they do pause the action so we can understand what the Force is, or to translate for Chewbacca. There’s none of this in Warcraft. There’s only action, action, action, people fighting and betraying each other without every explaining motivations or how the magic works or anything. You’re just left wondering, “Wait, what the hell just happened?” And that’s an impossible problem for a film to overcome.

Now, I won’t say every single performance is bad. I thought Toby Kebbell was tolerable as Durotan the Orc. But then there’s performances like Ben Foster, an actor I truly love, who travels around this film in the world’s worst wig speaking the most incomprehensible dialogue. It’s fascinatingly bad, in a way that almost makes the movie watchable. Unfortunately, most of the movie beyond that is dull, without anything resembling decent costume design, makeup design, or effects work. It’s an unfortunately terrible film, and while I feel bad kicking someone while they’re down, there’s no way to beat around that bush.

4. Mother’s Day

This is the only film on this list to literally kill someone. Yes, this was the last film that acclaimed director Garry Marshall ever made. And if his Holiday Ensemble Series is like a bad version of Lord of the Rings or Toy Story, then Mother’s Day is the Return of the King of sh*t.

Featuring some of the worst performances film has seen from such talented people as Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Margo Martindale, Héctor Elizondo, Jennifer Garner, Aasif Mandvi, and Jon Lovitz, the film tries to explore “the importance of mothers.” At least, that’s what I think it was trying to do. None of these people are good mothers (Garner’s character has an excuse, she passed away), and they all teach their children the worst life lessons. The jokes aren’t funny-not Aniston’s usual pitch-perfect delivery, not Sudeikis breaking his arm while doing the Humpty Dance (something that sounds funny on paper), and not even the visual of an inappropriately shaped parade float travelling down the street. Nothing about this movie works, and instead, insults the viewer’s intelligence.

I don’t think of Marshall as an unfunny man, or an awful man. In fact, I think many of his movies and shows are riotously funny. But if you were to judge only by this film, you’d think that he watched a Hallmark movie and decided, “You know what would make this even BETTER? Worse jokes, more race humor, and less rehearsal time!” It’s not funny, it’s not entertaining, it’s just kind of mesmerizing to see how much talent can be wasted by one movie, from director to writer to cast. Everyone involved in this deserved better, and I’m angry that they-and the audience-didn’t get it.

3. God’s Not Dead 2

Allow me to clarify something. I, in no way, have an issue with religious films. I love The Ten Commandments and The Robe. I very much appreciate The Passion of the Christ and The Mission. And despite not technically being a religious film, I find Selma to be one of the most spiritually uplifting films in ten years. Hell, this year alone I saw three religious movies I gave decent-to-good reviews to. Silence was quite strong, I thought Risen was a quietly decent film, and while I was critical of its flaws (and there are many), I had a great appreciation for the good parts of Hacksaw Ridge, and am actually pleased that it is getting this level of awards love (even if I don’t think it is necessarily deserved). So I do not have a problem with films about religion.

I say all this because there’s some sort of logic out there that because critics (who overwhelmingly liked most, if not all, of the films I just named, with 84% of all official critics liking Silence and 86% liking Hacksaw Ridge) give a bad review to a movie about faith, it is because of some sort of atheistic (or liberal, if you want to get political) bias. There’s even a cottage industry inside Hollywood who have become rich by stirring up fake “controversy” surrounding the film, billing it as “the film atheists don’t want you to see,” and creating something of an “us vs. them” mindset about films like God’s Not Dead 2. I find this type of mindset disturbing, but I’m capable of removing the controversy from the film in order to review it without prejudice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help if the film itself is a bomb.

Everything about this film seems off, from the complete disregard for legal understanding, to the terrible dialogue, to the acting. Sure, some actors, like Melissa Joan Hart and Jesse Metcalfe, at least have an understanding of line delivery and acting, and others, like Ernie Hudson, Ray Wise, and Fred Thompson, at least are passionate about the material, even if their acting is amongst the worst of their careers. But then there are people like Sadie Robertson (of the Duck Dynasty clan) and David A.R. White, who plays the series’ lead role of Reverend Dave, the hip young pastor who teaches people that atheists are bad. I found out recently that White is the head of the company, and puts himself in every film, making him something of a Tommy Wiseau figure. A scene where he spills coffee on himself and looks up to the sky with a knowing smirk is one of the oddest and worst scenes I’ve seen all year. I could go on and on about other issues with this film, including an egregious cameo by a rock band who wrote a theme song for this movie (and decidedly are not actors), or a subplot with a Chinese teenager that at best is culturally ignorant/insensitive, but I think enough time has been spent on this movie already. The fact that this film, which openly fictionalizes a persecution of a person of faith, made $25 million while Scorsese’s Silence, which is about the actual persecution of people of faith, and is a much better movie, has only made $8 million, is an absolute travesty, and make me weep for the state of filmmaking.

2. Get A Job

I first heard about this movie three years ago. At the time, Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick were trying to make a name for themselves, Bryan Cranston was trying to branch into movies, and Brandon T. Jackson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Nicholas Braun were trying to officially reclaim the highest points of their careers. And it came right as the job market changed, leaving people across multiple generations looking for work. That’s a clever piece of satire! It seemed like a home run. And then…it disappeared. Gone. It was shelved, never to be seen. Until the studio, hoping to gain some compensation for the film, decided to release it direct-to-DVD. Loving that cast, living that concept, and intrigued at the idea, I popped it in. And that was a major mistake.

You see, the movie ended up being condescending, vulgar, and uninteresting. There really isn’t a plot to this film, just a series of vignettes about how millennials are awful, and how parents just don’t understand the current job market, and how if we just stopped giving out “those damned participation trophies” (which are the laziest straw man arguments around), then people would actually understand the importance of a hard day’s work (even though the characters coast by through quitting jobs, the smartest characters are laid off for no reason, and a man can openly admit to a room full of children that he’s high during the chemistry class he teaches and end up getting promoted). Add to that the fact the film portrays its lead as an editing prodigy, and then both portrays him as a terrible editor and is terribly edited in and of itself, it all plays like some joke that doesn’t work.

I haven’t touched on the many other issues with the film. There’s the fact that every woman outside of Kendrick is portrayed as shill and sleeping her way to the top (including great actresses Marcia Gay Harden and Alison Brie)-and even Kendrick is portrayed as basically a clueless millennial. Her monologue at the end makes no sense, contradicts the themes of the movie. Then there’s a sequence where John C. McGinley makes Jackson drink deer ejaculate in order to become a stockbroker that is one of the most disquieting and disturbing things I’ve seen on film, maybe ever. A major arc involves Mintz-Plasse being praised for an app inspiring men to stalk women. And then there’s an odd subplot including Jay Pharoah as a pimp. Look, any way you slice it, this film should have remained on the shelf. It’s a vile, vile, movie, and I hated every second of it. However, despite this loathing, it’s still not the worst movie of the year. That honor belongs to…

1. Norm Of The North

Make no mistake: Norm of the North is one of the worst movies ever made. There’s a lot of reasons to genuinely loathe this movie. Maybe it’s the halfhearted environmental message that almost contradicts itself. Maybe it’s the terrible voice work by Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Bill Nighy, Gabriel Iglesias, and especially the crime against nature that is Rob Schneider as the eponymous Norm, maybe it’s the fact that they’ve blatantly stolen the Minions from Despicable Me and stripped them of any semblance of charm (and understand I don’t understand the charm of the Minions to begin with), or maybe it’s the fact that the animation looks like this portrait of Jesus:

No matter your reason for disliking it, understand that it is the worst that cinema has to offer. None of the jokes are funny, and the minute the bear half-heartedly explains that he speaks Human (not English, human) and starts to twerk, I was out. I verbally booed as the Lemmings (Minion knock-offs) had not one, but two different jokes about pissing on people’s floors. And their Hollywood satire (oh, because you can be sure there’s Hollywood satire) is so quarter-assed, I couldn’t even function. I was left in a painful daze within ten minutes, and on the off chance the film got a chuckle, they would then repeat the joke three times, each time to lesser effect. Most of the humor had no punchline. The editing (essential to an animated film) was poorly slapped together. A note I took during the film reads: “THIS *CLAP* PLOT *CLAP* MAKES *CLAP* NO *CLAP* SENSE!” The happiest this film ever made me was at the end, when it seems the film is going to end with Norm’s death. I stood and cheered. Long story short, this movie is absolutely, positively, unbearable (and I don’t even care how many people made that pun).

I feel this is the best story that explains why Norm is such a terrible movie. There are several moments where Norm does “the Arctic Shake,” a random dance that involves twerking, which Norm performs about six times throughout the film. Now, what’s strange is that in trailers and early clips from the film, this dance was set to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. However, when the film came out, an in-house band replacement was inserted in its place. What this tells me is that Taylor Swift either was not informed her song was being used and ended up suing, or the more likely scenario, Swift gave them the rights to her song, saw the final product, and then revoked her permission. What this means is that Taylor Swift was so appalled by this movie, she was willing to give up the paycheck to avoid the humiliation of being associated with this film. I think that’s the most telling thing about the quality of this film, and demonstrates just a small sample of the reasons why I truly, wholeheartedly loathe this movie.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this painful journey through the worst of the year. This concludes the Worst Films of 2016. Hmm, if this week was the worst of the worst, I wonder what next week will be? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

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