Sigh. Well, it’s your favorite time of the year, you jackals. The Worst Films of 2020. Now, I honestly considered retiring this list after last year. Negativity is too rampant in film criticism, and punishing directors for trying their best and creating impressive flops can have nasty side effects within the industry. But here’s the thing: for every well-meaning failure, there’s at least five films that don’t try. And with studios looking to burn off their catalogues during the pandemic, there were a lot of lazy cash grabs out there that need to be accounted for. So that’s what this list represents: the films that don’t try, often directed by some rich billionaire’s failson, where the actors blatantly look offscreen every shot for their paycheck. These insults to our intelligence need to be accounted for, and that’s why this list continues.
Now, 2020 was a decent year for film overall, so there’s not too many films to criticize. Going through my bottom tiers, it’s evident that a lot of films had some element of trying, and just didn’t work as a whole for me. For example, Bad Boys For Life was the highest grossing film of the year, but after watching all three films, I realized I’m just not interested in the Michael Bay-produced buddy comedy shoot-em-up, no matter how good Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are. Meanwhile, The High Note was incredibly well-acted, but the script just felt so lazy. I could never praise or condemn a glorified Hallmark movie. Then there are the films that were shoddily made, but possessed flashes of brilliance, like Sonic the Hedgehog or The King of Staten Island. And I can’t forget the films that at least tried for something, even if I very deeply disliked what that something was, like Malcolm and Marie, New Order, and Antebellum.
Moving into the Dishonorable Mentions, I should remind you all that I have a level of respect for myself. I don’t spend my time watching bad films when there are so many classics I have yet to see. So no, I did not see The Last Days of American Crime, or 365 Days, or A Fall From Grace, or Downhill, or The Lovebirds, or the Anne Hathaway double-whammy The Last Thing He Wanted or The Witches (I love her, and it was unfair to release both of her mistakes in a row like that). But don’t worry; there’s still a good deal of laziness to go around. The Jesus Rolls was the shaggiest, most unnecessary sequel you could possibly imagine. Pieces of a Woman threw every melodrama cliché into a blender and set it on high. The Wolf House, despite its critical praise, just completely failed to click from beginning to end. Equally-praised Swallow is the most boring horror film you’ll ever see, with the main performance failing to register in the slightest. The Tax Collector is the gold standard of David Ayer nonsense Cholo drama. The Wrong Missy and The Man Who Sold His Skin were so miserable, they just missed this list by a hair’s breadth. And Hillbilly Elegy is an insult to its audience’s intelligence from the jump (and witnesses the worst performance of Glenn Close’s career). Oh, and if you’re wondering where the award-nominated flops of Music and The United States of Billie Holiday might be…I made the judgment call to put them on the 2021 list. Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing them there for sure. But I’ve postponed long enough. Let’s stop stalling and get straight into the Ten Worst Films of 2020.
10. The Grudge
You know, I was on the fence for the first thirty minutes of the unnecessary Grudge sequel about if it was a “bad” film or not. Sure it was kind of lazy, but it didn’t outright offend the senses. And then…it kept going. And suddenly, the film through every ounce of tension and respect this series once possessed right out the window. Nicolas Pesce’s take on the iconic ghost story lacks any sort of invention, innovation, and, unlike its predecessors, is completely incomprehensible. The Grudge is a series about the ramifications of trauma, jumping through time and space to explore likable characters compelled into heinous acts. Here? The jumping timelines make no sense, the characters are unbearable, and the tension and terror is replaced with unscary jump scares and excessive amounts of gore. What’s worse: they got rid of the iconic Toshio just to make the “child ghost” a boring ass white girl. And I won’t even comment on the logic of the curse attaching itself to an American woman and jumping across the Pacific, or an old couple buying the house in the hopes of turning the dying wife into a ghost. None of the performers – not Betty Gilpin, not John Cho, and certainly not Andrea Risenborough as the world’s worst cop (she’s a homicide detective who’s constantly shocked by homicides) – are capable of saving this film. The closest we see is Demián Bichir as Risenborough’s partner. The Grudge is lazy horror at its laziest, and it’s a slap in the face to the fans of the iconic Japanese series.
No film gave me a sense of gaslighting quite like Radioactive. In spite of its 62% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and solid ratings on Amazon, I don’t think I saw a film I hated as much all year as this one. Radioactive is the most cliché biopic you’ll see this side of Bohemian Rhapsody – and at least that film is both coherent and respectful of its subject. You see, Radioactive dares to ask the question “What if a woman could be a genius, but only because of mommy issues and Asperger’s?” Every scene is a cliché, in the worst possible way – one of the worst moments comes when Pierre tells her “I think we found a new element!” and Marie replies “No…we found TWO elements!” And I could go the rest of my life without seeing a character getting a slow-clap after achieving something big, like winning the Nobel Prize. However, I’d take all of these cliches over the film’s “genre-bending” second half. That’s the point where Marie Curie begins to wander through Hiroshima and Chernobyl, learning of the negative effects of her discovery. Not only is it as patronizing and poorly handled as it sounds, it also ironically only blames her, as opposed to her husband, here painted as an “innocent victim” of Marie’s actions. Stars Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy do everything they can to save this film, but it isn’t enough. This is a lazy, horrifically made film from beginning to end, portraying a fascinating story as if it were a bad episode of The Big Bang Theory, and I hated it all the way through.
You can read my Radioactive review right here
I never got a chance to review Capone, which is a bit disappointing – I had a lot to say about it. I don’t fault a single actor involved with this production. I’m not even sure I fault the director, Josh Trank, despite the fact that he’s proven time and again that his own demons prevent him from making good movies. Capone is an ambitious failure, the kind I both want to cheer for and criticize at the same time. After all, framing an Al Capone movie not in the sense of traditional narratives (Scarface, Little Caesar) or crass fictionalizations (The Untouchables), and instead as an exploration of memory and remorse as a terrifying monster slowly loses his mind to syphilis is a bold effort. If executed well, this film could perfectly blend The Father with The Godfather. If executed poorly, the film is an incoherent mess on par with Gotti. Capone just barely misses that low bar, but that doesn’t mean its any good. The film is unintelligible, with the flashbacks adding nothing, the hallucinations becoming painfully obvious, and the dialogue woefully forced. Meanwhile, Tom Hardy’s performance as an aging Al Capone living in Palm Island hearkens to the work of Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest – it’s not necessarily a bad performance, as they are not bad actors. But without a trained director to rein them in, they quickly go off the rails. I still have nightmares of the Popeye-sounding Hardy stumbling about singing along to The Wizard of Oz. I desperately want more directors to take big swings when making character dramas. Just…make sure you have the skill or the vision to back it up before doing so.
7. Fantasy Island
I think, on some level, we all knew that a Fantasy Island horror movie would be a terrible idea. And we were right. The film just doesn’t work, primarily because its entire premise requires a knowledge of the original TV series. However, the show is hardly a classic – the average millennial (the film’s target demo) would have no idea what’s a rather blatant homage and what’s not. It’s like if someone made a searing family drama titled “Father Knows Best” – the references just wouldn’t land. The average viewer is not going to get why the minority characters are suddenly shouting “The plane!” for no reason, or why it’s a big deal that Jimmy O. Yang’s regressive gay stoner character is nicknamed “Tattoo.” But even if the film solely consisted of lazy references or homages, it could still maybe fly if the script or the performances worked. Sadly, the film doesn’t get these aspects right either. Every moment in this film – a film that’s supposed to nail clever twists and morals – is phoned in and predictable. The opening scene even features a woman running through the wood and realizing she’s in danger with the classic “Wait…how did you know my name?” Every moment of tension is a lazy jump scare, and the twists are hilariously lazy. The minute you hear Lucy Hale’s backstory, you’ll immediately know it’s a ploy to cover up that she’s the villain. And it’s still less ridiculous than her evil motive, in which she – Lucy Hale, voted Sexiest Woman Alive – couldn’t get a date because “Who would love her?” No matter how much Michael Peña tries to save things, you can’t redeem magic zombies. This is just a bad film from beginning to end, and it’s a shame it was one of the last hits of the year before the pandemic came.
Let’s put aside for a moment that Songbird was written the first week of the pandemic as an “action thriller” about Americans living in fear of an exaggerated disease. Let’s forget about how tasteless that is, or uncomfortable, or offensive as we close in on 600,000 dead. Songbird would be one of the worst films of 2020 even if it weren’t a tasteless cash grab trying to capitalize on both Americans’ fear and a large swath of anti-mask paranoia. There is not one iota of believable narrative within this film’s entangled, absurd narrative about a couple trying to stay together after a girl is “exposed” to Covid-23 (seriously) and the Sanitation department is coming to execute her on the spot. This is a film that operates under the belief that randomly referencing topical themes is the same as “commentary.” The film wants you to believe it’s about class warfare and race, with healthy people becoming “second class citizens” and called “muni scum.” Furthermore, it is very clear the film was written by a couple of anti-maskers within the first week of quarantine, as the film has no understanding of what society would eventually look like – for example, none of the characters can watch TV or movies, because…reasons. Maybe the film could have redeemed itself if the action sequences were any good, but even those fall flat, playing like a bad video game. Nothing works congruently with anything else, and I’m not sure if that’s because of the writing, the editing, or the direction. After all, there’s a guy who shows up to help the main character as if he’s a major player, only to get killed off three minutes later. And I haven’t even touched on the performances, which cover all the shades of the “Sh*tty Acting” Rainbow – Demi Moore, Craig Robinson, KJ Apa, Bradley Whitford, and an overacting Peter Stormare. The only two characters kind of relatable are Alexandria Daddario and Paul Walter Hauser, and even they have to put up with a scene where Hauser asks her to sing “American Pie,” only for her to sing a completely different song. Everything about this movie is a failure, and that failure is only worsened by offensively tackling a painful moment in history way too soon.
5. Shadow In The Cloud
I went into Shadow In The Cloud with high expectations. After all, it’s a World War II adaptation of one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, and starring Chloë Grace Moretz, a relatively decent actress. What could go wrong? Well, a good deal. I should have known something was wrong after it came out that the script had been written by Max Landis, a fact the production team and director Roseanne Liang desperately tried to hide. Landis, a notorious misogynist and Hollywood failson, was fresh off a string of flops and accusations of domestic violence. Shadow in the Cloud reads like one of those bad scripts in BoJack Horseman where someone tries to cover up how much they hate women by writing a sexist script with a female protagonist to feign feminism. Every character is a lughead cliché, saying the most vilely sexist things you can imagine in a way that’s supposed to be satire, but reads more as Landis airing his grievances. Meanwhile, Moretz’s Maude Garrett is the type of Badass Dream Girl that exists only in 13-year old boys’ fantasies. She exists only to berate the sexists, f*ck, and fight. Honestly, Megan Fox in Transformers has more agency than Garrett. The entire film is about Garrett’s fight with both the patriarchy and a literal Gremlin (and the Japanese, I guess, occasionally), as well as the fact that “Surprise ! Maude Garrett isn’t actually a badass spy, she’s just a lying woman who slept around and has a kid! Because all women are supposed to be mothers!” Every line is bad, every performance is bad, and the effects are barely comprehensible. And I can’t forget the worst scene I’ve seen…maybe ever, where Maude is hanging outside of the plane by one finger, falls out, but is saved when a Japanese plane explodes below her and propels her back to safety, completely unharmed. Don’t believe me?
The only redeeming feature in the entire film is the score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper. And honestly? That will only cares you so far.
You can read my review of Shadow In The Cloud right here
4. Artemis Fowl
When Artemis Fowl was bumped from its release date three or four times, it was considered a major red flag. And audiences had good reason to think so: the first major Disney+ premiere was one of the laziest knockoffs I have ever seen. Unlike the books, which are well-structured heists that show a young, selfish, egotistical boy’s journey towards growth and respect, this film has none of that magic. It just mashes together tropes from better YA adaptations in ways that really don’t work. Part of this is because the characters are completely unbearable – they are boring, whiny, and uninteresting, and none more so than Artemis himself. Another reason is the fact that the story meanders between disconnected plot points haphazardly. I could not even begin to tell you what the main team’s mission is. Are they thieves? Kidnappers? Adventurers? I cannot for the life of me figure out the goal or the stakes in this story. And it doesn’t help that the rules of this make-believe universe are never explained. Unlike Star Wars, which never explains, but gives context clues, Artemis Fowl just shows us a bunch of insane mythical realms and ideas and goes “Yeah, this makes sense.” And while the actors themselves give horrendous performances (Judi Dench shows up as a hardened Irish cop wielding two machine guns and declares, in an over-the-top brogue, “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya”), there’s only so much you can do with CGI this bad. I will never forget the searing image of Josh Gad unhinging his jaw in order to eat dirt and doing so fast enough that he sh*ts it out behind him. Artemis Fowl feels like the lazy first act to a better movie, and while it could have been Disney’s attempt at its own Harry Potter, it ends up as a low-rent Spy Kids rip-off that more closely resembles The Master of Disguise.
You can read my review of Artemis Fowl right here
3. The New Mutants
I saw The New Mutants at a drive-in event over the summer. I knew it wouldn’t be good – the fact it’s been pushed back since 2017 told me that. But I was hoping the magic of the drive-in could elevate this horror-superhero hybrid. After all, Unhinged isn’t great, but the drive-in experience made it one of my favorite movie experiences of the year. Turns out, putting a bow on a piece of turd still makes it a piece of turd. The New Mutants cannot overcome the fact that Josh Boone (of The Fault in our Stars) cannot direct. He does not know how to work a camera, and does not understand themes or story structure. He knows that this is supposed to be a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Breakfast Club, but because he cannot put them together, he mashes everything together in a collection of cliches and stereotypes. The last part is actually extra offensive, because it’s clear that Boone thinks that by portraying a bunch of stereotypical characters (stereotypical gay kid, stereotypical Native American, stereotypical Russian), it’s the same thing as diversity. Every line of dialogue is bad, whether it’s the early fights (“He came here to be cured.” “Is there a cure for being an assh*le?”) or the romantic moments (“It’s so beautiful out here.” “YOU’RE the one that’s beautiful…”). I suppose the film thinks it is presenting commentary on religion, or race, or sexuality, or…something, but it spends so much of its time trying to decide if it is an action film or a horror film, it ends up failing in all regards. The visual effects work is terrible, but you’ll barely notice, because at least it looks more real than any of these performances. Charlie Heaton is bad, Henry Zaga and Blu Hunt can’t act, and this is the second film to require Anya Taylor-Joy to do the Lord’s work to make her scenes salvageable. She does her damndest, but unlike Radioactive, here she has to talk to people with a sock puppet on her hand. The only somewhat decent performance comes from Maisie Williams, but even that performance is only “fine.” The New Mutants is a film that so desperately wants to be edgy, but just ends up as edgelord. And honestly? This one should have stayed in film jail for all eternity.
2. The Secret: Dare To Dream
Oh god, did I love The Secret: Dare To Dream. I knew I was in for a treat when it was announced that director Andy Tennant of Sweet Home Alabama fame had crafted an adaptation of that famous early-aughts scheme The Secret as a Hallmarkian romantic comedy. And when I saw the film, I got appropriately angry, just like I wanted. After all, this was a film whose entire premise basically involved a woman being indoctrinated into a cult and proselytized that poor people deserve to be poor. That’s borderline sociopathic, and purely evil. But the more I thought about it, the more I admired this film. Not because it was good – oh no, it’s absolutely terrible. I admire this film because of how gloriously bad it is. It is my Cats-esque baby this year. I mean, this is a film where Josh Lucas shows up to whisper sweet nothings to Katie Holmes about how magnets control our moods or something, and that’s why her husband died in a plane crash. I don’t know, it doesn’t make much sense – I suppose that’s why Katie Holmes’ former mother-in-law and fiancée are so creeped out by the handsome new cult leader. By the way, the mother-in-law is supposed to be evil because she cooks breakfast for her grandchildren and tries to loan them money, while the fiancée is named – and I could not make this up if I tried – Tucker Middendorf. And Tuck is played by Jerry O’Connell. I loved this film’s bad filmmaking and This Is Us-style treacliness. I loved the bad acting from Lucas and Holmes and especially the three child actors Sarah Hoffmeister, Aiden Brennan, and Chloe Lee, and I love that this film ends with a little girl actually wishing a pony into existence. It’s all so stupid and overly simplistic, and while I doubt I’ll see a film with this bad a message or execution again in a long time, I will always appreciate our magical moments together.
You can read my review of The Secret: Dare To Dream right here
1. Impractical Jokers: The Movie
This should not come as a surprise to any longtime readers of this site. Hell, my pan of this film was so iconic, I actually got a (short-lived) stint as a writer out of it. But I loathed Impractical Jokers: The Movie. It’s one of the worst films I’ve seen – and not in a fun way, like last year’s winner The Fanatic. No, Impractical Jokers is an affront to cinema, an affront to art, an affront to deceny, and an affront to God. The “plotline,” if you can call it that, involves four extras from Promising Young Woman – Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn, and Sal Vulcano – who have somehow made careers out of being obnoxious Staten Island douchebags towards their fellow humans. They embark on a journey to Florida (because of course), and must compete in a series of prank challenges in order to win three tickets to a Paula Abdul concert. The plot makes little sense, and the characters themselves seem to hate it so much they contemplate giving up on it halfway through the film. But what pissed me off the most were the pranks at the center of the film. Now, Impractical Jokers wasn’t the only prank film of 2020; we also saw an unexpected Borat sequel pop up. But unlike Borat, the pranks here serve no general purpose. They don’t praise goodhearted Americans for embracing others. They don’t condemn racists. They aren’t even that funny. They offer no insight into human nature. It’s just four vaguely offensive assholes from Staten Island torturing people for their amusement, and no one else’s. In fact, most of the participants – including Vulcano, when he is “pranked” by his “friends” – seem uncomfortable or cry as a result of the pranks. But that just makes these four sociopaths laugh harder. They are the worst, and never before have four individuals so deserved their punchable faces. I hated every bit of this film, from beginning to end. And no experience all year, whether it be with movies, with working as an essential worker for a bunch of maskless Karens, or getting laid off from a different job, came close to matching the miserableness of the 90 minutes spent here. F*ck these losers.
You can read my review of Impractical Jokers: The Movie right here
There. I’ve gotten through these heinous, heinous films. Let’s move on with our lives, shall we? I hope you’ve all enjoyed my pain, as you do every year. As always, I am your personal dancing monkey, feel free to take pleasure in my pain. Let’s put these Worst Films of 2020 behind us, and move forward to happier times. I’ll be taking a brief pause to focus on the Oscars (predictions and Best Performances to come), but I’ll be back sometime next week with the best films 2020 had to offer – and there were a lot of them. After all, if 2020 was good for anything, it was groundbreaking content. See you then!