In a year of such frequent disappointment and tragedy, perhaps it is fitting that we begin our 2016 Year-In-Review with a look at the proverbial “basket of deplorables” that is The Worst Films of 2016. Of course, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but in all honesty, the films referenced here are, by virtually all accounts, not good.
Like at all. And as a matter of fact, these films would be best time capsuled, locked away, and buried somewhere we will never remember to look.
While it is true that every movie cannot be an Oscar-winner or be deemed a modern-day masterpiece, I want to believe that the films listed below comprised the best of intentions. However, somewhere something went wrong.
Instead of compelling stories, we got movies marketed to children that should have been rated for adults, ludicrous CGI-heavy action sequences, cheap CGI and budgets who cut corners to make it to the big screen, remakes that never should have been approved in the first place, directors venting their anger and vitriol at the world through the construct of “comedy”, and Oscar winning actors slumming in projects for no logical reason whatsoever.
17 films earned either ★1/2 or ★ star from me this past year, about on par with 2015’s haul. Another 8 films scored a ★★ review, just missing mention in this article. And while we are have reached two consecutive years where films have not earned the dreaded half-star rating, there were still a number of films that were so poor, so shockingly bad, you simply had to throw up your hands and laugh.
Or cry. Or throw popcorn at the screen. Or stare at the person who brought you to the theater on this particular day or night. Or pound your fist on the RedBox begging for a refund, only to forget that the RedBox has no soul inside and does not care about you whatsoever and only wants your debit card.
Of these 17 films identified below, they exist in a year that saw me view approximately 160 films. I may have missed “gems” like Keeping Up With The Joneses, Fifty Shades of Black, or the 0% TomatoMeters of The Disappointments Room and Max Steel, but apparently most of you did as well.
No, I sat through these, so you didn’t have to. Or if you did, I suffered with you. And in the case of one film, I went out of my way to see if the sequel could possibly be as bad as the original. And should have known better than to tempt my fate. So without further adieu, here are the worst films I watched within the last 365 days. Proceed with caution. Spoilers may or may not be included.
#10: Suicide Squad
Released: August 5, 2016
Directed by: David Ayer
Pointlessly nasty, misogynistic, and flat out unlikable, Suicide Squad was one of the biggest box office hits of 2016, and drills point the home that no one really cares all that much when violence and straight male sexually charged imagery is dumped into 4,000 theaters and branded with a PG-13 rating. Inexplicably, David Ayer‘s all-star ensemble co-exist in a PG-13 world where hundreds of people can be shot, women can wear next to nothing and be abused, and as long as we don’t really show any blood or naughty bits, these kids we are selling this too will be just fine.
Here are some additional thoughts on the MPAA’s most egregious error of 2016, and what amounts to a really terrible, badly constructed film – no matter what the rating.
“The Squad is assembled by a tenacious government operative named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who sees the world left with no alternative than to take the worst supervillains and meta-humans on the planet and use evil to fight evil, hopefully restoring good.
At least I think that’s the point. Quite honestly, Suicide Squad is all over the map when it comes to coherence. For a few minutes, we have a film that hints at ideas that good and evil need to exist to sustain one another, that bad things can happen to good people and how we grow and mature from obstacles in life can set us on a right and just path, or one fraught with repeatedly poor decisions. If Ayer explored the notion that we are products of our environment, and dug deep into the psychoses of this squad, maybe we would have something really interesting to chew on here.
Instead he opts for cheap, tawdry, and lazy. He employs hyperkinetic editing, a cute, on-the-nose soundtrack of obvious music choices to introduce characters and define mood and atmosphere, and always chooses style over substance. And misogyny. And guns. Always the guns. And a middle school-level screenplay that is aloof and negligent in how little it cares about the real world viewers live in, even if it exists within a fantastical world of make believe.
You see, the failure of Suicide Squad has nothing to do with critics choosing DC over Marvel, and everything to do with how the film never understands you don’t sensationalize ugliness at the chance to land a cheap pop while taking the low road. Rather than digging deep and crafting something smart and thoughtful, Suicide Squad is infantile sleaze for the masses.”
#9: Zoolander 2
Released: February 12, 2016
Directed by: Ben Stiller
I am not sure Zoolander 2 counts as an actual movie. I mean, yes, technically, it is a series of filmed moving images presented for viewing by the public in a theater, thereby meeting the definition of a “movie.” However, if you think this is a picture show that makes any sense and fits together in any constructive way, you are sadly mistaken. Like completely wrong. So again, I am not sure Zoolander 2 is an actual movie.
It takes what feels like hours to learn that Zoolander and best friend and fellow supermodel Hansel (Owen Wilson) have stopped speaking, not communicating for fifteen years after “The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too” collapsed and crashed into the ocean two days after the conclusion of the last film.
What we experience is something similar to some of the Adam Sandler comedies he made with all of his bros the last few years; a sloppy series of moments that never cohesively come together in any meaningful way. We laugh at Kristen Wiig‘s insane, unrecognizable performance as fashion designer Alexanya Atoz, We offer some giggles at Derek’s eventual reconnection with his son, the pudgy and rather awkward looking Derek Zoolander, Jr. We see “Saturday Night Live”‘s Kyle Mooney play an awkward designer who continually confuses Derek and Hansel as to his motivations, while Will Ferrell is back as the villainous Mugatu.
At times, Stiller has given us a movie which seems like a cousin to those Naked Gun or Hot Shots! movies, where puns, jokes, and sight gags come a thousand miles per hour. With a screenplay consisting of FOUR screenwriters, I have to think Stiller just sectioned off loose ideas for the film and let everyone just go crazy. From a technical standpoint, Zoolander 2 doesn’t look cheap. There is a sleek production design and some actually impressive makeup effects and one clever CGI gimmick involving Fred Armisen portraying an 11-year-old child.
Overall though, the script is atrocious and the entire film revolves around Zoolander being an idiot and the unrelenting dam break of cameos. Where the last film had nearly 30-40 cameos, this film feels like it has a cameo every 5-10 seconds. Again, this isn’t a movie. Maybe a more apt comparison would be that Zoolander 2 is a two-hour running gag, looped in and around one of those old “Night of 100 Stars” television variety specials that celebrities hated to participate in.
I am a big Ben Stiller fan, but maybe he needs to take a well-deserved break. He’s certainly earned it. Zoolander 2 was never necessary and watching it, you kinda start to believe that just maybe the man behind the camera agrees with you.
That’ll do Ben. That’ll do.
#8: The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Released: March 18, 2016
Director: Robert Schwentke
I tap out. Seriously. Few films seem to be openly wondering why they exist like Allegiant, the miserable third film in the scuffling and exhausted Divergent Series. The films, which have only progressively gotten worse with each subsequent episode, hits the trifecta by confirming that these films now seem to only exist because Summit Entertainment made a massive financial commitment to adapting Veronica Roth‘s best-selling book series. And that money has earned the studio nothing in return, as director Robert Schwentke delivers audiences a film with no passion, no energy, and certainly no excitement.
All you need to know is found in the opening scene. The rebellious, faction-busting lovebirds Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are looking out at the massive wall that keeps their dystopian Chicago contained from whatever lies beyond. “Are we really gonna do this?” Four asks. With a sneer and “kiss me” look, Tris confirms, about 30 seconds into the film, that yes, they will indeed…Climb. That. Wall!
Undaunted, they press on with Peter trying out his new stand up routine I guess and Four smoldering with centerfold intensity. Eventually, they encounter a toxic red rain and a force field which bursts open to find an army of soldiers shockingly rescuing them. They are taken to a futuristic living community, transported in these hilarious “plasma bubbles” wraps and later, through Tris’ experience, we see how the quintet are decontaminated in what has to be one of the most unintentionally ridiculous sequences to come along yet in this limping, wheezing franchise.And so, with the factions which divided Chicago broken apart and splintered, Tris and Four, along with apparent best friend Christina (Zoe Kravitz), her spineless Benedict Arnold of a brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and the sarcastic, #IDGAF Peter (Miles Teller), collectively lead a revolt and make it to the other side, discovering a blood-red scorched Earth that seems almost completely inhabitable.
Suffice to say, anarchy is happening. And the lack of inactivity from Peter and Caleb is quite awesome. Peter could care less about the job and tries to charm his way into something more substantive, while Caleb literally spends scene after scene trying to tell anyone who will listen how awesome his surveillance pod is. What he eventually observes is that the formerly peaceful leader of Amity (Octavia Spencer) is preparing to go to war with Four’s estranged mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), who has assumed control of Divergent Chicago and is leading people to war because she wants to give Chicago to her son.
I mean. That’s one way to win him back I suppose.
Honestly, this whole Divergent Series has completely unraveled and it’s a shame to see a film so desperate to cross the finish line, lacking the stamina and conditioning to finish with respectability. The actors look bored, they recite their lines like they have just choked down some putrid tasting cough syrup and no one is having any fun whatsoever. Well, except Teller. He seems to be clearly amusing himself, going rogue and apparently deciding to star in his own film within a film, sucking the air out of the room with pithy one-liners and sandpaper dry delivery.
Look, it’s really this simple. If the cast doesn’t believe in the story they are telling, how is an audience expected to care?
#7: God’s Not Dead 2
Released: April 1, 2016
Director: Harold Cronk
Quite honestly, I don’t know what I expected here, but the sequel to 2014’s box office hit God’s Not Dead, which spent two hours giving us a story of non-Christians suffering maladies because they do not believe in the Almighty and an atheist professor learning that God is real and all around us, is somehow just as bad, if not worse than its predecessor.
This time around, in the hilariously titled God’s Not Dead 2, Melissa Joan Hart (!) stars as a teacher PUT ON TRIAL for violating the protection of church and state when she had the temerity to mention Christ in the classroom. We have the former Bob from “Twin Peaks” (Ray Wise) playing a prosecuting attorney who claims that once the trial has concluded, he will definitively prove that God is, in fact, dead. And Jesse Metcalfe… JESSE. METCALFE!!! stars as Hart’s defense attorney, who then flips the script and tries to sabotage the case and find his client guilty, so then people will realize she was right all along. Awesome.
Along the way, an Asian student asks a teacher 147 questions about the existence of God, the Newsboys throw a concert, and Robin Givens plays a non-believing school principal because why not?
The conceit of this film is galling, because director Harold Cronk again delivers a “film” that says, unequivocally, that if you do not devoutly believe in a Christian God, you are lesser, you are likely evil, and you have no purpose to speak about, well, anything whatsoever.
Watching this, I come away not having any ill will towards people of faith, but more of a worry about what they see when they look at the world behind their eyes. Do they see shadowy figures committing sin at every turn? Do they feel like we still ban the Pledge of Allegiance (we don’t…like…anywhere). We also do not have a War on Christmas? I mean , we just experienced the holiday – no signs of a lack of Christmas spirit anywhere. Look, if there’s a War on Christmas, why would my hometown launch a third all-Christmas music radio station?
God’s Not Dead 2 could not be more insulting if it tried. It lives in a faith-based dystopia where everyone and every thing is perfect in the eyes of God and those things that are imperfect can be fixed with a Bible in hand and a willingness to forego question and rational thought. You see, here, not even a jury of your peers can argue against faith because Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and John from “Desperate Housewives” just proved us all wrong.
#6: Dirty Grandpa
Released: January 22, 2016
Director: Dan Mazer
The R-rated raunchy comedy has somehow come to define Zac Efron‘s post-Disney and post-dramatic acting career and while he succeeds in the Neighbors films, he made a really poor decision to star alongside Oscar-winner Robert De Niro in the gross and ugly raunchfest known as Dirty Grandpa. Pulled from critic screenings at the last minute, Dan Mazer‘s film gives us De Niro’s Dick Kelly going wild and crazy after the death of his wife. Efron is the grandson forced to take a road trip (yep, this is one of those movies) and drive his grandfather from Georgia to a Florida retirement home.
We see De Niro masturbating in a recliner. We see him try and pick up Lenore (Aubrey Plaza, why??!?), who is attempting to hit the college trifecta and sleep with a freshman, an alumni, and a professor, which Dick claims to be. And it just continues. They go to Daytona Beach, ingest drugs and alcohol, and this all grows incredibly tiresome and hopelessly boring minute after pointless minute.
At some point, this project had potential. The screenplay was ranked on the 2011 Black List for the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. De Niro, Efron, Dermont Mulroney, Plaza, up-and-coming actress Zoey Deutch, and Julianne Hough are all in this and Mazer seemingly has no control over anything that happens here.
Opting to go dark, dark blue with this material, Dirty Grandpa becomes desperate, inane, and childish. After a half an hour of this, there’s 70 more minutes of this and nowhere left to go. I can’t quite put into words what it’s like watching a legendary actor like De Niro, who was experiencing something of a career rejuvenation with his work with David O. Russell. Somehow, this was too much for him to pass up and watching this…you just…feel…sad.
Released: July 8, 2016
Director: Tod Williams
Tod Williams directed the acclaimed 2004 drama The Door on the Floor with Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger and in 2016, he teams with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson in a horror/thriller, adapted from a Stephen King book of the same name. King co-wrote the adaptation, so what could possibly go wrong?
Cell is a movie about a mysterious cell signal that hits everyone’s mobile phones and causes ear-splitting agony and pain. Once the signal subsides, those affected turn into blood-thirsty zombie-like monsters and travel in hordes and packs looking for victims.
So, alright. King is making a statement about how we are losing our identities through our continued reliance on our cell phones, but Williams’ film is so laughable, so hopelessly off the rails, that none of this makes any sense at all.
The opening sequence takes place in an airport and the scene is so ludicrously staged and absurdly acted that multiple people have ripped the scene and posted it on YouTube. Beyond that SyFy Network-level of action and horror, Williams later constructs action scenes in the dark, poorly lit, nearly incomprehensible to follow or understand. King and co-writer Adam Alleca dump in monologues and discussions about life, missed opportunities, and constant “I wonder what [name] is doing and if they are alright…” chats. Isabelle Fuhrman joins them for awhile, and later on, Stacy Keach joins the fray as an expert and then there’s the man in a red hoodie who keeps showing up, with no explanation whatsoever.
I have no idea what the actual point of any of this happens to be, other than the obvious “cell phones are turning us into zombies” thesis. Cusack looks completely bored and Jackson is literally “phoning” it in. Scenes where Cusack and Jackson have to run and take part in some light action sequences are comical for all the wrong reasons.
Cell sat for more than two years before it received a VOD and theatrical release this summer. Two different studios had it and balked, and the film was supposed to headline a Glasgow, Scotland FrightFest film festival, only to be replaced at the last minute by a movie that was apparently so bad, it went straight-to-DVD.
This is a bad, bad movie.
Released: August 19, 2016
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
One of the more illogical remakes in cinematic history, Timur Bekmambetov‘s Ben-Hur is a slog to sit through, until it unleashes one of the silliest, and unintentionally hilarious final sequences in recent memory.
Produced by husband-and-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who focus exclusively on faith-based film and television production, Bekmambetov’s canon, before this, is one of intense and rather violent cinematic offerings. When you add in a script, polished by Oscar-winner John Ridley (12 Years A Slave), you have a strange, motley crew of folks tackling one of the most beloved and honored films of all time. In a remake that no one asked for and clearly few wanted to see made.
On an episode of the CinemaSquabble podcast, Seattle film critics Sara Michelle Fetters and Adam Gehrke mentioned that someone could likely stage a remake of Ben-Hur and it might work in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately, we will likely never see what that looks like because of this dismal, laborious movie, which never commits to a style, a tone, or a pace. You can almost see Bekmembetov and his production team fighting over the direction of the film minute by minute.
Lead actor Jack Huston, portraying the title character betrayed by his brother and sanctioned for treason, is wooden and impossible to connect with. He delivers his lines with nothing more than a whisper, everything he says overwrought and unnecessarily intense. Toby Kebbell looks completely overwhelmed in the role of the betraying brother, and the man who ultimately battles Huston in the chariot race that closes the film.
The best thing about all of this is Morgan Freeman. He just pops in here, from some other sand-and-sandal epic with massive dreadlocks, and a complete disregard for whatever the producers are wanting him to do. Freeman is just Morgan Freeman here, even lending his iconic voice in narration that bookends the film’s bloated and unwieldy 125 minute running time.
If you can make it to the chariot race, DO IT! You will be rewarded with an absurdly awesome CGI-powered chariot race that seems to exist because Burnett and Downey likely just threw up their hands and let their director go nuts. The race is so badly directed and staged, the CGI so obvious and cheesy, you wonder how the film’s $100 million budget was actually spent.
Recently, a passenger on a flight I took could not not contain his laughter watching this movie’s conclusion. At least, Morgan Freeman had fun with all of this.
#3: Independence Day: Resurgence
Released: June 24, 2016
Director: Roland Emmerich
Few films take their audience for granted like Independence Day: Resurgence does. 20 years after the original 1996 film scored massive ticket sales and helped turn Will Smith into a bonafide box office megastar, director Roland Emmerich dusts off his keepsake box, re-glues some memories in his scrapbook, and thinks back to a simpler, easier time and tries this all again. And he fails. Miserably.
Resurgence is a mess of a film that is almost impossible to follow. So you just watch. You watch Bill Pullman back as a now crazy ex-President who seems to be overacting by choice. Liam Hemsworth stars Jake, the son of parents killed in the first movie who is now a pilot/research professional with a team attempting to warn Earth of any potential alien threats. He is in some sort of feud with Dylan (Jessie Usher), another researcher who is the surviving son of Will Smith’s character from the original movie. Then, we have the crazy ex-President’s daughter, Patricia (Maika Monroe), who is also on the research team and has caught the vapors for Hemsworth’s Jake.
As we get caught up in Millennial melodrama, we actually have aliens invading once again, this time drilling for fuel from the Earth’s core to power their spaceships for an indiscriminate amount of time. Jeff Goldblum Jeff Goldblum’s his way through things, with his unique asides and scattershot one-liners offering some levity.
But what ultimately undoes Resurgence is that all of this feels made-up on the spot, completely a boardroom concoction to merely add money to the 20th Century Fox bottom line. Because it is believed that everyone loved Independence Day, the team behind Resurgence figured you would just blindly go support this thing, hoping you would just watch in awe. However, there is nothing awe-inspiring here in any way.
Poorly conceived, we have characters arriving constantly and deep into the film. Ideas and concepts are accepted as truth and never really debated or discussed, giving us a story built on assumptions and luck. The film lumbers around and bathes itself with inconsequential sci-fi movie chatter. We end up watching two hours of massive CGI and really nothing else at all. Well, except a cliffhanger of sorts to set up a sequel we will likely never ever see.
#2: Yoga Hosers
Released: September 2, 2016
Director: Kevin Smith
Ain’t you tired Kevin Smith? Ain’t you tired?
Clerks might as well have been made 100 years ago at this point because its writer/director, Kevin Smith, has become a grumpy, self-serving hack of a filmmaker who now spends 88 minutes of movie time bashing critics and devoting a feature-length film gag about how Canadians pronounce words like “about”, “out”, and rely on the word “Eh?”
Also, his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, and co-star, Lily Rose Depp, work as grocery store clerks who have a hip-hop band and fall under attack by one-foot-tall, anthropomorphic Nazi-loving bratwurst assassins played by the director himself.
This is Yoga Hosers, one of the decade’s worst films and a joke of a movie that only Smith could ever understand. Watching this is surreal, because we want to see Harley Smith and Johnny Depp‘s daughter do well here, but they are doomed to fail from the beginning, delivering one of the most cringe-worthy rap songs in history, while a fake-tatted Adam Brody bashes on the drums in the grocery store’s backroom.
They are both named Colleen. Johnny Depp actually shows up under heavy makeup and an accent of some bizarre origin playing Guy LaPointe, a bounty hunter who attempts to protect the girls from two high school boys they have the hots for, who turn out to be Satanists.
By the time a Nazi goes on a tirade about art critics and announces that he wants them all killed, the whole point of this movie seems to be twofold: a) make Kevin Smith and his legion of supporters think he’s badass; and 2) continue to rail against critics – something he has lobbied for actively since movie critics gave Cop Out overwhelmingly negative reviews in 2010.
Honestly, I have no idea what the hell this is all about but, while watching this, I sat completely slack-jawed and utterly confused. Smith’s film resembles magnetic poetry someone assembled on a wall. A cinematic word salad if you will. It’s one thing to make a film for fans and/or for yourself. It’s another thing entirely to make a pretentious screed that ends up with another long soliloquy bashing the very people you secretly desire support and admiration from.
But hey, at least we have a movie with Justin Long as a yoga instructor and Haley Joel Osment as a Nazi to cross off the list.
#1: Nine Lives
Released: August 5, 2016
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
I imagine the conversation went a lot like this. “Hey Chris (topher Walken), Jen (nifer Garner), I need a favor. I really screwed up bad. I got confused and agreed to make this movie, this movie where I play a talking cat and I can’t get out of it. My lawyers looked at this and I’m stuck. Is there any way I can ask for your help and assistance on this? I’m sorry. I owe you guys my everything if you just say, ‘Yes”, but I promise – I’ll make this as fun as I possibly can.”
And that is the only way I can imagine Kevin Spacey agreeed to star in one of the worst movies you will ever see in this or any year. Nine Lives is supposed to be a family movie about a wealthy CEO who is a selfish lout and, following a freak accident with a cat and a thunderstorm, finds his conscience slipped into the body of a domesticated feline.
A cat named Mr. Fuzzypants no less.
You can imagine that Spacey’s Tom Brand may just happen to find redemption and a heart of gold as this particular cat just happens to be a birthday present for his ignored younger daughter. But along the way, we get Brand’s adult-aged son (Robbie Amell) still trying to impress his father and depressed that he can never measure up. We have an opportunistic co-worker seizing the opportunity to takeover Tom’s company while he lies in a coma, and an ex-wife (Cheryl Hines) who continually tries to convince wife #2 (Garner) to divorce her husband.
Oh, plus a character contemplates suicide and we have several scenes where people argue over whether a building will be the tallest in the Northern Hemisphere. Grab the kids and get them in here!!!
Nine Lives is so lazy and so cheap, the visual effects team doesn’t even give us an animated mouth when Spacey spouts his Mr. Fuzzypants dialogue. Even Disney’s “Dog With A Blog” found a way to make their dog’s mouth match the words being said, but not here. Nope. Instead, we get some of the worst CGI imaginable as Spacey’s cat stretches awkwardly, fumbles around learning how to be a cat, and reacts to situations with exaggerated expressions and reactions.
Where does the cat’s conscience go when Spacey’s takes over? Anyway, I digress.
When Christopher Walken shows up as a pet store owner and Garner earnestly tries to lend credibility to this as Spacey’s wife, you just hope that they agreed to do this with the best of intentions. However, we see the final product. We hear the words and see the script play out before us. Nothing about this is funny. Nothing about this means anything. And when we get our big life lesson moments and good overcomes evil climax, we feel like this all should have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week.
Look, watch cat videos on YouTube for 87 minutes. Just forget that you ever heard about this movie. Nine Lives is an abomination, an embarrassment in virtually every single way.
AND NOW…7 MORE FILMS WORTHY OF DISHONORABLE MENTION:
- 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
- Alice Through The Looking Glass
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- The Boss. Melissa McCarthy is a genuinely funny person. However, when she collaborates with her husband, writer/director/occasional actor Ben Falcone, we get things like The Boss, a film which allows her to write a movie she thinks is funny and isn’t. Save a couple of improv scenes and a couple CGI-aided pratfalls, McCarthy is rudderless here as a wealthy businesswoman, busted for insider trading. When she leaves prison, she is forced to move in with her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell, really trying hard) and Claire’s young daughter. Her plan? Overtake a Girl Scout-like group’s cookie sales and resurrect her career. This allows us to see scenes where Girl Scout-troupes have a battle royale of sorts and McCarthy constantly berates another girl’s mother. We are subject to watching a constant stream of crass and inappropriate gags that fall flatter than flat can be. Silly, juvenile, and so mean-spirited, this Boss deserves termination.
- The Huntsman: Winter’s War
- The Legend of Tarzan
- Norm of the North