1 of 25
20th Century Fox
The second highest-grossing movie of 1966 (behind, you guessed it, George Roy Hill’s “Hawaii”), this John Huston production feels like it was made to bore the belief out of people. It is a huge movie that kicks off with a visually… huge creation sequence and features a… huge 200-foot long reproduction of Noah’s Ark (do the cubit conversion yourself, but that’s a big boat). Producer Dino De Laurentiis might’ve been gunning to unseat Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” as the definitive Old Testament film, but Huston’s heart just isn’t it (even in his performance as Noah). You keep waiting for one of the film’s many stars to jolt some life into the thing, but it never happens.
2 of 25
No movie had more box office sizzle coming into the summer of 1996 than “Twister”. Director Jan de Bont’s follow-up to “Speed”, a screenplay co-written by Michael Crichton (red hot coming off “Jurassic Park” and “ER”) and executive producer Steven Spielberg. Five years into cinema’s CG obsession (which officially began with Terminator 2: Judgment Day), a massive studio action movie about tornado chasers promised to do for bad weather what “Jaws” did for swimming in the ocean. But a flat story with cookie-cutter characters stranded audiences with a hollow big-budget light show. “Twister” has its moments (“Cow”), but it’s never emotionally involving or fun.
3 of 25
Tom Laughlin was a good man. His four Billy Jack movies are sincere indictments of bigotry and corruption, and he vehemently believed in the transformative power of cinema as a means of combating these ills. Perhaps?too vehemently. This 170-minute jumble of good intentions finds Billy Jack’s Freedom School carrying on in his absence (after he’s sent to jail for involuntary manslaughter due to the āss-whuppin’ events of the previous movie). It’s a paean to the grassroots Nader’s Raiders ethos, which makes it feel one very long promotional reel for Laughlin’s endeavors in the Southwest U.S. Billy eventually gets out of jail and once again comes to the defense of a Native American getting kicked around by local rednecks. It’s too little karate, too late. But the excitement generated by the first movie turned the release of “The Trial of Billy Jack” into a nationwide event. Its same-day, coast-to-coast rollout was both unique and hugely successful. To this day, it’s considered by some to be the first blockbuster.
4 of 25
20th Century Fox
The misadventures of the very rich McCallister family continue when they’re separated at O’Hare airport, leaving Kevin (Macauley Culkin) to fly solo to New York City for the Christmas holiday, where, thanks to his father’s credit card, he can ride out the week at The Plaza. Unfortunately, Kevin’s parents cancel the card, forcing him to fend for himself in a pre-Disneyfied Manhattan, which, in Hollywood, means befriending a kindly homeless woman (Brenda Fricker) while thwarting his archenemies’ attempt to rob a toy store. The film’s attempt to be friendlier and less emphatic in its celebration of suburban wealth rings false every step of the way, especially today. The McCallisters were meant to be a normal American family in these movies, and that’s always been a lie.
5 of 25
Boys love Batman! You cannot stop a boy from loving Batman! Superman, however, with his goody-two-shoes belief in the goodness of humanity, isn’t quite as cool, which led to Zach Snyder’s quite good “Man of Steel” to underperform at the box office. Given that Supes was supposed to provide Warner Bros’ a break from The Dark Knight after Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster trilogy, this was a problem; ergo, the studio rushed into “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, an all-in gamble that was meant to fast track a “Justice League” movie. Though audiences showed up in relative droves ($874 million worldwide), the finished film labored to make an immediate case for the massive superhero team-up WB/DC desperately wanted. The damage was done. Even after the well-received “Wonder Woman”, Snyder’s “Justice League” sputtered at the box office. Though Snyder’s director’s cut regenerated a bit of excitement in his vision of the DCEU when it hit HBO Max this year, it still couldn’t solve the built-in flaws of this hastily made movie.
6 of 25
“Crocodile Dundee” might be the most ‘80s of ‘80s blockbusters, but despite its extreme datedness (and one very ignorant scene in a bar), it’s a hugely charming, fish-out-of-water rom-com. It’s also a lightning-in-a-bottle success that can’t be duplicated, which is proved at excruciating length in “Crocodile Dundee II”. Rather than break Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) up (which would’ve felt forced and unfun), the filmmakers decide to have Sue get hunted by a vicious Colombian drug lord (Hechter Ubarry). To protect Sue, Mick whisks her off to the Outback, where he can outwit the Colombians on his home turf. The drug war produced a lot of idiotic, stereotype-laden movies, and it’s hard to find a more flagrant offender than this. Mostly, though, it’s the thorough lack of charm that makes this a rough sit.
7 of 25
J.J. Abrams brought back the “Star Wars” of our childhoods with the cluttered, but conventional hero’s journey of “The Force Awakens”, but his last-second tinkering before the film’s release forced the writer-director of the next installment, Rian Johnson, to make some narrative audibles. One day, all of this will get hashed out in an oral history, but here’s what we know for now: “The Rise of Skywalker” is a chaotic conclusion that rushes to tie up every loose end like a procrastinating college kid crashing through the last ten pages of a term paper two hours before it’s due. The decision to bring back Palpatine is emblematic of Abrams’s lack of trust in not only his audience but his abilities as a storyteller. With “Star Trek”, he could do whatever he wanted because he’d branched off into an entirely new timeline – and he still remade “The Wrath of Khan” with his second movie! With “The Rise of Skywalker”, he wedges puzzle pieces into the wrong places, leaves a few off to the side, and says, “Eh, close enough. Now, get me out of here.”
8 of 25
If you’re looking for a good, trashy blockbuster about the hunt for historically significant artifacts, there are three wonderful Indiana Jones films and two hugely enjoyable “National Treasure” movies. If, however, being bored off your tuchus for two-and-a-half hours while watching a major movie star look for the Holy Grail is your thing, take this Ron Howard-directed, Akiva Goldsman-scripted adaptation of Dan Brown’s hokey bestseller and, when you’re done with it, throw it in an Arby’s dumpster. Hanks plays a Harvard symbologist who goes looking for Christ’s cup, as does a nefarious offshoot of Opus Dei, which, like Hanks’s character, has never seen “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. Howard and Goldsman mistakenly treat the material as a prestige mystery rather than the ludicrous pulp that it is. They might’ve made a garbage film, but the fans of the book lined up to the tune of $760 million worldwide. Two sequels followed. People inexplicably paid to watch them.
9 of 25
The childlike, dinosaurs-are-real awe of Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” gets a nasty-edged, pseudo remake wherein the recklessly conceived park breaks down yet again, setting up a human smorgasbord for the facility’s hungry, hungry carnivores. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are appealing leads, but they’ve been stuck with limp adventure-flick banter. Though the set pieces are all proficiently designed, the execution feels imitative and wobbly. Maybe he’ll improve his act with the third Jurassic World entry this year, but, for now, Colin Trevorrow comes off as Hollywood’s cruise-ship Spielberg.
10 of 25
“The Bodyguard” grossed $122 million at the U.S. box office and reportedly topped out at $411 million worldwide. But it was the film’s soundtrack, bolstered by Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You”, did the unthinkable and unseated “Saturday Night Fever” as the best-selling soundtrack of all time. Folks might’ve skipped it in the theater, but the movie wound up on their VHS shelf, and now plays incessantly on cable and streaming. People claim to love “The Bodyguard”, but do they really? There’s not a single memorable moment in the movie. The chemistry vacuum between Houston and Kevin Costner is powerful enough to swallow whole galaxies, while Lawrence Kasdan’s sluggish, long-shelved screenplay (it was initially written for Steve McQueen and Diana Ross) should be gathering its fifth decade of dust. But you can throw on “I Will Always Love You” right now, and you’ll tear up all over again.
11 of 25
Mel Gibson is an undeniably skilled filmmaker and a profoundly messed-up human being. For a couple of decades, it only seemed a little weird that he preferred to play protagonists who get brutally tortured en route to saving the day (or an entire country). Then he hit us with “The Passion of the Christ”, a blow-by-blow, lash-by-lash depiction of JC’s last day (*wink-wink*) on Earth, and laid bare his views on heroism, Catholicism, and a whole lot of other stuff we could’ve done without. It’s a slow, unsparing walkthrough of Christ’s ordeal leading to his crucifixion, and it’s all expertly shot by the great Caleb Deschanel. But Christ’s message of forgiveness and kindness and selflessness and, you know, all the stuff that comprises the core of Christianity takes a back seat to the sight of the Messiah getting the crāp knocked out of him. An international box office sensation, it’s clearly an effective movie. And that’s the problem.
12 of 25
20th Century Fox
Moviegoers were ready for a return to the “Planet of the Apes” in 2001. Tim Burton’s hotly-anticipated remake opened to a massive $68 million en route to a healthy $362 million worldwide gross. This enthusiasm was reciprocated with a muddled, overwritten screenplay harnessed to a final twist that doesn’t make a lick of sense. All of Burton’s storytelling shortcomings are on display here; the aesthetic is the point, and, while impressive, that gets dull within the first thirty minutes. It’s a pity because Rick Baker’s ape prosthetics are remarkably detailed and lifelike, while Danny Elfman whips up a muscular score worthy of a primate epic. Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter give it their all as philosophically opposed chimpanzees, but there’s no narrative momentum at all. A decade later, Fox would finally get the mixture right with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.
13 of 25
“Meet the Parents” might be the platonic ideal of a modern studio comedy: great premise, perfect casting, and equipped with three memorable set pieces that stick in memory. The sequel, “Meet the Fockers”, might be the platonic ideal of a wholly unnecessary studio comedy sequel: forced premise, splashy casting that lazily doubles down on the appeal of the first and forgettable set pieces that lean heavily on gross-out laughs. Alas, audiences couldn’t resist the appeal of Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand hamming it up with Robert De Niro, Blythe Danner, and Ben Stiller, and this is still one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time.
14 of 25
“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was the surprise blockbuster of 2003, a briskly paced adventure that felt like a heaven-sent melding of Golden Age swashbucklers and the Indiana Jones movies. It’s a joy from start to finish. The first two sequels were made in tandem by Gore Verbinski, and, while it’s way overstuffed, the set pieces were sensational enough to justify their excessive runtime. After a four-year layoff, Disney handed over the franchise keys to Rob Marshall, who delivered a stunningly incompetent installment that, if nothing else, made a case for Verbinski’s underappreciated visual genius. God, this movie is a slog. The sword-fighting sequences look like half-speed run-throughs, while the story asks us to invest in a love story played by two actors, Sam Claflin and àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, who constantly appear to have just met before Marshall yelled “Action!” But Johnny Depp was still one of the biggest stars on the planet in 2011, which was good enough to generate $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
15 of 25
A tonally dark, visually ugly retelling of the Robin Hood legend led by a movie star (Kevin Costner) who tries and fails and ultimately gives up on an English accent, and wrapped up with a semi-comic set-piece that hinges on the rape of Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) by the Sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman). Despite mixed reviews at the time, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” was the second-highest-grossing movie at the U.S. box office in 1991, and, more disturbingly, has become a cable mainstay. It’s a rotten, mean-spirited piece of work that drags through its sloppily written second act, and fails to deliver one competently staged action sequence. What a mess.
16 of 25
20th Century Fox
A harbinger of forced superhero sequels to come, this second sequel to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” was intended to be a scaled-back retelling of the celebrated Dark Phoenix saga from the comic books. That went sailing out the window when Singer not only accepted a god-level deal to revive Superman for Warner Bros but took his writers, Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, with him. Three years on, 20th? Century Fox dropped this misbegotten bungle of half-baked storylines into theaters; it made a killing at the box office, but, narratively, dead-ended so disastrously that the franchise was now solely in the hands of its breakout star, Hugh Jackman. It’s a very ugly movie (visually and spiritually), and, per Elliot Page, was a particularly ugly shoot thanks to Ratner.
17 of 25
If you ever wondered what “Animaniacs” would look like if it were made by assh?les, the “Shrek” franchise offers ample, direly unfunny evidence. Based on a children’s picture book by William Steig, the tale was transformed into a gag-stuffed spoof of animated fairy tales, most notably those produced by Disney Animation (the former employer of producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left on the worst terms imaginable). Mike Myers gives voice to the title ogre with his shopworn Scottish accent, while Eddie Murphy does a toned-down Eddie Murphy act as Donkey. The writers seem to believe random references to popular movies are the height of parody; when they’re not slaying audiences with “Hey, remember ‘The Matrix’” jokes, they fall back on poop jokes, and not particularly good poop jokes. The timing was perfect for a Disney takedown, so audiences ate it up regardless of quality. “Shrek” grossed $400 million worldwide, and spawned three equally awful sequels.
18 of 25
Hot Topic wouldn’t exist without Tim Burton, so the one-time champion of the weirdos decided to give back with this wholly uninspired merch-machine rendition of Lewis Carroll’s too-oft-told tale. The pitch seemed to be “Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter=$1 billion at the worldwide box office”, and they were right! Did anyone actually enjoy this lifeless, art-directed-to-death mess? The 2016 sequel, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, topped out at $300 million worldwide, so no.?
19 of 25
Atrocious. Dr. Seuss’s classic yarn about a contemptible creature who loathes Christmas and those who celebrate it is absolutely perfect in its Chuck Jones-animated, Boris Karloff-voiced, twenty-five-minute form. Stretching it out to feature-length risks tainting the particular, pointed charm of the good doctor’s picture book. Even so, the notion of Jim Carrey donning Rick Baker-designed prosthetics to play the title character in a live-action movie directed by Ron Howard sounded harmless enough. The film is harmless in that it’s never been convicted of murder, but that’s only because Theodor Geisel died ten years before its release. This is one of those soundstage-bound fiascos like Steven Spielberg’s “Hook”, where you’re too distracted by the aggressive artifice to ever get lost in the enchanted universe it’s trying to create. Carrey’s game (and Baker’s makeup is aces), but he’s playing the Grinch as Sean Connery after a bad day on the tennis court. The film itself is totally lifeless. Whereas the Grinch had a heart three sizes too small, this piece of studio product has no heart at all.?
20 of 25
What do you do when you’ve made a “Star Trek” reboot that satisfies a shockingly high percentage of the old school fans while hooking a whole new generation of viewers who’ve always considered it nerd bait? One not-so-hot idea would be to make an easter-egg-loaded reimagining of the most beloved big-screen installment in the series’ history that’ll turn off/baffle most of the aforementioned. Everything about “Star Trek into Darkness” is a terrible idea: the casting of ultra-white Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan (a character of Asian ancestry, famously played by a Mexican-American actor), killing off Kirk instead of Spock and, worst of all, reviving Kirk mere minutes after his expiration via Khan’s blood (the healing qualities of which were discovered via tribble). This is a movie that insults the intelligence of every viewer regardless of what they know about Trek. To that end, it is a masterpiece of awful (and the second highest-grossing “Star Trek” movie of all time).
21 of 25
This sequel to Clint Eastwood’s redneck blockbuster “Every Which Way But Loose” opens with some scumbag gamblers betting on a cobra-mongoose fight, then dives right back into the beer-swilling, skirt-chasing adventures of Philo Beddoe (Eastwood), Orville Boggs (Geoffrey Lewis), and Clyde (Buddha the orangutan, who was allegedly beaten to death by his handler during the making of the film). Watching Clyde punch out a biker while signaling a right turn or taking a crāp in the driver’s seat of a cop car is the funniest thing in the world when you’re five. Actually, they’re still funny. But nothing else in the movie is, and that’s a problem when your film runs close to a full two hours. Also, knowing that Clyde was being clobbered with an ax handle for stealing donuts from craft services renders the whole production reprehensible. ?
22 of 25
After the worldwide success of “Independence Day”, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin were the new kings of the Hollywood blockbuster (Steven Spielberg even said so). For their next mega-budget trick, they brought the King of the Monsters to wreak havoc in New York City. Everything went wrong here, but the big specifics: the ensemble approach resulted in a busy plot, which is anathema to the giant monster formula; Patrick Tatopoulos’s ornate creature design strayed way too far from the classic Godzilla design; and, woof, that Matthew Broderick/Maria Pitillo pairing. The movie’s $379 million global take qualified it as a blockbuster in 1998, but this was a huge comedown from “ID4”, but that “B-“ Cinemascore didn’t lie. People paid to Emmerich’s “Godzilla”, but they didn’t like it.
23 of 25
Photorealism is the lowest level of animation, and, despite the filmmakers’ protestations, this is an animated movie – and, at a reported $260 million, an obscenely expensive one at that. The original is, box-office-wise, the crown jewel of the 1990s Disney Animation renaissance, so mission accomplished that this remake is, at present, Disney’s highest-grossing homegrown piece of product. But this is a low, soulless standard to meet, and the film expects that its eye-popping visuals, wedded to material Millennials watched on a loop throughout their childhoods, is triumph enough. It’s a license to print money and an excuse to never take risks.
24 of 25
Made in between the Writers Guild of America strike and threatened strikes from the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild, Michael Bay’s second go-round with the robots in disguise was an epic rush job that resulted in a loud, visually disorienting experience that remains as close to the Ludovico Technique as mainstream cinema has gotten. At 150 minutes, “Revenge of the Fallen” drains the lifeforce with brutal efficacy, leaving the viewer a spent shell of a human being by the forty-minute mark. Your sense receptors are deadened. Your capacity for joy blighted. Your hands can’t feel to grip. As giant robots that all look the same hurl each other to and fro, you reach back into memory for that time your parents took you to Cedar Point for your birthday, and you wonder how you would… if you could explain to your eleven-year-old self that the exhilaration of this and every other good day will be wiped out by a hyperactive filmmaker who knew he could slop together two-and-a-half hours of assaultive, pre-visualized nonsense and generate nearly $1 billion at the worldwide box office. In any event, the next movie was better.
25 of 25
Possibly no critic has ever been more prophetic than Melvin B. Tolson when, in 1939, he wrote, “’Gone with the Wind’ is more dangerous than ‘Birth of a Nation.’ ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was such a barefaced lie that a moron could see through it. ‘Gone with the Wind’ is such a subtle lie that it will be swallowed as truth by millions of whites and blacks alike.” He was right. For most of the twentieth century, David O. Selznick’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War novel was, without question, the most beloved American movie ever made. It wasn’t until the twenty-first century that a lot of critics and moviegoers caught up to Tolson’s assessment. The film is grand entertainment, but it is a lie that yearns for a racist past. “Gone with the Wind” should never be suppressed, but we must reckon with the disturbing fact that mainstream white America’s understanding of the South is largely derived from this most Hollywood of movies.