To some extent, the idea of a blockbuster season no longer exists: whereas once tentpoles were restricted to the summer or Christmas, these days we get stuff like “The Lego Movie” in February, “300: Rise Of An Empire” in March, Marvel flicks in April, and something like “Gravity” in October. But that said, no point in the calendar has the sheer density (both meanings) of blockbusters of the summer season.
From the release of “Amazing Spider-Man 2” last week, we now have a $100m+ movie in theaters almost every week between now and the middle of August. The next few weeks alone brings us “Godzilla,” “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” “Maleficent,” “A Million Ways To Die In The West,” “Edge Of Tomorrow,” “The Fault In Our Stars,” “22 Jump Street” and “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” with plenty more following in July and August. And, as “Amazing Spider-Man 2” has already demonstrated, the chances are that some of them will be terrible.
While the vast majority of summer movies plough straight down the middle of the road, and one or two a year, if you’re lucky, are good-to-great, there’s always a few that truly stink up the joint, some of which will flop with audiences, some of which will go on to make a billion dollars. So, in honor of the start of tentpole season, and the release of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” we’ve picked out the 20 worst summer blockbusters ever. The only rule: they had to be released between May and August, and they had to have, at some point in their gestation, been expected to be a giant hit. Take a look at our picks (in no particular order) below, have your say in the comments section.
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003)
Two years after it chewed up and spat out “From Hell” and six years before it blew its nose on “Watchmen,” Hollywood wiped its ass with another of graphic novelist Alan Moore’s clever, intricate works, “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” A kind of Victorian all-star team-up, the comic is an affectionate, in-jokey mixture of characters from Verne, Stoker, Conan Doyle, Wells, Stevenson, et al; the film is just a mess, not helped by the pointless additions of Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) and Tom Sawyer (Shane West) to the original cast, which includes Allen Quatermain (Sean Connery), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson) and Moriarty (Richard Roxburgh, a two-time offender here). It starts off ok, but director Stephen Norrington just loses the plot halfway through, and so do we, culminating in a tedious hour of running around, bad special effects and worse acting.
Nadir: The whole physics-defying Venice climax. And any time two characters talk to each other and one of them isn’t Sean Connery.
“Jaws: The Revenge” (1987)
While we did need a moment’s thought over whether “Jaws 3-D” deserved this spot, our PTSD flashbacks to the ignominious fourth installment of the the Franchise That Started It All, made ‘3-D,’ terrible as it is, seem like a masterpiece (a trick ‘3-D’ had also pulled on the previous “Jaws 2”: making it seem a lot better by comparison). Recipient of the special booby prize that is a really-difficult-to-achieve 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, this famously awful flop really does deserve all the hoots of derision: from the terrible acting to the actually comical rubber shark to the plot so ludicrous that eye-roll strain is a serious side-effect, really the only good thing this film spawned is Michael Caine’s famous quote “I’ve never seen it, but I hear it’s terrible. However I have seen the house it built, and it’s terrific.”
Nadir: Probably when the shark chases Michael Brody through the tunnels. Or when it bellows, just like we all know sharks do. Or when it plans its vengeance like we also know sharks totally do. Or when Ellen flashes back at the end to her husband in a much, much, much better film.
“The Avengers” (1998)
No, not that “Avengers.” Back in the the mid-1990s, the revival of the Bond and “Mission: Impossible” franchises saw studios raiding the vaults for other 1960s and 1970s spy franchises that they could bring back to life, and Warner Bros landed on “The Avengers,” a cult and stylish TV series that had made pop culture icons out of Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. The film, helmed by “Benny & Joon” director Jeremiah Chechik, played up the English eccentricity of the original, with a miscast Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman donning bowler hat and catsuit respectively to take on Sean Connery’s weather-controlling madman, and throws all kinds of lunacy at the screen, from teddy bear henchmen to bubble suits. But in the aftermath of “Austin Powers” the year before, it all seems forced and ill-conceived. It’s possible there’s a better version out there—the studio lopped nearly half an hour off the film, which explains why it makes no sense. But what remains on screen suggests that we were better off without the extra 30 minutes.
Nadir: Happy Mondays frontman Shaun Ryder turning up as a henchman.
“Green Lantern” (2011)
At a time when even characters like “Thor” and “Captain America” were proving to be the stars of massive movies, you’d have thought that the multiplex audience could have stretched to Green Lantern, one of the most popular of DC’s characters, whose screen debut had been in the works for decades (Jack Black was attached at one point). But despite a throng of writers, and “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell, and likable star Ryan Reynolds, “Green Lantern” tanked hard. The galactic scope was at least laudable, but a lousy, superhero-origin-template script, a ludicrous villain in Peter Sarsgaard’s swollen-headed Hector Hammond, a dreadful-looking CGI outfit, and noisy, dull action sequences all failed to make much of a case for the big-screen viability of the character. Still, Reynolds and Blake Lively hooked up on set, so they at least got something out of it.
Nadir: The climax, in which our hero battles a giant fart-cloud.
“Sex And The City 2” (2010)
Almost every film on this list, and indeed, almost every film released as a summer blockbuster, are aimed principally at teenage boys, so it’s almost a shame that we have to include one of the rare exceptions. But given that “Sex And The City 2” made “Sex And The City: The Movie” look like “Sex And The City” the TV series, we’d be remiss in not including it somewhere. Reteaming the famous Cosmo-sipping quartet from the hit HBO series for a trip to Abu Dhabi for no reason in particular, it suggests that writer-director Michael Patrick King never really knew what made the series works, because this is a gaudy, pandering nightmare, that saw Carrie and co. acting less like the women loved by millions, and more like Marie Antoinette, complaining about their nannies on a beach and offending entire cultures as the audience grew more and more murderous. Maybe it might have been bearable at 85 minutes, but at nearly 150, it’s something that comes close to violating human rights.
Nadir: The first-act wedding sequence, a monument to lack of taste, seemingly based on your grandparents’ idea of what gay people are like.
There’ll probably never again be a film with the feverish level of anticipation of this one. The revival of the biggest franchise in film history, after nearly twenty years, rode the tail of hugely successful re-releases, and came just as the internet, and sites like Ain’t It Cool News, were coming of age. Even the trailer felt like a massive event. Which all meant that the film just felt like a bigger let down. Unlike some of these films, it has a couple of redeeming features–the podrace sequence is an outstanding set-piece, and the fight at the end is one of the best in the series, thanks in part to Ray Park’s striking villain Darth Maul. But the rest is a sterile bore (a trade embargo, you say? How THRILLING!), with very little of the grimy, playful joy of the original films, and way more casual racism (Jar-Jar gets the press, but the Asian-accented villains, and Arab-ish scrap dealer Watto are worse). And the performers, even ones more talented than young Jake Lloyd, are tangibly drowning in green screen. All of the prequels are bad, but this rivals the Christmas Special as the absolute low watermark for the entire franchise. Plus side: it gives J.J. Abrams a lower bar to clear come December 2015.
Nadir: Every excruciatingly stiff line-reading. It seems no one on set had the balls to echo Harrison Ford, and tell the director “you can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.”
Though “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” makes a pretty good fist of getting close to it, it feels unlike we’ll ever see a worse superhero movie than “Batman & Robin,” a monumentally ill-conceived disaster zone that still astonishes with how entirely unsuccessful it is at every single level. After the darkness of Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” unnerved Warner Bros. executives, Joel Schumacher gave the franchise a fresh-lick of kid-friendly paint with 1995’s “Batman Forever,” presumably to their delight, because whatever was wrong with that film is doubly so in the follow-up. Every costume and set seems designed as a toy first and as something to be shown on screen second, Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay appears to be inspired by a deranged child’s retelling of a plot from the 1960s TV series, and even the action is atrocious. The dark and gritty way of the subsequent Christopher Nolan films isn’t the only way to paint the character, but the pantomime of “Batman & Robin” is certainly the worst of all possible scenarios.
Nadir: Mr. Freeze’s puns are legendary, but George Clooney’s Batman bidding on Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy with his Bat-Credit Card is pretty much unbeatable.
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987)
It feels like we’ve been calling out this one quite frequently of late, most recently as part of our Worst Superhero Villains piece, but lest you think that’s some sort of tacit bid to get ‘Supes 4’ reclaimed as a cult favorite, let us quickly disavow you: this movie stinks. And as bad as the plot and the script are (Luthor creates Nuclear Man to defeat Superman; they fight on the moon; Superman wins) and as utterly amateurish the effects and costumes, the worst aspect is seeing the great Gene Hackman teamed with the most annoying sidekick/nephew character ever created in Jon Cryer’s Lenny Luthor. This film truly put two in the heart and one in the head of a franchise that had been on trembly legs since the dire “Superman III,” and even Christopher Reeve looks profoundly uncomfortable throughout in a role he pretty much owned otherwise.
Nadir: Anything with Cryer in it, but since we can’t find any clips of him (the only explanation is the internet has gone sentient and is protecting itself) here’s a battle scene that hints at what we’re getting at.
No one was really expecting “R.I.P.D” to be good. It was a hugely expensive summer movie that was delayed an entire year, starring the coming-off-a-series-of-flops Ryan Reynolds, and that was released, in a bid to keep marketing costs down, with little fanfare by Universal. But few were probably expecting it to be as bad as it actually was. “R.I.P.D” isn’t a film like “Hudson Hawk” or “Waterworld,” fair-to-middling movies tarnished with the brush of being a gigantic flop. It’s a rancid, unfunny disaster that probably deserved to lose the people who made it the eight figures that it did. A cynical attempt to exactly meld “Men In Black” and “Ghostbusters” (though it is, at least, based on a presumably equally cynical comic book), it pairs an adrift Ryan Reynolds with an over-the-top Jeff Bridges to battle yet another shitting portal in the sky and Kevin Bacon, who you partly suspect might have died early in production and is being pushed around “Weekend At Bernie’s”-style by some poor PA. It’s never funny, the effects and design are dreadful, and it’s never interesting. If anything, it deserved to do worse.
Nadir: The moment where you realize that Ryan Reynolds’ character has literally done nothing the entire film.
“Speed 2: Cruise Control” (1997)
Really, the signs were there with the godawful pun right there in the title, but we still came out of “Speed 2” stunned at how risibly awful it was, despite being from the same director as the terrific “Speed” and bringing back newly-minted star Sandra Bullock. Set on an ocean liner this time, with a blocklike Jason Patric making us really miss the comparatively Shakespearean range of Keanu Reeves (I know!), and featuring a villain in Willem Dafoe whose defining characteristic is that he believes in bleeding himself with leeches, there is no point at which this film even scrabbles its fingertips at believability. Which would be fine if it were at all exciting, but you know, big lumbering boats just don’t go that fast—a problem, given the title and supposed premise.
Nadir: People literally strolling away in terror as the ship approaches the marina. Slowly. You get a bit of it in this fan-made homage to the guy who does the knots countdown.
Barring a glorious surprise with the upcoming fourth installment, none of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies are any good. But the first film at least has its Spielberg-approved boy-and-his-car story to ground things, and the third has the most impressive mayhem in its admittedly over-extended third act. The middle installment, “Revenge Of The Fallen,” has neither of these things. Instead, it has a generic, formulaic plot that essentially replicates the first film (perhaps a side-effect of the writers strike, though that Kurtzman, Orci and Ehren Kruger were the credited writers suggests that you were never going to get much on the page), noisy action, not one but two resurrections of characters thanks to a bullshit MacGuffin, endless action sequences that still don’t find a way to actually tell the fucking characters apart, an increasingly hateful lead performance by Shia LaBeouf, random pot-brownie gags and an increasingly thick vein of misogyny (Megan Fox posed ludicrously on motorbikes, an attractive woman who tries to seduce LaBeouf only to LITERALLY TURN OUT TO BE A TRANSFORMER), and an even thicker one of racism. Even for defenders of Bay, this one’s inexcusable.
Nadir: The jive-talking robots Skids and Mudflaps, caricatures so racist that they’d be shocking in the 1940s.
We’ve mostly tried to avoid films that fall into the “so bad they’re good” category, but that line is definitely blurred with the almost preternaturally campy disco musical “Xanadu.” While it is undoubtedly terrible, featuring nonsensical plotting and dreadful wooden acting, not least from Olivia Newton-John whose register is stuck on “wholesome Aussie on skates” when she’s supposed to be a mysterious semi-divine muse sent to help lunkheaded artist Sonny (Michael Beck) find his talent, it is so gleefully, day-glo, video-effect terrible that it’s quite entertaining. And there are even (brief) moments when it’s almost good, with Gene Kelly’s flashback dance with a 40s siren (also Newton-John) a creditable routine that’s oddly touching. That said, what’s endearing is the cheesiness of a film that has no idea how bad it is, nor that the flash-in-the-pan roller-disco aesthetic it revels in is not, in fact, going to last forever. Or even the week.
Nadir: Any moment when no one’s dancing or singing or skating and you’re suddenly aware they thought they were making a film here.
“Super Mario Brothers” (1993)
In an interview with The Guardian, the late, great Bob Hoskins answered the questions “What is the worst job you’ve done?”, “What has been your biggest disappointment?” and “If you could edit your past, what would you change?” with the same answer: “Super Mario Brothers.” Not a soul would disagree. The first, and maybe still the worst, major video-game-to-movie adaptation (there’s some very tough competition), it takes the seminal, colorful platform Nintendo games, and like some premonition of how Hollywood would be twenty years on, turns it into a weirdly gritty “Mad Max”-inspired story about Dennis Hopper trying to turn everyone into dinosaurs. Fans of the game would be puzzled by the complete lack of resemblance to the thing they loved, everyone else would just be bored out of their minds at what filmmakers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (the creators of “Max Headroom,” and who blew up their own careers with the movie) came up with.
Nadir: Dennis Hopper turning into a T-Rex.
“Jonah Hex” (2010)
The films on this list are terrible, but most are at least recognizably movies: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and tell something that at least resembles a coherent story. The same can’t be said of “Jonah Hex,” which runs at a mere 81 minutes, and sucks like a vacuum for every single incoherent one of them. Starring Josh Brolin as DC Comics’ back-from-the-dead, heavily-scarred bounty hunter, who takes on John Malkovich’s auto-villain with the help of Megan Fox’s prostitute, it’s a movie that makes more sense from the trailer than from the actual movie, feeling like the filmmakers (in this case, “Horton Hears A Who” director Jimmy Hayward, who replaced Neveldine and Taylor at the last minute) wrapped the project, only to remember three weeks before released that they hadn’t shot thirty pages of the screenplay, and had to glue something together, because the posters had already gone out. With millions of dollars spent on these movies, a basic degree of competence is the very least you can expect from them. But not from “Jonah Hex.”
Nadir: A final fight sequence that randomly cuts together two fight scenes between the same two people in two different locations, for reasons that no human being on earth can effectively explain. No clip available, but here’s a scene where the film randomly shifts into animation to make up for it.
“Pearl Harbor” (2001)
He’d go on to do it with clones in “The Island,” and with warring alien robots with “Transformers,” so we suppose it’s no surprise that Michael Bay was able bring his unerring talent for making headachey, tedious movies out of potentially exciting premises with “Pearl Harbor.” But the travesty here is that this is history, and one of the most important, tide-shifting, annals-rewriting events of the 20th century at that, and Bay manages to take that dramatic gold and spin it into straw: the final film is a lumpen flavorless bore, featuring three of the least charismatic actors who’ve ever graced a blockbuster in Kate Beckinsale, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, in a “love story” so inert we can never really remember who is who. Everything about this film makes us sad, especially the absolute tragedy of its 3-hour running time.
Nadir: So. Many. Flags. So. Much. Slo-mo.
Reading old-timey reviews of this Mattel masterpiece is a real blast from a pre-“Transformers,” pre-“Lego Movie,” pre-“Battleship” past—almost all of them include a “well, what can you expect from a movie based on a toy?”-type comment. What a funny world people lived in in the late 80s when it wasn’t obvious that small pieces of moulded plastic could be ported over to billion-dollar movie franchises! But it must be said, as bad as many subsequent toy films have been, ‘Masters’ is hard to beat. Based on the He-Man universe largely created because Mattel passed up the opportunity to make “Star Wars” figures (oh, someone got so fired) and needed to create a rival franchise, the film “boasts” Dolph Lundgren as a perfectly cast He-Man, Frank Langella as Skeletor and Some Lady as Evil-lyn who is, grab onto your garters, a baddie. Despite some pretty decent sets, the film is a scarcely watchable hotchpotch of bits that you think you’ve seen in other movies, done better, and the based-on-a-toy thing really does make itself felt—the mythology is wafer-thin, and the plot is super-basic: big muscly guy looks for MacGuffin. Still, wasn’t Courteney Cox young here?
Nadir: Lundgren being comprehensively outacted by the dwarf encased in latex playing the irritating Gwildor.
Sometimes, when a film gets a reputation for being a “flopbuster” on this massive scale, it can be instructive to go back and look at it again when the dust has settled a bit (we’d argue “Waterworld” for example, is one film that is not quite as grim as its contemporary reviews would have had us believe). But not in this case. Ten years old this July, “Catwoman” is still terribleness and reeking as if it were out yesterday. Razzie-winner (and accepter, amazingly) Halle Berry delivers every line with the jaunty insouciance she famously brought to the “toad struck by lightning” line in “X-Men,” while Evil Avon Lady Sharon Stone snarls and mugs as an arch-villain so freaking lame her dastardly plan involves face cream.
Nadir: The cat puns. “What a purrrrrfect idea” being the among the worst.
“Battlefield Earth” (2000)
Ah, the passion project. The ego-driven, hubristic result of having too much star power and not enough people telling you “that’s a terrible idea.” There’s always a weird fascination in seeing a movie of that kind. But fascination only gets you so far. In fact, when the time comes to actually watch “Battlefield Earth,” it gets you about ten minutes in before you start to lose the will to live. In headlining an adaptation of the sci-fi opus from Scientology bigwig L. Ron Hubbard about the human rebellion against alien conquerors the Psychlos, John Travolta was already painting a great big target on his back, but the finished project (directed by production designer/2nd unit helmer Roger Christian, a “Star Wars” and “Alien” veteran) made that deserving: the shitty source material was only dragged down further by the lousy script, ugly look and cheap effects (backers Franchise Pictures were actually successfully sued by co-financiers for inflating the budget). It’s a film so all-around disastrous that you almost feel bad for picking on it again. Almost.
Nadir: The way that Barry Pepper mispronounces his inspirational speech so that it sounds like he’s saying “let it be said that we took this one chance, and fart.”
“Van Helsing” (2004)
Freshly-minted star Hugh Jackman taking on not just Dracula, but also Frankenstein and the Wolfman, in a new movie from the director of global hit “The Mummy” (which, in its first installment, was fun in a rollicking action-adventure kind of way) sounds on paper like a reasonable time at the movies. Instead, it’s a spectacularly ugly, borderline nonsensical mishmash with a dour, up-itself plotline, mostly uninspired character design, and insipid casting–Richard Roxburgh feels more like a member of Adam Ant’s backing band than the famous vampiric count, and Jackman’s basically playing Wolverine in a pointy hat, but to lesser effect than that sounds. Perhaps among the film’s greatest crimes is that it inspired the “Underworld”/”I Frankenstein”/”Legion” sub-genre of supernatural creatures portrayed with terrible CGI, but worse could be on the way: Kurtzman & Orci have been developing a reboot…
Nadir: Hugh Jackman sees a vision of Kate Beckinsale in heaven. And Reeechard Roxburgh’s accent as Draaacula.
“The Happening” (2008)
So we’re stretching “blockbuster” here as M. Night Shyamalan’s sixth feature had a budget of under $50m, but with a June opening date, on almost 3,000 screens, it still qualifies. Shyamalan had been on a downward slide since his debut one-two (and this writer is a “Signs” apologist too), and had reached a low ebb with the witless “Lady in the Water,” but still no one knew how bad things could get. And then “The Happening” happened. By this stage in his Benjamin Button regression, it actually feels like Shyamalan’s forgotten the very basics—the framing’s all off, eyelines don’t match (which takes skill with Zooey Deschanel because she’s 85% eye), and the performances are among the most bizarre ever (holla, Mark Wahlberg). But we have to confess to a certain fascination with this film and how mesmerizingly awful it is, veering between unintentionally funny, outright stupid and crushingly dull, and based around the single lamest premise of all time, in which TREES done it BECAUSE THE ENVIRONMENT.
Nadir: A plethora of amazing Wahlberg moments to choose from, but our favorite is the “what is it you’re not telling us?” scene, and the closest we could get to that was this clip:
But what about…? But where is…? Hold onto your retainers, of course there are many other dire movies to have graced our screens in the dog days of summer than this slim selection of 20. And some that missed the cut are very, very bad indeed: “Wild Wild West” is a perennial contender on lists of this type for good reason; the “Total Recall” remake is a more recent bid for the uncoveted “most creatively moribund” ribbon; Shyamalan‘s “The Last Airbender” could also have placed, though its badness lacked the surprise value of “The Happening“; Stallone‘s “Judge Dredd” was a famous folly; “The Da Vinci Code” is so awful that its terrible sequel “Angels and Demons” seemed a slight improvement; “Rocky V” is very hard to sit through; “Lost in Space” we’ve all kind of forgotten about but yep, it was shit; Tom Cruise‘s dose of paddywhackery “Far And Away” was horrible, especially for the Irish among us; while “Highlander 2,” “Howard the Duck” “Red Sonja” “Sheena” and “Charlie’s Angels 2″ were also considered.
As we’ve mentioned throughout, there are also those rare titles that have been slightly reappraised in recent years (perhaps only by us, but anyway), and have therefore been shifted up a grade from “excruciatingly bad” to merely “appallingly bad,” such as “Waterworld,” and “Hudson Hawk” while some are just so bland in their shitness that we couldn’t be bothered to write about them: “Babylon A.D.,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “Godzilla” and Tim Burton‘s useless “The Planet of the Apes.” Some spirited attacks were mounted on some slightly more leftfield choices too: “Cocktail” is a truly obnoxious bastard of a film; the two of us who remember “Mobsters” can tell you it’s worse than “Gangster Squad,” which is saying something; ‘Matrix 2‘ and ‘Pirates 3‘ are the least of their franchises by some distance while more recent candidates, whom only the passage of time will tell if they’re hall-of-infamy-worthy or not, include: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and “After Earth.”
Here’s wishing you a totally anomalous summer 2014 of nothing but awesome tentpoles. Oh, wait, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has already killed that dream.