Here Are Woody Allen’s Worst Movies

Here Are Woody Allen's Worst Movies

There is no filmmaker, living or deceased, quite like Woody Allen. Since 1969, the quintessential neurotic New Yorker has managed to write and direct one film a year. While quantity doesn’t always yield quality, the bespectacled auteur is responsible for some of the finest achievements in American cinema. In fact, even Allen’s duds are fascinating failures worthy of examination. With “Magic In the Moonlight,” his 44th feature, coming out on Friday (read our interview here), we decided to dive into the one of the most ingenious and puzzled minds in the history of the movies. These are the worst of his efforts; tomorrow, we’ll present the best.

“A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1982)

Woody Allen could do no wrong in the 1980s. Throughout the decade the writer/director churned out one innovative gem after the next — except for “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” which may just be the nadir of Allen’s career. The title is a play on Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the plot is loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” – although there are no traces of those two creative geniuses here. The only noteworthy bit about the film is that it marks the beginning of Farrow and Allen’s 13-film collaboration. It also marks the single worst performance she’s given in an Allen film – a piece of acting so poor she was even nominated for a Razzie award.

Shadows and Fog” (1991)

Filmed on a 26,000-square-foot set at Kaufman-Astoria studios (the biggest set ever built in New York), “Shadows and Fog” is Allen’s homage to German expressionism. It’s the type of enervating project that was likely scribbled down on one of his infamous yellow legal pads then stowed away until 1991. The logline? Allen plays a lowly bookkeeper wandering around an unidentified village looking for the vigilante group hellbent on catching a serial strangler. Madonna, Jodie Foster, John Cusack, Kathy Bates, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, and John Malkovich sporadically appear – though their presence is as haphazard as the film itself.

Mighty Aphrodite” (1995)

If the public was perplexed when “Annie Hall” beat out “Star Wars” for Best Picture in 1977, then I imagine they’d be outright apoplectic at the sight of Mira Sorvino’s 1995 Best Supporting Actress win for her role as a prostitute in “Mighty Aphrodite.” After multiple viewings, you might still feel bewildered by what’s on screen – and by Sorvino’s unremarkable performance. What did the Academy (and critics) see in this mess? By all accounts, this is one of the few movies in Allen’s oeuvre that actually feels passé.

“The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” (2001)

In “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” Allen plays a démodé insurance investigator who becomes unknowingly possessed by a nefarious hypnotist, compelling him to steal jewelry in the middle of the night. The screenwriting in this aimless 1940s-set trifle is as somnambulant as its protagonists (Helen Hunt and Allen), who spend their days verbally assaulting each other with one acidic insult after the next. The desired rapport here is something Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant perfected in “His Girl Friday” — where pointed but playful, searing but witty zingers bounce off the walls from beginning to end. However, the fatal miscasting of Hunt prevents the film from ever reaching such great heights.

Hollywood Ending” (2002)

It’s hard to reconcile with the fact that “Manhattan” and “Hollywood Ending” originate from the same brain. In this disaster of a movie Allen plays a slumping director who develops psychosomatic blindness the night before the first day of shooting. Unable to halt productions, Allen clandestinely works on set with the assistance of his ex-wife (Tea Leoni, who left him for the studio-head bankrolling the film) and an Asian translator (Barney Cheng). The only element worth commending in “Hollywood Ending” is its prescience – this was just the beginning of the horror that was to come during the aughts.

Anything Else” (2003)

“Anything Else” contains all the recognizable components of a traditional Woody Allen movie: white, middle-to-upper class New Yorkers conversing in candle lit restaurants about jazz, monogamy, and mortality to the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, everything that typically makes Allen’s films charming comes off here as cloying. Watching Jason Biggs struggle to get through overwritten monologues on life and love is only exacerbated by Allen’s grating presence in picture, playing a mentor to Biggs’ fledgling comedian.

Scoop” (2006)

An American J-school student (Scarlett Johansson) in London receives the scoop of the century from a deceased reporter (appearing as a ghost) explaining that the infamous serial Tarot killer is a wealthy aristocrat (Hugh Jackman). In turn, she falls in love with the subject she’s supposed to be investigating. It’s a storyline like this one that makes Allen enthusiasts depressed. “Scoop” is not even endearingly awful or mediocre Allen. The film is just prosaic, lousy fare from a man who, just one year earlier with “Match Point,” proved he still has it.

Whatever Works” (2009)

In theory, melding the comic sensibilities of Larry David and Woody Allen should make fore a snide and caustic slam-dunk. Spoiler: it does not. A Southern belle literally walks off the bus and into David’s Manhattan loft in “Whatever Works” – where, appropriately enough, very little works. The film spends a bulk of its time with David’s divorced curmudgeon imposing his dyspeptic worldview on the impressionable 20-something (a fresh-faced Evan Rachel Wood). Unfortunately for the viewer, that means enduring one long-winded, uninspired diatribe on everything from microbes to the Yankees to Christianity. It’s familiar terrain traversed listlessly. 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (2010)

As you will find when parsing through Allen’s filmography, there are some actors who are particularly adept at lending their talents to his prose. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” however, is a textbook example of gifted performers working in a language (Allen-ish? Allenese?) they can’t speak. From Antonio Banderas to Josh Brolin to Naomi Watts to Anthony Hopkins, vaunted, Oscar-winning thespians struggle to exist in the world of infidelity, lust, and new love Allen has created for them. Moreover, there is not a single likable human being in this bloated endeavor.

To Rome with Love” (2012)

Convinced he needed a break from the streets of New York City, Allen devised a plan in 2004 to travel abroad and explore new territory outside of the U.S. Bookended by “Match Point” (England) in 2005 and “To Rome with Love” (Italy) in 2012, Allen’s international hiatus from Brooklyn produced mixed results. While other films seem to have a local’s sense of the cities they were set, “To Rome with Love” seemingly adopts the perspective of a tourist visiting the Eternal City for a weekend. That lack of geographical intimacy bleeds into the characters themselves, all of whom obliquely struggle with various romantic entanglements and dalliances. None of it is remotely meaningful.

Stay tuned for our list of the best Woody Allen films tomorrow.

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Comments

Dan O'Neill

All of these mobies are bad.but how could you omit the truly terrible:"Small Time Crooks","Stardust Memories","Melinda and Melinda", "Manhattan Murder Mystery","Match Point",and "Cassandra.s Crossing".Allen’s genius seems to lie in turning out a lot of pseudo intellectual,pretentious crap,and sometimes getting lucky.

Andrew

Casandra’s dream is by far his (and every other living director’s) worst movie. September and celebrity are also unwatchable. I have the minority opinion that scoop while not a smart movie is kind of charming and inoffensive, as for whatever works it’s quite funny at times and spotlights larry david and patricia clarkson really well. Woody had written it during the early seventies as a Zero Mostel movie but had to shelve it after he passed; the writers strike prevented him from submitting any new material that year so i think he did well with what was given and blended improvisational style into an innocuous comedy really well.

Bryan

I liked Mighty Aphrodite and Shadows and Fog. I thought September and Blue Jasmine were real stinkers.

Dobster

Considering the writer's knowledge of Allen's work, I'm surprised he didn't know that Shadows And Fog was originally published as "Death: A Play" in his 1975 book "Without Feathers". Not really "stowed away" in a legal pad. Not that I disagree with the writer'writer's assessment of the film. It works better as a one act play.

Sean Sweeney

Funny, cause back in his peak years which ended around Husbands and Wives '92, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy would of been considered his most flimsy flick (though September is a dud and Alice was forgettable). But most of his work in the last 20 years ranges from mediocre to terrible with a few exceptions (Bullets Over Broadway, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Sweet & Lowdown are pretty good, while Midnight in Paris and Match Point have their fans).
BUT while Woody Allen built his brand on films like Annie Hall and Love & Death and Hannah and Her Sisters none of these films deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as those masterpieces.
I'm talking to you- Blue Jasmine, To Rome with Love, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Whatever Works, Cassandra's Dream, Scoop, Melinda and Melinda, Anything Else, Hollywood Ending, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Small Time Crooks, Celebrity, Deconstructing Harry, Everyone Says I Love You, Mighty Aphrodite.
Those are 15 BAD movies in 20 years.

CrombyMouse

Worst film I saw from Woody Allen by far is "Melinda and Melinda". Interesting idea terribly executed with a bunch of worthless spent actors works.

Scoop – kind of lame, anecdote movie, though I've enjoyed some Allen's character lines.
Shadows and Fog – at least it was an experiement.

I personally liked "You will meet a tall dark stranger". Brolin and others are great, though a plot is kind of messy.

Haven't seen "Whatever Works", "Anything else", "Hollywood Ending" and most of other films included in this list.

Ben Rider

Oddly enough, this list includes some of my favourites, and is missing what I would describe Allen's 'duds'. Just goes to show that his films, even the unpopular ones, do find some resonance with some audiences… warranting their existence.
In fact, if it hadn't been for Curse of the Jade Scorpion, I would have likely never bothered to watch beyond his classics of Annie Hall, Manhattan etc.

jose

no way jose, this is OK for some but midnight aphrodite, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy and shadows and fog are great. What about MELINDA MELINDA?!?!?!? WILL FERREL, are you kidding me? Vicky Cristina Barcelona is just his sexual fantasy. And finally Match Point… he'd already done it in Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is so much superior.

Dan Heaton

I haven't seen all of these, but the worst for me is Hollywood Ending. It felt like a one-joke movie where the only joke wasn't that funny. Jade Scorpion is also in a similar boat. I can see where he's going with that one, but it just falls flat.

JT

While I haven't really enjoyed a Woody Allen film since Husbands and Wives (well, OK, Midnight in Paris but that was a fluke), I would have to say that Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is nowhere near as awful as Hollywood Ending, Celebrity, or Deconstructing Harry (which wins my vote for the worst, most offensive of Allen's films). And Shadow and Fog is much better than Mighty Aphrodite, Scoop, Jade Scorpion, or Small Time Crooks. Hell, it's even more watchable than Blue Jasmine, which I have no affection for despite Cate's very good performance. But then I love September (apparently the only person on earth who does), so take it all with a grain of salt.

Saarth

I like whatever works quite a bit. Maybe it's just my affinity for cranky or bitter characters. I also ended up drawing parallels between him and House.

Thomas

I actually really love Shadows and Fog. A little perplexing that an interesting (if not entirely successful) experiment like that is on here, when something as lame as Small Time Crooks isn't.

somebody

'To Rome with Love' may not have been great, but Penelope Cruz in that role, with the red dress kept me upright the whole time…

No

Well, now that another Woody Allen film is arriving it must be "Dump on Allen" season (which is code for attacking him as a child rapist).

Eli

I don't known what to think of that list. I've only seen two of those movies, and 'Whatever Works' it's one of my favorites WA movies. The other 'To Rome with Love' I agree it's not good.

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