Being a film critic: pretty sweet gig, right? Free movies, traveling the world for festivals, meeting your heroes… for the most part, it is a sweet gig. But every critic has a moment when they consider going back and retraining in another field, when they feel like for all the perks, it just isn’t worth it. These moments usually occur at about 9 AM on a Tuesday morning (or in extreme cases, midnight on a Thursday), and involve sitting through one of the barrel load of truly terrible movies that come down the pipe every year.
2014 was a great year for cinema, but needless to say there were more than its fair share of duds. We’ve picked out twenty particularly terrible films, the worst crimes against cinema over the last twelve months. We didn’t see everything, obviously, but the quality of the twenty films below is so generally dismal that we’re pretty confident that they’d give anything else out there a run for its money. Take a look at the list below, and let us know your own least favorite pictures of the year in the comments section (and in case you are wondering, our Best Films Of The Year list is here).
20. “Child Of God”
Were James Franco ever to focus his considerable energies and talent on a single project, rather than making three movies a year alongside his various other hobbies, we’re sure he’d come up with something genuinely impressive. As it is, we’re left with tossed-off curios like “Child Of God,” Franco’s borderline-unwatchable adaptation of one of Cormac McCarthy’s earliest novels. Centering on Lester Ballard (a mannered Scott Haze), a dispossessed young man who, shunned by his community, becomes a necrophiliac serial killer, Franco’s directorial effort is a sour, drably shot, tonally wobbly and mostly pointless wallow in the darker side of humanity lacking much to say about anything. It could be that Franco’s experiments are seeing him learn with every feature, and we certainly hope so, because that might at least give us some justification after the fact for having to sit through this particular trial-run. [Read our review].
Warner Bros.’ “Transcendence” could have been the beginning of something good. No, not a franchise or new series, but of a new voice in cinema. If Christopher Nolan, Rian Johnson, Edgar Wright and their ilk proffer original sci-fi/fantasy/action adventure films, than Wally Pfister could have been next in line —it’s always promising when a filmmaker tackles something ambitious and then is able to keep plowing ahead with original stories. But it was not to be. The directorial debut of Nolan’s director of photography since “Batman Begins,” Pfister’s “Transcendence” had all the trappings of a Nolan-esque or Johnson-like picture: a unique, large-in-scope artificial intelligence thriller with sci-fi-ish contours and moral dimensions. In many ways “Transcendence” is the death of ideals and dreams manifested through three scientist best friends (Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany) trying to achieve the next level of artificial intelligence in hopes of bettering the world. So when Depp’s lead scientist is fatally poisoned by anti-A.I. hacker-terrorists (yes, this already sounds kind of dumb), he essentially inputs his essence/soul/persona into a computer (yep, plug some wires into his head and hit upload!). And like a creature enabled by its misguided Dr. Frankenstein (Hall’s character), Depp turns into a full-blooded digital monster. And needless to say, the film’s problems are pretty fundamental, with its science mumbo-jumbo never managing to be convincing whatsoever, while taking your suspension of disbelief for granted to the point where it just all gets really silly. Frankly, nothing really works; the hackers’ righteous motivations don’t feel credibly prescient, the movie is overloaded with characters that really aren’t essential (Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser, Cillian Murphy and the misused Kate Mara) and the clunky writing and visuals are sometimes downright laughable (the image of a motherboard hanging in a dreamcatcher might be the goofiest shot of the year). So no surprise that “Transcendence” was wholeheartedly rejected by both audiences and critics, and with good reason. [Read our review].
18. “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
It’s a challenge to be a sunny-side-up optimist when learning that the one film to make a billion dollars worldwide in 2014 was not “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” nor “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” nor even “Maleficent,” but this headachey “reboot” of the relentlessly brainless “Transformers” franchise. In a year when “The LEGO Movie” proved that films based on toys could be engaging, inventive and fun, ‘Extinction’ lumbered into cinemas to remind us they can also be cynical, poorly made, barely thought-through gimmicks… that then go on to crush it at the box office. Michael Bay’s cashcow gets fresh blood this time out with Mark Wahlberg, an absurdly over-made-up Nicola Peltz and thankless Jack Reynor, but the thudding stupidity of the half-baked “mythology” remains, this time with added flag-waving. Bay’s defenders often suggest that he has a way with action, but the weightless, impossible physics of the Autobots and Decepticons, the airless CG and the hyperkinetic editing of this movie entirely belie even that faint praise: jingoistic, noisy and nonsensically plotted, ‘Age of Extinction’ is also interminably long (165mins) and deeply, maddeningly boring. Which makes it the worst Bay-affiliated product in a year that also saw “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” released. [Read our review].
“Who dropped ass?” is the first question that gets asked in “Sabotage,” David Ayer’s latest parable about tortured men of duty. It’s a good question. Just who exactly is to blame for this desperately misguided cinematic turd — this thudding, graceless mash-up of a jingoistic revenge thriller, Agatha Christie mystery and typical machismo-fueled Ayer vehicle? It doesn’t feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fault, despite that the big guy was really too old for this shit like, ten years ago. No, the real shame in “Sabotage” is that with a premise this appealingly preposterous, the resulting film should have been a lot more goofy fun than it ends up being. As the plot kicks into motion and the body count ramps up, Ayer lingers lovingly over severed limbs and spilt guts like a creepy coroner’s assistant, but the film’s lone memorable action scene — a car chase through the streets of downtown Georgia that displays alarming disregard for human life — comes near the tail end of a punishing slog. [Read our review].
16. “I, Frankenstein”
We were spared the incoherent action and ropey CGI of an “Underworld” or “Resident Evil” movie this year, but unfortunately the next worst thing landed back in the January doldrums, a film that kept that crucial people-who-literally-don’t-care-what-movie-they-watch demographic happy. “I, Frankenstein” comes from “Underworld” creator Kevin Grevioux, and you can tell only because it’s essentially the same movie, down to Bill Nighy playing the villain, and the [MYTHICAL BEAST] v. [OTHER MYTHICAL BEAST] plotline — in this case, gargoyles and demons, with Aaron Eckhart’s pieced-together hero at the center. Director Stuart Beattie admittedly has a very stupid plot to work with (if anyone is able to tell us why Jai Courtney fights Eckhart, other than to add another action sequence, they’ve solved a great mystery), but then shoots it without flair or style, full of empty cartoon violence and people grim-facedly saying things like “this ends tonight” as if they haven’t already been said a million times before. This was planned to be a franchise-starter, but thankfully, the worldwide public showed better taste than to let that happen. [Read our review].
There’s something about the first few minutes of Josh C. Waller’s “McCanick” that fills the unassuming viewer with a certain kind of hope. With its dreary beginning of a loner cop’s morning routine, it feels like what you’re about to watch is going to be depressing but also introspectively wise and soulful. Goodness me, how quickly this hope evaporates after the titular character (played by the otherwise awfully underrated David Morse) goes to work and finds out a junkie he locked up (Cory Monteith, in what unfortunately ended up being his last role) is out. Within minutes, the film spirals ludicrously and unbelievably out of control, scene after scene, until it finally ends. Featuring leaden dialogue and a tone that borders on a cop parody rather than a cop drama, the cast (which also includes the wonderful Ciarán Hinds, who must’ve lost a bet or made good on a favor to be in this drivel) can’t combine all their formidable talents to save the film from its deplorable writing and direction. [Read our review].
14. “The Other Woman”
A profoundly depressing studio comedy bauble that hides its toxic, regressive gender politics behind such a shiny, giggly, sun-bleached veil of inanity that it’s almost possible to miss, “The Other Woman” is the type of film for which the “you’re overthinking it, it’s just a bit of fun” non-defense was invented. But it’s so insipid that the mind boggles at the idea that anyone might be able to underthink this thing. Under the flimsiest veneer of female solidarity, three supposedly intelligent, obviously desirable women plot revenge on a three-timing bastard male (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and inadvertently in the process reinforce the very opposite point. “Together, we’re like the perfect woman!” squeaks Cameron Diaz at one point, noting her own braininess, Leslie Mann’s wife-ishness and Kate Upton’s boobiness — implying that individually they are each a third of a person, which is generous, given the characterization here. If you have a masochistic desire to witness the complicity of talented actresses (and/or Kate Upton) in the continued debasement of the “female-led comedy,” double bill this nonsense with Elizabeth Banks’ similarly horrible “Walk of Shame.”
13. “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”
Strange how what once seemed innovative, shocking and genuinely cutting-edge in 2005 now seems regressive, curdled and downright boring. It’s been nine years since Robert Rodriguez’s landmark digital exercise “Sin City,” and while a great many were initially wowed by that admittedly stylish film’s lurid excesses the first time around, time has not been kind to Mr. Rodriguez’s nasty, deliberately artificial, sadism-spiked noir. The sequel — which recycles the first film’s ponderous voiceover and overt misogyny — is more than anything a tremendous failure of imagination. Whiz-kid that he may be, Rodriguez’s narrative interests haven’t evolved in any particularly interesting fashion since the first film was made, and the resulting followup is adolescent, cruel and largely fun-free. In a year where we were treated to such inventive, forward-thinking blockbusters like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” ‘A Dame to Kill For’ felt like a huge step backward: as monochromatic and bereft of nuance as its inky black-and-white surface would suggest. [Read our review].
Getting root canal treatment from an unlicensed veterinarian in some Eastern European back alley. Strapped on a chair, force-fed fermented rat meat while listening to sounds of a scratching chalkboard on loop. Those are just a couple situations we’d strongly consider over sitting through Paco Cabezas’ fantastically atrocious “Rage” again. There’s no point in even talking about its sinfully lazy plot (but for those curious, we did review it). It’s a world populated by characters that have less dimension than Nicolas Cage’s hairline and less class than the prostitutes in “Grand Theft Auto.” The only reason you probably won’t be seeing it in many other “Worst Of 2014” lists is because it’s been blocked from memory or rightfully ignored. “Rage” is a tastelessly repugnant insult of a film that deserves the very worst kind of attention, making Nic Cage memes look like Martin Scorsese directed them. Avoid like the plague (because you might actually catch the plague if you watch it). [Read our review].
Badly directed, nonsensically written, offensive on all levels, this is the project that should’ve put Kevin Smith in director jail, but rather unbelievably, the wretched thing now has two spin-offs in the works. The origin of the fetid product: Smith and co-host riff on a podcast about the idea, he takes to Twitter and fans tweet their approval, so then he goes and writes it in a weed-soaked haze. The result is what you would expect from such a lead up: the concept is insane and the execution laughably bad. Justin Long is a very jerky podcast host who goes to Canada chasing a story and ends up the hostage of a crazy Michael Parks, who sews him into a walrus costume made of human skin. Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez are there, and Johnny Depp finally breaks out of Tim Burton mode only to do French Canadian schtick. Smith appears to be trying to do some Tarantino-esque monologues in the first half, but they are dull and poorly shot, the camera rooted to the ground, simply cutting back and forth. The walrus suit itself doesn’t work either — it’s so fake that nothing about it is horrifying, except for Long’s pathetic grunts. With “Yoga Hosers” and “Moose Jaws” on the way, there will be no stopping Smith now, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. [Read our review].
Was 2014 the year that the Adam Sandler train finally came off the rails? Sure, “Grown Ups 2” was released in 2013, but that reversed a downward swing that’s been going on since the start of the decade: the drama “Men Women & Children” and the comedic indie fantasy “The Cobbler” got horrible reviews, and even the usual safe bet of a big studio comedy “Blended,” reuniting the actor with Drew Barrymore, wildly underperformed. Not that it didn’t deserve to, obviously: “Blended” was lousy even by the low standards of present-day Sandler vehicles. The premise seemed harmless enough: two single parents go on a blind date, only to end up through thin contrivances on the same holiday. But the genuine sweetness of the pair’s previous rom-com pictures is nowhere to be found (and nor is their chemistry), while the film has both incredibly regressive gender politics (boys like sports! girls just want to look pretty!), and thanks to an African setting, a fair bit of racism. Terry Crews provides some comic energy (in a stereotyped role) at least, but given that we can see him being awesome in “Brooklyn Nine Nine” every week, there’s no reason to put yourself through this lazy, rotten picture. [Read our review].
9. “Winter’s Tale”
Many (including, reportedly, Martin Scorsese) have called Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel “Winter’s Tale” unfilmable, but when it eventually reached the screen as the feature directorial debut of “Batman & Robin” and “A Beautiful Mind” screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, the project carved out its own special category: it-shouldn’t-have-been-filmed. A cross-generational love story by people who appear to not understand what love is, as sickly as its tubercular female lead (Jessica Brown Findlay, who deserves better), it’s like “The Fountain” if it was written by Nicholas Sparks. The performances are either disinterested (a miscast Colin Farrell), or scenery-chewing (Russell Crowe, Will Smith’s unbilled cameo as the devil), the filmmaking is insipid, and the writing is groan-inducing. Goldsman gets credit for being ambitious enough to make a movie involving a flying white horse, but absolutely no points for anything else. [Read our review].
8. “Drive Hard”
A film so cheaply made and hastily written that we know who “Detective Chief Inspector Smith” is because he stands beside an A4 printout of his name tacked to the door of his office, this drab Australian would-be action comedy is not only extremely shoddy in execution, but is also borderline heartbreaking for anyone who ever counted themselves a John Cusack fan. Cusack, who seems now to be accepting roles based purely on whether he’ll be able to vape throughout, plays a thief who essentially kidnaps Thomas Jane’s awful wig, which happens to have Thomas Jane underneath it, to help him get away from a bank robbery. Jane plays a driving instructor/ex-racecar driver, and the two supposedly establish a kind of buddy-comedy dynamic as they flee the police and the corporate bad guys. But nobody has a hope in hell of retaining a shred of dignity with a script this tone-deaf and redundant (“do you want an orange?” says Jane, picking up an orange; “I already have an orange” replies his daughter, peeling an orange). Even the car chases are a bore, shot to the standard of an Aussie lunchtime soap, and no one ever seems to be going very fast, despite what the generic action-movie score insists. Bad stunts, awkward banter and an ugly non-aesthetic —it might have been better off in its original form as a Jean Claude Van Damme movie, which is a pretty damning indictment by itself. [Read our review].
7. “Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who is John Galt?”
The stubborn series that even the free market couldn’t kill (after previous entries flopped, the film was financed by via handouts from Kickstarter, and lit through electricity generated by the rotations in Ayn Rand’s grave when she heard about Kickstarter), “Who Is John Galt?” completed fitness equipment millionaire John Aglialoro’s three-part adaptation of the Objectivist dickhead bible and reached new lows even given the impressive troughs of the world’s least popular movie franchise. Once again swapping out its entire cast for performers several rungs further down the ladder (remember when “Orange Is The New Black” star Taylor Schilling was the lead in the first film? Because she’d really rather you didn’t), and with even lower production values — we’d estimate that the film is about 40% stock footage — it’d be direly written, poorly made and badly acted even if it was on a firm bed of source material. Instead, it’s a muddled, narratively unsatisfying adaptation of a muddled, narratively unsatisfying book. We never thought we’d say it, but even Randians deserve something better than this.
6. “A Million Ways To Die In The West”
If there’s any reason to like “A Million Ways To Die In The West” a little more than Seth MacFarlane‘s previous feature “Ted,” it’s that it wasn’t a giant hit: indeed, it was a fairly bruising flop. Beyond that, it is just as toxic, indulgent and unfunny as the “Family Guy” creator’s previous output, and without even a committed Mark Wahlberg performance at its center. In its place, MacFarlane hubristically makes himself the lead (taking the relatively few gags for himself and giving the talented cast he’s assembled — Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, et al — almost nothing to do) and still gives a performance that makes it look like he’s been digitally inserted into his own movie. The film also appears to have been released as an assembly cut: it’s endlessly long, with scenes dragging and with a particularly indulgent hallucination sequence that, in an “Interstellar”-style piece of time-bending, somehow feels even longer than the movie as a whole. Like the comedy equivalent of a stopped clock, there’s a couple of jokes that raise a smile once or twice, but on the whole, there’s more pleasure and more bite to be found in a single scene of “Blazing Saddles” than the entirety of “A Million Ways To Die In The West.” [Read our review].
Brilliant satirist Dinesh D’Souza pulled off a stunning coup for the political left with his hilarious, Chris Morris-esque parody of what a right-wing “documentary” about the state of the American nation might look like. His film running over with straw man arguments, unsound reasoning, sleight-of-hand distraction techniques, selective research and confounding logic gaps that we lefties love to accuse the conservative right of engaging in, D’Souza may ultimately push the satire a little too far for strict credibility, like when he suggests that slavery was a beneficial, character-building exercise, or that noted radical Saul Alinsky literally worshiped the devil or the frankly weird digression about Matt Damon. Mostly he’s to be commended for playing it so straight — both onscreen, in many poorly focused interviewer-nodding-sagely cutaways, and off, where his “Dinesh D’Souza” character was recently convicted of political fraud. Seriously, Stephen Colbert has nothing on this guy’s commitment to character! Also of note: the many, many Americans (some of whom contributed to this massive comments section) who are gamely playing along, pretending to take this film at face value as right wing propaganda, kind of like we all do with satirical news channel Fox News or parody meat puppet Rush Limbaugh. [Read our review].
4. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Think about everything that makes comic book movies exciting; genuine thrills, relatable heroes, provocative villains and personal dilemmas that resonate with even the greatest cynics. Now subtract all of that and add a decent Andrew Garfield performance. The result is Marc Webb’s painfully bad “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a film that has overkill written all over it (by four writers no less), and singlehandedly raises the bar for the growing fatigue with respect to comic book movies. It is to “Guardians of the Galaxy” what Brett Ratner is to Bryan Singer. Webb’s preposterously long 2 hour 20 minute movie is overstuffed with telegraphed plot devices, villains who are terribly cartoonish and belong in some Power Rangers cereal commercial, and a central love story that is more maddening than moving and sucks out nearly all of the significance from a certain major scene. Worst of all, while ‘AMS2’ flat-lines in the thrill department, it goes off every chart with its tone; juggling drama, comedy and romance like a limbless blind man. Seriously, what is up with Electro playing organ music during a fight?! Why does Electro even hate Spider-Man? Why is — oh, fuck it. [Read our review].
3. “Hector And The Search For Happiness”
It’s awfully confusing that, outside of the very fine work he does with regular collaborators Edgar Wright and J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg has so little solo success on screen. Films like “Run Fatboy Run” and “How To Lose Friends & Alienate People” were no fun at all, and early this year brought the painful dark comedy “A Fantastic Fear Of Everything.” But worse — much, much worse — was to come with “Hector And The Search For Happiness,” a late entry into the “Eat Pray Love”/”Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” patronizing travelogue mini-genre. Pegg plays a smug psychiatrist who leaves his girlfriend (Rosamund Pike, who apparently researches her “cool girl” speech in “Gone Girl” by playing one here) in order to travel the world “researching” happiness, a trip that mostly involves nausea-inducing sex tourism, and patronizing poverty-stricken natives of countries including ‘Africa’ (which, according to this film, is just one country). Staggeringly misjudged and almost entirely unfunny, let’s hope that this is the bottom of the dive, and that Pegg’s back on form with next year’s “Man Up” and “Absolutely Anything.”
Which of the many films contained within Alexandre Aja’s utterly sloppy and contemptible “Horns” is one of the worst of the year? Is it the horror flick filled with vulgar, distasteful, over-the-top violence from the director of “High Tension”? Is it the rather obvious Hitchockian murder mystery that has Daniel Radclffe’s Ig Perrish trying to figure out who killed his girlfriend (Juno Temple) while the world thinks he’s the culprit? Is it the dark, wannabe-irreverent comedy where Ig sprouts a pair of horns that causes those around him to act on their worst animalistic impulses? Or is it the jejune dreamy romance knee deep in ’90s-soundtrack-heavy nostalgia? This garish and clumsy adaptation from Joe Hill’s novel is not only tonally all over the map, but is cloying, contrived and forced in all of its quadrants. It also manages to squander all of the likability Radcliffe earned earlier this year in “What If” and his performance of Blackalicious’ “Alphabet Aerobics.” It’s a messy, misogynistic film, and while it’s at least tolerable to look at thanks to Frederick Elmes’ cinematography, it alternately makes viewers groan, roll their eyes and shake their heads at the screen in utter disgust. [Read our review].
1. “Left Behind”
After the last few years, we didn’t even think it was possible for Nicolas Cage‘s career to reach a new nadir with the reboot of popular God-bother apocalypse series “Left Behind.” More than one Christian-aimed movie made a surprising box office impact this year, with films like “Son Of God” (recycled footage from “The Bible” TV series), “God’s Not Dead” and “Heaven Is For Real” all making some hefty coin, and all were objectively terrible pieces of art. But even its target audience didn’t enjoy “Left Behind,” which did pleasingly poorly at the box office. “The Leftovers” proved this summer that the Rapture can make for strange and powerful cinematic material, but here, veteran stunt director Vic Armstrong has made a cheap, preachy and unpleasant disaster movie with budget effects, little weight narrative drive, and a Cage performance that’s dreadful even by his standards. Dull, flat and repulsive in its message (it’s notable that the entirely admirable Muslim character doesn’t go to heaven), it’s also just really, really badly made.
Honorable Mentions: Were there any more lousy films released this year? Of course there were. Among the other stinkers that we had to endure include ill-timed buddy movie “Let’s Be Cops,” Paul W.S. Anderson‘s disaster flick “Pompeii,” Denzel Washington vehicle “The Equalizer,” Scorsese-produced gangster flick “Revenge Of The Green Dragons,” disappointing parody “They Came Together,” Jude Law crime pic “Dom Hemingway,” Nick Hornby adaptation “A Long Way Down,” Ridley Scott‘s Biblical epic “Exodus,” and Daniel Radcliffe/Zoe Kazan rom-com “What If.”
There was also the disappointing Belle & Sebastian musical “God Help The Girl,” Jason Reitman‘s misjudged “Men Women & Children,” January disasters “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” and “The Legend Of Hercules,” Elizabeth Banks vehicle “Walk Of Shame,” Disney fairytale “Maleficent,” Katrin Gebbe‘s “Nothing Bad Can Happen,” Chris Pine vehicle “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” the “300” sequel, Zac Efron misfire “That Awkward Moment,” Jason Bateman‘s “Bad Words,” and “Need For Speed,” the Aaron Paul-starring “Fast & Furious” knock-off no one wanted.
There was also YA pictures “Divergent” and “Vampire Academy,” romance remake “Endless Love,” Kevin Costner flop “3 Days to Kill,” comedy sequel “A Haunted House 2,” obviously, Eric Bana horror picture “Deliver Us From Evil,” Rob Reiner‘s “And So It Goes,” found-footage hurricane flick “Into The Storm,” barrel-scraping geriatric actioner “The Expendables 3,” Jeff Bridges YA misfire “The Giver,” Pierce Brosnan Bourne knock-off “The November Man,” the world’s least necessary sequel “Dolphin Tale 2,” Idris Elba paycheck “No Good Deed,” and waste-of-Miles-Teller-and-Analeigh-Tipton “Two Night Stand.”
But wait, there’s more! There was also redundant horror prequel “Annabelle,” Tyler-Perry-in-all-but-name’s “Addicted,” the awful “Dracula Untold,” Robert Downey Jr vanity project “The Judge,” Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Best Of Me,” disappointing Malick rip-off “The Better Angels,” terrible comedy sequel “Dumb & Dumber To” and “Horrible Bosses 2,” Leighton Meester indie “Life Partners,” and umpteenth found-footage horror “The Pyramid.” Oh, and just as advance warning, Jim Sturgess bank robbery movie “Electric Slide” and Nicole Kidman biopic “Grace Of Monaco” were the worst of the festival bunch that may or may not eventually reach you in 2015. Anything we’ve been too harsh, or anything we’ve left out? Let us know below.
– Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang, Nik Grozdanovic, Nicholas Laskin, Katie Walsh, Kimber Myers, Rodrigo Perez