There’s no great challenge in compiling a “Worst of” list. It’s easy and fun to disparage such films as Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, Mars Needs Moms, Conan the Barbarian (2011), The Smurfs, Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, or any of the other worthy stinkers released in 2011. It’s easy to pass judgment on movies that never had any chance at being good. But passing judgment on movies that could have and should have been good is something else entirely.
Of all the lists I compile for my Year in Review, this one is the hardest to write. Not only is it heartbreaking to talk about such tremendous wastes of potential, but there are so many different elements to consider. This isn’t just ranking in order from bad to worst, it’s weighing these movies’ awfulness against such factors as critical response, fan following, advance hype, the talent involved, the money involved, and so on. In an effort to further illuminate my decision-making process, I’ve broken this list down into Dante-esque levels of disappointment.
— A. The Benign —
These movies are on the lower end because they’re actually quite good in a lot of ways. These movies have their fans, and I can certainly understand why. I might even consider myself one of them, if not for a few complaints that I personally consider to be deal-breakers. For example…
Both of these movies were exquisitely produced. Real Steel had some stellar fight scenes, Dark had some great scares, and they both had CGI creations brought to vivid life through phenomenal special effects. Unfortunately, both of these movies suffered the same Achilles’ heel: Piss-poor characters.
In Dark, we had a girl who set a bunch of monsters free for absolutely no reason, a father too stupid to live, and a stepmom who abandons our protagonist at the worst possible time. Over on Real Steel, there’s a boy who miraculously knows everything, his idiotic asshole father, and a love interest who does nothing to advance the plot. Of course, the actors involved all did fine work with what they had, but it wasn’t enough to redeem these poorly-designed characters or these otherwise enjoyable films.
The first act of this movie was outstanding. Bradley Cooper turned in a great performance, the script was brilliantly written (the use of voice-overs was particularly effective), and the visuals were absolutely dazzling. But then the movie continued.
It was a fascinating thing to watch this movie wither away before my eyes. The visuals got less creative, the great voice-overs stopped, the story slipped further and further away from sanity, and the characters became far less interesting. I also had the displeasure of seeing such talents as Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro all totally wasted. I don’t know what happened to the Neil Burger who directed that first act, but I hope he comes back soon.
8. War Horse
At its heart and core, this is a war movie shown from the perspective of a horse. It’s a unique idea, and the horses in this film had more than enough acting talent to make it work. It might even have been a good war movie, given the strength of the camerawork and the battle sequences.
Alas, what really kills this movie is its anth… sorry, “picaresque” approach. Because the writers weren’t nearly skilled enough to make this structure work, the human characters are all as two-dimensional and disposable as tissue paper. The characters were terribly written and it was obvious after the first act or so that none of them were going to be onscreen for very long. Only 45 minutes in, and the film had wiped out any reason for the audience to sustain interest.
— B. The Stupid —
These are the movies that failed utterly, but not for lack of trying. There’s a ton of effort on display and the filmmakers clearly had the best intentions, but all of that was undone by sheer and obvious incompetence behind the scenes. To wit…
At first, this one had the potential to be good. Not only did the cast include such actors as Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, and Karl Urban, but Screen Gems believed so fervently in this film that they granted it a record-high budget. Then somewhere along the way, things went wrong. It didn’t screen for critics, the release date kept shifting, the CGI looked cruddy, and the 3D conversion felt slapped-on. So at least this had the potential to be laughably bad.
In the end, this film turned out to be neither. The filmmakers were too talented to make a bad movie, not talented enough to make a good one, and they all took the film way too seriously to add any camp value. The end result is just a boring, bland, totally forgettable movie. It’s an unusual disappointment among this list, but a clear disappointment nonetheless.
Much like Limitless, this one started off with an amazing first act before sliding into mediocrity. However, Cowboys & Aliens is getting ranked so much higher because it had so much more potential. It had a better cast, a better crew, better effects, a better premise, a bigger budget, and far more hype surrounding it. Unfortunately, the end result was a predictable slog devoid of any scope or tension. Oh, and lest I forget, Limitless had something that this movie showed a depressing lack of: Creativity.
If any movie this year stood a chance at breaking the formulaic rom-com mold, this should’ve been it. The cast to this movie was loaded with solid actors who’ve proven on at least one occasion that they can do comedy (Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, et al.). More than that, the trailers for this film promised a movie that examined love from two perspectives — an older divorced man and a younger man with his first love — presenting the story in such a way that they learn from each other. That would’ve been a fresh and unique take for a romantic comedy, if only the movie hadn’t thrown that idea into a bin and focused entirely on Carrell’s arc.
Then there’s the matter of the third act turning point, which was a brilliantly executed piece of screwball comedy. If that had been the climax of the movie, it might at least have gone out on a clever and funny note. Instead, the brilliantly comic turn is buried in favor of a cliched and unfunny climax. That’s the movie in a nutshell, really.
The hype for this movie was enormous. Not only were the advance reviews extremely positive, but Jonathan Liebesman had apparently been crowned as one of Warner Bros.’ new prized directors. After all, they had given him the reins on Wrath of the Titans, and they even blessed him with status as a finalist to direct Man of Steel. Hell if I know why, based on Battle: Los Angeles.
Not only are all of the characters indistinguishable, but the cinematography and editing are horrendous. The action scenes are bad enough, but even when it’s just two characters talking, this camera can not stop moving. Liebesman made a movie that’s literally unwatchable, and yet he’s now one of WB’s newest franchise directors. Gah.
— C. The Malicious —
These highest ranks are reserved for the movies that failed on purpose. Each of them promised something great, only to snatch it away at the last minute and deliver something else entirely. It’s obvious that the filmmakers involved were perfectly able to make better movies — and glimpses of those better movies can be plainly seen — but for whatever reason, they took a sharp left turn into shit. And then they drove headlong into shit at a million miles an hour. If you don’t believe that anyone in Hollywood would be so cruel, just look at…
It’s gonna be a long time before WB and DC live this one down, and rightly so. They promised a universe-spanning epic, in which a great and powerful evil faces off against 3,600 aliens, all powered by magical green light shaped by so many great imaginations. Instead, they delivered a movie that quickly abandons the broader space opera so our “hero” can mope around on Earth and deal with a terribly-developed villain.
I don’t know if setting the entire story in space would have fixed all this movie’s problems, but it certainly would’ve helped and it definitely would have been something unique to modern superhero cinema. As it is, the movie is a horribly written and misguided mess, delivering absolutely nothing that we haven’t already seen in other, better superhero origin stories.
2. Scream 4
Here’s a franchise of funny and scary movies, capped by a film that’s neither remotely funny nor anywhere near scary. The filmmakers claimed that they were bringing in a bunch of talented young newcomers to revitalize the franchise, only to kill every single one of them off. This is a film series that showed some degree of affection for the genre it was satirizing, until this one showed nothing but outright contempt for the remakes and found footage films of modern horror.
I’m convinced that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson didn’t make this film to reinvent the Scream franchise, but to bury it. That’s the best explanation I have for how it turned out to be such a terrible film that spit in the collective face of its audience. Fortunately for all involved, this movie did indeed kill the franchise. I’m sure Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette are thrilled to finally be free.
Fuck this movie with the sharp end of a splintery post. Fuck the editor who drained all the life out of the gorgeous cinematography. Fuck the director who turned this stellar cast into a crew of spineless and unmemorable idiots. Fuck the writer who took this premise about a group of people in the unexplored wilderness — one wrong turn away from death — and turned it into a pretentious and plodding story that lacked any beginning or ending. Last but not least, fuck the majority of supposedly reputable critics who gave a positive review to this interminable pile of shit!
This is a film blessed with far more praise than it deserved. It took a great premise and a huge amount of filmmaking talent, only to turn out something unwatchably and impossibly boring. It is so representative of everything that I consider a film disappointment to be that it has to be #1.