Each month, we pitch a new question to our staff and readers. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, email it to us. This month we asked: What are your favorite worst movies?
Choose Me (1984) was written and directed by Alan Rudolph, and oof, is it awful. But it’s also very difficult to quit. The scenes are nicely filmed, surprising things keep happening, but then what actually happens makes no sense, and the characters it happens to are drones. Rudolph assistant-directed Altman’s Nashville, so that explains the Altman-esque pacing, camera work, and floating mikes—everything good about the picture. But Rudolph must also have the tinnest ear in Hollywood—or is the whole thing farce? Who knows?! Maybe I should watch it again. Starring John Larroquette as a sex-starved motorcycling bartender, Rae Dawn Chong as the worst poet in the world, and Keith Carradine in the lead role as a compulsive liar who wants to marry every woman he meets.
Filmed on a wave of Conan the Barbarian hype, Ator the Fighting Eagle (1982) is so innocuously, hilariously bad. The plot is timeless: man falls in love with sister; man earns parents’ approval to shirk incest taboo because it is suddenly revealed that man is adopted; man and sister marry; sister kidnapped by Spider King; man spends three-quarters of movie searching for sister (and eventually defeating Spider King). Like all truly great movies, a trained bear cub—who is arguably the protagonist—follows the man throughout. Ator was also the first non-hardcore porn filmed by a hardcore porn director. This leads to two separate scenes where Ator is seduced, one of which has absolutely no relevance to the broader plot; a birth-giving scene where the mother appears to be passively orgasming the entire time; and the line: “The Earth trembles like a virgin brought to the nuptial bed.”
In Deep Blue Sea (1999), scientists messing where they shouldn’t be messing create ginormous mutant sharks in order to harvest their brain fluid as a cure for Alzheimer’s. All is going well until they realize the sharks have developed super powers and are now smart, fast, and hopping mad. Crazy action, death, and non-intentional hilarity ensue as the cast tries to escape the research station (in the middle of the ocean) where they are now trapped by a hurricane. This movie leaves nothing out: ridiculous animatronic sharks who can turn on gas ovens with their noses, explosions galore, spurting severed limbs, LL Cool J as a wisecracking chef with a pet bird, and the pinnacle laugh-out-loud moment when Samuel L. Jackson is bitten in half while lecturing the remaining team members to pull themselves together. Somehow, this movie gets even better if you invite a bottle of vodka to watch it with you.
Around 11:00 p.m. Central time, the best of the awfulsome offerings of Sci Fi, TNT, and USA come on the air. I spent my childhood flipping channels with my father after dinner, watching the best of the worst of film—made-for-TV movies aside, my favorite has to be The One (2001), a martial arts/sci-fi B-movie from 2001 starring Jet Li as some kind of sheriff, married to the hot mom from Spy Kids (remember her?), and being hunted by an identical doppelganger from an alternate universe. You can only imagine how great Jet Li-versus-Jet Li fight sequences are (in the mall! in a deserted factory! in a car!), but the ending is just as rewarding. Good Jet Li, his wife dead and his life on earth destroyed, is catapulted into a future universe where everyone drives Smart Cars and he re-meets the hot mom (reincarnated as a vet). Bad Jet Li ends in Hell, where he has to fight an infinity worth of demons that are obviously leftover extras from the Lord of the Rings franchise. Does that make sense? No? Come join my dad and me next time it’s on and we’ll explain.
The Rock almost takes this for me, with Nicholas Cage’s turn as a Beatles-loving scientist—this actually often comes up in my argument against Cage being the worst actor ever. But the movie that made me write in is The Last Boy Scout (1991). Wow. What a great bad movie. I can watch this whenever it comes on, much to my wife’s dismay. Starting with a murder mid-football game and ending with a would-be assassin dropping into a helicopter (again mid-football game), this movie has it all. It includes some great action clichés (“touch me again, and I’ll kill you”) and a key sequence that revolves around a gun hidden in a stuffed puppet in the middle of the woods. This is the definitive bad-action movie of my lifetime, and always a welcome option on a Sunday afternoon.
Since the very first time I saw my favorite worst movie, every monetary transaction involving exactly $2 has prompted me to either say out loud or chant in my brain, “I want my two dollars.” Thank you, Better Off Dead (1985). Despite this repetitive-song-in-my-head phenomenon, I maintain it’s one of the best comedies eva [sic]. I still rent it every couple of years and laugh convulsively at the green goop John Cusack’s mom makes. I revel when South Park plays homage to the ski scene. Stopped at traffic lights, I occasionally think about racing the people next to me—if only they had speakers on the roof. Better Off Dead’s lofty position in my mental shelving unit was challenged recently when I showed it to my then-fiancé. He used euphemisms, but essentially called it ‘80s borderline crap. I married him anyway. Truth is, he’s not exactly wrong. I’d probably feel similarly had I not first seen the movie in my formative years. No doubt nostalgia comes into play. But come on, the green goop is just funny.
I don’t know how to begin to describe the beauty and poignancy of Flash Gordon (1980). Obviously the fierce, hot hail storm in the opening scene is a metaphor for the destruction of civilization by Communism, but the film just grows in complexity from there. Dale’s (Melody Anderson) chilling statement during the climax: “Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!” rings true for every workaholic who finds his or her love life interrupted by their obligation to save the universe. (I cried myself to sleep the night I first saw it.) But I think the best thing about Flash Gordon is that it tells the story of every man. After all, who among us has not found themselves forced to fight an evil alien emperor with nothing but our football skills as a weapon?
The soundtrack by Queen is also epic.
I recently saw the much-beloved Love Story (1970) for the first time. Good lord, is that a terrible movie. It may have won all sorts of awards and been a generation-defining film, and I am well aware that Ali McGraw’s hair and eyeglasses are the exact styles that both my mother and I have donned in the past, but that is no excuse. My favorite scene is the one with the ludicrous “woo-woOooOOo” music, as seen below. There’s just nothing like frolicking in the snow to the dulcet sounds of a woman singing nonsensical, nonmelodious woo-notes. As for the most famous line in cinematic history (OK, one of them), I can’t apologize for disliking it. Because love means never having to say you’re sorry.
Hands down, Army of Darkness (1992). Bruce Campbell is brilliant. A distant second is The Cutting Edge—still bad/good, but nothing is as good/bad as Army of Darkness. I spent a large chunk of my childhood watching these movies. ARGH! I can’t believe I forgot House Party 3. It is awesome!
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983): Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald in a bastard of Road Warrior and Star Wars channeling Paper Moon. I love that every 20 minutes there’s an action sequence, whether it has anything to do with the plot or not. Strauss’s character is a stiff precursor to Firefly’s Mal Reynolds. Molly Ringwald’s character speaks in a watered down Ridley Walker patois that doesn’t work but is entertaining. I think they saved the world or the hostages, it didn’t matter. Optimistically, a clumsy opening for a sequel is tacked on at the end.
I liked my brother-in-law upon meeting him, but after my first visit to his home I learned that, of the few movies he owns, one is John Carpenter’s homage to kung fu flicks, Big Trouble in Little China (1986). We watched it together that night, loving every minute. The film is, admittedly, a mess of plot, character, and interminable (but highly entertaining!) phantasmagoria culled from Chinese folklore. The real draw, however, is the character Jack Burton, played pitch-perfect by Kurt Russell. He probably wasn’t the first antihero to carry a film, but few can compete. Movies of the Reagan years were full of impossible he-men, all of them brilliantly skilled and unbeatable. Boring. On the contrary, Jack Burton is a total jackass who idolizes himself in the third person, makes terrible decisions, and only manages to succeed through the sheerest of luck and the help of his far more adept associates. He mostly just makes a fool of himself, which for the zeitgeist was refreshing.
In fifth grade when my mother would pull into the parking lot, I’d climb in the car and bear the 15-minute ride home to the sound of the Dirty Dancing (1987) soundtrack, which never seemed to leave the tape deck. I hadn’t seen the film, so I didn’t know what a Swayze was, or how to dance. One night, the babysitter came by and, over a gallon of cookies and cream, forced me to watch the film in full. There are few moments in my life when I can recall first wanting to do something, but after the opening shake-shack watermelon scene in Dirty Dancing, I wanted those Swayze skills. And who can forget “She’s Like the Wind”—classic crossover, and probably my shameless karaoke go-to.
My office was polled and theses are the responses:
- Hackers (“They’re trashing our access to data!”)
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (of course)
- Point Break
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Gwendoline (1984) is an exotic mish-mash of art house titles, lavish sets, and good old-fashioned titillation that went by the rather less enigmatic title of The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak in the U.S. From the click-clacking drum machine on the sub-John Carpenter proto-electro soundtrack to a cast that includes Tawny Kitaen, Brent Huff, and Zabou, Gwendoline is a loving homage to the erotic artwork of John Willie (who published a volume called The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline). Mixing kung fu, an almost entirely unsynchronized soundtrack, and plenty of lightly trussed young women, there is a convoluted plot (this list of keywords pretty much sum it up) but it’s entirely dispensable. Along the way, Kitaen purrs, Huff grunts, and Zabou is an R-rated Louise Brooks. Paid for by the global take from soft-core classic Emmanuelle, director Just Jaeckin was the Uwe Boll of his day. Superb. But also utterly without worth.
My favorite worst movie is Alien vs. Predator (2004), commonly referred to as A.V.P. among hungover, middle-aged men trying to avoid mowing the lawn. Thank goodness it cycles repeatedly on macho cable channels all Saturday afternoon. A.V.P. incoherently merges two overplayed sci-fi/action movie series into a predictable plot that unfortunately doesn’t end in earth-encompassing conflagration, which would have been somewhat redeeming. A.V.P. isn’t just a bad movie—it’s the love-child of a string of inbred bad movies that are sometimes memorable but never credible. Publicly loving A.V.P. for what it is (bad, very bad) actually angers Alien and Predator fans that were expecting the bastard summation of the two lineages to produce some celluloid form of hybrid vigor. None of the stars, taglines, or plot points from the original bloodlines are referenced in A.V.P. except Lance Henriksen, whose character’s middle name is Bishop. Shockingly (to those that care), the movie that sets the bar for milking two franchises simultaneously fails to milk either. Once your intellect follows A.V.P. into the cold, underground pyramid of death and spends 101 minutes wrestling with poor dialogue and rubber costumes, you realize that no matter who wins, we lose. Game over, man. Game over.
Ravenous (1999) is an all-time favorite for my sister and me. There are many reasons: the idea of eating another person, the music in the film, the ego and sense of entitlement. Plus, Robert Carlyle is hot, in his demented, self-flagellating, vaguely homosexual way. There are other bad movies I cherish, but this one seems to be the perfect Halloween/Thanksgiving film to watch every year. My husband can’t watch it because of the gore, but my sister and I are always engrossed. Plus she wants to knit that sweater that Captain Boyd (Guy Pearce) wears.
When I was seven years old, Lord of the Rings (1978) was out at the cinema—no, not the CGI-laden orcfest from New Zealand that we know and love, but the awful animated version that came before. I was desperate to see it, having devoured the book. Despite being sick enough to have escaped school for a couple of days, I insisted that my mother take me to see it, and she gave in. Before the Hobbits had escaped the Shire, I had to run to the loo to vomit. My mum said: “Let’s go home,” and I said: “No! I want to see the end!” so we sneaked back in and I watched the rest, shivering and shaky-legged. And then when the end came, it wasn’t the end, and I was furious. “What a con,” I thought, as I returned to my sickbed.
“Drop that zero and get with the hero.” Some writer got paid to pen that line for Vanilla Ice. Somebody funded the creation of Cool as Ice (1991). Actors were hired, lights set up, meals catered. This is no cracker-jack production. If the central thesis of the Great Bad Movie theory is a terrible idea executed to the height of ridiculousness, then C.A.I. is one of the central texts. Vanilla Ice, captured at the height of his career, plays Johnny, a street-wise thug with a heart of gold and a taste for rice rocket motorcycles. Despite the protection of an incredible jacket, an unfortunate bike breakdown has our hero and his multiracial band members stuck in a small town where they do not belong. Fish-out-of-water hijinks ensue as the Iceman pursues the pure and innocent horse girl and proves himself in the eyes of her old-fashioned father. In an era of internet abundance and the death of media scarcity, it really says something that Cool as Ice has never been given a DVD release. It’s that friggin’ awesome.
I’ve always had a strange affinity for Sister Act II: Back in the Habit (1993). I stumbled upon it in my earnest grade school youth when I ran out of other VHS tapes to watch and knew I wouldn’t be allowed to watch Bull Durham or Pretty Woman (the only other movies my parents owned at the time). I was initially attracted to it because of the songs, most of which were from/inspired by the Motown era. When you’re nine, everything you watch is a magnum opus, high school is cool, and Whoopi Goldberg is funny. I never watched the movie because it was good; I watched it because I got chills every time I heard that diffident young singer hit a high note—when the music class was performing for the school, and everyone realized, damn, that boy can sing!
Liquid Sky (1982): New York City. Lower East Side; Village; Chelsea. New Wave. Fashion scene. Heroin. Bisexuals. Eight-bit synthesizers. Lead actress plays herself—and her nemesis. Cavern Club; Danceteria. Performance art: “Me and My Rhythm Box.” Alien spacecraft. Shaped like a pie plate. It is a pie plate. Killing junkies. Killing lovers. German scientist in hot pursuit. Heat-aura photography. Sample dialogue: “You are an ugly chicken!” More sample dialogue: “I was taught that to be an actress, one should be fashionable, and to be fashionable is to be androgynous. And I am androgynous not less than David Bowie himself. And they call me beautiful, and I kill with my cunt. Isn’t it fashionable?” Final face-off. Heroin(e) disappears. German scientist heads home. Made by Russians. The film that launched 1,000 electroclash bands. Worst movie ever. I love it.
In Carbon Copy (1981), when a white executive (George Segal) finds out he has a black son (Denzel Washington) from a previous relationship, he loses his car, his career, his house, and his wife. By today’s standards, this comedy is horribly, unwatchably racist—then again, paying too much attention to today’s standards will muddle the movie’s true premise, which is that all rich white people are bigots, and for all the rich white people in the audience: There’s still time to save yourself. When he’s finally ready to give the finger to his upper-crust, former friends, Segal rediscovers his hippie roots (I seem to recall a line about “free love”), as well as his ukulele.