The 8 Ball 04.23.13: The Top 8 Worst Blockbusters
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.23.2013
From Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Star Wars: Episode I to The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Alvin and the Chipmunks and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas concludes his look at the top 16 worst blockbusters of all time with #8 - 1!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Worst Blockbusters
Last week we kicked off our list of the top sixteen worst blockbusters of all time, which is leading into the best blockbusters starting next week. But before we get there, we have to look at the "top" eight. There were a ton of comments last week, and several people noted that there were movies that they would possibly list but they haven't seen them as they knew the movies would suck. Fear not: I will watch pretty much everything, because I don't feel it is fair to criticize a movie unless I have seen it for myself. It's fair to say I've seen all of the movies in what is considered the "Blockbuster" category in terms of this list and in some cases my sanity has paid the price, as you will see below.
Caveat: Same rules as last week; for the purposes of this list, we are defining "blockbuster" as any film that made at least $200 million domestically at the box office, not accounting for inflation. For your reference, there are 129 films which meet that criteria and you can check them out here.
Just Missing The Cut
War of the Worlds (2005) Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (2012) Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) Twister (1996) The Hangover Part II (2011)
The First Eight
16: Mission: Impossible II (2000)
15: Hancock (2008)
14: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
13: Spider-Man 3 (2007)
12: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
11: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
10: Shrek Forever After (2010)
9: Armageddon (1998)
#8: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
That Jim Carrey's live-action turn as the Grinch comes in at #8 may surprise some people, as the film does have a better reputation than many of the other movies on this list. For my money however, the whole experience is pretty much excruciating. People talk about how there are certain things that just don't need to be remade, and while I generally disagree with that sentiment I believe that How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of those rare exceptions. The 1966 animated TV special is something truly special, as is the Dr. Seuss story that it was based on. More to the point, there just isn't enough to make a feature-length film out of. Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures thought they could do it though and they lined up an impressive roster of talent, with the great Ron Howard directing and Jim Carrey playing the titular character. But the project also had a lot going against it in that there is a mighty reputation to live up to with between the book and the TV special, as well as that shortness of the story. To resolve the latter problem, writing team Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman developed the Grinch's backstory and it...just doesn't work. The romantic triangle subplot between the Grinch, the mayor and Cindy is badly-executed and seems exceedingly unnecessary. Carrey is all right in the lead role and certain other actors are fine, but most of it is empty posturing and the Whos are largely annoying in the extreme, which makes it difficult to sympathize with them. Let me be clear: you are thoroughly allowed to like this film (or any other film), but I just can't go along with it. The only nice thing I can say about Grinch is that at least it isn't as bad as Mike Myers' Cat in the Hat.
#7: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)
You can stop looking surprised now. Hating or liking Star Wars: Episode I has brought about long and involved arguments from all quarters, and I could easily write pages about how and why one might dislike it, what the defenders say, why I disagree with those defenders and so on. I don't have pages, so I will try to summarize. Listen, when the Star Wars prequels were announced in the early-mid 1990s I was as excited as any geek. How could you not? And that level of excitement--the as-yet-unmatched amount of hype that the Star Wars prequels got leading up to their release--is often cited as a reason why the backlash was so strong. I admit that is possible, but it doesn't take away from the problems in the film. People cite Jar-Jar Binks as the antichrist of this series, and to be honest I believe that this is unfair to the character. Jar-Jar is a very problematic character, but shoving all the blame off on him is kind of ridiculous; he's just one bad cog in the whole ruined wheel. The story somehow manages to be both overly simplistic and unnecessarily complicated, as Lucas veers between banal dialogue about illegal economic embargos and ham-fisted plot developments designed to make Anakin Skywalker the ultimate "Mary Sue" character in popular fiction. For those unfamiliar with the Mary Sue concept, it is a term of literary criticism regarding self-inserted characters who boil down to little more than wish fulfillment; they are badly-developed characters who are made so perfect and overpowered (yet with overly broad flaws) as to be completely unrealistic.
In fact, for my money Anakin is the true core problem in the film; Lucas is so focused on making him a tragic character that he goes too far in trying to set him up as the crucial character. One of the most infuriating parts of the film for me is in counting the sheer amount of deus ex machinas employed during the climactic battle in order to make Anakin the savior of Naboo. Everything just happens to come about via Anakin's bumbling in order to let him cripple the entire Trade Federation army. In the hands of a better child actor this may not have seemed like such a problem, but I certainly don't blame nine-year-old Jake Lloyd for being unable to rise to that occasion because it would have been difficult for anyone to pull off. Meanwhile you have incredibly wooden acting from the vast majority of the cast. The action is all done in a bright, shiny fashion that just doesn't live up to the stakes and the Trade Federation droids are the equivalent of robotic Three Stooges. Defenders often point to Lucas' assertion that the Star Wars films were always supposed to be kids' films all the way back to A New Hope, but I defy anyone to point out other kids' films that show the graphically-charred skeletons of the lead characters' parental figures the way that Luke's aunt and uncle are in Episode IV. I could go on and discuss the undeniably racist stereotypes of the Gungans and the Neimoidians, the blatantly stupid decisions made by many of the supposedly-savvy characters ("Sure, new Jedi Knight Obi-Wan, we'll let you train the unusually old padawan who we fear may be open to the Dark Side"), the skeeviness of a fifteen year-old flirting with a nine year-old (not to mention the lack of chemistry) and more, but the bottom line is this: by any critical definition, The Phantom Menace is just a bad film.
#6: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (2012)
One might think that I hate Dr. Seuss by the presence of two adaptations of his films in my bottom eight here, but the truth couldn't be any further. I adore the Dr. Seuss books; it is Hollywood that seems to have a disdain for his works by the poor efforts they've put into adapting most of his stories. The Lorax, written in 1971, is an inspired story that effectively introduces the thorny topic of environmental impact to young readers in a positive way and it has been named to several lists in terms of being one of the greatest children's books of all time. When Illumination Entertainment got their hands on the rights--with, as in The Grinch and Cat in the Hat, Universal involved--they decided that it needed to be a big, shiny and dumbed-down 3D spectacle awash with irritating songs and even more irritating interpretations of Seuss' original characters. Much like Grinch, the story is just too short to actually work on its own as a feature-length film so Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul introduce new characters who are largely pointless and distract from the morals of the story. In order to compensate, that moral is made bigger and hammered home with all the subtlety of an atomic bomb, robbing it of its impact. The voice work by Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito and the rest ranges from terrible to simply subpar and all the big, bright shininess fails to distract from the fact that the simplicity of Seuss' story is being suffocated. In fact, the film is downright dismissive of Seuss; take the moment where Swift's Audrey and Efron's Ted proclaim that the Seuss-written description of the truffula trees is meaningless. The whole experience is offensive and while young kids may be distracted for an hour and a half, it is excruciating for anyone who loved the original story or even wants a solid animated effort. As a depressing postscript, Illumination also has the rights for and are developing animated versions of The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Great.
#5: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Is it unfair to pick on the Twilight franchise? No, not at all. Summit Entertainment's film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's best-selling young adult series is one of the cultural phenomenons of the twenty-first century for better or worse, and that requires that we consider it as a film series. When the first film in the franchise hit in 2008 it turned Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson into household names and helped make Summit a contender among independent studios. While that film was flawed at best, it was mostly inoffensive in its badness. The follow-up film, New Moon, was the moment when the film series plunged into downright awfulness. The script is incredibly unfocused and overly long and, like Meyer's novel, focuses on the most unappealing aspect of the series in the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle. Supernatural love triangles have been done before, and they have been done well. Instead of going that route, Rosenberg's take on Meyer's source material (and to be fair, I have never read the books nor have any desire to) seems dedicated toward making Bella as unsympathetic as possible as she acts like a petulant child most of the time, sent into a destructive spiral by the fact that Edward leaves and only being revived by her association with Jacob. Of course, we know how that will turn out.
Stewart, Pattinson and Taylor Lautner are hamstrung by the poor characterizations but are lackluster themselves, while the special effects are laughably bad, especially those of the transformed werewolves. There are some interesting moments--Victoria's subplot, the pack dynamic of the werewolves, the other Cullens--but they comprise about twenty minutes of a two hour and twenty minute film. Stupid characters, bad direction, a poor script and half-hearted acting...that is the four-corner foundation of a terrible film, and this hits all of those marks with ease.
#4: Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
One of the first films I ever reviewed on 411mania was the DVD release of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and in some ways I've never recovered. There is one good thing that I can say for Tim Hill's live action/CGI hybrid take on Ross Bagdasarian's musical rodents, and that is the fact that the depictions of Alvin, Simon and Theodore are fairly faithful to the source. Unfortunately, nothing else is worthwhile. Obviously this is a family film and people tend to give movies a pass by claiming that they're for children. In the age of Pixar, that doesn't hold weight anymore; it has been shown that films can easily appeal to both adults and kids. Hill loses sight of the fact that this film could have been more than annoyingly cute and just lets things coast by in a sanitized, synthesized manner. I can find humor in a fart joke, but scat humor? I don't see a defense there. Jason Lee completely phones in his work as David Seville, David Cross' villain character is too much of by-the-numbers "evil music producer" character for him to save and no one else even registers as more than a blip on the radar. Alvin and the Chipmunk's biggest crime is not that it's annoying, but that it's so banal and paint-by-numbers that I can't find much if anything to enjoy.
#3: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
A few people commented last week that I should have had Transformers: Dark of the Moon lower than #12, arguing that the Transformers franchise is a blight on movie-making. The third film is bad, to be sure, but it doesn't even begin to approach the level of awfulness that Revenge of the Fallen hit. The first film was a divisive affair, but for my part it was largely enjoyable if not great; despite reservations by many, Michael Bay did a decent job of directing a story that was largely faithful to the characters many children of the '80s had come to know and love. Once that film became a rousing success however, Paramount just seemed to throw money at Bay and say "It's all yours." The end result was a film that was more focused on humping jokes and other bizarre, crass humor than actual storyline. Bay throws far too much humor in the film as if he's trying to overcompensate for the flagrant plot holes that riddle this sagging, overstuffed movie. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have said they were rushed by Paramount to get the script in before the writer's strike hit, and perhaps that is why there are so many logic gaps, underwritten characters and an ADHD attitude to the storyline. The goofiness hits its peak when Shia LaBeouf's Sam enters robot heaven. Let me repeat that: the human lead character is killed and goes to robot heaven before being brought back to life. There are more things wrong from either a narrative or suspension-of-disbelief standpoint with that sentence than there are words in said sentence.
But let's not let Michael Bay off the hook by blaming it all on the script. This monstrosity of a movie is Bay's most poorly-directed film to date. The pacing is ridiculously bad; sometimes it leaps ahead with jarring speed and yet the final act is interminably long and drawn out. Most of the action sequences are dull and poorly-edited while Bay draws the worst performance out possible out of each member of the cast. Megan Fox was passable in the first film, but she's horrendous here. The fall of Shia LaBeouf as a potentially-respected actor can be traced back to its origin at this project. Bay actually re-arranges the locations of well-known historical landmarks in Egypt and Jordan for no other reason than he can. Yes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is bad. But Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is almost transcendentally terrible.
#2: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)
Yep, we're back to Alvin again. There was a point where I actually considered Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel marginally better than the first film. However, when I mentioned how much I disliked the movie to a friend, they suggested I give it another chance. I did, and changed my mind: it's actually quite a bit worse than the first film. The Squeakquel took everything that was wrong with the first film and largely rehashes it, but with the Chipettes this time. Betty Thomas was at the helm this time around and she adds nothing to what Tim Hill did, instead staying firmly within the lines and even failing to match those low standards. Jason Lee's David is out of the picture for most of the film and David Cross is pretty much forced to say the same lines over again, only speaking to the lady chipmunks; Zachary Levi is given an insultingly stupid role as Toby. The film again fails to find the balance between appealing to adults and kids; there is a perfunctory effort by throwing in references to R-rated fare like Taxi Driver and Silence of the Lambs but these don't really work and they're not funny. The Squeakquel is basically an overcrowded version of first movie with even less heart and humor. That's quite a feat.
#1: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011)
I don't think many people will be surprised by the fact that a Twilight film "tops" this list. More people would perhaps be surprised that I even bothered to see it, but as I said, I don't feel it is fair to criticize a movie unless I have seen it for myself. Well, I've seen this and it gets both barrels. The funny thing is that I actually didn't hate its immediate predecessor in the series, Eclipse. David Slade did what he could to make that film exciting during the combat scenes and the story of Victoria and her plans of vengeance were enough of the focus that it divert the film from the ever-irritating love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Unfortunately both Slade and the Victoria storyline were gone for Breaking Dawn Part 1, with Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) taking the reins and the love story taking center, left, right and backstage. I wasn't looking forward to Breaking Dawn but I was intrigued by it; having looked up the plot online, I was amazed that such a story was marketed toward tweens and I wanted to see how they were going to pull off a movie that tackles the bizarre topics that the book does without alienating the young audience.
The answer was, they did it incredibly poorly. I know that the cast and crew were not intending to send this message, but let me put it this way: there's this movie where a young woman marries a man much older than her who all of her friends and family distrust or hate, heads off to their honeymoon and has sex with him that leaves physical damage and in order to stay with him, has to cut off all contact from the rest of her family. She swears that the way he bruises her during sex isn't his fault; he just can't control himself. And she ends up pregnant--a pregnancy that most everyone who she used to be friends with is kept in the dark about--and those that do want her to get an abortion. But she doesn't and ten minutes after she has the child, which almost kills her because of her weakened physical state, one of her ex-boyfriends decides that the baby is his soul mate. Would you consider that a romantic drama appropriate to young teenagers? Because apparently Stephanie Meyer does. There is no other way to say it (and this year's The Host seems to support it): Meyer's books are misogynistic. They may not be purposefully so, but there is a strong undercurrent of themes that seem incredibly inappropriate given the target audience. Add in the fact that you have some of the worst moments of acting from the whole series from Stewart and Pattison, one of the most unintentionally hilarious birth sequences ever, glaring inconsistencies, haphazard pacing, poor special effects regarding Bella's degeneration...you know what, I could go on, but we have a word limit. Suffice it to say that Breaking Dawn Part 1 is easily the worst of the Twilight films (quite an accomplishment) as well as--far and away--the worst blockbuster of all-time.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Eleven (1974) Episodes Watched: 605 Last Serial Completed:Invasion of the Dinosaurs - The Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive in 1970s London to find it has been evacuated because dinosaurs have appeared mysteriously and are rampaging through the streets. While the Doctor teams up with UNIT to determine the origins of the prehistoric creatures, Sarah Jane investigates on her own. But can either of them prevent a plot to revert London to a pre-technological level? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 24
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.