While it’s true that I’ve never seen neither Ishtar, supposedly the worst movie to ever star A-list Hollywood actors, nor Plan Nine from Outer Space, I have, unfortunately, seen plenty of really awful flicks that are so bad they don’t even qualify as guilty pleasures.
Certainly, no studio, producer, director, screenwriter or cast and crew – with the exception of jokesters who consciously do so as a joke – ever sets out to make a horribly bad movie; sometimes an idea that looked good in the brainstorming sessions or during the production process simply fails to work out well once it’s in theaters (Stuart Baird’s Star Trek: Nemesis comes to mind). Sometimes, a filmmaker’s ego gets in the way and clouds his or her objectivity and lets him/her ignore a movie’s flaws. Sometimes, everyone involved is a newbie and it’s their first movie project. And, human nature being what it is, sometimes studio heads green-light projects that benefit either themselves or people close to them, but have no intrinsic artistic value whatsoever.
In any case, we’ve all seen our fair share of really awful movies, most of them on TV or home video, but sometimes we go to a theater expecting to see a good film and end up either walking out before the halfway point or falling into a nearly comatose state of boredom and restlessness.
Here, then, is my list of the worst films I’ve ever seen, in no particular order:
The Good Shepherd: This 2006 “history of the CIA” movie was directed by none other than Robert De Niro and co-stars Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Lee Pace and De Niro himself), so on the surface it looks like it’s going to be a suspenseful and thrilling spy flick.
Unfortunately, Eric Roth’s screenplay – which covers a 20-year period that shows how the Office of Strategic Services evolved from being a small, Ivy League-dominated espionage outfit to becoming the Central Intelligence Agency – is noteworthy not because it is riveting or action-packed but because it’s dull and sleep-inducing.
Bolero: I rarely ever walk out of a theater even when I realize a movie is not going to be a good watching experience, but I did so when I went to see director John Derek’s 1984 Bolero – An Adventure in Ecstasy, which is supposed to be an erotic masterpiece starring his wife Bo – is more of an Exercise in Crassness. It’s boring, ridiculous (it asks viewers to believe that Bo, then in her 30s, is a virginal 20-something who seeks a super stud to lose her virginity to) and surprisingly not very erotic, considering that it has lots of nudity.
Is Paris Burning?: In the wake of the success of 1962’s The Longest Day, filmmakers from all over the planet, or at least countries which had fought in World War II, got on the “recreation of big battles of the war starring an all-star cast” bandwagon.
Though some, such as 1977’s A Bridge Too Far and 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! Are watchable enough without being awesome, 1966’s Is Paris Burning? – which is about the liberation of Paris in August of 1944 – is a bloated, slow-paced and confusing mess with a multi-national cast which includes a miscast Kirk Douglas as George S. Patton, Jr.
Midway: Jack Smight’s take on the June 1942 carrier battle that ended Japan’s six-month-long chain of victories in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor isn’t as bad as Bolero, but it is not a good World War II epic, either. Like 1969’s The Battle of Britain, it shoehorns several fictional characters’ soap opera-like subplots into its historical treatment of Admiral Yamamoto’s plan to destroy the rest of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the American Navy’s efforts to outfox the Japanese and pull off a surprise of its owen.
The Other Side of Midnight: Sure, Sidney Sheldon novels were never intended to be anything more than frothy, entertaining summer reads, and the guy certainly knew how to tell a story, but it seems to me that they’re best when they’re adapted for TV rather than the theater.
A case in point is 1977’s The Other Side of Midnight, adapted by two otherwise good screenwriters (Herman Raucher and Daniel Taradash) and directed by Charles Jarrott. Starring Susan Sarandon, John Beck and Marie-France Pisier, it condenses Sheldon’s sudsy story of a bizarre triangle formed by the nice Catherine (Sarandon), philandering Larry (Beck) and manipulative survivor (Pisier) which leads to hate, betrayal and murder.
Because the novel had been a bestseller when it was published in 1973, its studio, 20th Century Fox, expected The Other Side of Midnight to be its big summer blockbuster for 1977. But in an ironic twist, it was Fox’s seemingly unwanted ‘space movie” Star Wars – which the studio insisted had to be screened if theater owners wanted to exhibit The Other Side of Midnight – which raked in a Death Star-sized box-office haul.
Jaws 4: The Revenge: Granted, none of Universal Pictures’ three sequels to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 monster hit Jaws is ever going to be a classic, but of the terrible trio, 1987’s Jaws 4: The Revenge is the worst of the lot.
Not only was it green-lit by studio head Sid Sheinberg, who is married to Lorraine Gary, the film’s leading female cast member and the only actor from Spielberg’s Jaws who signed on to this piece of dross, but it has the dumbest premise of the “series” – a white shark is stalking the surviving members of Chief Martin Brody to avenge the deaths of other white sharks killed by the Brody Bunch in the other Jaws flicks.