I was watching Sucker Punch again recently (I’m unsure why. It’s a detestable piece of shit), and I couldn’t help but wonder: how could anyone in their right mind sit back and consider this a good movie? I’m not talking about the audience as there’s a market out there for pretty much every movie (remember, there will be those who dug AvP: Requiem, although those people should probably get a lobotomy), I’m referring to the film-makers. Considering the amount of people involved in making a movie, especially one as frantic and effects-heavy as Sucker Punch, was there not a moment where someone sat down and thought “hang on a second, why are we making this pile of garbage?”

This, in turn, got me thinking about bad movies as a whole. Roughly, there are 500 new movies released in a year, and there is an excellent chance that a good portion of them will be crap. But this number of new releases does not include the many hundreds of movies that are relegated to the straight to DVD bargain bin of your local Blockbuster. If you are to honestly and categorically declare that a movie is without any merit then, by default, this means that you must include these straight to DVD monstrosities along with the crap that is released in the cinema. Why is it then that the movies that are often featured in worst-of-the-year/worst-movies-ever-made lists rarely, if ever, include the likes of Camp Hell or Shark Attack 3?

The most obvious answer to this is that, generally, films in straight to DVD status are terrible, hence their not being given a cinematic release. This may be a sweeping generalisation but, be honest, who would pay to see a movie called The Nostril Picker at the cinema (this film does exist, trust me, I’ve seen it)? They are expected to be crap and are generally non-prolific so, for the most part, they go ignored (unless you’re Kim Newman, who has a regular article titled “Video Dungeon” in Empire magazine) and, as such, they don’t count.

So, discounting the straight to DVD dross, how does one define a bad movie? For my money, those that are considered the worst movies of the year or of all time tend to fit one, or all, of the following criteria:

It is backed by a major studio

The above tends to include those that are given a large budget but this is not an exclusive rule. Whilst there are the likes of, say, The Adventures of Pluto Nash (backed by Warner. Bros, cost a fortune, financial failure) there are also the likes of Troll 2 which, while not financed by a studio through production, was eventually bought by MGM, who distributed the film both in the cinema and on DVD.

Studio-backed stinkers tend to be the most prolific yet, more often than not, still make money (look at Pearl Harbour and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). There are obviously the odd exceptions: this year alone saw John Carter and Battleship struggle to make their money back and Heaven’s Gate singlehandedly and notoriously bankrupted United Artists. They are also the films that, when they fail, alá Heaven’s Gate, often end the careers of all involved. If they make money though, you’re generally safe, which is why Michael Bay still has a job.

It features name actors

Along with being backed my a major studio, the most well known of the worst movie troupe frequently star big names. This is not always the case (see The Room, Troll 2 and Plan 9 From Outer Space) but is more often the rule rather than the exception. For example, in the most recent poll of Worst Movies Ever in Empire (voted by the readers) Battlefield Earth came second and Batman and Robin came first.

These two movies, especially the latter, are synonymous with boasting big names, names that would rather forget these films existed. Batman and Robin had Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Clooney, Battlefield Earth had John Travolta and Forest Whitaker, both films are forever relegated to the bottom of the shit heap, their headline actors doing little to elevate their respective projects above terrible.

A movie’s reputation is rarely exclusively the fault of the actors involved however, yet when a star is big enough, ideally you’d expect them to be somewhat intelligent with their choices (remember, Clooney went on to make Michael Clayton and The Ides of March). In the case of Battlefield Earth, it was a vanity project for Travolta, who was adamant about getting L. Ron Hubbard’s most prolific novel to the big screen (Travolta being a member of Scientology since the 80’s). Needless to say, it failed. Miserably.

See: Ishtar, Cutthroat Island, Town and Country, Norbit.

Battlefield Earth Choked

It has had a cinematic release

Usually. in order to garner a spot on any “Worst Movie” list, the accused will have had to have spent time at the cinema. Whether an independent release (The Room) or a mega-blockbuster (Pearl Harbour), a cinematic release adds that extra something that the worst of the straight to DVD bunch are missing. Any schmuck with a video camera can make a movie now, yet to be in the cinema boasts the additional push and financial backing the schmucks don’t have. Even something as fundamentally terrible as The Room had a budget in the vicinity of a million dollars (which, oddly, it has since recouped).

It is also a cinema release that will cause your film to be more prolific, simply because there’s a greater risk of it being seen by a wider audience. This word of mouth often kills a film before it’s had a chance to be seen, hence why the likes of this year’s Battleship, itself not the worst movie ever made (it’s still pretty bad, though), had its preview screening only the day before general release, which tells you one of two things: either they didn’t finish the film until the very last minute or the studio had little faith in the end product. Even such a late preview date couldn’t stop bad word of mouth, resulting in Battleship barely earning back its budget.

It is made by an incompetent director

Regardless of whether you are Steven Spielberg or Zack Snyder, nearly every film-maker has failure under their belt, a film that panders to the director’s worst sensibilities and, by all accounts, is an unmitigated disaster (see: 1941, Sucker Punch, The Lovely Bones, Bonfire of the Vanities). Yet whilst there is a pedigree with many a director that allows you to forgive the odd blip (despite having made some dross, the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, more often than not, consistently demonstrate their A-game), there are the odd guys who, not matter how hard they try, fail to understand the medium of cinema at its most basic level.

To use two key examples, look no further than directors Ed Wood and Uwe Boll, men whose names go hand in hand with the term “bad movie”. Both have made infamous products that defy all logic (Wood made Plan 9 From Outer Space, Boll made Alone in the Dark) and their films nearly always feature terrible dialogue, bad acting, narrative incoherence and inconsistencies and incomprehensible editing.

The key thing here, however, is that they genuinely don’t understand the negative press. Uwe Boll literally fought back, taking sufficient enough offense at the bad reviews to challenge a number of critics to a series of boxing matches (humorously dubbed “Raging Boll”), whilst Ed Wood famously said of Plan 9, without a hint of irony, that “this will be the film they remember me for”. Needless to say, it was for all the wrong reasons.

It has attainted cult status

This is arguably the most important factor of all. Most bad movies have attained such a level of noteriety that they have developed their own cult status and fan recognition. Said fans seldom have any respect for the film’s artistic merits, rather they revel in the tragedy that the worst of the worst of cinema has to offer, so much so, in fact, that 2010 saw the release of Best Worst Movie, a documentary taking a retrospective look at Troll 2 and the fandom it’s created. The Room is still shown at the same cinema it premiered in, where fans hurl plastic spoons at the screen and re-enact their favourite moments whilst the film plays.

Ultimately, there’s a sense of camaraderie whilst viewing a terrible film with your friends. I fondly remember, during my uni days, getting thoroughly legless whilst watching House of the Dead (another Uwe Boll travesty) and loving every risible moment, every poor filmic choice, every scene/line/performance that defied every bit of logic. Only the worst movies can garner such a positive reaction from something so bad.

So there you have it, the guidelines, as this humble writer sees them, to warrant a film to feature on your “worst movies” list. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Is there any further criteria you think should have been included but wasn’t? Comment below and let us know.

(My money on the worst movie ever made? It’s a tie between Battlefield Earth and Alien vs. Predator Requiem).

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  1. Excellent article…and you make a good point about what makes a bad movie. Yet, it does come down to personal opinion because even though I pretty much agree about the films listed (Batman and Robin, Battlefield Earth etc), I love Sucker Punch especially its visuals and soundtrack. Alien Vs Predator Requiem as well does have its moments but I think fails because it becomes very tasteless and the PredAlien is an abomination. If you watch Alien Resurrection as part of the Alien series…it is awful, yet, if you watch it away from the series it isn't as bad. And also, bad films lead to great films…if it wasn't for Batman and Robin, we may have had Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. If it wasn't for Plan 9 From Outer Space, we wouldn't have had Tim Burton's Ed Wood. There will always be a market for bad films, like you said watching one with a bunch of mates can be an absolute joy, but I do wonder sometimes, how some can be so bad considering the amount of people involved and the talent directing/acting out the story.