Sunday, 31 January 2010

The "Worst Movies Ever"?

It's official! A new poll has found to be true what we'd hitherto only suspected: Joel Schumacher's 'Batman & Robin' is the worst film of all time. That is, at least, according to the readership of the UK's Empire Magazine, the votes of whom have formed the basis for a "50 Worst Movies Ever" poll on the magazine's website. Aside from the winner, the list includes the likes of 'Transformers 2', 'Year One' and 'The Pink Panther 2' from the year just gone, aswell as high entries for the 1980 film 'Raise the Titanic' and 'Highlander 2'. Ok, now I know that such reader polls are to be taken with a pinch of salt. But I'm not going to diminish this list, but instead I think it is worth our consideration for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if anything this list is more interesting as an indication of what is currently very unpopular rather than what is really historically the "worst movie ever" as the title claims. Most bad films are, of course, seen by very few people (Michael Bay's output seemingly acting as the exception to the rule) and hence a really bad film will only appear on the list if it has achieved a certain notoriety as "so-bad-its-funny", a type of film ably represented on this list by such camp favourites as 'The Room' (must-see trailer below!), 'The Avengers', 'Battlefield Earth' and 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'. Generally, though, the films on this list are of a certain technical standard, with reasonable levels of acting and direction (though sadly not in the winner's case). Therefore the list is really "which big studio movies didn't people like?"

Secondly, the list provides an insight into the watching habits of readers of the magazine and gives a decent impression of the publications target demographic. Aside from the aforementioned "Plan 9", there aren't any films on the list which pre-date the 1980's (that's right: the first eighty years of cinema were near faultless). It's really gone downhill since the eighties though: a whopping thirty-seven of the fifty films listed (that’s 74%) were made in the last decade! However, this is an understandable lack of perspective in the list, given that Empire’s readership are probably reasonably young and have seen more films from this period than any other (or at least remember them more vividly). We can see this "last thing you saw" syndrome in full affect in earlier lists too. Michael Medved's reasonably famous book "The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way)", published in 1978, features numerous films from the 1970's, including films like 'The Omen', 'Exorcist 2' and the innocuous disaster sequel 'Airport 1975'. Doubtless a similar poll conducted ten years ago would have included ‘Waterworld’, a film absent in this new list and seemingly forgotten (or reclaimed) now. Of course, these lists need to have well-known, contemporary films on them if they are to appeal to a wide audience, so in that respect they are brilliant for their publishers. A reader who finds some obscure, straight-to-video horror film or a forgotten silent movie in the list is likely to feel alienated and may stop reading altogether.

Thirdly, it is perhaps most interesting to consider the oldest films on the list as being there on merit, as enduring examples of bad film. George Lucas's ill-fated 1986 adventure film 'Howard the Duck' features, as does 'Superman IV', 'Jaws: The Revenge' (the one starring Michael Caine) and the disastrous 'Heaven's Gate'. The 1990's throw 'Showgirls' and 'Street Fighter' (one of four video game adaptations on the list) into the mix. These films seem to have earned their place on this list. There also seems to be a number of people who have used this list to express an agitation with the diminishing returns offered by many sequels, a sort of protest vote: 'Spiderman 3', 'Matrix Revolutions' and 'Blade Trinity' are all examples of instances where a once-popular franchise has run out of goodwill from the cinema-going public the third time around.

Finally, if the films on this list are representative of which sort of bad films people have paid to see, and not simply the definitive "worst ever", then it paints a depressing picture for UK cinema. Only two UK films make the list ('Swept Away' and 'Sex Lives of the Potato Men'), whilst the remaining forty-eight are American imports. You could see this as evidence that American films are inferior to those imported from elsewhere, or to those made on these shores, but in reality this seems to confirm the dominance that Hollywood enjoys at the UK box office. Yes, it seems funny to decry UK film and wider world cinema not making more of an impression on this list, but it would have been encouraging to find that people had been drawing from a deeper, more-varied pool of movies.

All in all, an interesting list, whatever you think of the choices.
To read the full list for yourself visit Empire's website here, and then kindly return and share your thoughts on the results on this blog!


  1. Nice breakdown of the list with interesting insights. I pretty much agreed with everything you said. :P

  2. I like Michael Bay movies!...(except for Transformers 2...not even fit girl leaning over bike saved that one!)...(i never saw Pearl Habour..but without it Trey Parker wouldnt have written that awesome tune for Team blessing in disguise really!)

    yeah..interesting things Rob..guess these list are just a little portrait of current trends (or whatever the negative of a trend is) and an excuse for Empire to fill a few pages....

  3. As Orson Welles said: "It's Al True"