Watching a good movie can help you understand character development, appreciate filmmaking methods, delve into sophisticated mise-en-scène. Watching a great movie can change your perception, your ideas, your entire life. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a bad movie every once in awhile.
With their insane concepts, campy aesthetics, nonsensical plotlines, and straightforward badness, bad movies are mainstream cinema’s bastard children. A malady in film’s glorious history, destined to be memorialized as its lowest point, its worst accomplishment, its rock bottom. For all their poor craftsmanship however, there are many godawful movies that are warmly celebrated, not only by weird-loving cinephiles and omnivorous film buffs, but casual viewers as well.
Sometimes due to nostalgia, sometimes as a result of belated cult following, sometimes just as guilty pleasures, these filmmaking messes earned their rightful place in our easy-going, pizza-devouring movie nights.
Without further ado, here are 15 Bad Movies We Absolutely Love.
It’s one of those ideas that you come up with at 3 AM, wasted in a bar with friends: “Sharknado, dude! It’s, like, a tornado, but with sharks in it!” Every once in awhile, however, we’re lucky enough to see some of those epically outrageous ideas come to life.
Developed by Syfy channel and directed by low-budget horror/comedy specialist Anthony C. Ferrante, Sharknado became an unexpected Twitter sensation that spread across the accounts of enthusiastic buffs and plugged-in celebrities. It went through repeated TV broadcasts and midnight screenings and gained a huge cult following. Those who like their b-movies mindless, bloodsoaked, and fun will find shelter in its silly plotted, cheaply visualized and godawfully performed glory!
Sharknado’s popularity led to a successful franchise, consisted of hilariously titled sequels and spin-offs (Sharknado 2: The Second One, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, Sharknado: The 4th Awakens, Sharknado: Heart of Sharkness), books, comics, video games, even a neat Funko POP Vinyl Figure.
John Boorman’s disturbing thriller Deliverance finished in fifth place in 1972’s box-office race and is widely considered as one of the best films of the ’70s. His next project was supposed to be a feature adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but when the studio pulled the plug on that one, frightened of a possible budget overrun, he came up with his own idea for a fantasy world. Thus, Zardoz was born. But Lord of the Rings, Zardoz is not.
The film is set in a dystopic 2293, where humanity is divided into the Brutals; the mortal commoners spread across a barren Earth, and the Eternals; the immortal race living in a luxurious villa complex in an upper plane. When a Brutal, trained to kill his own kind, sneaks into the land of the Eternals via a flying talking stone head (Zardoz), he will find out that they are… kinda bored. The rest is hard to describe and even harder to follow.
Zardoz is an nonsensical delight that only the stoned ’70s would be capable of giving birth to, and it remains a living mystery how a running film studio had actually funded it. It has managed to carve into our collective pop-culture subconscious with its kitschy absurdity, its laughable dialogues, and its emblematic image of a hairy Sean Connery wandering around in those red panties, with a full Frank Zappa moustache and ponytail going on.
13. THE WICKER MAN
Nicolas Cage is one of the few actors to achieve both critical praise, as one of the greatest of his generation, and a cult following, as a consistent participant in astonishingly bad movies. From Vampire’s Kiss to Ghost Rider, he’s portrayed several horrible characters (with even more horrible haircuts), but if one really stands out is Edward Malus in the 2006 The Wicker Man.
One of the most unnecessary remakes in history, The Wicker Man has been under development for many years, before finally ending up at the hands of director Neil LaBute. Wary of the outcome, Robin Hardy, the director of the original 1973 cult classic, avoided any involvement and removed his name from the production. LaBute relocated the setting from the isolated islands of Scotland to the modern American countryside, where a ridiculously excessive Nic Cage roams around running nervously, stealing bicycles, punching women in the face while dressed in bear costumes, and shouting lines of pure gold.
12. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
There is a certain amount of loneliness and beauty in being labeled as the worst director of all time. A crossdresser, an eccentric, and a legitimate daydreamer, Edward Wood Jr. disregarded the criticism and kept making the thing he loved the most: movies. In 1956 (it took three years to find a distributor), he written, produced, directed, and edited his most famous work, the indescribable Plan 9 From Outer Space. A terrifying ordeal indeed.
Plan 9 was Wood’s attempt to deliver a sci-fi epic, combining elements of gothic horror and atomic age paranoia. In its charming plot, an alien race invades Earth and resurrects the dead in order to stop mankind from creating a weapon of mass destruction that threatens not only our planet, but the universe itself. From toys portraying flying saucers and shower curtains being used as airplane cockpit doors to plenty of cast members being baptized into a Baptist church (one of the film’s major funders), Plan 9 is surrounded with so many hilarious backstage stories that it has become a legend.
The film remains legitimately fun even today, due to its extraordinarily poor filmmaking. It was Ed Wood’s personal favorite and a requiem to his relationship with Bela Lugosi, who died shortly before its release. Tim Burton payed a tender tribute to that relationship in what’s probably his best film, Ed Wood.
11. ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS
Before being recognized as one of the most important and versatile actors of his generation, Jim Carrey was a stream of bad-taste comedic absurdity. His nasty, over-the-top performances were flat-out hated by film critics, but his high-energy humor, tightly combined with his expressive body-language, was embraced by audiences and gained him huge popularity.
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is the sequel to the okay comedy, and by any means more normal movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. In it, Ace is called upon to tribal Africa, in order to retrieve a stolen sacred white bat, the animal he despises the most. From the Cliffhanger-parodying intro to the infamous Rhino birth, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls is nothing short of a brainless ninety-minute butt-cheek-talking tour-de-force by Jim Carrey.
10. BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR
Ever wondered what would be the outcome if The Birds was directed by Edward Wood Jr. instead of Alfred Hitchcock? Enter Vietnamese b-movie auteur James Nguyen, and his ghastly vision of unspeakable feathered ecological horrors, in Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
Birdemic a masterclass of bad cinema. Where to begin? The ridiculous romantic plot? The goofy dialogue pieces? The laughably amateurish performances? The awkward direction and clumsy frame composition? Or the special effects, so shoddy and horrible that they have to be seen to be believed? Wherever one may begin, the only certainty is Birdemic’s utter lack of filmmaking craft. It’s an embarrassment to the medium so extravagant that it can bring bad movie buffs to tears of joy upon each screening.
Nguyen managed to put out a second part, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, in eye-popping (no, really) 3D, while he plans to release Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle in the near future, to complete the Birdemic saga and conclude his brief, but noteworthy filmmaking career.
Paul Verhoeven is a talented filmmaker, able to direct great films, such as the sci-fi classics RoboCop and Total Recall, the WWII thriller Black Book and this year’s shattering psychological drama Elle. He is also capable of delivering monstrosities like that appalling Hollow Man with Kevin Bacon, and of course, Showgirls (no, not Striptease, the other one).
At first glance, Showgirls is a morally repugnant, misanthropic fest of exploitative sex and genuinely unlikable characters. It is the sort of material that could easily go around offending people, especially women. The good news is it’s so exaggerated in its dramatization, so badly written and overly acted, that it cannot be taken seriously. It quickly became a guilty pleasure due to its amusing scenes, its unrealistic dialogue, and that hilarious pool scene with Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan– well-worthy of a corniest-sex-scene-ever award– setting straight its initial box-office flop with enormous VHS sales.
Apart from the cult following, many film critics and famous directors, Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch among them, acknowledge the film as an insightful satire, an ironic and apt critique of Hollywood’s cruel star system. So there’s that.
8. MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy line was a dream for kids who grew up in the decade. He-Man and She-Ra’s science fantasy adventures against Skeletor and the Evil Horde became a billion dollar franchise that got adapted into an influential animated series, various comic books, and that horrendous 1987 Dolph Lundgren flick.
A mishmash of Star Wars and Conan The Barbarian, filtered through the campiness of Flash Gordon, Masters of the Universe is a classic so-bad-it’s-good situation. It was scripted by The Dark Crystal’s David Odell and directed by theme park specialist Gary Goddard, but turned out so bad that it became his one and only feature film. One of those childhood movies that never live up to its memory, the film is filled with poor writing, genre cliches, cheap SFX, and mullets. It flopped both critically and commercially, but gained recognition the last couple of years, due to a nostalgic cult following.
Masters of the Universe, along with Superman IV: The Quest, led to the shutdown of its production company, Cannon Films. Ironically, while Dolph Lundgren never liked playing He-Man, Frank Langella loved being Skeletor!
7. JINGLE ALL THE WAY
Those who grew up in the 1990s know that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hardest mission to date wasn’t coming up against invisible aliens or cyborg terminators, nor even facing Satan himself. It was making a last minute Christmas purchase of the ultra-demanded Turbo-Man action figure for his son. Now, that was tough.
Responsible for some average children’s flicks like Beethoven, The Flintstones, and a couple of Scooby-Doo TV movies, Brian Levant received his only Golden Raspberry Award nomination for 1996’s Jingle All The Way. The film was produced by Chris Columbus and although it had notions of critique on the frantic consumerism Western society indulges to during Christmas, it failed on almost every level, thanks to a poorly written script, cartoonish characters, and a truly horrible ending.
Although it was bashed by most critics, Jingle All The Way performed pretty good at the box office. It was barely beaten by the other 1996 piece of childhood nostalgia, Space Jam. Today it is celebrated by many near-30-year-olds as a Christmas classic, with Arnie’s amusing one-liners being quoted over and over.
6. CONAN THE DESTROYER
Whereas Conan the Barbarian is widely praised as one of the finest fantasy adventures, justly introducing Robert E. Howard’s savage world of Hyboria for the first time, Conan the Destroyer is a trainwreck of a sequel, as dumb as its gargantuan hero.
The film was once more produced by Dino De Laurentiis, but was this time directed by Richard Fleischer, who made such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage and Tora! Tora! Tora! It aimed for a change of course from the original, into less violent and more humorous territory, in order to make more profit (only it didn’t). Campiness came along the way, resulting in an empty-headed, yet highly enjoyable film that features a cheerful and ridiculously puffed-up Schwarzenegger, spitting one hilarious line after the other.
Extra credit must be given to the film’s wonderful cinematography from legendary DOP Jack Cardiff, who captured some of the pulpy quality of Robert E. Howard’s texts. In any case, Conan the Destroyer stands way above uninspired 2011 reboot, both in terms of creativity and sheer fun.
5. JUDGE DREDD
Judge Dredd is a perfect example of a movie gone terribly wrong due to creative differences. Danny Cannon, who’s doing a great job directing, producing, and writing in television to this day, was a Dredd enthusiast with extensive knowledge over the comic book series. As such, he envisioned a dark and violent film adaptation, worthy of the source material. The studio, however, along with good ol’ Sly, had a different opinion.
Being as big a star as Stallone was in the mid-nineties meant that he could intervene in the projects he was involved in any time. The actor interpreted the material as a full-on comedy instead of satire, and demanded significant changes to the script and the overall tone of the film. The result? A Judge Dredd parody. And one of the worst films of 1995 becomes even lousier with Rob Schneider’s unbearably sleazy presence.
Still, Judge Dredd is a fun watch. It features a memorable score by Alan Silvestri, ace production design and visual effects (considering the time it came out), and even a couple of jolly moments of humor that was so noticeably absent from the otherwise infinitely superior 2012 version.
4. MORTAL KOMBAT
When it comes to video game adaptations in the ’90s, one question comes to mind: “What the hell were they thinking?” It started off with 1993’s unspeakable Super Mario Bros. adaptation, continued with Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Street Fighter next year (more in the next entry), and went even further with Mortal Kombat in 1995.
Now, truth be told, Mortal Kombat plays in retrospect as a pretty decent action flick. Yes, the plot is weak, the acting is cheesy, the effects are sloppy and it feels like a b-movie, but that’s what makes it so watchable. It stands as Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film to date and by far his most entertaining. Partly shot on location in Thailand, it made excellent use of its exotic monuments and landscapes, the production design was impressive, the original score by George S. Clinton was imposing, and the fight choreography solid.
What’s really best about the movie is its campy aspects: the laughable CGI moments that obviously required a bigger budget but they went for them anyway, the cheesy one-liners that render the film with a priceless comedic quality, and Christopher Lambert portraying Rayden as a bored Connor MacLeod. Plus that ultra-hit techno theme song? Just. Wow.
3. STREET FIGHTER
Those looking for a decent adaptation of the historic beat-‘em-up game Street Fighter should take a look at the Japanese anime Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, Street Fighter Alpha, and the series Street Fighter II: V. Those looking for brainless fun, brimming with poorly executed action, and bad performances, look no further than Street Fighter: The Movie. You’re in for a treat.
With Capcom hurrying to put their ultra-successful video game to the big screen, Street Fighter went through a carelessly hasty production that had costed it severely. It was drafted overnight by long-time screenwriter Steven E. de Souza (also responsible for a couple of other entries on this list), to whom Capcom entrusted the direction as well, being a fan of the game and all. It casted the late Raúl Juliá, who was suffering from cancer during shooting and died shortly before the film’s release, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ming-Na Wen, the yet unknown Kylie Minogue, and of course, the ultimate action star of the times: Jean-Claude Van Damme, who got paid almost one fourth of the film’s total budget.
2. THE ROOM
You have Brecht’s detached acting techniques. You have the classic Stanislavski system. You have the powerful Method acting. And then, you have the Tommy Wiseau school of acting, popularized by his seminal work in the worshipped 2003 cult classic The Room.
Adapted from an unpublished 500-pages book, which was adapted from a stage play he previously wrote, The Room can be interpreted as an artist’s ultimate effort to put out his vision with no strings attached. Wiseau self-financed the whole production from a notoriously secretive funding source and boldly directed without a basic knowledge of the medium. He also portrayed the film’s protagonist Johnny, a successful banker whose fiancee Lisa dumps him for his best friend Mark.
Claiming that The Room suffers from filmmaking flaws would be an understatement. From the endless continuity errors to the unexplicable character personality shifts, the film is realized with such phenomenal inconsistency, it has made it a huge hit. Its distinguishing feature, however, is Wiseau’s delightful, apathetic, undramatized acting, bound to thrill film buffs in repeated midnight screenings.
The film’s Mark, Greg Sestero, recounted all his weird production experiences in the award-winning book The Disaster Artist, which is currently under development for a feature film adaptation. Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Alison Brie, Sharon Stone, and Bryan Cranston are among the announced cast, while James Franco is set to produce, direct and star as Wiseau, with the blessings of the man himself.
1. TROLL 2
This is it. The definitive cult film. The holy grail of bad movies. The quintessence of so-bad-it’s-good. Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2.
Misleadingly titled as the sequel to the horrible 1986 fantasy Troll as a means for a greater market value, Troll 2 is beyond horrible. The film features an army of ravenous vegetarian goblins (along with a complete lack of trolls) who hunt down a family in order to transform them into plants and eat them. It was later revealed that the initial idea came from the director’s wife, Rosella Drudi, who got irritated by the fact that a lot of her friends were becoming vegans!
The massive communication chasm between the Italian speaking crew and the American actors took the film’s makeshift filmmaking to the next level. The nonexistent production values, the cast’s amusingly campy dialogue and Fragasso’s outrageously misguided direction all establish Troll 2 as one of the most bizarrely enjoyable moviegoing experiences, especially in a packed theater.
The legacy of Troll 2 is touchingly showcased in the insightful 2009 documentary Best Worst Movie, directed by the child star of the film, Michael Stephenson. Best Worst Movie is a reassuring indication that such movies do actually have an audience, and are constantly revisited, appreciated and, why not, even cherished.
What are the bad movies you absolutely love? Let us know in the comments below!