Once upon a time, misguided movies that contained perverse entertainment value were dubbed “so bad, they’re good.” That expression is still used, although the term “best worst movie” has replaced it to some degree. (One of the films on this list was indirectly responsible for the coining of that phrase, in fact.) While most of us prefer to spend our precious time and money on good movies, you can’t deny that it’s occasionally fun to watch something lousy, provided that it’s lousy in an interesting or quirky way. We’re going to focus on those films here.
There are a ton of best worst movies from which to choose, of course. Some of the titles we left out are The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, Maximum Overdrive, Pootie Tang, Samurai Cop, Hell Comes to Frogtown, Street Fighter, Mac and Me, and Timecop. For this list, we tried to maintain a good balance of genres. Some are comedies, some are horror/sci-fi, others are action pictures, and a couple of them outright defy categorization. We also attempted to make sure we had multiple eras covered. The oldest of these glorious turkeys comes from 1959, while the most recent hails from 2013. Most importantly, though, our goal was to highlight examples of the “so bad, they’re good” phenomenon that hit the sweet spot of being equally appalling and entertaining at the same time.
Here are the 15 Best Worst Movies Of All Time.
15. Masters of the Universe
Masters of the Universe is based on a line of toys that were phenomenally popular in the 1980s. A feature film was commissioned for release in ’87, with Dolph Lundgren cast as the hero He-Man and Frank Langella as the villainous Skeletor. At the time, movies based on toys, comic books, and superheroes were not treated with the same love and care they routinely get today. Studios saw them as little more than quick cash grabs. For that reason, Masters of the Universe, produced by the “keep the budget low” masters over at Cannon Films, has a slapdash feel.
As for how it plays, well, “campy” would probably be the right word. The script is somehow both overwrought and underdeveloped, while the performances are way too broad. Visually, there are a few passable effects, although they pale in comparison to those found in other movies of the era. Everything about Masters of the Universe feels designed simply to exploit a craze. Still, the film has found a cult audience over the years because ’80s cheese of this magnitude can be a blast to watch.
Uwe Boll is a modern master of the best worst movie. His films display an utter lack of regard for crucial cinematic elements like storytelling, believable acting, and competent direction. Why is it so much fun to watch someone utterly fail? In Boll’s case, it’s because his work is lousy in a really goofy way. Many of his films are based on video games, and despite a reputation for poor quality, he somehow ropes recognizable stars into appearing in them. That’s certainly true of BloodRayne, the story of a sexy vampire (Kristanna Loken) seeking revenge against the Vampire King who raped her mother.
There are so many incredible sights in this movie that looking away is nearly impossible. You’ve got a clumsy sex scene in which Loken and a man do it against a metal cage, causing its door to repeatedly slam with each thrust. You’ve also got Oscar winner Ben Kingsley engaged in a sword battle with one arm behind his back, cheesy special effects, awkwardly-staged action sequences, and the sight of Michael Madsen and Michelle Rodriguez looking (like Kingsley) thoroughly embarrassed to be here. Every second of BloodRayne is packed with things that make you wonder how or why anyone ever thought making this movie was a good idea.
13. Ninja III: The Domination
Ninja III: The Domination, released in 1984, is technically a sequel to Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, although it has virtually nothing to do with either of them. Lucinda Dickey — the ’80s B-movie dream girl who also starred in the Breakin’ pictures — plays Christie, a young woman who works as both a telephone company technician and an aerobics instructor. She comes into possession of a sword that is inhabited by the spirit of an evil ninja. Before long, Christie is under its spell, busting out some amazing fighting skills and developing an inexplicable hatred of police officers.
Here’s an example of big ideas being carried out on a shoestring budget. The visual effects are corny, and there are some amusing sound issues. Fighters clearly miss with their punches, yet you hear loud “whack” noises on the soundtrack anyway. Other moments are more of the WTF variety, like the weird dance Christie does when she first becomes possessed. An arcade game in her apartment starts shooting out lasers. She uses a can of V-8 juice as a seduction tool. You never know what you’re going to see from one minute to the next, which makes Ninja III hypnotically watchable.
12. The Happening
M. Night Shyamalan has made some really great movies, with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable topping the list. Of course, he’s also made some really terrible movies. Selecting his poorest outing is a toss-up, given that he made After Earth and The Last Airbender, but his best worst movie is undoubtedly The Happening. In it, Mark Wahlberg plays a Philadelphia school teacher who tries to escape a mysterious virus that causes its victims to become disoriented and kill themselves.
The kooky part of the story is that the virus is caused by plants and spreads through the air. This leads to scenes of Wahlberg and his companions attempting to outrun wind. In the end, we learn that the plants view humans as a threat, which is why they started fighting back. No doubt Shyamalan was trying to make a horror movie that also addressed ecological themes. What he failed to realize is that plants and wind aren’t really very scary. The Happening is such a profoundly misguided film that it becomes oddly fun to watch.
11. The Wicker Man
Poor Nicolas Cage. The man is an Academy Award winner, yet he often gets stuck with bad material like The Wicker Man. This remake of a 1973 cult classic casts him as Edward Malus, a cop trying to locate his missing daughter, who may be on a tiny island in the Puget Sound. When he gets there, Malus discovers that the island is inhabited by pagan women who annually make a sacrifice to their “Goddess.” His search for his little girl puts him right in the sights of these women.
The Wicker Man is unintentionally funny from top to bottom. Scenes that are played straight come off as thoroughly bizarre. In one memorable sequence, Malus utterly melts down over a burned doll. The big finale, meanwhile, finds him attempting to infiltrate the women’s ritual ceremony by donning a bear costume. (No, seriously, that happens.) He has his legs broken by the women, who then place him inside a giant wicker statue. They light it on fire, yelling, “The drone must die!” because they believe that killing him will replenish their supply of honey. (Again, we’re totally serious here — and so is the movie.) All of it is staged in an absurd manner that produces far more chuckles than chills. This is a great film to watch with a group of your most sarcastic friends.
10. Over the Top
What’s the dullest competitive activity a movie could be based on? Curling? Tug of war? Donkey basketball? We’re going to go with arm wrestling. In case you doubt our decision, gaze your eyes upon the 1987 drama Over the Top. Sylvester Stallone stars as Lincoln Hawk, and if that name doesn’t sound like a car your grandfather would drive, we don’t know what does. Hawk is a professional truck driver who tries to win back the affection of his estranged son by competing in the World Armwrestling Championship.
That plot is a recipe for heavy-handed melodrama, which is exactly what you get here. Over the Top tries to make arm wrestling seem so much more important and exciting than it actually is. Large chunks of the picture are spent making the viewer watch two men clasp their hands together and pull real hard. It’s all ridiculous to behold, which at least ensures that you won’t be bored. And hey, Stallone gets to make a ton of goofy straining faces, so the movie’s got that working in its favor.
9. Howard the Duck
Long before he made cameos in the two Guardians of the Galaxy pictures, Howard the Duck had his very own big-screen vehicle, appropriately titled Howard the Duck. (Well, you didn’t think it would be called Deadpool, did you?) Actor Ed Gale put on an elaborate duck costume to play the title character. The plot finds Howard leaving his home planet of Duckworld and coming to Earth, where he befriends an aspiring pop singer (Lea Thompson) and takes on the Dark Overlord of the Universe.
Howard the Duck is bad in so many ways that it ends up being kind of awesome. For starters, the film is packed with lame duck puns guaranteed to leave you groan-laughing. And let’s not forget the climactic scene in which Howard joins Thompson’s band onstage to play guitar and do the famous Chuck Berry “duck walk.” The most gloriously awful moment, however, is easily the one in which the lingerie-wearing Thompson invites Howard into her bed for a little heavy petting. Because bestiality jokes are hilarious! Every single second of Howard the Duck makes you think, “Are they serious?!” The sensation is addictive.
8. The Sharknado series
Sharknado and its sequels are a little different from the other movies on this list, in that they were actually made to be bad. The SyFy Channel has a lengthy history of making what are essentially B-movie parodies, full of purposefully poor acting, cheesy and unconvincing special effects, and preposterous concepts. The Sharknado franchise, of course, is a weather-related thriller about a tornado full of sharks. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?
What makes these movies fun to watch isn’t just that they’re bad, it’s that they serve as a parody of other bad movies. How do you spoof something that’s already terrible? By being even more relentlessly terrible! The Sharknado series throws all pretense of logic, common sense, and science out the window with its core premise. Action scenes, meanwhile, are designed for maximum outrageousness, as evidenced by a sequence in which lead Ian Ziering fights off a flying shark with a chainsaw. From minute to minute, these films surprise you with their willingness to do literally anything for a cheap thrill.
7. Road House
Depending on who you ask, Road House is either awesome or it sucks. Truthfully, both opinions are correct. The film was a modest hit in 1989 — $30 million at the North American box office — but once it hit home video and cable, audiences realized what a crap-tastic work this Rowdy Herrington-directed action picture is. Patrick Swayze stars as Dalton, a professional bouncer hired to run security at the Double Deuce, a Missouri bar where the bad behavior amongst the patrons has gotten out of hand. In trying to earnestly do his job, he ends up crossing the local crime lord, Wesley (Ben Gazzara).
Road House is bursting with macho posturing, not the least of which is a scene where Wesley orders one of his goons to demolish a car dealership with a monster truck. (There are easier ways to do such things, but you have to give him credit for style.) The movie additionally features an unnecessary explosion, a scene where Dalton rips out a man’s throat with his bare hands, and a finale in which our hero takes out Wesley’s henchmen one by one. Remember, he’s a bar bouncer, so that gives him superhuman fighting skills! Road House is like a cinematic overdose of testosterone. It’s not good, but it’s definitely one of the most manly films ever made.
6. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film was the first great superhero movie, and Superman II is considered by many to be almost as good. Then franchise fatigue set in. Superman III, which inexplicably teamed the Man of Steel with comedian Richard Pryor, was a step-down, both in terms of quality and box office success. And then there was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which ranks among the very worst superhero films ever made. In an effort to be timely, the plot has Superman promising the United Nations that he will rid the world of nuclear weapons. To do that, he has to fight arch-enemy Lex Luthor and his newest minion, a being called Nuclear Man.
Production of the Superman series moved from Warner Brothers to Cannon Films for this installment. Cannon, as we mentioned earlier, was known for its low-budget cinematic efforts. By nature, superhero stories typically require more money, not less, to make. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace subsequently looked incredibly cheap in the FX department, especially given that audiences had grown accustomed to sleeker, more high-quality visuals from the film series. Story elements had to be reconceived due to financial limitations, and the plot is occasionally incoherent, thanks to a reported forty-five minutes of scenes being left on the cutting room floor. As appalling as it is, the movie works as a case study of superhero cinema gone wrong.
Xanadu was supposed to be one of the biggest box office hits of 1980. It starred Olivia Newton-John, the popular singer who was hot off her film debut in Grease. It co-starred legendary actor Gene Kelly, and it had a hot soundtrack that spawned a couple of hits before the film was even released. Then people got a look at it and realized that, for all its positive surface qualities, Xanadu is one of the dumbest movies ever made.
Newton-John plays an Olympian muse who comes to Earth to help a young artist and a big band conductor open a nightclub. Did we mention that patrons of the nightclub get to zip around on roller skates? Because they totally do. Xanadu tried so hard to be “of the moment” — to capture everything that was culturally hip in 1980. In so doing, it ended up looking ridiculous. Still, the songs, by Newton-John and ELO, are fabulous, and the unrepentant corniness of the film is not without its share of perverse entertainment value.
4. Troll 2
Troll 2 really is a quintessential best worst movie. In fact, there’s a feature-length documentary about the making of the film that’s actually called Best Worst Movie. How misguided is this thing? Well, the distributor had such a lack of confidence in its potential that the movie was positioned as a sequel to the 1986 horror hit Troll, despite the two having absolutely nothing to do with one another. The story’s setting is a tiny town called Nilbog (“goblin” spelled backward). A gang of vegetarian goblins terrorizes a family, attempting to turn them into plants so they can be eaten.
Aside from obvious problems caused by a minuscule budget, Troll 2 is hilariously hampered by a rather unusual production issue. While the actors all spoke English, the crew spoke Italian, which made it hard for everyone to get on the same page, creatively speaking. The actors were all non-professionals anyway, which leads to performances that could charitably be described as unpolished. Dopey special effects and a nonsensical plot only add to the shoddy vibe. Troll 2 gets pretty much nothing right, which makes it a hoot to watch and mock. Oh my goddddd, indeed.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds is the greatest avian chiller ever made. In 2010, writer/director James Nguyen tried to do Hitch one better with his movie Birdemic, whose subtitle is Shock and Terror, just to let you know how serious he is. The plot takes place in a California town where a massive flock of mutated birds starts attacking the citizens. A young couple, Rod (Alan Bagh) and Natalie (Whitney Moore), attempt to fight back against the winged menace.
Here’s the thing: Hitchcock used a lot of real birds to make his classic, and it was highly effective. Nguyen uses CGI to create the birds in this one. Not high-quality CGI, either, no, he uses cheap CGI – the kind you can make on your computer if you’re a total FX amateur looking to spice up your home movies. Consequently, Birdemic is full of unconvincing scenes where actors wave their hands at obviously fake (and weirdly slow-moving) birds who don’t remotely appear to be sharing the same physical space with them. The effect is atrocious, and undeniably comical. Plus, there’s this annoying song, which will be stuck in your head for days after hearing it, so click at your own risk.
2. Plan 9 from Outer Space
Plan 9 From Outer Space is the O.G. best worst movie. This super cheap-o 1959 movie is a tale of aliens who come to Earth and bring the dead back to life in an effort to stop mankind from creating a bomb that harnesses the sun’s energy. It’s called Solaronite, in an effort to make it sound really scientific. One-time wrestler Tor Johnson and noted psychic Criswell star. The latter appears in a very serious-sounding intro, attempting to make it seem like the story’s absurd events could really happen.
Director Ed Wood created sets using things like cardboard and shower curtains, and he fashioned UFOs from pie plates. When his star, legendary horror icon Bela Lugosi, died during production, he hired his wife’s much-taller chiropractor to finish the actor’s scenes, instructing the man to cover his face with a cape so the switcheroo wouldn’t be noticeable. (It was.) That’s just a taste of the hysterically funny ineptitude found within. Every second of Plan 9 is filled with such incompetence that it’s funnier than 90% of intentional comedies.
1. The Room
The Room is a truly extraordinary film. In fact, it may just be the finest best worst movie ever made. Writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau made it despite a complete lack of talent in the writing, directing, and acting fields. The story centers around a nice guy named Johnny. We know Johnny is a nice guy because other characters tell him that every five minutes or so. Johnny adores his girlfriend Lisa, but she’s cheating on him with his best friend Mark. The discovery of this affair drives him insane.
The Room has the most insipid dialogue you will ever hear in a motion picture. Way too many scenes begin with characters greeting one another. (“Oh hai, Mark!”) Plot threads are introduced and abruptly dropped. There are multiple graphic love scenes within the first half-hour, as though Wiseau wants you to know what a stud he is. Johnny and his buddies toss around a football while standing mere inches from each other. We could go on and on. The remarkable thing about The Room is that it’s every bit as sincere as it is excruciatingly awful – especially the bizarrely tragic ending. Some woman obviously broke Wiseau’s heart, and he made this hilariously wretched “you gotta see it to believe it” film as a means of exorcising his demons. It’s honestly a must-watch.
Which of these best worst movies is your favorite? Do you have any others that we didn’t include here? Let us know about it in the comments.