Transformers: The Last Knight is the fifth film in the live-action toy-based franchise (and possible Illuminati propaganda). It’s also the latest one rumored to be director Michael Bay’s last entry in the billion dollar-and-counting quintilogy. Meanwhile, kids around the world have been adapting toys into their own unfilmed movies for decades now — and sometimes, probably, with better results than some of the feature-length toy commercials Hollywood has greenlit in recent years. Considering the films below made it all the way through production, there’s an afternoon-long rendition of The Ninja Turtles, Marry Barbie, and Skipper While the Dog Kidnaps My Kid Sister being put on by preschoolers in a backyard somewhere that is at least worthy of a meeting or two.
Unlike The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman, or even the soon-to-be-rebooted Jumanji and Clue, many of the films on this list are forgettable, but the non-biodegradable nature of plastic means the inspiration for these 15 Worst Movies Based On Children’s Toys* will live on indefinitely.
*We’re not counting video games as toys, because we’ve already ranked the worst video game movies.
15. Max Steel
Perhaps best remembered as the film Twilight werewolf Taylor Lautner backed out of in order to maybe play Stretch Armstrong instead, Max Steel boasts an impressive Rotten Tomatoes fresh rating of zero percent, meaning none of the critics had anything nice to say, but they said it anyway. Reviews of this action-figure adaptation called it “whiny teen misery … [with] corpselike pacing” and a “feeble stab at creating a Transformers-style franchise,” along with “I Was a Teenage Iron Man wannabe … inept at every level.”
On the plus side, the Max Steel Turbo Strength Max Steel action figure has a four-and-a-half star review on Amazon.com, where the harshest review seems to be, “Warning: Choking Hazard — Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.”
The never-not-being-made Stretch Armstrong movie, meanwhile, can currently be seen in an Apocalypse Now-esque circle of production hell where Taylor Lautner, Jackie Chan, Mel Gibson, and Danny Devito are all considered for the same role. It’s not an ideal situation.
14. Bratz: The Movie
In addition to providing film fodder, the Bratz line of fashionable wide-eyed ingénues has inspired a $100 million copyright infringement lawsuit, allegations of sweatshop manufacturing practices, and a shoutout in an American Psychological Association report on the sexualization of preadolescent girls, so lackluster reviews are the least of the Bratz worries.
Richard Roeper, who listed the Bratz movie among the worst released in 2007, called the film “an amateur production that should have gone straight to basic cable,” but that seems tame in comparison to a report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, which alleges Chinese workers assembling the Bratz toys made an average of “17 cents per doll,” or less than 52 cents an hour, and were denied health and disability benefits in violation of national law. While Meredith, Sasha, Yasmin, Cloe, and Jade might be having a hard time navigating through the various social cliques in their first year of high school, workers putting together the girls’ plastic counterparts were allegedly getting docked three days’ pay for taking a single sick day and child psychologists were blaming the toys for exacerbating kids’ body dysmorphia. Children with the newer line of Bratz dolls can shoot their own films with the full-sized selfie stick accessory, and it’d probably be a more compelling tale than this dumpster fire.
13. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Screen Rant’s very own review of 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation contains two phrases that should, in theory, be mutually exclusive: “overall disappointing film,” and “ninja mountain battle.” A last-minute rewrite, reportedly to expand Channing Tatum’s role (Duke) after execs realized he’s a bonafide box office draw, delayed release for nearly a year, but A-List additions to the live-action figure line included Bruce Willis (General Joe Colton) and Dwayne “Can you smell what ‘The Rock’ is Cooking” Johnson (Roadblock) and no doubt helped the film make nearly triple its $130 million budget back at box offices worldwide.
So if anyone involved with the production is crying over the cruel words of critics like the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Peter Hartlaub — who wrote “filmmakers appear to have handed a dozen or so G.I. Joe dolls to a 9-year-old, watched him play for 110 minutes, and then shot a scene-for-scene remake” — rest assured they’re probably blowing their noses in a big wad of cash.
Unless you’re deathly afraid of killing time, watching people sitting around playing a board game doesn’t sound like a great concept for a horror movie, but the macabre urban legends surrounding Hasbro’s licensed version of Elijah Bond’s talking board can be respectably creepy. The Bedlam in Goliath, a 2008 concept album from El Paso rock band Mars Volta, for example, relates what sci-fi writer Jeremy Robert Johnson calls “a tale of long-buried murder victims and their otherworldly influence,” supposedly related to the band through a board bought in an antique store in Jerusalem. The 2014 movie Ouija also suggests incomprehensible horrors might be unleashed by the ideomotor effect the board game inspires.
Parents have been fretting over the demonic possibilities of the Ouija board since Hasbro first introduced it in its current form in 1967, but the film’s poor reviews from critics and viewers alike suggest these kinds of stories are scarier when someone swears they happened to a friend’s cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor. (The 2016 prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil was significantly better received.)
11. An American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky
A dozen films based on the backstories of the Pleasant Company’s American Girl dolls have been released on TV, DVD, and in theaters since 2004, and eleven of them have five-star reviews on the official American girl website, so picking the worst of the bunch isn’t easy or intuitive. The Julia Roberts produced, Great Depression-set Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) is the only film to get a major theatrical release and it received more than respectable reviews from critics, with many praising Abigail Breslin’s heartfelt performance as its saving grace.
The first film in the franchise, 2004’s made-for-TV Samantha: An American Girl Holiday, tells the story of early-1900s orphans at Christmas, making it hard to bah-humbug. The script for World War II story Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front (2007) won a Humanitas Prize in recognition of its efforts to “entertain, engage and enrich the viewing public.”
Making fun of An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong (2009) and its anti-bullying message just seems wrong somehow, and the poignant Civil Rights Movement backdrop of Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, makes it unmesswithable, basically leaving a multiple choice test of which remaining American Girl film has the most annoyingly inspirational subtitle: McKenna Shoots for the Stars (2012), Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight (2014), Grace Stirs Up Success (2015), or, our pick, Saige Paints the Sky (2013). We also would’ve accepted “all of the above.”
First crafted by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam in the late 1950s, gem bellied ugly-cute Troll dolls have fallen in and out of fashion worldwide since the 1960s, when U.S. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson is rumored to have had a Troll with her in the White House. (Though it’s possible Lady Bird could’ve been referring to her husband Lyndon, who was infamous for exposing himself and holding meetings while sitting on the toilet.) The 2016 feature-film adaptation of the molded plastic monstrosities brought together the voice acting talents of Anna Kendrick, James Corden, John Cleese, Ron Funches, Gwen Stefani, and Justin Timberlake, whose soundtrack contribution “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” topped international pop charts and earned an Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song.
Screen Rant’s review praised the film’s “eye-popping…almost psychedelic imagery” and the “nice message at the center,” but concluded that it “doesn’t try to be more than a standard kids film.” Other critics weren’t so kind, however, calling Trolls a “ghastly piece of post-content confection” and the cinematic equivalent of “having glitter thrown in your eyes for 92 minutes.”
The second film on the list adapted from a Hasbro board game — and likely the final one, unless the long-rumored Monopoly movie ever passes “Go” — Battleship offered filmmakers less to work with than just about anything from the Hasbro line other than maybe Twister, Jenga, or Yahtzee! Even Chutes & Ladders suggests more of a narrative than this “game of strategy” based on listing possible grid coordinates, which children have trouble feigning excitement for even when they’re playing it in a commercial, so calling the 2012 film “enjoyable beyond expectation” isn’t much of a recommendation. Director Peter Berg and co. upped the ante on the game’s red and white plastic pegs with explosions, alien invasions, and Rihanna in her major motion-picture debut.
Despite RiRi’s inspired readings of lines ranging from “Kentucky Fried Chicken!” to “Mahalo, motherfu—” and “(heavy sigh),” legendary film critic Leonard Maltin called Battleship “a movie for people who found the Transformers series too intellectually challenging,” with “dumb dialogue and juvenile plotting.” Next time, Hollywood should cut out the toy-peddling middlemen and just make a movie out of Rihanna’s always incredible Instagram feed.
8. Barbie and Her Sisters in a Puppy Chase
Since comedian Amy Schumer backed out of the oft-rewritten and recasted live-action Barbie movie once scheduled for release next year, fans are currently left with only the 34 animated films produced between 1987 and 2016 — few if any of which pack the heightened dramatic stakes of your little brother’s rendition of Malibu Barbie Gets a Haircut With Real Scissors. Appropriately enough, the difference in Barbie films is largely due to the accessories. Do you want your Barbie to be a mermaid (Barbie: Mermaidia, Barbie in A Mermaid Tale 1 & 2), a sci-fi heroine (Barbie: Star Light Adventure), a rock star (Barbie and the Rockers: Out of this World, Barbie and The Sensations: Rockin’ Back to Earth), a princess (Barbie: The Pearl Princess, Barbie in Princess Power, Barbie: Princess Charm School, etc., etc.) or a rock star princess (Barbie in Rock’n Royals)?
Based on this criteria alone, the plot of Barbie and Her Sisters In A Puppy Chase — which saddles our unrealistically proportioned protagonist with her younger sisters Skipper, Stacie, and Chelsea on a Hawaiian vacation further derailed by a search for missing dogs — seems like a pretty lame game of make believe.
7. Care Bears: Journey to Joke-A-Lot
Nostalgia value and surprisingly dark plot points save the three Care Bear films released theatrically in the mid 1980s from being the completely unwatchable dreck you might expect from movies based on stuffed bears designed by a greeting-card company. No such good luck for the CGI’d direct-to-video films produced between 2004 and 2010. Of these, Journey to Joke-A-Lot seems most ripe for ripping on — both for relaunching a franchise best left to I Love the ’80s rehashing and for “updating” the Bears’ look to clunky computer animation that appears almost fan made.
Sure, the target audience for all of these movies is infants entertained by bright colors and soothing soundtracks, but that doesn’t excuse the irritating musical numbers (watching a hippopotamus in polka-dot underpants lead a song and dance routine about how great pranks like pies in the face and canned-spring snakes is even more annoying than it sounds) or explain the face-licking anthropomorphic star in the opening sequence. Funshine Bear’s Journey plays like a child-proofed version of “Porky in Wackyland.” Parents will have no political incorrectness or Dali-inspired surrealism to explain, but they’ll also never get some of these grating songs out of their heads.
6. The Hugga Bunch
Believe it or not, the image above isn’t a lo-res screen grab from the latest Annabelle film, but one of the many, many terrifying frames of what seems to be the highest quality version of 1985’s The Hugga Bunch still surviving. Presumably, every other remaining copy was destroyed in a vain attempt to send whatever marketing demon spawned this nightmare back to the hell from whence it came. Inspired by yet another line of greeting card characters made into dolls, The Hugga Bunch are humanoid toddler-type things that exist only to hug. After striking an unholy hug-centric bargain to try to keep her aging Grams from being put into a home, young Bridget follows the imaginatively named Huggins (pictured above) through the closet mirror into HuggaLand — and then things get weird.
Weirdest of all is trying to figure out how the puppet versions of these already uncanny looking dolls are being operated in this made-for-TV movie as they walk and talk and hug and hug and hug. The unsettling animatronics won an Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects, but the force propelling the Hugga Bunch across the floor seems to be the same power compelling Regan to twist her head around in The Exorcist.
5. Strawberry Shortcake: Rockaberry Roll
Another greeting-card-character-turned-doll-turned-’80s-fad, Strawberry Shortcake has been the subject of six animated TV specials, an Atari 2600 game (Strawberry Shortcake: Musical Match-Ups), and a cease-and-desist issued to the webcomic Penny Arcade, to name just a few accomplishments. The original 1980 special The World of Strawberry Shortcake is notable for its Murakami-Wolf-Swenson animation and catchy theme song performed by Flo & Eddie from the Turtles. The 1984 special Strawberry Shortcake and the Baby Without a Name is mostly notable for having a title that makes it sound like it was directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City (1981) probably marks the franchise’s peak in fruit puns when Shortcake heads to the Big Apple to compete in a bakeoff in Times Pear, located somewhere near Spinach Village. Rockaberry Roll (2008), on the other hand, is a nonsensical phrase with a gratuitous “berry” thrown in just to try to stay on brand. Shortcake’s band Strawberry Jam learns about teamwork in a battle of the bands when, if Berryland’s history is any indication, they should probably be worrying about stopping the Peculiar Purple Pieman and Sour Grapes from baking everyone into pastries or something. Surely a gritty — or perhaps pulpy — franchise reboot is being whipped up right now.
4. Cabbage Patch Kids: The Clubhouse
“Guess who’s walking, talking, singing and even dancing,” the trailer for 1996’s Cabbage Patch Kids: The Clubhouse teases/warns viewers, treating us yet again to the sight of a childhood toy being brought to life through movie magic in what isn’t supposed to be a horror film. Would Chucky from Child’s Play be more or less terrifying if, instead of running rampant in the human world, he joined a gang full of similar-looking living dolls in a junkyard and sang songs about friendship and teamwork? The Clubhouse settles that question once and for all by pitting the boy Cabbage Patches vs. the girls in a competition to build the best hangout spot in the uncanny valley.
Originally sold out of an early 20th-century medical facility renamed BabyLand General Hospital and famous for bearing their maker’s signature on their butt cheek, Cabbage Patch Kids have been inherently creepy since they were first introduced for en masse “adoptions” in the early 1980s. But they were also commemorated on a U.S. Postage Stamp as part of Postal Service’s “Celebrate the Century” collection alongside other notable historic events like the “Space Shuttle Program” and “Hip-Hop Culture,” so we might as well get used to their weird tiny mouths and stitched-up elbow joints.
3. My Pet Monster
Surely one of the only dolls ever marketed toward children to come with its own set of handcuffs, My Pet Monster was another of American Greetings’ greatest hits of the ’80s. The associated animated series, originally aired in 1987, is still probably about as fondly remembered as any show with only a baker’s dozen half-hour episodes can be. The live-action direct-to-videocassette adaptation released the year before, however, has never seen a DVD release for a reason.
Where the cartoon series offered viewers the timeless tale of a monster escaped from Monsterland who turns into a doll whenever somebody handcuffs him, the live-action movie offers a little dose of Lovecraft. A mysterious statue from the Middle East transforms a young boy into a blue-and-purple beast whenever he gets hungry. He’s of course then kidnapped by an archeologist, and you better believe the climax takes place at a dog show. That was the ’80s, man.
2. Transformers: Age of Extinction
Picking on Michael Bay’s much-maligned Transformers canon is as easy and gratuitous as blowing up fish in a barrel, but Age of Extinction earns the distinction of being the worst-reviewed film in the franchise thus far — probably because the fourth installment feels a little like exploding a dead horse. Audiences around the world were given the opportunity to argue whether swapping Shia LaBeouf for Mark Wahlberg is an upgrade or a downgrade, and children everywhere watched as their favorite toys feared an all-out genocide at the hands of a black-ops death squad called Cemetery Wind in a film just half an hour shorter than Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List.
Critic Wesley Morris wrote the film “showcases a commitment to oblivion that takes your breath away” and that “Even at 49, Bay retains an enthusiasm for obliteration similar to what some 8-year-olds feel upon discovering that an armpit can fart too.” And that was one of the more positive reviews.
1. The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
If there’s anything worse than odd-looking licensed dolls coming inexplicably to life, it’s got to be purposefully disgusting parodies of those dolls doing the same. Another film to earn a zero-percent “fresh rating” on Rotten Tomatoes, 1987’s The Garbage Pail Kids Movie is based on a series of highly controversial Topps trading cards that depicted gross-out variations on Cabbage Patch dolls — such as the flatulent Windy Winston and the self-explanatory Valerie Vomit — prompting a copyright-infringement lawsuit.
But the lawsuit didn’t stop the film, starring Sean “Samwise” Astin’s younger brother Mackenzie and Britpop icon and David Bowie inspiration Anthony Newley, from being made. And its reputation as one of the worst reviewed movies of all time didn’t prevent it from being released on Blu-ray, something that will never happen for, say, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Obviously, there’s been talk of filming a reboot, because that’s the world we live in.
What terrible toy-based movie did we forget to ridicule? Share your bad childhood memories in the comments!
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