There's a timeless saying that dying is easy while comedy is hard. Perhaps no one understands this as much as those comedy filmmakers who over the decades have poured all their blood, sweat, and cheers into their cinematic endeavors, only to die a little inside as their purported laugh fests are rejected outright by viewers.
The very first motion picture comedy made quite the splash — literally. Released in 1895, the French short The Watered Waterer (aka The Sprinkler Sprinkled) depicted a gardener getting sprayed in the face with water after a mischievous boy messes with his hose. Running a mere 45 seconds, the film was also the first to relate a fictionalized story — a landmark development that supported another age-old adage: comedy is king.
They say everyone’s a critic, and that’s especially true when it comes to something as subjective as comedy. But in the case of professional film critics, the reception can often be downright hostile. On the critical compilation site Rotten Tomatoes, approximately 100 comedies can currently be found holding a 0% rating.
Combining some of the 0% duds with the highest number of negative reviews with others notorious for their rankness, here are the 20 Worst Comedies Ever Made, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
If even President Ronald Reagan couldn’t completely escape the indignity of co-starring with a monkey in 1951’s Bedtime for Bonzo, then what hope was there for a TV star in his first major screen outing?
The raging success of Friends emboldened most of the central cast members to try their luck in the movies. For Matt LeBlanc, this meant taking the leading role in 1996’s Ed, a comedy about the friendship between a minor league baseball player named Jack “Deuce” Cooper and his unlikely teammate, a chimpanzee known as Ed Sullivan.
Ed might have had a fighting chance if its title monkey had been played by an actual animal – after all, audiences responded favorably when Clint Eastwood teamed up with a charismatic orangutan on earlier occasions. But the decision was made that Ed would be played by alternating stunt performers donning a mechanical suit. The result was creepy rather than cuddly, and the movie ended up appealing to absolutely no one.
19 BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR
Like Rob Schneider, Nick Swardson is one of those performers who would likely never have had an acting career were it not for the benevolence of Adam Sandler. Indeed, it was Sandler who produced and co-wrote Swardson’s headlining vehicle, 2011’s Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.
Swardson plays Bucky, a small-town imbecile who heads to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming an adult film star. Despite having a tiny package, he receives the support of adult film director Miles Deep (Don Johnson), a union that frays once Bucky falls for a sweet waitress (Christina Ricci).
Even with a relatively modest budget of $10 million, Bucky Larson proved to be such a monumental bomb upon release that it was yanked from theaters after a mere two weeks - and a paltry $2 million gross. Yet its commercial drubbing paled in comparison to its critical mauling, which was so severe that Rotten Tomatoes later tagged it the worst-reviewed film of 2011.
For his part, Swardson dismissed the critics as “morons” for attacking this fine piece of art.
18 SURFER, DUDE
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson portrayed brothers in 1999’s EDtv and partners on 2014’s True Detective. In the interim, they also teamed up for 2008’s Surfer, Dude, a critically lambasted comedy that barely played theaters and sank without a trace.
Viewed mostly as a vanity project for McConaughey (who also served as producer), the film finds the actor cast as Steve “Addman” Addington, a surfer enthusiast who turns his back on lucrative endorsements in order to spend more time catching the perfect wave. But once the waters calm down and the waves go MIA, the philosophical stoner is forced to decide whether to sell out or continue to embrace his inner dude.
Harrelson turns up as Addman’s manager, and, because this is a film full of reefer madness, there’s also the requisite cameo by Willie Nelson. Nevertheless, critics were left dazed and confused by the movie’s rambling nature.
17 IT’S PAT: THE MOVIE
To date, there have been approximately 12 feature films based on Saturday Night Live skits. In almost all cases, the selections made sense — The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World were no-brainers, and even MacGruber probably looked good on paper. But the decision to build an entire movie around the character of Pat Riley continues to baffle the greatest minds of our time.
The androgynous figure created and played by Julia Sweeney on SNL was certainly groundbreaking, and most audiences didn’t mind spending time with Pat for the duration of a 5- or 10-minute skit. But 1994’s It’s Pat: The Movie required audiences to wallow in the character’s presence for 77 straight minutes. Compounding the problem was that this big-screen Pat was more aggressively obnoxious than the rather benign Pat seen on TV.
The result was a film that performed so poorly in limited release, it was yanked after just a week and never given a wide release.
16 TOP DOG
Chuck Norris might have the ability to build a snowman out of rain, bowl a perfect game with a marble, and count to infinity (twice!), but the one thing he can’t do is prevent his two worst attempts at comedy from scoring 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The 1986 adventure yarn Firewalker was an excruciating rip-off of Romancing the Stone and Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Norris and Lou Gossett Jr. cast as a pair of treasure hunters. Norris displayed all the comic instincts of a goldfish, but he nevertheless was later deemed to be the perfect actor to headline 1995’s Top Dog. In this one, he plays a hard-nosed cop who teams up with a police dog to take down an army of white supremacists.
With plot similarities to the deadly Oklahoma City bombing, it didn’t help that Top Dog opened less than two weeks after that devastating tragedy. But even on its own terms, the picture was trashed as an inferior copy of previous buddy-cop-dog pictures Turner & Hooch and K-9.
15 THE STARVING GAMES
If there’s one constant when it comes to lists of the worst movies of recent vintage, it’s that a title by the writer-director team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer will invariably be included. The duo behind Disaster Movie and Epic Movie masterminded yet another critical underachiever with 2013’s The Starving Games.
The title suggests a spoof of The Hunger Games, but as is always the case with joint Friedberg-Seltzer efforts, parodies of other enterprises come fast and furious. Here, Kantmiss Evershot (Maiara Walsh) hopes to survive the life-or-death tournament instigated by President Snowballs (Diedrich Bader), facing opposition from the Expendables but receiving support from the Avengers. Along the way, there are also dreary nods to Avatar, Taylor Swift, the Harry Potter franchise, and even The Annoying Orange.
14 JURY DUTY
Pauly Shore headlined a string of terrible movies during the 1990s (Bio-Dome and Encino Man among them), yet 1995’s Jury Duty is the only one that has managed to receive a perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The perpetually annoying Pauly plays a slacker who’s only too happy to serve on the jury of a lengthy murder trial since his sequestered state means he now has free room and board. The film is fashioned as a parody of 1957’s 12 Angry Men, and the dense appropriation of some of the material surely had Henry Fonda rolling in his grave.
Yet the most cringe-worthy aspect of Jury Duty was its attempt to milk comedy out of the O.J. Simpson murder trial that was unfolding during production and continued after the film’s release. “Run, O.J., run!” Pauly’s character even bleats at one point.
13 LOOSE CANNONS
There’s something particularly painful about watching a genuinely great actor perform material that’s far beneath them. One such example can be found in 1990’s horrendous Loose Cannons, in which two-time Oscar winner Gene Hackman glumly goes through the motions.
Hackman is cast as maverick cop Mac Stern, whose new partner Ellis Fielding (Dan Aykroyd) suffers from multiple personality disorder. When confronted with violence, this perturbed policeman subconsciously takes on the personas of fictional characters — cue Aykroyd’s torturous impersonations of the Road Runner, the Cowardly Lion, Captain Kirk, and Dirty Harry Callahan.
Incidentally, the plot of Loose Cannons centers on the efforts of Mac and Ellis to track down a vintage, World War II-era adult flick that’s also being sought by neo-Nazi sympathizers. The star of that film? None other than Adolf Hitler!
12 NATIONAL LAMPOON’S GOLD DIGGERS
It’s been pretty much downhill for the National Lampoon film division since the halcyon days of Animal House and Vacation, but 2003’s National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers might represent the nadir of the entire franchise.
Despite the confines of a PG-13 rating, this is foul material, as two dorks (Will Friedle and Chris Owen) decide they should marry two elderly sisters (Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor) in the hopes that the women will die soon and leave behind a great fortune. What the clods don’t know is that the sisters are broke and planning to murder them for the insurance money.
When it comes to terrible comedies, the merciless reviews are often more interesting (and certainly funnier) than anything seen on screen. That’s certainly the case here — perhaps the most intriguing dig comes from critic Peter Hartlaub, who asked readers to “imagine a horrible parallel universe where Pauly Shore is allowed to direct a remake of Harold and Maude.” The mind boggles.
Aside from Disney's 1940 masterpiece, Carlos Collodi's Pinocchio has been the source of many dubious film versions, including 1964's animated Pinocchio In Outer Space and 1971’s X-rated The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (advertised with the tagline "It's Not His Nose That Grows!"). In the annals of bad cinema, though, no version will ever approach writer-director-star Roberto Benigni's 2002 take on the tale.
This Italian effort is a monumental achievement in practically every facet of inept filmmaking: joyless, idiotic, annoying, heavy-handed, visually atrocious, and often downright creepy. The 50-year-old Benigni cast himself as the wooden puppet who longs to become a real boy, and his performance is both tiresome and terrifying.
As the rancid cherry on top, the dubbing by English-speaking actors (among them Regis Philbin, Kevin James, and Breckin Meyer as Pinocchio) is particularly poor, with the words matching the lip movements about as well as in those imported kung fu flicks from the 1970s.
Before his career transformation in the early 1980s, Leslie Nielsen was known primarily as a dramatic actor, appearing in such films as Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure. That all changed, though, with the 1980 smash Airplane! and the short-lived 1982 TV show Police Squad!
At that point, Nielsen became a celebrated comedian, yet aside from The Naked Gun films (spun off from Police Squad!), most of his movies in this vein featured shoddy scripts that failed the eager-to-please star. Spy Hard and An American Carol were among the spoofs savaged by critics, but 1990’s Repossessed took an especially brutal beating.
A feeble parody of 1973’s The Exorcist, Repossessed finds Linda Blair essaying a similar role as before — someone who is possessed by Satan. Nielsen co-stars as Father Mayii, who’s called upon to cast the devil out. There are also appearances by a quartet of priests named Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Meanwhile, wrestlers Jesse Ventura and Gene Okerlund appear as themselves, offering play-by-play commentary on the nationally televised exorcism.
9 UNDER THE RAINBOW
One of the most notorious bombs of its era, 1981’s Under the Rainbow is a flailing farce in which a Hollywood hotel is overrun by scores of little people, all auditioning for the parts of Munchkins in the upcoming 1939 production of The Wizard of Oz. Chevy Chase stars as a Secret Service agent uncovering Axis elements at the establishment, while Carrie Fisher appears as a studio employee who falls for Chase’s laid-back lawman.
Even during a period not exactly known for its political correctness, Under the Rainbow shocked many with its mean-spirited attitude toward its diminutive characters. "You're bad little people!" one character barks. "You deserve to be short!"
The never-ending series of groaners that pass as gags only drag this painfully unfunny flick further down. As one dwarf cracks after dallying with a tall prostitute, "That's the first time I've ever gone up on a woman!" Yeesh.
8 THE VILLAIN
No one ever criticized Hal Needham’s formidable skills as a stuntman — in fact, he won an honorary Oscar in 2013 for his achievements in this field — but the same couldn’t be said of his career as a director. Despite a hot beginning that saw him helming 1977’s Smokey and the Bandit and 1978’s Hooper, the rest of his resume was largely littered with such atrocities as Megaforce and Cannonball Run II.
Often forgotten among his flops is the 1979 Western comedy The Villain, which, if nothing else, at least boasts an interesting and eclectic cast. Kirk Douglas plays the titular character of Cactus Jack, who repeatedly attempts to steal a sizable amount of money from Charming Jones (Ann-Margret). Standing in the way of his success is not only Charming’s bodyguard, Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger), but also Jack’s own incompetence.
Even acknowledging that The Villain was meant to be a live-action counterpart to classic Looney Tunes shorts (with Douglas essentially playing Wile E. Coyote), critics quickly tired of the film’s broad humor.
7 CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?
Television nostalgia exploded during the 1990s, with a sizable number of classic series from earlier decades reconfigured for movie screens. Despite the occasional gem like The Fugitive, most adaptations were lackluster efforts along the lines of The Mod Squad, McHale’s Navy, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Bringing up the rear was 1994’s Car 54, Where Are You?, a movie spurned by both critics and audiences.
An update of the popular ‘60s sitcom, this movie cast David Johansen and John C. McGinley as Toody and Muldoon, two inept police officers assigned to protect a witness (Jeremy Piven) from being killed by local mobsters. Series regulars Al Lewis and Nipsey Russell were invited to reprise their roles as fellow cops, and the cast also included Fran Drescher, Rosie O’Donnell, Tone Loc, and Penn & Teller.
Shooting was completed in 1990, but studio suits disliked what they saw, and the movie wasn’t released until four years later.
6 MERCI DOCTEUR REY
Like Rolex, Ferrari and Prada, the Merchant Ivory Productions label was long a guarantee of top-grade quality. Created by filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, the outfit was responsible for such award-winning gems as A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day. It’s hard to imagine one of their efforts branded with a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, yet that’s the case with 2002’s Merci Docteur Rey.
Set in Paris, Merci Docteur Rey centers on Thomas Beaumont (Stanislas Merhar), a gay man who has just witnessed a murder. Shaken, he visits the reputable Dr. Rey, not realizing that he’s actually talking to a mental patient (Jane Birkin) who’s posing as the good doctor. Meanwhile, Thomas’ mother (Dianne Wiest), a vain opera singer, arrives in Paris to visit her son and immediately gets involved in an ersatz kidnapping scheme.
Despite all the ingredients necessary for a classic farce, critics found little to like in what they collectively dismissed as a laborious and wearisome comedy.
5 YEAR OF THE COMET
When Year of the Comet was released in 1992, the publicity surrounding the film focused on the fact that it marked William Goldman’s first original screenplay since his Oscar-winning one for 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Yet such a ballyhooed distinction failed to impress either the critics or the moviegoing public.
Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Daly are likable if lackadaisical as a pair of gently combative Americans in pursuit of a priceless bottle of wine that once belonged to Napoleon. Also giving chase is a diabolical Frenchman (Louis Jourdan) who, despite his Gallic background, admits to preferring beer over wine.
This hopelessly bland romantic comedy also contains a half-baked subplot centering around a youth serum —this leads directly into a wince-inducing climax that’s awkwardly played for both tension and laughs.
For a far superior movie about wine, just stick with Sideways.
With the exclamation point perhaps meant to highlight its wretchedness, 1992’s Folks! proves to be an ungainly hybrid of a black comedy and a slapstick comedy, with reams of insincere sentimentality thrown in for good measure.
The source of the hilarity is the Alzheimer’s (no, really) that has afflicted elderly Harry Aldritch (Don Ameche), who at one point aimlessly fires a revolver in the presence of his grandchildren. After Harry accidentally burns down the home he shares with his wife (Anne Jackson), their son Jon (Tom Selleck) invites them to live with him. Consequently, Harry’s senility leads to a series of mishaps that result in Jon losing a testicle, suffering from partial hearing and vision loss, and sustaining other injuries to various body parts. Eventually, Jon agrees to help his parents commit suicide (no, really).
Ameche mugs shamelessly throughout the film, while Selleck (who earned a Worst Actor Razzie nomination for his efforts) clearly rues the day that Magnum, P.I. was taken off the air.
For every horror parody that works beautifully (e.g. Young Frankenstein), there are many more that fail abysmally. Joining the frightful likes of Vampires Suck and Haunted Honeymoon is 2009’s Transylmania.
A sequel to National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze and National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze 2, Transylmania finds many of the same characters from the previous films journeying to Romania to study at Razvan University. There, they encounter not only a centuries-old vampire but also the college’s demented dean - a dwarf conducting experiments for the benefit of his hunchbacked daughter.
While Dorm Daze received a brief theatrical run, Dorm Daze 2 went straight to video. Rather than go that route with Transylmania, its makers figured this third entry in the series held enough appeal that it would do fine in theaters. They figured wrong. Opening on over 1,000 screens, Transylmania managed to gross a paltry $400,000 during its entire run.
2 WAGONS EAST!
The awfulness of 1994’s Wagons East! is accentuated by the fact that it was tragically the film on which John Candy was working when he passed away. As the production neared completion, Candy suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 43.
Candy, at least, escapes this debacle with his dignity intact, which is more than can be said for most of his co-stars in this Western comedy. The beloved actor plays a drunken wagon master who agrees to lead a group of tenderfoots back east after they decide that the West is far too wild for them.
Richard Lewis is colorless as one of the simpering settlers, Charles Rocket is embarrassing as an eccentric cavalry officer, and Dances with Wolves’ Rodney A. Grant is required to play a Native American warrior who changes his name from Little Feather to Big Snake That Makes Women Faint. The comedy is of the sophomoric variety, with gags involving a man who falls in love with a cow and a urine-filled canteen that’s eagerly consumed.
1 A THOUSAND WORDS
Since its release in 2012, the Eddie Murphy vehicle A Thousand Words has amassed more negative reviews than any other comedy sporting a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Considering Murphy has starred in such universally despised efforts as The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Norbit, it’s perhaps surprising that A Thousand Words has been deemed the worst of the worst. Then again, it’s a high-concept idea aimed at the lowest common denominator.
Murphy plays an unctuous literary agent who finds a magical tree growing in his back yard. The amount of leaves left equals the number of words he can speak before he drops dead, so he begins choosing his utterances carefully and in the process learns what’s most important in life.
The comedy is as strained as the sentimentality is unearned, yet what really irked critics was the miscasting of Murphy. The actor is known for his witty and rapid-fire wordplay, so placing him in a role that removed one of his defining strengths understandably left reviewers speechless.
Have you seen any of these terrible comedies? Are any of them guilty pleasures? Let us know in the comments!
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