The world of cinema can be a magical departure from the current events and global machinations that threaten to throw our world off balance. Films serve as a wonderful escape from the mundane: where anything can be made possible, and where the wildest pleasures can be attained. This past year, I got to watch a bevy of films that entertained me and that improved my quality of life overall. These films helped me cope with the harsh realities of life, and they succeeded in providing fruit for viewing pleasure for audiences across this torn, divided world. You can see a few of them in my top-20 best films of 2016 here.
The films on this list are not those films. 2016 may have presented some new film classics, but it also presented some truly atrocious cinematic experiences that were definitely not worth the price of a ticket. This is my list of my top twenty worst films I had the misfortune of viewing in 2016.
20. Louder Than Bombs (Dir.: Joachim Trier)
Louder Than Bombs might prove to be a tad controversial, as by all accounts Joachim Trier is a pretty good director and it received mostly positive critical reception. I’m also a fan of both Jesse Eisenberg and Gabriel Byrne as actors, and the cinematography did not exactly fail to deliver adequate scene composition. Unfortunately, there are two critical flaws with this film that prevent it from working: its screenplay and its uneven casting. Both Isabelle Huppert and Devin Druid’s performances are wasted on a screenplay that dilutes their characters to sheer stereotypes: the former, an eccentric artist with a strange romantic past, and the latter a sheltered, eccentric teen with an ultimately profound intellect. These characters would be interesting if placed within the context of a different film, something more extravagant or artistically satisfying, but within the confines of a somber, flashback-heavy family drama, the script gives these actors nothing to work with. I have a feeling that the screenplay was similarly bare-bones for Eisenberg and Byrne’s characters, but luckily, they are able to bring some range and nuance to their performances to try and carry the film as best they can. Unfortunately, Louder Than Bombs never quite recovers from its narrative failings, and it marks a colossal disappointment for Trier’s first English language film.
19. The Neon Demon (Dir.: Nicholas Winding Refn)
Nicholas Winding Refn is no stranger to criticism. I’ve been a defender of his films in the past, most notably with the film Only God Forgives: a challenging visual allegory of a man’s struggle with God and his disturbed, horrifying family. In Refn’s latest film, he tells the story of a young aspiring model as she journeys to Hollywood in hopes to find work and live out her dream. It’s not unlike other films to come out this year as far as its main theme is concerned, and as per usual, Refn’s cinematography provides a lush kaleidoscope for images and a killer soundtrack. The physical aspects of the film, for the most part, are sound. Unfortunately, The Neon Demon’s third act betrays the rest of the film entirely, succumbing to a (usually) first-time director’s first mistake of forsaking all subtlety and beating the film’s theme over the viewer’s head. Additionally, the final thirty minutes of the film could have been cut out entirely and the film would have been better for it, as the ultimate finale of the narrative seems to insult the audience’s intelligence. This is a tragic turn, for Refn is not a filmmaker that attracts a broad, casual film-going audience. As an arthouse critique on the nature of fame and its effect on the human psyche, it’s not the worst, but for a director of Refn’s talent and caliber, it’s a colossal disappointment. As one of his weaker films to date, The Neon Demon is beautiful to look at, but ultimately shallow at its core.
18. Elvis & Nixon (Dir.: Liza Johnson)
This film had great potential, as it tells the story behind a famous photo with great actors. Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey’s performances are both serviceable, but Elvis & Nixon can’t overcome its own pacing and lack of direction, making it unclear what kind of theme it wants to deliver. The film’s crucial mistake in pacing makes it feel like it would have worked better as a short film or a sketch than a full length feature, as the real climax of the film – the titular conversation between the two famous men – only provides moderate intrigue. The rest of the film features characters that the director can’t make us care about, with performances that range from tolerable to awful. While the cinematography and the period design are both well-executed and the film does a decent job at immersing the viewer in the era, this aspect of the film simply serves as a backdrop to the aforementioned slow narrative. Perhaps if the film had some snappy dialogue or some more character development thrown it, it would find its way off of this list, but as it stands, Elvis & Nixon is one of 2016’s most unfortunate missed opportunities. It could have told a compelling character drama of two historic titans, but it instead struggles to find a greater purpose as a cinematic experience.
17. Blood Father (Dir.: Jean-François Richet)
Mel Gibson has finally begun to achieve forgiveness in Hollywood for his infamous anti-Semitic episodes in years past, directing a tremendous film called Hacksaw Ridge. Unfortunately, he also took the time to lead a ham-fisted thriller called Blood Father. While he attempts to carry the film through his testosterone-laden performance, the film unfortunately suffers from a director and a screenplay that both treat the film as a profound meditation on redemption and parental responsibility, whereas in reality it’s a mediocre pulp action film. The performances are not as over-the-top as the rest of the film is, so the pulpy tone of the film never quite meshes together even though some actors, like Michael Parks, know full well what kind of film they’re in. The soundtrack feels overbearing, and the cinematography feels bland and uninteresting, making this film feel like a made-for-TV TNT movie rather than a film that made it to theaters and starred one of the greatest Hollywood leading men of all time. Whereas it’s been a joy to see the return of the road warrior on the big screen, the same cannot be said for this film. Blood Father feels more amateur than Gibson’s talents call for, and though Gibson has starred in some stinkers over the years, this is a slight stain on the comeback of this talented actor.
16. The Legend of Tarzan (Dir.: David Yates)
Tarzan has been a character in film and television for the better part of a century, and there have been some good films come from the franchise as a result. Unfortunately, Hollywood loves to reboot or rehash franchises and make them darker or gritter (for better or worse), and The Legend of Tarzan serves up the hero in question as the latest victim of this cyclical regurgitation. This film has some tremendous talent, from director David Yates and actors Christoph Waltz, Margot Robbie and Samuel L. Jackson, but unfortunately, none of this talent can save a bare-bones screenplay, a generic narrative flow, a boring soundtrack, and an over-reliance on awful CGI. Christoph Waltz seems to attempt to bring gravitas to his role, as he seems like the only actor who genuinely enjoys himself with this performance, but the rest of the actors just either play themselves (Jackson) or don’t feel natural as the character that they play (Robbie.) With a lead performance from Alexander Skarsgård that makes a coffee table look charismatic, there’s not too much to like about this Tarzan film. Perhaps the costume design and the makeup work that went into the aboriginal jungle natives could be considered pretty impressive, but overall, The Legend of Tarzan is a bore. David Yates has shown talent in directing the films of the Harry Potter universe, so he should probably stick to those projects.
15. X-Men: Apocalypse (Dir.: Bryan Singer)
Many fans of the X-Men franchise were elated when director Bryan Singer returned to the helm after the critical and commercial success X-Men: Days of Future Past. That film proved there are still worthy stories to be told within the X-Men universe. With the introduction of the popular comic villain Apocalypse, played by acclaimed up-and-comer Oscar Isaac, many fans were excited to see what Singer could bring to the table on a much grander scale, as the comic book villain was a prime source of raising stakes and generally causing bloodshed. Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse collapses within its own ambition and wastes its great cast beneath a ham-fisted screenplay that cannot decide what kind of tone it wants to have. With the young Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler, the film feels coming-of-age; with Magneto, it feels like a dark and gritty drama. Worst of all, the character of Apocalypse is treated extremely poorly, and his character is diluted in the film from being a complex antagonist into a one-note world-conquering villain that simply wants to take over. The CGI on display is a mess. The generic building destruction that felt dated in superhero films back in the late 2000s yet again rears its ugly head. Incredible actors such as Oscar Isaac, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy all try to carry the material, but some actors simply played their roles to collect a paycheck, halting immersion even further (I’m looking at you, Jennifer Lawrence). This is one of the worst comic book films of the year, and it really sets the X-Men franchise two steps back from the step forward it took with Future Past.
14. Regression (Dir.: Alejandro Amenábar)
Regression is a film that feels like it could have been a passable, 1990s era throwback thriller, if only the film itself weren’t so self-serious and pretentious. It thinks it says more than it does on the nature of the occult and of psychological gaslighting. Whereas Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson put forth great performances here, the physical aspects of the film feel incredibly lacking. The cinematography, soundtrack, and dream sequences feel like they are aiming for a higher grasp of storytelling than the screenplay can keep up with. The direction betrays the acting performances and the lacking narrative. While I can admire a film that wears its influences on its sleeve – some of the surrealism of Lynch and twists on a Fincher/Nolan level – this film takes itself so seriously and the storyline is so generic and repetitive that it is nearly impossible to enjoy watching unless it’s one of your very first thrillers. It’s no wonder this film opened in very few theaters and went on VOD fairly quickly. Though the acting is mostly strong, this aspect of the film really is the only highlight. Regression is a plodding, boring mess that makes no apologies for being as pedantic and shallow as it feels it is profound and deep.
13. Mr. Right (Dir.: Paco Cabezas)
When Shane Black returned with The Nice Guys this year, he proved that the action comedy genre may not necessarily be destined to remain a relic of the 80s and 90s. Mr. Right serves as a counterargument that films with this kind of dichotomy may not always work, and that the ideas on the page may not translate as well to the screen without direction of Black’s caliber. The screenplay is not without its charms, and Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell both show that they are having fun playing their characters, but the director cannot seem to balance the tongue-in-cheek tone with the gratuitous violence on screen. Some outrageous scenes, like the dance scene, with Rockwell’s character performing hits and murders while dancing very flamboyantly, are interesting to watch, but the cinematography and score do not help to convey the over-the-top nature of it, and the whole film as a result suffers from these multiple miscalculations. Lastly, toward the end of the film, the script tries far too hard to subvert the standard hitman genre with some choices that its villains make last-minute, and the resulting climax feels awkward and disjointed as a result. Mr. Right is an awkward mess that never adds up to more than the sum of its parts, and a potentially good time is ruined by unconfident direction and an unwillingness to take stylistic risks.
12. Mojave (Dir.: William Monahan)
Mojave is an independent film directed by the screenwriter of Martin Scorsese’s Academy-Award winner The Departed, starring Oscar Isaac, Garret Hedlund, and Mark Wahlberg. Naturally, one would think that this film would be a profound meditation on the human condition, or at least have a good screenplay with good performances. Ultimately, this film has neither, as it’s a pretentious, disjointed, pointless thriller, where all of the characters are not only unlikable, but unsympathetic and cartoonish. Oscar Isaac hams it up as a silly redneck drifter, constantly making insane philosophical statements that do not serve any greater purpose in the narrative rather than to fool the viewer into thinking the film is smarter than it is. Hedlund attempts to play the straight man to Isaac’s insanity, but his mumbling and stone-faced apathy make the character feel as if he does not care about any of the events unfolding, making it impossible for the viewer to care in turn. The film’s nihilistic meanderings would feel more at home in a different film, as this thriller makes no effort to provide context or narrative heft to justify such a bleak outlook. Mojave is a misfire on multiple levels. It makes good actors provide bad performances, it marks a stain on this screenwriter’s young directorial career, and it tells a story that did had no purpose being told.
11. The 5th Wave (Dir.: J Blakeson)
Another year, another failed attempt at starting a young adult franchise. This time around, Chloe Grace Moretz leads a mostly decent cast in young adult sci-fi thriller The 5th Wave, which tells the story of an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out humanity where, wouldn't you guess, it’s up to children and teenagers to save the world! The narrative attempts to justify why the adults need to stay put and the children need to save the world, but it never feels justified. By the reveal - which becomes completely obvious from the middle of the movie onward – I was ready to make my own sixth wave. The waves in this film are different steps of extinction that the aliens take to methodically decimate humanity, and the fifth wave is not destroying the viewer with generic young adult tropes, a love triangle, a generic quirky woman lead, or any of the other copy and paste narrative devices in this film genre. Apparently, after doing some research, I found that the book got pretty decent reviews, so I would assume that if you’re into the young adult sci-fi dystopian thing, that book might not be a bad recommendation. The film, however, is a drab, painful romp through territory explored far too often in recent memory. These films can be skillfully executed, as is the case in most of the Hunger Games films and in the Harry Potter franchise, but unfortunately, most of them end up like this dud.
10. I Am Wrath (Dir.: Chuck Russell)
John Travolta has fallen out of the limelight in recent years. His status as a leading man has definitely declined in the wake of the Chris Pratts, Bradley Coopers and Ryan Goslings of the world. While he has found relative success in various supporting roles, such as the film In a Valley of Violence and the hit miniseries American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, most of his film roles have been overacted and underwritten, as is highlighted in his new outing I Am Wrath. While this film offers cheap action thrills, the narrative is a generic combination of Death Wish and John Wick, without as much charm as the latter or as much depth as the former. The worst sins that the film commits are in providing a lack of narrative tension (as exemplified through its generic score), shallow action sequences, and a lack of overall cohesion. The film starts off simply but becomes more complex, and as a result, convoluted as it goes on, culminating in a conspiracy-laden finale that does not pay off due to the network television quality action. This film never feels cinematic; rather, it just feels like a bad TV pilot. It’s not even good enough to serve as a trashy, passable action film. It’s another testament to John Travolta’s legacy that he is still able to make films such as these and still star in good films and television shows, as I Am Wrath fails to impress, and is ultimately a waste of time. I Am Disappoint.
9. True Memoirs of an International Assassin (Dir.: Jeff Wadlow)
Kevin James has long made films that have served the trashiest, most low-brow forms of humor on a crusty, rusted platter to moviegoers. Because of this reputation, I was surprised to learn that his new film, True Memoirs of an International Assassin, was not only a Netflix production, but that it also contained a rather ambitious and intriguing premise for the actor. A writer who has an assassin friend writes his story, changes a few details, and becomes published, but his publisher markets it as a true story, and when he is kidnapped by Venezuelan terrorists, he is forced to enact assassin protocols as if he was “The Ghost” the world believes him to be. Under a more capable comedic actor and more nuanced writing, this premise may have worked, but with Kevin James at the helm, the viewer is taken out of the film almost immediately after the fifteen minute prologue, as it becomes impossible to be immersed in the film. The terrorists in the film also act like amateurs, even though they’re proclaimed “Kings of Caracas” and supposedly some of the most dangerous men in the world. When the CIA gets involved, the film transcends simple bad comedy into a long, poorly executed Adult Swim sketch. While I admire James for taking on a project such as this, in an era where he cranks out films like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper every year, the risk never translates into reward, and as it stands, the film fails on multiple levels. It’s not worth the time on Netflix, much less a ticket price.
8. Yoga Hosers (Dir.: Kevin Smith)
Kevin Smith established a new Canadian film trilogy with the film Tusk back in 2014. A bizarre horror-comedy that ultimately received mixed reviews, it was a huge risk that quickly gained cult recognition due to its ridiculous premise and unapologetic execution. In that film, Harley Quinn Smith (daughter of director Kevin Smith) and Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp) played minor characters who only appeared briefly. With his newest film, these two young ladies take the lead roles. Yoga Hosers tells a tale of a couple of Canadian high school girls who must deal with the pressures of going without cell phones, Johnny Depp in makeup and a terrible French accent, and…Nazi sausage people. I grew up on films like Clerks and Dogma, so I’m a fan of Kevin Smith as a director, and I loved Tusk for its bizarre blend of horrific imagery and ridiculous dark comedy. Other than provide an introductory film for his daughter and her friend, I cannot see what Kevin Smith attempted to accomplish here, as this film goes nowhere, it fails at providing laughs, and none of its characters are likable, even Johnny Depp’s strange French Canadian monster hunter. Not even the gratuitous volume of cameos can save the film from being a forgettable, cringeworthy bore fest, and the film’s lack of thematic cohesion and a lack of character depth make Yoga Hosers an unfortunately terrible time.
7. London Has Fallen (Dir.: Babak Najafi)
Olympus Has Fallen was not the worst action film in the world. It showcased some admittedly patriotic and captivating imagery of a White House fallen to a terrorist attack, and it aided in providing another decent entry into Gerard Butler’s burgeoning action star filmography. It took a slight spin on a premise done a million times before (and better. I'm looking at you, Die Hard and onward) and executed the film with charisma. London Has Fallen feels like almost the polar opposite, and it feels so in spite of it being by and large the same film as the first one, at least narratively speaking. The president must be protected AGAIN, a terrorist attack puts Butler and Aaron Eckhart in harm’s way AGAIN, and even some of the same dialogue is recycled nearly verbatim, such as when Eckhart, like in Olympus, tells Butler to kill him before he is captured. If you’re going to make an iterative action film the first time around, don’t make its sequel an action film that is completely iterative and copy-paste from the first one. This filmmaking procedure is simply insulting to audience memory and intelligence. With some terrible dialogue, boring and generic cinematography, and another phoned in performance from everyone involved, London Has Fallen does not work. It lacks charisma that its predecessor maintained, and has no reason to exist. Also it wastes talent like Robert Forster, Melissa Leo and Jackie Earle Haley, giving them nothing to do. They better have gotten a big paycheck for this garbage heap.
6. The Do-Over (Dir.: Steven Brill)
Say what you will about Adam Sandler films, but the man has refined a formula over the past few years of churning out films that make money, taking the lowest common denominator audiences’ finances for ransom. Nevertheless, this formula just happens to be a flaming sewage pile, and the toxic aroma befouls the cinematic landscape once again with his newest film, The Do-Over. With David Spade as his sidekick, Adam Sandler convinces his friend to start over and live a new life as a kind of mysterious outlaw, and hijinks ensue. Like Sandler’s other films, The Do-Over has crass fart humor and jokes that mostly don’t land, but only offend and provide mean-spirited humor. While the film does make attempts at having heart and levity, it quickly reverts back to the immature writing that we all know and loathe from the Happy Madison crew. The film attempts to have a few scenes of action, with gun fights and some surprising violence when it does occur, but even that does nothing to improve the film’s watchability, as it feels more obligatory than flavorful. The only positive thing I can say about The Do-Over is that since it is a Netflix original, you do not have to buy a ticket or otherwise VOD rent it to watch it, though you should use your Netflix subscription on something much more worthwhile than another disgusting mess in Sandler’s increasingly messy filmography.
5. Criminal (Dir.: Ariel Vromen)
A CIA agent dies, and his memories are transplanted into a homicidal maniac’s brain, so that the U.S. government can use said homicidal maniac to recover lost intel, and hopefully catch a terrorist. Why does the U.S. government choose a homicidal maniac, of all people, to be the recipient of such a complex and sensitive procedure, and to carry on such a dangerous and integral mission to national security? This question is never answered in Criminal, a disappointing new effort from Ariel Vromen. Kevin Costner plays the antihero protagonist, and his performance as a crazy lunatic is really the only good thing about the whole affair, as the film succumbs to awful editing, mostly terrible performances from a fantastic cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot are all wasted on this catastrophe,) and a story that not only never makes any sense, but explicitly denies the audience justification and merit to its own narrative. It takes itself so impossibly seriously and the tone of the film stays so grim that it is simply impossible to be entertained while watching it. This dichotomy between ridiculous premise and solemn execution ultimately ruins the film and grinds its pacing to a halt; never mind the jerky camerawork and awful editing that makes it a nauseous experience to consume. Criminal is an awful film, and it is a crime that this film came into existence.
4. Fifty Shades of Black (Dir.: Michael Tiddes)
Like Adam Sandler and Kevin James above, Marlon Wayans is another actor that has vomited up and force-fed us his formula in countless spoof films. This time, our meal is a Fifty Shades of Grey spoof, Fifty Shades of Black. While the film itself provides cheap laughs at the expense of good writing, if you have seen any of the Scary Movie films or the other spoof films that the Wayans have come up with, then you’ve seen these types of worn out genre-clichés. The film is filled with recycled satirical ideas, even ones that Marlon Wayans has tried before, such as the white person who tries desperately to act black, a motif from the main white male character from Scary Movie 3. The film feels thoroughly dated as a whole, because despite functioning narratively as a spoof of a recent film, the different humorous scenes have been executed far better in the actor’s past projects. In a world where films like Cabin in the Woods are released, thoroughly spoofing a genre but also providing fresh ideas, Fifty Shades of Black does not cut it. The premise of the film would work well as a Saturday Night Live skit, but as a full feature film, it quickly becomes repetitive and loses its appeal incredibly quickly. Fifty Shades of Black fails to provide the biting satire it could have, and although this is nothing new, it still does not excuse Marlon Wayans from wasting another potential premise on his formulaic execution.
3. Nine Lives (Dir.: Barry Sonnenfeld)
Nine Lives would have been a great idea for a kids film in the early 2000s, at least from a marketing and a commercial standpoint. As it stands today upon release, it’s a cataclysmic failure - one I cannot believe that Kevin Spacey took the lead role in following his continuous excellent turns in House of Cards. The film tells the story of how the consciousness of a big-shot, arrogant CEO is transported into the body of a cat, while his own body falls into a coma; through being a cat, he must learn how to properly love his family again. Not only does Nine Lives provide a disgustingly overused narrative device begun with A Christmas Carol, it also does it badly. This film is overloaded with awful CGI, bad jokes inappropriate for a PG movie (divorce humor and suicide are blatantly addressed in the film), and worst of all, tons of stock meetings where business leaders discuss how many shares they’ve acquired, and the different ways they can save on their P&L in the coming fiscal year. If there is one thing that children love, it’s the inner machinations of business management. This film is such a horrible train wreck, it’s almost ironically brilliant. This could possibly be the only film on this list that I would recommend watching, if only because Nine Lives is so unholy in its execution that to truly understand it, it must be seen. Just be warned, you may never be the same again after watching it.
2. Meet the Blacks (Dir.: Deon Taylor)
Attempting to take on the mantle of pathetically crafted and cheap-joke-laden spoof filmmaking from the Wayans brothers, Mike Epps steps up to the plate in Meet the Blacks. A spoof of the Purge films, this film tells the story of the Black family as they move into a wealthy, predominantly white Beverly Hills abode right before the night of the annual purge. Yes, there are jokes related to their name and their skin color. There are also jokes at the expense of every race and orientation. There are jokes about drug dealing, clowns, and credit. None of these jokes are funny at all, except possibly one joke that Lavell Crawford makes in song form, which I laughed at simply because of Lavell Crawford shooting guns and loudly singing about castration. Mike Epps is a prolific stand-up comedian, so I would assume this film would at least be funny, but it is mostly joyless. None of the characters are likable, the humor only insults and feels mean spirited, the scenes that are spoofed were actually darkly funnier in the original Purge films, and the film’s gratuitous cameos all waste the screen presence displayed. This is an irredeemable film that makes the Wayans spoof films look like The Godfather in comparison. The worst part is that this film was made on a $900,000 budget and grossed $9.1 million, so it’s likely that a follow-up screenplay could be in our future. God help us all.
1. Gods of Egypt (Dir.: Alex Proyas)
We may never know what team of executives or producers decided to green-light the colossal failure that is Gods of Egypt, but if there is an underworld, it can be assured that whatever person or thing came up with this film will be destined for it. The bad-CGI-laden, horribly written, poorly acted, and awkwardly self-assured failed blockbuster thinks itself to be a new franchise starter in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean, but it doesn’t even live up to the Clash of the Titans reboot or its sequel, both of which were terrible. The film is confident in its status as a grand epic, as its characters all mention about how grand the gods are, and to its credit, the film does explore more aspects of Egyptian religious lore than I anticipated. Unfortunately, it does so in a shallow, cartoony way. It features the standard audience-insert character who, of course, learns that the gods are not so different from the human counterparts, and bonds with the different supernatural characters along the way. All it allows is for the audience's slow death at the hands of boredom and intense cinematic suffering. This film made me physically sick to watch, as it’s so painfully generic, and it’s not even campy enough to be enjoyable (why does it take itself incredibly seriously?). It’s a chore to watch, it’s nauseating in how bad its effects are, it’s dull in its terrible performances, and it’s the worst film of 2016.