If you're anything like us, your favorite part of Thanksgiving wasn't the food – not that we turned it down – but the marathons on TV. And if there's one marathon that trumped all the rest, it was "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which gave fans an entire day of terrible movies with running commentary by Joel Hodgson, and later Mike Nelson, who were marooned in space with only their quippy robots Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot to help them survive the onslaught of motion picture awfulness. Those marathons are a thing of the past now, but why can't we watch terrible movies anyway? They don't call these movies "turkeys" for nothing.
CraveOnline presents our picks for The Top Twelve Turkeys for Turkey Day, featuring films from the last decade or so that were so bad that they're… actually pretty bad. These flicks aren't "so bad they're good" (so long, Alex Cross), and they're not unwatchably incompetent (later, Rock of Ages), they're just bad movies that, at one point, a studio thought would actually be a big hit for some reason. They got our hopes up, and we paid the price. Sometimes the filmmakers did too. There's a handful of ruined careers on our list, even if their movies actually made money. So let's get started. Pass the stuffing, would you?
Follow William Bibbiani on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
After the over the top debacle that was Street Fighter: The Movie, hopes were high that this time, with a more serious tone and greater emphasis on the fight scenes, Hollywood would get it right. So it was extra disappointing when Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, starring “Smallville’s” Kristen Kreuk as the title character, was almost worse than the original. Whereas the ridiculous Street Fighter: The Movie was at least entertaining as high camp, the reboot took itself more seriously than its subpar screenplay would allow. Once you see M. Bison (Neal McDonough) give his wife an abortion by hand in a cave so he can put the good part of his soul in the newborn infant, you can’t accept the straight-up revenge drama surrounding it.
An MVP award goes to Chris Klein – yes, Chris Klein – for turning in the craziest performance of his career as Charlie Nash, an Interpol agent who appears to have stepped right out of the 1980s “badass cinema” craze. At least someone was having fun. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li didn’t land with a thud, it landed with a sonic boom.
Die Another Day
They used to say that Moonraker was the worst James Bond movie, but nowadays the general consensus has shifted to Die Another Day, the last of the Pierce Brosnan films and easily the most absurd adventure Bond has ever undertaken. And it started so well, too… Die Another Day begins with James Bond taken prisoner by the enemy and tortured for fourteen months, implying a grittier take on the franchise that the next film, Casino Royale, would actually shoot for. What followed was a non-stop deluge of silly references to every other film in the series (Die Another Day was the twentieth official Bond film, so the time must have seemed right), an invisible car, a scene where Bond surfs a tidal wave made by a space laser, an unnecessary cameo by Madonna, and an even more unnecessary supporting turn by Halle Berry, who completely failed to take off with audiences and earn her own, widely rumored spin-off series.
Die Another Day is the wrong kind of crazy. It’s watchable but never quite reaches the heights of “so bad it’s good,” and it was the last straw for audiences, who still turned out in droves, but whose backlash against the film necessitated the hard reboot of the Daniel Craig movies. Die Another Day was the day that old school James Bond died after all.
Planet of the Apes
Tim Burton made another foray into science fiction with 2001’s Planet of the Apes, a film that proved the genre stylist can’t actually do anything he sets his mind to. At least Mars Attacks had a malevolent streak. Planet of the Apes was a thudding bore from start to finish, punctuated by a decent performance from Tim Roth as the film’s villain (he turned down the role of Severus Snape in Harry Potter for this, if you can believe it). Mark Wahlberg stars as a personality-free astronaut who crashlands on a planet where apes rule and mankind has been enslaved, because he was on a rescue mission to save his favorite chimpanzee. He winds up starting a revolution, and torn between the world’s most boring human (Estella Warren) and the world’s sexiest ape (Helena Bonham Carter) in the cinema’s least comfortable love triangle.
The original Planet of the Apes wasn’t an action-packed extravaganza, but the Tim Burton version just wanders from cookie cutter plot point to cookie cutter plot point, concluding with a “twist” ending that, unlike the 1968 version, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It feels like it’s the product of a random ending generator, and sets up a sequel that nobody – but nobody – actually wanted to see. If ever a whole production slipped on a banana peel, it’s Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes.
Chris Klein, we swear we’re not picking on you, but Rollerball also sucks. It’s remake of the popular but somewhat dated sci-fi sports movie from 1975, starring James Caan as a star player in the roller derby-esque game, whose rules are continually made more violent by a major corporation to force him into retirement. The new version, directed by action luminary John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator), moves the action to Kazakhstan – because no American corporation could possibly be evil, apparently – where Klein becomes a superstar at the sport, whose rules are never adequately explained and which is so confusingly shot it’s almost impossible to tell what the heck is going on.
Eventually Klein catches wind that Rollerball is a criminal enterprise and attempts to escape in a baffling action sequence shot entirely in green-tinged night vision for no conceivable reason whatsoever. Later, the bad guys murder a local hero from Kazakhstan right in front of his friends and family, and they respond by cheering for Chris Klein to score. Rollerball could have been a fun action movie with a dark streak. Instead it’s just a strange mess that shot Chris Klein’s career in the foot and is all but guaranteed to go down as the worst film of John McTiernan’s career. He really dropped the ball on this one.
So get this: we finally had the technology necessary to make a badass Godzilla movie without using a guy in a suit (as charming as that can be), and the best Hollywood could come up with was… this? Director Roland Emmerich followed up his mega-success Independence Day with a remake of Godzilla that almost never shows the monster. That would be bad enough, but the supporting cast is full of one-note characters, the plot can only move forward because the military is full of idiots who manage to lose a 20-story monster in New York City, and Godzilla, the point of the whole movie, takes a back seat for most of the third act so Matthew Broderick can fight velociraptors with spiny things on their backs.
It’s not that we expected much from Godzilla, but giving us the title monster would have been nice. Treating the wanton devastation of New York City with a modicum of seriousness would have been good too. Sure, the 1998 Godzilla is pre-9/11, but Independence Day worked (as well as it did) because the destruction of Earth’s major cities was treated as a bad thing. Here everyone just shrugs and makes more stupid jokes. Godzilla was gigantic alright… a gigantic turkey.
Clash of the Titans
Louis Leterrier was primed to be one of Hollywood’s biggest new action directors after pleasingly crazy motion pictures like Unleashed, The Transporter 2 and The Incredible Hulk. He decided to follow up these successes with a remake of Clash of the Titans, which would update the very, very dated original Greek mythology fantasy with eye-popping special effects and a dazzling cast including Avatar’s Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, reteaming for the first time since Schindler’s List. Audiences wanted to see it, but they couldn’t, because the 3D sucked more than anything had ever sucked.
But even if the legendarily bad post-converted 3D had worked, Clash of the Titans would have been a titanic stinker. The titans never actually show up in the movie. The photography is so dark you can’t even see half of what’s going on, and the story doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, with Ralph Fiennes’ bad guy going out of his way to point out all the flaws in his own plans, to the hero no less, and a race against the clock funded by the King of Argos, who doesn’t think to offer his champions a couple of horses to speed things up a bit. And the ending – oh, the ending – pretends to be happy while giving one of the main characters exactly the opposite of what they’ve been fighting for all along. Clash of the Titans clashes and burns.
Lady in the Water
After the disappointingly stupid ending of The Village, M. Night Shyamalan’s first major critical disappointment, the director of The Sixth Sense seemed eager to do something new. Something original. Something that didn’t depend on a twist ending. The result was Lady in the Water, an all-new fantasy tale set at a commonplace apartment complex where a mermaid, of sorts, appears in the swimming pool to workaday schlub Paul Giamatti. The fairy tale creature is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and she’s there to inspire a writer whose work will eventually change the world with its greatness and beauty. That writer… is played by M. Night Shyamalan.
You might be able to see the problem already. Lady in the Water drips with hubris, elevating the writer/director to Christhood while going out of its way to murder a snooty film critic in the middle of the movie for daring to think he knew which way the story was headed. He couldn’t, you see, but only because it’s silly as hell. Shyamalan goes out of his way to make his characters fulfill destinies they weren’t foreshadowed to achieve, and instead of feeling clever the result feels random and pointless. Lady in the Water simply sank.
The Wicker Man
There’s really nothing like the original Wicker Man, a horror/thriller/police procedural/musical film about an insufferably Christian detective investigating the disappearance of a little girl in the isolated pagan community of Summerisle. A remake of such a weird film, cult classic or otherwise, was not inevitable, but in the hands of famed controversy-monger Neil LaBute, who rose to acclaim as a filmmaker and playwright who fearlessly pushed societal buttons, it might have worked. It starred Nicolas Cage (who’s sometimes great) and Ellen Burstyn (who’s always great), and moved the action to America for perhaps obvious marketing reasons. It could have been a great remake. Instead it’s one of the most incredible turkeys ever filmed.
LaBute’s film is packed to the gills with strange moments that make you question the sanity of the filmmakers, like Nicolas Cage roundhouse-kicking Leelee Sobieski in the face and spending a large portion of the finale in a cuddly bear suit. You’d think, with all that weirdness at hand, that The Wicker Man would be “so bad it’s good,” but it’s not. To get to all the wacky parts you have to sit through what feels like hours of Nicolas Cage walking around the town, collecting clues that make the film feel like the world’s worst “point and click” adventure game. It’s just really, really boring, until those occasional moments when it’s purely laughable. The Wicker Man can eat a wick.
Batman & Robin
Now we’re getting into the big ones. The turkeys you all know, and possibly love, but can’t pretend aren’t total crap. Batman & Robin is one of those turkeys, a film that singlehandedly destroyed a franchise by abandoning everything that made the Batman series great in the first place: excitement, action, cleverness, coherence, and an overall aversion to the kind of mainstream pandering that made Batman & Robin feel like a total betrayal. Batman has a bat credit card in this movie, for Gotham’s sake. Wouldn’t the credit company find out that Bruce Wayne’s paying the bills? How does Batman prove his identity anyway? Does he have a bat driver’s license?
Joel Schumacher – who spends the entire commentary track for Batman & Robin apologizing for this fiasco, by the way – allowed the studio to turn Batman into something for widdle kids, an overstuffed nonsense machine specifically designed to sell toys, not entertain the masses. It would be a camp classic if you could figure out what was going on: the editing and production design are so manic that every damned scene is a chore. The only way to watch this film and fully appreciate its goofiness is to turn on the Spanish-language track and pretend it’s a Luchador movie, which we wholeheartedly recommend. Otherwise, it’s just a bad, dumb, bad superhero movie, robbin’ audiences of a decent Batman series for years until Batman Begins finally came out.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was the most anticipated movie of all time, and we don’t think that’s any exaggeration. It may still hold the title, come to think of it. The film was the long-rumored prequel to the original, iconic Star Wars trilogy, and promised to reveal the series’ secrets and tell a nigh-Shakespearean story of a hero, Anakin Skywalker, falling from grace and becoming the galaxy’s greatest villain. Then it came out, and none of that stuff was in the movie.
In an apparent attempt to lure younger audiences to the Star Wars franchise (not realizing, perhaps, that they already loved the original films), director George Lucas dumbed down the entire series while, paradoxically, making it unnecessarily complicated. It’s the story of a little kid who gets pulled into an intergalactic conflict, but that kid doesn’t show up until a third of the way into the movie. Before that, we’re stuck with a war based on a vague trade dispute, characters who seem ambivalent towards everything going on and a racially-insensitive minstrel character named Jar-Jar Binks, who may be the most universally despised fictional being of our times. The only answer we get is that The Force, a religion beloved to Star Wars fans, was actually hard science all along, making one wonder why everyone stopped believing in it between trilogies, since the two leaders of the galaxy are essentially priests.
The next two films were also atrocious, but were at least eventful enough to be entertaining in a goofball way. The Phantom Menace was a snorefest, and barely more involving than a Star Wars screensaver. It’s been menacing fandom ever since.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
But The Phantom Menace, for all its flaws, at least kind of felt like it belonged in the old-fashioned Star Wars universe. The next movie George Lucas produced was so badly conceived that the phrase “it raped my childhood” was actually spoken without irony, and by quite a lot of people. That film was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth film in the series, which before this had maintained a consistent standard of quality, whether you think Temple of Doom is too dark or not. And it really did stink.
Harrison Ford, previously a charmer, looked bored in every scene. The story was science fiction in origin, not fantasy, which many fans took as a betrayal of the series’ foundations. The supporting characters were many, and poorly integrated into the narrative. And, of course, it included such off the wall nonsense as Shia LaBeouf swinging on vines like Tarzan and Indiana Jones himself surviving a nuclear blast – at ground zero – by hiding a refrigerator. There’s old school Republic serial nonsense, and then there’s just plain old fashioned unbelievable nonsense. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull crossed that line, crystallizing its place as one of the worst sequels ever made.
Worse than Batman & Robin? Worse than The Phantom Menace? Worse than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Most definitely. Those other turkeys had an excuse – they were pandering to children – while The Postman was supposed to be taken seriously as an inspirational epic from the Oscar-winning director of Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner once again starred and directed in a lavish, western-inspired production, this time based on the award-winning novel by David Brin, but the film that came out of Costner’s id was such an unapologetic love note to himself that it’s actually hard to believe nobody at the studio told him he had gone completely insane.
Kevin Costner stars as a drifter in a post-nuclear wasteland where all vestiges of society have fallen apart. After what feels like an entire feature film of Costner getting enslaved by cult leader Will Patton (the bastard feeds Costner his own beloved donkey!), the hero steals a postman’s uniform off of a corpse and pretends to be a representative of a newly formed government led by ex-Beatle Richard Starkey, whom Costner is old enough to remember but characters much older than Costner have never even heard of. By pretending that the government is getting back together, Costner inspires the world to actually put its rear in gear and create a utopia, eventually visualized by dressing everyone in pastels.
Everything about The Postman feels wrong, unless, like Costner, you want to put the star on a pedestal the likes of which Hollywood has never seen. From the interminable slow-mo shots of himself, to an unbelievable scene of rock star Tom Petty – playing himself (!) – telling Costner that he’s not famous… Kevin Costner is famous… The Postman feels like a special delivery of all-encompassing vanity, and it’s the biggest turkey we’ve seen in decades.
Follow William Bibbiani on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.