As we honor the best films of the decade, let us not forgot those who also played their part in making the decade memorable. Here are our picks for the most entertaining bad movies produced in the ’00s.
15. The Perfect Man (2005)
Ah, the zeitgeist: So ever-present and yet so elusive. Hence this 2005 movie, which tried to update Cyrano De Bergerac for the Internet age. Well, sort of. Sparkly-skinned teen sensation Hilary Duff plays Cyrano to her single mom Heather Locklear (presumably chosen because there aren’t that many name actresses not big enough to star in their own movies, but theoretically able to attract older viewers to a Hilary Duff vehicle). Duff’s weapon of choice: computers. This being the height of blogging’s popularity, Duff’s character keeps one, even greeting her readers with lines like, ‘Hey, all you bloggers…’” Using the anonymity of the web, she begins courting her own mother by creating the—no surprise if you read the title—perfect man. It practically follows a checklist for the best bad movies:
- quickly dated technological references
- stars enjoying what they fail to recognize as their fleeting moment of glory
- creepy incestuous subtext
- and oh yeah, Dennis DeYoung is in it… as the lead singer of a Styx cover band. So it’s kind of sad, too.
14. Dragon Wars (2007)
Viewers don’t need to resort to irony and snark to enjoy the Korean monster movie Dragon Wars (shot in America and in English, for added international appeal); there’s plenty of audience-courting, over-the-top action, as a reptilian army takes on the American military on the streets of L.A. That said, the script is hysterically bad, with normally reliable dramatic veteran Robert Forster gamely spouting backstory in the form of a fable involving celestial serpents, women tasked with carrying secret magical powers to them, and reincarnation cycles. All of which is basically just an excuse for a standard-issue chase thriller that lets blank-faced protagonists Jason Behr and Amanda Brooks run around L.A., trying to escape a giant CGI snake that would eat them 20 times over if it didn’t pause to shriek every time it got close to them. Did Korean comedy veteran Hyung-rae Shim know he was making a clumsily written, terribly acted film? It’s unclear, but Dragon Wars remains high camp with enough excitement to attract thriller fans and schadenfreude fans.
13. Basic Instinct 2 (2006)
In the wake of Paul Verhoeven’s tongue-in-cheek provocation Basic Instinct, filmmakers of every stripe scrambled to recreate its mix of violence and outré eroticism, from major studio laughers like Sliver and Body Of Evidence to a cottage industry of straight-to-video Shannon Tweed cheapies with titles like Indecent Behavior and Illicit Dreams. So it was beyond indignity for Sharon Stone to return to the role of writer/sex addict/likely killer Catherine Trammell 14 years later; once the Hitchcockian ice queen of the original film, Stone has aged into a sad parody of herself, playing a cross between a third-rate Hannibal Lecter and late-period Tweed. Scrambling to top herself with orgies, threesomes, and an outrageous opening that wouldn’t be out of place in David Cronenberg’s Crash, Stone tries to get a rise out of a buttoned-down British psychiatrist (David Morrissey) who could not look more bored if he tried. Truly, nothing is shocking anymore.
12. Boat Trip (2003)
Most Academy Award winners would phone in the lead role in a broad comedy about a hapless man who accidentally ends up on a gay cruise ship and pretends to be gay to get close to the woman of his dreams—especially if the film paired him with corpulent former Saturday Night Live cut-up Horatio “The Fat Guy” Sanz. Not Cuba Gooding Jr. The excitable actor throws himself into the role with lunatic abandon. He mugs, breakdances, and leaps shamelessly from one slapstick humiliation to another. It’s as if Gooding thinks he can pick up a second Oscar through energy alone. Taking its cue from his manic lead performance, Boat Trip commits to the inane contrivances of its plot with such unselfconscious glee that it almost becomes a parody of moronic high-concept ’80s sex comedies. Almost.
11. Glitter (2001)
The filmmakers behind Glitter made things easy for crossover-attempting actor Mariah Carey by having her essentially play herself in a film inspired by her life story. They didn’t make it easy enough, however: Carey poses and pouts her way through a hilariously over-the-top musical melodrama that lovingly recycles every cliché of the subgenre, from the self-destructive boyfriend to that halcyon moment Carey first hears her song on the radio and rushes to a phone booth to inform everyone she knows. The result plays like the Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson remake of A Star Is Born, after a lobotomy. Glitter seemingly killed Carey’s film career, but she’s rebounded nearly a decade later with a well-received supporting turn in Precious. The key to getting a passable performance from Carey, it seems, involves limiting her screen time to less than 10 minutes, and letting her fellow actors dominate all of her scenes.
10. Perfect Stranger (2007)
“Tomorrow’s headline: Free Press Dead!” With that line—delivered by drunk, indignant tabloid reporter Halle Berry after her editor shuts down one of her stories—Perfect Stranger declares that it isn’t going to be some run-of-the-mill thriller. No, it’s going to be a gloriously, profoundly stupid thriller. Berry follows her suspension by researching a story, about a powerful ad exec (Bruce Willis) who may have murdered his lover after a torrid affair produced too much online evidence. Berry tries to trap Willis by flirting with him via her computer, with the aid of her pet tech whiz Giovanni Ribisi. For a while, it’s just fun to watch three actors with such clashing styles—one phony, one mumbly, one all-out nutty—botch scene after scene. But then the twists begin mounting: Ribisi is the real murderer! No wait, it’s Berry, who framed Willis to duck a blackmail scheme! Then Ribisi threatens Berry with more blackmail, so she kills him, too! Only there’s a witness, in an apartment across the street! And… credits roll. Perfect Stranger is a case study in how to throw plausibility out the window in the name of keeping the audience guessing. Tomorrow’s headline: Film Noir Dead!
9. The Butterfly Effect (2004)
From Ashton Kutcher’s attempts at gravitas (which mainly consist of him looking at the ground and saying “um” between every word of dialogue) to twists that get more outlandish by the minute, The Butterfly Effect is a special flavor of batshit. Kutcher plays a troubled young man who reads his old diaries and projects his consciousness back to traumatic moments in the past when he blacked out. (As it happens, the time travel actually caused the blackouts.) Each time he jumps back, he changes something about his childhood, and each time he returns to the present, his life is radically different. In one reality, he’s a frat boy; in another, he’s in a wheelchair, and so on. Writer-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber have some odd ideas about what it means to be “a frat boy” or “a guy in a wheelchair,” and they have some even odder ideas about what life changes might lead a person to those fates. Between the lurching plot and the excess of exploitation elements—kiddie porn! prison rape! crack whores!—The Butterfly Effect has the rare distinction of being moronic and utterly tasteless, and yet so earnest that it’s all but impossible to hate.
8. Crossroads (2002)
The early ’00s were a golden age of sorts for failed pop stars attempting to cross over to movie stardom. A pre-meltdown Britney Spears still enjoyed the white-hot approval of unquestioningly adoring fans when she attempted Crossroads, a road movie that cast her as a scrappy singer-songwriter just trying to make it in the mean music world, y’all. But here’s the thing: Even in her prime, Spears was like a pretty doll who could be costumed and plugged into prefabricated pop tracks. She never seemed all that, you know, human, and Crossroads is never at its worse than in the scenes trying to establish her vulnerability. (Witness, if you dare, a campfire confession that leaves her reciting “poetry” from her journal that was actually the lyric to the song “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman,” the product of three professional songwriters.) It didn’t help that the Tamra Davis-directed movie around her was pretty rickety to begin with.
7. Battlefield Earth (2000)
Rat-brains and puny man-animals indulged in culture-wide schadenfreude when Battlefield Earth, a grimy adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s doorstop-sized bestseller, surprised no one by becoming one of the biggest bombs of all time. Like Cuba Gooding Jr. (see above), Battlefield Earth star John Travolta, the king of flops, understands that the key to delivering a great bad movie is unhinged commitment. “Outsized” doesn’t begin to do justice to the campy theatricality of Travolta’s performance as a cackling, deranged 9-foot-tall dreadlocked alien who accidentally gives primitive human Barry Pepper the tools to fight back against humanity’s alien occupiers/oppressors. The film’s dialogue is deliciously ripe and quotable, its plotting convoluted and idiotic, and its performances so huge that they can be seen from distant galaxies. Add a premise rooted in the internal machinations and Machiavellian infighting of alien bureaucrats/middle-management types, and you have an instant camp classic that bad-movie buffs will still be laughing at 50 years from now.
6. The Happening (2008)
M. Night Shyamalan became a Filmmaker To Watch in 1999, with his breakout film, The Sixth Sense. And then he spent the ’00s slowly squandering his well-earned goodwill, largely by repeating himself too closely. Sixth Sense’s wide-eyed, claustrophobic tone didn’t work as well in the superhero re-imagining Unbreakable, it got laughable in Signs, and it became downright intolerable in The Happening, a would-be supernatural thriller that chokes on its own breathlessness. In particular, the leads, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, emphatically hiss every banal line as though the script contained more exclamation points than a 14-year-old girl’s chat-log. And the rest of the cast reacts to a sudden, massive plague of suicides by letting their eyes glaze over as they spout comically overwrought irrevelancies with no bearing on how real people talk. The Happening isn’t campy, self-aware fun, it’s dourly pretentious, self-important, and just plain incompetent in all aspects but the striking visuals. Everything about it provokes disbelieving laugh-at-it, not-with-it hilarity—but that still means it’s full of big, thoroughly enjoyable laughs.
5. From Justin To Kelly (2003)
Anyone looking for evidence about the impossibility of creating chemistry—or, for that matter, creating actors—need look no further than this quickie musical. A hastily conceived byproduct of the American Idol phenomenon, From Justin To Kelly stars first-season AI winner Kelly Clarkson and forgotten-to-history runner-up Justin Guarini as a pair of squeaky-clean spring-break enthusiasts who theoretically fall for each other, then spend 81 excruciating minutes separated by text-messaging mix-ups and rancid musical numbers. (These include one memorably goofy sequence involving singing on a speedboat.) AI fans stayed away, proving once again that it’s hard to get viewers to pay for what they’re already getting for free—but From Justin To Kelly has rightly earned a (small) following for its time-capsule goofiness and profound failure to entertain in spite of a cast willing to go down trying.
4. Dreamcatcher (2003)
Stephen King’s novel Dreamcatcher was written while the author was recuperating from a van accident, and all King’s feelings of regret and awareness of his mortality—coupled with the influence of pain medication—are evident in the book’s near-stream-of-consciousness plotting. Dreamcatcher features clairvoyant hunting buddies, flashbacks to a Stand By Me-like Maine childhood, a mysterious retarded man, covert military forces led by a demented egomaniac, an alien invasion, and Lovecraftian beasties that come blasting out of people’s rectums. All fine on the page, sort of, but in movie form? Riotously odd. Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, and Timothy Olyphant give it their all as a group of mind-reading thirtysomethings, but they have a hard time making King-ian slang like "Jesus Christ bananas” and “Fuck-me-freddy” sound natural. Meanwhile, alien-hating army colonel Morgan Freeman delivers every line in a growly deadpan, and Donnie Wahlberg’s performance as a cancer-ridden, mentally challenged Scooby Doo fan is so wild that it has to be parodic. (Right? Please say the movie is supposed to be this funny.)
3. Alone In The Dark (2005)
Take your pick of botched videogame adaptations from Uwe Boll (House Of The Dead, BloodRayne, In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale), an auteur who owes his career to a loophole in German tax law, but there’s something special about Alone In The Dark, his science-fiction actioner about supernatural beasties squaring off against enough washed-up C-list actors to stock a rehab clinic. It had us at hello, thanks to a long, ridiculously convoluted opening crawl that’s meant to explain the movie’s complicated mythology, but somehow makes it even more confusing. From there, Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, and Tara Reid (post boob-job) battle ancient monsters in dimly lit, incomprehensible action sequences; somewhere in the middle, Slater and Reid enjoy a conspicuously chaste roll in the hay. Miscast as a brainy archaeologist who’s brilliant in nerd glasses and sexy when she lets her hair down, Reid is a special treat.
2. The Wicker Man (2006)
Neil LaBute’s misshapen, misguided remake of Robin Hardy’s terrific 1973 thriller The Wicker Man helped finally resolve the longstanding debate over whether he was a raging, blinkered misogynist himself, or just a storyteller uncommonly interested in misogynistic characters and settings. Every overwrought change he made to the original story seems designed either to portray the women of the film’s isolated island community as comically demonic monsters, or to make his narrative clunkier and more clichéd. And yet there’s a wealth of unintentional hilarity in Wicker Man’s spastic illogic, ridiculous dream sequences, meaningless shocks, stiff performances, and terrible writing. Besides, the film stars Nicolas Cage, now Hollywood’s go-to star for scenery-chewing, guilty-pleasure performances in otherwise awful films. (Ghost Rider, Knowing, and National Treasure were all considered for this list, but we reluctantly decided to prevent the whole thing from becoming a Cage match.) The spectacle of Cage running around on the island, shrieking “Bitches!” and punching women full in the face, makes The Wicker Man a howlingly good time. Add in his breathless bullying, typified in the Internet-meme “How’d it get burned how’d it get burned HOW’D IT GET BURNED?” rant, and you have an instant cult classic.
1. The Room (2003)
On at least two fronts, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a miraculous gift to so-bad-it’s-good cultists:
- The release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on video in 1990 seemed to mark the death of communal, interactive moviegoing, if not midnight movies, period. But now this improbable film has come along to inspire a whole new set of rituals, catcalls, and improvisational riffing, with some attendees throwing spoons at the screen, and others donning curly black wigs and tuxedos in honor of the writer-director-star.
- Wiseau has made the most personal bad film this side of Ed Wood’s Glen Or Glenda?, an intensely awkward drama that isn’t merely inept, but revealing of its maker’s odd peccadilloes. With his accent of indeterminate Eastern European origin—and a ’roided-out frame that brings a special quality to the film’s many softcore sex scenes—Wiseau is like an alien in a strange land, uncomprehending of both women (who are bored, diabolical Jezebels out to hurt him) and men (who like to toss the ol’ pigskin around). And it’s tearing him apart, Lisa.