Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
The Snowman and The Emoji Movie are both bad. Graphic: Jimmy Hasse.

Bad movies were the least of anyone’s problems in 2017. But at a time when art seems uniquely vital as a way to escape or at least meaningfully grapple with the misery of real life, the follies still stung. It was a year of lousy franchise films that just kept creeping into the multiplex like cockroaches; of lazy studio (and Netflix) comedies that made laughter feel as dead as net neutrality or a beloved departed celebrity; of a fraudulently “humanistic” festival export, sitting at the top (bottom?) of the trash heap below. And like bad news, bad movies sometimes came in clumps. But this is the glass-half-empty version of the year in cinema. In a couple days, we’ll offer the glass-half-full version with our list of 2017’s finest. The movies get a lot better from here. Hopefully, so will everything else.

20. 9/11

Photo: Atlas Distribution

Some of the filmmakers behind 9/11 must have intuited that a divided America could unite on one issue: an unyielding repulsion at the prospect of seeing abusive professional hedonist Charlie Sheen grapple with the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Naturally, they tried to mitigate these circumstances by making damn sure that at least Sheen is playing a chain-smoking, temperamental billionaire who is only guilty of loving his ex-wife too much and helping too many poor people. A movie need not be immediately sunk by the presence of Sheen, or, for that matter, by engaging with 9/11 up close and personal (much of it takes place in a World Trade Center elevator). This particular movie, though, with its ham-fisted stranger bonding, basement-dwelling production values (literally: Whoopi Goldberg spends most of her screen time alone in a basement), and rich-asshole martyrdom, does its best to make that previous sentence sound like the daffiest devil’s advocacy possible. [Jesse Hassenger]

19. Naked

Photo: Netflix

What if Groundhog Day but bare-ass? That’s the proudly lowbrow concept of this Netflix “original” comedy, which stars Marlon Wayans as a substitute teacher who wakes up buck naked in a hotel elevator on his wedding day, unsure of what happened or how he got there. His frantic attempts to get to the church on time—preferably with some clothes on—are much complicated by the short time loop in which he’s stuck, which redeposits him starkers in the elevator at the top of every hour. Adapted from an obscure Swedish film, Naked is devoid of the sardonic temperament and clever riffs on forced repetition that made Groundhog Day a classic, and woefully short on laughs in general. All it offers is endless shots of a nude dude running through a crowded street with his hands covering his junk, as if that were the height of hilarity. [Mike D’Angelo]

18. Amityville: The Awakening

Photo: Lionsgate

Two-decades-too-late sequel Amityville: The Awakening made just $742 during its one-night-only theatrical bow earlier this year. Of course, the film had been streaming for free on Google Plus for weeks at that point, so it’s not entirely clear why the theatrical engagement happened in the first place. That same aura of disposability and indifference hangs over the film as a whole, which isn’t a wreck so much as stalled out on the side of the road. Featuring a rare bad performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Amityville: The Awakening can’t decide whether it wants to be an earnest-but-clichéd haunted house movie or a Scream-style meta dissection of same and doesn’t seem to particularly give a shit about either one of its competing storylines. As a result, the scariest thing in the film is the unnervingly waxy mannequin representing Bella Thorne’s comatose twin brother, which finds itself twisted into some pretty horrifying shapes over the course of the film. [Katie Rife]

17. The House

Photo: Warner Bros.

Sorry, Chano: Although there’s a germ of a subversive satire somewhere in this not-screened-for-critics item about a couple of anxious suburban squares (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) who open an illegal casino in their neighbor’s foreclosed McMansion in order to pay their daughter’s college tuition, it’s lost in the incoherent, lazy direction and writing. The House is everything that’s wrong with the current studio comedy model (“put comedians in a room, roll camera”) packed into a single movie, from the cynically clumsy and hectic pace to the drawn-out, torturous improvisations. The only thing that’s even mildly funny about the film is its shocking nastiness. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

16. Leatherface

Photo: Lionsgate

Origin stories for movie monsters suck: Like a psychiatrist calmly unpacking a nightmare, they take something irrationally scary and explain away its power. Released quietly (though not quietly enough) right before Halloween, Leatherface labors under the bizarre misconception that anyone cares what the squealing redneck villain of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was up to before he started slaughtering teenagers and wearing their faces. Never mind that audiences have already walked that dusty gravel road to his Beginning, or that directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who made the infinitely more disturbing home-invasion thriller Inside, often seem to be doing a cut-rate imitation of The Devil’s Rejects, which is a bit like making a copy of a copy. Leatherface’s true sin is reducing one of horror’s most terrifying creations, so barbaric in his madness, to a mere mommy complex. Talk about a massacre. [A.A. Dowd]

15. The Only Living Boy In New York

Photp: Lionsgate

Aren’t veteran music-video directors who graduate to films supposed to make pointlessly show-offy nonsense? It’s a testament to the dull competence of former video director (and Spider-Man ruiner) Marc Webb that The Only Living Boy In New York functions as a desperate cry for the employment of style over substance. For the sensitive story of a horny, wealthy Manhattan kid and wannabe writer trying to fuck his way out of an approaching quarterlife crisis, thank screenwriter Allan Loeb, whose ongoing simulations of “heart”—he also wrote The Space Between Us and Collateral Beautyhave become accidental puzzle boxes, predicated on questions that may never be answered. Who is this guy with such a crude understanding of how human emotions work, and how corrupted are the brains of producers who read this dreck and think yes, this one speaks to the human condition? Also: Has he visited New York at any point in the past 15 years? [Jesse Hassenger]

14. Slamma Jamma

Photo: RiverRain Productions

“If you declare yourself eligible, you’ll be the No. 1 player drafted in the draft!” From the mind of Timothy A. Chey, the schlockmeister behind The Genius Club, comes what might be the most inept basketball movie ever made. Chris Staples, a onetime Harlem Globetrotter with the screen presence of a Roomba, stars as a saintly ex-con and former college basketball star who returns to his old neighborhood to take back his girl and win a dunking competition. Enumerating all of Slamma Jamma’s Z-grade charms would be a fool’s errand; they include nonsensical subplots, dollar-store production values, visible crew members and cameras, risible dialogue, a lead actor who has his own name tattooed in big letters on his arm (how’s that for suspension of disbelief?), and a questionable grasp of the American legal system. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

13. The Shack

Photo: Lionsgate

Sam Worthington plays the most miserable man on Earth—raised by an abusive father and reeling from his daughter being abducted by a serial killer—who gets his mojo back when he spends a few days in a Martha Stewart-worthy country cabin with the multicultural embodiment of the Christian holy Trinity. Biblical references aside, The Shack is primarily a drippy, non-specific spiritualist tract, asserting little beyond the importance of faith in a loving god. Obviously, this message resonates with a lot of people; The Shack made a ton of money, just like the novel it’s based on. But between Worthington’s wavering accent and the endlessly tedious scenes of his character walking forlornly through a living “Hang In There” poster, the movie feels both slipshod and padded. It has the perverse affect of romanticizing pain, turning the worst of human suffering into an occasion for self-actualization. [Noel Murray]

12. Fifty Shades Darker

Photo: Universal

Yes, the Fifty Shades series is nothing but a collection of poorly written, indifferently acted romance-novel clichés masquerading as erotic thrillers. But that’s not what’s really wrong with Fifty Shades Darker. In fact, this kinky-ish sequel to Fifty Shades Of Grey can be kind of funny—there’s the bit, for example, where Christian Grey crashes his helicopter into the side of a mountain, only to waltz back into his apartment like nothing happened a couple of scenes later. And don’t tell us that the art department PA who hung a Chronicles Of Riddick poster in Christian’s childhood bedroom wasn’t, on some level, in on the joke. No, the real problem here is less amusing. By framing Christian Grey, a man who isolates his lovers from friends and family and has them followed everywhere they go, as a misunderstood bad boy in need of saving, the films romanticize emotionally abusive relationships, telling their more impressionable audience members that control and coercion are synonymous with love. And that’s far more objectionable than some hacky dialogue. [Katie Rife]

11. The Space Between Us

Photo: STX Entertainment

Gary Oldman is on track to win his first Oscar for summoning the bulbous, blustery spirit of Winston Churchill, but let’s spare a moment of admiration for the almost touching conviction he brings to a less acclaimed project. Treacle of the highest/lowest order, this embarrassingly sappy sci-fi tearjerker unfolds chiefly from the perspective of an earnest space boy (eternal sensitive adolescent Asa Butterfield) who leaves the Martian colony where he was born to find his real father on Earth, while also romancing an unconvincingly teenage love interest (Britt Robertson). But The Space Between Us, which somehow isn’t based on a hit YA novel, reserves plenty of scenes for an Elon Musk type played by Oldman, and you could fit a red planet in the void separating the actor’s blubbering commitment to the role from what it deserved. When Oldman finally bellows his big trailer line (“His heart can’t handle our gravity!”), it rivals the climax of director Peter Chelsom’s last movie for sheer chortle-worthiness. Not coincidentally, that film also appeared on one of our naughty lists. [A.A. Dowd]

10. Geostorm

Photo: Warner Bros.

Welcome back, Gerard Butler! The star of last year’s consensus anti-favorite once again demonstrates his unerring talent for finding lousy material—in this case, a singularly unthrilling disaster movie that sat on the shelf for two years after test audiences interpreted “disaster movie” another way. Evildoers intend to wreak worldwide meteorological havoc by hacking a satellite system meant to combat climate change, and only Butler, as the dude who designed said system, can save the day. Geostorm is fundamentally about the efforts to prevent a geostorm, which means that director Dean Devlin (best known for writing Independence Day) has to serve up the expected CGI destruction in a series of quick bursts, filling time with tedious fraternal arguments (Jim Sturgess plays the hero’s estranged brother) and rote political intrigue. It’s a tsunami of blah… but, hey, at least it isn’t the very worst movie of 2017. Movin’ on up, Gerard. [Mike D’Angelo]

9. Flatliners

Photo: Sony

It makes some sense to reimagine a classic movie like King Kong, for example, that everybody knows, but outside of folks who owned VCRs in the 1990s, did that many people remember Flatliners—let alone have a burning desire to see it again with a new cast? The remake nods to the original by casting Kiefer Sutherland in what confusingly may or may not be a continuation of his original role, but in nearly every other way, this is a dreary rehash of what the (honestly kind of terrible) first Flatliners already did. Another batch of fashionable-looking med students push themselves to the edge of death, coming back smarter, stronger, and inexplicably hounded by physical manifestations of their worst life-choices. This picture’s recommended only to those who dig note-for-note cover versions of songs that weren’t that well-liked in the first place. [Noel Murray]

8. Rings

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Nobody in their right mind would attempt to resurrect a horror franchise conceived around such outmoded technology as fax machines or 8-track tapes—it would just look silly. Somehow, though, Paramount decided that the time was ripe for another entry in a defunct series about a lethal videocassette (already a dying format when The Ring was released in 2002) that initially instills terror by calling its future victims on the phone, in the expectation that they will answer. Strenuous efforts to update the premise for smartphones and YouTube only render it more incoherent, and the film winds up praying that fans are heavily invested in learning the full maudlin backstory of J-horror ghost girl Samara. The result will frighten only those old enough to be conscious of how much time has passed. [Mike D’Angelo]


Photo: Peter Iovino/Getty Images

Writer-director-actor Dax Shepard seems like a smart, likable guy, and his adaptation of a corny old cop show boasts a cast filled with talented folks doing their best to give this material a raunchy twist. But did CHIPS need a raunchy twist? And did the moviegoing public need another half-baked big-screen action-comedy, populated by pretty much the same actors and comedians that every other 21st-century TV series or movie comedy uses? The film’s few funny lines are buried in broad slapstick and clumsy action sequences, cobbled into a muddled story that lacks contemporary relevance or fresh ideas. More than anything, CHIPS is a waste of time and money, taking up space on the cinematic calendar that could’ve been put to better use. What a crime. [Noel Murray]

6. The Book Of Henry

Photo: Focus Features

Boasting a script so hacky, contrived, and enamored of itself that its lack of an Allan Loeb credit counts as one of its biggest twists, The Book Of Henry became something of a bad-movie cause célèbre over the summer. Its failure led some to speculate whether director Colin Trevorrow would get bounced from his Star Wars gig (he did) and others to insist that the movie’s nuttier qualities render it a perverse kind of must-see (they don’t). As misguided as it is to build a heartfelt, quasi-quirky fable around a tumor-laden child genius’s detailed plan to commit the perfect, righteous murder, the movie’s real problems are decidedly quotidian. It tediously portrays child genius Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, so much better in It that he probably shouldn’t be blamed here) as a miniature and smarmily self-aware adult, and his less brainy mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), as, essentially, a 12-year-old boy—the kind of blatantly artificial dramatic irony beloved by writers who can only conceive of genius on their own terms. (It’s no accident that Henry doesn’t just talk like a grown-up; he talks like a grown-up in a bad screenplay.) On top of that, the movie’s use of child illness and abuse as machinations in its rickety-ass Rube Goldberg bullshit is downright loathsome. It’s the kind of “original screenplay” that gives remake culture a good name. [Jesse Hassenger]

5. Kidnap

Photo: Universal Pictures

There you are, an ordinary Louisiana diner waitress out for an afternoon at the amusement park, when all of a sudden a couple of hillbilly child-traffickers snatch your adorable 6-year-old son, shove him into the back of a teal ’80s Mustang, and peel off. What do you do? Well, if you’re Halle Berry’s character in the trashy, butt-ugly, hilariously incompetent chase thriller Kidnap, the answer is drop your phone, hop in the minivan, and stomp on the gas. Doing a slurred, drunken impression of late-period Tony Scott, director Luis Prieto chops together random camera angles, blurry added-in-post zooms, awful effects, and gratuitous and incoherent automotive mayhem while his (largely seated) star gnashes her teeth in porno-orgasmic howls of over-reaction. (“Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, they took my son.”) A multi-car pileup of failed suspense, Kidnap raises all the wrong questions: Does no one notice all the wreckage? Did they just kill a cop? Didn’t that extra just get run over? Is kidnapping this random boy really worth it? [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

4. The Snowman

Photo: Universal Pictures

The hastily sketched snowman with a bellyache that adorns The Snowman’s much-mocked poster turns out to be the perfect metaphor for this sublime mess of a serial-killer thriller. Director Thomas Alfredson says he wasn’t able to shoot nearly 15 percent of the screenplay thanks to a tight production schedule, which helps account for the gaping plot holes, unresolved subplots, and stunning lack of attention to detail. What it doesn’t account for is the shockingly crummy performances from the A-list cast, including Michael Fassbender as master detective Harry Hole (pronounced like it looks, hilariously), whose crippling alcoholism is clearly eating away at his brain, given that he misses some startlingly obvious clues to the killer’s identity. All of which is to say that this film is so inept, it could probably get a job in the Trump administration. [Katie Rife]

3. The Emoji Movie

Photo: Sony

“What if emoji were sentient?” has to be one of the lazier elevator pitches for a feature-length cartoon. Remarkably, The Emoji Movie lives down to it: This 86-minute cellphone commercial combines the kids-will-watch-anything cynicism of the worst studio animation with a cross-promotional gall that would embarrass famous Nike shill Bugs Bunny. Like what an algorithm might come up with if it were fed Inside Out, Wreck-It Ralph, and a corporate portfolio analysis, the “plot” sends several nattering “characters”—poorly sketched in all senses of the word—scrambling across the interface of a Sony smartphone and into a series of glorified advertisements for its downloadable apps. The animation is cruddy, and describing the vocal performances as “phoned in” would count as a slightly better joke than anything the cast delivers. But hey, this isn’t so much a film as product placement bent indifferently into the shape of one. The underachievement is almost impressive: However lame you found the idea of an emoji movie, The Emoji Movie is lamer. [A.A. Dowd]

2. The Bye Bye Man

Photo: STX Entertainment

Speaking of low expectations and not meeting them, The Bye Bye Man has such a terminally silly title that only a white-knuckle gauntlet of terror could really transcend it. Unfortunately, this supernatural potboiler about a phantom who comes at the call or just the thought of his (again very goofy) name can’t even clear the low bar set by your average January fright flick. It’s shockingly inept in almost every conceivable way, from the clumsily expositional dialogue to special effects that look like they belong in a cut-scene from a turn-of-the-millennium video game. And the acting is almost surreally terrible, to the point where the film’s marquee cameos, by Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss, seem like they were lifted from a different, more functionally bad thriller. One could call The Bye Bye Man inoffensive and even occasionally hilarious in its awfulness, but the truth is that it wasn’t fit for theaters; even the most indiscriminate of horror buffs deserve a little competence with their schlock. [A.A. Dowd]

1. The Last Face

Photo: The Cannes Film Festival

The cheap, knife-obsessed, skull-fucking fascism of last year’s consensus winner (or loser), London Has Fallen, meets its match in The Last Face, Sean Penn’s excruciating romance (?) about international aid workers, African civil wars, and “the brutality of an impossible love… shared by a man… and a woman.” (The ellipses are theirs, not ours.) Shot like a perfume commercial and written like impacted shit, the film stars Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as a couple of doctors who fall in love against a backdrop of gruesomely eviscerated Liberian bodies; the white-savior-ism—pleading for the nameless, staring refugees who were sacrificed to create the movie’s overwrought mise-en-scène—is but one self-indulgent aspect of a film lavished in bad Terrence Malick-isms, close-ups of Theron’s feet, misogynistic subtexts, and the sound of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Otherside.” Some movies are so bad that they’re fun. This one should be avoided at all costs. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter