10 WORST FILMS OF 2016
By Nathan Evans
While 2016 may have been a trash fire of a year in all other respects, cinematically things were a different story. The beginning of the year started off on shaky ground with a few releases that came and went with little to no fanfare, while the middle of the year was more of a mixed bag with some true hidden gems amongst the louder, more expensive failures. The end of the year was a different story entirely. The months that closed out 2016 saw the release of some of, not only the best movies of the year, but some of the best movies in recent years that spanned a range of genres and emotions.
These aren’t those films.
I’ve already begun work on my list of the top 10 movies of 2016, but unfortunately I’m not comfortable releasing it until I’ve caught up on some of the movies I’ve missed; the Pablo Larrain directed and Darren Aronofsky produced ‘Jackie’, Denzel Washington’s ‘Fences’, and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ specifically. However, I am comfortable writing my list of the 10 worst films that I had to endure over the past year. Now that we’ve begun what will hopefully be an even stronger cinematic year, I don’t feel it’s necessary to go back and subject myself to some of the bad films I had the pleasure of dodging. Besides, I highly doubt anything could’ve been released that would top the cornucopia of crap I’m putting on display here.
Before I get on with my list, I’m going to preface it with the same disclaimer that’ll no doubt precede my best of list. While I ultimately stand by my original reviews and the numeric values associated with them, I don’t feel a simple numeric rating can express the complexity of opinion on a film. Though these values represent my tastes and feelings, they are also values that take a certain amount of objectivity into the equation. With that said, even though I might’ve given a film a specific rating, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one film will rank above another film with a lower rating and vice versa. All of this is to say that I’m not going to be tethered to my initial ratings. The films on this list represent my feelings on the past year, not necessarily my objective analysis.
So without further ado: ‘Nerd on Film’s 10 Worst Films of 2016’!
#10: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ was unfortunately the second film I reviewed after starting work on ‘Nerd on Film’. I’m ashamed to say it was almost enough to make me second guess whether or not I wanted to follow through on a film review website; after all it’s hard to justify spending money on films you feel will most likely turn out to be crap. While in the end it wasn’t enough to dissuade me from the hobby that I’ve actually had a considerable amount of fun pursuing, it was a chore to sit through. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Apocalypse’ is the least egregious film on this list, but once you see what comes after it, you’ll realize that that’s not saying much.
Ever since Bryan Singer’s sublime early entry in the series, ‘X2: X-Men United’, the X-men films have been hit or miss, and for the most part they’ve been misses. As a lifelong comic book fan, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film that preceded this one, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, and for the first time allowed myself to feel hope for the future of the series. Of course, I’d much rather have Marvel Studios regain the rights to the ‘Children of the Atom’ that have been a dutiful cornerstone of the Marvel Universe in the print world since the 1960’s, but FOX finally getting their act together and producing decent films wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. Unfortunately, even that tempered expectation seems as if it was too much to ask for.
‘Apocalypse’ boasts a fantastic cast that’s wasted in a haze of tiresome CGI destruction on the level with Michael Bay’s brain dead ‘Transformers’ films. On top of the confusing visuals, the narrative ties into the fractured and retconned series of events that have continued since Singer’s original film back in the year 2000, so it’s nearly impossible to make sense of where this film takes place in the continuity of the series. The confusion seems to even extend to the characters that inhabit the film, as their motivations seem to flip on a dime whenever it’s convenient for the script; not to mention how characters seem to outright ignore massive destructive events that make Hitler’s transgressions look like child’s play (Magneto, I’m looking in your general direction).
To add insult to injury, all of these negative elements are wrapped up in a film that has the audacity to run at a bloated two and a half hour runtime. I have difficulty justifying spending that much time on films I like, let alone messes like this. So with that said, please FOX studios, please follow in Sony’s footsteps and let the X-Men go home to Marvel.
#9: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
As I admitted in my initial review, ‘The Girl on the Train’ is a movie that wasn’t made for me, but to give myself some credit, I’m pretty good at modulating my expectations accordingly. So even with a lowered bar, ‘The Girl on the Train’ still somehow managed to disappoint. Emily Blunt gives her all in her portrayal of the titular character, but it’s not enough to salvage what’s ultimately a Lifetime television movie with a budget.
Director Tate Taylor, who delivered the fantastic, Oscar worthy film ‘The Help’, swings and misses hard with this film. He shoots the movie with all of the placid invention of a daytime soap opera and relies several times upon the loathed-by-me cinematic technique of undercranking to simulate Blunt’s drunkenness (I seriously hate undercranking. It’s second only to my disdain for the fish eye lens directors like Terry Gilliam are so fond of using).
The lack of visual sense is matched by the film’s preposterous script which seems to be entirely ignorant of how alcoholism actually works. Apparently being drunk doesn’t just effect your memory, it also causes you to hallucinate and fabricate entire scenarios that can conveniently mislead an audience as to what is actually going on within the script. When we finally do find out what’s going on, it’s through a series of inorganic, disjointed vignettes that rewrite the preceding events on the fly as if the film realized midway through that it didn’t make any damn sense. Toss in a wasted Allison Janey and you get an experience that goes from being forgettably bad to actively bad. Skip ‘The Girl on the Train’ and reach for David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ instead. While I haven’t seen it myself, I hear it’s much better.
#8: SUICIDE SQUAD
*sigh* Where do I begin with ‘Suicide Squad’? I’m going to be real here, after the two films that preceded it in the DCEU I wasn’t expecting much from David Ayer’s film. In fact, I was actively dreading seeing it, but being the dutiful comic book fanboy I am I thought it was necessary. Fortunately, the movie was much better than I expected. Unfortunately, that means absolutely nothing.
‘Suicide Squad’ isn’t the first or the last comic book film that’ll end up on this list, but it is the most tonally unstable one. It’s pretty clear to even the most casual moviegoer that this is a film that was made by committee. From the music stings that exist solely to crib from the superior in every way Marvel film ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, to the rushed CGI, and haphazard scenes that connect the film to the other films in the DCEU, everything about the movie feels motivated by corporate greed rather than genuine storytelling. There are bits in the film where the overlords at Warner Bros. failed to disguise the movie Ayer was trying to make, but even these aren’t particularly exciting. Most apparent is the first half of the film which actually shows some promise before quickly being snuffed out by the second half.
Visually the film fails to impress as well. Ayer utilizes an ugly pallet of browns, blacks, and greens that make the film look more like a dull shade of puke rather than creating the dark and intriguing atmosphere he was after. When a film features a rushed script that juggles way too many characters, the least you can do is make the movie look good, but ‘Suicide Squad’ fails on all fronts.
Most disappointing of all is seeing Will Smith continue pursuing his run of awful films. The man is an extremely charismatic presence, and a serviceable actor, and it’s a shame to watch him continue to get in his own way over and over again. I can’t help but hope he’ll finally take this film as a lesson and pursue better projects in the future. Allowing someone else to take the production reigns like he did in this film is a step in the right direction (especially after turning down ‘Django Unchained’ over control issues with Quentin Tarantino), but in the future he should make sure he’s in more accomplished hands than Warner Bros.; advice the director, Ayer, should take to heart as well.
#7: CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
‘Central Intelligence’ is a stupid movie. I know there’s probably a more eloquent way to put that, but this movie didn’t put in the effort so I don’t feel like I should have to either. Usually in the comedy world, stupid isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, stupid can be an art form, but the crucial element of making stupid work is actually being funny as well and there’s just none of that at play here.
How can a movie that stars a comedian at the top of his game like Kevin Hart, and the charm and charisma of an actor on top of the world like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson not be funny? Somehow director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his writer, ‘Mad T.V.’s’ Ike Barenholtz, found a way. Maybe it’s Thurber’s lack of any kind of visual technique, maybe it’s Barenholtz inability to properly convey the themes of the script, maybe it’s the flat chemistry between Johnson and Hart. Who knows? Whatever it is, it all adds up to a film that fails to work on any level. The action sequences aren’t exciting or memorable, the comedy doesn’t work, and though the film strains for it, the ending doesn’t uplift.
Usually when a film features Dwayne Johnson you’re pretty much guaranteed that the IQ levels of everyone involved are going to drop considerably, but you’re also usually guaranteed a sense of fun. It’s a delicate equation that Johnson is usually able to pull off, but he fails to do so here. As far as Hart goes, he’s proven he’s one of the best standup comedians working today (look no further than ‘Kevin Hart; What Now?’ for proof of that), but he’s yet to establish himself as a comedic actor. This pair is set to reprise their partnership in this year’s upcoming reboot of the ‘Jumanji’ franchise. We can only hope things work out better in that film… *gulp*
#6: THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
It may seem unfair to pick on a children’s movie, and it probably is, but in this case, I couldn’t help myself. I previously mentioned that ‘Suicide Squad’ was the most tonally unbalanced comic book film of the year, well, ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ is the most tonally unbalanced film of the year period. I don’t know who this movie is for. It was marketed as a kid’s film, but the various murderous threats made by the fuzzy bunny that serves as the villain of the picture, and the violent deaths that occur to some of the pets had me confused.
It’s par for the course to have adult oriented humor as subtext behind some of the jokes in an animated film like this, but ‘SLOP’ throws out the subtext altogether. The film is outright lewd when it isn’t being too frightening for children. When it’s not set on scarring it’s young audience, the film feels aimless. There are several extended scenes that don’t add up to much and don’t provide the visual mastery you’d get in a film from a competing studio like Pixar.
For the most part the cast rounded out by veteran standup comedians is likable enough, but Eric Stonestreet is an unlikable exception as the dog Duke. I’d imagine the film’s producers were attempting to recreate the charm of a lovable dolt like you’d find with Buzz Lightyear in the ‘Toy Story’ films, but instead the dog that serves as one of the principle players in the film just comes off as a jerk. Stonestreet has proven himself to be a charming enough presence with his work on television’s ‘Modern Family’, so I don’t believe he’s at fault. I’d put that burden on the studio behind the picture, ‘Illumination’, who seem to lack the rigorous discipline of their rival ‘Pixar’. Perhaps with their next round of films they’ll focus on perfecting a movie before beginning work on a different one like they did this year with what I’m told is a superior film, ‘Sing’.
#5: OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
‘Office Christmas Party’ is a terrible movie, but the worst part about it is that it shouldn’t have been. The cast features a stable of some of the best comedians and comedic actors of our time, yet you’d be hard pressed to find a laugh that wasn’t already exploited to diminishing effect by the film’s marketing campaign.
There’s a thing to be said for writing. Judd Apatow spearheaded a new form of comedic filmmaking with his run of successful comedies in the mid 2000’s that relied heavily upon his actors improvising rather than focusing solely on a script. ‘OCP’ seems to want things both ways: both utilizing a script written by what I can only assume are writers with attention deficit disorder and asking the film’s performers to improv the film’s funniest moments. While there’s some logic to the film approaching the material on two fronts, it ends up failing on both which somehow makes things even worse.
Amongst the many plot lines the film shoehorns in is a totally unbelievable romance between Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn. They’re two performers that work great individually, but two great tastes don’t always go great together and that is definitely the case here. One upping that terrible casting choice was casting Rob Cordry in any capacity. He’s like the anti-Dwayne Johnson: a performer that lacks any type of charm or charisma. In fact, you could probably say he’s the human representation of the film itself… too harsh?
I thought I was through pleading with Hollywood after mentioning ‘X-Men Apocalypse’ earlier in this article, but I actually have one more request: Dear Hollywood executives everywhere, please stop trying to make video game movies work. It’s not that I think it can’t be done, it’s that I think you can’t do it. Despite there being twenty different entries in the ‘Resident Evil’ franchise, there has yet to be a single good video game movie made to date, and unfortunately, ‘Warcraft’ is not an exception.
I’m a fan of director Doug Jones, who made the criminally underrated film ‘Moon’ starring Sam Rockwell and, to a lesser degree, ‘Source Code’ starring Jake Gyllenhaal, so I had high hopes for ‘Warcraft’ since he was at the helm. Those hopes were misplaced. I don’t know if Jones was merely overwhelmed by the scope and budget of the film or if he was distracted by events in his own life, but he drops the ball for the first time with this film, and he drops it spectacularly.
I can only assume that there’s a rich and complex world behind the ‘Warcraft’ series of video games. If there is, I’m still not privy to it after seeing this film. It’s not that the movie doesn’t try to explain it, it’s that it drops you in the middle of it then attempts to help you work it out; essentially teaching you backwards, and spending a considerable amount of its bloated runtime doing so.
It doesn’t help matters when the film’s visuals are so distracting. The CGI looks like a straight up cartoon, which would’ve been fine if the film were animated, but just looks awful when juxtaposed against the human players. Way more problematic than that, though, is the awful makeup effects the film’s female lead, Paula Patton, is subjected to. I understand that actors are supposed to have a certain amount of faith in the people behind the camera, but how she didn’t tear out the laughably terrible fake teeth she was forced to wear and quit the production I’ll never know.
I really wanted to like ‘Warcraft’ and that’s why it actually hurts me to have to put it so high up on this list.
Zzzzzzzzz… Huh?! Wha, sorry. That’s most likely the reaction you’ll have after seeing Clint Eastwood’s film that chronicles the real life ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ that was pulled off by commercial aircraft pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger. Now, the true life events that occurred are no doubt impressive, but in no way can such a short sequence of events translate to a decent feature length film, and Eastwood seems to know it. Rather than merely chronicling the film’s events in sequence, Eastwood and his writer develops a nonlinear narrative that has us witnessing portions of the event, as well as alternative versions of the event, ad nauseam over and over again. Many of these alternate versions are handled with little tact and unnecessarily conjure up memories of 9/11.
Tom Hanks and his costar Aaron Eckhart do their best with what they’re given, but unfortunately their efforts are undermined by Eastwood himself. Eastwood has been lauded in the past for his run and gun shooting style, but he should be criticized by more than just me for it here. There are several scenes in this film that lack any artistic effort on Eastwood’s part, putting all of the film’s burden on his actors. That technique is just fine when you’re working with someone as skilled as Tom Hanks, but falls apart quickly when dealing with novice or untrained performers. A scene with an air traffic controller portrayed by a glorified extra is particularly wooden, and never should’ve been allowed to leave the cutting room floor.
With that said, Eastwood doesn’t even manage to get good performances out of the veterans of his cast either. While she’s not given much to do, Laura Linney is truly awful in this film. She’s given scenes that consist of nothing more than a few phone calls with her husband in darkly lit rooms. They were no doubt shot in little more than an afternoon, and that lack of care is more than obvious onscreen.
Eastwood is no doubt capable of exceptional work as a director, and that’s why this film is so disappointing. There’s just a palpable sense of laziness at play here; a sense of laziness the film can’t afford when it’s already struggling to find drama out of something that shouldn’t have been adapted into anything more than a short film or documentary in the first place (which I believe it has, check that one out).
#2 INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ has something in common with ‘Sully’— it didn’t need to get made. In fact, it shouldn’t have been made. No one was asking for a sequel to the original movie that launched Will Smith’s career over two decades ago.
Speaking of Smith, this film is so awful the producers couldn’t even get him to return to reprise his role, and we’re talking about the man that made ‘After Earth’ here. Instead, they opt to kill him offscreen before the film even starts, focusing on who I’m told is supposed to be his son; though the film never really bothers to touch on that.
Unfortunately, the original director, Roland Emmerich, does return and he seems intent on ensuring that this film is ten times bigger, ten times louder, and ten times dumber than the one that came before it. If I’m remembering correctly, his original film actually managed to maintain a sense of geography and scale despite it’s idiotic script, here he doesn’t even try. He makes the incoherent CGI sequences in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ look like masterstrokes of clarity. The audience is subjected to scenes that stop being CGI effects and function simply as pure animation. I would argue that ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ isn’t the worst animated film on this list.
Combine all of these negatives with the fact that the film can’t even give us one character to care about and you’re in really bad shape. Even worse, the characters we do get end up being nothing more than caricatures of offensive stereotypes; most notably Jeff Goldblum’s father who ends up touching on so many anti-semitic sentiments that it’s enough to make your area’s local skinhead blush.
If that’s not enough, the film can’t even tout it’s cast, a distinction that even the worst films on this list can at least fall back on. With the exception of Jeff Goldblulm, who’s always at the very least interesting, there’s not a single actor or actress here that ends up leaving a mark. When you put your film on the shoulders of the least talented Hemsworth brother, you’re almost guaranteed to end up with a film of little consequence. In fact, this film is so bad, it almost made the number one spot on this list, but unfortunately, there is another…
#1 BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Wow, if you had told the 14 year old version of myself that there would be a live action film that finally features, not only my favorite comic book character, but my favorite character of all time period, in anything, ever— Batman— and a character that has always held a special place in my heart, Superman, together in the same film, and that I, not only wouldn’t like it, but actively loathe it with every fiber and cell of my being, I would’ve called you a damn liar. But you weren’t lying to me, were you— WERE YOU?!
‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ is not only the worst title for a film I’ve ever heard, it’s also the worst comic book film of the year; possibly of all time; and that’s saying something seeing as how ‘Spider-Man 3’ exists. It’s so bad I don’t even know where to begin. I could point to the nonsensical story (and yes fanboys, no matter how much you strain to make it work, it is indeed nonsensical), or the truly wretched performance by twitch bag Jessie Eisenberg, or the unrelentingly pessimistic tone that permeates every second of the movie. I could even point to the film’s oddest subplot that literally revolves around a jar of piss. It’s all bad. There’s not a scene that goes by in this film that doesn’t have something wrong with it.
Why is the office drone at the beginning of the film waiting for his boss, Bruce Wayne (who, as far as he knows, is not a rescue worker in any way shape or form), to evacuate the office building that is seconds away from being destroyed by two super powered beings mere blocks away? Why does Batman tag a truck carrying a chunk of Kryptonite with a tracking device before proceeding to loudly chase after it, brutally murdering everybody in his way? Why does the film feature numerous nonsensical and unnecessary dream sequences that in no way further the plot or serve as anything more than an opportunity for the film’s director to knock off the superior ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’? Why the f*$k would you kill off a character like Jimmy Olsen, a cornerstone of Superman’s supporting cast, without ever even telling us that it’s Jimmy Olsen? Why would Superman be forced to sacrifice himself by carrying the Kryptonite spear that fells the film’s major villain, Doomsday, when Wonder Woman is standing right there? Why are Batman and Superman, two supposed moral paragons, literally murdering every villain they come in contact with?!
Not only that, but the film features THE worst turning point in a film I’ve ever seen— ever. Of course I’m referring to the now infamous “Martha moment”; the moment in which Batman ceases his murderous campaign against Superman, because, get this, their mothers share the same name.
In short: none of it makes sense, and it all comes down to one name, two words: Zack. Snyder. Snyder, the film’s director, is the single worst director working today. He somehow manages to combine the level of cinematic idiocy you might find with someone like Michael Bay with the pretension of a filmmaker like Lars Von Trier— a deadly dumb combination. He’s made it apparent that he doesn’t even like the characters he’s bringing to life onscreen and is simply using the shocking amount of budget and leeway Warner Bros. studios has given him to inflict his manic, unfocused sensibilities on the unsuspecting world. If there were any “justice” in this world, Snyder wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near this franchise again, but unfortunately the good folks at the WB have seen fit to give him, not just one, but at least two more sequels to ruin.
Unfortunately, ’BvS’ also marks the live action cinematic debut of beloved comic book character Wonder Woman. While she, and Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman, are the only two redeeming qualities of the film, I can’t help but feel disappointed that a female character as influential and important as her would be forced to make her mark in this movie. The bounds of this film’s awfulness cannot be contained within the film alone, it also manages to taint the very fabric of pop culture itself.
So there you have it: the dark side of the force, the ten worst films 2016 could produce. I of course realize that 2017 will most likely also boast some whoppers of its own, but at the moment, I find it hard to believe that the ensuing year will be capable of producing anything anywhere near as bad as the picks on this list. Fortunately, the films that round out my picks are only one side of the coin and the year was as sublime in some moments as it was awful in others. I look forward to the moment where I can finally chronicle those. Until then this exorcism of sorts will have to do, and please, don’t waste your time with any of these movies if you can help it.