So we are now at the top 10 most disappointing movies of all time.
To recap, here are the other 40:
The Hateful 8
A Star is Born
Cowboys and Aliens
The Lovely Bones
The World's End and Paul
The Magnificent Seven
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Batman and Robin
The Crow: City of Angels
Escape from LA
Look Who's Talking Too
The Hangover 2
Quantum of Solace
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey
10. Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight
This is the only movie on the entire list that did not have any theatrical run. But the disappointment in this movie runs so very deep.
The Dragonlance Chronicles series is one of my absolute favorite. While The Lord of the Rings is better written, Dragonlance is much more fun and enjoyable. The characters are distinct and interesting. The rag-tag group of misfit heroes checks every hero's journey box in the most engaging and entertaining way. I have wanted them to do a movie trilogy of these books for years. It was announced that there was going to be a direct-to-DVD animated film with major voice talent like Kiefer Sutherland, Michael Rosenbaum, Lucy Lawless, Michelle Trachtenberg, and others. I went out to buy a copy the day it was released.
It is difficult to describe the level of disappointment found in this film.
This really isn't an animated movie. It's a previsualization animatic with a bit more color and movement. An animatic is something that movie studios use to get an idea of what a very special effects heavy picture might look like. It has crude drawings that is given awkward motion to kind of give the gist of how the movie would be directed. Think of the animation from the YouTube channel "How It Should Have Ended." That is how bad the "animation" of this movie is. They then had the actors perform the voices, but it all feels so stunted.
To make matters worse, the script was actually pretty terrible. There as an odd sexualization of the character Tika and a lot of the other characters just seemed off.
Trust me, if you have read and enjoyed anything from Dragonlance, stay away from this movie.
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
There are very few movies that can live up to the books they came from. Most of us simply accept that when a story goes from page to screen, something will be lost in translation. But Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is particularly odious.
The third Harry Potter book is a gripping story. I remember I was supposed to go to dinner with family, but I found I could not put the book down and so took it with me to the restaurant and very rudely buried my nose in the book the entire night. This was a transitional book in the series that went deeper and darker than the previous episodes. It brought the characters to a completely different level as JK Rowling's ability to craft a fantastic story truly began to shine.
And the movie, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, completely botched it.
Cuaron had no idea what he was doing. You can tell by the way he directed the film that he really had no interest in the source material per se. He gleaned from it the themes he liked and focused on those. He did not understand anything that was truly important to the story. Think about how much time he spent on Aunt Marge and Monster Book of Monsters in proportion to the big reveal at the Shrieking Shack. I remember hearing a story where he wanted the people in Hogwarts to be listening to what looked like phonograph, but was really a miniaturized band. Rowling asked him who these small people were, what was their story, and how they would fit into this magical eco-system. He had no answer, he just thought it would look cool. That sums up his approach to Harry Potter's world.
The directing is amateurish to the point of being bad. You can use the handheld style to great effect like in 1917. But so many of the dialogue scenes feel awkward and unplanned, as if the actors were rehearsing and Cuaron simply followed them around at a distance.
The result is a movie that takes one of the best stories in the series and turns it into the worst Harry Potter film.
8. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of Kenneth Branagh. I give him a great deal of credit for opening my eyes to the beauty of William Shakespeare. So when I heard he was directing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I was super excited. This was a bookend to Bram Stoker's Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola, which was movie that I loved at the time (since then I have more mixed thoughts). I was so excited that even though I was just shy of my 17th birthday, I begged my way through the box office and into this R-Rated movie.
And oh, how truly awful this movie was.
The entire film moved with a mad energy that made it difficult to follow. That might be tolerable, but he kept using the exact same technique over and over again. Scene after scene he would spin the camera around his actors. Rather than feeling bold and experimental, it felt like the whim of an amateur who just learned that you could but a camera on a dolly track.
Robert DeNiro was also horribly miscast as the Monster. Like Coppola, Branagh decided to pivot heavily away from the classic Universal Movie Monster template. That's fine, but his Monster is very uninteresting. He carries none of the wonder and horror that the Monster should feel to the world around him. He seems more like a deformed grouch than a freak of nature.
The score is good and the scene of the Monster's creation is exciting, but everything else falls so horribly flat. There is no terror, no emotion, no feeling.
7. Live By Night
Ben Affleck directed three movies in a row that were excellent: Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo. In that time he had also starred as Batman, which has been my favorite interpretation of the character. Live By Night was supposed to be his Godfather: a gangster period piece with a strong ensemble cast that explored the moral lives of amoral people.
As I wrote in my review:
The problem [with the plot] isn't the complexity, but that it seems needlessly muddled... Too often the characters are painted with to simple and broad brushstrokes. Loretta's father is reduced to simple madness. Dion is a not-so-bright buddy. The KKK troublemaker (Mattthew Maher) is pure inbred hillbilly. Saldana brings a sophisticated class her character, but we never get much deeper than someone who also represents a different kind of virtue to Joe.
Another problem is something that historical movies tend to have. Instead of simply presenting life and actions of the day, the movie constantly and not-so-subtly virtue-signals to current political issues of race, poverty, immigration, and legalization of contraband. If the movie had more confidence in itself, it would trust the viewer to draw its own conclusions. But when the main character talks about how one day there will be a political upheaval that sounds like rhetoric from recent election campaigns, it only serves to take you out of the movie.
This is the kind of movie that happens to a director when they have been gifted with great success. It is a film of hubris, but not confidence. Its ambition exceeds its excellence
6. Alien 3
James Cameron's Aliens is the greatest action movie of all time. While other movies may have better action set pieces, this movie is the best the action is grounded in amazing characters. Ripley, Hicks, Hudson, Newt, Vazquez, Gorman, Burke, Apone, and Bishop created an unforgettable ensemble that pulled us to the edge of our seats, desperate for them to survive the horror they encounter. By the end, we felt like we had gone on a meaningful journey with those who survived and we experienced strong and significant character development and relationships in our heroes.
Alien 3 decided to take all of that goodness that was handed to it and flush it down the toilet.
Alien 3 is so bad that in my mind, the series stops after the end of Aliens. Alien 3 makes Aliens a pointless endeavor in futility.
Alien 3 trades distinct characters with their own personalities and voices and trades them for a bunch of bald men that are almost completely interchangeable.
Alien 3 takes the hard-earned, sweetly subtle romance between Ripley and Hicks and spits on it by having her jump into the sack with the first guy on the prison planet that doesn't seem like a psychopath.
Alien 3 destroys the motherly tenderness and toughness that Ripley found in the previous movie and reduced her to a victim of circumstance.
I would recommend never reading the original plans for Alien 3 and Alien 4. The simple concepts of those stories alone will spark your imagination and fill you with pangs of sadness that something so great was so utterly destroyed.
5. Batman Returns
Tim Burton's Batman came out just as I was seriously getting into comic books. The synergistic timing has cemented that movie into my mind and heart. Looking back, I can see a number of places to criticize Burton in the handling of the characters. But all of that is forgiven for providing a dark, twisted, and compelling look at the Dark Knight.
Batman Returns doesn't come anywhere near the heights of the first.
The look of the movie is great and in keeping with the previous film. But the movie lacks any of the nuance or heart that was in the first. In the first movie, Bruce Wayne/Batman was an enigma, a mystery surrounded by shadow. You couldn't really get at the depths of who he was because he covered himself in literal and emotional armor. But you knew there was so much more than what was on the surface. In this movie, we lose a lot of that mystery and depth. It comes out a bit more in the final act, but the middle part of the movie doesn't feel like the character we came to love.
The real problem is Danny DeVito's Penguin. I don't fault the actor with the portrayal. But instead of giving us a person who is a parody of elite society, we simply have a crude caricature of low-brow humor. Even though the story attempts to do so, there is no depth to the character. He is a series of growls and foul comments. He is never really a threat or darkly comic foil the way Jack Nicholson's Joker was. Christopher Walken's Max Schrek is also equally lifeless, an empty suit of villany that never really gives you anything substantial to hate. Michelle Pfiefer's Catwoman is over-the-top, but it works enough for the movie that it is the best thing it has going for it.
When I left the theater after seeing the original Batman, I felt excited and inspired. I left Batman Returns disappointed.
4. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
There is no need to rehash all of the ways that The Last Jedi fails as a Star Wars film. But once again we see the same thing that happened with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban happen here: a director with no understanding of the subject matter runs roughshod over the franchise.
At least Cuaron did not destroy any of the essential elements of Rowling's story. Rian Johnson twisted the characters in a way that made them irredeemable in the eyes of many fans.
The Force Awakens was not the greatest film in the world, but it was good and enjoyable. And it ended on a tease about my favorite film character: Luke Skywalker. The Last Jedi was going to finally show us the fully matured Jedi that Luke was always meant to be.
Instead we are presented with a Luke who never really becomes who he should have been. We have a Luke that is written in such a way as to make himself look badly so that the new hero looks better. To be sure, he has some fantastic moments. And I don't mind that we see him start the film as a man broken by bad choices. But the cathartic character moment that I had been waiting for and yearning for in my childhood hero never occurs. Even Luke's final scene feels completely unearned and instead feels like Rian Johnson dropping the mic daring anyone to follow his audacious take on Star Wars.
There has never been a more disastrous writer/director for any multi-billion dollar film franchise than Rian Johnson.
3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
There are still many parts of this movie that I enjoy. The opening scene at the warehouse is fun, as is the chase through the university. But this movie is very much un-Indiana Jones.
I know that George Lucas dragged his feet for years until Spielberg and Ford both agreed to do his flying saucer story. But it doesn't work for the Indiana Jones world.
The other problem is that all of the heart is gone. This was a franchise that did an amazing job of introducing new characters with each installment that were memorable and interesting like Short Round, Willie Scott, Ilsa, and Henry Jones Sr. Crystal Skull has got Mutt. This character never completely works and that isn't Shia LeBeouf's fault. He is simply written too flatly. And the others: Mac, Ox, Dean Stanforth... they are insubstantial nothings. Willie Scott at her most annoying was more entertaining than any of these non-entities. Cate Blanchett does the best she can, but she is never given the same time of material as Belloq, Molaram, or even Walter Donovan.
Even worse is that the classic characters are treated so terribly. The moment that Marion Ravenwood re-enters Indy's life should be a profoundly powerful moment. It can be dramatic or comedic, but it should be iconic. Instead, she is dumped onto the screen like a sack of dirty laundry. There is no artistry in this. Go back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and watch the scene where we first see Marion and compare it to her re-introduction in Crystal Skull and you will see what I am talking about.
This movie also had the misfortune of following the best of the series, The Last Crusade. That film was exploring Indiana Jones as a son. Crystal Skull should have been an exploration of Indiana Jones as a father, but the movie never gets close to the perfection we found with Ford and Connery. It is easy to fall short of that, but Crystal Skull missed the mark entirely.
2. Dick Tracy
You have to understand two things about why this movie is on this list.
1.This movie came out the year after Batman
2.I was young and completely bought the hype.
There as a full-on media blitz telling us that this movie was going to be as good as my beloved Batman. It went for an incredibly bold retro-style with eye-popping colors. I watched Madonna and Warren Beatty on Arsenio Hall talking about how this was the most exciting thing ever. I went gaga over the brightly packaged toys and merchandise. I bought Dick Tracy's yellow hat (which I would actually wear in public) and a Dick Tracy book so I could familiarize myself with all of the crazy and colorful characters.
I so bought into the hype that I could not bring myself to admit how disappointing the movie was. I had begged my big sister to take me. As we left the theater I thanked her up and down, telling her how much I loved it. Perhaps I was trying to talk myself into liking it too. But within minutes of the movie starting, I knew that I had been lied to: This movie was no Batman. Take away the "comic" art direction and you are left with a mediocre-at-best mobster movie that lacks anything that should make it memorable. Beatty and Madonna have no chemistry, and even at my young age I could see that. The movie's twists should have thrilled and delighted, but they felt hollow.
And there is something about this movie that feels dirty. It isn't horribly graphic in that way, but layered in a violence and sensuality that feels insidious because this was a movie clearly marketed towards kids like me. Sure there are elements of sex and killing in Batman, but those were much easier to process than what we had in Dick Tracy.
The movie is like getting socks for Christmas: it's a brightly-colored package with nothing but disappointment inside.
1. Superman Returns
This isn't the worst movie I have ever seen.
This isn't even the worst Superman movie ever made.
But this is hands down, this is the most disappointing movie I have ever seen in the theaters.
Superman is one of my favorite characters of all time, near and dear to my heart like Luke Skywalker.
The original Superman movie was magical. I mean that in the purest sense of movie magic. I cannot remember the first time I saw Richard Donner's Superman, but it is part of my earliest memories. To me, there is no distinction between Christopher Reeve and the character he portrayed. He perfectly embodied the Man of Steel in his absolute command of every scene, whether dramatic or comedic.
The Richard Lester cut of Superman II is incredibly flawed but still has enough iconic moments to make it a classic.
Lester's Superman III is a disaster of a film that still manages to give us a few entertaining moments.
And somehow Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is even worse that Superman III. But perhaps I was too young and naive to see all of these movies' flaws. I saw Superman IV twice in the theater and even read the novelization of the movie (which is actually pretty good).
But Superman Returns disappointed me the most.
You have to understand that there had been two fairly serious Superman reboots that had fallen apart before this and both looked disastrous. Tim Burton's Superman Lives looked like monstrosity. Years later and more details leaked have shown that this film might have had potential, but at the time this Nicholas Cage-led movie looked awful. Next, McG, director of the Charlie's Angels movies took the helm. Early script leaks and rumored casting also made this look like a disaster waiting to happen.
But then Bryan Singer came on board to direct. Singer had just successfully revived the super hero genre with the incredibly competent X-Men and X2: X-Men United. At the very least, he took the genre seriously and didn't seem to see it as empty spectacle. But what made me even more excited was that his Superman movie was going to be a sequel to the first two Richard Donner films. And then he cast an actor who seemed to embody the look of Christopher Reeve and two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Everything about this looked like it would be one of the truly great super hero films.
So what went wrong?
Someone once said that the devil cannot create, he can only ape. That is what I think of when I think of Superman Returns. It feels like really bad fan fiction, where you can tell the author really likes the world their exploring but doesn't really understand it. It is absolutely clear that Singer approached Donner's work with reverence. Some say he had too much reverence, but that isn't the problem. He had too little understanding.
The look, the costumes, the casting, and the tone are all superficially in line with Donner's movies. But there is no heart. None of the characters feel like they have any real relationships or friendships. Lois and Clark/Superman have no chemistry. They act like they are practically strangers to each other. Kate Bosworth is one of the worst Lois Lanes I have seen. It really isn't her fault. Like Katie Holmes in Batman Begins, she lacked the gravitas for the part. There is a little bit of madness in Lois that is completely lost on the young Ms. Bosworth.
And this relationship is the heart of the movie. There are a few decent action set pieces, like the plane rescue. But Singer focuses on Lois and Clark over Superman saving the world. And this relationship is so horribly cringey. Superman becomes a super stalker and a deadbeat dad. But he isn't much of character. In Donner's movies, and also in Zack Snyder's films, we get to see the emotional heart of the "man" behind the "super." We never get that with Superman Returns. Brandon Routh is a good actor, but Singer never lets him be anything but an image. Also, instead of letting Spacey play Luthor like Spacey, Singer has him play Luthor like Gene Hackman, which is a bad fit.
Also, the movie is too dark. I don't mean in tone, I mean it is literally dim and difficult to see. At first I thought it was just the print at the theater where I first watched the movie. But subsequent viewings show this poor cinematography.
This is also the movie that tried to get beyond the wholesomeness of the original. When Joss Whedon wrote Captain America in The Avengers, he understood that his idealism was "old fashioned," but he knew that was part of what defined his character. Singer tries to "modernize" Superman so that he doesn't necessarily stand for truth, justice, "and all that stuff."
I actually saw the movie twice in the theaters and bought the special edition DVD.
As I said, the Superman movies were magic to me. Imagine going into a magic show expected to be dazzled with wonder, but instead were presented with an amateurish display with easily detectible tricks that left you more cynical about ever feeling wonder again.
That is what it was like watching Superman Returns.
And that is why it is the most disappointing movie of all time.