Thursday, August 13, 2020

The 50 Most Disappointing Movies Of All Time - Criteria and Categories

 My good friend Rick O. asked me if I could think of the most disappointing movie I've seen.  Little did he know that this was the equivalent of putting mentos into Diet Coke inside of my brain.  I spent the next day pouring through lists of movies I've seen to come up with the perfect candidate.

But the brain-worm didn't stop there.  He didn't ask me what was the worst movie I have seen, but the most disappointing movie I've seen.  That is a very different thing to ask.  It made me realize that I had to set up a critera for what it meant for a movie to be "disappointing."


-Expectation vs. Reality

This is the key criteria to understanding if a movie is disappointing.  When you go into a movie with a certain level of expectation, if the resulting film does not meet or exceed this expectation, there is a sense of let down.  

What is important to understand about this is that the gap between expectation and reality may not reflect the goodness of the movie.  You can have an excellent movie that disappoints and a terrible movie that doesn't.  Allow these examples:

A few months ago I finally watched Lawrence of Arabia.  People like Steven Spielberg have talked about how utterly influential and epic this movie is.  And in my own life, there are several people who hyped it as one of the great adventure epics of all time.  When I finally saw it, I thought it was beautifully shot, expertly acted, but lacking the catharsis of something like Braveheart to make a permanent attachment to my thoughts.  It is in no way a bad film, but I would call it disappointing because it did not match the high expectation I had of it.

On the flip side, in memory of my mom, I went to go see Mama Mia: Here We Go Again! The original was my mom's favorite musical, but I thought it was awful.  I went into the sequel expecting it to be bad and for the most part it was.  But I was not disappointed because the bar was set so low.

In the films discussed in this series, please know that if I choose a movie that you think is high quality, I may not have a dispute with you.  The only issue I have is that the movie failed to meet the bar that I set for it.  Which brings me to the next criteria:


More-so that even a straight-up movie review, this series will be highly subjective.  It has to be.  The whole subject is based around my own subjective expectations of a movie.  And there can be so many reasons why expectations are high and they don't have to be rational at all.  It could be something as simple as one of the shots in the trailer really touched me for no reason.  It is irrational to extrapolate the full quality of a movie from something as simple as this, but our subjective feelings don't have to be rational.

And our expectations don't have to be rational.  They can be based in rational reasons, like the quality of work of the filmmaker's previous work.  But one thing I've learned is that just because a filmmaker makes an amazing film, it doesn't mean that they have it within them to repeat that same feat.  Every rational piece of evidence tells me that most Adam Sandler movies are terrible.  But because of The Wedding Singer and Click, I always come in with ridiculously high expectations.

So this list is less a about an objective analysis of these films and more of an insight into my own subjective tastes.

-Theatrical Only

I have seen so many movies that coming up with a list was difficult.  But I decided to pare down the movies only to ones that I saw in the theater.  

In general, movies that you see in the theater have higher expectations on them than those you see at home.  The fact that you are going to go out and pay an incredibly high price to see the film with hundreds of strangers shows that interest in the movie is high.  Again, this isn't always the case, but it is the general rule of thumb.  If you say to yourself, "I'll wait until I can watch it at home," already the expectations are a little lower.

Also, movies that you watch at home can be unfairly judged.  In a theater, the movie commands your full attention as you sit in a dark room in front of a tremendous screen where no one is supposed to talk or be on their phone.  At home, there are way too many distractions and you have to power to skip around in a way that was unintended by the filmmaker.

Note: THERE IS ONE EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE ON THIS LIST.  There is a movie that did not get a theatrical release that I eagerly anticipated.  I got it the day of its release and the fall from expectation to disappointment was so huge that I couldn't leave it off.


Rather than do a full countdown, I decided to differentiate the movies by category.  As with most categories, there will be overlap between them, but the films will be placed in the category where it best fits.

The categories are:

-Bad Adaptations

These are movies where I was disappointed because of my familiarity with the source material.  If the stories on which these movies are based created a strong sense of expectation that the movie failed to me, it would fall into this category


These are movies where the marketing created an unrealistic expectation of the movie's greatness.  This is also highly subjective.  It may reflect an incredibly large corporate marketing campaign to build hype.  Or it could be something as simple has having one really good trailer that gave a different impression to the movie's quality to me.

-Wasted Talent

I am one of those people that goes to see a film because of the people who made it.  Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck are just to name a few.  Rightly or wrongly, if these people give me a good movie in the past, I expect them to deliver again and again.  If they don't, I walk away from the film let down.

-Sequel Stumble

This might be the most common source of disappointment.  Making a good sequel is tricky: if you give the audience the exact same experience, they will be bored.  If you change things too much, they will feel betrayed.  Making a sequel that is equal or greater than the original is not an easy feat.  Most sequels are greenlit because audience expectations are already high and so there is a built in challenge.

-The Top Ten

Finally, there will be a list of the top ten most disappointing movies, regardless of category.  These are ones that jump out far above the rest and stick in my mind as the biggest let downs.

I look forward to sharing this with all of you and hearing your thoughts.

Until then...

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