As good a year for film as 2014 has been, no 365 days can be completely crap free. In my somewhat masochistic goal to see as many movies as possible (I saw over 100 in 2014), I’ve come across some really bland, disappointing or just outright awful cinema. Some of these you may disagree with me on, others you may have never even heard of, but again this is all subjective; that’s why it’s called my “most despised” list rather than “worst”. But enough procrastinating. Let’s start digging through the trash.
First, a few dishonourable mentions that managed to scrape by:
Need for Speed – Aaron Paul shows he doesn’t have leading man potential in this lame brained car movie that makes The Fast and the Furious movies seem reasonable by comparison. The cool practical stunts are fun, but what isn’t fun are the thinly broad characters, ludicrous plot and the cringe-worthy attempts at humour.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Kenneth Branagh’s attempted reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise wasn’t exactly bad, but it was achingly bland; a store-brand imitation of the modern spy thriller. I never thought I’d say this, but Chris Pine is no Alec Baldwin.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – A lame and derivative reinvention of the classic franchise that combines all the worst elements of modern reboots and Michael Bay-isms. Only saved by some cool action sequences and the strained efforts of Will Arnett.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – The definition of “too little, too late”, this belated follow-up to the 2005 film is just more of the same with no new tricks despite the nine year jump in film technology and technique. As much of a has-been as Frank Miller himself.
- The Quiet Ones
I know I’m starting the list off weak here, but that’s only because this movie is so bland that I’m actually struggling to remember most of it. Full of the same old horror tropes but with a superfluous 70s filter, The Quiet Ones is a dull and obvious horror flick that has ambitions of doing new things but always chickens out and goes for the expected scare.
- The Expendables 3
It’s the best of the franchise…but that’s not saying much. The Expendables 3 is still the complete waste of an idea that all of these movies have been. A thin plot, an abundance of poorly-written characters, bad humour that mostly relies on puns and movie references, and action sequences neutered by a PG-13 rating all contribute to this movie once again failing to live up to the series’ potential. Everyone involved here should know better and I wish they’d spend their time making better movies. Except Kellan Lutz. He just needs to go away.
- The Equalizer
Denzel Washington wastes his time and talent in this adaptation of the TV show of the same name. Feeling like an episode of the show stretched out to over two hours, The Equalizer is a slog of a film full of clichéd villains played by wasted character actors (seriously, why even hire Chloe Grace Moretz if she’s only going to be in the movie for about ten minutes?) that only remains vaguely watchable thanks to Washington’s own natural charm.
- That Awkward Moment
This movie poses itself as a romantic comedy for men. Pity the film’s definition of “men” has been replaced with “immature douchebags”. Wasting the talents of its impressive main cast of Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zac Efron (yes, this movie is even below Efron’s usual standards), That Awkward Moment seems less like a modern view of romance and more like a series of rejected plots from a bad sitcom. Crass, immature and loud in all the wrong ways, That Awkward Moment proves that rom coms for men can be just as pandering as those for women. Let’s just hope Teller and Jordan’s luck together is better with this year’s Fantastic Four.
- Horrible Bosses 2
There are bad comedy sequels, and then there’s Horrible Bosses 2. Played like if an idiot tried to remake the first film, the flimsy plot and dumbed down characters sink what few vestiges of humour are left in this premise. Every actor here is either bored or embarrasses themselves, and do I need to mention that Charlie Day essentially gets raped at one point and it’s played for laughs? Thought so. My advice: just watch the first one again and try to forget this one even exists.
- The Maze Runner
Young adult adaptations have gotten so cocky at this point that they’re convinced they’ll get a sequel. That’s especially a problem when it causes the filmmakers to not even bother explaining the rules of their two-hour movie before it’s over. The Maze Runner is the prime example of how not to create a mystery, replacing vagueness and dangling questions in place of the tension and intrigue that should be there. There are so many moments of illogic in this movie that it infuriated me, and the cock-tease ending just makes it all the worse. There is some potential for a good movie here, but the complete lack of consistency and rationality make this one a really hard sit for those who like their stories to make sense.
Over a year ago, I had this on my most anticipated films of 2014 list. Now the mere thought of it makes me both shudder and laugh at the same time. Transcendence is one of those films that thinks it’s smart and has something to say, but is actually about as intelligent and informed on the subject of technology as an 80 year old luddite. The pacing is sleep-inducingly slow, the characters all act like idiots, the message of the film is confused and keeps switching sides, and even for an advanced super AI system some of the things Johnny Depp does in this movie are head-slappingly idiotic. Wally Pfister, you may be Christopher Nolan’s buddy but an accomplished storyteller you are not.
Whilst Maze Runner was merely confusing, Divergent’s main sin is being mind-numbingly dull and hackneyed. When the film isn’t just ripping off The Hunger Games but without any of the stakes, all that is left is a bad teenage love story and supposed “social commentary” for people whose only experience of hierarchy is the structure of high school cliques. Who the heck wants to watch that for two and a half hours? Teenage girls obviously, as thanks to them we’re getting three more of these. [groan]
- The Giver
I’ve never read the book this film was based on, but despite that I can tell this is a horribly done adaptation. The core ideas at the story’s heart are strong, but the execution is just bafflingly awful on every conceivable level. Great actors like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are bad, everyone else in the cast is even worse, the pacing and structure are all over the place, and the symbolism is so forced that everything might as well have a “this means something important” sign on it. The Giver might be trying to say something good, but it goes about it in the worst way possible.
- Dracula Untold
If this is how Universal wants to start the reboot of their Monsters series, then they’re off to a really bad start. Dracula Untold is a complete mess of a film that acts less like a horror movie and more like a bad superhero origin story. The legendary vampire is depicted here with a tragic back-story and noble motivations, but yet we’re somehow supposed to still be scared of him. The story then completely loses any moral complexity by pitting him against a villain so shallow and remorseless that you end up disliking both sides of this idiotic conflict. The plot rushes past so quickly just to get to the next CGI-filled action set piece, there is literally no time to linger on anything and the result is unfulfilling and incomprehensible. Sorry, Dracula Untold. Not even the presence of Charles Dance could save you.
- I, Frankenstein
Did anybody actually expect this to be good? All I was hoping for was at least something as enjoyably dumb as the Underworld movies, but this didn’t even manage that distinction. Being surprisingly reverent to the source material and featuring a renowned but utterly wasted casted, I, Frankenstein doesn’t quite seem to know what it is. Is it a horror movie? An action flick? Fantasy? Science fiction? A weird, nonsensical combination of all of the above? Yeah, I think it’s that last one. Combine that with dated special effects, inconsistent logic and a complete lack of self-awareness, and this is one concept that probably should have stayed just that.
Continuing on the theme of movies that act like they’re smarter than they are is this preposterous sci-fi action movie from the long past his prime Luc Besson. Scarlett Johansson does her best with the limited material, but is left throughout most of the movie looking like a mannequin and yet is still the most compelling character. I can excuse a film having a preposterous premise as long as it entertains, but Lucy is so off the wall that it becomes dull. Johansson becomes so untouchable and overpowered by the film’s climax that there is absolutely no tension or drama, and in the final few scenes the movie suddenly decides it wants to be 2001: A Space Odyssey for no reason. Lucy tries to be both intellectual and entertaining, but instead ends up just being stupid.
- 3 Days to Kill
Speaking of Luc Besson, he wrote this next piece of action-packed drivel. Kevin Costner’s character may be the one dying in 3 Days to Kill, but it’s his own career that should be put on life support after this turgid mess from hackmaster McG (and yes, that is really is the director’s name). The action sequences are dry, the humour feels like it was taken from a completely different film, Costner looks like he’s going to fall asleep at any second, Hailee Steinfeld continues failing to live up to her promise in True Grit, and what the f*ck was up with Amber Heard’s character?
- Exodus: Gods and Kings
Another year, another reminder that Ridley Scott is not the director he used to be. Tackling the story of Moses, a tale told several times on screen already, it seems Scott’s angle on the material was to make it really boring and emotionally detached. Despite a staggering 150 minute run time, the film makes little effort to establish a strong relationship between Christian Bale’s Moses and Joel Edgerton’s Ramses, leaving the film’s central conflict feeling hollow and uninteresting. Scott also wastes his excellent supporting cast, leaving such recognizable faces as John Turturro, Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver with essentially nothing to do. When Exodus isn’t just dull, it is laughable; this is epitomized in several scenes where Moses talks to God, who is depicted as a precocious and monotone kid and all sense of seriousness is lost. It’s a profound waste of time and money for everyone involved, but especially the audience’s.
- (A New York) Winter’s Tale
I honestly couldn’t describe this movie to you in a way that makes sense nor that lives up to what watching it is actually like. All you need to know is that there is a magic horse that is actually a dog, Russell Crowe with a terrible Irish accent, and Will Smith as the Devil. No, I’m being serious. Will Smith is Satan. That’s not even mentioning the laughably bad screenplay full of ridiculous dialogue and awkward plot turns that essentially make two-thirds of the story entirely pointless. All I had to say was “Will Smith plays the Devil”, and you’d know there’s something wrong with this picture. Stay away unless you really enjoy laughing at bad movies, because there are some priceless moments here.
- The Anomaly
I hate to pick on the little guy here, but The Anomaly is just flat-out bad. Noel Clarke of Doctor Who and Kidulthood fame directs and stars in this wannabe sci-fi thriller with production values that even the most average TV show would laugh at. The plot, whilst having a decent premise, is a poorly structured and over-expositional mess that lacks personality and development. The fight sequences are over-choreographed and uninspired copies of those you could find in a Zack Snyder production, whilst the special effects look unfinished and not much better than what a 14 year old could do whilst messing around with Adobe After Effects. The British film industry really could do with more genre fare instead of relying on the usual costume dramas and bad comedies, but if this is all it can muster then maybe that explains why we don’t get more.
- Ride Along
When making a comedy, a key thing you need to make sure of is that your movie is actually funny. Sounds obvious, I know, but so may comedies somehow forget to do this and instead just shout nonsense to fill the void. Ride Along is yet another entry into the buddy cop genre with barely an original idea in its head, with every plot development and character beat predictable to a T. Ice Cube just looks bored throughout whilst co-star Kevin Hart attempts to liven the proceedings but just ends up embarrassing himself. Not much more to say but dull, dull, dull…and somehow we’re getting a sequel in 2016. Oh, Hollywood. You so silly.
The idea of mixing Titanic and Gladiator sounds like a good idea…if any more effort was put into it beyond that elevator pitch and it was the year 2001. But in 2014, Pompeii looks about as lifeless of a film as the ash-covered victims of Mount Vesuvius itself. Kit Harington utterly fails as a leading man, and his co-stars do little to help; only Kiefer Sutherland manages to entertain, and that’s only because he’s so awfully OTT. Derivative, poorly paced and laden with corny dialogue, Pompeii certainly fits in with the majority of director Paul W.S. Anderson’s filmography.
- Transformers: Age of Extinction
Ripping apart a Michael Bay movie is kind of pointless since it’s clear he doesn’t care what people with brain cells think, but it’s a task that still needs to be done. Whilst not as offensive as Revenge of the Fallen, Age of Extinction is certainly the most tiresome Transformers film yet. The plot is meandering and feels improvised, the runtime is grossly overstretched, the product placement is so overdone it’s practically disgusting, and the main cast actually makes me pine for the days of Shia LaBoeuf. Bay says he’s done with the franchise and that’s nothing but good news. Then again, he said the same thing after Dark of the Moon, so it’d be no surprise if he came back for more incomprehensible robot carnage. I was willing to defend this man after I enjoyed Pain & Gain so much, but now he’s once again lost any goodwill I had towards him. Good luck in movie hell, Michael Bay. You’d better hope they have teleprompters.
- Palo Alto
When James Franco isn’t hanging out with Seth Rogen, he’s making pretentious twaddle like this. Based on his collection of short stories, Palo Alto is also the directorial debut of Gia Coppola (yes, there is yet another Coppola) and it just reeks of indie nonsense. It’s the kind of film where every character is a wretched human being, but not the interesting, engaging, Scorsese type of wretched. No, this is essentially watching a bunch of dumb teenagers making stupid mistakes or just generally being arseholes with no real motivation or meaning. I get that it’s meant to be a slice of life, but can’t that slice at least have some meat to it? This is easily the longest and most excruciating 100 minutes I have ever endured, and you would have to tie me down Clockwork Orange style to make me watch it again…and we haven’t even hit the top five yet.
Speaking of unlikable characters, David Ayer’s Sabotage managed the impossible task of making Arnold Schwarzenegger not only boring but also utterly repugnant. He and the entire cast of this film are absolutely awful as both characters and actors, behaving like a bunch bro-douches and not even having the decency to do it convincingly. The plot is somehow both needlessly convoluted and bafflingly predictable, and the film’s grimy tone and pessimistic attitude just makes for a soul-crushing experience but not in a good way. Thank the movie gods for the fantastic Fury, because otherwise I’d be after Ayer’s head for this.
- The Legend of Hercules
I’d say this movie is actually far too hilariously bad to feature on this list, but The Legend of Hercules is just an utter disaster on every level. The acting is marginally better than a primary school nativity play, the writing is trite and moronic, the action sequences are outdated and lacking in impact, the costumes look like they were bought at a fancy dress store, and even the music isn’t very good. However, The Legend of Hercules gets everything so wrong that it actually starts to become entertaining in a riffable kind of way. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys Mystery Science Theatre 3000, this might actually be one worth watching; it’s even available on Netflix right now, so go ahead and laugh your ass off. Otherwise, just stay away and watch Dwayne Johnson’s surprisingly enjoyable Hercules movie from this year instead.
And it’s strike number three for Kellan Lutz on this year’s list for starring in this utterly curious CG adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic ape-man. Beyond the motion capture animation looking stilted and the character models lifelessly off-putting, this version of Tarzan just doesn’t really make any sense. When the story isn’t just meandering around without any real purpose, with events stitched together by bafflingly written narration, it’s just ripping off Avatar. The characters are stock and dull, the dialogue is laughably simplistic and performed by actors who don’t even sound human, and it doesn’t even seem to understand the key concepts of Tarzan. I have no idea how this movie actually got made, but it exists and it is just bemusing to the nth degree.
Whilst many movies on this list are objectively worse, no movie pissed me off more than Maleficent did. I have talked about this movie at length several times already, so please read my detailed autopsy here if you want to know why this one ticked me off so much, but allow me to cover the basics. The plot is an utter mess with no cohesion or structure, the characters are so watered down and simplistic that they make early Disney characters seem as complex as those on Game of Thrones, the acting is abysmally lifeless thanks to poor direction, the supposedly feminist message is utterly ruined by completely misunderstanding the concept of feminism, and do I really need to repeat why that wing-cutting scene is distressingly awful on so many levels (and yes, Angelina Jolie has said since that the subtext was totally intentional)? It just confounds me to no end that not only did Disney OK this movie and spent $170 million on it, but that it is the fourth highest grossing film of 2014. People, have you learnt nothing from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland? Keep your money and stop encouraging them to keep doing this. Disney, I love 90% of what you’re doing right now, but this trend either needs to stop or you need to actually put some effort into these.
And for the longest time, that would have been the end of it. But in my quest to see as many films as possible before the year ended, I actually came across a film I loathe more than Maleficent. Behold! The utter abomination of cinema that is…
- Sex Tape
Where…do I even…start? Well, remember how I said that comedies need to actually be funny? Sex Tape goes the extra mile and confuses being gross for being funny, and therein lies this movie’s crippling flaw. Every “joke” is just talking graphically about sex and, whilst not wanting to sound like a prude, I tend to find that makes me wince more than laugh. I enjoy some pretty messed-up stuff for entertainment, but Sex Tape doesn’t do it in a creative or interesting way. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel are utterly awful in this, interacting and reacting to each other in ways no sane human being would do in this or any situation and instead come off as sex-obsessed mental patients. The constant Apple product placement is excruciating, literally stopping the movie to showcase Siri or comment on how durable iPads are, and I haven’t even gotten into the plot of this monstrosity yet. The set-up of having to race around trying to stop people from seeing a sex tape isn’t a wholly bad idea, but the way it’s executed here is just idiotic beyond relief; once it’s revealed who’s behind this whole ordeal and their motivation (or completely unconvincing lack therof) is brought to light and then inconsequentially shoved to the side, I knew I had found the worst film of 2014. The movie ends with Diaz and Segel violently destroying their sex video Office Space-style, which just made me want to do the exact same thing to every copy of this movie in existence.