I’m known by more than a few people for being something of a snob when it comes to movies. As absolutely pretentious as it may sound, if a film isn’t a part of the Criterion Collection or considered “art house” in some capacity it’s likely that I won’t take it too seriously. That’s not to say that I’m a stranger to bad cinema (I’ve seen my fair share of flops), but usually I have the good sense to distance myself from Z-grade films shortly after my first viewing. Usually.
Friends, here you see my secret shame. Each film on this list is a cinematic disaster that features unrealistic characters, moronic dialogue, and a paper-thin premise. They pervert the medium they inhabit and rightfully should never have been made. Unfortunately, I also own (and love) each of them.
This Top 10 list is all about my favorite guilty pleasure movies, ranked according to how ashamed I am to like it. Please don’t hold them against me; I swear I usually have good taste.
10. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%
Say what you will about this 2009 film adaptation of what is largely considered to be the lamest action cartoon of the 1980s, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra was exactly what I wanted it to be. G.I Joe (the TV series) was all about real American heroes doing good and fighting off the cartoonishly evil members of Cobra. The show was littered with lasers, poor voice-work, far too many people screaming “Go Joe!”, and an unhealthy amount of do-good patriotism (would picking up trash really make me a Real American Hero?), but it was also entertaining. The feature film hit all of these points to a tee; lasers were abundant, villains sounded ridiculous, and a bunch of American do-gooders punched bad guys in the face for roughly 128 minutes. G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra didn’t win any accolades with its ridiculous premise and corny dialogue, but for actual fans of the series this film may be the most literal translation of the cartoon possible.
9. Independence Day
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
I know that you probably don’t see Independence Day as a bad film, but please humor me. Not only does this film feature one of the most inane and self-absorbed concepts of the 90s, but it had the unfortunate effect of jumpstarting Roland Emmerich’s career of blowing crap up. You voted with your dollars to perpetuate this kind of movie not because you had an affinity for the always charming Will Smith or good old fashioned patriotism, but rather that you wanted to see the White House, Capitol Building, and Empire State Building get absolutely demolished. You failed to notice the lack of contextual build up and the cheap ploy of eliciting emotional response through the destruction of culturally significant landmarks just so you could get your jollies off while half the world burnt to a crisp. You were even willing to forgive the cheap deus ex machina computer virus ending (because apparently the aliens use Linux as their primary operating system), the cheesiest patriotic speech ever uttered on film, and the paper-thin romantic turmoil of the protagonist, all to satisfy your destructive side. And I stand there next to you in all my sadistic glory despite recognizing every facet that makes this a cheap, broken action film (and it is). I’m not sure why, but I do know that it’s shameful.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 44%
This film is both wonderfully pretentious and canonically bad. The Director can’t explain it, Sean Connery took it as he couldn’t find work after his stint as Bond, and the costume designer was clearly high on some really potent stuff. Sean Connery plays Zed, a rebel who begins the film as the leader of a band of assassins who rape and pillage the uncivilized “Brutals” in the name of a higher power. These assassins answer only to their God, a gigantic floating stone head known as Zardoz. Somewhere along the line Zed starts to doubt the teachings of the floating head in the sky and upon investigation learns that Zardoz is actually a fraudulent structure controlled by a society of more intelligent “Eternals”, who used Zardoz to toy with the lives of lesser beings. To those of you who feel as though this premise seems familiar - Zardoz is essentially The Wizard of Oz with a half-naked Sean Connery. This film may have notoriety on the internet for its poor costume decisions and befuddling dialogue (“The gun is good. The penis is evil” -Zardoz), but to me it will always be the weirdest and most awesome thing Connery has ever done.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
There are a handful of things that Michael Bay appears to understand (jump-cuts, explosions, racial stereotypes, etc.), but the craft of thrusting believable characters into a well-paced plot always seems to escape him. While Transformers is not nearly as bad as it likely could have been, this film lacks the whimsical humanity that made the original television show so endearing. Characters are unnaturally cardboard, a blatant mcguffin propels the plot (and is promptly dropped once the sparks start to fly), action is loud and repetitive, nondescript proper-nouns are thrown about as frequently as bullets, and the entire film is essentially a two-hour Hasbro/GMC commercial. I rightfully should despise this film for popularizing flashy, ADD action cinema, but I’ve found that there is a certain charm to this movie (a charm that is lost in its sequels). The action sequences are so blown-out that it’s hard to tell which Transformer is doing what, but with the level of image density being thrown into every frame you can’t really pause to dwell on how inane the story is. Somehow, this film manages to savant its way into being watchable despite the sum of its parts (no pun intended).
6. The Wizard
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 24%
The Wizard has a plot that is dubiously unrealistic. In this thinly-veiled 100-minute Nintendo commercial, a small child who happens to be the Pinball Wizard of the Nintendo generation has an unhealthy fixation with California and aims to make his way there in any way possible (hitchhiking, walking down highways, talking to strangers, etc.). This little boy and his cohorts manage to get from Utah to the National Video Game Championships in Los Angeles all while they’re parents fear for their safety, a private detective with pedophillic overtones stalks them, and a douche with a powerglove mocks them. The film’s finale is less of a conclusion and more of a tangent as our protagonists fight for the opportunity to promote Super Mario Bros. 3 as much as possible. The Wizard constantly makes you question the realism of what’s happening and has a marketing style that is almost insulting to the audience’s intelligence, but the little kid in me just can’t get enough out of the flashy colors, video game references, and just how “bad” the powerglove is.
5. Blade: Trinity
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
I like vampires. I like when vampires explode. I like when Wesley Snipes makes vampires explode. Why aren’t you with me on this? When Blade:Trinity was released to the masses, professional critics, Marvel fans, and horror junkies alike all cried foul, citing the film as squandering the potential of the franchise. Reality check: none of the Blade films are particularly good. Each one of these gore-fests has been long in the tooth (pun intended) and built upon the most shaky of premises with little more content than vampires who burst into ash when they touch silver and the pretentious half-vampire melodrama that Blade is known for. There has not been a single entry in this franchise that has demonstrated a clear visual style, character complexity, or moral dilemma; complaining about Trinity’s deficiencies while referencing the supposed greatness of its predecessors is like punching Katy Perry in the face while high-fiving Lady Gaga and grabbing Madonna’s ass. Simply put, each entry in this franchise is equally terrible and I love them all the same. Is Blade:Trinity likely more terrible than its predecessors? Probably, but sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy the vampire explosions.
4. Street Fighter
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 13%
OH MY GOD I LOVE RAUL JULIA. For the uninitiated, Julia was one of the most charismatic actors of his time and was taken from us about a million times too early. In this film he plays the villainous General Bison, holding a multi-million dollar ransom for a group of kidnapped allied relief workers. Sure, Jean-Claude Van Damme is technically the lead of Street Fighter, but Damme is as bland as ever and Julia pretty much makes the film worth the watch. That’s not to say that this film is in any way good. The acting is cartoonish, the dialogue is hammy at its best and dreary at its worst, the fight scenes are mindless and disjointed, the plot is as uneven as it is hard to follow, and the conclusion is pretty disappointing. Some would argue that this was the worst role he could have possibly had before his untimely passing, but I’ll always remember Julia fondly for his one-liners and the look of pure glee he had while levitating in his red power-suit.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 12%
Showgirls managed to single-handedly killed Elizabeth Berkley’s acting career, Paul Verhoeven’s notability, and the NC-17 rating all in one fell swoop. It’s just the perfect storm of terribleness; everything that could have gone wrong did. It’s so awkwardly conceived, so nonsensical, such a glorious example of filmmaking that it pains me to say that I like it. Sure, women are topless for roughly 30% percent of the runtime, characters have painfully stupid names (our protagonist is “Nomi Malone” - as in, “Know me, I’m alone.”), and insensitive stereotypes are crammed into every crevice of this 131 minute disaster, but it’s the dialogue that really makes this pseudo-feminist exploitation flick glorious. Not only is the content of pretty much every conversation laughable, but the delivery is just so over the top that it becomes difficult to take anything seriously. And to be honest, the movie benefits from this; every scene just oozes with pure ineptitude while every actor takes what’s going on so seriously. At the end of the day, it’s just impossible to not fall in love with this piece of crap. Am I proud of loving this box office bomb/softcore porn? Not exactly, but any cinephile would enjoy watching it for the simple fact that it’s the perfect bad example.
2. A Night at the Roxbury
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%
I’ve likely seen A Night at the Roxbury about two hundred times and have yet to tire of it. Admittedly, the content conveyed in the film is more or less what you see on the poster: a pair of brothers with unfortunate fashion sense, aggressively neon colouration, and the word “Score” featured far too prominently. In this film the titular siblings are thrust into Beverly Hills nightlife with the sole intention of gaining entrance to the most exclusive of clubs: The Roxbury. Upon accomplishing this feat (with thanks to a 21 Jump Street alumni), the pair experience the highs of celebrity and the immediate lows of returning to their pitiful lives. Is it derivative and tremendously campy? Yes. Does it toy with themes that the narrative isn’t equipped to handle? Absolutely. Does it fail to entertain? Absolutely not. This film takes a shallow concept that rightfully shouldn’t have the backbone to reach the 80 minute mark and relies on the natural talents of its leads to deliver an enjoyable experience. In my mind it succeeds in this task, but I’d be hard pressed to cite A Night at the Roxbury as being objectively “good”.
1. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 6%
Well this is embarrassing. Yes, I am indeed a fan of what is likely the worst video game film ever conceived. To my defense, I adore the Mortal Kombat franchise (with all of its flaws), Robin Shou, and hilarious bad dialogue. While its characters are as numerous as they are shallow, the fight scenes are mindless, and I could probably generate better special effects with Windows Movie Maker, the level of ineptitude that Mortal Kombat: Annihilation reaches is actually quite impressive. Unlike its predecessor, this film doesn’t try to strike a balance between tone and narrative, nor does it attempt to present characters in a particularly relatable way. In that sense, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is every ounce as entertaining as it is terrible. Call me blasphemous if you like, but this film manages to surpass its predecessor (which is actually a pretty good video game movie) in sheer watchability and entertainment value. May the elder gods have mercy on me and my terrible taste.