Here is a list proving not everything Hollywood produces can be considered ‘’art’’.
With The Academy Awards being delivered in less than two weeks the tendency this time of year is to focus on praiseworthy cinema. But as Hollywood busies itself with congratulating itself I will be here to remind them of the misfires.
When it comes to compiling year-end lists regarding entertainment, critics take the easy route. When they create their ‘’10 Best’’ lists they position things as if they are courting controversy, possibly creating tension with picks and omissions, but really it is the safe way out. Consider; no matter their selections, they are resting on the fact that they are dealing with quality, so they always have a sound position.
A worst-of list is more treacherous. This will provoke negative reactions, but it is something as co-host on a bad movie show host I am accustomed to absorbing. In collocating the catastrophes of the year there are measurements to consider. Some were financial disasters, some were dramatic or comedic failures, and the select few were a combination — the true disasters. So without extending the suspense any further, here are the worst offerings from Hollywood last year, presented chronologically.
REPLICAS — Keanu Reeves had a good year. His third ‘’John Wick’’ was a huge success, and he was a giddy addition as Duke Kaboom in ‘’Toy Story 4’’. But he started the year off in this technological disaster — a sci-fi-asco, if you will. He played a scientist dubbed a ‘’synthetic biologist’’. That paradox alone should tell you everything about this mess. After losing his family to an auto accident he strives to regenerate them in clone-style, and a number of nefarious organizations coming after him. While confusing, that does not mean it was complex.
SERENITY — Matthew McCounahy and Anne Hathaway are in this neo-noir thriller completely unraveled by its illogic. Matt is a Florida fisherman (just ignore the cliffs, foreign flags, and driving on the opposite side of the road) and he has a mystical connection to his estranged son. Then his ex-wife shows up and she wants him to kill her new husband. Now buy into a gorgeous Diane Lane being a woman who needs to pay for sex with a drunkard, Matt being frequently naked except during a sex scene, and tie this all into it being a video game created by the boy to connect with his dead father. It makes less sense than it sounds, but is a required must-see for badness aficionados.
MISS BALA – Catherine Hardwicke moves from her ‘’Twilight’’ comfort zone and takes a swing at an action movie, attempting to remake a Spanish-language hit film. Gina Rodriguez, from ‘’Jane The Virgin’’ attempts to become an action star in a border-dispute drug plot that is supposed to be intrigue-laden but is leaden. There was no need for this remake, and no interest — it had a meager budget of $15 million and could barely earn that total back in theaters.
HELLBOY — Lionsgate wanted to reopen this franchise property, bringing in David Harbour from ‘’Stranger Things’’ to populate the title role. It was a misguided gore-fest that at times resembled a music video, both in tone and in its lack of plot. Even with a relatively weak competitive field it managed little business and could not earn back its $50 million budget.
PET SEMATARY — While not a complete disaster it is really just a tired retread of a film. Even the theme song originally by The Ramones was redone with a half-hearted effort. Jason Clarke tries to make something of this, after his stint in ‘’Serenity’’, and John Lithgow for some reason thought it wise to reprise the role Fred Gwynne had in the original. There really was no need for this one, so of course, the studio saw a need to exhume the property and try to regenerate it, not unlike the story of the film, delivering a similarly troubling result.
UGLY DOLLS — STX Entertainment had a brutal 2019, and this was one of its worst efforts. Thinking it had a hot family property the studio secured the global rights to this toy line. It rushed out a computer-animated tale, secured some big-name recording talent for the soundtrack and characters, and lined up at least 100 promotional partnerships across the globe. It dropped nearly $100 million between the production and advertising, and the film hardly made back $20 million, which derailed its international release schedule. A major calamity for the distributor.
POMS — And this was a minor calamity for STX. You can try to figure out why Diane Keaton would appear in a film about moving to a retirement community and starting a cheerleading squad with some of the residents — you will not be able to. Pam Grier and Rhea Perlman also are here for no clear reason. This was a summer release showing on over 2,700 screens and could not find any interest, opening with a dismal $5 million weekend, barely earning $13 million in the end.
BRIGHTBURN — Attempting to remake the superhero genre, this had a kid crashing to Earth, but rather than becoming a savior he becomes a nefarious force. A potentially interesting premise that instead of reconstructing the genre simply tore down the comic book premise for the sake of destruction. This rested on horror tropes of gore and jump-scares. Another horror staple was at play — it was made dirt cheap, so the studio hoped to squeeze out a meager profit. For a proper deconstruction of superheroes, better you go watch ‘’The Boys’’ on Amazon Prime.
MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL — Sony attempted to reignite this franchise, but the broader scope of the plot had a narrower appeal for audiences. They dropped over $100 million to make this reboot and fell well short of that figure stateside. The international market was healthier, just maybe enough to float the movie to break-even status. It is safe to say the status of the franchise is now in question.
DARK PHOENIX — 20th Century Fox has had a stormy time with managing the Marvel properties for which it holds rights. Its efforts at ‘’The Fantastic Four’’ have been legendarily bad, and it has fared with mixed results with ‘’The X-Men’’ franchise. This was supposed to be the culmination of its series and was universally panned. It sports the worst reviews, worst opening, and worst total box office of any X-Men film. The lone positive was that Boulevard Brewing created a beer for the film, almost an acknowledgment that alcohol was needed to get through it.
CHILD’S PLAY – You could question whether it was a good idea for United Artists to attempt to rejuvenate this franchise, but a better question would be why they felt it was a wise idea to open the film the same weekend that the monstrous hit ‘’Toy Story 4’’ debuted. It did a fraction of the business of that film, fell almost -70% in its second week, and by week three it lost 1,300 screens as theaters gave up. The only saving grace was the movie cost only $10 million to make, so there is a chance it did not lose too much for UA.
SHAFT — Nearly 20 years since the last attempt with Samuel L. Jackson, this was a strained attempt to have the ‘’franchise’’ passed off to a new generation. Even the addition of Richard Roundtree was not enough to elevate interest. The attempt to make this new version of the character ‘’woke’’ and socially aware was completely misguided from what he normally represents, and audiences were having none of it. It debuted in the heart of summer and could not even manage to make $10 million on its opening weekend.
STUBER — There were a number of challenges in front of this comedy about a cop chasing a killer and commandeers a car with an Uber driver named Stu (oh, now I get it…) It attempts to blend action and comedy, with the bulk of the film set inside a car. It stars Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, neither of which is considered leading star material enough to drive an audience to theaters. It was made by 20th Century Fox, but once that studio was bought out by Disney this was no longer a priority release and was marketed weakly. Very few went along for the ride, running on fumes to a paltry $22 million gross.
THE KITCHEN — An adaptation based on a graphic novel series about the spouses of gangsters who take over their business when the men are arrested. They hired comedic actresses to play this serious drama, with Mellisa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss making up a strong cast for this weak effort. It cost close to $40 million to shoot, opened with an abysmal $5 million, and hardly made $12 million overall.
3 FROM HELL — Rob Zombie makes the third entry in his ‘’Devil’s Rejects’’ trilogy and it is an entirely pointless affair. He takes his murderous characters and strains to have them released from jail to go on another rampage. There are no stakes involved, no central motivation, and really no plot — just pointing his killers in a direction and have them kill. Only appealing to Zombie completists, and even those fans would be let down here.
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD — While not a complete misfire this falls well short of expectations, especially considering this is based on an established property. It never really found its way as audiences had a tough time with Dora The Explorer being translated to a teenager. The film meandered to a $60 million result, matched by the international box office, and if everything goes well just might reach break-even status for Paramount.
RAMBO: LAST BLOOD — This culmination of the famed series feels small and petty. Rather than international locales JR crosses into Mexico to take on sex traffickers and has a final stand at his home ranch. This became so poorly regarded that author David Morrell, who wrote the books John Rambo is based upon, came out to declare he was embarrassed to be affiliated with this movie in any capacity.
GEMINI MAN — Rather surprising that Will Smith can star in a high concept action piece directed by Ang Lee and have it go nowhere. Lee shot this with an impressive-looking high frame-rate style, but the plot of an assassin who is ultimately battling his younger clone never found an audience. This even failed overseas, ending up being a huge money-losing venture for Paramount Pictures.
JEXI — What if a studio put out a movie and nobody arrived? If you are perplexed about this release you have never heard of, it is for good reason — everyone was perplexed. Adam DeVine starred in what was purported to be a comedy about a man whose life is overtaken by the personal assistant built into his new cell phone. It would not have been enough for consideration for this list, except Lionsgate gave it a serious release. The studio plugged the film onto 2,700 screens, for some reason, leading to some amazing stats. The debut was an embarrassing $3 million, then somehow it fell -61% the following weekend. It lost 2,000 screens in week three and earned only $6.5 million in the end. It was not even in theaters for a full month, revealing a remarkable level of apathy from audiences.
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE — Franchise fatigue was certainly at play, and all attempts were made to invigorate this series. New characters were introduced, Schwarzenneger and Linda Hamilton were brought back, and the time travel storyline was altered to excuse away prior installments regarded as problematic. It all was futile, as people avoided this entry. It is estimated to lose potentially $130 million, meaning — with ‘’Gemini Man’’ also failing — that in the span of a couple of weeks Paramount faced losses of potentially $200 million.
DOCTOR SLEEP — Coming out of the fall film festival circuit there was the excitable advance word for this sequel to the Stephen King-Stanley Kubrick classic ‘’The Shining,’’ starring Ewan McGregor as the grown-up boy with the sensory powers. This was surprisingly scorned by audiences. It debuted well below expectations and by week three it dropped a staggering 2,300 screens.
CHARLIE’S ANGELS — In its attempt to reinstitute this franchise, Sony turned over the entire production to Elizabeth Banks. She then blamed the failure of the film on men not wanting to see women in leading roles. Of course, this defies how ‘’Captain Marvel’’ and ‘’Wonder Woman’’ were massive hits — to say nothing of prior ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’ movies; after all, she would not be working on a reboot if there was not a core audience based on prior hits. Since she made those comments ahead of the release, Banks promptly gave men an excuse not to see her film — and they didn’t. With expectations scaled down to below $15 million the opening was a regrettable $8.3 million, meaning the ladies also failed to turn up.
PLAYMOBIL — The STX fail-wagon continued, as this sparsely animated film based on another overlooked toy line was released while ‘’Frozen 2’’ was causing an avalanche of tickets sold. The effort was so bad that even in the course of the film it could not adhere to its own rules; characters commented how they could not bend their knees and arms just like the toys, but were next shown running and moving with jointed limbs. It was a staggering failure. Opening on 2,300 screens it grossed only $650 THOUSAND its first weekend — one of the worst openings in wide release of all time. After a full month in theaters, it has barely crossed over the $1 million level. This is a historically bad performance.
BLACK CHRISTMAS — There is a growing list of remakes that were retooled for a feminist agenda (see ‘’Charlie’s Angels’’, above). This is a loose remake of the horror classic from 1974 but written from the contemporary MeToo perspective. It opened in a distant fifth place and was next quickly lost in the tumult of a ‘’Star Wars’’ release. Even as cheaply made as it was, the slim $10 million box office means it will be difficult for this one to move into the black.
CATS — The film adaptation of the Broadway classic musical is destined to go down as one of the classic bad films. At one time being positioned as an Oscar-worthy entry, it missed the chance at awards consideration as it was pulled from the schedule to fix the problematic CGI costumes displayed. There is hardly any story to speak of, most of the sung dialogue is unlistenable, and it is a marvel of cinematic badness. This is a Hollywood misfire of such proportions that it needs to be seen.