I think it’s fair to say 2016 wasn’t our best year in virtually any capacity. Whether it be movies, celebrity deaths, or the political current climate, there’s a substantial amount of evidence to suggest we somehow stumbled into The Darkest Timeline. The movie year started out with some promise but faded hard during the summer months, the time during which most viewers typically get their fill of the cinema. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of good, even great, movies this year. It’s just that most of them were smaller, indie/arthouse films which don’t resonate (for a variety of reasons) with the average movie goer. I’m excited to talk on the podcast and write about my favorite films of this year in the coming days but I think it’s important to point out that most of the movies that find a place on THIS list (in fact, all but one) had large budgets and big advertising campaigns whereas most of the films that make my top ten list are smaller in scale, budget, and market saturation. Some years are like that, to be sure, but this highlights the fact that 2016 feels like such a flop is because so many of the blockbusters failed to deliver. There were a LOT of movies that earned consideration for this list, more than I can remember in the recent past. Movies like Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, The Huntsman 2, Tarzan, and a host of others would be locks here in most previous years but stood no chance against the worst of the worst in 2016. Let’s get on with it, shall we?
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Assassin’s Creed (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
I never cared much for the video game this movie is based upon but I thought if ever there could be a good film adaptation of a video game, this was probably it. Welp. Looks like we’ll never get the great video game movie the industry continues to insist we need. Assassin’s Creed is a mess of a script which could possibly be overlooked if the effects and action scenes worked well. Alas, they do not. What a massive waste of time for Fassbender and Cotillard both.
10. Swiss Army Man (Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
There are a lot of people whose opinions I respect who will tell you Swiss Army Man is an excellent film. To that end, I will concede that perhaps this is a case of a movie being “not for me” rather than specifically “bad.” Even so, Swiss Army Man struck me so poorly that I couldn’t even finish it, quite a feat for a completist like me. I contend that if this exact same movie was directed in the exact same way by the Farrelly brothers instead of Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), the “farting corpse movie” would wind up sub-20% on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. Alice Through the Looking Glass (Mia Wasikowski, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 30%
Every year, I feel like we’ve reached the peak of “Unnecessary Sequel Madness” and then every year we see the sickness spread even further. It’ll be hard for 2017 (or any year to come) to top 2016 in this category, however. Did ANYBODY walk out of 2010’s Alice in Wonderland demanding a sequel in which Alice pretends to be Elizabeth Swann? Was ANYBODY clamoring to know the origin story behind the Mad Hatter? Is there ANYBODY who was dying to have Borat join the Alice universe? Apparently only very confused Disney executives need answer these questions.
8. Warcraft (Travis Fimmel, Ben Foster, Toby Kebbell)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
One of the bigger movie sins in my book is the wasting of talent (see: Fassbender and Cotillard above) on a terrible movie. In this case, I’m referring to Duncan Jones, a superstar filmmaker in the making who unfortunately hitched his horse to the wrong passion project. Warcraft took what seems like a decade to produce, keeping Jones out of the mix for more worthy projects, and ultimately flopped miserably in the U.S. A strong take overseas doesn’t offset the fact that the movie is atrocious in terms of scripting, performances, and (perhaps worst of all) look. The ugly, dated special effects only lend themselves to the feeling that this movie was three years past its expiration date before it ever debuted.
7. Gods of Egypt (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Brenton Thwaites)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
The fact that Gods of Egypt is ONLY seventh on this list should give you some indication of what a difficult year 2016 really was. Make no mistake, this an aggressively bad, embarrassingly produced film that is somehow worse on screen than in (terrible) concept. Who doesn’t think “Egyptian!” when they hear Gerard Butler’s dulcet tones? Heavy on ugly special effects and light on everything else, the one defense I can muster for Gods of Egypt is at least everyone (including the cast, I think) knew it was going to be terrible and thus, there is virtually no opportunity lost.
6. Now You See Me 2 (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%
In truth, NYSM2 is likely worse than some of the other films ahead of it on this prestigious list. In terms of sheer lack of necessity, NYSM2 probably outranks every other misguided movie of the year (and as noted above, 2016 was full of films that fit this bill). Even if you did NOT hate the first Now You See Me (I can only assume because you were drunk when you saw it or it was the first movie you had ever seen), I can’t imagine you walked out wondering aloud when you could return to the magic of this franchise. In all the Multiverse, there is not a single universe, dimension, or alternative world in which a Now You See Me series is needed or even wanted. The smugness of this sequel, the gall with which it stakes its claim to franchise status, and the excruciatingly stupid way in which the narrative unwinds itself should seat NYSM2 at or near the top of almost any worst of the year list. (How the Rotten Tomatoes score on this one isn’t below 10% is beyond me.) And yet…I have a soft spot for the utter idiocy of these movies because, after all, they’ve given our show so many hours of jokes and commentary and I guess that counts for something. Keep doing you, Now You See Me.
5. Suicide Squad (Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
I knew Batman V Superman (see below) was going to be terrible. There were too many bad signs and too much Snyder to reasonably expect otherwise. But Suicide Squad had a chance, with a solid cast and a director who ostensibly knows what he’s doing. Didn’t quite work out that way, did it? Badly designed characters, incredibly lackluster/mailed in performances, and probably the worst script I saw put to screen all came together to create a stew no one could easily stomach. I’m still not sure what exactly Jared Leto’s Joker brought to the table and by all accounts Leto doesn’t know, either. I’ll also never be able to shake the image of Cara Delevinge’s embarrassing voodoo dance, the stuff of my nightmares. But hey, at least there’s also a lot of casual racism! David Ayer bears a great deal of responsibility for this train wreck but Suicide Squad has also convinced me that the WB-DC tree has been poisoned and it’ll take a decade of good films to erase that conviction. But hey, at least it kept Hot Topic in business for another year!
4. Independence Day Resurgence (Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 31%
I’m not one for proclaiming that a new sequel/prequel/reboot is “ruining my childhood.” But, wow, Resurgence pushed me to the limit. Independence Day is to this day one of my three favorite memories in a theater and this unwanted sequel seriously threatened to take that from me. If you’re going to do a sequel to a movie 20 years after the fact, you better have a great idea, you better be able to add something to the franchise’s legacy, and you better be able to find the appropriate tone to match the original. Strike one, two, and three. If you’re looking for even one positive about Resurgence, I guess you can point to the bus chase sequence but even that moment, the only real attempt at “fun” in the entire movie, is the result of a series of truly bizarre and genuinely awful “plot” developments that include Judd Hirsch adopting a group of orphans. Exactly what I was looking for in my alien destruction movie, to be honest.
3. Zoolander 2 (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 23%)
Be honest: You forgot that Zoolander 2 came out in 2016, didn’t you? Maybe you forgot Zoolander 2 ever existed and if that’s the case, I’m very jealous of you. I’ve never been just a huge fan of the original Zoolander but it has its place. Having seen the sequel, I believe that place to be 2001. As with the previously mentioned unnecessary sequels, if you don’t have anything to add to your existing franchise, then just leave it alone. Zoolander 2 isn’t just wholly unfunny (offensively unfunny, if we’re being honest), it’s also oppressively stale, as if all of the “jokes” were written in 2001 (and perhaps they were). If this movie was released as a straight-to-DVD offering in 2004, it is simply “bad” and we all move on with our lives. But as a wide release in 2016, it’s historically bad.
2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%
With every other film on this list, even the one that follows, I can see how a critic could wind up with a positive or “fresh” review. I clearly don’t agree with anyone who gave, say, Gods of Egypt a good review, and I might even think they’re blatantly wrong, but I can at least see what they might be able to key in on positively under certain circumstances. Not so with Billy Lynn. 48 humans who review movies for a living in some capacity or another sat through Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and not only managed to avoid the urge to hurt themselves but actually thought it was good. I can’t get there, guys. I do not understand this insanity. There is not ONE SINGLE POSITIVE about this movie. It’s ugly, it’s cynical, the “artsy” touches are embarrassing to a filmmaker of Ang Lee’s pedigree, and there’s not a single performance within the movie that could be graded above “below average.” For a film supposedly rooted in reality, Billy Lynn is incredibly out of touch, bringing “fresh thoughts” to a world that long ago accepted the awfulness of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not even sure why or how this movie got made in the first place. We’re all going to move on from 2016 and forget Billy Lynn ever existed (and judging by the total $1.7 million domestic box office, most people never knew about it in the first place) but I want it written in stone that this movie is an abomination and no one involved should escape unscathed.
1. Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice (Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
*SPOILERS AHEAD AND I DON’T CARE* I’ve rarely been angrier after a movie than I was with Batman V Superman and almost a full year on, I still get a little heated any time I really stop to give it some thought. More than anything else, Batman V Superman is a lesson in what happens when you turn over complete control of a big-ticket franchise to a filmmaker who has no clue what he’s doing and whose sensibilities are in direct opposition to approximately 80 percent of the population (and maybe even a higher percentage of critics). I don’t know what to say positively about BvS besides noting that Gal Gadot does make a good Wonder Woman, though she only occupies the screen for perhaps five total minutes. Most of Zack Snyder’s casting is questionable (Affleck MIGHT be a good Batman but not with Snyder’s), the rambling plot ranges from “incoherent” to “utterly stupid” (there is literally a trailer for upcoming DC films in the middle of the movie), and even the look of the movie, supposedly Snyder’s strong suit, is horrendous. Moreover, you can make an argument that there were worse movies in 2016 (and you might be right as this list is particularly strong in its awfulness) but I don’t think you can accurately make an argument that it isn’t the most wasteful movie of the year. That is to say, if you have Batman and Superman, two of the perhaps five biggest characters in all of American pop culture, and 300 million dollars to work with, it should be IMPOSSIBLE to make a movie that is anything worse than “okay.” How do you mess that up? If I have Batman and Superman, I should be able to make an “okay” movie with my iPhone. The opportunity lost here destroys any other movie this year and possibly any movie of the last ten years. I’m about 100 reasons into why BvS is so bad and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the entire film and the entire battle between the titular characters, boils down to their mothers sharing the same name. ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. I’m stopping now before I have another rage stroke.