Not everybody sees the allure of bad movies, but those of us who do, love them devotedly. We marvel collectively at the wonder of Point Break, we quote Road House and debate aspects of The Room and watch Showgirls more than once on purpose. We live for the horrible plots and stilted acting; the shoddy sets and strange editing; the weird soundtracks and terrible facial hair. Every one of the movies on this list is so marvelously bad you won’t make it past the opening credits before wondering how it even got made.
Here are some questions to keep in mind while evaluating movies for potential badness:
- What is the ratio of stunt people to regular actors?
- Does any part of the theme song have the main guy's name in it?
- Is there a full body burn? Lots of full body burns? Is everyone just constantly on fire?
- Does it have the sibling of a famous actor in it? (For example, Scarlett Johansson's sister and Stephen Baldwin appear in Sharks In Venice.)
- Is anyone from the cast of Little House On The Prairie in it?
- Does it have a Busey in it?
Keeping these guidelines in mind, here the 10 worst movies ever made:
10. Gymkata (Robert Clouse, 1985)
Gymkata is probably the most well known bad movie on this list. It's based on The Terrible Game, a book by Dan Tyler Moore (which I'll never read, although I would love the chance to say “Gymkata? I liked the book better.”) and stars Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas as Olympic gymnast John Cabot (it's a big stretch as an actor). Cabot's been recruited by the U.S. government to go to the fictional country of Parmistan to compete in a fictional sport called The Game.
We learn pretty much all we need to know about The Game in a single expository scene, during which the camera drifts in and out of focus and eventually comes to rest behind a chair. Since it's so boring that even the camera person couldn't pay attention, here's a quick explanation: Anyone who enters Parmistan must play The Game; the winner is allowed his life and one request, but if he loses he dies. Not really an ideal vacation spot.
No outsider has won The Game in over 900 years. There's a lot of gymnastics-type stuff involved, and luckily Parmistan is full of things that can be conveniently used for gymnastics, like a metal bar between two buildings that serves no structural purpose and has inexplicably already been chalked up.
Gymkata's got everything you're looking for in a terrible movie: a training montage, a martial arts master with an eagle perched on his arm, a woman who serves no other purpose than sleeping with the hero, a hero with a dirtstache, and a bad guy with a clip-on hair extension. It might also hold the record for the longest amount of crotch time in a non-pornographic movie, as Cabot learns to walk upstairs on his hands.
9. Never Too Young To Die (Gil Bettman, 1986)
Hot on the heels of Gymkata comes 1986's Never Too Young Too Die, another entry in the Gymnast Saves The World film canon, only this one has 98 percent less gymnastics and 100 percent fewer Olympic gold medalists. John Stamos is Lance Stargrove, a college gymnastics pro whose secret government agent dad (George Lazenby) has just been killed. In his search for answers, Lance meets his father’s ex-partner, Danja Deering (played by Vanity) who spends most of her time aiming guns and the rest wearing a bikini and spraying herself with a garden hose. The villain is the hermaphrodite ("half man, half woman") Velvet Van Ragnar (KISS’ Gene Simmons), and Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) plays his assistant henchman/human pet.
Both the opening and closing songs have lyrics directly referencing the hero in this movie—not a good sign. And there's no way the Stargrove theme music isn't going to get stuck in your head, so sorry in advance.
8. Red Surf (H. Gordon Boos, 1989)
A couple of years before Point Break there was Red Surf, another movie about surfer criminals set in Los Angeles. It stars George Clooney as Mark Remar, an ex-pro surfer/current drug dealer, all floppy hair, sideburns, leather jacket and absolutely no redeemable qualities. Michelle Pfeifer's sister Dedee Pfeifer co-stars as Rebecca, Remar's long-suffering girlfriend, and his best buddy Attila is played by Doug Savant (who played "the gay one" Matt on Melrose Place). Oh, and look who's back, it's fan favorite Gene Simmons, this time as Doc, the group's older surf guru.
Remar and his drug dealer friends are so fully committed to being the most annoying people alive that you'll probably find yourself rooting for them to die. Poor Rebecca's pregnant and wants to keep the baby and move to Portland, but she still gives Remar chance after chance to change, because he has puppy dog eyes and muppet eyebrows. He's totally going to focus on being a dad, but he just has to smoke some crack real quick.
The main bad guy Calavera (Rick Najera) is probably the least believable drug dealer ever portrayed in a movie. He's got big blazers and annoying hair, like if Tears For Fears were Mexican drug kingpins. Unsurprisingly, he's the kind of bad guy who listens to opera and keeps wolves under a trapdoor.
Also, at one point while Doc is lecturing Remar about being careful retrieving the drugs, he tells him, "I want you to keep your ass wired shut." Yeah. I have no idea. Really makes you think.
7. Action U.S.A. (John Stewart, 1989)
There’s never a dull moment in the town of Action, country of U.S.A., where trucks park in the road and every building, vehicle, and person is in constant danger of spontaneous combustion. About 90 percent of Action U.S.A. is car chases, and the other 10 percent is fire. A stunt movie made by a stunt person, Action U.S.A. has all the things an action movie needs: guns, cars, explosions, sex, a nitro tank, a helicopter, and a bad guy named Drago. Being as the movie is made by stunt people, the stunts themselves are pretty damn cool: a fall from a helicopter into a lake, a motorcycle driven off a bridge, a fight on the hood of a moving car, a car jumping over a school bus, full body burns, and a car driven directly through a house, which then explodes (of course, because that’s how houses work).
The closing credits show a woman named Velvett Klepper as Young Lady and a guy named Rod Shaft.
Here's just one amazing car chase scene:
6. The Stabilizer (Arizal, either 1984 or 1986)
The Stabilizer is a an Indonesian action movie set in Thailand, starring Peter O’Brian (who incidentally plays a character named Rambu in another movie) as Peter Goldson, a.k.a. The Stabilizer, who looks an unsettling amount like a buff Kenny G.
And who is the antagonist? Greg Rainmaker, a drug smuggler who raped Goldson’s fiancée Linda and then stomped her to death with his cleated shoes. “He is the man I hate the most," Goldson says of the him, and then adds, “I despise scum like Greg Rainmaker," just to clarify.
One perfectly stupid moment: Here's a highly technical map to find the secret…something?
5. Deadly Friend (Wes Craven, 1986)
In this gem directed by Wes Craven (RIP), Science Guy-type Paul (played by Matthew Labyorteaux, a.k.a. Albert from 1980s TV show Little House On The Prairie) and his mom and her eyebrows and a robot named BB move into a house across the street from Mean Neighbor Lady-type (Anne Ramsey of Throw Mama From The Train and Goonies fame) and next door to Girl Next Door-type Sam (the original Buffy The Vampire Slayer Kristy Swanson).
Paul’s having a rough time adjusting to his new surroundings, what with the mean neighbor, Sam’s abusive father, a gang of 40-year-old bullies, and some pretty bad synthesizer music. To make matters worse, Paul's new friend Sam ends up in a coma after her dad pushes her down the stairs, and the hospital takes her off life support. Lucky for her, Paul has decided to reanimate her dead body, which I guess he learned how to do from science? He puts BB’s microchip brain into Sam's brain, so he can turn her on by remote control (every guy’s dream). She’s mostly the same as before, only now she walks stiffly and has a lot of green makeup around her eyes. Of course, all goes as planned, Sam/BB comes back to life and everything is perfect foreve—hahaha, just kidding, now she wants vengeance against everyone who wronged her. Hell hath no fury like a reanimated teenager with a robot brain.
You'll love it most of all for this death scene, which is graphic…ally hilarious! (Swish! Nothin’ but net.)
4. Maternal Instincts (George Kaczender, 1996)
Maternal Instincts is an instant classic, truly a thing of beauty/sheer awfulness. It’s The Hand That Rocks The Cradle with a lot less plot and a lot more Delta Burke. Following a general "Women Be Actin' Crazy” formula, this very Lifetime-feeling movie stars Burke as a baby-obsessed woman who completely loses it after an emergency hysterectomy renders her barren. She systematically goes after everyone who, in her eyes, wronged her by allowing the surgery to happen—her husband, her best friend, and most importantly, the surgeon, who coincidentally happens to be pregnant herself. Delta Burke’s freak-outs make Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle look like Gandhi.
One not-so-surprising end credit:
Here's the entire film. Do yourself a favor and find a way to watch this gem, I promise you will not regret it.
3. Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction (Paul Wendkos, 1983)
Imagine a 12-year-old is assigned to write a Drugs Are Bad screenplay. The result is a movie starring a 59-year-old Dennis “The Dream” Weaver as an Everyday Joe who falls victim to that tempting Siren cocaine. His wife (played by Karen Grassle a.k.a. Ma Ingalls from Little House On The Prairie) is 41, and they have a son in high school played by 23-year-old James Spader in a varsity jacket. Throw in Jeffrey Tambor as his crazed, sweaty cokehead poker buddy and you've got Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction.
Weaver plays Eddie Gant, a real estate agent who’s tired of being passed up for a partnership. He asks his boss for a luxury listing and it’s all downhill from there. Gant's out of his league, he doesn't know how to sell to this fancy market, with its fabulous homes and wealthy clients. But after a “toot” at a friend’s party, he realizes the key to selling these houses is doing coke and learning new upscale real estate lingo like "outdoor living” and "view" and “terrific” and “toot.” It's Glengarry Glen Ross for the afterschool special set.
2. Zandalee (Sam Pillsbury, 1991)
Because no list of bad movies would be complete without at least one Nicolas Cage movie, here’s Zandalee, in which Nicolas Cage, Judge Reinhold, and their mustaches play New Orleans childhood pals all grown up. Johnny (Cage), tortured artist and unbridled spirit (read: asshole) and Thierry (Reinhold), college poet turned executive drone, run into each other at a mutual friend's bachelor party. Thierry invites Johnny back to his house, where he gets right to the business of sexually harrassing Thierry’s beautiful, gauzy gown of a wife, Zandalee (Erika Anderson).
Thierry calls himself "a paraplegic of the soul." Johnny oozes to Zandalee “We’re inevitable. I want to shake you naked and eat you alive.” Because that's how humans talk to each other in the world of Zandalee.
Reinhold tries a New Orleans accent, but Nic Cage doesn't even bother, instead focusing his energy on wearing hair extensions and sometimes smearing himself with paint. The worst accent award goes hands-down to Joey Pantoliano, who plays a sassy Southern cross-dresser. There are also appearances by Steve Buscemi, Marissa Tomei, and Aaron Neville, whose bonafide New Orleans accent renders him mostly unintelligible.
Really the most important thing in the movie, at its core, is Nic Cage's hair. It’s hard to know exactly what he was going for with these extensions, and believe me, I've spent an inordinate amount of time wondering. The extensions seem to be limited to the underside of his hair, presumably to give it both length and fullness, and the top is much shorter.
Should Nicolas Cage’s hair extensions have gotten their own credit? Yes. Does Johnny put cocaine in Zandalee's vagina? Absolutely. Do the two men share an angry dance on a dock on the bayou? You bet.
I'd give context, but it doesn’t really make any more sense in context.
This movie and especially the ending is so stereotypically tragic that I wondered if it might be a reworking of a Shakespeare play. However, according to a reliable source (Wikipedia) it’s based on a novel and play called Thérèse Raquin. Maybe take a minute or two to read Wikipedia's description of the book for a plot even more convoluted than this one.
1. Vibrations (Michael Paseornek, 1996)
Vibrations has a special place at the top of the list. It stars James Marshall (James Hurley from Twin Peaks) as T.J., an up and coming musician whose hands are crushed in a bizarre accident, so he does what any normal person would do: gets strange, rubber, bendable prosthetic hands, sinks into depression, becomes a homeless alcoholic, then gets new strap-on robot hands and creates a hugely popular rave persona called Cyberstorm. Co-starring Christina Applegate as Anamika, a 90s new age-y raver who takes T.J. in and lets him live with her while he learns all about “techno” from her neighbors.
A highlight: this super-realistic front page of a normal newspaper.
Here's how the film explains techno:
If you find yourself noticing that T.J. in costume as Cyberstorm shows off some dance moves that seem very different from anything he's done thus far, it's because Cyberstorm is played by a different person, a woman named Amie “Zu Zu” Toledo.
And here's the actual, real, honest-to-god trailer for this worst of all bad movies:
Looking to waste even more of your limited time on Earth watching borderline unwatchable pieces of garbage? Check out Deadly Prey (the hero cuts off another man's arm and then beats him with it) and Grizzly 2: The Concert (which was never even finished, contains the briefest of appearances by George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen, and which towards the end devolves into just raw, unedited footage with no sound).