2016 has not been a great year for movies, but that wasn’t so much because there were a lot of bad ones. It was mainly a year where mediocrity ruled, so there are far more movies that merely disappointing rather than outright awful, which meant I actually struggled to find enough qualifying movies to make this list. But regardless, I can safely say every movie on this list isn’t worth your time, and whilst some of these movies I’ll merely forget, those on the higher end of this list are so bad that the scars they have left may never heal…
- A Monster Calls
Possibly a controversial pick, I know, but A Monster Calls just did not work for me. That’s not to say it doesn’t try, but the problem comes from that: this is a movie that is trying way too hard. When dealing with sensitive subject matter, treading lightly and subtly is the best way to get the desired reaction. Not only is the message of A Monster Calls trite and underwhelming, it bangs you over the head with it. The film practically shouts, “Cancer! Divorce! A deadbeat dad! Sympathise, damn it!” but instead of making you care it just bores. Top it off with some of the most two-dimensional bullies in cinema (and there’s a lot of them), a theme about grey morality that’s too spelled out and never plays into the film much, and Sigourney Weaver’s magical disappearing British accent, and you’ve got my contender for Oscar Try-Hard of the Year.
- Live by Night
Every director eventually has a dud, but that still doesn’t assuage my disappointment with Ben Affleck’s Live by Night. The Gone Baby Gone director taking on another Denis Lehane novel, this time about bootlegging gangsters in prohibition-era Boston and Florida? Sounds like another homerun, right? There are parts of it that work, like the few action sequences and Elle Fanning’s performance, but everything else is a disorganised and frankly tedious mess. The story is episodic and unfocused, with the various vignettes haphazardly stitched together by Affleck’s uninvolved narration (like, Harrison Ford’s voiceover in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner levels of uninvolved), and for a movie as long and drawn-out as it is there’s clearly been so much cut out that it only barely makes sense; like how Scott Eastwood as Affleck’s brother has been cut out and yet they keep talking about him throughout as if he’s been established. It’s not unwatchable but it is constantly frustrating to do so, like trying to finish a marathon with a broken leg.
- The Girl on the Train
A film so desperately trying to be Gone Girl that it practically borrowed its entire marketing campaign, The Girl on the Train fails to elevate the airport novel material the way the film it is trying to emulate did masterfully, but that’s mainly because Tate Taylor is no David Fincher. The lead performances by Emily Blunt and Haley Bennett may be fantastic but they don’t save a movie with a mystery so unfulfilling it barely holds the runtime and an attitude towards its male characters that presumes writing them as thin and abusive somehow makes the female cast seem empowered. This could have been good in the hands of an appropriate director, but as is it’s barely even passable.
- The Secret Life of Pets
Illumination Entertainment’s output is the epitome of harmless but uncreative animated films, and no film of theirs has felt quite as mechanical as The Secret Life of Pets. Stealing everything about its premise and story from Toy Story but forgetting the heart and characters that make that film timeless, the movie could have been just 90 minutes of the characters bouncing up and down shouting catchphrases at each other and most of the kids in the audience wouldn’t care. There is a potentially good movie crying to get out at points, but the film takes absolutely no risks and makes the easy choice every single time, resulting in a film that technically does nothing wrong but doesn’t do anything to stand out either.
- The Boss
The Boss is yet another example of why Paul Feig is the only director who knows how to handle Melissa McCarthy, because when left to her own devices she makes sh*t like this. Though Kristen Bell and her do share an interesting comedic chemistry, McCarthy’s vulgar ramblings and her constant need to make horrible characters seem likable is a shtick that only worked once in The Heat and barely even then. Director/husband Ben Falcone just doesn’t know when to rein it in and potentially funny scenes flounder in a series of improvs and expletives until the predictable plot ushers the cast along to the next scene. Not unwatchable, but easily skippable.
- Now You See Me 2
Now You See Me was a silly but entertaining movie until it totally ruined itself with a twist ending that came out of nowhere and made absolutely no sense. Now that the cat is out of the bag, you’d think Now You See Me 2 couldn’t possibly top that stupidity but it somehow lowers the bar even further. Whilst wisely focusing on the Horsemen this time instead of Mark Ruffalo’s FBI bumbling, the magic this time around makes the same mistake the first film did of explaining the obvious whilst completely ignoring the real questions. Woody Harrelson grates nerves in a dual role as his original character’s twin brother, Michael Caine continues to look bored as he waits for his paycheck, and though Daniel Radcliffe’s casting as the villain is inspired and he’s clearly trying he just can’t make this material sound good. Why does this movie even exist?
- Zoolander 2
The first Zoolander is still a beloved film but one very much a product of its time. Making a sequel fifteen years later, let alone a sequel to a comedy, is just a plain bad idea. Whilst Zoolander does have the occasional shade of brilliance that made the first film such a zany and enjoyable experience, most of it is made up of retreads of the original’s gags and poor satire of the modern fashion industry. The plot is nonsensical and stupid even by Zoolander standards, culminating in a climax that relies way too much on the unreal elements of the original and essentially turns into a sequel to Mystery Men for about five minutes.
- Dirty Grandpa
Dirty Grandpa is not the horrific eyesore to cinema many critics are exclaiming it as, but it’s certainly a bad, bad movie. Zac Efron and Robert De Niro try their best and get in the occasional laugh, but the mound of unfunny, disgusting gags and horrendous side characters they have to wade through make certain sequences of this film practically unbearable to watch. The humour is forced and juvenile, constantly confusing shocking with funny, before rushing to a ridiculous and unearned sentimental climax that sends out every bad message it possibly can. If you have a stomach for sick, twisted humour and aren’t easily offended, I can actually weirdly support elements of this film, but as a whole it just fails to come together because it simply doesn’t have a point.
- Alice Through the Looking Glass
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland already missed the point of Lewis Caroll’s work entirely six years ago, and now its sequel goes even further down the rabbit hole of who-gives-a-sh*t with this pointless and ugly sequel. Abandoning the novels in favour of some bizarre time travel story that only clutters the world instead of celebrating it, Alice Through the Looking Glass is disrespectful to its source material in a way even Burton couldn’t bring himself to do and makes that first film look wonderful by comparison. The fact this stands as the late Alan Rickman’s final film is sad, especially since he’s barely even in it, but at least its failure at the box office means we won’t be seeing another one of these three years too late to be relevant.
- Independence Day: Resurgence
The original Independence Day isn’t a good movie by any real artistic standard, but it was a dumb-fun Hollywood blockbuster that still stands as a pop culture landmark of the 1990s and cemented Roland Emmerich’s dubious place in film history. If nothing else, it at least felt like everyone involved really wanted to be there, and I can’t even say that of Independence Day: Resurgence. A monumental example of too little too late, this bore of a sequel squanders all the potentially cool ideas sitting right in front of it and instead opts for a retread of the first movie with bigger effects and less charisma. Not even Jeff Goldblum could save this turd from bottoming out within minutes of starting, and that’s long before the scene where Liam Hemsworth pisses on a spaceship whilst giving aliens the finger. Will Smith, you dodged a f*cking bullet!
The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were pretty disposable fare even when they came out, but Dan Brown’s relevance as an author was already gone when the novel of Inferno was released and its film adaptation somehow manages to make its predecessors look like masterpieces. With Ron Howard seemingly directing on autopilot, the film’s ridiculous plot limps through scene after scene of Tom Hanks explaining art history to Felicity Jones, occasionally broken up by lazy action sequences before reaching a second act twist that is somehow both incredibly obvious and yet bafflingly stupid. Inferno may not be the worst film of 2016, but it’s certainly the biggest waste of talent this year…until I saw another film later on this list with a certain creed-ence.
- 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Michael Bay takes time out of ruining Transformers for everyone by tackling yet another jingoistic explosion-heavy action film, but this time adds an uncomfortable layer of real-world politics by making it about Benghazi. Once the action starts, it never lets up and from there it is pretty much just two solid hours of explosions and gunfire that quickly becomes numbing to the eyes; I was pretty much glazed over for most of its frustratingly engorged runtime. Mr. Bay, I get that you love your country and its military in particular, but adding your overzealous flair to a real-life tragedy that still remains a tricky subject in your government doesn’t make you look like a patriot. It makes you look like an idiot.
- The Forest
What’s worse than a bad J-horror film? An American horror film failing to imitate a J-horror film! One of two films in 2016 set in the Aokigahara Forest (the other being Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees, which I have not seen but is apparently no better), a Japanese forest known for being a popular suicide site, this predictable and dull attempt at trying to ape the unnerving style of Japanese horror films never gets beyond school girls with long obscuring hair on the list of clichés. Wasting a fantastic real-world setting for a chilling story by using every trope in the book, The Forest is as lazy and cheap as any of the dumping ground January horror films shoved out every year. Natalie Dormer tries her best to deal with the stodgy material, but even her talents can’t help a movie that probably would have sucked even more if she wasn’t there.
- (The Brothers) Grimsby
The entire point of Sacha Baron Cohen’s humour is that he’s trying to offend you. I get that, and it worked as great satire in Borat. But sometimes he takes it too far and Grimsby is a movie that is pretty much nothing but taking it too far, and when it’s not doing that it’s just undercooked and unfunny. I will given Cohen props for having the guts to go this insane, but none of the big jokes pay off as good satire or even a good joke; it’s just brash insensitivity with no real point behind it. Action veteran Louis Letterier doesn’t have the slightest clue how to direct comedy, but then even the action is generic and poorly staged, with the only decent sequence playing like the deleted scraps of Hardcore Henry. It ultimately feels like a more juvenile version of recent spy comedies like Spy or Kingsman, especially the latter when it pulls a message about the class system out of its arse for the third act, which is especially baffling as it spent the last hour degrading and laughing at the lower classes. Grimsby is only bearable because of its shockingly short running time, but even that just reeks of the studio cutting this film down to a bare minimum in an attempt to cut their losses.
- The Divergent Series: Allegiant
There’s not much more I can say about Allegiant that I haven’t already said about Divergent or Insurgent, but I can say this: it is easily the worst of them all. It’s yet more generic, boring YA nonsense trying so hard to make a point about the world but with all the understanding of a high schooler; the cinematic equivalent of the drama student sketches on Saturday Night Live, but without any of the jokes. It’s boring, it’s hackneyed, and it’s a waste of time for all the actors on screen and anyone watching it. The only good thing to come out of this movie is that it’s so bad that we might not even get the final movie, hopefully finally putting the death nail on splitting one book into multiple movies. Now can Shaileene Woodley please go back to making good movies?
- Assassin’s Creed
The video game movie curse has still yet to be broken, but Assassin’s Creed has certainly taken one record for the genre: it’s easily the most boring. Making every wrong decision it could possibly take in adapting the franchise to screen, this dull and joyless slog focuses on the modern day aspect of the series (i.e., the worst part of every Assassin’s Creed game) instead of the high-flying action of the assassins, but it even manages to mess that part up. Michael Fassbender delivers a bland and uninvolved dual performance (which is odd, considering he’s also a producer on the movie) and is surrounded by an equally excellent but totally wasted cast and a talented director in Justin Kurzel who clearly doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. A great video game movie will be made one day, but Assassin’s Creed is far from it.
- The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Probably this year’s biggest example of a sequel nobody wanted, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is the laziest blockbuster I’ve seen in a long time. It has a principal cast worthy of an Oscar-calibre picture and wastes them on paper-thin characters and a dull plot that tries to be an edgy take on Frozen but fails miserably. I can understand Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron being here, they were probably forced to by some contract, but what on earth compelled Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to jump into this mess with them? If it weren’t for the above-average effects and production design, this would practically feel at home with all sorts of horrible direct-to-video sequels that clutter up DVD shelves across the globe. It’s so bad, I bet Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders are glad they sabotaged themselves out of being a part of it.
- Kids in Love
I hate to pick on the little guy especially given that this film barely got a release, but crap is crap and I’m not one to forgive a film just because it can’t play with the big boys. Kids in Love is the cinematic embodiment of the entitled millennial, spouting hackneyed wisdom like it’s the first person to think of it and encouraging a culture of lazy, well-off twenty-somethings to fart about accomplishing nothing because they need to “find themselves”. It says nothing about today’s youth culture you couldn’t establish by just looking at it and wastes time with music montages that feel less like a snapshot of this generation and instead is like yet another disposable ad campaign for some fashion line. Screw this movie and screw everything it stands for!
- Gods of Egypt
I don’t think any film this year was a bigger disaster on every conceivable level than Gods of Egypt, but even all the anti-hype surrounding it did not prepare me for how utterly awful an experience it was going to be. I checked my watch at the exact moment I knew this was going to be one of the worst films of the year. I was three minutes in. To a movie that is over two hours long. Oh yeah! That bad. What then follows is one of the most baffling attempts at franchise building I have ever witnessed, copying every single Hollywood blockbuster cliché and getting every single one of them spectacularly wrong. Ignoring the whitewashing, the actors are woefully miscast on every other level, either giving parts to actors way out of their league like Gerard Butler and Brenton Thwaites, or handing talented ones like Chadwick Boseman and Geoffrey Rush horrendous material and expecting them to make gold out of it. Sad to say, but they don’t. The fact that Lionsgate expected this to be their next big franchise after The Hunger Games is hilarious pathetic, and frankly Alex Proyas’ words to the critics of the world after its failure only sealed the deal for me.
- London Has Fallen
I was for the longest time going to give the top dishonour to Gods of Egypt, but on further thought it was only the worst because of how incompetent it is. This is my most despised list, and so it really should go to the film I hated watching the most, and that easily goes to London Has Fallen. The original Olympus Has Fallen was itself an idiotic and facile action movie that somehow financially succeeded with a premise White House Down honestly did so much better, but this sequel goes from being awful to outright offensive. This movie isn’t just a mindless action flick where Gerard Butler takes down the bad guys. This is paranoia fuel for every wrong-headed, reactionary, conspiracy-waving loon that now seemingly takes up more and more of the world’s population. This is a film that kills every world leader expect America’s and destroys the majority of a major city and treats it with all the impact of another car explosion. This is a film that perpetuates every stereotype it can to make the bad guys look like villains and the good guys look heroic when honestly they are just as despicable as each other. In other words, this movie sums up every bad aspect about 2016 in 100 minutes of horrible filmmaking, and I want that time back. And yet…we’re getting a third one. [Extremely long and anguished groan] That’s my list. Goodbye, folks.