The 13 worst films I’ve ever sat through

The Prodigal Son (UK 1923)
The Prodigal Son (UK 1921)

And now for a list of the worst films I’ve ever sat through. Not films that I particularly dislike but which others whose opinions I should respect admire (e.g. Singin’ in the Rain), but films that demean the art of film in the most absolute way. Of course, there are so many films widely recognised as truly bad that I’ve not yet seen, and if lucky I never will – The Hottie and the Nottie, Movie 43, The Sex Lives of the Potato Men, Entourage – but these are the ones whose memory I would most willingly erase if I could. I put down the majority of them being British to be my greater experience of British cinema than the possibility that Britain may have produced more than its fair share of truly awful films. Once again, in no particular order, except that the worst is last.

Hurry Sundown (USA 1967) – Michael Caine with an American South accent. Enough said.

Mr North (USA 1988) – my memories are fading about this Danny (son of John) Huston film, but I faintly recall it being twee and falsely heartwarming and being hugely annoyed by it.

Nobody’s Child (UK 1919) – few will have seen this execrable British film; few ever should. My clearest memory of it is seeing it with a small group of film historians who groaned with disappointment when the child heroine was saved from drowning at the end.

Half Moon Street (USA/UK 1986) – joyless, false, dead film with a miserable Michael Caine and Sigourney Weaver.

What's Good for the Goose
What’s Good for the Goose

What’s Good for the Goose (UK 1961) – a Norman Wisdom sex comedy, with hippies, directed by Menahem Golan. How bad can that be? So much worse than you could possibly imagine.

¡Three Amigos! (USA 1986) – as low and awful a comedy as I care to imagine (but then I’ve never seen an Adam Sandler film…)

The Human Factor (UK 1979) – the second Otto Preminger film on this list (he also gave us Hurry Sundown) as a flat and unthrilling a thriller as could be imagined. It’s hard to conceive for whom they thought they were making the film.

The Girl on a Motorcycle (UK 1968) – saw this for the first time last week and yet it went straight into the pantheon of the worst ever. I was expecting it to be exploitative and quaint, but not to be so technically inept. Jack Cardiff, what were you thinking?

The Care Bears Movie
The Care Bears Movie

The Care Bears Movie (Canada 1985) – not just nauseatingly sentimental, but actually quite nasty when it starts to get threatening towards those children who won’t be good.

The Immortal Gentleman (UK 1935) – a life of Shakespeare made by Britain’s most consistently inept director, Widgey Newman. As I once wrote, “as dreadful a film as has ever been produced, meanly produced, ill-lit, ill-staged, scarcely directed at all, with some howlingly bad excerpts from the plays…”

Little Dorrit (UK 1987) – since I walked out of this one halfway through, strictly speaking it shouldn’t qualify for this list, but equally it shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. Amateurish, chronically slow, devoid of any directorial understanding at all. And it’s five hours long…

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (USA 2001) – perhaps Kubrick’s version would have been worse, but how?

The Prodigal Son (UK 1923) – I am one of the few people alive who has seen this (the only other person I know who did – the late Denis Gifford – was in the same cinema as me but slept through much of it). Based on a Hall Caine novel and set in Iceland, it’s one of the longest British feature films made (it was originally 18,000 feet long) and of a tediousness and ineptitude beyond imagining. It doesn’t even have any incidental pleasures or so-bad-it’s-good moments to alleviate one from the agony of watching it. Films like Plan 9 From Outer Space get called the worst, but generally speaking they are amusingly bad. The truly worst films are the joylessly bad. Such is The Prodigal Son, which is the worst of the worst.

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8 thoughts on “The 13 worst films I’ve ever sat through

  1. I’m enjoying your lists. I recently watched Jupiter Ascending, which quickly entered my pantheon of Le Bad Cinema. It boasts one of the most OTT performances in film history, Eddie Redmayne went full tilt boogie Master Thespian. They should have handed him his Oscar and then immediately demanded it back. I was completely enchanted and am thinking of having a Bad Movie Party.

    1. I’m turning into Buzzfeed. Entertainingly bad movies would make another good list. Battlefield Earth for example. Howlers you can use as excuse for a party. Or art house classics which, upon being viewed again, just seem to have nothing to recommend them anymore. Mouchette, which I saw for the first time recently and was quite baffled by. Or Kanal. Art is short.

  2. Keep going with your lists Luke, I enjoyed this one a lot. I’ve been digitising my DVDs onto a media server (at home, not in The Archive….), so I’ve been watching some cherished stuff, and finding it inexplicable that I formed sch strong attachments years ago. So I like that list idea…. What about great films under 90 minutes?

    1. As I wrote for the Sight & Sound top ten poll, “I no longer know what makes a great film, nor how a film can stay great, since so many that I once revered have dulled through familiarity, while others previously spurned when seen again startle with unexpected brilliance.”

      A good many of my favourite films are under 10 minutes, given that I’m an early film specialist, but something on lean, fine feature films is an idea.

  3. Briefly confused “The Three Amigos” with “City Slickers” and thought you were being a bit harsh. 🙂

    1. Harsh indeed. City Slickers is a good example of what American cinema does best. The Three Amigos is its evil opposite.

  4. I have much fonder memories of “¡Three Amigos!” but, granted, it’s been at least two decades. I do vividly recall the scene where Chevy Chase takes extravagant gulps from a canteen as the other two, parched, look on incredulously. Maybe something about Chase’s blithe profligacy spoke to my larger concerns about society and politics.

    1. That makes me think of the comment made by Rex Reed, as quoted in Halliwell’s Film Guide: “Critic Wilfred Sheed wrote recently that no film is ever so bad that you can’t find some virtue in it. He must not have seen Hurry Sundown“.

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