Movies don’t always have to be good to be entertaining. Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s better when they’re not. Because when things go wrong, and that alchemy of making great movies gets diluted by blind folly, mixed intentions, or just plain old ineptitude, wonderful things can happen.
Although that’s not to say Uwe Boll is in any way a great entertainer. Sitting through Alone In The Dark is a feat of endurance no one should ever have to suffer. Unless they’ve done something wrong, like stolen a shoe, in which case it’s a fitting punishment for the crime.
It takes a special kind of bad to tread that fine line between unmissable and unwatchable. Below are ten such films, in no particular order, that get the mix just right.
Warning: For those easily offended, this piece contains one use of the ‘S’ word, and reference to Whoopi Goldberg.
While rival lava film Dante’s Peak went for the caring, sensitive approach, Volcano had the right idea all along – just blow stuff up. And blow it up huge. People melt, fire engines explode, skyscrapers are levelled, lava bombs shoot out of the ground. Some more people melt. At one point, a dog has his head bandaged next to a snake with a big plaster on it. A girl cries out, “Dad, hurry, my leg’s on fire.”
In a movie where logic has no place at all – Anne Heche’s sexy geologist has to explain to a stunned LA crowd what lava is – not even Tommy Lee Jones’ gruff chief can bring sense to it all. Walking up to a bemused technician in the centre of all the chaos, he taps on a computer and barks, “See that, that and that? Now watch this!” Hard to take seriously then, but oh so easy to watch.
Best bad bit: The Spectrum ZX effects are pushed to the limit as a hero ticket conductor selflessly throws himself into a pool of custard-like lava.
2. Remo: Unarmed And Dangerous
Originally intended as the first in a Bond-style franchise (and with the pedigree too – Bond veteran Guy Hamilton directing), the adventures of Fred Ward’s police officer turned martial arts assassin spy were brought to a crushing halt after just one mission. But what a mission. With everything that made 80s movies so unforgettable – training montages, a synth soundtrack, big beards – Remo is bad in all the right places.
Plus, it showcases the golden talents of Mr. Ward, one of the most criminally under-used actors of his generation; forget Tremors, just watch Miami Blues to see how good he was when given a role befitting his talent. He even gets mentored by an old Chinese guy (well, Joel Grey) who can walk on water and dodge bullets. It’ll be enough to give you goosebumps.
Best bad bit: Remo’s training sees him master the long-forgotten, and always useful, art of diving really quickly through a big mound of sand.
Sorry The Room, but this just might be the Citizen Kane of bad movies. If Orson Welles’ masterpiece is rightly celebrated as a probing examination of an American icon fuelled by hate and ambition, then Cocktail deserves just the same, for here is a look into the soul of that rarest and most confounding of beasts: a man who knows how to mix drinks. And mix them really, really well.
Armed with one of the best taglines of all time (‘When he pours, he reigns’), Cocktail runs breathlessly through the whole gamut of bar experience – Cruise learns to pour drinks in swish New York bar; Cruise branches out and pours drinks in nice little Jamaican bar; Cruise realises his dream and pours drinks in his own Irish, down-to-earth bar.
And if Kane‘s potent message was of the hollowness of the American dream, then Cocktail‘s is all the more daring: never under-estimate how long people are prepared to wait for a drink, especially if the barman is doing a shit-hot karaoke version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love.
Best bad bit: “I make drinks so sweet and snazzy. The Iced Tea … the Kamikaze!” The Cruise-ster takes to the bar stage for some beat poetry.
An obvious one perhaps, but leaving Showgirls off a list of great bad movies is like having a safari suit party and not inviting Roger Moore. It just isn’t right. Made when Paul Verhoeven was at his commercial peak following the triple whammy of Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct, and with a multi-million dollar script by the so-hot-right-then Joe Eszterhas (actually, he’d just done Sliver, so not that hot), Showgirls feels like the ultimate dare movie; hey, let’s tell a morality tale about Vegas erotic dancers with that girl from Saved By The Bell.
About as erotic as Keith Chegwin’s Naked Jungle, Showgirls is nonetheless strangely hypnotic; just when you think you’ve seen it all, including a conversation between Berkley and Gina Gershon about what type of dog food they used to eat, Kyle MacLachlan and Berkley take the kind of dip in the pool that would get you thrown out of Butlins in a shot.
Best bad bit: LA Law‘s Alan Rachins kindly offers an ice cube to Elizabeth Berkley. If you’ve seen the Adam & Joe doll version, it’ll bring it all back.
Christopher Walken – two words big enough to make the bad movie connoisseur weak at the knees. Boasting a CV that’s overflowing with the type of duff movies that would be enough to derail mere mortal film actors, Walken has somehow managed to fight on after a litany of career wrong turns; Gigli, The Country Bears, Excess Baggage, Kangaroo Jack.
It’s McBain, however, that stands head and shoulders above all, a film so violent and wooden it feels like an episode of The A-Team directed by Abel Ferrera. Only not as subtle.
Walken’s retired soldier-slash-welder (hey, someone’s got to weld all that stuff that needs welding), McBain is a role so one-dimensional you wonder if Chuck Norris turned it down first. That’s not enough to put off Walken, though. If you’ve ever asked the question ‘what would Rambo have been like if Christopher Walken beat Stallone to the role?’, McBain provides the glorious answer. It would have been brilliant.
Best bad bit: Walken sympathises with Maria Conchita Alonso’s loss of her brother by telling a story about going to Woodstock when it was really muddy. It’s all in the delivery.
6. Mission Impossible 2
Is it wrong to have two Tom Cruise films in here? Not when they’re as bad/good as M:I-2, a film that proves even when you have a bag full of money, a terrific director, and a leading man with great hair (is that blow dried?), that’s still no guarantee of quality.
Admittedly M:I-2 has its moments (Ving Rhames’s “Nyah’s in the building” may be the most perfectly delivered line in the history of movies), but after Brian De Palma’s elegantly crafted franchise opener, John Woo’s effort feels like a Danielle Steele love triangle dressed up in SWAT clothing. And it’s every bit as trashy as that promises.
Anyone who can keep a straight face to Cruise’s Last Of The Mohicans-inspired goodbye to Thandie Newton in the factory shootout, or their swirly car seduction (just watch that hair!), is made of stronger stuff than I am.
Best bad bit: Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, stricken with grief as Newton’s super sexy thief injects herself with a slow acting poison, does a little cartwheel in the sky as he parachutes away. The man is hurting!
7. Striking Distance
Bruce Willis apologised in a 2004 TV interview for this 1993 offering, saying that “it sucked”. Which is kind of like saying the Titanic had a bit of a bumpy ride.
A movie so bad it effectively ended the career of director Rowdy Herrington (the man directed Road House – that’s got to count for something!), Striking Distance tries to add a fresh twist to the police action movie by putting Bruce Willis’ alcoholic cop (he must have read the script) behind the wheel of a boat and partnering him with Sarah Jessica Parker. Bad idea. Twice.
Frasier‘s Dad turns up, but then realises what he’s got himself into and ducks out early. Willis, meanwhile, isn’t quite so lucky, forced into a pair of shorts and a plot that tries to convince us he’s Irish-American. Neither is all that convincing, but there’s something oddly reassuring about watching John McClane and Carrie Bradshaw patrol the waters.
Best bad bit: Parker’s magical appearing bra trick, post fireworks party, beats anything Derren Brown can muster.
8. Theodore Rex
Whatever way you look at it, Theodore Rex is bad. Really, really, really bad. This is a movie where dinosaurs can talk, walk on two legs, hold down a steady office-based job, wear clothes (does that make Jurassic Park a skin flick for any dinosaurs watching at home?), and dream about pairing up with Whoopi Goldberg’s grizzled detective to solve crimes.
But maybe because of Jurassic Park‘s quantum leap forward in making dinosaurs look frighteningly real, Theodore Rex should be treasured. Coming two years after Spielberg’s CGI hullabaloo, here we have a man dressed up in a big rubber foam suit and squeezed into a very questionable blue dungarees ensemble.
There’s something about an end of the world, ice-age disaster going on, but essentially the movie is about how the hell Whoopi Goldberg can hold a straight face next to a special effect that looks like it was thrown out by Barney for being too crappy-looking.
Best bad bit: All of it. Until Soldier came around, this was the most expensive straight-to-video film ever after being deemed too rubbish for cinemas.
Okay, so the original Species was no masterpiece (and in Forest Whitaker’s ‘psychic’ – a man so incredibly psychic that he was able to sense that “something bad happened here” when walking into a carriage filled with an alien cocoon pod and a half digested ticket conductor – it had one of the most annoying movie characters of all time). But the sequel takes things to another level, one that makes the original look nuanced in comparison.
“They could f**k the human race out of existence,” says Michael Madsen’s fearless (which for Madsen means bored) mercenary of the alien sex fiends. True, but at least we’ll go with a smile. And with Homicide’s Munch as the American president.
Best bad bit: It all gets a bit frisky in the film’s climactic alien face off, which comes off as a Playboy Channel version of Alien Versus Predator.
10. Hard To Kill
You know you’re in for something special with a film made by one Bruce Malmouth, sandwiched between his directorial efforts of an episode of TV’s Beauty And The Beast and Pentathlon starring Dolph Lundgren. Add in the lure of Steven Seagal and Kelly LeBrock and this is Christmas in bad movie land.
Seagal’s Mason Storm is a man intent on revenge after his wife and child are gunned down and he’s spent seven years in a coma growing a fake beard so fake-looking you wonder if it’s going to walk off halfway through each scene and exit camera left.
It’s hard not to love Hard To Kill for Seagal alone, who seems like he’s wandered onto a film set by accident during the film’s many emotional scenes. His waking-up-from-a-coma acting has to be seen to be believed, and even then it’s pretty hard to believe. The film has its fans too; watch Seagal’s escape from hospital half-woken from a coma and try not to think of Kill Bill.
Best bad bit: “I’ll take you to the bank, alright. The blood bank!” Seagal’s quip to the bad guy is so corny not even Arnie would go near it. Or the Eastenders-style drum beat that follows it for added impact.