Established in 1981, the Golden Raspberry Awards have grown from a tiny ceremony hosted in founder John JB Wilson’s living room into their own Hollywood institution. Intended as an antidote to the self-congratulation and glitz of awards season fixtures like the Oscars or the Golden Globes, the Razzies aim to single out the worst films, screenplays and performances of the preceding year, serving up an irreverent parody of Hollywood’s vanity and excess.
Sometimes, the Razzie choices aren’t too far off the mark. Few would argue against Battlefield Earth‘s 2000 win for Worst Picture, or that the impenetrably murky The Last Airbender didn’t deserve the amusingly-titled award for Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D.
There have been some really worthwhile categories on occasion, too, like Worst Movie Trends of the Year, where the nominations included ‘Longer Movies, Shorter Plots’ and ‘spoiler-filled trailers’ (’58-year-old leading men wooing 28-year-old leading ladies’ ultimately won).
But like any awards ceremony, the Razzies sometimes makes some mystifying decisions, which appear to be informed either by massive box office success or failure rather than a film’s lack of merit. Which might explain the inclusion of the following…
Stanley Kubrick – The Shining (1980)
Mystifying inclusions were ingrained in the Razzies from the very beginning. At the 1st Golden Raspberry Awards, The Shining was nominated for two awards – Shelley Duvall for Worst Actress and Stanley Kubrick for Worst Director. The nominations reflect the horror film’s initially mixed reception, and voters took the opportunity to thumb the nose at a director who’d long since established himself as a master of his medium. And while we should bear in mind that the Razzies still consisted of a relatively tiny group of people at this point, the subsequent reassessment of The Shining as a grand horror classic makes its inclusion in the 1981 list of nominees look all the more glaring.
Michael Cimino – Heaven’s Gate (1980)
The second Razzies nominee list was largely dominated by Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love, a swooning romance that was widely panned by critics. Among the less obvious names on the list were Wes Craven’s rural horror Deadly Blessing (Ernest Borgnine was nominated for Worst Actor) and cult horror in the making Hell Night (Linda Blair got a nod for Worst Actress).
The most persistent film on the Razzie list, meanwhile, was Heaven’s Gate, Michael Cimino’s astonishingly long western which infamously bombed. The passing of time has allowed critics to look on the film more favourably in recent years, and to modern eyes, nominating Michael Cimino for Worst Director (which he subsequently won) seems a touch cruel – and an example, perhaps, of how quickly filmmakers can slide from veneration to ridicule.
Ennio Morricone – The Thing (1982)
Having had one of the best films of his career torn apart by critics and then underperform at the box office, director John Carpenter then had the indignity of having the theme music for The Thing nominated for Worst Original Score.
The nomination seems doubly bizarre when you consider that not only was The Thing‘s music composed by the great Ennio Morricone, but it was also an absolutely perfect murmuring backwash to Carpenter’s flesh-rending horror.
Brian De Palma – Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma’s aggressive, excessive gangster drama received some harsh criticism on release, but like The Shining, it’s since been hailed as a classic. The Razzies, cleaving to the weight of critical opinion surrounding Scarface in 1983, promptly nominated Brian De Palma for Worst Director, placing him in the ignominious company of Joe Alves and his tackily entertaining killer shark sequel, Jaws 3-D.
Sylvester Stallone – Rocky IV (1985)
Trawling back through the history of the Razzies, it becomes evident that Sylvester Stallone’s something of an easy target when it comes to nominations. Sly was Awarded Worst Actor of the Decade in 1990, was nominated for Worst Actor for his roles in Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, while Cliffhanger was nominated for Worst Picture in 1994.
Stallone has therefore become something of a running joke among the Razzies’ voters, with his name appearing to turn up more regularly than just about any other actor. Take a look at the 6th Golden Raspberry list, for example: in total, Stallone’s films Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV were nominated for a startling 15 awards, including Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay.
Now, while we can’t argue that Rambo: First Blood Part II or Rocky IV are particularly intellectual, artistic films, they succeeded in what they set out to do: they’re both unashamedly loud, populist pieces of entertainment.
Rocky IV, in particular, featured a talking robot, James Brown and some of the most quotable lines of any movie from the 1980s. While we can see why Rocky IV‘s sheer trashiness would earn it some Razzie attention, we’d argue that it was far from the worst film of 1985 – in fact, it’s one of the ones we still return to from time to time, though that’s partly because it’s on TV so often.
Danny DeVito – Batman Returns (1992)
The list of nominees for the 13th Razzies (held in 1993) contained relatively few surprises, featuring as it did a selection of notorious flops (Christopher Columbus: The Discovery appeared in several categories) as well as one of the year’s biggest and most commonly lampooned hits, Basic Instinct. The most curious choice on that list was undoubtedly Danny DeVito’s nomination for Worst Supporting Actor in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Granted, it was a heightened, bizarre performance – and genuinely villainous, we’d argue – but then, Batman Returns was a heightened, bizarre film. Fortunately, sense prevailed and Tom Selleck’s rather iffy turn as King Ferdinand of Spain in Christopher Columbus: The Discovery ultimately won.
Sandra Bullock – Demolition Man (1993)
In line with the Razzies’ continued obsession with Sly Stallone’s action movies, both Cliffhanger and Demolition Man were prominent fixtures on the 1994 list of nominees. But among the understandable mentions for such cheesy erotic thrillers as Sliver and Body Of Evidence, Sandra Bullock got a Worst Supporting Actress nomination for Demolition Man.
Given that Bullock was essentially playing the quirky love interest role in an action vehicle for Stallone and Wesley Snipes, we’d argue that her performance here was perfectly judged: hers is, after all, a deceptively tricky character to get right. Lieutenant Lenina Huxley is a cop in a pacifist future city where guns, sex, alcohol, swearing and caffeine have all been outlawed, yet she harbours a fascination for the tough, brutal cops of 80s and 90s action cinema.
When Stallone’s 90s cop and Snipes’ 90s psycho are thawed out and wage a miniature war among the squeaky-clean streets of San Angeles, Huxley’s thrilled to find herself in the midst of her own geek fantasy. Bullock cheerfully dives right into this knowlingly daft scenario, and her turn as Huxley is just right for the film. The worst supporting actress of 1993? Hardly.
Sandra Bullock won a Golden Raspberry in 2009 for her performance in All About Steve. Given that most actors don’t bother to turn up to collect their award in person, Bullock’s appearance – and speech – was a truly class act:
Heather Donahue – The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick’s The Blair Witch Project would go on to define the found-footage horror genre for years to come, and even 15 years later, we’re still feeling the ripples from its impact, both in movies and the way they’re marketed.
Of the film’s small ensemble cast, Heather Donahue was the most prominent, and her terrified, direct-to-camera speech was The Blair Witch’s dramatic centrepiece, and one of 1999’s most memorable images. In a film that demanded a documentary-like sense of realism (it was originally a hoax, after all) Donahue’s performance was extremely convincing. So why did she end up winning a Razzie for Worst Actress? Her big mistake, it seemed, was in happening to appear in a film that ended up grossing almost $250m.
Tom Cruise – War Of The Worlds (2005)
Steven Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds was unfortunate enough to coincide with Tom Cruise’s couch-jumping antics on the Oprah Winfrey Show, not to mention his public comments about psychiatry (he said it should be “outlawed”) and his much-fussed-about relationship with Katie Holmes. Tom Cruise’s nomination for Worst Actor could therefore be read as a reaction to his mid-2000s tabloid infamy rather than his work in Spielberg’s alien invasion adaptation, which was perfectly serviceable.
Johnny Depp – The Lone Ranger (2013)
There were undeniably problems with last year’s The Lone Ranger, but on the other hand, it certainly wasn’t the disaster that some of its more aggressive critics suggested, either. The Lone Ranger’s slow business at the box office, and its widespread (though not unanimous) critical derision, made its presence on this year’s Razzies list easy to predict. But does The Lone Ranger really deserve five nominations, including Worst Picture? We’d certainly argue it doesn’t, and neither does Johnny Depp deserve a nomination for Worst Actor.
Once again, it seems as though Razzie voters are simply going for box office failures rather than genuinely bad films. Despite its flaws, we suspect that The Lone Ranger will be one of those movies that is looked back on a little more kindly in a few years’ time, and could ultimately make its prominence on the 34th Razzies list almost as mystifying as The Shining’s inclusion more than three decades ago.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (nominee for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100m), Richard Pryor in Superman III (Worst Supporting Actor – really?), Kevin Costner in Wyatt Earp (an undeserved Worst Actor win), Zelda Rubinstein in Poltergeist II (Worst Supporting Actress).