For those just tuning in, this is absolutely not to be construed as a “worst-of” list. I don’t do “worst-of” lists, because I make it a point not to intentionally review bad movies. I try as hard as I can not to go into a movie unless I know there’s some chance it will turn out to be good and I’ll find something to like about it. These are the films that didn’t live up to that potential.
In years past, I’ve divided the “Disappointments” list into three different classes of disappointment.
- Benign Disappointment: The lowest level, this is simply a cordial difference of opinion. A benign disappointment is a movie that everyone else (or at least, a great many other people) seem to like for perfectly legitimate reasons, and I get the appeal, but it’s not for me.
- Stupid Disappointment: There was effort here. The filmmakers were clearly doing the best they possibly could and they might’ve gotten a few things right, but the end result didn’t measure up for whatever reason.
- Malicious Disappointment: The filmmakers made so many glaringly obvious bad decisions that the movie could only have failed on purpose. A willful destruction of potential, a waste of money and time, a product of naked and unrelenting malice toward the audience.
I list the classifications here because this year’s list isn’t nearly as stratified as in years past. Alas, the tidal wave of content in 2021 inevitably washed up more trash and malicious disappointments, so we’re going to see more of them in categories that might’ve been limited to stupid disappointments in previous years. So let’s dig in.
Worst Benign Disappointment
Look, I get the appeal of Jungle Cruise, but it made far too many fatal errors for me to move past. Likewise, while I understand that Licorice Pizza is a critical darling, it’s beyond me how anyone can move past the inherently squicky romance at its heart and core. We’ve also got Army of Dead, an overlong visually incompetent chore to sit through.
But then there’s Malignant, a horror film that lives and dies on its preposterous third-act twist. That one moment made this the ultimate “love it or loathe it” movie of 2021, prompting incendiary debate that continues well into 2022. Personally, I’m not wasting any more time or effort on a film that proves how James Wan is nowhere near worthy of his own hype without Leigh Whannell to back him up.
Most Disappointing Biopic
I maintain that King Richard is an uninspired biopic made about the wrong subject, and Respect is an uninspired biopic that mishandled its subject entirely. We’ve also got The United States vs. Billie Holliday, in which Lee Daniels bit off way, WAY more than he could ever hope to chew.
But at least those three movies knew what they wanted to be. Hell if I know what anyone was trying to accomplish with House of Gucci. The talent is unquestionably there, but it’s tough to make a coherent film when it seems like half the cast is in another film entirely. The film had everything it needed to either be a sprawling and epic tale about the downfall of a family dynasty in the wake of changing times and clashing egos; or a diabolically campy drama that leaned into the outsized personalities and outlandish styles of the fashion industry. But the filmmakers apparently tried to have it both ways, and it’s heartbreaking to watch the filmmakers lose control of that balance in real time.
Most Disappointing Comedy
Locked Down was a neat little failed experiment, but even factoring in WB’s yearlong incompetence with advertising, nobody was going to remember it within a few months. Though at least it tried something new, while The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard was unfunny, uninspired, and wholly unnecessary.
It might be strange listing America: The Motion Picture as a disappointment, because it’s not like anyone expected much of anything from that movie in the first place. But no, that did indeed turn out to be a stupid movie made by clearly intelligent people, with sterling animation and a stellar voice cast to boot. The film had everything it needed except a point, and that is the crowning disappointment.
But not even that movie could hold a candle to Tom & Jerry, a heaping pile of clownshit from start to finish. An unfunny, disjointed, uninspired, outright tragic waste of all the comedic talent and beautiful animation on hand. We should all consider ourselves exceptionally lucky if this didn’t kill Chloe Grace Moretz’ career on impact. This film was a tragic portent of the year that WB would go on to have, and we can only hope they get their shit together for 2022.
Though Red Notice and Cruella were sadly nowhere near good enough to justify all the money spent hyping them up, they did regrettably get enough money and attention that sequels will likely be forthcoming to both. Compare that to Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, which bombed for the capital failures of bad CGI and lackluster fight scenes. On a similar note, it’s still not entirely clear if Mortal Kombat (2021) is getting a sequel, or if anyone up top has figured out what the fuck they think they’re doing with that IP.
But if we’re talking movies positioned to be franchise pilots, I defy any critic out there to find a more egregious failure than Thunder Force. Painfully annoying and aggressively anti-funny, it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see so many wonderfully talented comedic actors slumming it this hard. Such an outrageous waste of money that Netflix should sue somebody for squandering the production budget. Seriously, get the SEC and the IRS on the case, I want to know where the money went for this picture. At the very least, someone please arrest the filmmakers for this cinematic crime against humanity.
The past year brought us Godzilla vs. Kong and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, both products of studios who desperately want to make highly lucrative cinematic superfranchises without the first goddamn clue how to actually accomplish such a feat. Still, of the two epic clashes that we’d been promised for years, I hope we can at least all agree that the Godzilla vs. Kong matchup (not to mention that climactic three-way brawl) was far and away more entertaining than the Venom vs. Carnage letdown.
Oh, and speaking of bloody conflict, this year also brought us Spiral. Alas, this continuation of the Saw franchise only further proved why the Saw franchise is a relic of a bygone era and we’re all better off moving on.
Still, none of these sequels instantly killed their franchises stone cold dead the way The Addams Family 2 did. Whatever goodwill might’ve been earned by the first movie, this one fucking trashed it. A slapdash and unfunny wreck of a film, loaded with egregious product placement, openly flouting everything that made the Addamses a pop culture mainstay through the past 80 years.
False Positive was the earnest yet misguided effort of comedians who wanted to make a socially conscious horror thriller with all the ambition of Jordan Peele and maybe a third of the talent. Likewise, Things Heard & Seen was another attempt at a socially conscious horror story, though the absence of actual scares renders it a failure. We’ve also got The Little Things, a movie that only proves why the script had languished in development hell for 30 years and damn well should’ve stayed there.
And then there’s The Woman in the Window, in which director Joe Wright once again earns my unyielding wrath. This one is trashy, threadbare, and predictable, with an over-reliance on outdated mental illness tropes that are offensive and frankly harmful. This whole movie reads exactly like it adapted a book written by a confirmed fraud who claimed to have bipolar disorder as an excuse for why he’s a plagiarist piece of shit. I’m aware that the movie features an all-star cast list of world-class talents, every last one of whom should be ashamed for taking part in this atrocity.
Dumbest Attempt to be Smart
I’m tempted to list Don’t Look Up here, but I don’t think the movie or the filmmakers are necessarily stupid. Quite the contrary, this film is more like the work of a genuinely intelligent young boy who gets bad grades and doesn’t apply himself because school is stupid and he hates his parents and everything sucks, so why bother? You know the type.
I’d much rather give this one to a film like Outside the Wire, which apparently wanted to make some kind of statement about artificial intelligence and the nature of war before it got bogged down in a ramshackle plot and pathetic action sequences. Another strong contender is Reminiscence, which might have been a fantastic sci-fi neo noir if the filmmakers could figure out what the hell they were blathering about.
But the clear winner here is Stowaway, a laughable and lamentable waste of a fantastic sci-fi premise. This genuinely could’ve been a fascinating story of human ingenuity and persistence, centered around a compelling ethical dilemma, if only it wasn’t wasted on an Idiot Plot powered by an entire space program’s worth of astronauts and engineers dumber than your average third-grader. And of course we can’t forget the action scenes only made possible by the most boneheaded, godforsaken, outright suicidal spaceship design in all of history or fiction. Seriously, this is like if “Avenue 5” was played straight, and the characters were somehow even more stupid.
Most Malicious Disappointment
We come at last to the most malicious disappointment of 2021. The biggest waste of time and talent for all involved. The most outrageous waste of money and potential. The most egregious and outright harmful act of willful abuse toward the public, in which every frame projects the words “FUCK YOU, PAY ME” between all corners of the silver screen.
This year, it was an obvious choice. Nothing short of a slam dunk, in fact.
Bad enough that Space Jam: A New Legacy is a Looney Tunes movie with only one (1) funny joke in the entire runtime. Bad enough that Don Cheadle damn near broke his back trying to carry this movie, and LeBron James has to spend half the runtime failing as a voice actor. Bad enough that the WB execs apparently saw millennials’ nostalgic affection for Space Jam and mistook that as clamoring for a sequel, even though nobody had been asking for a sequel at any point in the past twenty years. But then WB tried to cram in dated references to Austin Powers and the first Matrix movie right next to the Rick and Morty cameo in a goddamn Looney Tunes movie, thoroughly proving that the WB execs have no idea who their audience is or what their audience wants.
The whole movie reeks of obnoxious desperation, the way WB smears their brand all over the screen and charges us for the privilege. It comes off especially bad in 2021, a year in which WB repeatedly and flagrantly tanked their own movies, their own marketing incompetence and arrogant confidence in HBO Max drowning what should’ve been surefire hits. This is the crown jewel of WB’s numerous failures in 2021, the exemplar of the studio’s self-centered delusions.
Bad enough that WB had to give us all a stiff middle finger projected 70 feet high. That they should make the Looney Tunes and so many other treasured WB properties radioactive in the process is unforgivable. Fuck you right back, WarnerMedia.
Stay tuned for the Wild Rides list tomorrow.