I know I already said this in the preface, but it bears repeating: This is not a “Worst of” list. I make it a clear point not to see a film unless I know there could be some shred of potential, anything of value to be found within the running time. This is a list of those movies that couldn’t clear the bar.
For reference, I group disappointments into three different classes.
- Benign Disappointments: This one simply comes down to a difference of opinion. A lot of other people like the film for perfectly valid reasons, but it didn’t work for me.
- Stupid Disappointments: The most common variety. There was effort here, everyone involved clearly did the best they could, but the end result failed for whatever reason.
- Malicious Disappointments: The filmmakers had every opportunity to change course and avoid the glaringly obvious mistakes right ahead of them, but they charged ahead anyway. These are the films that failed on purpose.
Most Benign Disappointment
The obvious place to start is with Avatar: The Way of Water, which maintains a slavishly devoted fanbase of people who only care about the pretty animation and couldn’t care less about the paper-thin characters and the dogshit plot. We’ve also got Matilda the Musical, which is charming enough in spite of some glaring missteps in the finer details.
We’ve also got A Love Song and The Whale, two sweet and superbly-acted little character dramas that were regrettably tedious to sit through. Pleasure gets an honorable mention for its controversial and highly unpleasant portrayal of the porn industry. I’m also putting Three Thousand Years of Longing in here for the inconsistent pacing that kills the central Elba/Swinton romantic pairing, though the rest of the film was aces.
But then there’s The Woman King, a film that gained many admirers for its production design, performances, and action scenes. Personally, I had a hard time getting past the hypocritical themes, the soap opera bullshit plot twists, and the film’s inexplicable focus on the wrong protagonist. Sorry, but I can’t sign off on this one.
The “Epic Fail”
These are the films that tried and failed to deliver an epic story of massive scope. One example would be The Sea Beast, which might have been a marvelous adventure/fantasy romp if it wasn’t a flimsy How to Train Your Dragon knockoff with a fresh coat of paint. But at least it fared better than Slumberland, in which we watch Jason Momoa try and fail to stay afloat in a formless mass of CGI slop.
Babylon deserves mention as a deeply unpleasant three-hour slog that’s pretentious and overblown in its crass portrayal of Los Angeles through the mid-20th century. Speaking of pretentious and crass, Big Bug sought to portray a dystopian future world under a robot uprising, but the film repeatedly shoots itself in the foot with a script that’s somehow even dumber than its buffoonish characters.
But at least with all those other movies, I could get a sense of what they were trying to accomplish. I still for the life of me can’t make heads or tails of Strange World. I can’t remember the last time I saw so much effort and talent and sincere heartfelt attention put toward something this incomprehensibly broken. The plot is (barely) functional yet the themes are incoherent. The characters are nuanced and sympathetic, yet their development arcs are boilerplate and powered by bullshit. Someone on Twitter once said of it that someone tried to make a Brad Bird movie without Brad Bird, and that’s the best explanation I’ve got for what the hell happened here.
Most Disappointing Horror
This was an incredible year for horror in cinema, with surprisingly few outright stinkers in the genre.
The Invitation more than deserves mention as a film that sucks at romance, sucks at action, and outright fails at horror, never really kicking into gear until the last fifteen minutes. I’m willing to cut Bodies Bodies Bodies a lot more slack as a work of social satire, and that fucking brilliant final reveal is worth a lot of points, but I could barely get through spending so much time with such deeply hateful characters.
Still, the clear winner here is Prey for the Devil. The premise had serious franchise potential, if only it was the least bit of fun to sit through. The exorcisms and Christian dogma are taken way too seriously, the themes are contradictory, and the body horror might have worked if the plot wasn’t so boilerplate and predictable. Literally every scene is a case of wasted potential.
Most Disappointing Action
I’m putting Firestarter (2022) in here because the film put such a heavy emphasis on the action set pieces and effects. That said, between the elements of action, horror, sci-fi, and coming-of-age drama, there’s no end to the genres this movie sucked at.
Bullet Train was an admirable effort at blending fight scenes with screwball comedy, but the end result never quite came together. Still, at least that film made an effort at delivering something innovative and original with a deep cast of memorable characters, which is more than I can say for The Princess.
But then we have The 355, arguably the year’s most pathetic waste of extraordinary talent. Some of the most badass women in the industry wasted on idiotic characters and rote dialogue, with threadbare plot twists, uninspired action sequences, and a script comprised entirely of plot points and twists pulled from other better movies. Between this and Dark Phoenix, Simon Kinberg should be sentenced straight to director jail, and Jessica Chastain has lost all credibility as a producer for hiring him.
Oh, Black Adam. Over a decade spent in development hell only to come out while DC/WB is busy dismantling itself, then the film turned out to be a muddled mess that publicly lost a ton of money. At least The Munsters (2022) still has some chance of getting a sequel, but after that malformed and obnoxiously overwrought first entry, who really wants a sequel?
I’m putting Pinocchio (2022) in here because there’s always an implication of future sequels and spin-offs with every Disney live-action remake. Even so, that atrocious industry laughingstock should be enough to kill the Disney live-action remakes entirely, in addition to killing what’s left of Robert Zemeckis’ career. (Not that either are going anywhere, but they both should be retired.) Likewise, if Slumberland had any delusional aspirations of spawning a sequel, those all disappeared just as soon as the film flopped onto Netflix.
But if we’re talking about cinematic bombs with delusions of franchise potential, there’s no topping The Gray Man. Netflix threw a fortune at this picture, sparing no expense in getting the Russo Brothers to direct an all-star cast on the way to building a cinematic megafranchise. Out of this uninspired premise and a bullshit plot in which we watch unmemorable and unsympathetic characters. No other “action” movie this year offered such blandly mediocre action set pieces, with the sole and debatable exception of The 355. Someone at Netflix seriously deserves to be fired over this one.
Lightyear needed to be its own original IP. It only had to be a straightforward kid-friendly sci-fi adventure romp, why in the nine hells did anyone think that weighing the plot down with time dilation bullshit was a good idea? And say what you will about Hocus Pocus 2 — unfocused and hopelessly self-indulgent as it was — at least that movie was recognizably part of the same universe as its prequel.
It really does break my heart to put Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in here, because so much of that movie delivered on everything we always wanted from a cinematic adaptation of the games. But whomever thought it was a good idea to give a massive central plotline to the single worst character from the first movie needs to be permanently goddamn blacklisted from the industry. Likewise, while there’s definitely a good movie somewhere in Death on the Nile (2022), it’s surrounded by so much extraneous bullshit and bad ideas.
Even so, the clear winner here is Jurassic World: Dominion, in which the filmmakers sought to take the franchise in a new direction and sent it right off a cliff. Overloaded with plot-armored franchise mainstays, visibly constrained by bloodless PG-13 kills, incapable of balancing its disparate plotlines and tones, this one was a tragically toothless victim of its own ambitions.
Netflix deserves mention for I Came By, in which a rock-solid cast gets wasted on an undercooked Idiot Plot. Over on Hulu, we’ve got the fatally misguided No Exit and the repulsive anti-erotic thriller Deep Water.
No contest, this one goes to Amsterdam. Millions of dollars’ worth of A-list talent wasted on a convoluted and pointless mess. These filmmakers were delusional enough to try and position this as an Oscar contender, and they got one of the year’s most humiliating box office bombs. If there’s anything that could finally torpedo David O. Russell’s long-overhyped career, we can all hope this might be it.
Most Malicious Disappointment
My top dishonor of the year was always coming down to two movies: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) and Morbius, two aggressively painful movies made with clear malice aforethought toward the audience.
That said, I can see how “a spiritual sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit” might be considered a high-risk/high-reward gambit that simply didn’t pay off. Yet Sony is STILL pursuing their vision of “a Spider-Man cinematic megafranchise without Spider-Man,” which is on its face an impossibly stupid idea that could never EVER work. I might add that while CnD appropriated the Bobby Driscoll tragedy — a thoroughly tasteless and abhorrent creative choice, don’t get me wrong — Sony paid millions of dollars to the criminally insane Jared Leto so that he could be the face of their tentpole comic book franchise.
Perhaps most importantly, Disney at least had the good sense to dump CnD directly onto streaming. Sony was so damned insistent on pushing back Morbius until it got a primetime release date. And after the movie bombed, Sony was so stupidly arrogant that they got baited by online trolls into releasing the film into multiplexes again and it bombed even HARDER. Last but not least, as bad as CnD was, at least it didn’t have glaringly obvious continuity flubs to show that a character’s whole identity was inexplicably changed in mid-production.
As reprehensible as CnD was and is, Morbius was the product of far more outrageously bad creative and business decisions that showed not only apathy but outright scorn toward the audience. I know it’s nothing new to say, as the film has been a punching bag all year, but Morbius is unquestionably the most malicious disappointment of 2022.