Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Clockwise from top left: Joker, Last Blood, The Lion King, The Fanatic, Primal
Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment/DC Comics, Yana Blajeva, Disney Enterprises Inc., Quiver Distribution, Lionsgate

Maybe it’s the impending return of the Jedi, but we here at The A.V. Club believe in balance. Without dark, there can be no light—you know, that sort of thing, except applied to the varying quality of the new films hitting theaters or streaming platforms over a given 12 months. The good news is that the good movies of 2019 were very good indeed; in a few days, we’ll offer our annual ranking of favorites, which ran deep on the cusp of the new decade. The bad news is that the industry, to apparently tip those karmic scales back into alignment, didn’t skimp on bad movies, either. In fact, that’s the whole focus of the list below: a dire rundown of all that really irked us over the year, from lazy studio comedies to pointless remakes of ’90s hits to woeful star vehicles for the stars of Face/Off. We accept these abominations as the price to pay for the triumphs, taking extra consolation in the opportunity to dunk on them. Of course, not every film cited is universally loathed by our contributors. Some may even have their fans, outvoted but acknowledged. That’s balance, too.


20. Joker

Photo: Warner Bros.

Todd Phillips’ grim-’n’-gritty take on the origin of Batman’s most famous foe took the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, earned the admiration of plenty of critics and directors, and may or may not have received a B- grade in our official review. But it was loathed strongly enough by a sufficiently sizable number of contributors to land itself on this list, and so scornful attention must be paid. Somewhere between the toothless attempts at provocation (blacking out the middle two words of a “don’t forget to smile!” sign has a strong “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People” energy) and the wimping-out from any truly contemptible behavior, Phillips’ bastardized Scorsesiana fails in its single-minded juvenile mission to get a rise out of us. Its anger is an impotent, irrelevant anger, the rage of a tween. How did we spend so much time talking about this one? [Charles Bramesco]


19. After

Photo: Aviron

Good art can come from anywhere, an important truth that unfortunately sometimes encourages crap like After, a movie based on a YA novel that began as One Direction fan-fiction seemingly inspired by Fifty Shades Of Grey, which itself was rewritten Twilight fan-fiction. As with its various inspirations, a vaguely haunting and specifically negging jackhole (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin) selects a virginal ingénue (Josephine Langford) to draw into an affair of dysfunction and heavy petting. After gets so lost masturbating in this hall of mirrors that the movie convinces itself that it’s reinventing campus romance, posing provocative questions like: What would happen if a girl and a boy were very, very attracted to each other? The answer is the same things that happen on college campuses every year—only at this one, everyone spends their classes talking about the same three public-domain high-school-curriculum novels all semester, and the tortured charisma-void boy must carefully relate a preposterous vengeful-gang-rape backstory without violating the PG-13 rating. Fans of all ages, and of anything, deserve better. [Jesse Hassenger]


18. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral

Photo: Lionsgate

Have we really seen the last of Mabel “Madea” Simmons? Bad-movie multi-hyphenate Tyler Perry (who is no stranger to this list) bid farewell to his most famous creation with A Madea Family Funeral, finally putting an end to the tough-love psycho’s long reign of homespun terror. A typically Perry-an concoction of groaner comedy, mind-numbing soap opera, and unsolicited life advice, the film sends the extended Simmons clan—including Madea (Perry), ex-pimp Joe (also Perry), double-amputee Heathrow (Perry again), and straight-arrow Brian (still Perry)—off to a family gathering that (spoiler) turns into a funeral. (Unfortunately, not for the entire family.) The character conflicts are so convoluted that they would take several diagrams to explain, though Perry’s direction remains as clumsy and tone-deaf as ever; long stretches of sermonizing melodrama are incongruously punctuated by jokes about posthumous erections, jokes about old people being horny, and jokes about old people needing to pee. There’s even a Mike Tyson cameo. Good riddance. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


17. The Kitchen

Photo: Warner Bros.

On paper, The Kitchen seemed like a winner. The ensemble was solid, led by the buzzy, in-demand trio of Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, and Tiffany Haddish. The source material, a Vertigo graphic novel with a gender-swapped gangland premise, was also intriguing. But something must have gone wrong somewhere in the production process—a failure to pre-heat the oven, perhaps?—because what should have been a fresh take on the mob drama came out distinctly half-baked. From the cringe-inducing needle drops to the awkward chemistry between our anti-heroines, The Kitchen is a misfire all around. That becomes especially obvious when you put the film next to last year’s Widows and this year’s Hustlers, two films that brought more thrills, more camaraderie, and better performances to similar source material. Therein lies the silver lining: As least we now live in an era where there’s more than one female-led crime thriller to choose from. [Katie Rife]


16. Playing With Fire

Photo: Paramount Pictures

While mimicking Dwayne Johnson’s crossover success from the WWE to Hollywood, John Cena generated goodwill with self-aware turns in the raunchy Trainwreck, Sisters, and Blockers, and believably voiced the gentle bull Ferdinand. But his winning streak came to a screeching halt this year with the gallingly unfunny Playing With Fire, directed by the guy who made the second Paul Blart. Surprisingly dark (no one thought to push this movie’s release date back to a time when there wasn’t a raging wildfire destroying California?) while also exhaustingly reliant on jokes about poop, the movie gets an exceedingly stiff performance out of Cena, though everyone on screen mostly just looks embarrassed. They should: This is a comedy that sidelines Judy Greer, relies on dead parents for character development, and genuinely thinks it’s the height of hilarity to wonder, in 2019, what would happen if grown men were forced to take care of children alone. [Roxana Hadadi]


15. No Safe Spaces

Photo: Atlas Distribution Company

Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager make for an ideological anti-Reese’s Cup—two horrible ideologues that taste horrible together!—in this tirade of reactionary propaganda masquerading as a free speech crusade. By the wobbly moral calculus of the former Man Show cohost and the founder emeritus of Prager U, the stakes of our First Amendment rights amount to a steady stream of speaking gigs for Tim Allen, and Ben Shapiro being permitted to air his grievances for the students of Berkeley. Basically an all-caps Tweet thread from hell, it’s a frontal assault on rhetorical discipline, political conscience, and everything in the basic vicinity of comedy. But not even on Twitter are we forced to watch the leathery reanimated corpse of Alan Dershowitz advise us, “If you want to feel good, get a massage.” [Charles Bramesco]


14. Countdown

Photo: STX Entertainment

You know the running gag in Arrested Development where George Bluth would hire J. Walter Weatherman to stage a horrid mishap, terrify his children, and then finish up with some important lesson like, “And that’s why you always leave a note”? Countdown’s sort of like that, only the lesson is, “And that’s why you always read the terms and conditions.” Oh, and Weatherman was much scarier. The highlight of this toothless, deeply stupid thriller—besides the moment the credits roll—is a shot in which our heroine, Quinn (You’s Elizabeth Lail, utterly wasted here) spies an unearthly specter in her car’s rearview camera, a ghost of the more enjoyable horror-comedy that could have been. Alas, writer-director Justin Dec never strikes that tone for long, opting instead for cheap and ineffective jump scares and a wet cardboard box of a story, filled in part by a Jamie-Kennedy-in-Scream knock-off and a frankly baffling sexual harassment subplot. [Allison Shoemaker]


13. Jay And Silent Bob Reboot

Photo: Saban Films

The old question of separating the art from the artist almost always involves great works of art made by monstrous, morally repugnant humans (of which there is no shortage among film directors). Much rarer is a case like that of Kevin Smith, who has spent most of the past decade tossing off pointless and puerile projects while coming across as a generally stand-up guy who loves his family, friends, and fans, and who doesn’t take himself too seriously. But even if one were grading on a curve of best intentions, it’s hard to mount much of a defense for the awkward, enervating Jay And Silent Bob Reboot; its inanities include painfully drawn-out dad jokes (the man loves his bad puns), stilted attempts at self-deprecating humor, and a cringe-inducing appearance from longtime Smith buddy Ben Affleck. We’ll give Smith this much: At least it’s better than Yoga Hosers. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


12. Serenity

Photo: Aviron

It’s almost impossible to describe the befuddling wonder that is Serenity without spoiling its biggest twist—which would be a crime, as this is the kind of bad movie best served cold. Suffice to say that writer-director Steven Knight’s misbegotten attempt to combine mind-bending speculative fiction with steamy neo-noir gets way too hung up on the latter, with Knight laboriously setting up a scenario that has a mumbly Matthew McConaughey playing a charter fishing boat captain roped into a murder-plot by his seductive (and super-rich) ex-wife. The amount of time Serenity devotes to this cut-rate Key Largo becomes all the more hilarious in retrospect, after the film springs its sci-fi surprise. The reveal raises way more questions than it answers. Like: Given where the story ends up, why in the world did it ever need to be a bad version of Body Heat? [Noel Murray]


11. Arctic Dogs

Photo: Entertainment Studio Motion Pictures

A cheaply produced animated movie is certainly an unusual choice for a vanity project. But how else can you explain how many times Jeremy Renner’s name appears in the credits for Arctic Dogs? The Avengers star performs five songs on the Arctic Dogs soundtrack—which is available on Spotify, if you have any houseguests in need of ousting—as well as starring as Swifty, an arctic fox who dreams of becoming the canid equivalent of a UPS driver in a town populated by anthropomorphic walruses, albatrosses, and the like. Speaking of, the stunt casting in this film is very silly, except for when it’s fully inexplicable—which is actually a good thing, because the plot is so generic and the animation so slapdash that it’s nice to have something to keep your mind occupied, even if that something is thinking, “What the hell is poor Heidi Klum doing in this movie?” [Katie Rife]


10. Primal

Photo: Lionsgate

A movie in which Nicolas Cage plays a big-game hunter fighting a psychopathic escaped convict on a ship full of dangerous wild animals should serve up a whole lot more dopey fun than Primal ever manages. Part of the problem is that Kevin Durand, rather than Cage, gets the crazy-dude role—though John Malkovich’s presence as Con Air’s flamboyant big bad certainly didn’t prevent the king of nutzoid from doing his thing anyway. Sadly, there’s no equivalent of “Put the bunny back in the box” here, despite a wealth of opportunities; we just get a low-rent Under Siege ripoff occasionally interrupted by monkeys, poisonous snakes, and a blatantly digital white jaguar. No worst-of list is complete these days without at least one of Cage’s now-signature paycheck vehicles, but he’s rarely been this lethargically uninterested. [Mike D’Angelo]


9. Anna

Photo: Lionsgate

Luc Besson isn’t exactly consistent; for every visionary work the French director knocks out, there’s one that slides into self-parody. But even judged by the standards of an up-and-down career, Anna looks desperate—the product of an unimaginative creator clinging to outdated narrative concepts. Sasha Luss stars as a fresh-faced ingénue trapped in the service of shadowy governments, with her affections divided between two rival agents (Luke Evans and Cillian Murphy, both disappointingly bland). If this sounds familiar, it’s because Besson already made this movie 29 years ago, with his breakout Nikita. Three decades later, he still thinks it’s a bold declaration that women can be sexy and duplicitous—that they can, as the archaic expression goes, have it all. [Roxana Hadadi]


8. Rambo: Last Blood

Photo: Lionsgate

Unlike Sylvester Stallone’s other signature character, the lovable Philadelphia underdog Rocky Balboa, the reactionary superhero John J. Rambo has not aged gracefully. But even the gory excess of 2008’s Rambo seems downright introspective when compared to this joylessly schlocky and hopefully final outing for the onetime symbol of post-Vietnam resentment. By turns extremely tedious and grimly sadistic, Last Blood sends Rambo south of the border to seek revenge on Mexican sex traffickers. There’s some mumbled dialogue about the blackness of men’s hearts, but the real point is that he tortures, impales, and decapitates a whole lot of dudes who totally had it coming, building to an exhausting, Home-Alone-inspired climax. Fans of unnecessary carnage beware: As enticing as the idea of seeing Rambo wipe out a gang of gunmen with an assortment of deadly booby traps might sound, the reality is mostly cheap, ugly, and dull. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


7. Jacob’s Ladder

Photo: Vertical Entertainment

Movie producers must be struggling to find properties to remake these days if they’ve been reduced to dredging up half-remembered titles from the heyday of Blockbuster. The original 1990 Jacob’s Ladder was hardly a masterpiece, but director Adrian Lyne and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin did imbue the picture with a certain trippy brio, as they followed the surreal adventures of a Vietnam vet hero questioning his reality. The remake tones down the psychedelia and the “Why are we here?” meditations on mortality, and instead turns the story into more of an action-packed mystery, about an ex-soldier investigating the reasons for his frequent hallucinations. The 1990 version was clunky but distinctive—as weirdly personal as a diary entry. This new Jacob’s Ladder? It’s more like an adaptation of the text on the back of a VHS tape. [Noel Murray]


6. The Goldfinch

Photo: Warner Bros.

When the great Manny Farber wrote about “white elephant art,” he was describing the stampeding self-importance of a movie like The Goldfinch. This stultifying take on Donna Tartt’s hefty 2013 bestseller has the copper gleam of the Pulitzer Prize the novel won. But whatever insight Tartt spread across 800 pages of plot is nowhere to found in the film’s shapeless recitation: a two-and-a-half-hour trudge through multiple decades in the life of a bespectacled art forger (Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort, creating a continuity of blankness) still grappling with the tragedy that claimed his mother’s life. More book report than drama, The Goldfinch dutifully trots out Tartt’s contrivances, outlandish twists, and Dickensian supporting players, without any sense of how to make them sing on screen. For instructive comparison, look to Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, a largely faithful and chronologically restructured adaptation that breathes new life into its source material, instead of just embalming it. [A.A. Dowd]


5. The Upside

Photo: STX Entertainment

Mileage tends to vary on the 2011 French smash The Intouchables, the kind of broad-strokes crowd-pleaser that’s proven too cloying for some. (In his A.V. Club review, Sam Adams likened it to “a thick tranche of honey-glazed ham”—not a positive comparison, that.) But The Upside, Neil Burger’s shallow, cheaply manipulative American remake, is less a crowd-pleaser than a mass mugging, demanding all your feelings by force. Despite the best efforts of Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, and Kevin Hart, there are none of the original’s flashes of honesty or thornier, more complex patches. Remove that messiness and you’re left with nothing but two troubling tropes: a disabled person learning to embrace life again, and a black person arriving just in time to change a rich white person’s world. [Allison Shoemaker]


4. The Lion King

Photo: Disney

Werner Herzog could muse himself hoarse pontificating on the savage nothingness he might see in the eyes of The Lion King’s photorealistic menagerie. Every beast, from feline to fowl, stares without passion or much discernible intelligence, because that’s how real wild animals mostly look. This becomes a problem, though, when they’re supposed to be, say, beaming with pride over a new addition to the pride, or mourning a terrible loss. And it becomes downright disconcerting when they open their inexpressive maws and celebrity voices come tumbling out, in the state-of-the-art equivalent of an unconvincing ventriloquism act. Jon Favreau’s profoundly misguided remake of the 1994 animated smash is a cautionary tale about the folly of technological achievement without vision. Why spend so much time, money, and energy stripping the magic from a Disney classic, image by image, musical number by musical number? Because, of course, people still flocked to it, genuflecting at the feet of a studio preying on their nostalgia. [A.A. Dowd]


3. The Haunting Of Sharon Tate

Photo: Saban Films

Calling The Haunting Of Sharon Tate a preemptive mockbuster version of Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood gives it too much credit. A truly terrible film is odious in its intentions as well as incompetent in its execution, and this bad-taste, bad-faith attempt to turn the Tate-LaBianca murders into a supernatural horror movie, with Manson himself as its denim-clad Babadook, checks both of those boxes. Like Tarantino’s film, it’s an alternate-history version of the murders. But this one inflicts extreme violence not on the perpetrators of the infamous crimes but on their victims: We see the heavily pregnant Tate and her friends tortured and slaughtered no less than three times in The Haunting Of Sharon Tate, each staging more sadistic, gratuitous, and artless than the last. The film’s pretty convinced of its own genius, however, even as it falls short on every conceivable technical and artistic level. If it wasn’t so nasty, you’d almost feel sorry for its creators. [Katie Rife]


2. Replicas

Photo: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

Keanu Reeves had a hell of a year: He stole scenes in Always Be My Maybe and Toy Story 4; John Wick 3 was an action blockbuster; and hardly anyone remembers that he starred in a terrible sci-fi thriller called Replicas. That last feat is especially impressive because Replicas played on over 2,000 screens nationwide; it wasn’t a straight-to-Vudu release, but public indifference practically willed it into one anyway. Reeves fans missed him struggling valiantly with his role as a bereaved-turned-mad scientist who clones his family into android bodies after a tragic accident. It’s a provocatively discomfiting sci-fi premise with a follow-through that feels improbably, sweatily improvised, as if the filmmakers could only get into their lead character’s panicked headspace by making the movie with little planning and under extreme duress. In a year when Reeves once again proved his worth as a star, Replicas makes such poor use of him that it feels like an act of character assassination. [Jesse Hassenger]


1. The Fanatic

Photo: Quiver Distribution

“New York is the greatest fuckin’ city in the world,” John Travolta announced in the opening scene of Gotti, our consensus choice for the worst movie of 2018. One year later, it’s Los Angeles, “city of bullshitters,” that gets the voice-over introduction in the actor and 2019’s shared rock bottom, an inept stalker thriller from the guy behind “Nookie.” As Moose, a stunted Walk-of-Fame busker who begins skulking around the Beverly Hills home of an ill-tempered B-list star, Travolta does a simpering, childlike caricature of unspecified disability that’s somewhere between offensive and just plain embarrassing. This, apparently, is how writer, director, and fellow faded hotshot Fred Durst sees the autograph-hungry unwashed—though the film is indiscriminate in its contempt, reserving plenty for the object of Moose’s obsession (the original Stan, Devon Sawa) and for all of Hollywood. (Durst, frontman of rap-rock punchline Limp Bizkit, does spare a few celebratory words for his favorite band, Limp Bizkit.) Beginning with a quotation from its own terrible dialogue, The Fanatic isn’t just brain-dead, Z-grade garbage. It’s garbage with pretentions of seriousness, framing its ludicrous descent into screaming, eye-gouging hysteria as some kind of deep meditation on the pitfalls of celebrity. Mostly, the incompetent thing leaves you feeling sorry for Travolta, a one-time A-lister in dire need of a new agent, an intervention, or another Tarantino career reset. [A.A. Dowd]

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