Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Photo: Sicario: Day Of The Soldado (Columbia), Fifty Shades Freed (Universal ), Deathwish (MGM), Screenshot: Gotti, Graphic: Libby McGuire

Though it’s always a group effort (misery loves company), The A.V. Club’s list of the year’s worst movies is almost never a true vote of consensus disapproval. Because while we all tend to see the same good movies, we usually watch different bad ones, catching the lousiest dreck on unlucky assignment and learning from (and avoiding) each other’s viewing mistakes. Things were different this year, though. The worst movie of 2018 was more than just a big bomb. It became, in its immensely quotable badness and its defensive anti-critic ad campaign, a cause célèbre of cinematic offense. Which is why, maybe, all eight of the contributors to the following hall of shame not only saw but also voted for the same movie, resulting in the rare unanimous “winner” of our pettiest annual poll. Every movie listed below was painful, in its own special way. But only our No. 1 choice united everyone in disdain. How very 2018 of it.

20. God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness

Photo: Pure Flix Entertainment

If nothing else, it’s worth watching the latest and drippiest of the atheist-trolling God’s Not Dead series just to see what dreary Hollywood melodramas would look like if American showbiz were run by evangelical Christians instead of left-leaning New Agers. In this cinematic universe, it’s academics and activists who are ruining ordinary people’s lives, not corporate fat cats and moralizing hypocrites. A Light In Darkness finds the franchise’s stalwart “Reverend Dave” (David A.R. White) at the center of controversy once again, when the university that owns his church’s land finds an excuse to kick the congregation out. As always, the Rev is the perfectly chill, reasonable guy, and the godless teachers and crusading attorneys are the closed-minded meanies. The movie could almost pass as a parody of liberal piety, if it weren’t so utterly sincere. [Noel Murray]

19. Caniba

Photo: Grasshopper Film

The year’s most repulsive film (as even those who admire it would surely concede), Caniba shoves a camera literally right up into the face of Issei Sagawa, a Japanese man who murdered and ate a fellow student at the Sorbonne in 1981. Avoiding prison via an insanity plea, he’s spent the decades since recounting and profiting from his crime. For some reason, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel (who previously made the superb Leviathan) felt that exploring this old man’s silent, impassive gaze in extreme close-up, crawling the lens over his skin for minutes at a time, would provide a window into his soul, or reflect our own debasement, or something. When that becomes too pretentious and dull to endure, they switch over to Sagawa’s brother and caretaker, a masochist who repeatedly stabs his arms. Anyone who sits through this odious experimental portrait will know just how he feels. [Mike D’Angelo]

18. Mary Shelley

Photo: IFC Films

Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, showed tremendous promise with her debut, Wadjda, and so it was exciting, the news that she’d head Stateside for another portrait of a wily girl whose intellect put her at odds with her place and time. But Emma Jensen’s script flattens the more peculiar particulars of the Frankenstein author’s life into biopic pap, and Al-Mansour’s newly, inexplicably bland direction failed to pick up the slack. How do you make a movie about the original goth teen losing her V-card on her mother’s mossy grave feel like a mid-budget soap that The CW would pass on for being too buttoned-up? Part of the blame probably falls on Elle Fanning, who plays the writer—famed for her weirdness, willfulness, and morbidity—as a passive porcelain doll. But Al-Mansour has already proven that she’s capable of so much more—though, also, that she’s comfortable coasting, as evidenced by her latest project, the rom-com-on-autopilot Nappily Ever After. [Charles Bramesco]

17. Forever My Girl

Photo: Roadside Attractions

In Happy Death Day, Jessica Rothe plays a college coed forced to repeatedly relive the day of her gruesome murder. But that hellish purgatory is nothing compared to Forever My Girl, wherein Rothe’s character places her romantic life on pause after she’s left at the altar by an ex (Alex Roe). The guy goes on to become a famous country singer, then returns home years later to find a daughter he never knew and rekindle a sparkless romance. On some level, and in retrospect, this plays like another, far clumsier Star Is Born remake. But what the charming Rothe is really stuck in is a transparent knockoff of Nicholas Sparks and his endless paeans to the terminal-disease-ridden—only this movie lacks the balls to kill off anyone beyond a barely developed black character, who expires early so that the white ones may be reunited at his funeral. [Jesse Hassenger]

16. Death Wish

Photo: MGM

More than a decade removed from his Hostel heyday, and excepting a recent foray into Amblin nostalgia, Eli Roth has found his true calling in trolling: Where once he wanted to make everyone barf, he’ll settle now for making them mad. And in a year with nearly as many mass shootings as days, what could be edgier and more provocative than a revival of Charles Bronson’s 1974 gun-nut revenge thriller? Transporting the vigilante action from a grimy New York to a reactionary’s vision of Chicago as hellish war zone, this glib, unexciting remake cheerfully promotes the NRA talking point of a good guy with a gun stopping bad guys with guns, all while learning to man-up and defend his own. The timing was atrocious, but Death Wish would look plenty irresponsible even if it weren’t released as millions were marching for their lives. At least Roth found a perfect muse in Bruce Willis, whose trusty smirk communicates the director’s you-mad-bro? sensibilities better than words ever could. [A.A. Dowd]

15. The 15:17 To Paris

Photo: Warner Bros.

Likely to be remembered as the worst (and flat-out weirdest) movie of Clint Eastwood’s directing career, this docudrama about the American passengers who helped thwart the 2015 Thalys train attack rolls all of the octogenarian Hollywood icon’s laziest tendencies as both a filmmaker and a culture-wars crank into one formless package. The erstwhile Man With No Name’s hands-off, first-take approach pays off when he it comes to seasoned stars like Bradley Cooper or Tom Hanks, but it leaves The 15:17 To Paris’ trio of non-professional bros (all playing themselves) to poke around awkwardly in their own movie. The actual attack sequence is close to terrific; the rest of the movie looks unflatteringly like a cross between a vacation video (there’s scene where we watch the dudes eat gelato) and a faith-based cheapie that somehow landed Judy Greer and Tony Hale in supporting roles. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

14. Sicario: Day Of The Soldado

Photo: Sony

Part of Sicario’s disturbing power came from how it slowly marginalized its heroine, no-nonsense FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), to make a point about the futility of taking a moral stand during a conflict with no right sides, only wrong ones. Or that’s what it seemed to be doing. It’s hard to be sure after Day Of The Soldado, a macho War On Drugs potboiler from the same screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan. With Macer out of the picture, protagonist duties pass to Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), transformed from menacing figures of realpolitik corruption into prototypically conflicted cowboy antiheroes, doing a dirty job because someone has to do it. Soldado jettisons everything complex and troublingly ambiguous about its predecessor, offering only a piss-poor imitation of Denis Villeneuve’s sinister style, as well as some timely Trumpian fear-mongering involving bad hombres and suicide bombers flooding over the Mexican border. It’s the rare sequel so misjudged it leaves you wondering if the original was as good as you remember. [A.A. Dowd]

13. The Happy Prince

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Imagine that Ed Wood had dramatized only the last few years of its subject’s life, ignoring his filmmaking career—awful as it was—and focusing entirely on his downward slide into poverty and alcoholism. Or consider how tedious Man On The Moon would have been with its scope restricted to Andy Kaufman slowly dying of cancer. That’s the sort of inexplicable decision that Rupert Everett made with The Happy Prince, which he wrote and directed so that he could play Oscar Wilde in terminally ill disgrace. The movie, while empathetic, is one long, unilluminating bummer, deliberately ignoring everything about Wilde other than his post-prison status as a pariah. It’s the Great Man biopic minus all the Greatness—a bold approach that, as it turns out, nobody had attempted before because watching someone wither is a drag. [Mike D’Angelo]

12. Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare

Photo: Universal Pictures

The best horror movies take complicated ideas and bring them to skin-crawling life, splashing around in philosophical, political, or psychological waters while still finding time for the odd jump scare. Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare doesn’t lack potential in that area, filling its margarita glass to the brim with things like female friendship, personal responsibility, and the flawed notion that telling the truth is always the kindest and best thing to do. But the film does jack shit with any of it. The truth or dare curse that torments Olivia (Lucy Hale) and friends forces them all to take turns, leading to a round robin of increasingly extreme stunts that don’t manage to disguise the underlying hurry-up-and-wait nature of the material. Coupled with director Jeff Wadlow’s total disinterest in anything resembling recognizable human relationships, it renders downright languid a film in which a dude plunges a pen into his own eye and then rams the pen in deeper by head-butting a wall. The thing’s 100 minutes long but feels a lot longer. [Allison Shoemaker]

11. Mile 22

Photo: STX Entertainment

For anyone who’s ever suffered through director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg’s ripped-from-the-headlines thrillers Patriots Day and Deepwater Horizon, there’s something clarifying about watching Mile 22. Though it’s yet another paean to the “one good man” ideal—with Wahlberg playing the driven, rule-bending head of a shadowy CIA anti-terror squad—this time out Berg and his screenwriter Lea Carpenter aren’t tethered to any one particular true story. What they’ve come up with instead is an impressively stupefying compendium of two-fisted action movie clichés, cutting frenetically and often incomprehensibly among gun-toting super-spies, party-pooping bureaucrats, guilt-mongering family members, and wonks sitting in front of beeping computer screens. Mile 22 distills all of Berg and Wahlberg’s derivative creative impulses and reactionary politics into 94 terrible minutes, perhaps—one can only hope—to purge them from their systems, once and for all. [Noel Murray]

10. The Happytime Murders

Photo: STX Entertainment

The utility of The Happytime Murders was questionable in the first place, as there’s already a movie where puppets drink and fuck and do massive amounts of drugs, and it’s called Meet The Feebles. This one, however, comes from The Jim Henson Company proper—or, at least, its alternative division—which makes the lack of imagination all the more disappointing. It’s a “comedy” that operates on the principle that Muppets saying swear words is always funny, no matter how many times you do it, and the result is not only persistently dumb and overwhelmingly unfunny but repetitive as well. There might be something to the idea of making Muppet movies for adults, but this? This isn’t it. [Katie Rife]

9. The Darkest Minds

Photo: 20th Century Fox

What if X-Men took place mostly in parking lots and on backroads? That’s the scintillating question answered by The Darkest Minds, a botched cloning attempt by the X-Men’s own home studio. Crossing mutant-power persecution stories with color-coded YA group-hopping, this live-action debut from director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has none of the inventive energy seen in her animation work, and none of the personality, charisma, or gravity of the best X-Men pictures. It does, however, feature all of the clammy non-chemistry we’ve come to expect from YA adaptations, plus some unintentional lessons on the importance of directing actors beyond coaxing out reaction shots to unfinished special effects. Just watch the woeful performance Amandla Stenberg gives here followed by the nuanced and moving work she does in The Hate U Give and marvel at the difference. Better yet: Never watch The Darkest Minds at all. [Jesse Hassenger]

8. Mute

Photo: Netflix

An Amish bartender rendered silent by one of those boating accidents the Amish always seem to be getting themselves into. Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux sporting monumentally awful hairpieces as a pair of black-market surgeons named Cactus Bill and Duck, whose low-key homoerotic vibe may or may not allude to something more. A non-sequitur set piece featuring a well-hung sex-bot. On paper, Duncan Jones’ big swing for the sci-fi fences contains all the makings of the best kind of bad movie: a massively flawed work of intimately personal, mad-prophet ambition. What a betrayal, then, that this malfunctioning Blade Runner replicant can’t even work up the energy to be the right kind of incompetent. Between Alexander Skarsgård’s exhausting non-performance in the lead, a inert nonsense plot, and production design that looks at once labored-over and wholly undistinguished, there’s no zest to be savored in this failure. Watching the film feels like work. [Charles Bramesco]

7. The Outsider

Photo: Netflix

Netflix’s original movies sometimes seem to have been generated not so much by its fabled algorithm as via Mad Libs: A [foreign genre] story set in [time period] and starring [Oscar-winning actor]. Whatever the rationale, it resulted in something that few subscribers could have fervently desired: a yakuza story set in the 1950s and starring Jared Leto. The best one can say about The Outsider (directed by Danish filmmaker Martin Zandvliet, clearly out of his element) is that its tiresome white-savior narrative gets undermined by Leto’s fatally bland performance, allowing the Japanese supporting cast a few moments to shine between generic scheming and bouts of gruesome violence. In the future, Netflix and everybody else should considering taking this moldy approach to other cultures and shoving it up their [orifice]. [Mike D’Angelo]

6. Future World

Photo: Screenshot

Listen, taking Lucy Liu and Snoop Dogg and Milla Jovovich and Method Man out to the desert to play Mad Max sounds fun. No one is debating that. But why make the rest of us sit through it? Directed by the unfortunately prolific James Franco and his frequent collaborator Bruce Thierry Cheung, Future World has the feel of a post-apocalyptic-themed bachelor party captured on film—meaning, as is always the case when watching someone else’s home movies, this looks like it was a lot more interesting to make than it is to watch. Underbaked, unoriginal, and sloppily assembled, it’s less memorable than a hangover, and about as much fun. [Katie Rife]

5. Dark Crimes

Photo: Lionsgate

Dark Crimes is everything critics accused Hostel of being: a plodding, exploitative, pointless provocation that fetishizes misogynist violence and caricatures Eastern Europe as a grim, perpetually overcast hellhole where reading books composed primarily of explicit descriptions of sexualized femicide is apparently a mainstream pastime. Starring Jim Carrey in a performance completely drained of charisma and Charlotte Gainsbourg (who seriously needs to fire her agent) in yet another abused-woman role, Alexandros Avranas’ English-language debut botches the Scandinavian crime genre as badly as The Snowman did, with one damning difference: It’s not even funny. [Katie Rife]

4. Fifty Shades Freed

Photo: Universal Pictures

The posters for Fifty Shades Freed all trumpeted one deliciously on-the-nose tagline: “Don’t miss the climax.” Had the films in this trilogy contained half the knowing wink of those four words, it’s possible that they’d have offered a campy, so-bad-it’s-good kind of time. But “the climax” of the franchise turned out to be the worst of the bunch. Opening with a blandly opulent wedding that feeds into a montage of Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (the criminally underserved Dakota Johnson) scampering through sexy rich-person hideaways across Europe, the film wastes no time in demonstrating that the politics are still garbage, the story still borderline incomprehensible, and the sex unforgivably dull. There are flashes when the proceedings flirt with fun—Ana telling a sultry architect to get back into her “shit-colored car,” the cops borrowing handcuffs from the Red Room—but those moments only highlight the overly slick and deeply stupid nature of Fifty Shades Freed. At least Jamie Dornan got a musical number. [Allison Shoemaker]

3. Life Itself

Photo: Amazon Studios

“The ultimate unreliable narrator is life itself” is the kind of line that anyone past their teens should feel embarrassed to have written, and yet it is spoken over and over (sometimes with different wording) in Dan Fogelman’s misbegotten ensemble meta-melodrama. At once morbid and saccharine, the plot of Life Itself ties together two families in a history of conveniently timed tragedies, twists, and sacrifices that spans from the 1980s to around the 2070s or ’80s. (But, y’know, without any of that icky sci-fi stuff.) What any of this has to do with unreliable narration is anyone’s guess, though a subplot about one character’s graduate thesis in comparative lit (thrilling!) suggests that Fogelman has never read a book. The This Is Us creator’s grasp of human life and behavior is similarly questionable. Perhaps it’s because the whole thing feels so phony that the monumentally overqualified cast escapes unscathed. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

2. The Death Of A Nation

Photo: Quality Flix

There’s exactly one halfway-reasonable point in Dinesh D’Souza’s latest breathlessly dishonest, ineptly assembled “documentary,” and it’s that there’s probably not much to be gained politically in openly insulting every person who voted for Donald Trump. The irony is that the director’s whole rhetorical approach is an insult to the collective intelligence of that same demographic, because his “evidence”—bald-faced lies, impossible leaps in logic, blatant historical distortions—doesn’t hold up to a second of scrutiny. Adopting the Joseph Goebbels strategy of accusing the other side of that which his side is guilty, D’Souza sets out to prove that, nuh-uh, the Democrats are the real fascists. But because that’s a hard position to argue, even speciously, The Death Of A Nation relies heavily on the supposed emotional appeal of its interminable reenactments, with the Holocaust now joining slavery on the list of atrocities this post-truth fraud has tastelessly dramatized as Z-grade kitsch. Speaking of insults, can we retire “convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza” already? His time in prison is much less embarrassing than any given line on his resume. [A.A. Dowd]

1. Gotti

Photo: Screenshot

Much like the Dapper Don himself, this execrable mob biopic makes no bones about being bad. We’re talking about a movie that opens with John Travolta turning to the camera in the oh-I-didn’t-see-you-there style of an old Christmas special to declare: “Let me tell you somethin’: New York is the greatest fuckin’ city in the world.” But bad-movie aficionados who might be enticed by this unintentional Walk Hard of the gangster genre and its embarrassment of clichés and crimes against music clearance (you’ll never hear “West End Girls” the same way) be forewarned: Gotti is an endurance test. Directed by Kevin Connolly (a.k.a. E from Entourage), the film turns the rise and fall of the self-aggrandizing Gambino crime boss John Gotti into a bumbling procession of incompetent and generic courtroom, backroom, and prison scenes, with the occasional violent misdeed ripped straight from a true-crime TV reenactment—all the while presuming that what viewers really care about is “Junior” Gotti (Spencer Lofranco), the mobster’s inexplicably ageless son. Since the 1930s, movies have been accused of glamorizing and glorifying organized crime. Gotti makes it look tedious. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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