It’s no secret that 2016 was a disappointing year for large-scale blockbuster entertainments. While all of the usual superhero tentpoles made piles upon piles of money (sadly encouraging the proliferation of faltering series), reactions from critics, audiences, and fanboys alike was largely negative. In a Hollywood climate that is only interested in long-running assembly-line effects bonanzas, it was only a matter of time before we ran into a concentration of mediocrity this pronounced. As the number of these types of films increases, however, we run the risk of dark spots more frequently.
Even the halfway-decent blockbusters (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond) flagged terribly at the box office, and received only mild enthusiasm from fans. Others managed to please only their core audience, but were failures as cinematic outings (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). And one middling film in particular managed to instigate awful conversations that humanity should have evolved past by now (Ghostbusters).
And others still were so bad as to be dull slogs of awfulness, morally reprehensible, dizzyingly overpacked, or just plain incompetent. Welcome, dear reader, to the true pain of the film critic. The worst films of 2016 are as follows.
Honorable Mention: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the world by storm last year, it could be understood why Disney, the new masterminds behind the global marketing blitz, elected to play it safe, and tell a Star Wars story that was very, very similar to that of the 1977 original. Its narrative banality, if it even bothered you, could be forgiven. However, with the intense fan service of Rogue One, and its own display of shockingly uninspired non-expansion, one has to come to the sad realization that Disney has no intention whatsoever of expanding or exploring Star Wars any further than the things that are already deeply familiar. In a universe rife with possibility, the series is content to gaze at its own navel. It’s not a badly made film by any means, but its waste of opportunity is palpable.
The most obnoxious thing about the 15-year-long wave of high-profile Hollywood remakes is their conceited attempt to insert themselves, regardless of quality, into any conversation begun about their original counterparts; one cannot bring up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre anymore without having to mention the 2003 remake as a qualifier. This is particularly annoying with a film like Ben-Hur, the sixth full-length screen production to be based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, but clearly a spiritual successor to the ultra-famous 1959 rendition with Charlton Heston. This clunky, sexy, action-ready new version was not only forgettable and wrong-headed, but also wasted a good deal of money, losing millions at the box office. It was a bad idea from the start.
9. Independence Day: Resurgence
20th Century Fox
Was anyone aching for this one? Roland Emmerich goes to such extremes with this unasked-for sequel that he stoops to self-parody, giving us a clunky supra-action thriller with no thrills, dumb humor, and embarrassing nostalgia. Embarrassing nostalgia is nothing new to the world, but it’s reaching a terrible point.
8. The 5th Wave/The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Not I, nor any of my critical peers, realized entering The 5th Wave that it was based on a series of YA dystopian novels. As such, we were all blindsided by an aggressive wave of now-familiar tropes that we never liked to begin with: The “chosen one” story. The young ordinary girl who is torn between two impossibly hunky guys. And, most distressingly, and the thing it shares with Allegiant, the aggressive militarization of teenhood. Both of these films offer catharsis to its young audiences by telling them that violence, military might, and murder are the best options to succor their angst. This is an irresponsible thing to say out loud.
7. London Has Fallen
It may be amusingly bad, but it’s still very, very bad. In London Has Fallen, Gerard Butler drops all pretense of playing an American, boldly using his own Scottish accent to play a shirtless super-soldier who single-handedly takes down an army of would-be terrorists who seek to assassinate multiple world leaders at once. The patriotic jingoism on display is not something I have encountered since the glory days of Rambo III, only the action this time is muddy, unclear, and not exciting to watch.
6. Suicide Squad
The third film in a planned universe of superheroes based on DC comics, Suicide Squad takes a simple premise – The Dirty Dozen with superpowered comic book characters – and turns it into the most blandly artificial, most obviously studio-driven commercial product of the year. Warner Bros. famously hired the same company that cut the film’s trailer to turn in a final cut of the film itself, and the quick, every-scene-is-a-climax tone of the film resembles not so much a feature as a two-hour TV spot. At least we had charismatic actors like Will Smith and Margot Robbie keeping things afloat. And I actually liked this film’s rendition of The Joker.
5. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Given the horrid controversy around this film, you would think it was running for president. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the second film in the aforementioned DC series, is overlong (the director’s cut is three full hours!), tonally out-of-whack, and provides a field day for audience members who like to nitpick plot details. Nothing falls together, even in the longer version, and the characters are all equally gloomy, making it impossible to like any of them. Whoever wins, we lose.
But worse than the film itself was the bullying that took place in connection to it. Only this film and Ghostbusters unleashed so much hate. People talked about boycotting critics, and there were constantly calls of foul play from angry fans who insisted that critics were lying. It highlighted the depths to which online discourse has sank.
4. Hardcore Henry
Not so much a film as a gimmicky theme park attraction, Hardcore Henry was filmed by strapping GoPro cameras to the heads of stuntmen and having them perform some pretty spectacular stunts. I don’t object to the constant stuntwork, nor the level of extreme violence (someone gets their hand torn in half lengthwise!), but I do object to the tone. The silent video game protagonist seems to have only initiative to do dumb violence, but we never hear how he feels about that. Throw in a few heaping fistfuls of honest-to-goodness misogyny (the woman is a betraying bitch! Let’s murder her!), and you have a dizzying, toxic experience.
3. The Brothers Grimsby
There are only so many ways to say something isn’t funny, so I’ll just say it: The Brothers Grimsby isn’t funny. Not for a second. It relies heavily on dick humor, and there’s a scene where the two main characters – played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong – have to hide inside the vagina of an elephant to avoid detection. If that made you chuckle, then don’t let me stop you from seeing this disgusting, unfunny mess.
The ugliest and most boring of 2016’s failed blockbusters, Warcraft, based on a popular series of video games, is generic fantasy 101, but pushed through an ultra-digitized CGI filter, ensuring that the visuals are grating and difficult to watch for extended periods. This is a film that presents its unending fusillade of silly crap with a dull earnestness, convinced that what it’s saying is something other than a distant, weak echo of myriad other fantasy films. Thanks to international box office, it wasn’t the bomb it was purported to be. But it certainly wasn’t the hit anyone wanted it to be. And it certainly wasn’t any fun to watch.
1. Jason Bourne
Have you ever seen a film so bad that it made you hate an entire genre? Jason Bourne, the fifth film in this series, is so perfunctory, so bland, so unbelievably flat, that it shines a light on just how dumb, useless, and banal every single trope of every single action film is. Is this why we constantly come back to action movies? To see the same old crap repeated each time? The same shootouts? The same chases? The same stock badasses? The same conspiracies? The same fistfights? Isn’t there some other way to thrill us? Jason Bourne doesn’t care, and its indifference toward original thought is so pronounced, it may undo all of action for years to come.
Top Image: Legendary Pictures
Witney Seibold is a longtime contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and the co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon. He also contributes to Legion of Leia and to Blumhouse. You can follow him on “The Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.