The 15 Worst Movies of 2015 | The Year Comedy Died
The sheer volume of movies that come out every year is overwhelming, and it’s impossible for everybody to see them all and still do little things like sleep, eat, go to work and relieve ourselves. Which is why some critics avoid bad movies if they can help it; i.e. life’s too short. But I have never been one of those critics. I seek out the so-called “worst movies of the year” because ignoring them doesn’t do anybody any good. Even though watching them often hurts me like no one’s business.
I operate under the assumption that there is a difference (but often an overlap) between films that are “bad” and films that are merely “inept.” It is entirely impossible to enjoy an inept movie, even on its own merits. And it is entirely possible that a movie made proficiently is still not worth watching. Movies that are so bad you want to laugh at them aren’t the worst movies of the year, because they are always in competition with movies that make you want to stab your eyes out with a straw. THOSE are the worst movies of the year.
And this year, a lot of the worst movies were comedies. I don’t know why that is. It wasn’t a completely barren wasteland for yucks in 2015 – What We Do in the Shadows, The Big Short, Sleeping with Other People and Shaun the Sheep Movie were all very funny – but the mainstream, live-action comedies failed us with alarming consistency. Even the better ones (Spy, Trainwreck, The Night Before) were merely okay, overlong time wasters. The others were downright painful misery slogs of cruelty. I’ve argued before that “torture porn” is a phrase that applies more to films like Vacation and Get Hard than to anything Eli Roth has ever produced, and I stand by that now.
So the worst movies of 2015 are, sadly, overloaded with films that were supposed to make us laugh, but instead made us weep. There were also a few Oscar bait dramas that missed the point completely, some terribly conceived blockbusters (some of which made quite a lot of money) and some low-budget horror films that deserve to go down as cautionary tales for future filmmakers.
I hope you enjoy this list, because I did NOT enjoy researching it.
Yes, it is possible to screw up Shakespeare. Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of “The Scottish Play” is stylishly shot to a downright annoying degree, in an apparent bid to distract from the fact that no one – except for Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth (who’s actually rather good) – seems to know exactly what the words coming out of their mouths mean. The Bard’s words, words, words are all pushed out of everybody’s lungs with the same inflection, usually depression, in an apparent attempt to devolve an already emotional story into a straight-up cry for help.
This is PTSD Shakespeare, and that doesn’t make this timeless saga of regicide any more interesting, or any more meaningful. It just makes Macbeth seem downright tedious. And making Shakespeare tedious is hard to do, and it’s worthy of criticism.
14. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
After the well-intentioned but intensely dumb Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, this once mighty horror franchise tried to return to its roots. One way they did that was by reverting the focus once again to bland, bourgeois white folks. The other way was by actually watching the earlier, better sequels in the middle of this movie, as if the greatness of the third installment would somehow rub off by proximity.
It didn’t work. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is a grossly predictable found-footage horror film, to the extent that every “boo” scare can be counted off on the threes (1-2-3-boo!). What’s more, the 3-D gimmick and the revelation of who the demonic presence “Toby” really was more or less ruins the previous Paranormal Activity films in retrospect. We’ll talk a little bit more about that topic once we get to #11.
Aloha isn’t Cameron Crowe’s worst movie (the all-capital-letters MAUDLIN misfire Elizabethtown still holds that title), but it’s easily his least focused. It’s a middle-aged weepy about a guy who returns to Hawaii to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, sleep with a woman too young for him (Emma Stone, playing a native Hawaiian, it’s as offensive as it sounds), and connect with ancient gods and blow up a nuclear satellite using the power of 1970s rock.
Yeah, I don’t know either. Nobody does. There’s a lot of sincere performances in Aloha, but what they are in service of is beyond conventional comprehension. I suppose we should be thankful that Cameron Crowe went out on a limb and tried something so different that it’s downright difficult to quantify, but you’ll be so busy trying to solve that puzzle that you never once get invested in the actual film. And a film this emotionally broad clearly was clearly supposed to elicit your empathy. Aloha is a failed experiment at best, an outright failure at worst. Either way, or even in the middle, it’s a bad movie.
12. Area 51 and The Vatican Tapes – Tie
Here’s a serious question: is it worth sitting through an outright terrible movie just to get to a pretty cool ending? That’s what happened in both Oren Peli’s long-shelved, finally released sci-fi horror film Area 51, and in Mark Neveldine’s antichrist drama The Vatican Tapes. Both films stick us with barely existent characters who twiddle their thumbs for over an hour, supposedly building suspense but actually just wasting their time and ours. There’s no reason to care about these people and nothing they do is particularly interesting. It’s just lousy storytelling for 2/3’s of each film.
But to their credit, Area 51 concludes with a very trippy trip into (you guessed it) Area 51 and The Vatican Tapes does manage to toss one or two new ideas into the tried-and-true exorcism formula, right at the end. Neither film’s climax is a game changer, but there is a chance – however slim – that if you watched either whole film and actually got to the ending (no small feat), that ending might be good enough that you would be willing to forgive the rest of the whole rotten thing.
You get to decide if that’s worth it, and I do too. And I say they both still stink.
11. Terminator Genisys and SPECTRE – Tie
There is a frustrating paradox in blockbuster entertainment, in which downright awful movies can sometimes get a pass just because somebody – usually the second unit crew and/or the visual effects teams – did their jobs. Some audiences are willing to forgive terrible writing, drowsy acting, awful concepts and just about anything else so long as the explosions are explode enough and the robots are roboty enough.
But Terminator Genisys and SPECTRE pushed those very forgiving boundaries this year, when they not only featured cast members who clearly couldn’t care less, in stories that couldn’t feel more ripped off, but also rested entirely on concepts that actively made the earlier, better films in the Terminator and James Bond series worse. Skyfall and Casino Royale are both dumber because SPECTRE‘s lousy, tacked on, nostalgia-driven villain was now behind them. And Terminator and Terminator 2 no longer even exist.
They were just bland action movies before, but as both Terminator Genisys and SPECTRE unfolded, the time stream got rewritten, and our love for their franchises withered and died retroactively. These are negative movies. They unmake goodness.
10. Get Hard
White man is about to go to prison, white man fears man-rape, white man assumes all black men are ex-convicts, white man hires the first black man he sees to teach him how to avoid man-rape. A movie like Get Hard was probably destined to wind up on a lot of “Worst Movies of 2015” lists from the moment it was conceived. It’s so embarrassingly backward you can’t even believe it was made. Heck, calling Get Hard offensive may be the most unnecessary use of an adjective this year.
But did it have to be so bad? The sheer profanity of the concept is a potential jumping off point for genuine bawdiness and even – dare we ask? – cultural commentary. Instead, Etan Cohen’s film merely embraces every gross cliché to the point that poor Kevin Hart actually appears to be eyeballing the exits in a lot of the scenes.
And even that wasn’t as punishingly unfunny as…
9. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
The original Paul Blart was, if not a “good” film, at least a harmless one. It posited that a guy whom everybody else viewed as a walking joke had the potential for greatness. At the end of the film, greatness is pleasantly achieved. He earns his respect, and he finds love. And at the beginning of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 those two things are ripped cruelly from his fingers, sending our title hero spiraling into mean-spirited self-hatred and an ongoing, ugly sabotage of his likable daughter’s future. We come to hate this man who, the original film told us, was worthy of our love.
In truth, everyone is worthy of more than Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. This film wallows in the degradation of its hero, to the point that when high-tech thieves finally kidnap his kid nearly halfway through the film, we no longer care if Blart saves her. And we sure as hell ain’t laughing. Good nature became ill will at some point between these two features, and that ill will infects us in the audience. We wish this movie the pain it inflicts upon us, and that arguably makes us just as wicked.
And even that wasn’t as groin-twistingly unfunny as…
There was a time, perhaps, when the many misadventures of the Griswold Family were funny. Their frequent trips and even their stay-at-home Christmas vacation, riddled as they were with wacky incident, seemed genuine. They elicited laughs aplenty as their’ dreams of idyllic Americana were stymied at every turn. But this new film, written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, transforms that pleasure into something more akin to terror.
This new Vacation, about the latest attempt by the youngest male Griswold to realize his simple fantasy of a wholesome family outing, set against the backdrop of this country as a whole, is a tragedy on every level. It is a saga of punishment inflicted upon anybody who dares to dream. If you think you can find happiness, you will fail, you will puke, you will bathe in feces and people might die. And if you think you can laugh at this family road trip comedy… well, pretty much the same. The movie features wall-to-wall jokes. I laughed twice.
And even THAT was more funny than…
7. The Ridiculous 6
Adam Sandler came incredibly close to not having a single film on the “worst movies of 2015” list. The Cobbler was baffling but not truly terrible, and Pixels was inane but merely forgettable. Then his first straight-to-Netflix feature came out, right at the end of the year, and it hurt in all the ways. It’s a poop-shooting cavalry charge of freewheeling racism and casual misogyny, which mocks the mentally challenged and pretends it’s all good-natured ribbing. If this type of humor spewed forth from your social circles, you would be wise to leave town and start anew somewhere, anywhere else.
It’s a western, and it wasn’t a cheap one. It looks like a real movie, it has real sets, and remarkably decent actors show up to humiliate themselves by putting poopy penis fingers in their mouths. Ironically, it’s the sort of lowest common denominator humor that probably belongs in the straight-to-video market, where standards are lower and gross, immature comedies can usually fly under the radar. But Netflix wants to be taken seriously as a film distributor, and that means we have to take their films seriously. And The Ridiculous 6 is seriously an execrable movie.
And even THAT wasn’t as unforgivably unfunny as… the film that wound up in the #2 spot. For now, let’s move on to an awful drama instead…
Roland Emmerich is not a subtle a director, I think we can all agree on that. But aliens blowing up The White House had more subtlety than Stonewall, a supposedly classy historical drama about the 1969 riot that had a lasting impact on the gay rights movement. Emmerich’s film has been produced with all the glossy sheen and flouncy characterization of an Off-Broadway play… the kind that closes after one night. Fakeness abounds as a comical Middle American archetype fulfills every cliché that Emmerich can find, and learns about gayness from every gay archetype that Emmerich can find, and proceeds to become an important figure in the gay rights movement (but only to spite his philandering boyfriend).
And to be clear, the protagonist of Stonewall didn’t exist. He was put in this film to be a surrogate for homophobic audience members who, probably by their very nature, would probably never see Stonewall. The film relies on absolute pointlessness to tell make a very important point about where we’ve been and where we’re going. It is a fallacy in filmic form, and astoundingly hackneyed from the first frame onward.
5. Fantastic Four
Do you remember that first part of Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne acts completely out of character because eventually he’s going to grow out of it? The part where Batman isn’t mentioned for about 40 minutes, and it’s just training and training and training? Fantastic Four is that part of Batman Begins, stretched out to the length of a feature film. 20th Century Fox tried to build a franchise by spending years making one film that turned out to be nothing more than a promise that, in a sequel, maybe, a few more years down the road, they might make an actual Fantastic Four movie.
“Dissatisfying” doesn’t even begin to describe this, but “rip-off” would be a very good start. Fantastic Four barely qualifies as a film. It’s the world’s most expensive teaser.
4. Taken 3
The original Taken was masterfully made, but also a shameless piece of divorced dad propaganda. Liam Neeson played a man who prioritized his job over his family, lost his family, and proceeds to get them back when – surprise! – that job becomes necessary to preserve the family unit. His priorities were right all along, and all it took was a violent kidnapping for the rest of his family to see the light. Pretty extreme perhaps, but I guess divorced dads deserve movies just like the rest of us.
Taken 3, directed by Oliver Megaton, twists that fantasy until it tears. The dream of winning your family back has been warped into a punishment scenario in which Neeson’s wife dies and her new husband is responsible. What, exactly, are audiences supposed to get out of that? That that’s what ex-wives get for being ex-wives? And how, exactly, are we supposed to tell what’s even going on when it’s edited into choppy nothingness and the plot makes no sense whatsoever? The whole thing could have been precluded by Liam Neeson taking an hour to answer the police department’s questions. Why not just DO that?
Incomprehensible and just plain mean. I’ll say it again: Taken 3 makes Taken 2 look like Taken.
3. The Loft
I’m trying to think of another film that seems to actively hate women as much as The Loft, and I’m coming up short. Erik Van Looy’s remake of a thriller by Erik Van Looy stars some otherwise very good male actors as bros who share a posh apartment, which they all use to cheat on their wives whenever they want. When one of their sexual conquests turns up dead the apartment, they all decide that what really matters is that their wives don’t find out.
There’s a real story there, about the dangers of selfishness and objectification, but that doesn’t get told because The Loft relies entirely on the audience sympathizing with all that selfishness, and the movie constantly objectifies. The women in the film are either in the men’s way, simply by being wives, or untrustworthy temptresses, or sex toys. And the plot is implausible and it’s shot badly and the ending doesn’t make sense, all of that too, but it’s The Loft‘s attitude that leaves the ugliest scar on the audience. It’s a film that only the characters in a Neil LaBute movie could sympathize with. Don’t let that be you.
2. Hot Pursuit
Hot Pursuit is the opposite of funny. Humor is supposed to improve your day, lighten your mood or at least distract you from your troubles. But this frenzied road trip comedy will make you long for a tax audit. At least then there’d be some reason for you to have to pay attention for a couple of hours.
The plot is about how Reese Witherspoon is socially awkward because all she knows is police work, but also how she knows nothing about police work. She has to drag a cruel diva across the state so she can testify against a mob boss. Of course, men are trying to kill them, but don’t worry: all these women have to do is explain what menstruation is (as if 30-something men would have no idea whatsoever) and the bad guys let them go.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone thought this was funny. The heroines are too vile to each other for Hot Pursuit to ever feel empowering, and the plot makes no sense whatsoever, so it’s not like this was a story that had to be told. Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon are better actresses than this. Director Anne Fletcher is a better director than this. The world is better than this. I hated my life while I was watching this movie.
1. The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence)
But I hated everything while I was watching THIS movie. The latest film in Tom Six’s grotesque The Human Centipede series is exactly the unrepentant, torturous geek show that the other films – whether you liked them or not (and I didn’t dislike them) – refused to become. The Human Centipede 3 is non-stop yelling, hatred, violence, sexual abuse, feces and mutilation. And what’s worse is that Six, who hasn’t exactly demonstrated much of a sense of humor by this point, frames it all as a broad comedy.
Somehow, that’s actually an even more unpleasant approach to the “shared digestive tract” genre. At least the first two Human Centipedes acknowledged that the concept was horrific. By the third film it seems as though Six thinks we’re all desensitized to the vomit-inducing concept, and that pushing the boundaries even further would be a cathartic chuckle all of us. It’s not. It’s like being trapped in a jail cell with a serial killer who screams jokes in your face about all the people he’s murdered. If this is an attempt to lighten the mood, boy did it fail.
It’s been argued that calling The Human Centipede 3 “the worst movie of the year” is playing into the movie’s hands, but I don’t think that’s the case. Turning this franchise into broad satire is a hand across the aisle to everyone who didn’t take the other movies seriously, and I honestly don’t think Six realized that his hand had a live grenade in it. This movie is nearly impossible to watch, and if I didn’t literally have to watch it as part of my job, I would have turned it off less than 30 minutes in.
I NEVER TURN MOVIES OFF. I commit to giving every movie a chance. The Human Centipede 3 is so bad it nearly compromised what I stand for as a film critic. If that’s not the worst film of the year, I don’t know what is.
Fifty Shades of Grey is bad, bad, bad, and if you are at all into healthy BDSM sexual practices, it probably qualifies as slander. But it’s so overwrought and tawdry and dumb that it’s enjoyable to watch its badness unfold. And that’s not bad enough to make the list this year.
Tom McCarthy’s tonally erratic superhero comedy The Cobbler never quite figures out what it wants to be: sweet, disturbing, wholesome or dark. At one point Adam Sandler “hilariously” almost rapes someone. But its awfulness is more puzzling than anything else, and trying to figure out how it came to exist in the first place was almost – almost – enjoyable.
For all the impressive action, charismatic performances and cool ideas in Kingsman: The Secret Service, you just can’t shake the inherent meanness of Matthew Vaughn’s spy thriller. It takes too much glee in slaughtering the ignorant to seem smart.
Eli Roth’s home invasion erotic thriller Knock Knock wants to guilt you out of watching porn, or having any fantasies whatsoever about anyone other than your wife. And that would have been fine if the movie didn’t bank entirely on how hot it is to do those things, or if we didn’t live in the 21st century.
Adam Sandler’s other bad movie this year, Pixels, isn’t even all THAT bad. The live-action Pac-Man sequence is even kinda nifty. But it’s still generic and dumb and it treats women, literally, like trophies. Grow up, Sandler.
It’s okay if everyone else in California dies, so long as Dwayne Johnson’s lifeless marriage and boring kids survive in the narrowly focused San Andreas. If any film this year could have benefited from being even sillier, it was this one.
A decent backdrop for a supernatural thriller – an isolated house full of World War II orphans, where everyone has ghosts of their own – is totally wasted in The Woman in Black 2 Angel of Death. This stupidly-titled sequel is so dark, literally dark, that you can’t even see what’s going on. But you’re pretty sure you don’t want to.
Top Photo: Columbia Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.