For those just tuning in, I don’t do “Worst of” lists. This year, I didn’t waste my time on the likes of Ghosted, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, Heart of Stone, Love Again, or Children of the Corn (2023). As a general rule, I try not to waste my time on movies that I know are going to be awful. For anything to get my attention, there has to be some kind of potential that it will turn out to be worthwhile or at least underrated.
This is a list of the movies that wasted such potential. For reference, I group such 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 fell short 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.
Worst Benign Disappointment
This is always the most painful one to judge. I get why Beau is Afraid and Asteroid City have their respective fans, even if those movies were practically works of self-parody by their respective auteurs. Conversely, charming as Bottoms is, it didn’t go nearly over-the-top enough in its efforts at being an outlandish teen action/comedy in the vein of Detention, Anna and the Apocalypse, or even Tragedy Girls.
Air was quite overhyped in hindsight, a serviceable boilerplate historical drama with no staying power whatsoever. I expect The Boys in the Boat will meet a similar fate, more’s the pity. The Color Purple had more personality than those other two, but the screenplay was fundamentally broken in too many ways to ignore.
Yet no cinematic disappointment this year broke my heart like Peter Pan & Wendy. I get why this movie has its defenders, in large part because this movie had an amazing cast, a remarkable director, everything it could’ve possibly needed. I get the choices that were made in adaptation, and they’re all incredible on paper. But none of them worked in execution. I’m genuinely, deeply sorry that so much innovation and passion and talent went into this failed experiment.
Asteroid City gets another honorable mention here, nowhere near as profound or brilliant as the film seems to think it is. I could say the same for the misguided and tin-eared Dream Scenario or the unwatchably pretentious Showing Up. We’ve also got Maestro, a film more interested in boosting the respective egos of Leonard Bernstein and Bradley Cooper, as opposed to telling any kind of story. And of course we can’t forget Ferrari — little wonder the script was so lifeless and outdated when Brock Yates passed away in 2016 and his co-writer Troy Kennedy Martin died in 2009!
But the clear winner here is the pointless and plodding Napoleon. The white-hot actors were miscast, the once-great director lost himself up his own ass, the fascinating life story of a central historical figure was made a meandering bore, and all we got was an overlong and overpriced commercial for the four-hour director’s cut on Apple+.
Most Disappointing Horror (standalone)
Yes, The Blackening was an imbalanced horror/comedy that couldn’t settle on a consistent tone or a coherent theme. Yes, It’s a Wonderful Knife was a cute little LGBTQ+ slasher with miscast actors and too much emphasis on drama over horror. But come on. If you’ve been reading my blog at all this year, you already know what’s coming.
“Disappointment” is nowhere near a strong enough word to describe my experience with Skinamarink. As hyped as this movie was, no moviegoing experience this year left me so frustrated, so bored, so angry as this one. Gun to my head, if I had to choose between another 100 minutes of this movie and three solid days of 24/7 torture, I’d choose “pull the trigger”. I don’t even care that this movie has its fanbase because I don’t want to know what kind of drugs it would take to make this movie palatable. I don’t even want to know what the filmmakers were thinking when they made this, or how anyone could possibly find this remotely scary. FUCK THIS MOVIE.
And if you’re keeping score, yes, this means that Skinamarink is in fact not my choice for the year’s worst disappointment. Stay tuned.
Most Disappointing Horror (franchise)
As with The Blackening, Haunted Mansion (2023) is another black-driven horror/comedy that failed to effectively balance its tone, its themes, or its ensemble cast. I’m putting Insidious: The Red Door in here as well — while that movie did effectively succeed at delivering more of the same we’ve come to expect from this series, it did not succeed at making a case as to why this franchise should continue in any capacity.
But instead, I’m giving this one to Thanksgiving (2023). Hear me out.
I know Thanksgiving (2023) got plenty of due praise as a holiday-themed horror. Not to disagree that it’s a perfectly serviceable slasher film, but it sure as hell ain’t this. We were promised a schlocky retro throwback with gratuitous nudity and over-the-top kills. Nearly 20 years later, none of that was anywhere in the finished movie. The parade, the trampoline kill, and the cannibalistic roast may have all technically made it into the final product, but all of it was watered down with the guilty pleasures sanded off.
The movie we eventually got was okay, but it was nowhere the comically outrageous shockfest that fans had been clamoring to see for all these years. And it’s not like Grindhouse faithful ever had it easy to begin with. The film overpromised and underdelivered so much, I have to consider it a colossal disappointment.
Most Disappointing Blockbuster
No shortage of candidates to choose from here. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts squandered the “Beast Wars” tie-in and decisively proved that the live-action Transformers well has run dry, but at least it was only middling and forgettable instead of outright bad. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was one of the year’s most costly flops, but it only had to end the franchise on a note that wasn’t Crystal Skull and did indeed accomplish that much.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has been getting thoroughly roasted as one of the year’s worst films, but the movie did explore the Microverse and establish a new heroine with Kathryn Newton’s Cassie Lang, in addition to introducing Jonathan Majors’ Kang as a worthy overarching villain. (Sure, that casting was a misstep, but we didn’t find that out until months later.) For better or worse, Marvel did exactly what they said they were going to do with that picture. Compare that to Shazam: Fury of the Gods, a pathetically inferior sequel that trashed all the goodwill of its prequel. But we knew at the time of release that the DCEU was a lame duck, so who gives a shit?
Then we have Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire, an outright pathetic waste of talent and ambition. Of all the many times when Netflix has tried to produce an original mainstream tentpole blockbuster franchise, this was their biggest and hardest failure yet. An ugly, uninspired, anti-fun slog built from all the wrong lessons about what made “Star Wars” what it is. Zack Snyder and all the Netflix execs staked so much of their future on this franchise, they had damn well better hope the rest of it somehow turns out better than this. But I seriously doubt it.
Most Disappointing Action
I’m putting Renfield here, because the “organized crime” subplot was by far the least interesting aspect of this movie. Yes, the fight sequences were pretty sweet, but they distracted from the character drama and the toxic relationship messaging that set the film apart.
Though at least that movie had something to set itself apart. Compare that to Plane and Silent Night, both of which amounted to little more than boilerplate schlock. That said, I’ll grant that Plane was clearly made and marketed to be disposable pablum — Silent Night failed terribly in its loftier ambitions, with more egregious casual racism thrown into the bargain.
Even so, I’m giving this one to 65, which somehow took the premise of “Adam Driver as a sci-fi soldier versus dinosaurs” and made it insufferably boring. It’s unintentionally hilarious how pathetically misguided this whole thing was. Predictable, stupid, and incompetent in every last regard. A film so pathetically wrong-headed that the filmmakers wanted to keep the dinosaurs a secret. They wanted to market a film titled “65” without disclosing that it takes place 65 million years ago. With the knowledge that not even Adam Driver’s most devoted fans would show up if they didn’t know what he was fighting against. What the ever-loving fuck.
Most Disappointing Family Picture
Oh, what a roster of heartbreak we have here. At least Flamin’ Hot was well-intentioned, with no greater sin than being forgettably boilerplate. Elemental is likewise well-intentioned and I respect it as an immigrant story, but I can’t get over the broken plot and the godawful world-building. Still, it fared better than the rock-stupid, uninspired, self-defeating failure that was Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken.
We Have a Ghost was a sweet movie bursting with potential, but it was woefully miscast and the movie couldn’t outgrow its ’80s-era inspirations. The Little Mermaid (2023) was a worthless act of hubris, a waste of time and money even by the standards of this whole creatively bankrupt “live-action remake” era.
But all of this pales in comparison with Wish. A limp, lifeless, obnoxious, uninspired, half-baked affair that had tried to imitate Frozen with only one-third the talent and none of the luck. Between the flat characters, the boring story, the wretched songs, the ill-conceived animation style, the pathetically thin world-building, and the masturbatory Disney references, it’s a Herculean task to try and find anything about this movie that went right. In short, the film is a perfect exclamation point at the end of Disney’s historically bad year, the first since 2015 when Disney was not the year’s highest-grossing studio. They lost to freaking Universal. Oh, and the face of their company was dragged kicking and screaming into the public domain when 2023 ended.
Disney’s landmark centennial turned out to be their worst year since Walt died. Twelve solid months as a massive fucking LOLcow. Oh, and speaking of Hollywood LOLcows…
Most Malicious Disappointment
In August 2022, Warner Bros. Discovery made the unprecedented move of writing off a number of near-completed projects — most notably Batgirl — for tax credits. In January 2023, Peter Safran (the incoming co-CEO of DC Studios who isn’t famous) insisted that Batgirl was awful beyond salvaging.
“That film was not releasable. I actually think that [president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery David] Zaslav and the team made a very bold and courageous decision to cancel it because it would have hurt DC. It would have hurt those people involved.”Peter Safran
The entire WBD C-suite spent a solid year trying to convince us that Batgirl — the movie they’re legally forbidden from showing anyone — would’ve done irreparable harm to the DC brand and to WBD as a whole. And then The Flash happened.
They had this movie in the works for nearly a decade. They knew the Snyderverse era was collapsing. They knew the lead actor was such a liability that they couldn’t even promote the movie due to their ongoing legal difficulties and mental instability. They spent a reported $200 million on this before the cost of promoting and delaying the movie all through the COVID pandemic.
All those delays. All that time and money and manpower. All those script revisions. All the writers and directors who came and went through this project. All for a slapdash trainwreck of a movie whose primary accomplishment is serving as one of the most humiliating and expensive box office bombs in history.
The film did at least kill Ezra Miller’s career dead for good and all, so there’s that silver lining. And we do have the satisfaction of knowing that the upcoming DC Studios rebooted continuity will have nothing to do with this disaster. But we can never forget that DC Studios is under the leadership of Peter Safran and James Gunn. The same Peter Safran who said that Batgirl was unforgivably awful, and the same James Gunn who said The Flash — this laughingstock of the industry, the box office bomb whose losses singlehandedly neutralized the world-conquering box office take of Barbie, the movie that most perfectly encapsulates every last reason why the WGA and SAG-AFTRA went on strike — goddamn motherfucking The Flash was “fucking amazing. Like, truly, it’s one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen.“
Remember this, folks. Remember those statements moving forward, because for all the good Safran and Gunn have done, we as a collective whole need to call their honesty and good taste into question if they — or their bosses at WBD — thought any movie was worth killing so The Flash could live.
Everyone at WBD moved Heaven and Earth to keep The Flash alive, through all the many possible excuses and opportunities to pull the plug, and this is the unwatchable end product we got. This is everything people hate about big-budget Hollywood movies. This is everything wrong with the system as it currently exists. This is a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions that will shape the industry for years to come. It’s not just the Malicious Disappointment of the year, this could be the Malicious Disappointment of the decade, or even the century!
Anyway, stay tuned for the Wild Rides list coming up.