The Room (2003)
Let's start out with something most of you have seen yourselves so we know we're all working off the same page. As you may have seen for yourself or heard from one of your obsessed friends, director Tommy Wiseau's The Room is a slow-burning fever dream about...well, we're not so sure actually. Technically, it's a romantic drama. But, as characters flit in and out of existence, sets nearly fall apart, and scenes meander on, hunting desperately for purpose, it's hard to remember that. A telling note, as its (totally earned) cult status grew, Wiseau began to claim he made it as a joke. False! It would take something far beyond Kubrick's skills to create something so ramshackle and pointless on purpose.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
Okay, technically, Michael Cimino's dreamy, Terrence Malick-like Western isn't that bad of a film — merely a boring one. Bloated and meandering with scenes that completely fail to engage on any level, the piece still has many redeeming, even beautiful moments. With the right level of patience, it's rewarding. And, still, it is an essential in the cannon of bad film if simply for its history of rampant overspending, reshoots, re-reshoots, and re-re-reshoots. Dive deep into the making of this period piece to discover how much labor and soul can be poured into a picture that still winds up profoundly "meh."
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
Perhaps you've seen Tim Burton's Ed Wood biopic. But, have you been brave enough to see the films Wood actually produced? They appear as if through an Oxycontin haze featuring preposterous plots, dialogs, and production values. What really gives them value, however, are the performances by a mix of professional and non-professional actors, all of whom move and talk like zombies (even the actual zombies are more dead than usual). This is his masterpiece of awfulness, though the more alive and manic Glen or Glenda is almost equally worthy.
Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
We can't even. This is a nightmare — a true, psychedelic nightmare rendered in celluloid. It will also change your notions of what is possible in film. When we talked about outsider art earlier, this is exactly what we had in mind. The story behind this one is almost as interesting as the flick itself. Because of the camera, the director could only film 32 seconds at a time. Upon seeing his completed work, even he believed it was the worst film of all time. The jury's still out on this one, but it's no doubt up there.
Troll 2 (1990)
This one is a legend. Just to be clear, Troll 2 isn't actually a sequel to Troll. Rather, it's an amazing example of what happens when an Italian film crew that speaks no English films a movie in Utah where the locals speak no Italian. Using almost exclusively non-professional residents from the town, Troll 2 is about strange creatures who try to turn people into plants so they can eat them. Yeah. Almost more intriguing than the actual thing is the documentary about its making, Best Worst Movie. We recommend seeing them on the same night with your intoxicant of choice.
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Violent and heartless, what could have been an interesting sci-fi take on the slasher film became so much more with its broken production. For instance, the whole movie was filmed without on-set microphones. All dialogue was just added later. Guess that cut down on costs. Bullet wounds appear and disappear and major plot points simply go unaddressed later. Unlike the other films mentioned here, The Beast is most notable for how badly it was made, not how crazy it is. Film fans should watch it simply because we can't think of anything filmed with less care or direction.
Produced by Penthouse and filmed by Italian soft-core maestro Tinto Brass, Caligula is often stuffed into lists of the worst movies ever. This is a little unfair. Sure, the acting is ridiculous, the script sounds like it was written by Google Translate, and sometimes, the camera just wanders off as if on a coffee break. Yet, there are moments of real cinematic ingenuity here, ones that offer the same sort of wonder you might find on an opera stage. Also, there's lots of sex and Peter O'Toole gives his weirdest performance ever. What's not to love?
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)
In just a few short years, Birdemic has not only created a cult following, but, arguably, a new genre of movies. Though the creators may deny it at times, Birdemic was accidentally created with some of the worst CGI effects ever put on screen. In fact, it's those effects that have made it so popular. In the intervening years, producers have followed its lead, creating films with almost equally bad effects for an audience hungry for such shlock. In this, Birdemic offers us two lessons: Digital effects don't always improve things, but that may be exactly what people want.
This is often touted as the movie that ruined the Monkees' careers. That could very well be the case. In an attempt to simultaneously bring the irreverence of the show to the screen and add more mature, sophisticated themes, the Monkees wound up with a sort of druggy Monty Python lite. It was savaged in the press. Through the lens of time, though, it becomes sweet, silly, and true filmic fun. It's gained a following over the years for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it's written by Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson). It's fascinating to watch a band completely rip apart its own structured image in a cyclone of nonsense and anger.
Crank: High Voltage (2009)
And, here we come to the latest entry in our roll call of awfulness. Crank 2, the story of a man literally trying to get his heart back, is an absurd, almost poetic orgy of violence, machismo, and misogyny. If the handheld, rough-and-tumble camera work doesn't make you nauseous, then its rampaging, Grand Theft Auto-inspired excuse for a script will. In its near-mindless fury, it becomes a perfect, unintentional sendup of the unchecked rapaciousness of the entire action genre and an indictment of a film industry geared toward satisfying the rage fantasies of 15-year-old boys. It's an accidental critique on American culture that, we hope, will someday be required viewing in film study courses all over the world, right between The Seventh Seal and Battleship Potemkin.