As a form of artistic expression, movies are subjective. Everyone’s enjoyment of a particular movie will be different based on their own preferences. But as a craft, there are certain objective factors that, up to a certain point, contribute to a movie being deemed “good” or “bad.” Acting, directing, writing, editing, and overall production values all play roles in judging craftsmanship within the filmmaking process. What’s fascinating is that there is a line where the craftsmanship is so poor that the enjoyment of the final work of art increases exponentially. This article focuses on movies that fall well below that line.
The love for so-bad-they’re-good movies has been around for decades. Dating back to The Vampira Show in 1954, horror hosts including Vampira, Svengoolie, Elvira, and Joe Bob Briggs are known for taking jabs at the campy movies they curate for audiences. Taking the idea further, shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988 – 2022) skewer bad movies (and some good ones) on every level. These programs helped instill a love for awful movies into generations of film fans. Laughing at and with a film proves that bad movies should be celebrated for the joy they bring, not denigrated as being unworthy of our attention.
The popularity of bad movies is enormous. Film distributors like The Asylum capitalize on our love of awfulness by releasing movies like Sharknado (2013) and Zoombies (2016) which intentionally go for a so-bad-it’s-good aesthetic. Somehow, artificially manufactured badness defeats the purpose. This list highlights the top movies that were (probably) intended to be something good, but failed so badly that they became something great instead.
The Best Bad Movies, Ranked
For a movie made on a bet by a fertilizer salesman who wanted to prove that horror movies aren’t difficult to make, Manos: The Hands of Fate isn’t too terrible. But as an actual movie meant to be enjoyed, it’s laughably awful. Written, produced, directed by, and starring Harold P. Warren, Manos: The Hands of Fate is about a family who is stranded at a house that is home to a cult lead by a mustachioed man called The Master. Scenes go on and on for no particular purpose, plot threads go nowhere, and everything about the production is charmingly amateurish. Manos existed in obscurity for years after its release, but it became a hit on the show Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 1990s. Ever since then it has only grown in popularity.
12. Cats (2019)
Cats is the result of a troubled production. But even if everything went well behind the scenes, one has wonder if the magic of the original story just cannot be translated well from stage to screen. Based on the long-running Broadway hit of the same name, Cats is about a bunch of cats who sing and dance in a competition known as the Jellicle Ball to decide who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. It’s a premise that works phenomenally well on stage, but the decision to make everyone in the movie into a digitally altered cat-person works decidedly less well. The digital effects team did their best, but being overworked and underappreciated caused the already shaky visual decisions from director Tom Hooper to appear even more unsettling on screen. The music is great though, and the songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber provide a fantastic soundtrack for this entertaining mess of a movie.
Starring a beefy ex-bodyguard with no weapons training and no time to prepare, Samurai Cop is a direct-to-video crime/action movie about a loose-cannon cop battling against a Yakuza gang in Los Angeles. Matt Hannon (later legally changing his name to Matt Karedas) is the titular “samurai cop,” and his main opposition is B-movie icon Robert Z’Dar. Production on Samurai Cop was done cheaply and in a rush, leading to a shoddy final product filled with bad takes, weird editing, obvious voice-overs, and unintentionally amusing action sequences. One of the best parts of the movie is keeping watch for the samurai cop’s very obvious wig that he had to wear for reshoots after cutting all of his hair off after he thought, incorrectly, that the production was finished.
Given what ended up on screen, one has to wonder if writer/director James Nguyen intended for Birdemic: Shock and Terror to be a so-bad-it’s-good movie. The romantic-eco-thriller-horror film tells the story of a budding romance between software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) and fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) that is interrupted by an attack from acid-spitting birds. As bad as the directing, writing, editing, and acting are, the special effects are even worse. Computer generated birds spin and hover on screen like poorly animated clip art, and they occasionally dive bomb houses complete with airplane sound effects and tiny explosions. But if you can put up with the incessant cawing of the birds once they finally show up about halfway into the movie, Birdemic is wonderfully terrible (whether that was the intention or not).
In the wake of Gremlins (1984) came a plethora of movies featuring tiny monsters. Ghoulies (1985), Critters (1986), and Munchies (1987) are among some of the highlights of the subgenre, but Hobgoblins might rise above them all for being the absolute worst of the bunch. Hobgoblins is absolutely intended as a comedy, but a lot of the humor comes not from the jokes, but from how bad the jokes really are. The titular hobgoblins are barely articulated dolls that, in the movie, are aliens who prey on humans by making their fantasies come true and then killing them for some unexplained reason. There are a few subplots about the characters’ dreams, but the main thrust of the story is about lovable loser Kevin (Tom Bartlett) who must stop the hobgoblins while proving to his girlfriend that he is a real manly man. Hobgoblins is one of those movies that deftly rides the line between being laughed with and being laughed at.
It may be a bit unfair to call Santa Claus Conquers the Martians one of the worst films ever made since it’s clearly a low-budget comedy made for children, and it probably did its job well enough when it was released. But still, it is quite goofy in its absurdity. The movie is about people from Mars who travel to the North Pole on Earth to kidnap Santa Claus because their Martian children seem to like him. Santa makes toys for the kids of Mars, but one of the Martians plans to kill Santa because of his corrupting influence. Santa never really conquers anyone or anything, but he does end up having a nice enough time with two kidnapped Earth children and the nice Martians he meets. As you might expect, the sets and costumes are gloriously awful, but overall the movie is silly Christmas fun in ways it might not have intended to be.
Catwoman is easily one of the more bizarre superhero adaptations ever brought to the big screen. Halle Berry stars as Patience Phillips, a graphic designer who is left for dead after overhearing something she shouldn’t have. Patience is brought back to life by the breath of a computer-generated cat, and she subsequently develops cat-like abilities and an unhealthy attraction to catnip. The movie is campy in a comic-booky way that feels like it’s made by someone who doesn’t really understand the appeal of comic books, and that makes it fun for all the wrong reasons. The most ill-advised scene may be the game of one-on-one basketball played between Patience and Detective Tom Lone which is awkwardly flirty for taking place in front of a bunch of children.
In the 1980s, ninja were everywhere. In comic books, in movies, and maybe even hiding in the shadows behind you. In the martial arts action movie Miami Connection, ninja are also in Florida, and they drive motorcycles. Fighting against the ninja and various other bad dudes is the rock band Dragon Sound, a group of affable young men who enjoy martial arts, music, justice, and hanging out shirtless in heir shared house. Miami Connection is a passion project from one-time filmmaker Y.K. Kim that suffered from inexperience when it was released, but the cheerful enthusiasm of the movie is what made it a cult classic decades later.
With its exterior spaceship effects taken from the 1978 Battlestar Galactica television series and its interior spaceship designs looking suspiciously like a warehouse boiler room, Space Mutiny is a gem of laughable space operas made in South Africa. The Southern Sun, a space vessel on a generations-long mission to colonize a new planet, is in the midst of an uprising from a contingent of people who don’t want to live their entire lives in space. It’s up to hotshot space pilot Dave Ryder (Reb Brown) to quash the rebellion with laser-blasting violence and a fair amount of unnecessary yelling. As fun as the movie is on its own, it also serves as the basis for one of the greatest episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
For fans of video games and movies, Uwe Boll is notorious. Starting with House of the Dead (2003), the German filmmaker created a series of films of questionable quality based on popular games including Alone in the Dark (2005), Bloodrayne (2005), Far Cry (2008), and others. House of the Dead is by far his best video-game movie because, for the most part, it’s an awfully fun zombie movie. Clint Howard (Ice Cream Man, 1995), Ellie Cornell (Halloween 4, 1988), and Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot, 1981) support a young cast as they journey to an island for a rave and end up fighting for their lives against the undead. Acting choices are bizarre, continuity is practically non-existent, and the movie is peppered with clips from the actual House of the Dead games. The highlight of the whole movie is an action scene about halfway through that features the most gratuitously pointless use of bargain-basement Matrix-style (slow-motion rotating camera) photography ever.
The Room has been called the worst movie ever made. The “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Whether those descriptions are accurate or not, it is undeniable that The Room has captured the hearts of countless bad-movie aficionados. Like many cult movies, The Room was a disaster upon its release, but it found its audience later. In the tradition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Room became a midnight screening sensation complete with cosplay and audience participation. The movie itself is about a love triangle between characters played by writer/director Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, and Greg Sestero. The plot isn’t why people love The Room though, they love it because of the wacky performances, its jarring tonal shifts, and the general filmmaking ineptitude.
Ed Wood is one of the most famous directors known exclusively for his output of bad movies. The highlight of his campy filmography is Plan 9 from Outer Space, a sci-fi horror movie about aliens who bring the dead back to life in an effort to stop humanity from destroying the universe. Comically cheap sets, cheesy special effects, and a ridiculous story made even more ludicrous by the hammy performances of most of its actors make Plan 9 from Outer Space the legendarily bad movie that it is. To make it even better (or worse, depending on your perspective), Plan 9 is Bela Lugosi’s final movie. And if Lugosi’s role seems like it doesn’t fit in the movie, that’s because Lugosi had passed away before production on Plan 9 began, so Ed Wood just used footage of his long-time friend that was shot for an unrelated and unfinished project.
Troll 2 is such a bad movie that even its title is a failure: the creatures in the movie are goblins (not trolls), and it’s not actually a sequel to Troll (1986) which is where it gets its name. Troll 2 is a standalone movie by Italian writer/director Claudio Fragasso (aka Drake Floyd) about a family vacationing in the small town of Nilbog. Young Joshua Waits (Michael Stephenson) is warned by the ghost of his grandfather about the dangers of Nilbog, and, sure enough, visitors to the town keep getting eaten by goblins after being turned into plants by a Stonehenge-powered witch named Creedence Leonore Gielgud (Deborah Reed). With a heady mixture of stilted performances, cheesy special effects, and a story that barely makes sense, Troll 2 is a pure joy to watch.
More Amazing and Awful Movies
- Reefer Madness (1936) – An infamous propaganda film depicting how marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to insanity, organized crime, and murder.
- Robot Monster (1953) – An alien that looks like an ape in a papier-mâché space helmet destroys most of humanity (so we’re told) in one of the most laughable monster movies of the 1950s.
- Jaws: The Revenge (1987) – The shark attack movie that killed the Jaws series, and the subject of a hilariously scathing review from Roger Ebert.
- Super Mario Bros. (1993) – The first live-action American video game movie, Super Mario Bros. came out at a time when movie studios had no idea what fans wanted from a video game adaptation.
- Showgirls (1995) – Is Showgirls an awful movie or a brilliant satire? Either way, it’s an undeniably entertaining film that served as Elizabeth Berkley’s breakout movie (for better or worse).
- Batman & Robin (1997) – Joel Schumacher took the Batman franchise to goofy extremes in this farce starring George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell as Batman and Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.
- Spice World (1997) – Spice World regularly lands on “worst movie” lists, but it’s really just a perfect representation of the Spice Girls. That makes it a good movie.
- Jason X (2001) – The Friday the 13th franchise has some truly terrible movies (like Jason Goes to Hell), but Jason X is at least fun in its badness. And really, any horror franchise that goes to space can’t be all that bad.
- Sharknado (2013) – Sharknado is a self-aware sci-fi horror comedy that cashes in on the fondness for bad movies by being intentionally awful. That makes it less bad than other movies in this list, but it’s still a lot of fun.
- Dancin’: It’s On! (2015) – Dancin’: It’s On proves that even if you have great dancers like Whitney Carson and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp (contestants on So You Think You Can Dance), bad directing can still make for a goofy and awkward dance movie.
- Morbius (2022) – This superhero vampire movie isn’t as mind-blowingly terrible as the internet would have you believe, but the memes resulting from Jared Leto’s latest venture into comic-book adaptations led to endless enjoyment for many people.