Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films Of All Time

Posted Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 07:00 pm GMT -4 by

Before I go any further, I know that you’re not going to agree with me, but that’s okay. I mean, one person’s lame, idiotic story and ghastly acting is another person’s favorite film, even if sometimes it’s after imbibing an illegal substance or two. Still, I suspect we can agree that amazing special effects do not an amazing film make, however optimistic you want to be. I’ll also admit that, as a professional film critic, movies like ‘Transformers’ underwhelm me, but not to the point of being ‘worst film ever’ status. Expectations set?

Hold on, before we proceed, I have to say that I am fond of the cheesy monster sci-fi films from the 60s, so I’m going to skip the low-hanging fruit of films like ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ or ‘Monsters A Go-Go’. Yeah, they’re bad, but I feel like they were made with tongue firmly planted in cheek, so they don’t really count. Then there are films like ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ and, again, it’s ridiculously easy to say that it’s a terrible film — and it is — but because it’s well known as a bad film, it sort of redeems itself.

What I want to identify are those films that are serious sci-fi, are made with big budgets and major stars, and still somehow end up being painfully stupid to endure. You know what I’m talking about. Films like…

BATTLEFIELD EARTH (2000)

Like just about everything L. Ron Hubbard wrote, the book ‘Battlefield Earth’ was terrific until about halfway through, then it just got long. And really long. And too long for any normal person to read. And it kept going after that point. Still, the book was readable if you just stopped halfway.

The film doesn’t offer that mercy and from the first scenes of Teri (John Travolta) wearing a rebreather that looked like snot dripping out of his nose, it was obvious you were in for a bad, bad cinematic experience. The budget was there, the actors were — arguably — present, but it sure didn’t gel into a good sci-fi epic. The box office numbers reflect that.

STAR WARS I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)

This might be blasphemy here on ScienceFiction.com, but I so loathe the extraordinarily racist and offensive Jar-Jar Binks that even seeing him on screen makes my skin crawl and produces spontaneous urges to hurt someone. What the $#@$#@ was Lucas thinking when his team added one of the most offensive characters to appear in any modern film? Then to have ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ have similarly racist step-and-fetchit characters? Yikes. Serious poison in a film series that otherwise broke so much new ground and was so pivotal in my childhood love of sci-fi. Then again, there was also the whiny teens episode of Star Wars yet to come at that point (aka ‘Attack of the Clones’). Can someone just smack Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padmé (Natalie Portman) already?

THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (2008)

The original 1971 film, based on the tautly plotted Michael Crichton book of the same name, is a terrific movie and a great introduction to the pandemic genre, most recently reprised in the cool and frightening ‘Contagion’. In the original film (spoiler ahead!) the most interesting aspect is that the research to identify a cure to the spaceborn plague is stymied when Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid) has an epileptic seizure while analyzing lab results and misses the positive result. Human failing prolonging a crisis is a fascinating topic, but in the remake, they seem to have completely lost that part and everyone is handsome and capable. Too capable. The entire “human failing” part is skipped and the film ends up being stupid and uninteresting. It’s so disappointing because the original is splendid and on my top ten list. See that instead. Just skip the idiotic remake. You’ll thank me.

HOWARD THE DUCK (1986)

I’ve tried to watch this multiple times. Really. Even if I was completely ripped or stoned out of my mind, though, I couldn’t handle it. There’s no other way to say it, ‘Howard the Duck’ is one of the most stupid films ever made, and the fact that it’s got George Lucas as executive producer, well, he’s the same guy who thought Jar-Jar was a good character, isn’t he? There’s some attempt at a storyline with alternative realities, different timelines and a plot that’s summarized on IMDb as “A sarcastic humanoid duck is pulled from his homeworld to Earth where he must stop an alien invader.” But the reality is I just can’t stand it so have no idea if it ends with a burst of brilliance or is as lame as the rest of the film. Some people put this in the ‘so cheesy it’s fun’ category, but I personally reserve that for those great 60s B movies. Howard? Keep him outta my duckpond and we’ll all be good.

PLANET OF THE APES (any of the sequels)

In a lasting testament to how greedy Hollywood is, the first ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie from 1968 is great science fiction with some unquestionably iconic images, most notably Col. Taylor (Charlton Heston) coming across a half-buried Statue of Liberty on the beach. Great cinema! But then the sequels (‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’) are all just ghastly and to say that they’re made-for-TV quality is an insult to television. The makeup prosthetics get worse and worse too and, by the ‘Battle’ film, they’re not much more than rigid Halloween masks. Then there’s the boring Tim Burton remake from 2001, but that’s forgettable so let’s forget it. Fortunately the recent ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ brings a spark of hope to a series that’s been monkeyed almost to death (yeah, I had to go there), but really, does anyone like any of the sequels?

THE BLACK HOLE (1979)

With typical Disney hubris, the production team assumed that having a really weak story and one signature special effect would be enough to create an interesting sci-fi epic. The cast’s not bad, but even back in 1979, I’m pretty sure that the anomalous behavior of black holes was sufficiently understood enough that the idea of a spaceship “stuck” at the event horizon where no one inside ages was considered a bit daft. If you can even find this to watch again, you’ll see, it feels like something that was produced for television — including pacing that lends itself to commercial interruptions — and has some of the worst acting ever committed to celluloid. Then again, with five authors listed on writing credits, it’s a red flag that this is not a well-plotted film.

THE MATRIX (either sequel)

I loved the original film, even with Neo (Keanu Reeves) being perhaps one of the most wooden characters ever in cinema. Even when he realizes something extraordinarily cool, that he can bend reality to his will, he’s so dispassionate that I thought he’d fallen asleep on his feet. It started well, had a great story arc, and ended in a good spot. Then the sequels (‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’) came out and ruined the whole thing. Why do filmmakers think that they can top the original with such dreck? Then, of course, the Wachowski’s released ‘Speed Racer’, suggesting that ‘The Matrix’ was a fluke and that they weren’t such genius filmmakers after all. Actually, maybe the film ‘Speed Racer’ should be on this list too, now that I think about it…

DAREDEVIL (2003)

A lot of our readers are both sci-fi and comic book geeks. That’s cool. I certainly read my share of comic books as a kid and still consume the occasional graphic novel. I’d never heard of Daredevil, though, and when I saw the movie, I realized why. I mean, here’s IMDb’s synopsis: “A man blinded by toxic waste which also enhanced his remaining senses fights crime as an acrobatic martial arts superhero.” What is this? Helen Keller meets Bruce Lee in ‘Enter the Blind Girl’? Worse, Ben Affleck just couldn’t pull off the role and while I’ll admit Jennifer Garner looked good as Elektra, the two of them just couldn’t act their ways out of the proverbial paper bag and had so extraordinarily little chemistry that it was impossible to figure out why she didn’t just whack him and get it over with. I hear that there might be a remake in the wings with a different cast. Well, maybe. We’ll see.

SPLICE (2009)

I’m a big fan of Adrien Brody and was all set to like this sci-fi medical thriller about genetic manipulation, until one scene just ruined the film for me, ruined it so badly that I was yelling at the screen “What the &$#*(@&$ are you doing?!” even as other people gave me odd looks. If you’ve seen the film and have even the slightest clue about lab work and research, you’ll know the scene. I’ll just say [Spoiler ahead!] real scientists don’t put scalpels in their mouths, whether they’re covered with weird alien goo or otherwise. ‘Splice’ is a good example of a film that suffers from a lack of advisors, a film that punctures the bubble of verisimilitude – that key “suspension of disbelief” element — so badly that, well, it’s ended up on this list. Seen it and liked it? You’re more forgiving than I am.

THE HAPPENING (2008)

I’m pretty sure if you look up the definition of “overhyped” you’ll find M. Night Shyamalan listed. He’s done one decent film (‘The Sixth Sense’) followed by a series of increasingly insipid, self-important, indulgent drivel, with its zenith being either the boring and laughable ‘The Happening’ or the confusing flop ‘The Last Airbender’. I’ll say this: when I was in the theater and a preview came up for his latest, ‘Devil’, people were interested until his name flashed on screen, then they all laughed and said “not likely!”. The tragedy is that Shyamalan has a great eye for set pieces and scenes, and there are some visually arresting sequences throughout ‘The Happening’. The overall story, though, is the world’s stupidest eco-disaster movie. The only thing that could have made it worse would have been the addition of Nicholas Cage to the cast. But that’s another story entirely, one we’re blessed not to have seen on the silver screen.

DEATH RACE (2008)

The original film (ironically named ‘Death Race 2000′ when it was released in 1975) was a dry, witty commentary on the rise of the corporate state and the decreasing value of human life, particularly when compared to the economic value of entertaining the masses. Think “opiate of the masses”.

It’s a theme that a lot of films back in the mid-70′s were wrestling with, the value of an individual life. Think ‘Logan’s Run’ or the epic ‘Soylent Green’ as two more examples. Just as the remake of ‘The Andromeda Strain’ completely missed out on the most interesting facet of the original, though, so does the remake of ‘Death Race’ fail. In the remake, it’s inmates at a maximum security prison who take part in a no-holds-barred race to win a pardon (who thinks of these competitions? Do we really want the most dangerous driver from a group of ruthless prisoners free and driving on our streets in the future??). They can trick out their cars with weapons, both offensive and defensive, but even the presence of action star Jason Statham doesn’t redeem this stupid exploitation film. Of course, I could mention the horrible, ghastly ‘Crank: High Voltage’ here too, but… um… I just did. Nevermind.

AND MORE?

There are lots of bad films. It’s the nature of art, that the process of creation will inevitably lead to failures mixed in with the relatively rare success. Further, like art itself, films are an acquired taste and the films I like are doubtless different to those that you like. Heck, when I looked at the IMDb ratings for the films I’ve listed above, I realize that for many of these, I’m completely out of step. That’s fine. Everyone else is wrong. :-)

Oh, and I’ll wrap up with a few films that you probably think should be on the list but that, damn it, I really like: ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, ‘Alien vs. Predator’, ‘The Sixth Day’, ‘Waterworld’, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, and ‘Artificial Intelligence: AI’.

Now, what about you? What do you think of this list, what have I included that you think is actually good, and what should I have added to the list that I either forgot about or don’t actually think is quite that bad?

  • http://twitter.com/Airshpneverland Johnny White

    You had me up to dissing the second and third Matrix films. They were Good, albeit the conclusion of three was a bit trite.

    Daredevil was actually not bad, I dont understand why people hate on it so much.

    Now why why did you leave off Transformers II -that is so much worse than Daredevil.
     

    • Dave Taylor

      As I said, Johnny, I knew we’d disagree. If you’d omit the Matrix sequels and Daredevil, you have to come up with TWO entries to replace them, not just the low-hanging fruit of Transformers II. 

  • Anonymous

    I disagree about the POTA films. The first three weren’t all that bad. Battle is considered the weakest by a lot of fans, but I like the first three sequels quite a bit. They certainly shouldn’t make a ‘worst 10′ list. POTA 2001, OTOH, was apparently a big flop. The vast majority of POTA fans hate it. Rise was pretty good, though.

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  • Jonesr

    I would have included the second x-files movie. Loved the series but that was a terrible way to cap off such a great series.

    • Dave Taylor

      Yeah, but the series was all over the place too and ended up being the creepy psycho killer of the week. Ended in the toilet imo…

    • Anonymous

      The first one was terrible as well IMO. Bee conspiracy? Helicopters without nightvision/infra-red? A plot that makes no sense unless you’re familiar with the finer points of the TV show? Now that’s not just bad writing that’s Chris Carter. 

  • Steve Davidson

    I Am Legend the remake.  Simply awful.  It totally eviscerated the main paradigm shift plot concept.

  • Pota68

    Please, the Apes sequels in general were fine. It was a different time and budgets and sequels were a new thing to A list movies and the Apes delivered. I was their and it was great. Battle is very weak but the the resored mutant sequences make it more palatable. Get and education and watch the films with an open mind, they are great in their own ways and well done with the budgets theywere handed. John M.

  • AGuestIGuess

    Johnny Mnemonic? F@#$ off, any film with Beat Takeshi, which also has someone’s top half of their body slide off the bottom after being sliced in half with a laser whip is a great film.

  • http://twitter.com/aldoojeda Aldo Ojeda Campos

    Is Zardoz in the weird field of “so bad that is good”?

  • Shayfabbro

    I thought Splice was hideous :( The ONLY time I ever wanted my money back and wanted to take a nice long hot shower after watching it

  • Jeff

    How about any movie where Nick Cage rides an Easy Rider-style chopped Harley and his head catches fire whenever he gets even mildly miffed.

    Or anything with the word “Batman” in the title.

    Or Superman.

    Or Star Trek.

    Or where George Clooney has to battle a gang of south-of-the-border vampires. (Even worse, this movie has Quentin Tarantino trying hard to act.)

    • Dave Taylor

      Wow, sounds like you’re not much of a fan of a lot of big films. I have liked Batman Begins (more than The Dark Knight) and really liked the JJ Abrams reboot of the oh-so-tired Star Trek franchise a few years ago. Clooney fighting zombies? Not so much. And Nick Cage? Did you not see my snarky comment about him in my article? :-)

  • http://www.hydeandgeek.com Scott

    I would remove: Star Wars ep I (only bad compared to the classic trilogy and nowhere near as bad as ep. II and III with Darth Emo), Daredevil (an underrated character in an underrated film), Howard the Duck (maybe it’s nostalgia since I loved it as a kid), and Planet of the Apes sequels (good for what they were).

    I’d replace them with: Superman IV (I love Superman… but c’mon!), Aeon Flux (I liked the animated series and I really like Charlize Theron but even I had to turn this one off half way through), War of the Worlds (The Tom Cruise crap-fest, not the classic), and  The Fifth Element (I’m often in the minority on this one but, other than Gary Oldman who I love in nearly everything, this movie is terrible.)

    • Dave Taylor

      Interesting suggestions, surprised you liked SWI and the PotA sequels, but I have to disagree with you on your replacements. Superman IV? Yeah, well, it’s too easy as it suffers from sequelitis, but The Fifth Element?  Dude.

      • http://www.hydeandgeek.com Scott

        I didn’t love Star Wars episode I but I did like it. It was decent fun. And, like Howard the Duck, maybe the PotA sequels are being viewed through my nostalgia goggles. But I’ll hold my ground on The Fifth Element. It is one of those movies that everyone seemed to love and I just don’t see the draw. Sort of like Starship Troopers and Underworld. If you like them, that’s cool. They just don’t do it for me.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LMIIEJIWQ2FPLUVPHI7JWQECAM Anthony

    You forgot Avatar.

    • http://and-still-i-persist.com bfwebster

      Yeah, that would be on my list, too. On the other hand, I won’t argue with any of the movies listed above.

    • Dave Taylor

      Avatar was banal, insipid and completely predictable, but still, it was pretty… so nope, not on the top ten list. :-)

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LMIIEJIWQ2FPLUVPHI7JWQECAM Anthony

        YOU GO TO HELL … YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE!!!!!! 

        Looking forward to your top ten, though …

    • Alex

      I finally saw that thing on DVD, having been too broke to see it in a movie theater. Man, it was great until they were going to destroy the big tree. I couldn’t believe how bad it got. I didn’t believe it at all. It’s so preachy and dumb after that.

  • GracieZG

    Didn’t see “Battlefield Earth” the movie, but couldn’t put the book down. Didn’t experience the mid-book doldrums, such as you describe.

    • Dave Taylor

      I admit, it’s been a looonnnggg time since I read the book. Then there was that ten-volume neverending novel that Hubbard wrote too, but they haven’t [yet] adapted that for the big screen.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_66OXLJMEGWLNKCQAC5NAFVFG4Y JasonW

    Don’t forget “Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years”.

    • Dave Taylor

      I fear looking this up on IMDb lest it prove to be a real movie. Tell me you’re just kidding… 

  • Str8dwn

    How could you have forgotten the wretched Feces (oops Species)

    • Dave Taylor

      I didn’t forget it. I just didn’t include it. :-)

  • Anonymous

    would love to see a list of the worst of the worst in horror movies. there are so many pieces of trash in tha genre. and the comment section could be fun as well to read. also I think its very cool that the author Dave Taylor responds to the comments. Very COOL

    • Dave Taylor

      Thanks. In terms of horror films, I’m not your man, I’ve seen a bunch of them, but nowhere near enough to have a best or worst list. Still, I dig those creepy Japanese horror films quite a bit…

  • Ray Gunn

    Star Wars is a fairy tale, not science fiction.

    • Chris Mankey

      Downvoted. True…but downvoted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000352063030 Philip Wilson

    Movies. the excerable “Starship Troopers” minus the excellent shower scene. TV – Add “Terra Nova” to the list.  22nd century high tech machine guns firing thousands of rounds at dinos with nary a scratch plus demographic pandering teen angst.

    • Dave Taylor

      Ah, well, we didn’t list sci-fi TV series, Philip, or I might well agree with you about the never-ending hiccups in Terra Nova. Still, aren’t we supposed to cut them slack for the first half-dozen episodes?

  • RocketRicochet

    Where is 2010, the sequel to 2001?  Absolute worst of the worst, IMHO.

  • shooter2009

    Barbarella…

    Only because Jane Fonda was in it though.

  • Joejm65

    I LIKE the Planet of the Apes sequels.  Yes, they’re not Oscar-worthy productions, but so what? They’re still entertaining.  I guess Jaws isn’t considered sci-fi, because every one of those sequels were truly horrible.    

    • Dave Taylor

      I really loved the original “Jaws”, but the sequels?  Yeah, braindead for sure.

  • Just Sayin

    I liked the Planet of the Apes sequels and while the Matrix sequels should have been better they don’t deserve worst status.

    Avatar should be the number one worst movie. It had so much money, effects, and time to develop a decent story, and even a workable cast, but its story was terrible and stupid and ham handed and preachy and cloying and and and.

  • DarthDoobius

    Dune!  I really wanted to like it, but it failed miserably as a watchable film.  Just hearing the score by Brian Eno will make me run from the room.  I’m a big David Lynch fan, but the disappointment is too much.

  • Cdihlmrk

    At least I don’t feel so bad having liked Waterworld.

  • Alex

    I really enjoyed all five Planet of the Apes. I’m not counting Tim Burton’s version or the new ‘of the of the’ movie I will probably never see.  I saw them all on television once and really liked all of them. Even the last line of the fifth film I remember “…perhaps only the dead.”

    Black Hole was like the coolest live-action Disney film of it’s time. It’s got an awesome robot death scene. Quite touching. Also a Heaven and Hell sequence that’s never been equaled. I was a kid. Sue me.

    I didn’t expect the Matrix sequels to be that great. Which is why I enjoyed Reloaded that much. Obviously, they (wachowski brothers) spent hours and hour including philosphical and religious references in the film and drew the short plot out and had 25 minute action scenes. The Chateau was the best fight. Neo bled. Did that mean something? Was he just human after all. I don’t know. You think too much is the problem. People quoting directly from a French philospher’s books doesn’t exactly make for great dialogue. Plus, I could see the camera in people’s sunglasses. Seriously.

    I loved how among the ten people in the theatre for Revolutions laughed when the leather brigade appeared as guards in the Merovigian’s Club Hell somebody laughed they looked so ridiculous. So did Trinity in her leather outfit. Awful. He was a more interesting character and so was his hot wife who had one line in the whole movie. The talk after the movie was of ‘I bet the Wachowski’s are laughing now with all their money.

    Daredevil was alright. Did people really expect Frank Miller Daredevil or Nocenti/JRJR Daredevil? Well, Frank Miller did make a cameo: ‘Guy with pencil in neck.’

    I saw Howard the Duck when I was a kid and before I read that many comics. I can’t believe that it’s Marvel’s first big-movie adaption. Good thing Blade came along, huh?

  • ChuckO

    Lost In Space.  Ugh.

  • Lowslowflyer7

    This may be the worst attempt at a worst top ten list i have ever noticed..It might be revealing to see your top ten best , then i could really throw popcorn at you lol

    • Dave Taylor

      Well, how about your ten worst list then, mate?

  • Anonymous

    If you don’t like the Ape movies, sir, then you are the Racist.

    • Dave Taylor

      don’t monkey with my opinion, Steve!

  • DUH

    “I’m pretty sure that the anomalous behavior of black holes was
    sufficiently understood enough that the idea of a spaceship “stuck” at
    the event horizon where no one inside ages was considered a bit daft.”

    Bwwwwwaaa-hahahaha!!! Hello! It’s SCIENCE-FICTION!!! You know, the genre for which this website is named?!?!?

    Ten Worst Websites of All-Time

    1. sciencefiction.com

  • Deanbean317

    I hate comments that say Jar-Jar Binks is racist! Were any orange skinned, elephant footed, web fingered aliens with long ears offended that you know of? This shows the length some dolts will go to simply for the privilege of being offended. Don’t get me wrong…I absolutely hated all three of the prequels, but…racist? Give me a break!

    • Dave Taylor

      Again, your opinion, my opinion. If you can’t see other racial and ethnic stereotypes in the creation and behavior of Jar-Jar or other “aliens” in sci-fi films, well, then you’re considerably more literal than I am.

  • Madmarek

    That’s pretty much the worst ‘worst list’ I’ve seen in a long time.
    Battlefield Earth, yeah it’s a given but the guy doesn’t even put down
    any interesting or relevant facts. Jar-Jar racist? WTF! Black Hole one
    of the worst Sci-fi films ever? It’s a classic! – Planet of the Apes!
    LOL! BTW The Happening isn’t even Sci-Fi.

    • Dave Taylor

      Your opinion, meet my opinion. So instead of banal complaints, what’s on your ten worst list?

    • http://twitter.com/mjkrey MJ Krey

      Black Hole is “old” not “classic.” Even as a kid I couldn’t sit through that one without falling asleep.

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  • Dave Taylor

    what two would you change?

  • Dave Taylor

    ah, I was wondering if the grammar and spelling police would show up. Someday there’ll be a sci-fi film about people like you. :-)

  • http://sciencefiction.com/ Bryan Hardbarger

    Gee Dave, talk about opening the proverbial “Can of Worms!” I am pleased to see all the reactions here, both good AND bad. We here at ScienceFiction.com always welcome the opinions of our fans, regardless of the type of feedback. We know some of our fans are very passionate about Sci-Fi, and we love to hear your thoughts!! GREAT post Dave!

  • http://www.ofinteresttome.com/ Matthew Jordan

    Thanks for putting Splice on the list. So many people I know love that film but I personally hate it. And it’s nice to see a worst sci-fi list that isn’t filled with the usual Plan 9 or Robot Monster. Good Job.

  • Anonymous

    Well I’m not sure these are the WORST Sci-Fi movies of all time. I certainly get tired of people ragging on the Star Wars prequels, but that maybe something to do with my feeling the originals were overrated. Plus the Matrix sequels were good films, maybe not the undeniable classics that the original was and certainly not exactly what I would have done but certainly deserve more credit than they receive. 

  • Jasper

    uhh if you dont allready know there remakeing the black whole to come out late 2012

  • Annabelle

    happening was one of the worst films i’ve ever seen, the whole time i just wanted it to end, although i personally love all five original planet of the ape films!

  • Derenk66

    I actually liked the book “Battlefield Earth” all the way through, but I’ll take everyone’s word for it that the movie sucks…”The Black Hole” was a boring imitation of “Star Wars”(the tie-in novel was actually more fun than the movie)…I thought “Splice” was an interesting updating of “Frankenstein”…”The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” definitely belongs on this list (if you’re going to make a film involving a bunch of classic literary characters, it helps if you, you know, ACTUALLY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THE CHARACTERS!!!)

  • Tom

    Running man for me was one of the worst I’ve seen; especially when compared to the novel