Razzies vs Oscars: Can bad movies ever be good?

promotional still from Bucky Larson Will Bucky Larson be recognised by the Razzies?

Truly bad movies can sometimes be more entertaining, and enlightening, than high art. But are their days numbered?

There are two types of bad movies: boring films with lacklustre scripts and ho-hum acting, or outlandish, offensive bombs with over-the-top performances, awful jokes and unbelievable plot lines.

The former are instantly forgettable. The Music Never Stopped, Terri and Priest, all flops from 2011, won't ring many bells.

But the latter incite anger in some fans and enthusiasm in others, drawn to the size and scale of the cinematic disaster.

Take Human Centipede II, which takes grossout horror to a new level. Or Jack and Jill, in which Adam Sandler plays his own twin sister, and Al Pacino plays himself, madly in love with the female Adam Sandler.

It's these films that are recognised by the Golden Raspberry Foundation, otherwise known as the Razzies, which announced its nominees for the worst films of 2011 during the flurry of pre-Oscar excitement last weekend.

Human Centipede II and Jack and Jill are both in the running for worst picture. Adam Sandler received a record 11 nominations, including some for his work on another worst-picture nominee, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.

Sandler helped write and produce Bucky Larson, the tale of a Midwestern farm boy who moves to LA to pursue a career in pornography. One critic called it "a weirdly sour, hermetic and ragingly misanthropic bit of juvenilia and an enduring embarrassment for everyone involved".

It was instantly reviled. But will it live on in bad movie infamy?

After all, some films are so terrible that they gain a cult of devoted followers. It's those films that fans say can enhance our understanding and enjoyment of all movies, and provide some much-needed relief from the predictability of the film industry.

They're also, aficionados worry, a dying breed.

'Unexpected delights'

In his Purdue University class on bad films, assistant professor Lance Duerfahrd screens old science fiction movies, 1950s health-and-hygiene films and other poorly produced films. They come complete with bad special effects, actors forgetting their lines and props missing from one scene to the next.

Best of the bad

promotional still from Transformers

Favourite "bad" movies from our experts:

  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen "It's as if someone took a spoiled child's toy box and threw it upside-down for an hour and a half," says Lance Duerfahrd
  • Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music: John Wilson saw these films, starring Olivia Newton John and The Village People, respectively, as a 99-cent double feature. He demanded his money back - and when he was refused, decided to start the Razzies instead
  • Mommie Dearest: "That one has every credential: an Oscar-winning actress, best-selling book, major movie studio, and you laugh so hard that tears run down your face and you're gasping for breath," says Mr Wilson

These obvious flaws can provide viewers with a different experience from that of a well-made movie.

"There's some room for play and room for unexpected delights," Mr Duerfahrd says. "Most films force-feed us."

He recalls a scene from the 1950s sci-fi film Robot Monster, in which the titular character - an actor in a gorilla suit wearing a deep-sea diver's mask - grabs the heroine. Caught off guard, the actress breaks character and yells "Oh, my!"

"Nothing we see in a good film is as real as this surprise," he says. "He breathes air into the room."

Watching bad films also helps viewers think critically about cinema.

"I think a bad film makes you think: 'I could have done a better job, I could make a better movie.' A bad film makes you creative," he says.

Bad films also allow for more discussion and a greater sense of community.

"With good movies there's a competition. People fight over whether The Godfather was the single best movie of all time, or Citizen Kane," he says. On the other end of the spectrum, there is room for all opinions.

"There's a generosity in discussing bad movies," he says.

Madness rewarded

For bad movies to be discussion-worthy, they need to aspire to be good films, says Kyle Buchanan, film editor for New York Magazine's Vulture website.

"You have to be a lunatic to get a movie made, that's for damn sure. When you see that lunacy on screen, even when it's not in the service of the dialogue, or the script, or the acting, it sticks with you," says Mr Buchanan.

Britain's intentionally bad movies

A quirk of UK law resulted in the creation of several delightfully dreadful movies. The BBC's Adam Curtis writes about one, called Crust:

It told the story of a pub landlord who finds a giant 7ft mutant shrimp on a beach. The landlord then decides to teach the shrimp to box - and believes this will make his fortune.

The film was made but unfortunately it was never shown - and even more strangely never even made it to video.

Officials in the Inland Revenue had begun to notice more and more British films had actually amassed takings of less than £100. The taxmen began to suspect something was up.

He cites the cult hit Showgirls - universally panned by the critics - as an example of this daring. "Showgirls was made with a lot of technique, and with a lot of people giving their all. It's incredibly watchable," he says.

Yet despite great potential to be over-the-top fun, the film Cowboys and Aliens failed to deliver either cinematic brilliance or camp enjoyment, Buchanan says.

"It's almost as if they were afraid of their title," and the resulting film was too boring to be either an exciting piece of good cinema or a fun few hours.

That is one reason he's looking forward to the forthcoming film John Carter, about a US Civil War veteran who travels to Mars and takes part in an inter-alien war for survival. The film also features a fleshy oblong Martian guard dog, Woola, who has become a Vulture favourite.

Mr Buchanan can't tell if John Carter will be a good or bad movie, but he's certain it will be interesting.

"The willingness to go over the top to do something strange or odd is so welcome in a big budget movie," Mr Buchanan says.

'Boring failures'

It's this trend towards "cookie-cutter" cinema that has fans of bad movies worried.

"The saddest thing is that over the 32 years that we've been doing the Razzies, original bad, like original good, has just fallen by the wayside," says John Wilson, founder of the Razzies.

The problem appears to be endemic in the movie industry, with several best picture nominees failing to connect with the audience. Salon called The Descendants "the Oscar film that nobody likes." Fewer than half of the critics warmed to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Mr Duerfahrd worries that the pressure to make box-office hits with a wide appeal is taking a toll on both bad and good movies.

"Ambition is being dimmed by the effort to conform," he says. "We're not getting ecstatic bad movies very often, just boring failures."

Still, some films can still surprise and delight.

"I get why people awarding at the other end of the spectrum are all delighted with The Artist," says Mr Wilson. "That was a brave, risky movie to make.

"By the same token, Bucky Larson is a brave, unusual risky movie to be made," he says.

Whether those risks will be rewarded with a Golden Raspberry award and a place in the canon of memorably bad films remains to be seen.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I've seen a couple of mentions about it but I'm inclined to also alert people about "The Room" by Tommy Wiseau. One of the worst movies ever made but truly one of the most entertaining ones too. It was released in 2003 and re-surged into popularity over the last two years (partial credit to Nostalgia Critic). If you haven't seen it, please do; it's definitely a unique experience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Then there are films that are ruined by the studio. Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" was originally nearly 4 1/2 hours long and was only excluded from the Oscars on a technicality. For release Leone cut it to 3 hours 49 minutes, at which it is still an excellent film (IMHO). But the studio butchered it to 2 hours 19 minutes and it was slated by the critics and won a Razzie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Kate I saw Terri at the LFF and to say its a "boring films with lacklustre scripts and ho-hum acting" Is clearly nonsense. I really loved it and its one of my top films of the year. Maybe Terri was forgettable as it hasnt yet been realesed in the uk yet. So do your homework and publish dont lazy writing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    The Artist has got to get a Razzie for worst movie! As so often it's just the kind of film loved by the lovies and the critics and Hollywood itself - it's an insiders film about their own history - so no surprise that it wins. But shoot me down if you like - it was boring and tedious with a predictable storyline - imagine if it had had speech and colour - it would have gone unnoticed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    25. helo thar

    Yes, really. TF:ROTF was a terrible movie. The problem was the bad acting. babbling chatter and total idiocy of the story and script. It was possible to be and have all the things you mentioned, but not be so painfully stupid and crass.

    Some ofthe worst films are shown on SyFy. They show a lot of Asylum movies. They really are appalling, not 'so bad its good', just bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    From the disaster genre (that is, a disastrous movie about disasters) I submit City on Fire (1979).

    An all-star cast of actors, many of whom appeared previously in disaster blockbusters such as Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure, etc.. It included Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner, and Leslie Nielsen. A year later, Nielsen would appear in Airplane, a flick that intentionally spoofed them all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I saw robot monster thirty years ago and I still remember the robot telling the girl whose shirt he had just ripped open "I must kill all humans". Then looking at her trying to cover her chest he gasped "But I cannot! How do you calculate that!? Where do must and cannot meet on the graph?!" This stuff cannot die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    One of the all-time worsts is MANOS:THE HANDS OF TIME. I remember seeing this on Nite-Owl Theater on TV here in El Paso, TX, as a child.This was when we only had 3 stations, and they would go off the air after Johnny Carson...except on Friday night, when NOT was on.What was weird was seeing parts of El Paso in the movie. It is a little sad to know your hometown is immortalized in a film this bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I'm sorry, but did Mr Duerfahrd just try to compare Bucky Larson to The Artist? ......

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The all-time best films are:
    Mystery Squadron (1933, starring Bob Steele and Jack Mulhall);
    Flash Gordon (1936, with Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers and Charles Middleton);
    any Laurel and Hardy.
    All straight-forward (no confusing good with bad). All unpretentious.All unmissable.
    And if anyone reckons they're bad, I don't give a hoot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    There is a place for bad movies that take themselves too seriously, these are 2 of my favourites.

    The Room - http://www.theroommovie.com/ , a classically bad movie that is so funny it hurts.
    Troll 2 - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105643/ , they must have been in drugs when they made this one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Make a film with top notch special effects, exciting storyline and giant transforming robots from your childhood blowing each other up: Get called bad.

    Make an unbearably boring film about a man stuttering for two hours (That brought in half the amount at the box office): Win endless awards and praise.


  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Buried Alive 2. A guy tries to kill his wife by slipping blowfish ink into her drink at a restaurant. Unfortunately, the poison only causes temporary death and she wakes up in her coffin, digs herself out of her grave and gets revenge on her husband. A plot that even a 3 year old child would be shaking their head at in disbelief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    The Delta Force (1986) Chuck Norris..Lee Marvin..

    THE worst.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    One late night, while sleepily gazing at the TV, I had what seemed like an hallucinatory vision. It was short very cheaply made amateur sci-fi thing called The Creeping Terror. The monster was a shag carpet sandwich, with a person inside (visible momentarily) to make it move. A girl being eaten by this thing, while pushing herself in, was one of the most thrilling scenes in cinematic history!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    For me, the line between "so bad it's good" and "offensively bad" is all in the delivery. Putting in stuff which breaks the laws of physics is fine until you try to explain it with horrific science (see: Sunshine, The Core and 2012's "the neutrinos have mutated").

    The biscuit is truly taken by Battlefield Earth's "advanced alien race defeated by cavemen piloting 1000 year old Harrier jump-jets"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    In the not too distant future....

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "Fire maidens from outer space" The best ever!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Who said film was art? It's only entertainment. If you don't like it, don't watch it. It's entirely disposable. No need to feel guilty if you like or loathe it. The choice is yours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Worst movie I've ever seen was 'Drag Me to Hell' - time I will never get back.

    Best "worst movie" description i've heard was about 'Devil', described to me as, "There's 3 people stuck in a lift, one of them's the devil" - how I laughed!


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