I debated a bit about doing a Worst Films list this year. I avoided it last year, mainly because I only saw 30 movies from 2020 by the end of the year. 2020 sucked enough as it was, and I just didn’t feel like piling on, and I wasn’t sure I’d bring it back, but I was convinced by another critic who said that part of discussing the movies you love means being able to discuss the movies you didn’t love.
Making a movie is hard. It’s really hard. I’m sure if I made a movie every year, it would show up on the bottom list of at least one person. Film is subjective.
We’re going to break down the worst films of last year, to me. I’m going to showcase the movies that just didn’t work for me and try to explain what about them didn’t work. The best kind of criticism is constructive, so let’s get started on the movies that failed to connect with me as a film fan.
Just a few notes, once again, because we have to say this or someone will inevitable Not Get It:
- I didn’t see every movie that came out in 2021. I saw a considerable number, but movies escape and, to be honest, I didn’t go out of my way to see movies that were not well-reviewed by my peers or movies that I didn’t have an interest in.
- This is my personal list. You may have liked some of these movies. I just didn’t. Subjectivity is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? If you disagree with one of my picks, drop a comment defending the movie. I love the discussion.
- I still have not seen The Emoji Movie from 2017. Deal with it.
Let’s get started…
- Space Jam: A New Legacy
- Space Jam: A New Legacy makes a great argument for why the first film is actually pretty great. The original Michael Jordan-led Space Jam is fun and nostalgic but not a great film by any stretch. It just has that lighting-in-a-bottle weirdness that fused a popular NBA star with the Looney Tunes and somehow made it watchable. Seeing this long-awaited sequel just showcases all the ways that the original film surprisingly works. A New Legacy is one of those films that just makes you scratch your head more than anything. It’s a piece of studio-created 115-minute merchandising reel that just shows off a lot of IP, but does nothing interesting with them, and the IP sidelines the Looney Tunes, almost like WB didn’t have faith in them to begin with. Add to that a LeBron James in the lead role with zero charisma (something that Jordan had in abundance) and the film just bores. Also, the actual basketball has no tension or stakes because there are all these Style Points where players get extra points for looking cool. The fact that Warner Bros is the ultimate enemy here is really funny though, as A New Legacy lit up the studio before The Matrix Resurrections stepped in to finish the job. I haven’t even mentioned the weird IP characters in the crowd. When you have someone who isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the Mr. Freeze that is from Batman & Robin in the crowd, who is that for? Wouldn’t WB own the rights to his portrayal of the character within their Serververse? I mean, the logistics of the in-universe logic are head-scratching, and who was the target audience for putting the nuns from Ken Russell’s The Devils in this film? WB won’t even release The Devils, yet they’ll put reference to it in a family film. I’m just so confused by it all.
- I had a lot of faith in this one. It had the Warner Bros Animation stamp of approval (and the animated DC stuff is quite good), and it was a new stylized retelling of a classic horror zombie film. I’m just frustrated by the budgetary choices on this one. They mostly reused George A. Romero’s classic script about a group of people holed up in a farmhouse as the dead rise to devour the living, so no money spent there. So why spend money getting recognizable names to do the voice and spend literally pennies to actually animate the damned thing? This is one of the ugliest-looking movies. Perhaps the point of the film was a meta-commentary on zombies because the finished product is a soulless cash-grab. I kind of love that Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain so that anyone can go in and do their take on the timeless story, but the poster sells a style that the movie cannot deliver, and there isn’t a notable win in any place throughout the film. Mostly, I’m mad I spent 10 bucks to see it. This is one that could’ve been so much more.
- Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin
- Cash-grab might be one of the themes for this list. The idea of the Paranormal Activity franchise returning seemed like a really great thing. Saw returned this year as well, so it’s only natural to bring back the other powerhouse horror franchise from the 2000s. They even had Christopher Landon writing the script and William Eubank (Underwater) directing, so the pieces looked in place. It also had a new setting with new characters but seemed, at least on the surface, to have some surprising connections to the original mythos. Alas, this didn’t happen. Next of Kin was Paranormal Activity in-name-only, a found-footage film that frequently ignores the rules of found-footage with a lackluster plot, uninspired characters, and an ending that falls flat, but more than that, I was hoping this film would have some way of further expanding on the mythology that fans have come to love, but Next of Kin doesn’t really do anything with its run time that would merit remembering. I…was…bored. Not a great sign for a horror movie, and Next of Kin is probably the worst of its franchise.
- The Ice Road
- Jonathan Hensleigh has written some great movies, and he even directed one in 2004’s The Punisher, but this is a far cry from those films. The Ice Road, a Netflix film, is one of the many Liam Neeson-led action movies that, in recent years, almost seem to just run together into an amorphous blob of terribility. Don’t get me wrong, I pride myself on being one of the first to openly praise the excellent revenge-action film Taken, the first Neeson action film of this ilk, and I stand by it (and the second one isn’t all that bad either), but it’s been more than ten years since that film, and the mileage that has been made out of this type of movie has sputtered and come to a stop. These are paycheck movies, and The Ice Road, which started out promising, just became another throwaway. I hadn’t seen an action movie about Ice Road Truckers, and with Laurence Fishburne in tow, I felt like I was set up for something good, but then the film takes a slippery turn into absurdity with a weird betrayal heist subplot that takes over the entire movie and completely lost me. This was an all-around disappointment.
- Cry Macho
- This is starting to feel like a Warner Bros hit job but let me explain. I didn’t go to the theater for the first 5 months of the year, and I don’t search out bad movies, but I didn’t want to miss out on theatrical-at-home with HBO Max. WB released some incredible movies last year, but they released some crap as well, and I couldn’t put off watching them or they would disappear from the service, so I watched them. I watched them all, and the one that was the toughest to get through (though not the worst one of all, as you’ll soon find) was Clint Eastwood’s newest film Cry Macho. This one appeared out of nowhere, with little fanfare and there’s a reason for that. It’s horrible. Eastwood had kind of sworn off Westerns after Unforgiven, a Western that deconstructed the aging cowboy archetype, and he should not have returned. This is a boring, slogging movie that doesn’t amount to anything worth conversing about. Eastwood’s Mike is a former rodeo star bringing his ex-boss’s son back from Mexico, and it felt like the worst parts of Eastwood’s recent fare mixed with a half-assed Rambo: Last Blood sequel, and none of it works. Normally, I can see what Eastwood is trying to do with his lesser movies, but I’m at a loss here. There’s a reason no one is talking about Cry Macho.
- Reminiscence could’ve been great. It had an interesting concept, a unique plot device that could lead us to interesting narrative choices, and a nicely stacked cast of strong performers, but Reminiscence, the first feature from writer Lisa Joy, trips over itself throughout the entirety of the run time. This machine that uses memories could’ve been used to tell us a story through memories, but instead, we get a lackluster plot that became more groanworthy with every new reveal. I get that Hugh Jackman’s Nick Bannister is supposed to be a noir hero, but his voice-over didn’t add anything. I get that he’s an addict, but his addiction to Rebecca Ferguson’s Mae (an understandable addiction if there ever was one) goes nowhere interesting. There are a lot of Nolan-esque ideas at play here, but Joy doesn’t use them well, and the problems stem from an uneven and bland script, unfortunately. I got wasted-potential vibes similar to Transcendence here, but that film was more watchable in its convolutions.
- Clifford the Big Red Dog
- Here’s an IP all the kids were clamoring for. Sorry to say, Clifford just might not be viable right now. Add to that, a creative team that constructed a silly narrative based on getting just three things right: he’s a dog, he’s big, and he’s red. They got that right, too, but nothing else. The narrative places our villain as a guy who is looking to solve world hunger, so obviously he’s the bad guy, and we get saddled with an uninteresting niece/uncle relationship that’s without laughs and without heart in equal measure. To top it all off, the most boring element of the whole film is Clifford. He had no personality, no character, and I know it is weird to get all mad at a dog, but Clifford should feel like a character in his own movie. They had an opportunity to use that Dog’s Purpose/Dog’s Journey/Dog’s Way Home technique of dog inner-monologue quite nicely here, but they didn’t, and the movie ended up a dud. Stick to Martin Short’s Clifford, a true classic.
- There are quite a few people that feel very different than I on the subject of Zola. I’ve seen it on “Best Of” lists a few times this year from a few people I tend to be in agreement with. The nicest thing I can say is that it’s a little bonkers and definitely a unique vision for a director, but for me, very little actually worked in this movie. I really liked Colman Domingo and a few other smaller characters peppered throughout, but this movie bored me and, to be frank, annoyed the shit out of me at times as well. I can’t say much more than that, but if this director comes out with another film, I’ll give it a try. When it comes to the story of Zola, the tweet thread is much faster read and a whole lot better.
- Tom & Jerry
- The last, and certainly the worst, of the WB travesties of 2021 on this list, Tom & Jerry was just another attempt at taking IP that kids are less familiar with today and throwing CGI versions of them into real life. I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this one, but with Chloe Grace Moretz as the lead human, I felt like maybe there was something unexpected at play here. Turns out, I was wrong. Tom & Jerry is just another one of these movies where the humans are given too much to do and none of it is entertaining while, at the same time, we have CG blobs causing generic havoc in a given location.
- Outside the Wire
- All the other movies on this list are ones that I could sit through if my wife or family or friends wanted to watch. Outside the Wire, a Netflix movie you probably haven’t heard of, is one I can’t even recall anything good about. This was, if I remember correctly, the first 2021 film I saw last year, and I was bored to tears. I had to pause multiple times to get up and walk away because what I was subjected to was just plain boring. Nothing internally offensive here, just a boring movie that wastes a solid enough premise and an interesting cast on a movie that seems to have a checklist of cliches and plot contrivances, seemingly trying to accomplish them all in one sitting. I’m sorry to say that Outside the Wire is my least-favorite movie of the year.
So there you have it. These are my least-favorite movies of the year. Thank goodness that’s over. Now, let’s get onto better things.
What were you least favorite movies of 2021? Let me know down in the comments!
-Kyle A. Goethe