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The Worst Movies Ever Made

Movie-making is an inexact science. From the biggest blockbuster to the cheapest Z-picture, they all have an ambition to entertain, to tell a story that will resonate in the hearts and minds of viewers in one way or another. But sometimes, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, it doesn't go as planned. Perhaps there are problems with the screenplay, a lack of chemistry between lead actors, an inexperienced director — for whatever reason, the pieces can just fail to come together, and we're left with a product that is less than transcendent.

However, there are also times when those dysfunctional pieces come together perfectly, and a film project transcends badness to become something truly, jaw-droppingly, spectacularly awful. Along with all the classics, Hollywood has been producing tons of garbage for over a hundred years, so it takes something really special to be singled out as deserving a place among the very worst films ever made — and these are those films.

Manos: The Hands of Fate looks like it was made by someone who sells manure for a living

Hal Warren was a Texas fertilizer salesman who happened to have made the acquaintance of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant while participating in the shooting of a TV show as an extra. Over coffee, Warren proclaimed to his friend that filmmaking was easy — even he could make one, and Warren ended up betting his friend that he could do just that. He wasn't just shoveling manure: he wrote the first treatment right there on a cocktail napkin, and one of the most ill-conceived ideas in cinematic history — Manos: The Hands of Fate — was born.

The film that resulted from the friendly bet has so many problems that it'd be easier to catalog what didn't go wrong. Shot for $19,000, the Z-horror picture — in which a vacationing family stumbles across a weird cult — features long, dialogue-free shots of people driving, medium shots that inexplicably linger on after characters have stopped talking, reaction shots that don't appear to be reactions to anything, subplots that literally dead-end, and some of the most poorly-delivered, atrociously written dialogue you will ever witness. Its insanely shoddy production values have become the stuff of legend, especially after the film's notorious roasting on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The film was lovingly restored by a fan in 2011, so its astonishing ineptitude can be revisited by generations of future filmmakers.

Plan 9 From Outer Space was the worst director's worst film

Perhaps the first film to enter the public consciousness as a candidate for Worst Film of All Time, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the misbegotten "masterpiece" of the infamous Ed Wood, whose determination to succeed as a filmmaker was matched only by his acute lack of talent for making films. Any one of Wood's films would qualify as among the worst ever, but Plan 9 is an extra-special blend of terrible; unfortunately, it's also the final film of the great Bela Lugosi, whom Wood had befriended and who is featured only in the few scenes Wood managed to shoot before the screen legend's death.

The endlessly resourceful Wood made up for his star's absence by enlisting his wife's chiropractor to stand in for him (making sure there was always a cape covering his face, as the man looked nothing like Lugosi), which is perfectly illustrative of Wood's filmmaking technique. Painted frisbees on strings become flying saucers, boom mics float in and out of shots, and tombstones are accidentally knocked over in-shot like the cheap props they are. But the real treat here is the dialogue, which sounds as if it were written by an alien attempting (poorly) to mimic how humans speak and is delivered with the requisite amount of bafflement by the cast, who all seem to be in a daze. Plan 9 is a perfect failure, a testament to misplaced confidence in one's self — and an appropriate legacy for Wood.

Troll 2 doesn't know it's awful

The problems with Troll 2 begin with the fact that it is not, in fact, a sequel to 1986's Troll (despite its brilliant tagline "One was not enough!"), and the villains are goblins, not trolls. The film has become renowned for its incredibly clunky, heavy-handed, needlessly expository dialogue, which was the result of its screenplay being written by a non-English speaker, Italian writer/director Claudio Fragasso.

Despite appeals from his amateur cast, Fragasso insisted they deliver each line exactly as written, and their enthusiastic overacting renders nearly every line of dialogue in Troll 2 borderline excruciating. The cinematography and special effects are appropriately amateurish, the loopy plot fails to ever follow through on its occasional threat to make sense, and its scenes of "horror" and "violence" register as explicitly (if unintentionally) comical — none more so than in the infamous clip in which young actor Michael Stephenson delivers the most impossibly stilted reading of the line "Oh my God!" ever put to film. Stephenson would go on to direct the amazing 2009 documentary Best Worst Movie, detailing his experience taking part in the film — which contains the depressing revelation that Fragasso, for all these years, was under the impression that he'd made an awesome movie.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a great film done terribly

If you gathered together a group of random people with absolutely no interest in film and forced them at gunpoint to make a horror feature with almost no money and fewer resources, you would end with with something that would look a whole lot like 2008's Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Writer/director/producer James Nguyen's complete ripoff of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds tells the simple story of a couple whose romance is interrupted by an unexplained killer bird infestation, and its overall aesthetic — shot on the cheapest of video, stiffly acted, incompetently plotted despite the story's simplicity — would've been more than enough to earn the film its place in this discussion. But the birds themselves simply must be seen to be believed.

The attacking avians are rendered with the absolute cheapest, GIF-style CGI anyone has ever seen, dropped clumsily into the frame as our heroes bat and swat at the squawking menaces. The repetitive, grating sound effects which accompany their attacks only serve to ramp up the humor quotient, and some observers have gone so far as to wonder whether Birdemic was actually intended to be funny (Nguyen insists that this is not the case). The kindest thing that can be said about the film is that it's a singular experience, but even that faint praise was rendered moot when Nguyen released a sequel in 2013.

Battlefield Earth wasn't exactly the epic it was supposed to be

Battlefield Earth, based on a voluminous novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, may very well be the single most inept big-budget Hollywood "blockbuster" ever produced. Plenty of talented people allowed themselves to participate in it — most notably John Travolta and Forest Whitaker — but that talent was promptly sucked into the vacuum of one of the worst scripts imaginable, although it should be noted that any screenwriter attempting to adapt Hubbard's impossibly convoluted story would have had their work cut out for them.

None of this is made better by the film's aggressively harsh cinematography, with its penchant for washed-out color schemes and presenting everything (even simple, boring conversation) at crazily skewed angles, or its stupifyingly ridiculous costume design (which the great Roger Ebert famously described as having been "purchased from the Goodwill store on the planet Tatooine.")

But the true lowlight of the film is Travolta's bizarre overacting as an evil alien warlord. He punctuates each line with girlish giggles, shrieks, and all manner of weird vocal tics as if he were having a hard time pinning down his character during an improv comedy routine. The film is a towering work of ineptitude from start to finish; even critics who viewed it during its 2000 theatrical run knew that they were witnessing the birth of a decades-long Hollywood punchline.

Howard the Duck is just too weird

It's tough to remember when Marvel didn't utterly dominate the box office, but there was a time when Hollywood simply had no idea how to handle their properties. This can be illustrated with the famous, early false starts for the likes of Captain America and the Fantastic Four.

But for the strongest evidence of Tinseltown's comic cluelessness, look no further than the very first big-screen adaptation of a Marvel property. To call 1986's Howard the Duck a starring vehicle for a C-list character would be generous; fan favorite Howard tended to show up in strange, surreal storylines involving characters like Man-Thing and nemesis Doctor Bong. But producer George Lucas apparently felt he could do no wrong in the mid-'80s, and he brought the full staff of Industrial Light and Magic and a $30 million budget to the production, which would almost instantly be pegged as one of the biggest flops of its decade.

The film isn't so much funny as it is deeply weird, throwing Howard (who is mysteriously transported to Earth from his native Duckworld) together with human love interest Beverly Switzer (Lea Thompson), a strange pairing in the comics rendered downright disturbing in live-action. Its tone-deaf attempts at humor and creepy animatronics utterly baffled audiences, and the film struggled to make back half its budget domestically. It ended the career of director Willard Hyuck, showed the first big chinks in Lucas' armor, and tried its best to ruin a character who wouldn't appear on film again for nearly 30 years.

Things shouldn't be a thing

There are poorly-made films, and then there is Things, Canadian director Andrew Jordan's 1989 travesty involving some backwoods Satanic doings, an evil fertility doctor, and, well, some other things. Its plot may very well be the toughest to decipher out of every film on this list; yes, things happen, but it's tough to tell why (or even what). The dialogue is stilted and wrong when it's not utterly incomprehensible (or just inaudible), and the film was shot on cheap video through a thick blue filter that somehow makes it look even cheaper. Entire scenes and subplots go nowhere, porn star Amber Lynn shows up in a cameo that makes her adult work look like Shakespeare, and the camera wanders aimlessly, at one point shooting directly into the sun. Things isn't just a mess: it's an explosion of terrible filmmaking, every aspect of its production so incompetently executed that it's a wonder anyone even knew how to work the cameras.

Its dialogue is poorly dubbed, punctuated with audio artifacts and stretches of pure silence, and its murky imagery is stitched together in such a way as to make following its events close to impossible. Things set a standard for pure ineptitude that few films have even approached; it makes Birdemic look like Halloween, and it may be the most egregious waste of cheap videotape in history.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever was a bad idea gone bad

As pointed out by venerable critic Nathan Rabin in his Rotten Tomatoes editorial, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever was developed alongside its video game adaptation, which goes a long way toward explaining the movie's aesthetic. Inasmuch as there is a story, it involves the machinations of former FBI agent Ecks (Antonio Banderas) and professional badguy Sever (Lucy Liu), who are set on a collision course by a kidnapping — except there never is any collision, one of the many ways in which this film dives headfirst into the nonsensical.

The film takes the early '00s aesthetic of flashy action shots pieced together with frenetic, rapid-fire editing to an annoying extreme, while deliriously pounding the audience over the head with its bombastic soundtrack. The poorly-staged fight sequences are entirely unconvincing, as Liu in particular throws down with a combat style that could generously be described as "mannequin-like." Every weak, telegraphed punch sends opponents flying, every bullet causes something to explode — it's a perfect storm of everything wrong with action movies of its vintage, compounded by uniformly wooden performances and a plot that is at once supremely contrived and unbelievably boring.

MAC and Me shouldn't have phoned home

The 1988 film MAC and Me was an attempt — about five or six years too late — to cash in on the box-office-breaking success of Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, but that's not all it was. It was also an attempt to further cash in by stuffing the film to the brim with more name-brand products ever before seen onscreen, to the point where it could have aptly been titled Product Placement: The Motion Picture. In it, a young, wheelchair-bound boy befriends a horrifyingly ugly animatronic alien, and the pair awkwardly stumble through a story that only pauses long enough to prominently feature corporate logos.

MAC and Me is a film that can't be bothered to present a coherent plot, yet has no trouble grinding the proceedings to a halt for a full-on, music video-style dance number set entirely inside of a McDonald's restaurant (the friendly alien's moniker — ostensibly an acronym for Mysterious Alien Creature — was surely no coincidence). The dialogue is overwhelmingly cheesy, the alien looks like it could have come from your neighborhood Halloween store, and the plot's lazy reworking of E.T. is inane even by the standards of cheaply produced '80s kids' movies.

For a film so intensely calculated to sell products to undiscriminating youngsters, one might think that more care would've been taken to make MAC and Me even remotely watchable — yet, it's a movie that seems specifically engineered to grate on the nerves of kids and adults alike.