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The Untold Truth Of The Razzies

The night before the Oscars is a nervous one for the movie industry — and not just for nominees anxious to find out whether they've beaten their rivals to claim possession of Hollywood's most lusted-after naked man. Some of those jitters belong to people who've scooped up the prize that no one in show business wants. We're talking about a Golden Raspberry, aka a Razzie, which is handed out in a gloriously chaotic ceremony that's traditionally held the night before the Oscars. 

Some see the Razzies as a cruel mockery of creators' hard work, but the awards' founders insist that they're intended as the "we're not mad, just disappointed" awards. Needless to say, actors have had some pretty unique reactions to the event, and over the past several decades, the ceremony has generated a lot of controversy, interest, and behind-the-scenes stories. This is the untold truth of the Razzie Awards, previously won by presidents, a rubber shark, and obnoxious emojis.

The Razzies were founded by a jaded showbiz insider

In 1981, John Wilson was disgruntled by the state of Hollywood movies. He'd recently been hired by a company that made movie trailers, and part of his job was to watch 253 entrants to a festival the company was sponsoring. As he put it to Time in 2009, "When you see that many movies, the odds do not favor the stuff that the Oscars or Globes are talking about."

Even in his downtime, Wilson couldn't escape bad movies. He told Entertainment Weekly that the previous summer, he'd been refused a refund after sitting through a 99-cent double feature of the highly inaccurate Village People biopic Can't Stop the Music and the Olivia Newton-John-starring Xanadu. "It really made me mad. On the drive home, I kept thinking about all the bad movies I'd seen that year," he said.

However, Wilson didn't plan for the Razzies to become an irreverent younger sibling to the Oscars. The first "ceremony" was a game for guests at his 1981 Oscars-viewing party. He had them vote on five categories, including Worst Director and Worst Movie of the Year. To Wilson's probable satisfaction, the highest dishonor went to Can't Stop the Music. The game was so fun Wilson that repeated it the next year and got a bit of local press. By 1984, the Razzies had attracted so much attention Wilson decided to hold an official ceremony.

The first Razzies made a controversial choice

Technically, movie preference is subjective. And the voters who gathered in John Wilson's living room for what went down in history as the first Razzie awards proved that when it comes to movies, one audience member's treasure truly can be another's trash.

In a blog post written in May 2020, Wilson recalled that the ten nominees for Worst Director of 1980 included someone many people now think of as a genius — Stanley Kubrick, for his adaptation of The Shining. Wilson wrote that this was "one of the most controversial choices our voting members ever made," and that those original members still get grilled for it.

However, Wilson stands by Kubrick's nomination. His explanation comes down to a classic culture battle — the book versus the movie. According to his blog post, a sizable faction of his Oscar party guests were fans of Stephen King's novel, and they'd been looking forward to seeing it onscreen. But when Kubrick left out several visually impactful scenes they thought were practically made for the movies, they revolted. (King also disliked how The Shining book differs from the movie.)

That said, Wilson regrets Shelley Duvall's nomination for Worst Actress for her role in The Shining. We now know Shelley Duvall almost quit The Shining because of Kubrick's abuse on set. Wilson writes, "We suspect he badgered her into a cowering performance ... we would like to place the blame solely on him."

Anyone can vote for the Razzies

The untold truth of the Oscars is that there's a rigid system set up to determine who can vote. As Variety explains, new members applying to a branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) have to be approved by all 17 branches' executive committees and the AMPAS board. Once you've been accepted, you vote on the categories in your branch (e.g. writers vote for Best Original Screenplay) and for Best Picture. Voters are responsible for seeking out movies, which is why films with expansive advertising campaigns often do better.

The Razzies take a less formal approach. Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017 that about a quarter of the then-1,014-ish Razzie members are journalists, another quarter work in the movie business, and half are people who've bought memberships through the website. (As of January 2021, a new voting membership costs $40 a year.) For perspective, in 2019, AMPAS had 8,469 eligible Oscar voters, and the Golden Globes had 87 voting members.

Razzie voters are also geographically diverse. In 2017, they had members in nearly every state and about 23 countries, according to Wilson. "I think we are the only awards that have all those different sectors of opinion voting on a single award," he explained. Wilson has also admitted that he limits the list of possible nominees, with help from Rotten Tomatoes. A rating lower than 50% puts a movie in the running, while lower than 10% almost guarantees a nomination.

Razzie trophies are cheap to make

This may surprise you, but those tiny raspberry-shaped trophies are pretty easy (and cheap) to make. However, the construction has changed slightly since the very first Razzies were presented in John Wilson's living room. Those were made of foam and mounted on the lid from a jar of a now-defunct raspberry iced tea mix. Now, the base of a Razzie trophy is made from any lid that's about the right size, one that's filled with plaster of Paris to weigh it down and then spray-painted gold.

On top of this is the plastic core of Super 8 film reel, coated in a wood-effect vinyl and also spray-painted gold. Needless to say, the film reel is pretty difficult to find these days. The golf ball-sized raspberry is made from modeling clay studded with gold beads, and of course, it's spray-painted gold, then topped with a fake leaf and secured to the base using a wooden doweling.

The Golden Raspberry Foundation estimates the trophy's monetary worth at $4.97. But in 2004, Wilson sold one on eBay for $1,700. It was originally intended for Ben Affleck as Worst Actor for Gigli, who broke when it was presented to him on Larry King Live. Wilson used the money to pay for the venue for the next year's ceremony.

The Razzies aren't about being mean-spirited

Although many critics have called out the Razzies as mean-spirited, John Wilson insists that's not the point. He sees them as an antidote to the self-congratulatory nature of most Hollywood awards ceremonies and a chance to remind the people in the industry that the voices of their ticket-buying audience matter. "We like to think of it as a comment from the peanut gallery. This is the folks who pay the money to see the movie, saying, 'You blew it on that one,'" he told NPR.

In some ways, being nominated for a Razzie should be flattering. Razzie co-founder Mo Murphy explained to NPR that the awards aren't about mocking people for their lack of talent. Instead, they're about reminding people who actually are good at their crafts that they aren't infallible in the hopes that they'll do better in the future. As Wilson told Awards Watch in 2015, "What we're trying to say rather than 'how dare you' is 'why would you?' If you're John Travolta and you've been an Oscar nominee multiple times and you do have talent, what are you doing making stuff like [Battlefield Earth]?"

Many Razzie winners also have prestigious awards

Since Razzies are supposed to shame talented people who made poor choices (or efforts) in a particular project, it's logical that many recipients also have prestigious awards lining their trophy cabinets. Actors with at least one Oscar and Razzie include Ben Affleck, Al Pacino, Nicole Kidman, and Marlon Brando.

Some Razzie dishonorees have even managed to win an Oscar and a Razzie in the same weekend. In 2010, Sandra Bullock won the Worst Actress Razzie for All About Steve the night before her Oscar for The Blind Side. In 1993, Disney legend Alan Menken picked up a Razzie for Worst Original Song thanks to Newsies, followed by an Oscar for "A Whole New World" from Aladdin 24 hours later. In fact, Menken is one of two EGORTs – an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Razzie, and Tony winner. The other is Liza Minelli, who won her Worst Actress Razzie in 1989.

Even more impressive, some movies have scored both Razzie and Oscar nominations (not including Redeemer Awards). This exclusive list includes Batman Begins, Suicide Squad, Joker, and The Godfather Part III. (Sofia Coppola won Worst Supporting Actress for the latter, but she later collected a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Lost in Translation.) So far, only one movie has managed to win at both awards. In 1988, Daryl Hannah won Worst Supporting Actress for Wall Street at the Razzies, the night before Michael Douglas was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

These actors are repeat Razzie offenders

Just like the Oscars, the Razzies have favorites. In close contention are Adam Sandler, who has 17 nominations (including a Redeemer Award for Uncut Gems) and six wins, and John Travolta, with ten nominations and four wins.

Travolta's nominations are especially humiliating. He's been nominated for Worst Actor of the Decade twice, for the '90s and '00s. Plus, he's starred in and produced the Worst Drama of Our First 25 Years and Worst Picture of the '00s – Battlefield Earth, which also accounts for one of his Worst Actor wins. In 2015, Wilson said that this movie holds the record for most votes for Worst Picture, collecting 83% of the total that year. At the time, Travolta claimed he didn't know about Battlefield Earth's Razzie wins.

However, one actor has so many Razzies that he's been unable to ignore them. Sylvester Stallone has 24 Razzie nominations and 11 wins, including Worst Actor of the Decade for the '90s and Worst Actor of the 20th Century. Ouch. This latter award may have pushed Stallone to defend himself. Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter, "We did get a voicemail that sounded like him — for legal reasons we can't say it was him — but his point was my movies make money. ... You're not exempt from the Razzies if your movie made money." On the bright side, unlike Travolta, Stallone has received the Redeemer Award Razzie for his Oscar-nominated role in Creed.

Multiple presidents have won Razzies

In addition to winning the White House, three U.S. presidents have the less prestigious honor of claiming Razzies. In one of the very first "ceremonies," former actor and president Ronald Reagan was awarded the 1982 Worst Career Achievement Award. In 2005, George W. Bush won the Worst Actor Razzie for playing himself in Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. He was also nominated for Worst Screen Couple alongside "either Condoleezza Rice or His Pet Goat."

However, the U.S. president who's proved most successful at being the worst — at least by Razzies' metrics — is Donald Trump. Even before he elevated himself to the status of "Person in Control of the Nuclear Codes," Trump won Worst Supporting Actor for 1991's Ghosts Can't Do It. And just as with his predecessors, becoming president wasn't enough to protect him from the wrath of the Razzies. 

In 2019, Trump broke a presidential Razzie record, winning two awards in the same year. Namely, he nabbed Worst Actor and Worst Screen Combo, both for playing the same role — himself — in two different movies: Death of a Nation and Fahrenheit 11/9. But the limelight wasn't all Trump's — the latter award was shared with "his self-perpetuating pettiness." In addition, his wife, Melania, was nominated for Worst Supporting Actress for playing herself in Fahrenheit 11/9, but she lost to her husband's then-senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway.

Some Razzie winners get in on the joke

Not all Razzie winners respond to their awards with angry phone calls, public tantrums, or total denial. Over the awards' 40-plus years, some — including Dwayne Johnson, Tom Selleck, and Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven — have publicly accepted their Razzies.

In 1988, now-infamous but then-beloved entertainer Bill Cosby arranged his own mini Razzies ceremony, accepting the three Razzies he picked up for Leonard Part Six on a late-night Fox talk show. However, he first had the awards remade from Italian marble and 24-karat gold, according to The Hollywood Reporter, bumping their worth up to nearly $30,000. He also took the three trophies to an appearance on The Tonight Show.

The two most famous Razzie acceptance speeches actually happened at Razzie ceremonies. In 2005, Halle Berry collected the Worst Actress Razzie for her titular role in Catwoman in person, and she gave a speech satirizing the emotional Best Actress Oscar speech she'd delivered three years earlier for Monster's Ball. She even thanked Warner Brothers "for casting [her] in this piece of s***."

In 2010, Sandra Bullock accepted her Worst Actress Razzie for All About Steve by bringing along a cart of DVDs for everyone in the audience and joke-threatening to go line-by-line through the script to prove she didn't deserve the award. The next night, she won the Best Actress Oscar for The Blind Side, which probably helped soften the Razzie-shaped blow.

The Razzie introduced a nicer award in 2014

Playing into Razzie founders John Wilson and Mo Murphy's insistence that the point of the awards show is to encourage talented actors to do better in future, the Razzies introduced the Redeemer Award. The idea is to recognize past Razzie winners or nominees whose recent performances or projects has gone some way to repairing their reputations.

Given out in 2015 to honor the previous year's work, the very first Redeemer Award went to Ben Affleck as a belated nod to his Oscar-winning Argo and 2014's Gone Girl. Affleck had previously been nominated for a Razzie six times, including for Worst Actor of the Decade for the '00s, and he'd won twice, including Worst Actor for three films all released in 2003. But just two years after earning his Redeemer Award, he picked up a Worst Actor nomination and a win for Worst Screen Combo (alongside Henry Cavill), both for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

This whiplash has become a Razzie Redeemer pattern. In 2017, former nominee Mel Gibson received the award for directing Hacksaw Ridge, only to pick up a Worst Supporting Actor Razzie a year later for Daddy's Home 2. It was even more severe in 2019. Melissa McCarthy was in contention for the Razzie Redeemer Award thanks to her Oscar-nominated role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but ultimately, she won the Worst Actress Razzie for Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders.

The Razzie categories aren't set in stone

Where even the suggestion of changing the Oscar categories can lead to furious backlash, the Razzies are much more flexible. For example, the category of Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property has only appeared twice, being awarded to Con Air in 1998 and Rambo: Last Blood in 2020.

Other special Razzie categories include Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million, which has so far only been awarded to TwisterDis-Honoring the Worst Movie Trends of the Year has only been won by "58-year-old leading men wooing 28-year-old leading ladies," and Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3D was won by The Last Airbender.

One way to get a category you feel particularly passionate about into the Razzies is to sponsor it. In 2018, the Razzies partnered with Rotten Tomatoes to award Baywatch the So Rotten You Loved It Award. Dwayne Johnson even accepted the prize in an Instagram video, saying, "It means the s**t sandwich you have been eating is so bad that you eventually started to like it."

There's one prize even the Razzies' staunchest opponents might just agree with. In late 2020, the Razzies blog announced that 2020 had won a special and hopefully one-off prize — ​"Worst Calendar Year EVER!" Additionally, for the first time, movies that went directly to streaming would be eligible, meaning formerly safe streaming services might want to clear some shelf space.

You don't have to be a human to win a Razzie

Where Oscars tend to go to boring things like humans, songs, and movies, you don't have to be any of these things — or even a tangible or visible being — to win a Razzie.

"The rubber shark from Jaws" (real name Bruce) won a Worst Career Achievement Award in 1987, likely inspired by that summer's upcoming Jaws: The Revenge. Over a decade later, "the animatronic anaconda" from Anaconda won a Worst Screen Couple Razzie with Jon Voight.

Sticking with terrifying fake animals, in 2020, the Worst Combo Razzie went to "any two half-feline/half-human hairballs" in Cats, beating co-stars "Jason Derulo and his CGI-neutered 'bulge'" and the rival nominated duo of "Sylvester Stallone and his impotent rage." Johnny Depp has also been co-nominated for the same award multiple times, alongside such prestigious costars as "his worn-out drunk routine" (for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) and "his fast-fading film career" for Sherlock Gnomes. The combo award has even gone to "any two obnoxious emojis" for The Emoji Movie.

Perhaps most meta of all, in 2018, the Razzies gave the Redeemer Award to "a safe Hollywood-haven where talent is protected, nourished, and allowed to flourish with proper compensation." And in case you were wondering, Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter that he's the one who comes up with the wording of the nominees, displaying what he describes in the same interview as "a quirky sense of humor."