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The Worst Action Movies Ever Made

Although they're often sneered at by critics, action movies can make for some pretty excellent cinema. Even if you exclude superhero and sci-fi flicks, "Die Hard," "John Wick," "The Raid," "Oldboy," "The Matrix," and "Mad Max: Fury Road" are some of the best movies of their respective eras, filled with shootouts and chase scenes, tightly choreographed hand-to-hand combat, quick wit, memorable characters, and villains you love to hate. Seeing an action movie that really works for the first time can be an unforgettable cinematic experience.

But of course, it's not exactly a hard genre to screw up, either. An uncountable number of filmmakers seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from the great action flicks that inspired them. Namely, that audiences will forgive lousy writing as long as there are pretty explosions to look at, or that what makes great action movies great is how many bullets are fired during the runtime, and not the characterization, themes, and craftsmanship of the movie. 

So what are the all-around worst action movies ever made? From "Abduction" to "Hitman: Agent 47" to "Alone in the Dark," we've got them all right here for you. Warning: Spoilers Ahead. Not like anyone cares.

Hitman: Agent 47

The original "Hitman" movie, based on the moderately popular video game series of the same name, was dropped into theaters in 2007. As per the Tomatometer, critics weren't fans. Criticism was levied at the movie's lousy script, performances, effects, and action sequences. Tragically, it was just enough of a financial success to get a reboot.

Enter: "Hitman: Agent 47." This reboot had one job, despite not needing to exist at all: improve upon the lackluster original while building on the few things in it that worked. As evidenced by a Tomatometer score even worse than the original, this did not happen. At all.

The movie, which follows genetically engineered killing machine/assassin Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) as he fights an evil corporation to unlock the secrets of his past, commits just about every action movie sin: A bad script. Lackluster performances. Action sequences that steal from far better movies without even being inspired by them to do something interesting. Atrocious product placement. Not to mention being a video game movie in the first place.

Worst of all, the movie is boring. Even if it had something to say, it lacks the wit and sincerity to get it across.

The Prince

Bruce Willis has starred in some all-time winners like "The Sixth Sense," "Die Hard," "Unbreakable," and "Pulp Fiction." But he's also made some serious losers. "A Good Day to Die Hard," "Reprisal," "Look Who's Talking Too," and "North" come to mind. Luckily for his career, most of those are either obscure, direct-to-DVD flops or foreign language entries that haven't gotten much attention in the US. But those are cold, small comforts for a filmography bearing the unremovable stain of "The Prince."

We have to imagine that Liam Neeson turned down the lead role in this irredeemable schlock-fest, in which Willis is supported by fellow big-timer-who-should-know-better John Cusack. Willis stars as a former assassin who comes out of retirement to take down an old rival and rescue his kidnapped dalksdjg09908g.

Oops, sorry, we meant "daughter." Fell asleep on the keyboard typing out that uninspired logline. Anyway, skip this movie, please. It was sent to direct-to-streaming purgatory for a reason, and the reason is, well, actually there are several. Unconvincing performances. Lousy writing. Boring action sequences. Take your pick.

Bangkok Dangerous

Ah, Nicolas Cage. Once a respected actor, he eventually slipped and fell all the way down the Hollywood mountain, emerging decades later at the bottom, covered in crap and bruises, as an internet meme associated with unwatchable schlock. He's recovered a bit since then (watch "Pig" if you haven't; it's fantastic), but it'll take more than one or two well-received indie films to salvage a filmography decimated by low-effort turds like "Ghost Rider" and "Arsenal."

One of his most profoundly unrecommendable duds was none other than 2008's "Bangkok Dangerous." Not to be confused with the mediocre but still vastly superior 1999 Thai original, "Bangkok" gets just about everything wrong in its attempt to tell the tale of Joe (Cage), a lethal assassin who befriends a target and gets hunted by a former client in Thailand.

The screenplay and the execution are in a tug-of-war to see which one is the most inept feature of the film. Everything is sloppy and uninspired and boring. That last one is the greatest tragedy of all: The movie didn't even manage to trip and stumble its way into "so-bad-it's-good cult classic" territory. It's just... blah. And there's nothing worse a film can be.


All the ingredients were there for Taylor Lautner to break out of the "Twilight" series as a Hollywood superstar. And yet, it didn't happen. We're not sure why and we won't waste time trying to find out. But we do know that his first attempt to legitimize himself as a bankable action hero, with 2011's "Abduction," went hideously awry and did far more damage to his career than good.

The movie follows Lautner as Nathan Harper, a troubled Philadelphia high school senior, who learns he was abducted as a child while researching for a school project. Like many other movies on this list, the premise isn't the problem. If done correctly, it could have been a perfectly recommendable action thriller.

Unfortunately, it was done very, very incorrectly. On Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie enjoys an Arctic approval rating, the Critics Consensus reads, "A soulless and incompetent action/thriller that not even a veteran lead actor could save, let alone Taylor Lautner." That pretty much sums it up. Lautner simply didn't have the credibility, the acting chops, or the support of competent writers and directors to salvage this miserably misguided dud of a film.

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Listen, video game movies are usually pretty bad. "Assassin's Creed" was bad. "Super Mario Brothers" was really bad. 1995's "Mortal Kombat" was also laughably bad. But it looks like a cinematic masterstroke compared to its 1997 sequel, "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation."

This movie, which stars Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, James Remar, and several other people you have never heard of, follows Liu Kang (Shou) and his warrior friends as they fight to stop the evil Shao Kahn from conquering Earthrealm. That all sounds fine enough, but when it comes to movies, it's not the thought that counts, but the execution. And hoo boy, did this movie fumble that part. That part, of course, being the entire thing. The writing takes no chances on anything and still manages to confound. The cinematography is flat and uninspired. The acting is unworthy of a student film. The special effects, well, aren't.

On Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie enjoys an embarrassing and still-too-high approval rating, the Critics Consensus reads, "With its shallow characters, low budget special effects, and mindless fight scenes, 'Mortal Kombat: Annihilation' offers minimal plot development and manages to underachieve the low bar set by its predecessor." Sounds harsh, but after watching this outrageous movie that shouldn't have ever been made, we can honestly say that the critics took it easy on the dummies behind this inept sequel.


This might sound mean, but there are certain movie stars who almost exclusively make terrible films. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage come to mind, but their hit-or-miss filmographies are at least partially balanced out with some classics. Beneath even them are the kind of names that make you wince when you see them gracing the cover of a "6 Explosive Action Thrillers" DVD set in a Wal-Mart bargain bin, or a dust-covered VHS tape in the back of Goodwill that's stuffed neglectfully between two copies of "Don Knotts Presents: How to Clean Your Inflatable Outdoor Pool, Part 2."

What were we talking about again? Oh right. Bad actors. Yeah, Milla Jovovich is one of those actors. Sorry, Milla. "The Fifth Element" is great, but between "Resident Evil: Extinction" and "Return to the Blue Lagoon," she's put out enough stinkers that her inclusion in a cast should set off every alarm. But none are quite as embarrassing as "Ultraviolet."

The movie follows Jovovich as Violet, a martial artist infected with a kind of vampirism in a dystopian world where such a diagnosis lands you a death sentence. With her sword and friends by her side, she leads a revolution against the tyrannical government that wants her and her kind dead. Sound inspiring? It is. For bad filmmakers who can tell themselves, "Hey, at least I didn't make 'Ultraviolet.'"

Samurai Cop

"Samurai Cop" wasn't exactly cruising for an Oscar when it was released in 1991. Its name alone should've given that away, but if you need further proof, get a load of this premise: Matthew Karedas stars as Joe Marshall, a police officer trained by samurai, who is tasked by the LAPD with taking down a Japanese, cocaine-dealing drug ring known as the Katana.

Try to imagine the dumbest possible execution of this already delightfully absurd premise. Got it? Good. Well, nice try. But we regret to inform you that this movie is at least twice as stupid as that.

As you might expect, the acting is abysmal. The actual filmmaking craft is lazy and inept. The fight scenes, which are really the only things a movie like this needs to nail, are staggeringly, fascinatingly bad, made worse by the fact that only a handful of scenes feature swords instead of guns. What we do get as far as swordplay is unintentionally hilarious. Some of the pratfalls when actors get shot or punched are fine, but the flat blocking and overall dumpy-looking presentation looks like it was made for a soap opera in the '70s.

Luckily, "Samurai Cop" achieved the best possible outcome for a movie worthy of this list: It's established itself as a bonafide, so-bad-it's good cult classic. That's rarely the original intention of a filmmaker, but movies this lousy need to take what they can get.

Robocop 3

Nothing is more '80s than ruining the legacy of a surprise one-off hit movie with half a dozen increasingly lousy and unnecessary sequels. And one of the worst offenders is the "Robocop" franchise. The original, about a nigh-indestructible crime-fighting cyborg, is a disarmingly sharp satire of American culture run amok that absolutely bleeds glorious '80s schlock. The sequel, however, was a significant step down, pulling in less money and nabbing a notably lower Tomatometer score compared to the beloved original.

And it was only downhill from there. Unwilling to accept that the first movie said everything the franchise was capable of saying, even after the original star and director wisely turned down the opportunity to do a second sequel, new director Fred Dekker proceeded to beat an already-dead horse into a pile of rancid, unrecognizable meat with 1993's "Robocop 3." In this movie, our increasingly silly hero tries to avenge his former partner while fighting to save Detroit, Michigan from falling into the clutches of an evil mega-corporation.

As evidenced by its placement on this list, the movie was a critical and commercial flop. On the Tomatometer, where it enjoys an appalling score, the consensus reads, simply, "This asinine sequel should be placed under arrest." Between the hokey, ham-fisted messaging, the outrageous-but-witless action sequences, and the feeling that the franchise had essentially run its course, we can't help but agree.

Speed 2: Cruise Control

"Speed," in which a cop (Keanu Reeves) tries to save the lives of bus passengers after discovering the vehicle was rigged to blow if its speed dropped beneath 50 miles per hour, was one of the most inventively entertaining action flicks of the '90s. "Speed 2: Cruise Control" was not. Reeves was smart enough to steer clear of this misguided 1997 sequel, but Sandra Bullock and Willem Dafoe got run right over.

In the story, John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), a deranged terrorist, hijacks a cruise ship and sabotages its control systems, ensuring it will crash into an oil tanker if it isn't stopped. Alex Shaw (Jason Patric), a cop vacationing with his girlfriend Annie (Bullock), do their best to bring Geiger down. It's later revealed that Geiger was seeking revenge against the cruise line for firing him when he got copper poisoning. We sincerely hope the screenwriter wasn't trying to blow minds with that reveal, but whatever.

In the end, the heroes save the day by steering the ship into a town on the island of Saint Martin instead. Which seems worse? Again, whatever. It's worth noting that the crash landing scene is still one of the most expensive and elaborate stunts ever filmed. Which is more embarrassing than impressive when you realize that they went through all that effort only to bomb at the box office, receive Razzie nominations in 8 out of 12 categories, and crash land on Rotten Tomatoes with a rancid critic's score.

Left Behind

The Kirk Cameron-fronted "Left Behind" movies, based on the novels of the same name by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (which were themselves based on Biblical end-times prophecies), weren't much to write home about. But they almost look like award-season contenders at this point, because the 2014 Nicolas Cage-fronted reboot was bad. Really bad. Historically bad. Bad enough to rank among the worst movies that Nicolas Cage has ever made. And as anyone familiar with his career can tell you, that's saying a lot.

The movie only used the source material sparingly and focused more on action than theology. Maybe that approach could've worked in more competent hands, but it certainly didn't pan out here. In this movie, Nicolas Cage plays Rayford Steele, an airline pilot who's in the air when the Biblical rapture occurs, taking the souls of Christians to heaven and leaving behind billions of grieving, dumbfounded survivors. Meanwhile, Rayford's daughter Chloe tries to navigate a panic-stricken city in search of her brother, who is among the countless missing. It actually sounds like a great premise for a movie.

But the filmmaking decisions made throughout the story, which are never short of baffling, ruin whatever potential the movie might have had. The result is a calamitously, hysterically incompetent action-drama-disaster-thriller-Christian movie that doesn't come close to succeeding in any of those genres. It's a wonder why there haven't been any sequels.

Alone in the Dark

Plenty of directors have made more bad movies than good ones, even if they're too dense to realize it. But there's one name that stands head and shoulders below the rest when it comes to devastatingly unwatchable action movie garbage: German filmmaker Uwe Boll.

Often helming and self-financing video game adaptations with predictably disastrous results, Boll makes movies so proudly devoid of wit, ingenuity, and competence that schlocky SyFy originals look like "The Godfather" in comparison. One of his movies, 2005's Christian Slater-fronted "Alone in the Dark," is often, and deservedly, listed as one of the worst films ever made.

The movie is an adaptation of the 2001 video game of the same name, despite no one in all of history ever clamoring for a film adaptation of it. The only thing the movie has going for it is that, between the mind-numbingly stupid screenplay, special effects that would've looked dated in an early '90s TV movie, and Tara Reid's — let us check our notes here — "performance," it is absolutely hilarious to watch. And that's not nothing. Just, you know. Really, really close to it.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

And here we are, at the top (bottom?) of the list. "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," about two rival special agents (Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu) who eventually join forces to take down a common foe, was based on a video game for Gameboy Advance. And in typical game-movie fashion, the game was a whole lot better than the film.  

Thing is, "Ballistic" is not just a bad movie. It's not even just the worst action film ever made. It is literally — get this – the worst reviewed film in the history of Rotten Tomatoes. We're not kidding. Not a single one of its 118 reviews was positive. The Critics Consensus puts it thusly: "A startlingly inept film, 'Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever' offers overblown, wall-to-wall action without a hint of wit, coherence, style, or originality." It's true. The 118 vicious critical takedowns are leagues more entertaining than this incomprehensibly dull drivel. "Ballistic" indulges in every imaginable cliche and choreographs its reveals so clumsily it makes you wonder if the movie meant to keep anything a secret from you in the first place. Maybe it should've started with the entire plot.

Unacceptably, "Ballistic" also fails to grab the last branch available to bad movies: being unintentionally hilarious enough to live on in "so-bad-it's-good" territory. And that cannot be forgiven.