All week, The Ringer will be celebrating Good Bad Movies, those films that are so terrible they’re endlessly amusing and — dare we say it? — actually good. Please join us as we give the over-the-top action movies, low-budget romance thrillers, and peak ’80s cheese-fests the spotlights they deserve.
On Monday, we determined the 50 best Good Bad Movies ever using a very thorough, very mathematical formula. But it’s Friday now, and on Fridays we don’t do math. So, as a way to both end this weeklong celebration of enjoyably terrible films and give shine to some of the films that didn’t make the official list, we’ve opened the floor for Ringer staffers to lay their reputations on the line and reveal their favorite Good Bad Movies.
Jason Concepcion: Armageddon, Michael Bay’s third feature film, is the most entertaining right-wing movie of all time. It’s the story of how oil companies, armed with nukes, save the world. It begins with Charlton Heston’s voice booming across the cold, dead vacuum of space as asteroids rake Earth. The heroes of the story are introduced in a scene in which Harry S. Stamper, the leathery oil rig captain played by Bruce Willis, gleefully rails golf balls at environmentalists. In exchange for saving every soul on Earth, the oilmen ask that they never have to pay taxes again. Like the rest of the Bay-verse, the film is an ardent believer in the ability of the twin poles of blue-collar masculinity and overwhelming military might to solve all problems. Even the end of the world. And, on top of all that, it’s petty. The movie includes a totally unnecessary shot at its summer of ’98 competitor, Godzilla.
But! Something about the void of space as a setting suits Bay’s mannerisms. One of Bay’s favorite moves, since his days as an ace music-video director during MTV’s golden age, is to pose his characters against a blaring sunset sky.
The black nothingness of space cools Bay’s hyperactive cutting style and the contrast makes the ensuing tornado of explosions and wreckage discernible. Outer space means no overwrought, seizure-inducing gun battles. When Harry Stamper’s crew of lantern-jawed petroleum dukes squint though their astronaut helmets into the unblinking face of certain death, you actually feel it. I mean, sure, the plot is basically corporatist propaganda that derides the non-military functions of government as a check on personal freedom and views book learning as the realm of sissies and sycophants. But it does that in an actually fun way. I’ll watch it anytime it’s on TV.
Lindsay Zoladz: Whenever I invite some friends over to watch Xanadu — a crucial stage in all new friendships — I send an email invite quoting a five-star Amazon review of the film titled, "Let Me Give You Kiddies a Little History Lesson." It is written by a person who claims, at 9 years old, to have been severely injured and unable to walk, and then magically cured by watching Xanadu one night on cable. "I had never seen Olivia Newton-John before, and I was mesmerized by the most incredible woman I had ever seen," this person writes. "I was up in no time walking around."
Released (with a resounding thud) in 1980, Xanadu has all the excess of the disco era combined with … well, all the excess of the forthcoming new wave era. Roller skates and sequins, spandex and Patrick Nagel–esque eye makeup, affixed to a deeply unnecessary story about … Greek muses? "To truly enjoy this movie," that Amazon reviewer also writes, "you have to be educated on black-and-white musicals, poetry, and Greek mythology." That is a lie. This movie is beautiful, ridiculous nonsense, and knowing anything about poetry or mythology will only make you frustrated at how badly those things are being mangled. Having seen even a single black-and-white musical will leave you cripplingly depressed, knowing that Xanadu was the last film Gene Kelly appeared in before he died. (Behold the legend dancing to ELO alongside a bunch of living neon-clad mannequins. I’m sorry?) Best to approach this movie in the spirit of the profound stupidity with which it was made.
Good Bad Movies are about watching with other people. Laughing and gasping and screaming "What the fuck?!" at the screen. A Good Bad Movie is something I’d never watch by myself, but which I almost compulsively want to share with other people. Over the years, I have watched Xanadu with different friend groups, while living in several different cities: I saw it on the big screen once and forever begrudged the friend I went with because he fell asleep during it. I have a vague memory of there being a part during a special feature interview with the screenwriter on the DVD where he cops to just totally giving up on writing the script about halfway through, but when I looked for the disc on my shelf to corroborate this, I couldn’t find it. I think I loaned it to a friend.
‘Bad Boys II’ (2003)
Shea Serrano: This is not a joke and I am not being silly or dumb or playful: How could anyone ever possibly consider Bad Boys II to be a Good Bad Movie? It’s not that. It could never be that. It can never be that. It can’t be any version of a Bad Movie. It can only be a Good Great Movie, or possibly even a Great Great Movie, if you find yourself watching it in the right kind of company. Bad Boys II is all of the things an elite action movie has to be: sleek, expansive, explosive, funny. Listen to me: There’s a gunfight scene where Mike and Marcus take on Haitian gangsters. Listen to me again: There’s a gunfight scene where Mike and Marcus take on the KKK. Listen to me for a third time: There’s a chase scene where bad guys THROW CARS at Mike and Marcus.
Listen to me for a fourth time: You have Will Smith doing the best version of the Directly Cool Tough Guy thing he’s ever done in his career, and you have Martin Lawrence doing the best version of the Indirectly Cool Clunky Funny Guy thing he’s ever done in his career. Listen to me for a fifth time: You have a foreigner bad guy and an undercover agent sister and a secret romance and a running therapy gag and an all-time great Answers the Door scene and I could honestly go on for hours and days and months. But I won’t, so just listen to me for one final time: Don’t you ever again in your life say that Bad Boys II is a Good Bad Movie. It’s not that. It could never be that. It can never be that.
‘That Awkward Moment’ (2014)
Sam Schube: That Awkward Moment is stuffed to the gills with stars, almost-stars, and the sort of exciting young breakouts we love to root for. Pre-Creed Michael B. Jordan. MacKenzie Davis and Zac Efron. Miles Teller, who is perfect. Imogen Poots, who I am still rooting for. And yet: This is a very bad, weirdly conservative movie about why women are scary, and how the only true love that’s possible is between bros who design book covers together. And yet and yet: It’s on cable a lot, and I’ve seen it more times than I care to admit. These are four extremely attractive and watchable people doing silly things, and also Miles Teller taking too much Viagra. There are worse ways to spend two hours.
‘The Island’ (2011)
Kate Knibbs: 2011’s The Island, a Bulgarian Swedish drama which premiered at Cannes, remains the single most messed-up movie I have ever seen and I need to tell you about it. In the movie, a German businessman named Daneel and his French girlfriend Sophie vacation on a picturesque Bulgarian island. When they arrive, Daneel confesses that he is not German but Bulgarian, and that he was raised as an orphan on the island. He sees his birth mother, maybe — it’s hard to tell because he starts to go insane, and he also sees her dead body? There’s a creepy old man played by Alejandro Jodorowsky issuing ominous predictions, and Sophie discovers she is pregnant. This is before it gets really weird.
Sophie flies back to Paris, and Daneel eventually decides to come meet her after several months of island-based vision-questing re: his maybe-dead mom. As they talk on the phone, ready to reunite, he sees an audition for the television show Big Brother. He hangs up on her to go audition, and is cast on Big Brother. He then becomes a sort of cult-like figure, delivering a series of sermons from the show’s confession booth. Sophie comes to the Big Brother house extremely pregnant, and she’s not even mad. Then, Daneel mysteriously vanishes from within the reality show’s set, causing an uproar in the European entertainment industry. Sophie has the baby alone. At the end of the movie, she attends a bicycle race, and insists that she is like the Virgin Mary, because Daneel was like Jesus. The camera pans to Daneel racing a bicycle past Sophie and their baby. She turns and winks at the camera. And that’s it.
The movie clearly believes it is great art, but it’s truly the most inexplicable narrative I’ve ever witnessed. But like all Good Bad Movies, it missed the mark with so much gusto that even thinking about it makes me smile.
‘The Room’ (2003)
Alyssa Bereznak: You know those American Idol auditions where a contestant belts out a tone-deaf rendition of "And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going" until one of the judges can’t take it anymore and tells them to stop? The Room is the movie version of that, except there’s no intervention. It’s an inexplicable 99-minute-window into the ego of the film’s director, producer, writer, and lead actor, Tommy Wiseau — a man who reportedly funded his own movie by developing real estate and importing leather jackets from Korea. The 2003 film, which has been called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies," is ostensibly a romantic melodrama about a love triangle between the main character, Johnny (Wiseau), his fiancée, and his best friend. In reality it’s a mix of soft-core porno and an accidentally absurd undergrad film. Story lines are introduced and forgotten at an impressive pace. Sex drives the conversation of almost every scene. The male characters are often found throwing a football around while saying nothing of importance, sometimes — for no apparent reason — while wearing tuxedos. When one character’s mother tells her she has breast cancer, it’s brushed off as if it were a sunburn. Nothing about this movie — the plot, the script, the acting — even grazes the realm of mediocre or reasonable. But that’s exactly why it’s a cult favorite: The Room is a spectacular monument to what happens if there’s no one around to say no to an overly-confident rich dude. Every historian should study it.
‘Wing Commander’ (1999)
Michael Baumann: The thing about Wing Commander is it’s actually three movies. Part 1 is Top Gun in Space with Matthew Lillard doing his best with bad material — and his best is good! Matthew Lillard is a good actor, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees — while Saffron Burrows grits her teeth and murmurs, "No way this and Deep Blue Sea both tank and ruin my chance at a career as a Hollywood lead." Part 2 is a bunch of Serious European Actors — David Warner, Jurgen Prochnow, David Suchet, Tcheky Karyo — closing their eyes and pretending that this silly space drama is actually a serious Cold War submarine movie.
But you can sense that they sense the futility of the exercise, because everyone knows this movie is actually about Part 3, which is Freddie Prinze Jr. — in a Bambi-eyed, slack-jawed empty-vessel performance to end all Bambi-eyed, slack-jawed empty-vessel performances — discovering himself against a tapestry of silly space alien combat with special effects that make contemporary episodes of Star Trek: Voyager look like something from 20 years in the future. Nobody, not even Freddie Prinze Jr. in 1999, is dreamy enough to save that.
‘Like Mike’ (2002)
Hannah Giorgis: [clears throat] "They playin baaaasketballl / we love that baaaasketballl."
Before Shad Moss there was Bow Wow, and before Bow Wow there was Lil’ Bow Wow. The scrappy young rap star charmed his way into the game with his fair share of hits, but it was 2002’s Like Mike that cemented his role as precious industry munchkin. Like Mike tells the story of Calvin, a young orphan who suddenly becomes unimaginably good at basketball after trying on a mysterious pair of sneakers with the faded letters "MJ" on them. Gasp — they used to be Michael Jordan’s sneakers! Calvin, who looks like he is training to one day become a natural hair blogger, is as shocked as everyone around him. Various predictable high jinks ensue, family-appropriate lessons are learned along the way, Dirk Nowitzki gives an excellent performance as Dirk Nowitzki, and Morris Chestnut looks predictably fine. But most importantly, Like Mike brought us Lil’ Bow Wow’s seminal basketball appreciation record, aptly titled "Basketball." The lyrics capture everything great about the movie. They’re corny, painfully obvious, and somehow impossible to not enjoy just a tiiiiny bit: "Now basketball is my favorite sport / I like the way they dribble up and down the court." How could you possibly disagree?
‘Pootie Tang’ (2001)
Rodger Sherman: Pootie Tang is a film by two comedic geniuses who have completely disavowed it. Louis C.K., who invented the character, wrote the script, and directed the movie, has said Pootie Tang was "a huge mistake" that "should never have been made." Chris Rock, whose Chris Rock Show spawned the character, has compared his involvement with the film to when Notorious B.I.G. appeared on the Junior Mafia LP, a decidedly non-classic album released by people he was friends with. C.K. has said the reception to the film was so bad, it’s helped shape his successful career since — he now feels safe doing pretty much anything, knowing he can survive producing a thing hated by literally everybody.
The movie is really based around one concept: That there is a man named Pootie Tang who speaks his own language and yet is somehow the most popular human on earth. He is a force for good — he advises kids to eat veggies, and the film’s antagonist is a billionaire who wants to use Pootie’s image to sell whiskey, switchblades, and pork-based cereal to children.
There is no Pootie-to-English dictionary. Using context clues, we can learn a few of his words — "tippie-ties" are children, a "damie" is a friend — but most of Pootie’s expressions are inexplicable. (Pootie stars in a film called Sine Your Pitty on the Runny Kine, his license plate reads "CLEEPA.") We’re just supposed to accept that everybody understands him.
That’s the entire joke. We’re not supposed to understand why Pootie is so successful in so many fields — "music, films, martial arts, pottery," as summarized by Bob Costas in the film’s intro. We’re not supposed to understand why women are intensely sexually attracted to Pootie, even though he’s a very strange-looking man who wears strange clothes and makes no effort to woo them. (Lance Crouther, who plays Pootie, has never had another speaking role in a film — he’s a writer by trade, and has been pretty consistently employed behind the scenes on a variety of TV shows.) We’re not supposed to understand why this "song" is a hit:
There is nothing to understand about Pootie Tang, least of all how Louis C.K. directed a PG-13 blaxploitation flick at a major studio in the 21st century. You’re just supposed to laugh at the incongruity. And I do. I don’t care if even the people who wrote Pootie Tang have disowned it. I laugh at every joke, from the first "wah-da-tah" to the last "sah-dah-tay."
‘The Boy Next Door’ (2015)
Ben Lindbergh: Anaconda (1997) propelled Jennifer Lopez to Good Bad Movie stardom, and Gigli (2003) padded her Hall of Fame case, but The Boy Next Door (2015) gave her all-time-terrible credits in her 20s, 30s, and 40s, the type of consistency reserved for legends of the genre. In the third installment of J.Lo’s lousy triptych — produced, unbelievably, by Blumhouse, in a whiplash-inducing follow-up to Whiplash — she plays Claire Peterson (sure), a high school teacher who’s married to an unfaithful husband. She’s soon seduced by the boy from-you-know-where, Noah Sandborn, a classmate of her son’s with a weakness for double entendre who’s brought to a faint facsimile of life by an extremely not-teenaged Ryan Guzman.
Noah overcomes Claire’s resistance not only by letting her paw his far-from-19-year-old abs, but by gifting her a "first edition" of the 3,000-year-old Iliad, which he claims — in a scene so bad that the original screenwriter disavowed all knowledge of its existence — to have bought for "a buck at a garage sale."
Sadly, the liaison soon takes a stalker-ish turn, and Claire tries to break it off, not only because Noah has become too attached, but because he can’t form grammatically sound sentences, a major turn-off for English teachers.
If there’s a moral to this story (there isn’t), it’s that a lover of the classics like Claire could never settle for someone who says, "I will never, ever … gonna let you go," no matter how chiseled his triceps.
‘The Whole Nine Yards’ (2000)
Rob Harvilla: I only remember one scene in this movie, but I feel like it explains a lot.
Plenty to enjoy here in 31 seconds. You get Bruce Willis in Sleepwalking Comedy Guy mode, playing a genial-sociopath hitman named Jimmy "The Tulip" Tudeski. You get Matthew Perry in Flailing Doofus mode (this remains his only mode), playing a hapless Canadian dentist. Michael Clarke Duncan shows up to cash a check and uncork a D+ death scene. And then you get the Beer Toss, a legitimately hilarious sight gag that made me laugh out loud at this goofball-noir farce for the first and only time.
This is a Bad Movie because they added a silly little whoosh as the beer can sailed past Perry’s head; it’s a Good Bad Movie because the moment’s funny anyway. To its credit, The Whole Nine Yards served as the breakout role for David Benioff muse Amanda Peet; to its detriment, critics didn’t like it very much, though it made enough dough to justify a sequel, The Whole 10 Yards, which critics liked wayyyy less. (Four percent on Rotten Tomatoes!) Everyone involved besides Peet is sleepwalking. But for half a minute or so, even sleepwalkers have their charms.
‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ (2005)
Micah Peters: Here’s the thing: regardless of its actual IMDb rating (6.5), Mr. & Mrs. Smith — Doug Liman’s 2005 action-romance-comedy-drama-thriller starring Angelina Jolie and a soon-to-be-served Brad Pitt — is actually a 10/10 movie. Well, it’s a 10/10 6/10 movie. It’s the best 6/10 movie, possibly ever. Meaning that, should I flip past it on FX on some lazy Thursday evening, no matter where it is in its 126-minute runtime, I will watch the thing to its conclusion — or at least up to the car chase scene, which is also a meet-cute. A reverse meet-cute? What do you call it when a married couple with eerily bland names reveal to each other that they’re both deeply embedded and very sexy secret agents who have matching prices on their heads? A factory reset?
Anyway, here is a sampling of some of the best dialogue ever put in a movie, all of which happens after Brad Pitt backs over a hitman with a minivan while talking about his art history degree — which is reputable — but before he breaks an awkward silence by singing Air Supply’s "Making Love Out of Nothing at All":
OK, so it doesn’t exactly work when you type it out. Whatever, just watch the movie and stop bothering me.
‘Sudden Death’ (1995)
Robert Mays: Sudden Death is Die Hard if it starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ah, see, now you’re interested.
Van Damme plays Darren McCord, a divorced ex-fire fighter haunted by his past. Because of course he does. Two years after the harrowing accident that ended his career, he’s working a bland fire safety job during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. To show us he’s a Good Dad, Van Damme scores a couple of tickets and scoops up the kids from their mom and her new boyfriend, who — I am not kidding — looks like this:
While walking his son through the locker room, Van Damme stops and has quick chat with Luc Robitaille in French, a language all Irish firefighters from Pittsburgh apparently speak fluently.
It’s far from the most acclaimed or recognizable Van Damme movie, but it is the only one that includes a fight to the death with a pro sports mascot. As if that isn’t enough, the whole thing goes down in a kitchen.
There would be no conceivable way for Sudden Death to use the hockey gimmick better than it does. Bombs are hidden in Penguins dolls, the scheme hatched by Powers Boothe (doing his best Alan Rickman) and his crew of perfectly accessorized goons is tied to the three periods, and the climax features Van Damme playing goalie during the deciding game of the NHL season. And that only comes after he uses Chekhov’s Super Soaker to roast a dirty secret service agent. It’s all anyone could ask for in compulsively watchable mid-’90s action movie, and Van Damme is just the man to tie it all together.