Last week, legendary screen actor Dustin Hoffman told the Independent newspaper that he believed the film industry is in the worst state that it has been in his entire 50 years of working in movies, citing production, funding, and time limitations unique to the current era.
Predictably, this started an AE conversation. Is Hoffman right in his candid observations, or is he just an old dinosaur grumbling about an industry that’s moving on without him? More importantly, if he’s wrong, what is the worst era in the history of cinema?
So we researched and debated until we came up with what we feel is a list of the worst eras from a film consumer perspective, starting with the 1960s, and we want you to vote on which is the worst. Feel free to hit the comments with any era not represented in our list!
The early 1960s can’t really be blamed for being awful; after all, cinema was still fairly new (even after being around for forty years), and people were still coming to grips with the ways to best use it. Judging any era prior to this would be like saying that three year old toddlers are the worst swimmers. There are great movies from this era, but in terms of the 1960s, the second half is where things really get rolling, while the first half is marred by B-movie holdovers from the ’50s.
Best films: The Apartment, Dr. Strangelove, La Dolce Vita
Worst films: The Beast of Yucca Flats, Eegah, The Creeping Terror, The Horror of Party Beach, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
The 1970s made for a great film decade. Nearly perfect. However, 1976 showcases the first instance of the movie industry’s most frequently exposed systemic flaw: ruin by the assumption that commercial profitability equals (or is at least more important than) quality. A couple of unimpeachable classics came out of our nation’s bicentennial year, but there is also an inordinate amount of terrible misses.
Best Films: Rocky, Taxi Driver
Bad Films: The Shaggy D.A., The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Track of the Moon Beast, Goodbye Norma Jean, To the Devil a Daughter, King Kong
1983 – 1988
Following the unprecedented and incomparable big blockbuster frenzy of the previous era, in which the boundless imagination of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas manifested as arguably the greatest cinematic period in American film history, 1983 introduced major studios’ uncanny ability to misunderstand established formulas of success. For every film that carried the flickering residual magic of the turning decade, there was a mutant misinterpretation, some film that functioned like the grossly unformed clone of its inspiration (Ghoulies, Mac and Me). Outside of blockbuster misfires, most of the films we think of “1980s classics” really only hold up in the scope of the 1980s, an alien decade whose sense of coolness was developed in a vacuum. There is nothing timeless about the mid-80s; nothing retro, nostalgic, or futuristic. Every preserved relic is exists on a flat, singular display in a novelty museum. And, for each of the films that succeeded through the 1980s’ insistence upon defining its own terms, there was a poorly thought sequel (Porky’s 2), an empty gimmick (Jaws 3D), or a baffling exercise in conceptual lunacy (Over the Top).
Best Films: Return of the Jedi, Amadeus, Ghostbusters, Aliens, The Untouchables
Worst Films: Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, Yor, the Hunter From the Future, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, Porky’s II, Superman III, Amityville 3-D, Staying Alive, Jaws 3-D, The Black Stallion Returns, Smokey and the Bandit 3, Revenge of the Boogeyman, Still Smokin’, Warrior of the Lost World, Meatballs Part 2, The Garbage Pale Kids, Canonball Run II, Two of a Kind, Ghoulies, Jaws: The Revenge, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Mac and Me, Ratboy, Rhinestone, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, Porky’s 3: Revenge, Over the Top
It was hard to choose the worst period of the 1990s as most of our research was waylaid with hideous reminders about the Oscars in the ’90s (Dances with Wolves beat Goodfellas! English Patient beat Fargo! Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction! Ghost was nominated for best picture!). The 1990s are a decade that people like to look back on in a sort of wistful nostalgia, as though everything was better at the end of the last century. Maybe it’s some weird pre-9/11 thing in which people imagine a Golden Age before the world got scary, or maybe people really, really liked Fresh Prince of Bel Air and wearing neon. Either way, while this was a decade that saw the rise of the independent film, it also saw nipples on the Bat-suit and an influx of post-1980s blockbusters that couldn’t decide if they wanted to be self-effacing or cooler than thou. And the worst year of the lot: 1997.
Best films: Boogie Nights, L.A. Confidential, Men in Black, Air Force One, Donnie Brasco
Worst films: Batman and Robin, Anaconda, Alien: Resurrection, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation , Speed 2, Spawn, Spice World, Steel, Volcano, Honey We Shrunk Ourselves, Home Alone 3, Double Team, The Postman, Flubber, An American Werewolf in Paris, Jungle 2 Jungle, Father’s Day, B*A*P*S
Nicholas Cage Films: Face/Off, Con Air
2000 – 2005
Sometimes you can measure a bad stretch by the lack of quality on the top shelf. The first five years of the new millennium allowed for the arguably the most boring string of Best Picture winners in the history of the Academy. Crash’s upset of the far superior Brokeback Mountain is enough to warrant the era’s inclusion for consideration as the worst in film history. Strengthen that case by investigating the worst of the era, and you may have yourself a frontrunner. Those with a distaste for superhero films will notice that this half decade contains the worst adaptations on record, and the high achievements of comic book adaptations (Spider-Man 2, Batman Begins) spawned the current Marvel/DC tsunami. And, in addition to all of this, we see Ben Affleck brought to near ruin (Gigli, Pearl Harbor, Surviving Christmas), the only existing instance of Bill Murray being uncool (Garfield), and Tom Green masturbating animals (Freddy Got Fingered).
Best Movies: Return of the King, Finding Nemo, Amelie, Adaptation, Minority Report, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Worst Movies: Pearl Harbor, Catwoman, Hulk, Battlefield: Earth, Scooby Doo, Garfield, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Son of the Mask, Secret Window, Crossroads, Surviving Christmas, Freddy Got Fingered, Fantastic Four, The Master of Disguise, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Alone in the Dark, and pretty much anything released in 2003: Gigli, Cat in the Hat, Boat Trip, Dumb and Dumberer, From Justin to Kelly, Gothika, Bad Boys II, Dickie Roberts
2010 – 2015
And finally, it’s only fair that we give Dustin Hoffman’s argument a fighting chance. How you feel about the current film era likely hinges upon whether you think filmgoers’ and studios’ addiction to superhero movies represents a nerd utopia or a cultural genocide. But even on the outside of that massive sub-genre, there’s a lot of badness to be observed. To date, the current decade has seen no less than a dozen Happy Madison Productions, and none of them were at risk for being unprofitable, while only one (Here Comes the Boom) holds a score over 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have had five productions this decade, doing the best they can to make sure that the Wayans Brothers aren’t labelled as history’s worst genre satirists. Further, the contemporary era has exhibited the worst of former celebrated artists Johnny Depp, M. Night Shyamalan, and Neill Blomkamp.
Best Movies: Mad Max and everything we listed here.
Worst Movies: Mortdecai, Pixels, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Boy Next Door, Chappie, Poltergeist, Hot Pursuit, The Gallows, The Cobbler, Oldboy, The Last Airbender, The Human Centipede series, After Earth, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, The Seventh Son, Vampires Suck, Jonah Hex, Bucky Larson, That’s My Boy, Zookeeper, Transcendence, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Winter’s Tale, Left Behind