Let’s be honest: Everyone likes bad movies. Everyone has a list of their best worst movies of all time. The beautiful thing about it is that the criteria for such a list is even more varied than people who have a list of the best movies ready to go.
When Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted its first non-public access season in 1989, they included a neat feature at the end of most episodes. Hapless human-in-space Joel Robinson would bring his robots together, ask them to say something good about the movie, and reward them with a RAM chip as a snack for doing so. I always liked that feature, although I get why they didn’t keep it around in later seasons.
I mean, really, what nice thing can anyone really say about Manos: The Hands of Fate?
Yet there are people who can tell you several things they love about that movie, widely regarded as one of the worst films of all time. To be fair, it does have a unique atmosphere and presence that is hard to shake. That doesn’t mean it’s good per se, but it does cause you (and me) to watch the movie again and again. Bad movies are fun, but the truly enjoyable examples wind up receiving more dissection and discussion than even some of the greatest films ever made.
It’s a raging, raving pile of rotting cinematic lemons, and yet here we are, watching, discussing it. We are fascinated by the strange decisions that were made by the people involved. Then there are things which make an impact beyond what was presumably intended by those involved. The movies that make up these lists usually share a quality of sincerity amongst them. These are not cynical, soulless, joyless blockbusters in the Michael Bay vein. Well, usually not.
Bad movies that are also enjoyable are often also some of the most unique movies ever made. It is certainly possible to approach appreciation for a movie from that particular angle.
All of the qualities discussed here exist among this chronological ranking of the best worst movies of all time. They can also be found in the honorable mentions, which you’ll find at the bottom of this article. As is always the case with these articles, there just wasn’t enough room for everything.
Hopefully, The Master will approve nonetheless.
15 Best Worst Movies Of All Time
1. The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
A full-length musical western with an all-midget cast? Not only is it real, and not only is it pretty terrible, but Tiny Town is also pretty endearing. Whether or not the entire movie is a joke that lasts far too long is largely irrelevant.
The cast, particularly the great Billy Curtis, take the whole endeavor rather seriously. Still, there is something slightly surreal about a zero-budget western with songs that is populated entirely by midgets. Yes, there is indeed a tall list of short jokes.
Watch if: You want to see something that’s admittedly pretty weird. Avoid if: The whole thing seems a wee bit exploitive to you.
2. Glen or Glenda (1953)
Although Plan 9 from Outer Space is the more infamous of writer/director/producer/actor Ed Wood’s filmography, Glen or Glenda is far and away the most interesting thing he ever did as a filmmaker. That doesn’t translate to a good movie, but you still have Wood’s willingness, perhaps even desperation, to use the Christine Jorgensen sex reassignment story as a way to discuss his own feelings about such subjects as transvestitism and crossdressing.
Glen or Glenda is a brave, baffling mess of a movie. It has Bela Lugosi as a character with no connection to the plot that anyone can discern. It has a lot of garbage thrown in to pad the running time. Truly, it is one of the weirdest bad movies anyone has ever made. It is also personal enough to be a beautiful, even moving story in its own way.
Watch if: You want to see an Ed Wood movie that truly emphasizes the interests and personality of the director. Avoid if: You’re still creeped out by guys in dresses in 2019.
3. Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966)
Writer/director Ray Dennis Steckler makes Ed Wood look like Christopher Nolan by comparison. If you like bad movies, then that obviously means you’re in for a wild ride. Steckler’s movies are more than just zero-budget tributes to debauchery. They also reflect the obsessions and bizarre creativity of an original filmmaker in every sense of the word.
Rat Pfink a Boo Boo is *probably* the most entertaining film in Steckler’s filmography. That has never been a more backhanded compliment than it is right now, but there is still a grubby charm to this, combined with a car crash delirium that genuinely feels like losing your actual mind.
Come for the harrowing crime drama. Stay for the absolutely bonkers transition into what is technically a superhero movie.
Watch if: You want to say “Well, I didn’t see that coming.” Avoid if: You can’t shake the feeling that the title is going to be the most entertaining part of this movie.
Also known as the movie that haunts MST3K alumni/RiffTraxian Kevin Murphy to this very day, Manos: The Hands of Fate has to be seen to be truly believed. Conceived and brought to life by a fertilizer salesman on a bet, Manos is a story about a family of morons who decide to spend the night at an early, less successful version of an Airbnb.
They wind up falling to the cruel, confusing machinations of a cult leader and his assistant (the legendary Torgo). Within that flimsy plot is something that feels less like a film, and more like an attempt at committing some sort of ghastly, far-reaching crime.
One of the greatest cult movies of all time, Manos is essential viewing for anyone new to a universe of art that’s so bad, it’s good.
Watch if: You want to see one of the most glorious train wrecks in cinema history. Avoid if: You have a low threshold for grating soundtracks.
5. Ömer the Tourist in Star Trek (1973)
I don’t know a lot about Turkey. Nonetheless, if this absolutely gleeful, comprehensive rip-off the original Star Trek series is any indication of things, it seems like an interesting place.
There isn’t really a lot about Omer the Tourist in Star Trek that you can honestly discuss. The movie is a simple combination of plots, characters, settings, and even footage from Star Trek with a then-popular Turkish comedy character named Ömer.
That’s it. A man who is essentially a Turkish Pauly Shore annoys the crew of the Enterprise, and then eventually more-or-less helps them out. Along the way, the movie pulls out virtually every imaginable stop in the name of keeping the main thread of its plot going. This movie is a train wreck with shades of being a legitimate wonder.
Watch if: You want to see what is technically the first Star Trek movie. Avoid if: You don’t think anything could be sillier than the third season of Star Trek.
6. Mommie Dearest (1981)
Here’s the thing about Mommie Dearest, based on a tell-all about Joan Crawford by her adopted daughter Christine: Despite the stunning lengths this movie goes to with scandal and melodrama, Faye Dunaway is quite frankly incredible as Crawford.
The authenticity of the book has been repeatedly contested through the years. This movie, which is goes over-the-top about ten minutes in, is clearly more interested in presenting salacious detail in the loudest possible way. No one has ever wanted to watch this for its factual potential.
People watch it to see a movie that absolutely buries Joan Crawford. Faye Dunaway makes the proceedings even stranger by opting for a performance in step with the rest of the film, but one which also has an element of sympathy for this deranged woman. It is an interesting performance in one of the campiest movies ever made.
Watch if: You want to finally get that “NO WIRE HANGERS!” joke. Avoid if: You need your biopics to be at least 15% factual.
Maximum Overdrive is an absurd movie, supported by a deranged script, and featuring a cast who at least seems to be having a good time. This is not a movie that’s overly concerned with plot, characterization, logic, or dignity. It is something that only could have been made in the 80s.
Maximum Overdrive also boasts a soundtrack entirely created by AC/DC, in addition to a general sense of madness that also feels fearless. This is the kind of bad movie that is best enjoyed among an enthusiastic gathering of like-minded people.
Watch if: You want to see just how far cocaine can take a one-time director’s dreams. Avoid if: The thought of a sweaty Pat Hingle terrifies you more than anything King has ever written.
Outside of all that, Howard the Duck is another train wreck that you just can’t stop watching. The story of an anthropomorphic duck who gets stuck on earth was amazingly budgeted at thirty-six million dollars. Every penny of that is on screen in a movie that frequently doesn’t seem to know what the hell is going on. That much will keep you watching to the end. You may wind up loving this ugly little weirdo, as well.
Watch if: You want to see a movie that kind of feels like a low-key acid trip. Avoid if: The thought of Lea Thompson seducing a duck doesn’t particularly thrill you.
9. Over The Top (1987)
Sure, there are lots of movies about custody battles, fathers bonding with their children, and Robert Loggia. More importantly, how many of those movies are centered around the exciting world of COMPETITIVE ARM-WRESTLING?
At the height of the 1980s, Sylvester Stallone still genuinely believed he could do anything. Over the Top makes abundantly clear the threshold of his talents as an actor and writer. Yet the intense, heavy-handed seriousness of this film is compelling.
When most movies take themselves way too seriously, they lose most of what makes them enjoyably bad. Over the Top somehow sidesteps this, which is a quality that Stallone deserves credit for pulling off again and again. This is the peak of that concept, and you will probably root for Sly and his idiotic dreams in spite of yourself.
Watch if: You don’t think custody battles have enough arm-wrestling. Avoid if: You hate annoying kid characters in movies.
Fairly successful when it came out, Roadhouse has gone on to enjoy one of the most unique examples of the afterlife of a cult classic.
The story of a bouncer who goes up against a local criminal and his small town empire (with Sam Elliott as the sexy mentor to Patrick Swayze’s heroic bouncer) is another one of those ridiculous movies that speaks to you in a most somber tone. This movie never stops taking itself seriously, even as some of the most ridiculous scenes and fights populate the relentless, inevitable pursuit of a showdown with Ben Gazzara.
Part of the enjoyment of Road House involves being okay with how straight-laced this ridiculousness seems to be.
Watch if: You can observe Dalton’s 3 rules. Avoid if: You can’t.
11. Troll 2 (1990)
If you do a Google search for “Best worst movie”, you will probably get the documentary of the same name. It is a documentation of not only the making of Troll 2, which was not a sequel to anything, nor a movie that actually had trolls, but of the decidedly odd impact this film has had on people over the years.
Troll 2 is another one where a plot summary seems pointless. There’s a remarkably unlikable family, an RV full of idiots, and a town full of goblins. Nothing else really matters. Troll 2 is absolutely wretched in every sense of the word. Its strangeness is what ultimately makes it so memorable.
Watch if: You want to see something stupefying in its stupidity. Avoid if: You might have an issue with a movie that assumes goblins are the same as trolls.
12. Nothing but Trouble (1991)
One day soon, Chevy Chase will die, and movies like Nothing but Trouble will make up the bulk of his dubious legacy. That aside, Nothing but Trouble is also directed by, written by, and stars Dan Aykroyd. While Dan has had his share of bombs in his long career, nothing compares to the fact that Nothing but Trouble was so poorly received upon release, it was almost treated as an elaborate war crime.
It’s another train wreck of a film, to be sure. Yet it escalates its madness with such recklessness that you have to stay to see what happens next. If nothing else, what happens from one moment to the next in this regrettable trash masterpiece will leave you stunned. Worth watching for a small role by Tupac, as well as John Candy in a role that will make you want to weep quietly, and alone.
Watch if: You want the early 90s more or less summed up in one bad movie. Avoid if: You can’t stand Chevy Chase in any form or fashion.
If you want to bookend your bad 90s movies experience, I honestly don’t think you can better than Spice World. A feature-length movie that features all of those spicy English ladies in a movie that more or less feels like a rip-off of something The Monkees and/or Beatles might have done.
To be sure, if you found the Spice Girls grating in the 90s, this isn’t going to change that. I would nonetheless recommend soldiering through anyway. This is one of the worst musical comedies in film history, and it is a quite frankly amazing example of what happens when you spend millions of dollars on something and have no idea what you actually want to do with it. The sea of celebrity cameos is not to be missed either.
Watch if: You want to see a star-studded, oddly endearing misfire. Avoid if: You absolutely hated the 90s, and you wish this current wave of nostalgia would go away.
14. The Room (2003)
At this point, it is almost impossible to appreciate The Room as the weird little turd of a movie that it is. Thanks to James Franco, RiffTrax, and thousands of midnight screenings, it has become an event movie on par with the likes Rocky Horror Picture Show. Still, this banal story of a guy who loses his girlfriend to his best friend has more than just an awkward approach to misogyny.
Watch if: You want to get all those quotes. Avoid if: You hate the fact that something like The Room is more famous than thousands of better films will ever be.
15. The Wicker Man (2006)
As more and more movies embrace their badness to the point of constantly winking to the knowing audience, it gets harder to find bad movies that are also enjoyable. The worst movies of the 2000s and 2010s are largely cynical, joyless affairs. At best, they are funny, but the fact that they know what they are all about makes it hard to actually have a good time.
That’s why, in case you’re wondering, Sharknado isn’t on this list. I don’t have time for movies that are too smug to be sincere. It’s boring, and it’s a lazy jackass approach to satire. It has created an entire generation of movies that are being made with the intention of being terrible. Virtually all of the best worst movie of all time were made by people who genuinely set out to do the opposite.
The Wicker Man, an alarmingly misguided remake of a classic, is absolutely sincere. You seem to get that with Nicolas Cage, regardless of what you hire him to do. Not only is The Wicker Man ridiculous and terrible for its own unique reasons, but it is also a very impressive affront to everything that made the original film so good. In the universe of so-bad-it’s-good Nicholas Cage movies, which occupies a significant place in bad movie history these days, The Wicker Man is a deeply delusional, glorious king.
Watch if: You want to know what’s in the bag. A shark or something? Avoid if: You get a little uncomfortable around bees. Or Nicolas Cage. Or bees covering Nicolas Cage’s face.
Best Worst Movies – Honorable Mentions
Another difficult list to construct. Hopefully, I didn’t miss your favorite, which might be one of the following runners up, presented in no particular order:
– Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) – Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) – Miami Connection (1987) – Waterworld (1995) – The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
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