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.
Hopefully, The Master will approve nonetheless.
20 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. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Ed Wood assembled what is probably his best cast for this, dubbed the worst ever made by The Golden Turkey, a book released in 1980 that helped the modern trend of appreciating “bad” movies in a unique light. You get Bela Lugosi in his final role, Vampira, Criswell, and Lyle Talbot, who seemingly never turned down a single project in his long, oddly distinguished career.
Plan 9 is also probably Wood’s most ambitious story, in which aliens create an undead army as a means of destroying the earth. Because we’re apparently just too darn keen on destroying ourselves and everything we touch. It’s a not-terrible idea punctuated with an awful script, combined with performances that waver between semi-professional and spectacularly inept.
All of these elements are easy to appreciate, if only because of the near-tangible ambition to bring this to the screen, which radiates from its Z-grade production values at every moment.
Watch if: You want to see a true classic in the so-bad-it’s-good field. Avoid if: You find it hard to take seriously aliens who failed eight times to destroy humanity.
4. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
A good example of a long-running franchise very few people actually wanted, Howling II is a spellbinding mess. It is the only sequel in the series to actually connect with the original. That in of itself is kind of interesting, and then it gets a whole lot weirder.
With a cast that included Christopher Lee, Sybil Danning, and Reb Brown, Howling II features very little in the way of actual werewolves. It also has Danning in an outfit that must be seen to be believed, which pairs nicely with the werewolf threesome. Of course it does.
And hey, I bet you’re thinking “Sure, a threesome is fine, but what about a werewolf orgy? Why not one of the most fascinating theme songs ever recorded for a film?” You’re in luck. Howling II can hardly be described, at the end of the day. It must be seen.
Watch if: You prefer werewolf movies with Christopher Lee, bizarre sex scenes, and one of the guys who’s played Captain America. Avoid if: You thought the first Howling was pretty silly.
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.