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The 20 Worst Films of 2023 (#10 – 1)

January 19, 2024 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Expend4bles, The Expendables 4 Image Credit: Yana Blajeva, Lionsgate

The 20 Worst Films of 2023 (#10 – 1)

Welcome, one and all, to the second part of my Movies Year in Review for 2023! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas, and today we’ll concluding our look at the worst films of the past year. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right into it!

On Tuesday, I kicked off my Worst Films of 2022 list with numbers 20 through 11. That portion of the list was heavy with Netflix action films and attempts at comedy that fell flat. For the bottom 10, we sadly dig deeper into horror as, while horror actually had a very good year in 2023, there was also a lot that flopped hard. We also have one more comedy, the worst superhero film of the year (it’s not whichever one you’re thinking of) and surprise, surprise — a #1 that isn’t Winnie the Pooh: Blood & Honey! Yeah, there was a worse film this year. Let’s just get right into into it.

Caveat: My criteria for a film qualifying for this list is simple: if a narrative film had its domestic release this past year, either theatrically or on VOD or a major streaming service, then it was eligible. The only other caveat is that I have tried, but have not seen everything that was released in 2023, especially factoring in streaming services. The films that I missed that could have likely qualified based on reputation were On a Wing and a Prayer, Sweetwater and Love Again. Other than that, I feel reasonably confident I would have seen just about every movie that would have likely made the list. For those curious, I saw a total of 212 films that were released in 2022 (up from last year’s 182).

Just Missing The Cut

The Pale Blue Eye
The Machine
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
White Men Can’t Jump

The First Ten

20: Heart of Stone
19: The Meg 2: The Trench
18: Paint
17: The Exorcist: Believer
16: The Mother
15: Quicksand
14: The Out-Laws
13: Hypnotic
12: Freelance
11: Silent Night

#10: Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire

Image Credit: Netflix

Kicking off the top 10 is the last Netflix film to make the list. You don’t have to be up on film news to figure out that Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon started off as a Star Wars pitch based on Seven Samurai; that’s evident in just about in every frame of this first part of the tale. Snyder reportedly pitched this not only to Disney as an R-rated Star Wars film, but also to Warner Bros. as a video game and a film. Nobody bit until Netflix chomped down in order to get in on the Snyder Cut action, and it’s clear why others passed. It’s one thing to wear your cinematic references on your sleeve, but Rebel Moon: Part One is the equivalent of a cosplayer dressing themselves up in an iconic character’s look, changing a couple elements and calling it an original characters. It is to Star Wars what the novel version of Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight — fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off.

Where to begin? With the droid-based expository dump of a narration that definitely NOT a text scrawl (we swear!) and introduces a number of generic background plot elements? With the fascistic galactic government that oppresses the outer planets and the spunky rebellion that is struggling to survive? With the backwater world where an act of Imperial (sorry, Motherworld) cruelty galvanizes our protagonist to get back in fight? With the trip to a hive of scum and villainy to find a pilot to take our scrappy little heroes to rebellion leaders? A planet named Saaldorun (pronounced more or less like “Alderaan” but with an S)? I don’t at all mind that Snyder was inspired by Star Wars — who hasn’t been? But when you’re told no, it’s time to change enough plot elements that it doesn’t look quite as much like a Wish remake of the IP you were hoping to join.

To make matters worse, Snyder’s push to get through the Seven Samurai plot means there’s no character development to the band of fighters recruited by Sofia Boutella’s Kora to protect her new homeworld. Everyone is just an idea; the charming rogue pilot, the serious one with the glowing swords, the rebel general haunted by his past losses. The scenes in which Kora and company do their recruiting are short vignettes stitched together by flashbacks to Kora’s past or shifts over to Ed Skrein’s Admiral Noble. Snyder is basically trying to Justice League things by introducing a lot of characters who pop visually without doing the work to make us care about who they are. For a two hour and 15 minute film, there is an unforgivable amount of shorthand.

The cast themselves are fine in embodying what are, by and large, barely characters. Everyone is appropriate to their archetypes, though Michael Huisman is a bit TOO everyman for his everyman sidekick and Boutella is forced to resort to a lot of glaring. Charlie Hunnam is charming enough, Skrein is dastardly and barely anyone else has enough focus on them to register. And that’s because Snyder can’t help but be Snyder, which means he needs to take up the runtime with all of his slow motion sequences and cool visuals. And don’t get me wrong here; it looks great for the most part, though two CGI sequences in particular jarringly took me out of their moments. If you’re looking for half of a Star Wars film with characters a fraction as engaging as the originals but with more attempted sexual assaults and way more headshots, then Rebel Moon – Part One is for you. It was very much not for me.

#9: Simulant

Image Credit: Mongrel Media

Simulant is a film that, like Quicksand in the first half, I almost felt bad putting on this list. This half-baked AI story feels like the kind of thing that would have been made for an extremely quick buck in the straight-to-DVD market. And yet it got a theatrical release and then was marketed pretty decently when it came to streaming. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why. I mean, I see the appeal behind it from a marketing perspective; you can play off the AI angle and there are some notable names in here that you can throw on the poster.

But that’s about all the movie has going for it. He’s an affable personality with decent charisma, but Robbie Amell doesn’t have to work with in the lead role of Evan, an android with the memories and appearance of a painter’s husband who isn’t supposed to know he’s not human. One of the problems with this movie is that the audience is way ahead of Evan in terms of knowledge. It’s obvious that he’s not human — even if you didn’t see any of the marketing, which makes it explicit — and so when it’s supposed to come as a huge revelation, we’re instead saying “Oh, he finally knows.” And from there we get into a pastiche of just about every robot, android and AI movie you’ve seen before. I, Robot’s Three Laws? Yep. Blade Runner’s agents that hunt down rogue AIs? Meet Sam Worthington’s Kessler. Androids as replacement humans? Very A.I. The list goes on. And because it’s all so obvious, there’s never any question of where this is going to go.

April Mullen is a talented director and actor who has done great work on television, but she can’t do much with what she has to work with here. Ryan Christopher Churchill’s script has more ambition than it’s plot allows, and doesn’t give any of its characters room to breathe beyond their basic outlines — which, in turn, gives the cast (including a wasted Simu Liu and Alicia Sanz) nothing to do. The actions scenes don’t do much leaving this film with nothing to stake its claim on. Combine all that with the utter lack of originality and you have a film that wanted to really do something, but just ends up a cheap imitation of other, better movies.

#8: Knights of the Zodiac

Image Credit: Stage 6 Films

Knights of the Zodiac feels like a superhero movie from another time; it’s the kind of movie that would have been made circa the mid-2000s. But much like Dragonball Evolution before it, this would have failed then too. This adaptation of Saint Seiya: The Beginning has all the hallmarks of a bad fantasy/superhero adaptation: a useless and overlong voiceover to start, an “eyes of the audience” protagonist who spends most of his time talking about how insane everything is, a slapdash mix of technofantasy, a plot that manages to be barebones and still convoluted, a halfhearted romance subplot between the hero and his damsel, a big CGI’d spiritual MacGuffin… you get the point.

The one positive thing I can give this film is that you can see where the $60 million budget went because while the special effects are overwrought and generic, they do look good. But beyond that, it’s all a waste. A very good cast is slumming it and playing the proceedings all too seriously; only Mark Dacascos properly leans into the silliness as Mylock, the badass assistant to Sean Bean’s mentor character. To be fair to the cast though, they’re all too weighed down with expository dialogue that tries to lay out the overly complicated premise to be able to have much fun.

By the time it all gets down to the goofy CGI-laden action-filled climax, we know how this going to go. We know who will betray who, who will have a change of heart, who will be completely sidelined by the end and how it will set up for a sequel that will almost certainly never come. It’s all so rote and by-the-numbers that it feels like the script came off an assembly line. There have been some bad superhero-esque films of the past few years, but even Morbius had to look at this Knights of the Zodiac and feel bad for it.

#7: Expend4bles

Image Credit: Yana Blajeva/Lionsgate

I don’t know many people who were looking for a fourth film in the Expendables franchise at this point. The Action Hero Cinematic Universe franchise dug always had a limited shelf life due to the fact that you can only find so many iconic action film stars, and pretty much everyone foresaw that at some point they’d be stuck with diminishing returns. (How they never got Cynthia Rothrock for one of these is beyond me, by the way). By the time the third one landed in 2014 with a hollow thud, most people had already moved on and there wasn’t a lot of interest in another entry.

And yet, here we are with a fourth film that somehow drops lower than part three. Scott Waugh directs from a script by Kurt Wimmer (we’ll see his name again in a bit), Tad Daggerhart and Max Adams, and the entire affair feels like an empty retread of what’s come before. The main difference is that Expend4bles feels more like a Jason Statham solo film with a whole bunch of cameos. Everyone else is sidelined while Lee Christmas is kicked off the team and goes on his own to do the same mission the Expendables are trying to accomplish — and sure, that’s a plot direction to go in. But the script telegraphs every plot point so clearly that you can predict the betrayals, the fake-out deaths and everything else well in advance.

And all of that is just window dressing for the biggest problems with the film. The script it’s just predictable; it’s simply awful. It’s the kind of screenplay that thinks Randy Couture’s cauliflower ear joke — a joke that was worn out by the second film — so so funny that he delivers it twice. A good example of the movie’s humor is when characters use 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” as a distraction tactic — which is weird because 50 plays a character in the film. That means either there’s someone in the Expendables universe who sounds exactly like 50 Cent who is a hip-hop star, or 50 Cent went undercover with the fake name “Easy Day” to live life as a mercenary. And I would be okay with that reference if it wasn’t emblematic of what a cheap cash-in the whole movie as. The visual effects are bargain-bin — unforgivable for a $100 million movie — and the performances are half-hearted at best. My only hope is that maybe, finally, this franchise has bombed hard enough that it can be retired at last.

#6: Dicks: The Musical

Image Credit: A24

A24 has built a reputation over the last decade or so as a studio making top-notch horror and independent drama. The studio has delivered more than its fair share of hits like Hereditary, Lady Bird, Uncut Gems, X, Moonlight, and Ex Machina, and it of course hit its peak with last year’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. But no studio is infallible, and Dicks: The Musical is proof positive of that. I understand the appeal of bringing Larry Charles in to adapt a deliberately crass and campy adaptation of an off-Broadway musical, but that doesn’t mean I can condone it.

I haven’t seen said musical — Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp’s Fucking Identical Twins — so I can’t comment on whether something was lost in translation from the stage to the screen. What I can say is that this movie about twins who reunite as adults and try to get their parents back together is cringe-worthy from start to finish. It should be noted that Charles’ narrative films have rarely worked for me; I liked Borat but hated Brüno and The Dictator. In addition, comedy is very subjective so maybe I’m just not the right guy for this film. But I can’t help but feel like this was an attempt to intentionally make a cult classic, and that almost never works. It certainly doesn’t here.

I love musicals, but this ain’t it. The songs aren’t particularly good, the characters are grating, and none of the jokes land because they’re all just trying way too hard. That includes the weird “sewer boys” plotline, a decent enough sight gag that goes well past its welcome when it becomes integral to the plot. Bless Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally for trying to make their parts work, but I found every one of Dicks: The Musical’s 86 minutes interminably long. I know I’m an outlier on this one, as it’s received decent reviews and audience reactions, but it’s easily the worst comedy of the year in my book.

#5: Fear

Image Credit: Hidden Empire Releasing

You can count on pretty much one thing when the new year begins: there will be a trash horror release in January. Last year was no exception thanks to Deon Taylor’s Fear. Taylor deserves credit for persistence and his championing midbudget thrillers, a genre that often seems all but dead these days. But that doesn’t excuse him from the sketchy movies he directs, including the 2021 flop The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 and this dog. Fear centers around a group of friends, one of whom is a horror author writing a book about fear, who take a weekend vacation of sorts to a remote cabin. When a pandemic strikes, the group is locked down and their fears start to manifest, and of course people start dying and/or turning on each other.

If that synopsis reads like a checklist of every tired trope in the genre over the last few years… well, you’re not wrong. Taylor’s script is filled with dialogue of the “People Do Not Talk Like This” variety and 2D characters, each with their own generic fear that they list off in succession in a scene that feels beyond forced. A cast of likable actors (and TI) have nothing to do here except play through the motions of the simplistic and maddeningly vague story. Taylor copies not only every trope he can find, from the upside down woods shot as a car travels to the haunted house destination to the “Google find weirdly-specific information about the threat” scene, Dutch angles, a sketchy monster with bad CGI, and more.

But most of all — and most unforgivably — Fear is just boring, with nothing remotely interesting happening until the end and implications that are perhaps a bit questionable for the era in which we live. This was an immediate early contender for worst of the year and while it didn’t hold onto the #1 spot, it still easily earns its place in the bottom five.

#4: Nefarious

Image Credit: Believe Entertainment

Nefarious has earned a lot of enmity in its attempt to be a secret delivery system for right-wing talking points about abortion, DEI and the like. Honestly, as much as I disagree with its messages, that didn’t bother me so much. I knew that going in, and it is what it is. I’m not going to judge it based solely on that, because it is trying to do something beyond just the message by attempting to entertain and actually be a horror film about a serial killer on death row who claims that he was possessed by a demon when he committed his crimes, and still is now.

The problem with this film is that it’s just not entertaining, nor is it a remotely-effective horror film. For almost all of its runtime, it’s just two guys — one the convict, the other a shrink row — arguing about whether Judeo-Christian demonic lore is fact or not. I don’t know how valid you can make the case that this is a horror film because it doesn’t try for horror or scares; it’s at best a supernatural thriller and even by those merits, it’s toothless. The dialogue is rote and never particularly interesting (and this is from someone who finds the lore across religions about demons fascinating); the conversation between the two comes across as a Wikipedia summary-level exploration of Christianity and faith. Writer-directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon also wrote the God’s Not Dead films, and those are thematically deep compared to this “Christianity Cliff Notes” tripe.

To top it off, the performances are quite uninspired beyond whatever the hell Sean Patrick Flannery is doing as the convict/demon (named “Nefariamus” by the way, because we have to figure out how to try and say the title diegetically in the film). Flannery’s scene chewing doesn’t really work, but at least he’s trying. Demonic possession has had a rough go of it this year between this and The Exorcist: Believer, and if not for one film that made its place on my Best of the Year list, I’d say perhaps it’s time to let this subgenre lie for a little while until movie-makers figure out how to do something new with it.

#3: Children Of the Corn

Image Credit: RLJE Films

Kurt Wimmer notches not one, but two films in my bottom ten thanks to this and Expend4bles. That’s a hefty fall for the man who was behind such hits as The Thomas Crown Affair, Equilibrium, The Recruit, and Salt. In complete fairness to Wimmer, he wrote this a while ago because it was shot in 2020 and just kept getting pushed back until RLJE and Shudder picked up the rights, debuting it back in March to indifference from general audiences and deserved derision from horror fans.

Children of the Corn has had multiple tries to get the story right; in addition to the frankly mediocre 1984 original and its eight (EIGHT!) sequels, there was a 2009 SyFy remake and now this reboot. None of them have ever been able to capture the effectiveness of Stephen King’s short story, but this may just be the worst (and yes, I’m including the direct-to-video sequels). Wimmer not only wrote this; he directed, and kicking it off with an overlong subplot regarding agricultural debate was definitely a choice. It almost feels like Wimmer is trying to bore us into submission so that by the time Kate Moyer’s Eden — the only person who understands what kind of film she’s in — starts leading the kids on their murderous rampage, we might be shocked into some sort of emotion. It doesn’t work.

In complete fairness, this isn’t trying to be an all-time classic, and its obvious that Wimmer is working on a paper-thin budget. So I can forgive the cheap CGI that looks laughably bad when “He Who Walks” finally comes out to play far too late in the runtime. But I can’t get into the fact that this film doesn’t want to commit to the bit; WImmer doesn’t even try to sell the notion that a bunch of kids accomplished what these ones do. Sharknado, as bad as it is, commits to what it’s doing and this one wants to try and play things serious, and that damns it. It’s not easy to be the worst attempt to start a new Children of the Corn franchise, so I suppose that’s at least one accomplishment this can claim.

#2: Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey

Image Credit: Altitude Film Distribution

I don’t care that Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey has poor production values, or that it’s a low-budget cash-in on the famous characters thanks to their entering the public domain. I love plenty of cheap, low-budget flicks, and the idea of getting free publicity by turning beloved children’s characters into psychotic slashers is actually quite brilliant. Kudos to Rhys Frake-Waterfield for that stroke of inspiration.

That’s about all the inspiration Frake-Waterfield has though, as he doesn’t particularly know what he’s doing beyond that. A film like this has inherent camp value, and you can even play that somewhat serious if you maintain some level of self-awareness of how silly your movie is. Outside of the appropriately-creepy masks, this film doesn’t have a whiff of that. Frake-Waterfield doesn’t let his slasher have any fun, and if you’re not having fun with this concept then why even go in on it?

On a technical level, it’s not up to par even for a low-budget film. And to be clear, that’s not due to a lack of funds; it’s due to a lack of either know-how or effort. The former would be good, as there’s plenty of room for improvement. Frankly, as long as he can figure out how to properly light a film to make his work viewable, it would be a huge step. I feel bad laying into this movie so harshly, but it earned a wide release and that’s how it has to be judged. It’s never fun in the way it could be, nor is it willing to lean into its DIY aesthetic or turn its weaknesses into strengths. I was hoping for a cheesy little “bad in a good way” slasher flick, but there isn’t anything good going on here at all.

#1: Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist

Image Credit: 101 Films International

When I was talking about Nefarious, I said that I wasn’t too bothered by the fact that it tried to be a secret message system for right-wing talking points. And I suppose one could complain that I’m not giving Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist the same leeway. One of the differences between them is that while I fervently disagree with Nefarious’ talking points, it does try to be entertaining; it just fails at that. Meanwhile, Left Behind isn’t trying to accomplish anything at all except its message. It’s clear in every frame of this cinematic abomination that star-director-conspiracy theorist Kevin Sorbo (yes, he directed this mess) just wants an excuse to spout QAnon conspiracy nonsense and rail against pandemics and anything that isn’t evangelical Christianity. (In case it isn’t clear that he’s just trying to slam home his talking points, the tagline for this movie is “Based on a true story… that hasn’t happened yet.”)

Listen, faith-based films can be good. There have been a number of good films built on the notion of faith, Christian and otherwise, including Jesus Revolution which came out earlier this year. The difference between those films and something like this is that they know they need to do more than just slam the pulpit and proselytize at audiences. Sorbo, on the other hand, is more interested in bringing the kinds of zingers against the pandemic and “woke” ideology that we’ve all seen on Twitter to the screen, couched in a sequel to the 2014 Nicolas Cage Left Behind and somehow playing way worse than even that film.

I can point out all the bad elements of this movie from a film-making perspective. The script is stupid, the performances absolutely canned, the visuals are cheap. The whole conspiracy thriller side of the film — in which the evil Nicolae Carpathia moves to take over the world — finds itself constantly butting up against the messages of faith that are the best parts of the movie (which is not saying much, but at least those try). From an objective level if you take the messaging out, this is the worst film of the year (no easy feat considering the runner-up). Put the antisemitism, COVID denial, and cartoonish attempts to portray QAnon conspiracy theorists as heroes back in play, and it’s not even close.


And that will do it for this! Have a good one and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.