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The 20 Worst Films of 2023 (#20 – 11)

January 15, 2024 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER Image Credit: Universal Studios

The 20 Worst Films of 2023 (#20 – 11)

Welcome, one and all, to the start of my Movies Year in Review for 2023! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas, and today we’ll kicking off our look at the best and worst films of the past 12 months. 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!

My 2023 movies year in review kicks off this week with my look at the worst of the year. This year was a weird one for Hollywood, which was just on the verge of getting back to normal in the wake of the pandemic when the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes shut everything down. That led to some films being pushed off to next year, but there was still no shortage of good and bad movies to thrill or bore us. This year’s Worst Of list runs heavy in a couple of genres as horror, action and comedy both reached great heights and sunk to brutal lows. We had a lot to bemoan this year including the piteous end of the DCEU (and the MCU taking a few dents), streaming services stumbling over their own feet and some beloved filmmakers trying to recapture their magic with tragic results. I could continue on, but it’s probably best to just dive right in.

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

#20: Heart of Stone

Image Credit: Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Kicking off our worst of the year list is one of a few Netflix films to rank low. The streaming service had a relatively rough year in 2023 and while it certainly had some successes like May December, The Killer and Extraction 2, it also had a number of flops that tried to rely on star power without much else to go on. Heart of Stone is a perfect example of that, a star-heavy production that sinks itself with a generically twisty espionage story and an utter failure in the editing room.

Truth be told, I didn’t want to dislike Tom Harper’s film as much as I ended up doing. Say what you want about Gal Gadot but she has presence and charisma, and she does solid work here as a double agent working for a clandestine organization that stops acts of terrorism other agencies can’t. Jamie Dornan, Sophie Okonedo, and Matthias Schweighöfer are also doing what they can. But they’re mired in a script that feels regurgitated from a soup made up of Mission: Impossible, The Kingsman and other such films, right down to an AI threat that must be stopped and a half-baked revenge plot.

But the biggest issue here is that editing I mentioned. Heart of Stone would have been a forgettable but perfectly acceptable action-thriller with a stricter editor, as the film never knows when to end a sequence. That results in most scenes — particularly the action ones — wearing out their welcome. And when the action scenes become tedious, it puts more weight on the story which buckles under the pressure. Heart of Stone undergoes an almost Herculean efforts to undo any goodwill that it buit up, resulting in a thoroughly frustrating experience.

#19: The Meg 2: The Trench

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Speaking of frustrating, it’s rage inducing to watch Hollywood unable to learn from its past mistakes. Case in point: The Meg 2. I’m all for big, dumb action films; after all, I enjoy the Fast franchise and even some of the goofier Resident Evil films. All things considered, I didn’t think first Meg was too bad of a film. So I was pretty primed for The Meg 2: The Trench to deliver some stupid giant oceanic predator fun, particularly with Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England) set to direct.

But therein lies the problem: if you’re gonna make a big, dumb action film, you have to make it fun. There are only vague signs of that in this sequel, which basically took a look at how much people enjoyed the giant shark in the first film and said “Yeah, as little of that as possible.” Instead, the screenplay from Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber decides (as is often the case with these kids of studio films) that we can’t just have massive animals eating people; we need human villains. And The Trench spends far too much time on those human villains, who — again, as is usually the case — don’t amount to much. (I do love seeing the underrated Skyler Samuels getting work though.)

Jason Statham and everyone else is fine here; Statham is playing a role he can do in his sleep at this point, and he and the rest of the cast know the assignment and stick to it. But by the time we get to any wild giant animal attacks, the film’s already lost us. Wheatley has no chance to do what he does best (be brilliantly weird) and gets stuck in the motions of a generic PG-13 shark film. Did I expect anything more than that? Not really, but if you can’t figure out how to do more than half-heartedly run through the motions, maybe find better inspiration because there’s none of that here.

#18: Paint

Image Credit: IFC Films

As I mentioned above, this year’s worst of list is very heavy on action and horror (like in most years; worry not, there was some great of both too), but there’s no shortage of comedies either. Comedy films have struggled at the box office more than perhaps any other in recent years, and I’m always grateful when one can even secure anything even approaching wide release. But then you have movies like Paint, which show exactly why it’s hard to strike gold at the box office. On the surface, the notion of a comedy centered on Bob Ross and the nature of public access television seems like it would work. Ross is such an indelible image burned into our minds that he’s ripe for a little skewering, and the notion of a struggling public access channel feels like the perfect setting for quirky indie comedy.

Unfortunately, Brit McAdams’ film falls pretty far from the mark. It’s trying to be funny without having any sort of teeth, and heartfelt without enough investment. Sure, Owen Wilson is pretty perfectly cast as Bob Ross stand-in Carl Nargle, but there isn’t much humor beyond the joke of “What if Bob Ross is an egotistical womanizer?” (Not for nothing, but that joke was at least half-true so it’s not much of a joke.)

McAdams seems afraid of skewering Ross’ image, and instead just tries to lightly prods at it. I’m not saying we need a brutal takedown of Bob Ross – we don’t – but this is a comedy, and we need it to be funny. Instead we get a film that is half-smile inducing for the first half-hour and then not even that afterward. The more dramatic elements like a romantic subplot only servee to accentuate how the main plot about Carl being replaced by a younger, more interesting painter has nowhere to go and gets there quickly. This one had me thinking of the criminally underrated Death to Smoochie while watching it — and say what you want about that dark comedy, but at least it had the balls to go in some wild directions. By comparison, Paint is so afraid of taking any risks that it proves not every mistake is a happy little accident.

#17: The Exorcist: Believer

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Ugh, alright…lets get into this one. We all knew The Exorcist: Believer was going to be polarizing at best. David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy has inspired some of the divisive discourse in horror in some time, so there was no question that he’d top himself when he took on a trilogy doing the same to another all-time horror great in The Exorcist. Lo and behold, here we are with a film that tries to ape the original film’s iconic horror moments without doing any of the necessary work to give us a reason to care.

To be honest, I was actually on board for this film for about the first half of it. Sure, it’s running down a very obvious road but Leslie Odom Jr. and Lidya Jewett have solid chemistry as a widowed father who lost his faith and his daughter. It is a lived-in and endearing relationship. However, as soon as Jewett’s Angela and Olivia O’Neill’s Katherine return from being lost in the forest, any nuance and character work (which is what made us care about Regan in the first film) fly out the window and it’s time to play The Exorcist’s greatest hits.

That gets particularly bad when the connections to the original film are shoehorned in. Ellen Burstyn is always a welcome sight, but her Chris MacNeil is awkwardly introduced and quickly yanked out for little more than a cameo and it kills any momentum. After that we get the exorcism which is just Green reminding us how good the first film was by following all the steps without the same skill. The saddest part of this whole thing is that it’s not even close to the worst Exorcist sequel thanks to Exorcist II and Exorcist the Beginning dragging the bar way, WAY low. But suffice it to say that my hopes are not high for the next two (even with Green not returning to direct).

#16: The Mother

Image Credit: Ana Carballosa/Netflix

If Heart of Stone was an example of Netflix fumbling the ball on an action film in 2023, The Mother is the service getting sacked on their one-yard line. In fact, some of the same problems that plagued Tom Harper’s film wreck Niki Caro’s action thriller as well. First and foremost is leaning too heavily on star power and not enough on the script, which drains this Jennifer Lopez vehicle of any and all humor or sense of fun in favor of making it a dull, joyless affair. Lopez jettisons all of her charm to play an unnamed military operative who goes into hiding after giving birth and giving the child up for adoption, only to have to come back up when years later when her daughter is kidnapped.

Caro has nothing to replace the missing humor with thanks to a script that plays it far too straight, and the result is just a mostly-empty set of setpieces that briefly come to life in the back half when Jennifer Lopez’s unnamed character starts to bond with her daughter. It’s too little and too late though, as it’s hard to stay engaged through the first half of this too-long affair that mostly features a collection of semi-decent at best action scenes and some truly terrible dialogue. The supporting cast is doing half-hearted work at best and the bond between Lopez’s character and her daughter (Lucy Paez) is undermined by the daughter taking her understandable hostility to levels of stupidity.

Perhaps the worst indictment I can give this film is this: if you can’t get good villain performances out of Joseph Fiennes and Gael García Bernal, then something has clearly gone wrong. It’s honestly kind of depressing that there were worse action films than this one in 2023, because the bar was already pretty low here.

#15: Quicksand

Image Credit: Manuel Olarte/Shudder

It feels perhaps a bit unfair to put Quicksand on this list. Unlike a number of the films here, Andres Beltran’s wilderness thriller didn’t get a hefty theatrical release. But it did get promotion as one of Shudder’s releases and while the service had a number of very good Originals and Exclusives this year, this was an example of one that fell wide off the mark. There’s just not much going on in this film about a a divorcing couple who take a hiking trip into the Colombian rainforest and fall into the titular hazard. The premise is fine; the obvious metaphor of a couple stuck in quicksand is obvious, but once they’re trapped the script by Matt Pitts doesn’t really go anywhere with it.

Even some solid enough acting by Carolina Gaitan and Allan Hawco isn’t enough to carry us through the lengthy dull patches that pockmark the story. The purpose of the film is to give them an obstacle so that they can work through their marital strife, but they don’t even do that as much as you might think. The main threat is about as tension-filled as the wind in The Happening and Pitts lines up some outside dangers to liven things up, but it’s not enough to keep the pace up. Add in a climax that is jarringly false and I was left feeling completely cold at how little this film scratches the surface of what it’s trying to do.

#14: The Out-Laws

Image Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

Netflix makes its third appearance on the list here, this time wedding comedy to the action with even less success. The Out-Laws is a Happy Madison production, and it’s not the worst of those by (hello, The Wrong Missy) but that’s the definition of damning with faint praise. Comedies are always going to be a little divisive because what’s funny to one person isn’t funny to another, but there’s little for even the most forgiving person to chuckle at in this crime wedding comedy about a hapless bank manager who gets robbed by criminals that turn out to be his in-laws. (If you think that’s a spoiler, it’s not; it’s a key component of the trailer and hell, even the title).

Adam DeVine is the kind of comedian that only works in small doses, at least for me. A supporting antagonist role in Pitch Perfect? He’s fine and even funny. But put him front and center and his shtick gets very grating, very quickly. Here he’s channeling his inner Ben Stiller to play the timid but good-natured guy intimidated by his in-laws to be, and this is no Meet The Parents to say the least. The script is almost aggressively unfunny with characters and tropes cut and pasted full-cloth from other, not-that-funny-even-then comedies.

Perhaps the most offensive part of this film is how criminally it wastes its supporting cast. Ellen Barkin, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Rooker, Julie Hagarty, Richard Kind and even Nina Dobrev are far better than the material they’re given and they’re not able to really do much with it. The action scenes are neither exciting nor particularly funny (DeVine’s character can only have so many panic moments before it gets old) and the banter is pretty far from witty. Happy Madison has had a few legitimately decent movies over the last couple of years like Hustle and You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah; it should stick to those because films like this just aren’t cutting it.

#13: Hypnotic

Image Credit: Ketchup Entertainment/Relativity Media

There are two films on this list that saw directors I really enjoy return to the big screen for the first time in a good long while only to fall flat on their faces. Robert Rodriguez’s last big-budget film was 2019’s Alita: Battle Angel which had admirable ambitions but wasn’t quite able to realize its potential. He’s stayed close to Netflix since until this year, when Hypnotic released to little fanfare, bad reviews and worse box office. Frankly, all of that was justified because this dull and convoluted sci-fi thriller that really wants to be a Christopher Nolan film but lacks the intellect or style to hit those highs.

Explaining the plot of this labored affair would somehow both take too much time and not really cover much; this is one of those rarified breed of films that has too much plot and yet nothing really seems to happen. Ben Affleck (playing a police detective in Sad Affleck Mode), Alice Braga and the rest of the cast are often reduced to standing around and explaining the plot until it’s time for an action scene or one of the plot twists that pile up on each other until they collapse from the weight of incredulity.

The film looks expensive (because it moderately was) but Rodriguez is shockingly lacking in style behind the camera. Hypnotic thinks it is much smarter than it is; it’s not at all hard to see where this is going if you’ve seen even a few science fiction mindbenders. You’d think Affleck would have learned to avoid films like this after Paycheck, but alas he has not. There’s no question Rodriguez still has great films in him, but this sure wasn’t one of them.

#12: Freelance

Image Credit: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features

It is legitimately stunning to me how Pierre Morel, the director behind District B13 and Taken, has fallen to the level of films like this and Peppermint. If you don’t remember Peppermint I don’t blame you; it was a charmless action thriller without many thrills. Freelance seems determined to follow that blueprint by being a laugh-free action comedy, throwing John Cena and Alison Brie against each other in the vain hopes that their inherent charm can wring some sort of humor out of the situation.

In fact, the screenplay from Jacob Lentz would be sitting in the streaming service rejection pile if it didn’t have its leads. The overcomplicated plot and bickering will-they-won’t-they romcom dynamic invites comparisons to The Lost City and Romancing the Stone, a bold move considering those two films have far more going for them in the script and direction department. Brie and Cena are stuck in fairly straight-man roles and most of the humor ends up landing on Juan Pablo Raba as the president of a fictional country Brie’s reporter is supposed to interview before a coup puts them all in danger, but Raba isn’t able to make his lame jokes work.

Listen, I get it; action comedies aren’t an easy thing to put together. Add in a romcom element and it gets even trickier. But Freelance barely even tries to find any sort of balance between its main appeal (Cena and Brie’s dynamic) and the action-adventure elements. This is a film that wants to be both a fun little romcom and a kooky action comedy, and ends up completely failing at both.

#11: Silent Night

Image Credit: CJ Entertainment

It really pains me to say I hated John Woo’s return to Hollywood as much as I did. While Silent Night didn’t get the promotional push that you might expect for a film from the action legend behind some of Hong Kong’s most iconic action films and some of Hollywood’s bigger ’90s action films, I still had a lot of hope for this one. Woo returning to American filmmaking with a high-concept dialogue-less action thriller? That’s the kind of thing I’m going to be 100% here for. And I have a soft spot for Joel Kinnaman, an actor I think gets too much hate in his career.

But no, this one deserves its hate. At its core, Silent Night is an interesting concept. Sure, it feels like the kind of movie where they thought of the title and then built a film around it, but it’s still a fun idea — as long as you do something worthwhile with it. Robert Archer Lynn’s decides to go in a different direction and crafts a wildly uneven story about a father seeking revenge against a gang who inadvertently kills his son in a drive-by on Christmas Eve. If that plot synopsis sounds grounds for an exciting action flick to you, pump the brakes. The action is mostly contained to the first scene and then the final act; everything else borders on unwatchable.

As I said, I’m a fan of Kinnaman but he has two emotions in this movie: sad and raging. And sad makes up about 70% of the runtime. Without any dialogue, Woo needs to build emotional stakes and the only emotion he is interested in showing is how upset Kinnaman’s Brian is. And he is VERY sad; if you don’t understand that in the first scene after the opening scene don’t worry, because he’ll show us variations on it for another 45 minutes or so. And sure, build those emotional stakes; show us the torment Brian is going through. But don’t do it in a way that is so repetitive that it loses any impact and becomes borderline unintentionally funny at some point.

When it’s finally time to get to the action, it’s serviceable. There are a couple of decent action scenes, but they’re undermined by the fact that we don’t know anything about the bad guys and outside of the leader and one other individual, they’re never really portrayed as any kind of threat. These are faceless stereotypical Latino gangbangers who make the villains in the Death Wish films seem nuanced by comparison. And Woo makes some wild decisions that undercut any sense of dramatic weight or action tension throughout — perhaps most notably the appearance of a face on a comically large Christmas ornament that turns a supposedly emotionally cathartic moment into the biggest laugh in the movie. Woo has made a few bad films in his career like Paycheck (didn’t think I would reference that film twice this year) and Mission: Impossible 2, but Silent Night saddeningly ranks as the worst by a large margin to earn its spot just barely outside of the top 10 worst of 2023.


And that will do it for part one! Join me once again later this week as we conclude the “Worst Of” portion of the Year in Review with the top ten. Until later this week, don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.