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The Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 (#10 – 1)

January 22, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Space Jam: A New Legacy Lebron James

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 (#10 – 1)

Welcome, one and all, to part two my Movies Year in Review for 2020! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas, and today we’ll concluding our look at the worst films of the past 12 months before we get to the best next week. 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!

Earlier this week I kicked off my Worst Films of 2021 list with numbers 20 through 11. There were no gems in that part of the list, but at least the majority of them were just forgettably bad. From here on out, it starts to get quite ugly in terms of quality. In other words, folks: if you thought those films were bad, just read on, because it’s only downhill from there!

Caveat: My criteria for a film qualifying for this list is simple: if a film was released in theaters in any remotely significant capacity, or if it was a high-profile and marketed release on VOD or a major streaming service, then it was eligible. I don’t include films that are purely straight-to-video and may have a star or two but is essentially being shoveled out to reap in some profit on some name value, nor relatively minor streaming releases that weren’t promoted or prominent in any major way. 2021 examples of the former are Vanquish (Ruby Rose & Morgan Freeman) and Cosmic Sin (Bruce Willis & Frank Grillo). There’s obviously some wiggle room on some of these and people may debate if some films are really “high-profile releases,” but that’s why it’s my list.

The only other caveat is that I have tried but have not seen everything that was released in 2021, especially factoring in streaming services. The films that I missed that could have possibly qualified based on reputation are After We Fell, God’s Not Dead: We the People, He’s All That, and Separation. Other than those, 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 165 films that were released in 2021 (up significantly from last year’s 119).

Just Missing The Cut

Mortal Kombat
The Ice Road
Things Heard & Seen

The First Ten

20: The 8th Night
19: Chaos Walking
18: The Woman in the Window
17: Profile
16: Tom & Jerry
15: The Reckoning
14: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
13: Demonic
12: The Addams Family 2
11: Cherry

#10: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Have there been worse attempts to reboot a mediocre franchise than Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins? Sure, absolutely. But that’s by no means an letting this one off the hook. Paramount’s origin story/reboot of the IP’s fan-favorite ninja essentially boils down to being a palette swap of any number of other attempts to start a cinematic universe. In this case it’s paint by numbers, mixing in different shades of spy movie red, ninja movie green, and comic book movie blue, to incredibly middling, mismatched results. And that first becomes obvious on screen with Henry Goulding, who is horrifically miscast. He replaces Snake Eyes’ stoic sense of mystery with Americanized quips and an undercurrent of zealous rage. That’s in no small part a mark against the script, which works against Goulding’s considerable charisma.

With Goulding aimlessly but agreeably meandering through this wannabe action flick, the rest of the cast is busy trying to pick up the slack. And they do their utmost, too. Andrew Koji, Haruka Abe, and a too short appearance by Samara Weaving add some fun to the proceedings. But their characters still barely stand out due to the generic, trope-ridden script from Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, in part because not a single line of dialogue feels like something actual people would say. It all feels like an AI being force-fed all of these genres and spitting out an automatic script from it.

The same shapeless quality can be found in Robert Schwentke’s direction. Schwentke, who hasn’t had a good film in years, directs this with a complete lack of style or personality. He also commits the cardinal sin that was best left in the past, slicing up the fight choreography into a series of quick-cut nonsense that is difficult to follow, and thus loses sense of its narrative through line. How do you have fight scenes with the likes of Iko Uwais and not trust him to deliver? This movie has everything that people with superhero fatigue get annoyed with — right down to an overpowered CGI MacGuffin, franchise Easter eggs and shoehorned contrivances to set up a franchise that clearly isn’t coming at this point. To be honest, I’m not angry at this one. I’m not even disappointed, if only because I didn’t expect much. I just don’t care, and that’s a serious sin for a movie like this.

#9: Reminiscence

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Reminiscence

On the surface, Reminiscence should have been a perfect film for me. It’s a film that hits all the right buttons for me, being a sci-fi neo-noir directed by Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy that stars a standout cast in a film with thematic similarities to the underappreciated gem Strange Days. That latter film is one of my favorites, and given the talent involved here as well as the story hitting some very similar notes to the 1995 Kathryn Bigelow film, I had some pretty high hopes for it.

Unfortunately, those hopes were unfounded. Joy is a strong writer for television, but her script here takes some intriguing concepts and burying them in a meandering story about a man with technology allowing people to relive memories who gets embroiled in a derivative plot about finding his long-lost love. Neo-noir is a difficult genre to get right; it’s one of my favorites but it’s far too easy to fall into the genre’s tropes to the point of being a checklist of plot points scene in other (better) movies. Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandie Newton and the rest of the cast have bare sketches of characters to work with, and their indistinct characters contribute to the film’s failure to differentiate itself from the likes of Strange Days, Inception, Blade Runner, Chinatown, and The Maltese Falcon.

It doesn’t help that, as good of actors as they are, Jackman and Ferguson have very little chemistry between them in the few scenes they actually share. Jackman and Newton have more sparks between them, but that friendship isn’t one the film has any interest in exploring. Ferguson (one of my favorite performers) is miscast and is hard to buy as a star-crossed singer, and Joy’s dialogue comes off more strained than stylized while the plot twists aren’t as clever as they’re intended to be. It’s sad to see how many pieces for success this film had when so few of them end up actually coming together.

#8: The Little Things

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - The Little Things

Reminiscence may have been one of the most disappointing films of the year, but it couldn’t quite snatch the crown. No, instead we can award that (dis)honor to The Little Things. Another Warner Bros. release (and not the last on this list), this was an early release and quickly claimed a spot in the top ten. I’m a big fan of the work of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and (yes) Jared Leto. As I mentioned above, I’m also a big fan of noir and noirish stories, and director John Lee Hancock has done some pretty great films that were willing to look at the dark side of human behavior. Add in the fact that this was a film Hancock has been passionate about getting made for almost 30 years, and this seemed like a slam dunk.

But here’s the problem with The Little Things: if not for its three Oscar winners that it could put on the poster, I can’t imagine how this movie would have been given a greenlight. It quickly becomes clear in this serial killer mystery-thriller why it took 30 years to make and why Steven Spielberg passed on it way back in 1993: not only is it darker than Spielberg would normally go for, but the story is also a pastiche of dozens of better crime thrillers. Washington largely sleepwalks his way through this muddled, shapeless story as police officer Joe “Deke” Deacon, a man troubled from an unsolved case from his past that (to no one’s surprise) has a connection to a new case in his old stomping grounds of Los Angeles. As good as Washington is of a performer, you can tell when the man is going on autopilot, and that’s what happens here. Sure, he doesn’t need any effort to make a role like this palatable, but it doesn’t do the film any favors that he’s not really trying.

Hancock’s script offers very few actual thrills, and the mystery that Deke is trying to solve is incredibly rote. In fact, there’s very little actual mystery as Deke just sort of lumbers through the first part, colliding with the LAPD a couple of times until Leto’s character comes into focus and is clearly the killer from moment one. Leto and Rami Malek, the latter playing a hotshot detective, are doing more inspired work than Washington at least. That said, there’s not enough in their characters to draw any interest. Add in an ending is remarkably flat and despite some okay visual touches here and there, this one set the early bar for the worst movies of the year and held on tight.

#7: Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

Paranormal Activity was so close to being a solid and perhaps even decent possession horror flick. All the right elements are there; you have a decent premise of an adopted woman who finds her birth family is Amish and goes to visit them, only to discover that things there are horrifically not what they appear to be. You have an okay-to-good cast with Emily Bader and Roland Buck III playing the woman and her best friend, while Dan Lippert as the comedic relief sound guy is not horribly annoying (like many comic relief guys in found footage are). Everything of this story is pretty predictable and familiar here – we have some real Wicker Man, Hereditary and Midsommar vibes, but it’s executed okay, and the final act is wild in a good way.

And yet, I can’t forgive this one for its many faults. If this was not a Paranormal Activity-branded film, it would actually come off better. But little in this movie really feels like Paranormal Activity. There are absolutely no connections to the previous films, and so it’s kinda-sorta set in the same universe, I guess? Sure, okay. But why? We all know why: because IP. And fair enough but when you hitch yourself to a particular wagon, you’re stuck dealing with those expectations. It doesn’t even thematically feel much like the previous films; Toby and the entity here don’t share any noticeable DNA and thus it feels like the crassest of attempts to piggyback onto an established IP. I mean Christ, even the trio of Hellraiser films that didn’t originate as Hellraisers had the good sense to stick the Cenobites in them.

The other big problem is that this film breaks the found footage rules constantly. Camera shots come from places there can’t possibly be cameras from, most notably in a scene where our protagonists are frantically ascending a shaft out of a cave. The jump scares have audio cues. A camera’s slow-motion feature is inexplicably turned on during a chase scene during a KILL. How and/or why did all this happen? Who the hell knows? You can do a lot of things in a found footage film and I’ll accept them; I will never bitch about why someone doesn’t stop filming unless it’s particularly egregious. But if you’re going to be found footage, BE found footage.

There are other things that annoy me here and there; notably, the characters are dumber than your usual horror film, missing obvious signs that something’s seriously wrong or going places where it’s incredibly clear they shouldn’t. It all adds up to a movie that had potential, but it squanders it at every opportunity. I don’t hate this franchise and I was hoping it would get back on track after the abysmal Ghost Dimension, but while this isn’t as bad as that disaster it’s another paranormal failure.

#6: Thunder Force

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Thunder Force

There is a point where you just have to say, “enough is enough.” And we’re way past that point for movies directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy. I’m not trying to take shots at them as a couple; I’m sure they’re great and I’m very happy for them. And I fully understand that they enjoy working together. But at this point, for the sake of comedy, this professional collaboration needs to come to an end. Tammy, The Boss, Life of the Party, Superintelligence — they don’t make funny movies. And sadly, despite the dressings of an easy genre for to mock for laughs in the superhero film, Thunder Force is no different.

On the surface, Thunder Force looks like a solid enough concept to work: pair McCarthy, who I will always argue is a gifted comedian, with the always-great Octavia Spencer and let them play with the foibles of a superhero film. And yet, the result is 107 minutes of pure “meh” and boredom. McCarthy plays the same character she usually does in the blue collar, socially awkward loser who finds herself in over her head. This time it’s because of a world where all sociopaths get superpowers and she’s one of the only superheroes (thanks to her blundering). This is every other Falcone & McCarthy movie we’ve seen, given a superhero coat of paint. That means plenty of ad libs, overexplaining the jokes, and weird awkward humor. It also means McCarthy’s character spends most of her time making not-funny pop culture jokes while everyone else trying desperately to make the humor work.

As is the norm, pretty much everyone is wasted in this. Spencer is able to work off McCarthy reasonably well, but the supporting cast including Bobby Cannavale, Jason Bateman, Pom Klementieff, Melissa Leo, and Taylor Mosby have basically nothing to do. The pace is absolutely awful at times, the action doesn’t work. It all just seems to be going through the motions, snagging the lowest-hanging fruit and barely even harvesting them. I really hope McCarthy goes back to more adventurous fare because this kind of thing has been beneath her for a long, long time.

#5: Infinite

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Infinite

2021 saw itself littered with bad movies from good directors from Neil Marshall and the Russos to Johannes Roberts, Timur Bekmambetov, and more. But Antoine Fuqua — this one kinda hurts. Fuqua is the man who made Training Day along with fun movies like Olympus Has Fallen, The Equalizer, the Magnificent Seven remake, and such. Even on those occasions where his films lack any depth or weight, they’re generally still able to figure out what fun or tension are. Infinite has very little of either, nor much of anything else that makes sense.

But really, I can’t blame that on Fuqua, who is hamstrung an incomprehensible script by Ian Shorr. Shore adapted a novel by D. Eric Maikranz, and that may have been the first error because this feels like the kind of story that plays better in prose than on screen. The issues are evident from the start when Mark Wahlberg delivers a monologue trying to set down the setting’s premise: basically, that Infinites are people who remember all their reincarnations and a bad Infinite is trying to end the world, so the good Infinites are trying to stop them. It quickly gets very overly complex from there, with Mark Wahlberg playing an Infinite who knows where the doomsday device is but doesn’t remember because it was his past incarnation. So, a bunch of good Infinites must help him do so before the bad guy gets to him and finds it.

That’s…a lot for a premise. And yet, it still doesn’t even explain half of the nonsense in this film, which is dragged down by constant exposition that the cast has to unfurl while still sounding like characters. Chiwetel Ejiofor is the villain, and his motivation makes no sense for a host of reasons, nor does his ridiculous weapon that can trap souls in microchips. (Don’t ask me to explain, the movie sure doesn’t.) And listen, nonsense action films can be fun. I love a ton of them. But this one is killed by the constant need to explain everything, not to mention the fact that the goofy action scenes aren’t that fun. And poor Mark Wahlberg is so miscast that makes my body ache, with his performance seeming like it’s in another film entirely He doesn’t feel like an Infinite — he feels like Mark Wahlberg wondering how he got onto this set. There may be a couple of fun moments, but they’re so few and far between that this is just infuriatingly boring, which may be its worst crime of all.

#4: The Unholy

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - The Unholy

I’m always willing to give a horror film a shot, because let’s be honest: a lot of horror flicks that look potentially bad turn out to be pretty damned good. And a horror film has Jeffrey Dean Morgan, William Sadler, and Cary Elwes in it? Well, now you’ve got my attention. Unfortunately, that’s all that The Unholy has, and some of that doesn’t turn out to be a positive. Religion has always been a staple of the horror genre, all the way back to Haxan in 1922 and most famously in The Exorcist and its ilk. So, it’s no surprise that Evan Spiliotopoulos would see potential in adapting James Herbert’s 1983 novel Shrine.

But oh my, is this a misfire from start to finish. Morgan at least is serviceable here in the lead role of a disgraced journalist who stumbles upon a story about a girl blessed with the apparent powers of a saint and the legion of followers she is inspiring. He and Sadler are the best part about this abysmal work, which stumbles through its plot points with all the grace of a drunken elephant. It’s not even remotely shocking when the young girl (an okay Cricket Brown) displays some concerning traits, as the film doesn’t try to hide anything of its secrets very hard. In fact, it gives most of them away due to its opening scene. As the film barrels along toward an obvious and inevitable conclusion, all we as the viewers can do is count how many of our predictions will come true. The answer turns out to be “most of them.”

And don’t get me wrong; you don’t need a ton of surprises to make a good film, horror or not. Predictable has worked on many an occasion. But it’s the ham-handed, shallow way Spiliotopoulos’ script deals with its characters and themes that fails the story. He isn’t any better behind the camera, with a complete lack of scares and some truly, truly dire use of CGI. Cary Elwes’ Irish accent as a Catholic Bishop is cringe-worthy, and the character is too mustache-twirlingly evil for Elwes to breathe any life into him. Simultaneously frightless, preachy, and dull, The Unholy is a horror film that is well left buried under its tree.

#3: Space Jam: A New Legacy

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Space Jam: A New Legacy

For all their faults, you can say one thing about all the other movies on this list: sure, they were created for profit (all movies are), but they were also created in order to tell an engaging story. They failed to various degrees, but at least they tried. It’s difficult to argue that we can say the same for Space Jam: A New Legacy. People talk about how some blockbusters are made to sell toys, but it’s never been clearer that it was the entire point than with this soulless, over-complicated, overlong, two-hour advertisement for WarnerMedia.

In all fairness, I am not someone who worships at the altar of the original Space Jam. It’s fun, but I don’t have a particular connection to it. But at least that one had some solid moments and knew what it was. A New Legacy, on the other hand, wants to present itself as a clever metafilm and there’s nothing clever about it. The story is rote garbage that feels like it was written by committee (a feeling borne out by the six credited screenwriters), which is mind-boggling considering that it’s only a minor variation on the original story, with eye-rolling metaverse “updates” that feel like they’re instantly dating this whole thing.

Those problems are compounded by the constant insertions of WB properties that aren’t anything more than attempts to remind us of all the things we can watch on HBO Max. Sure, we’ve got jokes here but very few of them land and when any moments actually work, the film pounds that button hard so that we know that they know it worked. LeBron James is not bad, but he lacks the screen presence of Michael Jordan. Don Cheadle is at least having some fun with his role, poorly written as it is. As the final insult, when the Looney Tunes get to the actual basketball game they get turned into CGI and it looks atrocious, particularly on any characters with fur. It’s the final cherry on top of this crappy sundae. I’m not one to celebrate a film’s failure and we don’t know how it marked up in terms of final profit thanks to the HBO Max release (not to mention all the merchandising), but I hate this movie enough that I’m honestly satisfied with this one falling short at the box office.

#2: Dear Evan Hansen

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Dear Evan Hansen

Musicals attempted a resurgence in 2021 and while there were some exceptional ones (more on that next week), at least in terms of theatrical releases they fell short financially. Most of them deserved better than they got, but it would be hard to find someone to argue that Dear Evan Hansen needed to be seen by more people. The hit Broadway musical was fine on stage for its time, but that was six years ago. Musicals have a notoriously lengthy time between hitting Broadway and any potential film version, but with this one six years was simply too, too long.

There are a lot of reasons for that, but let’s just get right to the elephant in the room: Ben Platt. Platt originated the role on stage in 2015 and then on Broadway in 2016, and it’s perfectly fine to have a guy in his very early 20s playing a teenager on stage. That’s more of a problem when you’re in your late 20s and you’re dealing with camera close-ups. But the makeup used to de-age Platt actually made things worse. For real, look up at that picture and tell me that Platt looks like a teenager and not a 40-year-old who had a Botox overdose, or someone wearing a Leatherface-style mask of a teenager. It’s bizarrely off-putting in the absolute worst way — and realize now, that’s a promotional still. That’s actually one of the better images they had. Christ forbid I use the screenshot of him crying in the woods, because that is straight out of a horror movie (or perhaps The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).

But okay, I’ve ranted about Platt’s makeup. Deservedly so, but that shouldn’t send a movie onto the worst list by itself. And it doesn’t. This movie also has to reckon with the fact that what works on stage simply doesn’t always work well on film. A movie tackling the story of a guy who stumbles his way into being believed as the best friend of a suicide victim he didn’t actually know needs to be able to handle a lot more complexity than a stage musical does. That doesn’t happen here. In fact, arguably it makes things worse again by trying to soften and excuse Evan’s actions more. This is a film that offensively pays the barest lip service to the idea of mental health — a core component of the story — and is instead wants to score points for Evan with the audience when it doesn’t realize that our understanding of mental health in the social media age has already evolved a long way since 2015.

All of this is compounded by the fact that at its core, Dear Evan Hansen just isn’t well-made. The characterizations are shallow outside of Evan, and despite some hard work by the cast the other characters come off as flat. The film is shot by Stephen Chbosky in a way that doesn’t help it leap off the page. It has a washed-out palette that implies more of a serious, realistic drama, but it leans on the larger-than-life conventions of the musical format in terms of tone and story. And a film that is as long as this one shouldn’t be as surface skimming as it is, either. It left me with two hours and fifteen minutes of staring at the screen in semi-horror of what was unfolding in front of me. And folks, I like horror, but not the unintentional kind. Its catastrophic box office performance is truly just commensurate with the catastrophe that was presented on the screen.

#1: Music

Top 20 Worst Films of 2021 - Music

(Note: I will be 100% honest on this one: I generally try to write new (or tweaked, at least) versions of my write ups for movies that carry over from my mid-year Best/Worst Of because I hate just copying and pasting myself. But this film makes me angry enough that I’m not putting myself through thinking about it again, and I feel like I couldn’t have phrased it much better than I did back in June. So, enjoy this full reprint from that piece.)

There is so much to say about Sia’s directorial debut Music and how bad it is, it would take an entire column all of its own. I wrote a much longer review when I first watched in April that you can see here if you want more detailed thoughts on how and why this misses the mark, but in the interests of brevity (too late), I’ll try my best to boil it down. The easiest thing to say about this film is that it’s an utterly wrongheaded, irresponsible, misguided, offensively bad, and simply offensive mess of a movie that fails on every conceivable level, but that doesn’t even quite describe the awfulness appropriately. There was a lot of controversy around how the pop star handled early criticism of what was seen in trailers, but we won’t get into that because there’s more than enough examples within the finished film as to why this thing is the worst movie not only of the year, but of remotely recent memory.

What vaguely passes for a screenplay in this movie was written by Sia and children’s author Dallas Clayton, based on a one-page story the former wrote in 2007. Maybe it wasn’t a disaster that absolutely everything wrong, but the script has no such luck. Instead, it presents its titular character, a severely autistic young woman, not as a person but as a hurdle for the real main character in Kate Hudson’s Zu. Zu is a recovering alcoholic who deals prescription drugs to make money and has to take care of Music (Maddie Ziegler) when their grandmother dies suddenly. It’s not hard to guess where this goes from there: Music is presented as the saintly creature that, by taking responsibility for her, causes Zu to learn to becomes a better person. It’s Rain Man, but without the super-casino skills, with extra pretension, and with less sensitivity. This is certainly not to say that you can’t portray nonverbal autistic characters; far from it. But it should be handled in a way that doesn’t feel indistinguishable from a (hypothetical) performance designed to mock such people.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Sia was trying to mock people on the autism spectrum in any way. That the complete lack of personification of Music is well-meaning, however, doesn’t make it any less awful. Ziegler — who is not autistic — affects an exaggerated performance that goes way over the top. That’s not on the young actress; it was on Sia to bring in the proper people to do this type of character justice. That the film also uses prone restraint a couple of times, a process which has been criticized for causing injury and even killing autistic people before. These scenes were roundly criticized in the lead-up to the release and Sia said they would be removed as well as a disclaimer added, then didn’t do so. The level of irresponsibility to film said scenes, receive criticism about them, promise to remove them and included a disclaimer and then do neither, brings this film from passively reprehensible to actively so.

Now let’s take all of that mess, and pile on the rest of the problems that come with this being such a bad movie from any critical level. The plot is basically a collection of tropes strung along, one after the other. Sia’s direction goes for a gritty, realistic tone that she fails to fit tonally with the fantastical musical sequences that are intended to give us insight into Music’s mindset, which are equal parts pretentious and useless in helping us understand her The dialogue is bad, the characterization of anyone not named Zu is one-dimensional, and the tone is so wildly uneven that it’s hard to tell at times if it’s trying to be funny or is just unintentionally so. This film would be ripe for The Room-style midnight matinees if it weren’t so depressing. This is not only the worst movie of the year, but also one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in 45-plus years of life.

And that will do it for this! Join me next week as, with the bad out of the way, we take a look at the best films of the year. Until then, have a good one and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at! JT out.