Modern Hollywood makes some world-class stinkeroos, but few films can compare to the top ten worst movies of all time. Most of these films have defined the “so bad it’s good” genre by playing for laughs to modern audiences. Last year’s summer blockbuster will be forgotten by next Christmas, but a truly bad movie is immortal.
“Plan 9 from Outer Space.” Grave robbers from the stars pilot their dinner-plate spacecraft to a poorly lit cemetery and bad-movie history. The inspired awfulness of this film helped earn Edward D. Wood, Jr. the title “worst director of all time.” A lifetime of cheerfully sub-par entertainment gave Wood a posthumou legion of fans and a made for a decent film itself, Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic “Ed Wood.”
“The Terror of Tiny Town.” Like “Plan 9,” this 1938 film set an early standard that future bad films would be measured against. Its awfulness can be summed in one sentence: it is history’s only all-midget musical Western. An able cast does its best with the material, but the results are just sad.
“Reefer Madness.” Hapless small-town teens Jimmy and Mary experiment with marijuana, and are drawn inexorably into crime, madness and murder. The ludicrous scare tactics of the plot combine flawlessly with amateurish production values and tacked-on exploitation elements to make this the perfect bad-movie classic.
“Glen or Glenda.” Ed Wood himself starred in this drama, a sincere if inept appeal for tolerance of cross-dressing directors with a taste for cashmere. An ordinary movie-of-the-week plot takes a right turn into the bizarre with the help of Wood’s friend Bela Lugosi. At irregular intervals throughout the story, Lugosi appears in Dracula drag to cry “Bevare!” and summon phony lightning bolts, for no apparent reason.
“The Giant Gila Monster.” No worst-movie list would be complete without at least one giant monster smashing cardboard cities and devouring screaming extras. Especially when the giant monster is played by a normal-sized lizard with painfully obvious photo trickery. This 1959 reptilian classic has been honored by modern showings on “Offbeat Cinema” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
“Pink Flamingos.” For his 1972 film, legendary director John Waters deliberately made the worst movie he could manage. Drag queen Divine leads a cast of Baltimore locals in a competition to commit the most disgusting, depraved acts ever captured on film. It’s a movie that all fans of bad cinema should see once – but only once.
“The Day the Clown Cried.” Even the worst movies eventually get released, at least in video or the foreign markets, but not this one. Jerry Lewis’s ill-advised 1972 Auschwitz drama might be one of the worst films ever made, if the material available on the web is any indication – the film was so bad, it has never seen the light of day. Jerry may be a genius, as some proclaim, but even he admitted it was a mistake to cast himself in the tragic title role.
“The Room.” In the tradition of Ed Wood, director Tommy Wiseau wrote, produced, and starred in this 2003 drama despite a lack of available talent – his own or anyone else’s. The film quickly gained a cult following because of its across-the-board awfulness, a fact that suited Wiseau just fine. He now claims that was his idea all along, although co-stars claim he was trying to make a serious drama.
“The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.” Honorable mention must go to this 2004 film, a tribute to the best in bad cinema. Most of the great bad movies are happy accidents, but director Larry Blamire used cheesy special effects, bad acting and horrible dialogue to deliberately create a trash classic. The enjoyable result has become a new favorite for lovers of bad movies everywhere.
“Manos, the Hands of Fate.” Like many films on this list, this one found new life thanks to heavy, hilarious ridicule by the “Mystery Science Theater” crew. Hapless tourists encounter demon-worshippers in the deserts of El Paso, conveniently close to where director Harold P. Warren found all his cast and crew. This film is proof that even with a lack of budget, resources and talent, you can still find fame: many consider this the worst film ever made.