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The 20 most hilariously bad sci-fi movies

Get it right, and science fiction can be the most awe-inspiring cinematic genre there is. Get it wrong, and the results can be catastrophic, embarrassing – and really fun to watch

1/20

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

What’s the pitch?
After 16 long years, George Lucas returned to the ‘Star Wars’ universe to tell the story of how the Republic fell, the Empire rose and apple-cheeked Anakin Skywalker became the most feared heavy-breather in the galaxy. Anticipation was sky-high, queues were ten-deep, thousands of us skipped work, that familiar logo rumbled across the screen and then… disappointment.

What went wrong?
You can complain all you like about midichlorians, battle droids and Jar Jar bloody Binks, but the real problem with ‘The Phantom Menace’ is that it’s all so bloodless. From the robotic line delivery to the uninvolving action, the entire film just feels a bit limp. It’s a shame, because there are flashes of brilliance in the effects and especially in John Williams’s epic score, which constantly seems to be trying to gee up the rest of the film.

Killer line:
‘Ye Gods, whatta meesa sayin’?’

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2/20

Judge Dredd

What’s the pitch?
The most notorious anti-hero in British comics. A brutal, painstakingly realised future world. A thrusting young British director riding high on a successful gangster flick. The world’s second biggest action star. A mega-budget Hollywood production. The stage was set for a titanic smackdown.

What went wrong?
Some doofus forgot to make it not boring. The script is as lumpy as bad mash, Danny Cannon’s out-of-his-depth direction is clunky and drab, and Sylvester Stallone acts like he’s just swallowed a brick with a wasp on it (yes, even more so than usual). Also, as every 2000AD aficionado will tell you, Dredd taking off his mask was pure sacrilege.

Killer line:
‘Emotions... there oughtta be a law against them.’

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3/20

The Chronicles of Riddick

What’s the pitch?
After the success of tight little two-fisted ‘Alien’ clone ‘Pitch Black’, writer-director David Twohy and rising star Vin Diesel decided to take that film’s gruff, partially blind ex-con anti-hero Riddick and relocate him to a grand science-fictional universe that would recall the epic sweep of ‘Dune’ and ‘Foundation’. They even somehow managed to persuade Dame Judi Dench to come along for the ride.

What went wrong?
A classic Harrison Ford comeback springs to mind, criticising George Lucas’s jargon-packed ‘Star Wars’ screenplay: ‘You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it’. The problem here is that they do say it; it just doesn’t make any sense. The script babbles incoherently about Necromongers, Air Elementals, Furyans and Purifiers, Diesel scowls his way through a series of gloomy grey sets and Dench does her best to look queenly while dressed in a sheet. A second sequel, called simply ‘Riddick’, didn’t help a jot.

Killer line:
‘He is not a man. He’s the holy Half-Dead who has seen the Underverse.’ Well, all right then.

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4/20

Star Trek: Insurrection

What’s the pitch?
Last year, the audience at the official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas voted ‘Into Darkness’, the most recent film in the franchise, the worst Trek flick of them all. With respect to these esteemed and knowledgeable nerds, they were dead wrong. Sure, it was a pandering, incompetent mess, but it’s ‘Citizen Kane’ in comparison to ‘Insurrection’, 1998’s re-teaming of the Next Generation crew following the wonderful ‘First Contact’.

What went wrong?
Remember those ‘Star Trek’ episodes where they’d beam down to a planet that looked suspiciously like Southern California, meet up with a group of settlers or humanoid aliens living in a cod-medieval society only with better hair care products, and spend most of their time committing hilarious social blunders and finding wacky excuses to explain away their futuristic technology? This is one of those, only way, way longer.

Killer line:
‘Do you remember when we used to be explorers?’

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5/20

Freejack

What’s the pitch?
Remember cyberpunk? The future seemed so simple back in the early ’90s: we were all going to have input sockets in our heads so we could ‘jack in’ to cyberspace, escaping the rampant overpopulation, poverty and leather-clad brutality of the real world. ‘Freejack’ takes place in the barely conceivable dystopia of 2009, where time-travelling mercenaries steal bodies from the past to extend the lives of the wealthy.

What went wrong?
It’s a dumb idea, badly executed – which wouldn’t automatically qualify it for a place on this list. No, what really pushes ‘Freejack’ into the dirt is the presence of that fat-lipped, rubber-legged icon of anti-cool, Sir Mick Jagger. Camping it up for all he’s worth (which is a lot), Jagger single-handedly turns a forgettable slice of cheapo action trash into a parade of excruciating awfulness. Well, you can’t always get what you want.

Killer line:
‘What, no applause?’

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6/20

Starcrash

What’s the pitch?
In 1977, ‘Star Wars’ introduced audiences to a sleek new world of convincing special effects and genuine excitement. Barely a year later, ‘Starcrash’ threatened to drag them right back again. Following the adventures of scantily clad astro-pilot Stella Star (Caroline Munro) in her struggles with evil Count Zarth Arn (Joe Spinell), this gurning slice of spaghetti sci-fi takes itself terribly seriously, which only adds to the fun.

What went wrong?
With a cast of international thespian talent including David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer, risqué costumes that’d make Barbarella blush and a special effects budget of, we’re guessing, at least a tenner, ‘Starcrash’ is the pinnacle of unintentionally camp science fiction. It’s perfect for a boozy night in, though.

Killer line:
‘What in the universe is that?’

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7/20

Highlander II: The Quickening

What’s the pitch?
In the daft-but-great original ‘Highlander’, director Russell Mulcahy cast Sean Connery as a Spanish nobleman and Christopher Lambert as a French Scotsman, and still made a pile of money. Maybe he was lulled into thinking audiences would fall for any old rubbish. But credit where it’s due, with this sequel he did pull one pretty impressive trick. Not only is ‘Highlander II’ a terrible, terrible movie in its own right, it even manages to reach back and retroactively ruin its predecessor.

What went wrong?
The idea now is that Connor MacLeod (Lambert) of the clan MacLeod and his immortal kin aren’t just mulleted throwbacks from some ancient supernatural gene pool, they’re actually aliens from the planet Zeist engaged in an eternal intergalactic war. And the time has come for Le Scotsman Furieux to put down that baguette, strap on his ass-kicking kilt and turn some chumps into interstellar haggis.

Killer line:
‘Shithead? What’s a shithead?’

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8/20

Bicentennial Man

What’s the pitch?
Imagine for a moment that you’re a top-of-the-line android, the peak of cybernetic technology. Now imagine that your current owner wants to give you a human face. You agree to this lengthy surgical process, only to look in the mirror and find Robin Williams’s rubbery mug staring back at you, maybe with a little bittersweet tear twinkling in the corner of his eye.

What went wrong?
Smack in the middle of his post-‘Patch Adams’ mawkish man-child phase (and before he started getting interesting again), Williams mugs his way through this dire robots-are-people-too melodrama like a mechanical Forrest Gump with a Martin Luther King complex. The effect is like being force-fed artificial sweeteners by C-3PO.

Killer line:
‘I’m not about to invest my emotions in a machine.’ Damn straight.

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9/20

A Sound of Thunder

What’s the pitch?
A big-budget adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic, infinitely influential short story about a time-travelling safari team who go back to the Cretaceous period and inadvertently set off a chain of events that alters the future. If you remember that episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where donuts rain from the sky, you’ll recall the basic concept.

What went wrong?
This was one of the most beleaguered productions of recent years, with floods, bankruptcies, budget cuts, cast changes and ultra-low-rent computer effects. Still, there’s no excuse for the feeble script and lazy direction, or the fact that Ben Kingsley appears to be channeling Kevin Spacey after a horrible accident with a candy floss machine.

Killer line:
‘What’s the point of being rich if you don’t buy things other people can’t afford?’

10/20

R O T O R

What’s the pitch?
In a word: ‘RoboCrap’. Two years after Paul Verhoeven’s thunderous splatter satire became a huge smash hit, this dirt-cheap knockoff took the idea of robotic policing, removed any hint of wit, intelligence or filmmaking prowess and replaced them with tin-can special effects and a bad guy who comes off like a lobotomized Terminator.

What went wrong?
To be fair, it was probably never supposed to go right. Far be it for us to accuse the producers of ‘R O T O R’ of any sort of cynicism, but we really doubt they were out to make anything other than a chunk of utter Z-grade sludge. And whaddaya know, they succeeded with flying colours. You go, guys!

Killer line:
‘You look like you got both eyes coming out of the same hole!’ Sorry, what?

11/20

Robot Monster

What’s the pitch?
It’s a ROBOT that’s also a MONSTER! And vice versa! Actually, it’s a man in a costume-shop bear suit and a diving helmet, because that’s clearly the best the producers of this not-even-Z-grade trash-pile could afford. The idea is that the aforementioned alien invader (actually named Ro-Man Extension XJ2, which sounds like an Aphex Twin track), has wiped out all life on Earth except for eight people. And now he’s back to finish the job! Run away!

What went wrong?
No one had any money, talent or ambition beyond squeezing a few measly dollars out of the drive-in crowd, who were probably too busy necking in the back seat to notice they were in the presence of true anti-greatness. To be honest, viewed in a modern context the film does have a certain otherworldly charm.

Killer line:
‘I am ordered to kill you. I must do it with my hands.’

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12/20

Superman IV

What’s the pitch?
Having battled his way through three films of variable but generally acceptable quality, Christopher Reeve’s kiss-curl Clark Kent takes on his most dangerous adversary yet. No, not those scheming Russkies, or even his radioactive nemesis Nuclear Man (though this Lycra-clad Twisted Sister reject is a pretty terrifying prospect). No, Supes’s real enemy here is the budget.

What went wrong?
Almost a decade after the original ‘Superman’ convinced audiences that a man could fly, ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ proved that actually, he probably couldn’t. The effects here are truly rotten, from a punch-up on the moon (did no one figure out that the lack of gravity would mean everything happens really… really… slowly?) to a scene outside the United Nations that was actually shot in an industrial park in Milton Keynes.

Killer line:
‘Destroy. Destroy Superman now!’

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13/20

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

What’s the pitch?
It’s Eddie Murphy! On the moon! Running a nightclub! On the moon! Oh, the possibilities for high comedy are limitless. When thugs smash up his beloved low-gravity booze-hole, Eddie swears revenge on the… Okay, even the act of explaining the plot of this $100 million travesty is too depressing for words.

What went wrong?
Where to begin? By 2002, Eddie was so far past his sell-by date that even his most voracious fans were beginning to smell something. Add to that a script that contains approximately 0.3 jokes and special effects so expensively awful that someone must’ve been dipping into the cookie jar, and the result is a film that, by some estimates, only made back about seven percent of its costs. Ouch.

Killer line:
‘Obviously, you did something stupid.’ Damn right.

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14/20

Transmorphers

What’s the pitch?
It was inevitable that this list would contain at least one film from those princes of the straight-to-DVD ‘mockbuster’, The Asylum. The only question was which one: ‘Atlantic Rim’? ‘Age of the Hobbits’? ‘Mega Python vs Gatoroid’? We decided to go back to the source with one of the company’s first (ahem) successes, a tale of man v machine in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Well, a warehouse in Southern California.

What went wrong?
As with a fair few films on this list, it was never really supposed to go right. The Asylum make no secret of their stripped-to-the-basics production values, Sinclair ZX digital effects and back-of-a-fag-packet scripts. The only disappointment is that, unlike many of their films, ‘Transmorphers’ doesn’t even have a forgotten ’80s celebrity like Tiffany or Debbie Gibson to keep things interesting.

Killer line:
‘Shut up and shoot, Itchy.’

15/20

Plan 9 from Outer Space

What’s the pitch?
We could easily have populated this entire top 20 with zero-budget 1950s shockers full of spaceships on wires, aliens with rubber tentacles and pipe-smoking boffins spouting incomprehensible pseudo-scientific jargon. But this heartfelt alien invasion effort from that master of disaster, Ed Wood, is the blue ribbon winner.

What went wrong?
Many believe ‘Plan 9’ to be the worst movie of all time, which seems unfair. It’s incompetent on every conceivable level, from the clunky script and robotic performances to the cardboard effects and meandering, absurd plot. But there’s a real sweetness at the film’s heart, coupled with a kind of zoned-out dreaminess that makes it pretty enjoyable to watch.

Killer line:
‘Future events such as these will affect you in the future!’

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16/20

Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam

Aka ‘Turkish Star Wars’

What’s the pitch?
In the 1970s and early ’80s, strict censorship laws meant that many countries were unable to share in the blockbuster boom that was taking the rest of the world by storm. But there was nothing to stop filmmakers getting hold of old prints, chopping out the special effects and reusing them in their own productions. It’s not like George Lucas was going to turn up and demand his fistful of Lira.

What went wrong?
Just the most high-profile example of an entire, insane genre, ‘Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam’ (or ‘The Man Who Saved the World’) is the incomprehensible but moronically entertaining tale of two star pilots who try to protect the populace of a remote desert world (hey, work with what you’ve got) from villains in very, very silly hats. Their method largely seems to involve jumping about and wolf-whistling. John Williams wrote the score – he just didn’t know it.

Killer line:
‘Begin to your famous whistle which no women can resist.’

17/20

The Island of Dr Moreau

What’s the pitch?
It should’ve been a masterpiece. HG Wells’s source novel is a bewitching tale of science run amok. ‘Hardware’ director Richard Stanley and ‘Dispatches’ author Michael Herr collaborated for four years on the script (which you can read online – it’s stunning). Marlon Brando came out of retirement to play the title character (the Doctor, not the island, wiseass). And then Hurricane Kilmer struck…

What went wrong?
Stanley was fired after three days, allegedly following a confrontation with Brando’s co-star Val Kilmer. Stanley’s replacement, John Frankenheimer, had the script completely rewritten, presumably by a shaved monkey with a broken typewriter. The result represents the very worst that Hollywood is capable of: Wells’s book was utterly slandered, Stanley’s promising career was left in tatters and even the great Brando was made to look a complete fool.

Killer line:
‘I wanna go to dog heaven!’

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18/20

After Last Season

What’s the pitch?
When the desperately odd trailer for this mind-melting DIY anti-movie first hit the internet, most viewers assumed it was a joke – a viral marketing campaign, perhaps, or some weird art-piece riffing on the success of ‘The Room’ and other so-bad-they’re-good midnight hits. Sadly, this tale of psychological experiments gone horribly wrong is all too real.

What went wrong?
Sets (including a ‘hospital’) that are all clearly the same room with bits of wallpaper stuck up with masking tape. Fragmented, inane dialogue delivered by blank-faced weirdos in beige slacks. Computer effects that would’ve looked outdated in 1983. The result: a nigh-on unwatchable disaster, with moments of utter hilarity.

Killer line:
‘I will place a chip on my right temple. An image should form inside my mind.’

19/20

Mac and Me

What’s the pitch?
You know the problem with ‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’? Sure, it’s a heartfelt masterpiece beloved of both audiences and critics, but it just doesn’t have enough product placement. How much cooler would it have been if the stranded alien had been named after a burger, lived entirely on Skittles and went out dancing with Ronald MacDonald?

What went wrong?
The cynicism of the film’s financing didn’t guarantee a disaster: it was always going to be pretty crass, but with a half-decent script and some inventive effects ‘Mac and Me’ might just have pulled through. Sadly, this has all the charm, style and freshness of a week-old Whopper. Ever get the feeling you’ve been hamburgled?

Killer line:
‘You know what I feel like?’ ‘A big mac?’

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20/20

Battlefield Earth

What’s the pitch?
‘You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.’ These words, spoken at a meeting of the Eastern Science Fiction Association in 1948, are proof that L Ron Hubbard, former sci-fi author and founder of Scientology, was indeed a prophet. Half a century later his best-known book, the tale of a future Earth ruled by a race of giant aliens known as Psychlos, was turned into a movie thanks to one of his followers, John Travolta. By that point, L Ron no longer needed the money, having died 14 years previously. Which was lucky, because the film didn’t really do too well.

What went wrong?
A fair bit. One early reader described the script with the immortal words ‘as entertaining as watching a fly breathe’. Travolta’s buddy Quentin Tarantino wisely declined the offer to direct, so the job went to ‘Star Wars’ second unit alumnus Roger Christian, who decided to shoot the entire film off-kilter in shades of gloomy grey, impenetrable blue and piss yellow. The decision to give Travolta’s character the look of a grumpy, ten-foot Bob Marley fan at a leather bar may also have been a mistake. As for the special effects, the pacing, the plot, the music, the dialogue, the supporting cast, the beginning, the middle, the end and everything in between, the less said the better, really.

Killer line:
‘I’m going to make you as happy as a baby Psychlo on a straight diet of kerbango.’ No, you’re not. Whatever that means.

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From a spaceship on strings to guy-in-a-rubber-suit aliens, cardboard robots, Mick Jagger in leather chaps and John Travolta with dreadlocks, the worst sci-fi movies offer us a whole universe of wrong. Strap on your blaster, pour yourself a Romulan ale and take a detour to the very worst movies from this or any other galaxy…

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best sci-fi movies

Comments

2 comments
permaculture
permaculture

I see the first bad scifi movie. Where are the rest? Not under 'Read More'. Not further down the page. Meh.

permaculture
permaculture

Ah, you have to hover over the picture to see the right arrow. Got it.