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2016: Movies That Were Worse Than I Expected

I think the title about covers it all.

I had expectations, they were not met. Generally these are films that, when I think about them, they just feel like disappointments. There hasn’t really been a whole much that surprised me this year. Sure, the year felt weaker than normal, and most people would count the majority of the summer as harboring many disappointing films — but I was never particularly excited about any of them. So what looked like disappointments to most people were expected occurrences to me.

So I’m mostly left with films that just feel like they should have been better, given each one’s specific circumstances.

Here are the most disappointing films of 2016 for me:

1. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Was there any film more disappointing than this one in 2016? To everyone? I’m not sure there is. And if there is another one, it’s only one more. Because this one disappointed even people like me, who had no expectations that it was gonna be good. You know it’s bad when even low expectations aren’t met. Most people expected great or even good and fun. I expected okay, and watchable enough. I didn’t get that. This was an unintelligible, incoherent mess, and really onle one other film defied my expectations for the worse in 2016 more than this one.

2. The BFG

It’s a weird misstep for Spielberg. It’s a kids movie that feels cold and unwelcoming. It’s about giants who eat children. I think we know by now that Roald Dahl books are not really for kids, but even so — this is lacking any kind of warmth or fun. I liked it well enough, but it just felt hollow. I think even the people who liked it had that feeling of, “It’s not that good, but… kinda?” You almost felt obligated to say nice things about it. If this were made by anyone else, it would have just been fine. For Spielberg, it counts as a disappointment. And I know it’s unfair, but look at the man’s resume. He makes greatness. He makes greatness a lot of the time. So to see him just make pretty good feels like a disappointment.

3. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Ang Lee runs hot and cold. For every Brokeback Mountain, there’s a Taking Woodstock. And I enjoyed Taking Woodstock, just as I enjoyed this movie. I just think Ang Lee was not the right filmmaker to make this movie. I feel like he approached it purely as a technical exercise and didn’t care at all about the writing or anything. There are shots in this movie where it feels like he’s openly undercutting the purpose of the film. It’s one thing to try to be satirical or use shots to criticize war or whatever he wants to do, but his script is trying to do the exact opposite, and his shots and that script are totally at odds with one another at so many points in this movie that either Ang Lee did not realize how it was gonna come across, or he wanted that to happen, leaving this one of the most uneven products I’ve ever seen. Add to that how this was gonna revolutionize moviemaking and be this big technological breakthrough. Honestly what we’re left with is an interesting exercise that feels like it sets the table for a movie to come in and do it right. Kinda like Sky Captain, though I feel like Sky Captain is actually more successful than this is.

4. Blair Witch

Because Adam Wingard made You’re Next and The Guest and earned a lot of trust from me. He took two genres I cannot stand and turned out not only good movies, but good movies I really liked. And then they announced this, titled “The Woods,” and the synopsis was a generic sort of — people go into the woods and bad shit happens. And even at the time, I said something like, “This doesn’t really sound great, but it’s Adam Wingard, so I’m sure he’s found some cool entry point to it.” And then mid-year, they announced it was Blair Witch, and right there, I knew where this was headed. That’s the problem we have to contend with now, in the age of Cloverfield and stuff like this, where they pretend it’s one movie and trick you with a franchise you don’t need much later. If I knew this was Blair Witch, I’d have never even gone above a 3 star guess. Because there was no way this was gonna be good, even with Wingard behind it. After two movies I loved, this is such a huge disappointment. Both as a film and as a career choice. Is he headed to forgettable horror land? I hope not.

5. Captain America: Civil War

I wanted a Captain America movie, I got an Avengers movie.

That’s it. Nothing else to say here. The Captain America movies were two of the best Marvel ever made. And instead of continuing that trilogy, they made another Avengers movie.

I am disappointed.

6. Demolition

This one wasn’t so much a surprise when it came out. But based on what it was shaping up to be early on, the cast and everything, this has to be labeled a disappointment. There were others that I could have put here, based on similar criteria, like I Saw the Light, Knight of Cups or Queen of the Desert, so I guess this is an entry for all of those movies — the Oscar movies that weren’t.

And I guess this is also a space reserved for the undoubted end of the year movie that I’m excited for that doesn’t pan out. Could be Rogue One, could be Passengers, could be Gold. I have no idea. Chances are, it’ll be something.

I also know some people were expecting me to put Birth of a Nation for this list, since I think that would make the list for a lot of people. But to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for that movie. Even after all the Sundance hype I waited to let it prove itself to me. And when it didn’t, I was left with exactly what I expected it to be.

You could also put a host of big budget movies here — Independence Day, Ghostbusters, Star Trek, whatever. So this spot is the utility spot to represent all of tose.

But focusing specifically on Demolition — you have Jake Gyllenhaal in the middle of a great run of performances and choices, and a director coming off Dallas Buyers Club two years prior. You’d expect it to be really good. And it’s just not.

I have to admit that I’m stretching, but to be honest, there weren’t that many movies that were significantly worse than I was expecting this year. I don’t know if I just lowered my standards and became more cynical, or because everything looked pretty uninspiring this year, so I didn’t have any raised expectations. Whichever. I guess it’s good that I’m stretching to get to 15. It means I didn’t get my heart broken as much as I have in years past.

But still, Demolition was a pretty disappointing movie. You thought Jean-Marc Vallée was a director you could start to trust, but now he’s looking like a one-movie wonder. Oh well.

7. Free State of Jones

Maybe this is only for me. I was crazy excited about this movie in January. If you asked me going into the summer what movie I was most excited about, it would have been this one. None of the summer movies meant anything to me. People were lining up to buy Captain America tickets, I was ready to buy tickets for this. Gary Ross made Pleasantville (love that movie), Seabiscuit (love that movie) and Hunger Games (way better than I thought it would be). That, plus the Civil War setting, my love of The Patriot, Matthew McConaughey on his great run of performances — there was no way this was gonna be less than a top 35 movie for me for the year.

And then… it got savaged by critics. No one saw it. No one cared about it. And word of mouth was not good. This is one of those times I legitimately got scared away from seeing a movie in theaters. And then when I saw it… yeesh.

It’s not that its awful, but man, was this such a huge disappointment. The story’s just not there. It feels like he had about 400 pages worth of material, shot about three hours’ worth of stuff, and then had to edit it down into a coherent movie, and then the studio came in and had to make something they could release, and then we ended up with something that just doesn’t work. I wanted to like this, but no matter how you slice it, this is one of the biggest disappointments of the year for me. Not for most, but for me. Because I really wanted this to be great. And I’m not even sure I got good.

8. The Girl on the Train

I don’t know why, really. I guess because I figured they’d make something kind of interesting. And because they hyped the shit out of it. October release, Oscar push, Emily Blunt for Best Actress. And it’s just a generic thriller. You know who did it within the first forty minutes. The book character is supposedly an alcoholic mess who let herself go. Emily Blunt — not that. Maybe we’re all just spoiled by Gone Girl, but if you’re gonna take a generic thriller and pretend like it’s good just because it sold a lot of copies, you’re gonna disappoint a lot of people.

9. Jason Bourne

How can it not be? As a regular action movie, this was solid. As a Bourne movie, this was weak as shit. Nothing will ever be as bad as the Jeremy Renner Bourne, but after the previous three in this franchise, this is bullshit. You’re recreating situations from the previous movies — Bourne navigates someone through a dangerous situation, only to see them die at the end. Bourne beats the shit out of people tailing him. All those tropes and shit you saw in the previous movies, they’re all done here, without any of the ingenuity. The whole thing felt tired. And then it devolves into a simple revenge plot and generic car chase.

The original trilogy was three questions: “Who am I?”; “What have I done?”; “Who made me this way?” Now, the fucking first thing he says is, “I know who I am.” Then who gives a shit? What’s the question now? Probably the same one we’re asking, “Again? I thought we were done with this shit already.”

10. Keanu

I wasn’t huge on Key and Peele from their show, though some of the skits I’ve seen are brilliant. When I heard they were making a movie, I treated it like when an SNL character gets their own movie — with severe apprehension. You expect a modicum of it being okay, but largely playing off the stars’ personas and not a whole lot else. Then a trailer came out for this, and it was funny. And the conceit of the cat was really good. But the movie didn’t amount to much. The trailer contains pretty much everything you need. Normally the problem with a movie like this is not enough story. Here, the problem is too much story. They don’t really let the actors or the situations breathe. It’s like comedy pushed into the action movie format. And it doesn’t really work. Fully, anyway. This is a case of a trailer getting my hopes up and the product not delivering on that.

11. The Magnificent Seven

Just because you made a Magnificent Seven remake. Which you didn’t need to do. And you put cool actors in it. And you didn’t deliver much of anything. This movie amounts to nothing. No real story. You made it look like 2016, which is not a good thing to make a movie. You’re playing on the stars’ personas, which adds nothing to the movie. And all we’re left with is a perfectly forgettable movie that no one will remember in three years and another to add to the Denzel list of unnecessary remakes of great movies (Manchurian Candidate, Taking of Pelham 123).

12. The Sea of Trees

We saw this coming, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. McConaughey, off an Oscar win and great performances, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, directed by Gus Van Sant. You figure good things here. And this was barely okay. Just a relentlessly boring movie. You know its bad when serious film buffs a) didn’t even know this movie existed, or b) deliberately avoided it, because they knew. This is, like Demolition, an example of a solid cast (featuring Naomi Watts, by coincidence) and a good director just not working out.

13. Suicide Squad

Remember when I said only one movie from 2016 was more disappointing to me than Batman v. Superman? Congratulations, D.C. You fucked up huge, twice in a single year. Batman v. Superman might be the biggest consensus disappointment, but this one hurt more for me. This one looked like a can’t-miss. Even if D.C. forced a formula onto the movie the way Marvel does, you figured David Ayer could have at least done something to give it a little personality. I don’t know what happened with this movie, but it wasn’t good. And I don’t even want to start discussing specifics now, because from top to bottom, this was, to me, the most disappointing movie of 2016.

14. Triple 9

John Hillcoat directing. Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael K. Williams, Clifton Collins Jr. starring. And you know what two thoughts all of you just had when you read that? 1) What the hell is this movie? 2) How could they fuck that up?

The crazy part is — there are a lot of people who had that first thought. People barely knew this even existed. Maybe you saw a trailer and sort of knew about it when it quietly got dumped in February. But most people didn’t even register this as having come out. And to the second point — I don’t know how you can fuck that up. But this just didn’t come together. It’s well made enough, but with that cast, you had to figure it was gonna be better than we got. Therefore, disappointing. Especially by the dude who made The Proposition and The Road. This is more like the dude who made Lawless, another one of the most disappointing movies of its year.

15. X-Men: Apocalypse

Isn’t it funny that exactly ten years since X-Men: The Last Stand, this happened? Maybe we shouldn’t make X-Men movies in years ending with the number 6. Maybe in 2026 they’ll release another terrible X-Men movie and the collective 6-6-6 will unlock the doors to Hell and the Antichrist will show up.

I think the real problem with this movie is that they rushed to get it made. Two years between movies just doesn’t work. They were filming this movie six months after the last one came out. The whole thing felt tired. The actors didn’t care. Some of them tried to give good performances despite that (Michael Fassbender). Some of them did not (Jennifer Lawrence). Most of them had nothing to do. You took one of the seminal X-Men stories and turned it into a jumbled mess.

My big thing is — you don’t introduce new characters and do an end of the world scenario. It just doesn’t work. You gotta pick one.

Also, most ridiculous moment of 2016 in film: “L-L-L-EAR-NING!!!!”

Good luck picking this franchise up again after you used up all the stories!

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow we’re gonna go over my favorite trailers of 2016. Is it wrong that I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a single trailer that really blew me away this year? I probably should have thought of this sooner. But my entire academic history is proof that was never gonna happen.

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4 responses

  1. As much as I am a bit more forgiving on The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men: Apocalypse due to certain strong moments and elements within them…I actually agree with this entire list.

    December 10, 2016 at 2:08 pm

  2. The new Captain America is beautifully described here. I was bitterly disappointed by this film.

    December 10, 2016 at 3:59 pm

  3. Fun read! Can’t say I saw most of these. I tend to check the “tomatometer” score before going out to a theater. If it isn’t above 85%, I wait for it to show on TV. Random, related thoughts:

    Re Batfleck vs Superbrit; if the title fight disappoints, there’s no movie, or it should be retitled.

    Magnificent Seven is a remake of a pretty good American remake of an absolute Japanese classic. Don’t press your luck!

    My only disagreement was on Captain America: Civil War. I knew ahead of going it was an Avengers movie, and I like the long-term dramatic conflict Marvel’s MCU is creating between SHEILD’s “realpolitik” and Cap’s idealism. It was a great deal more satisfying to me than Avengers: Age of Ultron.

    December 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm

  4. Couldn’t agree more on Batman vs Superman.

    I would disagree on the magnificent seven though. Yeah, it was already a great flick but the remake stands in its own.

    December 11, 2016 at 8:01 pm

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