The first month of the year was once considered the dumping ground of the cinematic release schedule, where major studios could unceremoniously drop any movies they had no faith in. This trend has been less prominent in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the advent of streaming services, which have become the new place bad films go to die.
However, it was oddly fascinating while it lasted. So much so that, in one of our first ever articles, Movies & Cool Stuff sought to find the ten worst January releases of the 21st century. Based on combined data from Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, here are the results – have you had the misfortune of seeing any of these?
10. Movie 43
Release date: 25th January 2013
Score of Shame: 22/100
Perhaps the worst thing about Movie 43 is how badly it wastes the hugely impressive cast it brought together. Among the names in this collection of comedy sketches are Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, and Richard Gere, with A-list talent featuring in every scene. What went so badly wrong?
Well, for a film which claims to be a comedy, Movie 43 is remarkably light on laughs. Each segment takes one stupid joke and runs it into the ground over the course of five excruciating minutes. Sketches include Hugh Jackman playing a man with a scrotum coming out of his neck, and Anna Faris asking Chris Pratt to poo all over her. It’s very classy stuff.
The film had thirteen directors in total but the man who spearheaded the operation was Peter Farrelly, best known for co-directing the likes of There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber with his brother, Bobby. Farrelly was the only one to promote the movie, as stars worked to distance themselves from a film which many of them didn’t want to appear in.
As Farrelly explained shortly after the film’s release, the secret to getting huge names to sign up for your terrible movie is to “guilt them to death.”
Release date: 16th January 2015
Score of shame: 21/100
Bruce Willis stars alongside Thomas Jane in this science-fiction flick, which borrows generously from a range of far more interesting sources including Blade Runner and Westworld. Willis stars as the creator of VICE, a holiday resort where people can live out violent fantasies through the use of lifelike androids. One such android becomes self-aware and escapes, while a detective (played by Jane) works tirelessly to get the place shut down.
What follows has been described as visually dull, with flat characters and poor writing. There is simply no reason to watch Vice in a world where so many far superior explorations of artificial intelligence already exist. Audiences agreed as the film proved to be a complete non-entity at the box office and is unlikely to have made back its $15 million budget – which critics complained made the film look cheap.
8. Best Night Ever
Release date: 31st January 2014
Score of Shame: 19/100
Best Night Ever is one of three movies on this list from filmmaking duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, best known for their consistently awful parodies like Date Movie, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck. This was one of their few projects not explicitly mocking an established franchise; an attempt at producing original (albeit highly derivative) content.
Riding on the success of The Hangover and Bridesmaids, it tells the story of four women on a wild bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Adopting the tired found-footage concept was the first in a long line of mistakes for this poor excuse of a film, which critics tore apart for its bad direction and terrible writing which involves an excessive amount of gross-out humour.
Released online at the tail-end of 2013, the movie went on to have a theatrical run in the final week of January 2014, where it brought in a little under $300,000. An unimpressive taking, but still more money than it deserved.
7. In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Release date: 11th January 2008
Score of Shame: 19/100
Here we have the only director who could rival Jason Friedberg and Alan Seltzer for the title of January’s worst offender: the infamous Uwe Boll. The German filmmaker has gained notoriety among film and video game fans alike, thanks to his tendency to make terrible adaptations of much beloved gaming franchises. In The Name of the King is one of three Boll films on this list, meaning it’s quite fortunate that the man has now retired.
Ironically, this title is actually about as close to legitimacy as Boll ever came. It holds an uncommonly high budget for one of his productions ($60 million), and a cast including established names such as Jason Statham, Burt Reynolds and Ron Perlman. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep it from being an utter disaster.
Loosely based on the Dungeon Siege videogame series, the film was criticised for its bad script, performances and casting. Some have claimed the film’s occasional moments of unintentional comedy give it a certain amount of entertainment value, but ultimately critics agree that it is one of the worst fantasy movies in recent memory.
The box office takings were bleak – the film brought in just $13 million – but that didn’t stop Boll from making two sequels. The second and third films starred Dolph Lundgren and Dominic Purcell respectively, with the budget getting progressively smaller as the franchise inexplicably continued.
Release date: 28th January 2005
Score of Shame: 18/100
Adam Garcia stars as a young man investigating his mother’s new fiancé, who comes on the scene quickly after his father’s suspicious death. The search for the truth leads to a romance with the fiancé’s daughter (played by Alice Evans), although it’s unclear whether she can really be trusted. This film, described on IMDB as a ‘thriller’, proved in reality to be anything but.
The reviews for Fascination were vicious, criticising the performances by Garcia and Evans, and the general absurdity of the plot. Another January offering described as unintentionally hilarious by some, Fascination attempts to be an erotic thriller but fails spectacularly, with the sheer awkwardness of the sex scenes making it tough to watch.
Garcia almost had two films on this list, with 2003’s Kangaroo Jack landing just outside the top ten.
5. State Property
Release date: 18th January 2002
Score of Shame: 17/100
State Property was less an independent piece of film and more promotional material for its accompanying album. The soundtrack, which included thirteen songs by the rap group of the same name, actually received mildly positive reviews. The same cannot be said for this atrocious cinematic offering.
Beanie Sigel stars as a character called Beans, who together with his crew begins building a crime empire, eventually coming face-to-face with the leader of a rival gang, Untouchable J (a cameo role from superstar Jay-Z). The film was panned by critics who attacked its terrible performances, ludicrous story and shameless objectification of women.
Still, thanks to a microscopic budget of just $600,000, the film quite easily turned a profit and a sequel was churned out three years later. State Property 2 received a similarly frosty reception and swapped out Jay-Z for Kanye West and Mariah Carey. Shockingly, over a decade later, a third film is said to be in the works.
Release date: 6th January 2006
Score of Shame: 17/100
At number four: Boll is back. This is the second of three Uwe Boll movies on this list, and another video game adaptation. Where In The Name of the King attempted to court the Lord of the Rings audience, Bloodrayne has fans of Underworld in its sights. While that series of movies has never been well-liked by critics, this preposterous production is on a whole other level of awful.
Kristanna Loken takes the lead role, alongside a surprisingly credible cast which counts Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Rodriguez among its members. The film was panned by critics, who took issue with its ridiculous story and bad performances; the cast weren’t so fond of it either.
Years after its release, Madsen expressed his thoughts on the movie, calling it an “abomination“. The decision by Boll to save money by hiring sex workers instead of actresses for one scene left many critics utterly bewildered, proving almost as strange as Meat Loaf’s bizarre performance.
Despite being a complete commercial failure, Boll made two more Bloodrayne movies; both went straight to DVD, with Natassia Malthe replacing Loken in the lead role.
3. Epic Movie
Release date: 26th January 2007
Score of Shame: 14/100
As we near the end of this list we see the return of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, last seen at number ten with their found footage “comedy” Best Night Ever. Here at number three is a film that critics believed was even worse, which is in itself an achievement, I suppose. 2007’s Epic Movie is widely regarded by critics as one of the worst movies ever made, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
The film is less a comedy, and more a series of references to other far superior works. Opportunities to draw attention to some of Hollywood’s strange creative decisions are passed up in favour of crude jokes which serve an utterly nonsensical plot. Worst of all, the film was a rousing financial success bringing in $86 million on a $20 million budget, and encouraging the production of similar drivel. Speaking of which…
2. Meet The Spartans
Release date: 25th January 2008
Score of Shame: 13/100
Only one year after they menaced film critics with Epic Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer returned with Meet The Spartans: another collection of pop culture references strung together to form a story (to use the loosest definition of that word). What few actual jokes were in the movie were overused so excessively that they quickly became irritants in a production full of, well, other irritants.
Despite an overwhelmingly negative reception, the film was just as successful as its predecessor, making $84 million on a $30 million budget. It’s comforting that parody movies such as this one appear to have fallen out of fashion in recent years. Friedberg and Seltzer haven’t had a hit since 2010’s Vampires Suck, with even the original Scary Movie franchise struggling to stay relevant (burning out after 2013’s Scary Movie V).
1. Alone in the Dark
Release date: 28th January 2005
Score of Shame: 11/100
Indeed, despite their best efforts, Friedberg and Seltzer cannot claim to be the kings of awful January movies: the crown will always go to Uwe Boll. His third and final film on this list takes the top spot, and is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. To put it simply: Alone in the Dark is a failure in every sense of the word.
Very loosely based on the video game series of the same name, critics found nothing to like here. Citing numerous plot holes, atrocious performances, and laughable visual effects, critics wilfully tore this movie to shreds. Unintentional comedy – a staple of Boll’s work – crops up here too, and that has created some fans from those infatuated by its awfulness.
Leading man Christian Slater was too good for this shambles of a production, and why he signed on to make this movie is something of a mystery. He ultimately saved his career with a stint on USA Network’s hit show Mr. Robot, a project for which he received much acclaim.
As for Boll, he went on to continue his trend of making sequels to films that were complete failures. A questionable business model, but one that he stuck with until the end of his career. Alone in the Dark II was released in 2008 and was seen as a marginally better movie, but still held in very low regard.
Looking back at this horrible bunch of screen insults, it isn’t difficult to see why January gained such a bad reputation among film fans. We might never get theatrical offerings this bad again.