Films like 2016’s Arrival (and, with any luck, some of this year’s hopefuls) prove that science fiction can still be used to provide incisive social commentary, elevating storytelling with fantastical phenomena used to make a legitimate point about the world we live in. However, some films get so bogged down with the spectacle of it all that they forget to effectively balance the narrative at hand, relying instead on creature effects and escapism in place of a compelling story and complex characters.
These are the sci-fi films that are often deemed some of the worst ever made. For the record, we’re not including sequels on our list, since that would be far too easy a crutch to lean on. Here are our picks for the worst sci-fi films of all time, in order of release date.
1. Robot Monster (1953)
Director Phil Tucker is often counted among the worst filmmakers to ever sit behind the camera, and this film is a prime reason why. The title character is essentially an actor in a gorilla suit and diving helmet, and that fact in and of itself proves how flimsy a foundation its narrative sits on. Accordingly, the film is dubbed an all-time loser.
2. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Given the classic status this film has earned since its release, it may perhaps be one of the most recognizable titles on this list. Martians kidnap Santa and bring him to their planet for their children, and that’s really about as far as the story goes. The only reason to watch this one is for the sheer novelty of just how weird it is.
3. Zaat (1971)
This one has been known by many names — including The Blood Waters of Dr. Z — but the film itself doesn’t get any better no matter what you call it. The story follows a Nazi scientist who injects himself with a formula that transforms him into a catfish-like creature. It has since become notorious for the sheer lunacy in its premise and is often named among the worst films ever.
4. The Man Who Saved the World (1982)
If you haven’t heard of this one, perhaps you simply know it by another name: Turkish Star Wars. Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity of George Lucas’ space opera. It’s also known for illegally using footage from a number of blockbusters as well as stealing their musical scores to tie together the subpar acting, shoddy special effects, and beyond-bland script.
5. Howard the Duck (1986)
Speaking of Lucas, the Star Wars director produced this loose adaptation of the Marvel Comics title of the same name. Although the adventures of a sarcastic cosmic duck could have made for a fun action comedy, this one instead opts for a series of awkward and over-the-top moments that will make moviegoers of all ages cringe. Interestingly, Guardians of the Galaxy features Howard in a post-credits sequence. So there’s a chance he may get another film someday.
6. Mac and Me (1988)
After E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial hit, every studio was hoping to get their own “alien/animal befriends a warm-hearted child” family crowdpleaser off the ground. However, this one has little to offer, besides a fairly blatant McDonald’s ad in the middle of the film. It’s enough to make even the most stalwart viewer roll his or her eyes and put on another film entirely.
7. The Avengers (1998)
Calm down, Marvel fans. This has nothing to do with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. No, this film is a big-screen adaptation of the 1960s television series. Despite the presence of Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery, this film makes almost no sense and is dissatisfying on virtually every level.
8. Battlefield Earth (2000)
We know this one rings a bell. After all, it is among the most notorious box office flops (and critical disasters) of the modern era. Based on the book by L. Ron Hubbard, the film is woefully ill-conceived from the start. Terrible acting, a ridiculous story, and a script that makes star John Travolta’s lesser efforts seem downright Shakespearean.
9. A Sound of Thunder (2005)
Directed by Peter Hyams, this film — based on the story by Ray Bradbury — should have been a slam dunk. After all, it has Oscar winner Ben Kingsley onboard and deals with a fascinating subject like time travel. Alas, it earned less than $2 million domestically against an $80 million budget. Ouch.
10. The Happening (2008)
M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi horror film about a mysterious string of suicides had good intentions behind it, we think. Regardless, it’s become one of the director’s most laughable productions. Just check out Mark Wahlberg’s dreadful performance and you’ll see what we mean.
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