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Roger Ebert’s 20 Most-Scathing Movie Reviews


Roger Ebert’s 20 Most-Scathing Movie Reviews


If there’s ever been a film critic who has achieved near-universal respect, it was Roger Ebert. The man loved movies like life itself and not once ever allowed his writing to become lazy or cliché. He wrote from the heart, and it was palpable.

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But, the Chicago Sun-Times (from ’67 to 2013) critic wasn’t enamored with every film to come down the pipeline. After all, the more solid movies one watches, the more they’re able to pick up on the flaws of the poor ones. Ebert saw an awful lot of movies, and he wrote an awful lot of words about them. It’s just that not all of them were positive, even if, sometimes, the films weren’t actually that bad.

20 Alligator (1980)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

When a little girl’s parents buy her a pet baby alligator, it’s only so long before that thing gets flushed down a toilet. And, for the characters of John Sayles’ (who went on to direct excellent indies such as Lone Star) Alligator, that’s far from a good thing. Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster plays the cop on its scaled tail, unless it gobbles him up first.

What Did He Want Out of Alligator?

Well, the man couldn’t always be on the money. He gave Alligator just a single star, citing its supposedly poor special effects. He even mentions the alligator emerging from the sewer, which, to this day, actually looks pretty terrific. Plenty of creature features (including Anaconda) earned outright adoration from Ebert, but what he saw in them, he didn’t see in this 1980 film, even if it was very much present. Stream Alligator for free with ads on Tubi.

19 Baby Geniuses (1999)

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

Baby Geniuses isn’t just one of Hollywood’s most bizarre movies, it’s outright Hollywood’s most bizarre franchise. Yet, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd wisely bowed out of the one theatrical sequel, as they should have with this. The plot follows the test subjects of Babyco, a company which has just learned that, up until the age of two, babies can communicate with one another in extremely eloquent and detailed fashion.

He Described it as Horrifying

Ebert starts his review with, “Bad films are easy to make, but a film as unpleasant as Baby Geniuses achieves a kind of grandeur.” Never has the word ‘grandeur’ carried more bizarre weight. But Baby Geniuses is nothing if not bizarre.

Or, as Ebert concludes the opening paragraph of his review, it’s the type of movie where “there is something so fundamentally wrong that our human instincts cry out in protest.” Ouch. Rent Baby Geniuses on Prime Video.

18 Bad Boys II (2003)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

Everything that many people dislike about Michael Bay was brought to the forefront in his Bad Boys II. Infinitely more mean-spirited, unpleasant, and sometimes outright ignorant than his solid first film, many decisions in this (financially successful) film’s construction are somewhat baffling. The plot, what little of it there is, follows Will Smith’s Mike Lowrey and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett as they take down a drug kingpin, often in slow motion.

A Slog

Fortunately, things improved drastically with Bad Boys for Life, which lost Bay as director. Unfortunately, Ebert had already passed away at the time of release. So, his last adventure with the pair of humorous but competent cops was this, a film which he called “cruel” and “distasteful.” He wasn’t wrong. Stream Bad Boys II on Hulu.

17 Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)

Roger’s Rating – .5/4 Stars

Ebert gave Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever just half of one star. So, there wasn’t really much of anything about it he found merit in. This includes the mouthful of a title, which is not only difficult for ticket buyers to spout, but makes absolutely no sense.

Aren’t We Cool

Ecks and Sever are allies in the film, the whole time, even before either one of them fully realizes it. There’s no versus between them. The level of thought that went into the title went into the remainder of the film. As Ebert states, it’s not so much a narrative as much as it’s a series of explosions book ended by opening and closing credits.

16 Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Roger’s Rating – .5/4 Stars

It’s pretty easy to pinpoint what Battle: Los Angeles wanted to be, even if it’s harder to pinpoint just why it fails in every regard. It wants to be Black Hawk Down with aliens, pure and simple. Just look at its whole boots-on-the-ground vibe.

What a Missed Opportunity

But, like audiences at large quickly realized, as did Ebert, not even Aaron Eckhart’s main character is as believable or fleshed-out as the side players in Black Hawk Down. By act two, the audience realizes the human characters have as much personality as the unintentionally ugly CGI aliens. So, why would they feel invested in the greater conflict? Rent on AppleTV.

15 Battlefield Earth (2000)

Roger’s Rating – .5/4 Stars

The plot of Battlefield Earth is irrelevant in comparison to the mentality that fueled its construction. It’s the Scientology movie, plain and simple. Equipped with Psychlos, horrid dialogue, and devout follower John Travolta (who really hams it up here), that’s all it ever really wanted to be. But, instead of spreading whatever Scientology’s core message is, it made it a bigger laughingstock than its detractors already found it to be.

Did Ebert See an Upside?

He starts his review with, “Battlefield Earth is like taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time.” So, suffice it to say, he didn’t find the viewing a pleasant experience. Which is fair, considering it seems every extra dollar funneled into this thing to make it look more impressive actually just served to make it hideous. Rent Battlefield Earth on Prime Video.

14 The Bucket List (2007)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

The Bucket List really hasn’t gotten enough credit for being as rotten as it is. Not even Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, two of the most likable and talented performers ever to grace the silver screen, can elevate it from unpleasant to watchable. The narrative follows two twilight-aged men with very different lives who find themselves facing the same thing: The Big C. Now, it’s adventure time before time’s no more.

Hollow as Can be

But, unlike fellow Nicholson film Terms of Endearment, The Bucket List doesn’t even seem to take cancer seriously. It certainly doesn’t bother to make its characters seem like actual humans going through one of the toughest times imaginable. Instead, it wants to be pleasant diversionary fare, but it’s hard to be pleasant when that factor is looming large. Rent on AppleTV.

13 Cop Out (2010)

Cop Out

Cop Out

Release Date
February 26, 2010

Runtime
107

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

Cop Out follows Bruce Willis’ Detective Jimmy Monroe (and never had the actor looked more miserable throughout his storied career) and his partner, Paul (Tracy Morgan) as they try and locate a rare baseball card. The thing is, it’s Monroe’s card, which he hoped to sell to help pay for his daughter’s wedding. They get an opportunity to receive the card, but first, they have to carry out a mission for a scummy gangster.

Insert Pun About the Title Here

Cop Out is the only film Kevin Smith has helmed that he himself did not write, and that shows. Even if someone doesn’t find themselves on Smith’s wavelength, a specific wavelength is preferable to a big bag of nothing. Like audiences in general, Ebert found Cop Out to be nothing more than a deeply unfunny series of poop jokes. For a film about two grown men trying to solve a crime, there are a ton of juvenile jokes. Rightly so, Ebert considered juvenile to be a decent adjective for the movie as a whole. Rent on AppleTV.

12 Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

Since the game was blowing up in the late ’90s, why not craft a film for the early aughts? Too bad Dungeons & Dragons appealed to neither fans nor general audiences. Not everyone has the taste for ham…and the 2000 D&D film is a full pig roast.

It Seemed Like an Okay Idea at the Time

Ebert compared the movie to a junior high school play. When a studio funnels a ton of money into a film with the hopes it will succeed, that’s basically the last thing higher-ups want to read from America’s most famous film critic. That said, at least he notes that Jeremy Irons has a ton of fun hamming it up. Stream Dungeons & Dragons for free with ads on YouTube.

11 Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

Roger’s Rating – 0/4 Stars

There isn’t much of a plot in Freddy Got Fingered. Really, it’s one of the hardest movies to explain, especially in terms of why someone would like it (they are out there, it’s an understandable cult favorite oddity). Basically, the meat is that a ridiculously immature 28-year-old man has issues with his daddy (“Would you like some sausage? Daddy, would you like some sau-sa-ges?”).

A Crass Culmination

Freddy Got Fingered made a profit, but Ebert certainly couldn’t see how that might come to fruition. He saw the film as the crass culmination of other late ’90s and early aughts’ films such as See Spot Run (which might just get a mention soon), Monkeybone, Joe Dirt, and Tomcats. In other words, he thought less of it than he did those films, and he most certainly did not like those films. Rent on AppleTV.

10 Godzilla (1998)

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

Admittedly, and it may be a controversial take, but Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla has aged extraordinarily well. If one looks at films like entities trying to accomplish a mission, Godzilla‘s was simple: entertain. It does an amazing job of that, with underappreciated pacing, a terrific first attack on Manhattan, and a fun performance from Jean Reno.

Are there elements that still don’t work? Absolutely. But, with the MonsterVerse in full swing, giving G-Fans the Big-G they’re accustomed to, the sting of disappointment that surrounded Emmerich’s film has all but disappeared, allowing it to serve on its own as both a rollercoaster ride and a late ’90s timepiece.

Ebert’s Thoughts?

Basically, he made a fair comparison to Jurassic Park. Godzilla (1998) isn’t so much Godzilla as it is an attempt to replicate the success of that Steven Spielberg masterpiece. It doesn’t quite succeed in that goal, and Ebert was quick to cite the film’s special effects, especially how they’re shrouded in darkness and rain and, far more often than not, Zilla rushes off the screen.

But, in fairness to the film, that helps seal the effect of a big lizard being able to conceal itself below ground in one of the most populated cities on Earth. Stream Godzilla on Max.

RELATED: Godzilla Minus One Director Reveals His Thoughts On Panned 1998 Godzilla Film

9 The Hot Chick (2002)

Roger’s Rating – .5/4 Stars

For a little while there, Hollywood was trying its best to make Rob Schneider a leading man. And, considering The Hot Chick is the best of his few leading man movies, it’s not very surprising things didn’t pan out. Yet, just because The Hot Chick is slightly more intelligent than Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and the baffling The Animal doesn’t mean it really possesses merit. That is, besides giving Anna Faris a major role outside Scary Movie and doing a little more to increase Rachel McAdams’ exposure.

Switch-a-Ooh, This Is Forgettable

It wasn’t a distaste for the body swap movie that turned Ebert off on The Hot Chick, it was this particular one’s treatment of female characters. Basically, the women characters in The Hot Chick have very little to do other than openly fantasize about a phallus. In other words, he saw it as the nadir of an already pretty weak sub-genre. Stream on Hulu.

8 Jason X (2001)

Jason X

Jason X

Release Date
July 24, 2001

Director
James Isaac

Runtime
91

Roger’s Rating – .5/4 Stars

If Ebert seemed to have a distaste for any one genre in particular, it was absolutely horror. More often than not, when writing about the genre, he was either harsh or dismissive. But, in the case of Friday the 13th, he made the irresponsible decision of posting performer Betsy Palmer’s address just so they could harass her about staring in it. It wasn’t a great look, and Ebert never warmed up to the franchise (which, with 12 movies combined, is less harmful than posting someone’s, fortunately inaccurate, address).

The Nadir of His Least-Favorite Franchise

So, basically, Jason X was decidedly not the critic’s favorite of the year. And, considering even die-hard Friday the 13th fans hate the thing, maybe it can’t all be chalked up to franchise bias. That said, he did give some praise to the liquid nitrogen kill.

7 Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass

Release Date
March 22, 2010

Runtime
117

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

Roger Ebert wasn’t alone in his repulse to Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. Heck, there are some people out there, like those who went to see the midnight showing (because those were a thing at the time) during their senior year of high school, that left questioning the film’s core ethical code. After all, hearing a little girl drop the “C Word” is… a lot.

What Didn’t He Like?

Yet, unpleasant as it can be at first, it doesn’t take long to gravitate to Kick-Ass‘ level. Not to mention, with her immediate subsequent roles, Chloë Grace Moretz continued to show herself to be both an incredible talent and an old soul, so the sour taste of her language and actions in Kick-Ass is, or has become, diluted. But, even still, the character of Hit Girl rubbed Ebert the wrong way. Rent on AppleTV.

6 The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

The Twilight Saga never received Ebert’s love, but there was only one he outright hated. And fair enough, because his main criticism was that it was stagnant more often than not. And, considering The Twilight Saga: New Moon is the only one that truly feels like a placeholder (okay, maybe Breaking Dawn Part 1, as well), it’s a criticism shared by many others. In Ebert’s words, the characters in New Moon “should be arrested for loitering with intent to moan.” A film without momentum is just money on a screen.

How Did He Feel About the Others?

Ebert gave the first film two-and-a-half stars out of four. His biggest gripe was that the acting wasn’t always believable, but he seemed to admire the film’s spirit. He was a little harsher on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which followed New Moon, but not as harsh as he was on that second film. He just felt that, while seeing Bella quiver and shiver in front of Edward has its appeal for fans, it was running out of steam (and there were two more flicks to go).

RELATED: New Moon Director Says Taylor Swift Tried to Get a Role in the Film

5 Pearl Harbor (2001)

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

War films tend to receive accolades. Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, however, was seen as merely an excuse to put pretty people on a poster. Of course, Bay’s film is a cinematic retelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But, even more than that (way more than that), it’s desperately trying to be the love triangle version of Titanic (Rose wasn’t exactly conflicted, so not a triangle).

At Least it Led to a Great Team America Joke

Ebert found Bay’s film, like a few other Bay films, bloated as can be. He also figured it to be hackneyed, awkwardly-written, and “directed without grace.”

In other words, he saw it as the intended moneymaker it is, not the accurate retelling of American history it should have been. What a waste of Josh Hartnett’s considerable talent (and, frankly, this should have damaged Ben Affleck’s career, not Hartnett’s, but it absolutely did to the latter). Stream Pearl Harbor on Max.

4 See Spot Run (2001)

Roger’s Rating – 1.5/4 Stars

See Spot Run follows David Arquette’s Gordon Smith, a mailman always going toe to toe with pups. When his cute neighbor’s kid needs a babysitter, he leaps at the opportunity, but he’s really babysitting two. The boy, and a constantly-pooping police pup who has just scurried from his witness protection situation (WITSEC for a dog? Alright).

See Ticket Buyers Run

In his one-and-a-half star review, Ebert called the unfunny comedy “desperate,” “excruciating,” and filled with farts. Well, fart jokes… if the term joke can actually be used for that kind of thing. Suffice it to say, Ebert felt he was too old for this, and he felt everyone else with their age in the double digits would feel much the same.

3 Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

Thirteen Ghosts

Thirteen Ghosts

Release Date
October 26, 2001

Director
Steve Beck

Runtime
91

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

Thir13en Ghosts follows Arthur, the widowed nephew of a seemingly-deceased famous ghost hunter who is left the latter’s massive mansion. A mansion that, in a way, functions as a clock…with moving pieces and all. But, not all is as it appears, and if the ghost-filled house doesn’t kill Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub, looking absolutely miserable) and his family, his bloodline will.

There Are More Than Thir13en Reasons to Never Watch This

Okay, it’s not that awful, it just takes a lot of big swings and doesn’t really land them. But, without a doubt, there are at least two death scenes in this film that are legitimately well-crafted, unique, and memorable. But Ebert didn’t even see merit in that brand of creativity, as he was more focused on just how loud and empty this ghost house actually is. To that point, he called Thir13en Ghosts “literally painful.” Rent on AppleTV.

2 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

The issues Ebert had with Bad Boys II he had with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. A film laced with so much bombast it’s overwhelming by the end of the first act, Revenge of the Fallen is essentially a plotless film. It just wants to entertain and, frankly, it doesn’t even do that.

A Soulless Endeavor

Really, the same thing, that it seeks to entertain, could be said of the first film. And, there, the mission was accomplished. But Revenge of the Fallen, when it isn’t suffering from slow stretches, is steamrolled by some seriously ignorant characterizations (e.g. Mudflap). The vast majority of the film did nothing for Ebert, which couldn’t have been more accurately summarized than with his calling it “of unbearable length.”

1 Wild Wild West (1999)

Roger’s Rating – 1/4 Stars

Will Smith was on the top of the world when Wild Wild West was released. That much is obvious, even just looking at the fact this movie didn’t kill his career. But, really, this is the exact type of movie that kills careers, to the letter. Bloated, poorly written, it makes Kenneth Branagh look like a weak actor, and it was clearly built by committee. After all, the whole mechanical spider thing was supposed to be in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives. It’s as if the studio needed a tent pole and hoped this would be it.

“A Comedy Dead Zone”

It’s astonishing Smith passed on The Matrix in favor of Wild Wild West. Even if just analyzing the scripts, one works and one (even on the page) clearly does not. Ebert gave it (Wild Wild West, not The Matrix) a single star, citing in particular its ineffective comedic beats and the uncomfortable gelling of cyberpunk elements with the Western genre.

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