There were a lot of amazing sci-fi films in 2016, like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Captain America: Civil War. But wherever there’s a good sci-fi movie, you can find a bad one not far behind it. We’ve also seen some real sci-fi stinkers this year that give us the worst the genre has to offer. Whether it’s cheesy dialogue, paper thin plots, unlikeable characters or unsettling implications, some movies just ended up being a mess of badness. So let’s take a look at the worst sci-fi films of 2016, examine what went wrong, and hope that these mistakes won’t be repeated:
Hardcore Henry (Directed by Ilya Naishuller)
Hardcore Henry had the interesting gimmick of being shot entirely in first person- yes, like an actual first person shooter- but that was the most interesting thing about it. Turns out that while seeing things through the eyes of a mute protagonist may be fine for a video game, it makes for a pretty dull and disorienting movie. It’s nothing but mind numbing violence and there’s not a story here that is worth anything. Bio-engineered clones and what not make it technically sci-fi, but it’s mostly just incoherent action. Watching it will make you wish you were playing a video game instead.
Independence Day: Resurgence (directed by Roland Emmerich)
Independence Day: Resurgence was just the latest in the stream of pointless sequels to successful movies. They couldn’t even get Will Smith to come back for it and the substitutes they came up with were….well, they sure weren’t Will Smith. All spectacle and no substance, Resurgence just phoned it in all the way through. The movie was full of plotholes, like the entire world missing that a ship the size of America was above them until it was too late- something that was pointed out as weird, but never explained, which is pretty much how this movie rolled.
Add in a ton of pandering to Chinese audiences, mind-numbing scenes of chaos and destruction and settings that just melted together and you’ve got yourself an Independence Day no one will ever want to celebrate again.
Assassin's Creed (Directed by Justin Kurzel)
This video game adaptation turned out to be a bad movie. It’s a shocking twist, I know. Sadly. this is not the movie that will save video game movies. Despite a high budget and a high-grade cast, Asassin’s Creed ended up being an incoherent mess. It was pretty hard to follow what happened with all the switching back and forth between time periods, especially if you hadn’t played the games. It felt more like some weird mashup between the Da Vinci Code and The Matrix rather than its own thing. With paper thin characters and endless muddled exposition, Assassin’s Creed proved a decent budget and cast does not a good video game movie make.
The 5th Wave (directed by J. Blakeson)
Look, it’s another YA dystopian movie! Yeah, getting kind of hard not to reflexively yawn at this point. Guess what, there’s a love triangle too! How novel! The premise of the movie is that aliens are attacking the world in five “waves”, instead of all at once for some reason. The characters wait in suspense for a the last wave that will be sent by the aliens so their torment can end, just like we’re all waiting for the last wave of Hunger Games ripoffs so our torment can end. This film is truly paint-by-the numbers in every way. There isn’t even a reason given for why the aliens are attacking, they just are. And that’s a good summation of the movie- it just is. It exists to cash in on the latest dystopian craze and that’s it.
The Divergent Series: Allegiant (Directed by Robert Schwentke)
The Divergent: Allegiant movie stretches the last book of a YA dystopian into two movies, padding it out so much that basically nothing happens. Sound familiar? Yeah, people have been trumpeting about Divergent being a rip-off of the Hunger Games for a while, but Allegiant is definitely the nadir of this- it’s not even a worthwhile rip-off. It’s basically just a sad ball of YA dystopian clichés. With a laughable excuse for a “chilling” setting and a climax that consisted of two parties talking to each other through glass doors, it left the audience cold.
The movie didn’t even follow the book it was based on, so not even Divergent fans came out of it happy. The film was called the dying gasp of YA dystopias by many. The movie floundered so badly at the box office that Lionsgate slashed the budget of the final one and it will be released straight to DVD.
Cell (directed by Tod Williams)
Do you feel like another zombie movie? Well, Cell is one of those only it’s here to lecture you about those darned kids and their phones. In this movie, a electronic signal turns cell phone users into mindless violent killers. So, zombies, but not actually undead. They’re also telepathic because it’s terrible how tech allows people to connect with each other. I mean, doesn’t technology turn us all into zombies? Do you get the subtle social commentary here? DO YOU? The preachiness could be tolerable if the thing wasn’t so poorly lit, badly edited, and generally just incompetently made.
Max Steel (directed by Stewart Hendler)
You know a movie has to be pretty bad when it’s got a zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Max Steel was based on an action figure and it’s as lifeless and dull as any hunk of plastic. It’s basically a bunch of vague superhero clichés cobbled together. The generic awkward teenager main character gets a bunch of generic superpowers and is accompanied by a generic and incredibly annoying robot sidekick who fails to be funny. He’s also got the generic love interest- the super-understanding girl who’s perfect in every way and just exists to give his life some spark. She can even fix bikes!
Max Steel isn’t a big budget movie and considering that, it’s visual effects are decent. Unfortunately, that’s the only thing it’s got going for it.
Passengers (directed by Norton Tyldum)
Passengers was billed as a fun and touching sci-fi romance starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. What it ended up being was an ode to Space Stockholm Syndrome disguised as fluffy cuteness. The film tells of a group of people who are being put into suspended animation as they travel to a distant world. Chris Pratt’s character, Jim, finds himself woken up 90 years early, meaning he’s going to die alone on this space ship. He falls in “love” with frozen body of one of the passengers, who has the nauseatingly on-the-nose name Aurora, despite never, y’know, talking to her. So he does what anyone would do for someone they care about- ruin her life and doom her to an unhappy death!
He wakes her up, forcing her to be trapped alone on a ship for the rest of her life. And he lies to her, pretending it was a malfunction. She falls in love with him, of course, I mean. He’s the only other person around. She doesn’t have a choice but to learn to enjoy that company.
As many reviewers point out, it’s not a bad plot for a movie if the full darkness and creepiness of the situation was actually explored rather than glossed over, but gloss over it they did. They genuinely tried to sell this as some cute romance. The fact that this guy claimed this woman’s life for himself and forced her to be with him was just treated as your typical romantic “obstacle” that couple needed to overcome on their way to true love. The fact that even when she tried to run away from him after the revaltation he continued talking to her over the intercom, reinforcing that she could never escape him or be alone even if she wanted to was just...yeah. This is a “romance” with a premise worthy of a horror movie, but the only horror to be found is the fact the creators throught it was acceptable.
Batman: The Killing Joke (directed by Sam Liu)
Batman: The Killing Joke may have been direct-to-DVD, but it was still a movie that came out in 2016 and it was a complete disaster. (And yes, Batman is sci-fi, I hate to break it to you, but those gadgets aren’t realistic. And he hangs out with Superman.)
Alan Moore’s original graphic novel is beloved by many fans, but also controversial due to the casual exploitation of Barbara Gordon (which has a pretty nasty story behind it) and Alan Moore himself actually dislikes the story in hindsight. The DVD movie managed to make this even worse by shoehorning in a relationship between Barbara and Bruce, despite the fact she’s much younger than him and they traditionally have a sort of uncle-niece type relationship. It seemed to be added in to make her being shot more impactful on Bruce or something, implying Batman can only care about a girl if he’s boning her.
The 20-minute little story had pretty much nothing to do with the actual Killing Joke adaptation that followed, Barbara’s character was dragged through the mud, as she walked into obvious traps, was repeatedly told she wasn’t Batman’s equal, had to have Batman explain to her she was being objectified, generally obsessed over her “romance” with Batman and then up and quit. On top of all that, the animation was pretty poor. As Honest Trailers put it, when it came to The Killing Joke, the joke was on us.
Cabin Fever (directed by Travis Zariwyny)
In this age of remakes, Cabin Fever is a good example of the worst there is to offer. The original was no masterpiece to begin with as its plot was basically “five unlikeable teens get ravaged by a sci-fi-esque flesh-eating virus, it’s gross”. This utterly pointless rehash is a shot-for-shot imitation of the original movie, which is only around fifteen years old, but now it's even worse. It’s hard to see who this film was made for- fans of the original can’t be happy to be watching the same thing again and the stock horror movie tropes like teens being punished for having sex or whatever only seem more cliché to a modern day audience.
Whatever the intended audience, this film was ultimately for no one at all, as the strong zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes shows.
Do you disagree with any of the choices? Do you have a sci-fi stinker you think belongs on the list? Say so in the comments!
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