21 Movies We Still Can't Believe They Actually Made

While some films have been exalted as the saviors of theatrical exhibition this past year, other movies have not been as lucky, with the likes of Don’t Worry Darling, Amsterdam, and Moonfall having been fully rejected by audiences during their big screen run.

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In fact, some of these films raise the question: who exactly thought this movie idea was good in the first place? With this in mind, I’ve assembled 21 movies that we still cannot believe got the green light.

1.Nothing But Trouble (1991)

A scared couple stares behind them in a bisected car with fright

Cast: Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, John Candy, and Dan AykroydDirector: Dan AykroydRuntime: 94 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

One of the most bizarre gross-out comedies ever produced, Nothing But Trouble is the demented brainchild of writer/director/star Dan Aykroyd, who was inspired by his own surreal experience with a traffic court in upstate New York. Hoping to craft something more in line with Beetlejuice, Nothing But Trouble follows a financial publisher (Chevy Chase) who becomes smitten with a young lawyer (Demi Moore), who get lost while escorting around their clients (Taylor Negron and Bertila Damas) and wind up in the remote, impoverished New Jersey town of Valkenvania. After getting pulled over for traffic violations, the four are forced to stand trial before a vile and sadistic 106-year-old judge (Aykroyd), who rules his run-down town with a penchant for capital punishment.

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2.Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

A stoic cowboy holds up a glowing extraterrestrial weapon

Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, and Adam BeachDirector: Jon FavreauRuntime: 118 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

A rare misstep for all involved, Cowboys & Aliens was initially intended to be the next high-concept studio tentpole film in the vein of Men in Black or Transformers after more than a decade of development under the DreamWorks Pictures umbrella. Employing an all-star cast, as well as the most in-demand writers and producers of the time, Cowboys & Aliens revolves around an outlaw (Daniel Craig) who awakens in the desert without his memories but with a strange bracelet that could possibly be the key to saving a local town from an extraterrestrial threat. However, the film’s mismatched tone and audience-repelling title left the movie dead on arrival, as Cowboys & Aliens only grossed less than $12 million more than its reported production budget.

Universal Pictures / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

3.Battleship (2012)

Two naval soldiers plot their next strategic moves

Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, and Liam NeesonDirector: Peter BergRuntime: 131 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Does anyone else remember the collective groan of audiences in any given movie theater where the Battleship trailer would play? A colossal miscalculation on every fathomable level, Battleship was truly a shining example of “who asked for this?” from an underwhelming and uninspired cast to a concept that didn’t even feel organic to the game itself. In fact, it is still somewhat surreal to imagine the meetings that had to go into developing the Battleship board game into a big-budget cinematic fiasco, especially one lacking in tangible star power and doubling down on a shoehorned sci-fi premise that hasn’t even helped the film find a following as a syndicated late-night cable staple.

Universal Pictures / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

4.Mars Needs Moms (2011)

Two aliens observe a quarrel between a child and his mother

Cast: Seth Green, Dan Fogler, Elisabeth Harnois, Joan Cusack, and Mindy SterlingDirector: Simon WellsRuntime: 88 MinutesRating: PGRotten TomatoesProduced by Robert Zemeckis under his ImageMovers Digital production banner during the height of his obsession with motion capture animation, Mars Needs Moms served as a punctuation mark regarding audience’s dislike of mocap’s uncanny valley effect and the effective heart of both the medium and the studio. Starring Seth Green (although completely animated and dubbed over by Seth Dusky), Mars Needs Moms follows a nine-year-old boy who must overcome his tense relationship with his mother in order to save her from being abducted by an extraterrestrial threat. Failing to connect with young and older audiences alike, Mars Needs Mom quickly became one of the biggest box office disasters ever, and Disney has since all but buried the film in the depths of its vast catalog.

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5.The Happening (2008)

A scared man stands in a field while a woman and her son run to a nearby house

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley, and Spencer BreslinDirector: M. Night ShyamalanRuntime: 89 MinutesRating: RRotten TomatoesBy the time The Happening hit theaters, M. Night Shyamalan’s career was essentially on the ropes, as critics and audiences had both soured on his modern fable, The Lady in the Water, after his polarizing horror-drama, The Village. While some fans were intrigued about Shyamalan playing in a hard-R sandbox within the horror genre, the film’s premise of a global phenomenon that drives people to commit suicide around the globe went from shocking to unintentionally hilarious over the course of its skimp runtime. Combine this element with Mark Wahlberg’s doe-eyed performance as a science teacher(?!) and the twist that even the biggest Shyamalan supporter can’t defend, The Happening turned the once-acclaimed director into a punchline, soiling his reputation as a filmmaker until his 2015 found footage joint The Visit brought him back into the limelight.

Alamy / Collection Christophel / UTV Motion Pictures / Spyglass Entertainment

6.Shallow Hal (2001)

A woman paddles on a see-saw canoe with her boyfriend in the air

Cast: Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, and Bruce McGillDirectors: Robert and Peter FarrellyRuntime: 114 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

One of those "Good Lord, how did THIS get made?" comedies from the early '00s, all the good intentions in the world can't stop Shallow Hal from feeling like true cringe 20 years later. The movie follows Hal (Jack Black, in one of his first leading roles), a superficial womanizer who is hypnotized by Tony Robbins to only see people's inner beauty, leading him to fall madly in love with an overweight woman. It's an offensive and embarrassing outing that feels icky by any standards, and the fact that it made more than $140 million at the box office back in 2001 is all the more shameful.

20th Century Fox / AJ Pics / Alamy

7.Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island (2020)

Three women look at a map in the middle of the jungle

Cast: Michael Peña, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, and Portia DoubledayDirector: Jeff WadlowRuntime: 109 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

There's an almost endearing quality to Blumhouse's attraction to reviving ancient IP for their potential franchises, but few films were as self-indulgent and conceptually mismanaged as their horror reboot of Fantasy Island from 2020. From the toothless PG-13 horror to the undercooked and bizarre comeuppance scenarios to the mental gymnastics in play to justify and introduce the more notable elements of the original 1977 television series, Blumhouse's Fantasy Island seems to be lost at sea while desperately swimming to an out-of-reach island of relevancy. Toss in the fact that the film came out less than a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and hosts a Cinemascore of "C-" among polled audiences, it seems that nobody is particularly excited to return to Fantasy Island.

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8.Serenity (2019)

Two men stand pensively on a fishing boat while a man desperately reels in a catch

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane, and Djimon HounsouDirector: Steven KnightRuntime: 103 MinutesRating: RRotten Tomatoes

Not to be confused with the feature film conclusion to the space Western series, Firefly, this star-studded cinematic enigma starts off as a modern noir, albeit with a much sillier setting, over-the-top performances from the whole cast, and a number of truly mind-numbing creative choices. But once the film begins to drift into science fiction territory and commits to becoming full-on camp, Serenity becomes a film nobody anticipated and, honestly, one of which you can’t quite make heads or tails. While there’s a good chance that Serenity might become a midnight movie, ala The Room or Fateful Findings, this box office bomb is more likely to be forgotten by audiences even despite its absolutely bonkers third act.

Prod DB / Graham Bartholomew / Global Road Entertainment / IM Global / Ingenious / Shelbourne Productions / Shoebox Films / Starlings Entertainment / Alamy

9.The Lone Ranger (2013)

A Native American and a Cowboy walk out of a smoky background

Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, and Ruth WilsonDirector: Gore VerbinskiRuntime: 149 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

At the time, Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski had teamed up for one of the highest-grossing franchises in Disney’s history with Pirates of the Caribbean while Armie Hammer was earmarked as the next Hollywood star following his breakout performances in The Social Network and J. Edgar. However, none of these elements could help save this bloated western, as modern audiences were not exactly keen on seeing this long-winded revival of the golden-era cowboy hero. A massive loss for Disney, The Lone Ranger’s failure at the box office might have been a happy accident, considering the controversies surrounding both Depp and Hammer in recent years.

Walt Disney Pictures / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

10.The Love Guru (2008)

A bearded man covered in fur and blood makes a threatening face

Cast: Mike Myers, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake, Romany Malco, and Meagan GoodDirector: Marco SchnabelRuntime: 87 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

By the late ‘00s, Mike Myers was one of the most dependable comedians working in the feature film space, having no less than three incredibly profitable franchises to his name with Austin Powers, Shrek, and Wayne’s World. But when the Canadian comedy hitmaker broke out an ill-advised accent, a surreal beard, and an unusually self-indulgent concept set in the world of hockey, it turned out to be cinematic kryptonite, repelling audiences and critics alike. The film remains a black mark on Myers’ resume and essentially sent the comedian away from the limelight for nearly 15 years until he introduced his brand of comedy to a new generation in Netflix’s The Pentaverate.

Paramount Pictures / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

11.Southland Tales (2006)

A concerned man with a camera follows closely behind a young police officer

Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, and Kevin SmithDirector: Richard KellyRuntime: 144 MinutesRating: RRotten Tomatoes

After becoming a filmmaker to watch due to the underground success of his directorial debut, Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly kept that same sense of ambition and bravado for his follow-up film, Southland Tales. Yet even with the help of a wildly talented ensemble cast, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an early lead role, Southland Tales wound up playing like an incoherent tonal rollercoaster, complete with Justin Timberlake lip-syncing The Killers, a bevy of surreal cameos and a faux car commercial that includes two vehicles having sex. Richard Kelly would eventually get a chance to redeem himself with subsequent opportunities in the director’s chair, but Southland Tales remains a cinematic cautionary tale for young filmmakers.

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12.Voyage of the Rock Aliens (1984)

The cast of "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" assemble for a promotional photo

Cast: Pia Zadora, Craig Sheffer, Ruth Gordon, Jermaine Jackson, and Michael BerrymanDirector: James FargoRuntime: 96 MinutesRating: PGRotten Tomatoes

The '80s had a lot of ridiculous elements that now get viewed with rose-colored glasses as endearing cultural touchstones, from bold hairstyles to flamboyant fashion choices. However, there were plenty of times when these weird and wild aspects of the decade go overboard, and Voyage of the Rock Aliens is a perfect encapsulation of them all. Developed as a star vehicle for singer-actor Pia Zadora and featuring the likes of Craig Sheffer (One Tree Hill), Ruth Gordon (Rosemary's Baby), and Jermaine Jackson (of the Jackson Five), Voyage of the Rock Aliens tries to be equal parts Grease and Star Wars, which turns out to be a combination as disastrous as you think it might be.

Prod DB / KGA / Interplanetary-Curb Communications / Inter Planetary

13.Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Abraham Lincoln examines an ax in a dark room

Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Anthony Mackie, and Mary Elizabeth WinsteadDirector: Timur BekmambetovRuntime: 105 MinutesRating: RRotten Tomatoes

Listen, I know that the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a critical and commercial success, as author Seth Grahame-Smith's combination of absurdity, horror lore, and biographical detail made for a unique reading experience in the vein of his breakout book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But while the comedic concept works well enough on the page, the humorless big-screen adaptation from the director of Wanted baffled audiences by doubling down on visual style, including the then-popular 3D release, over investing in the surreal atmosphere that naturally surrounds such a project. As a result, most people were left cold by the straight-faced take, proving that sometimes it's better for the audience to laugh with your movie than not laugh at all.

Abraham Productions / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

14.S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (2008)

A young woman is approached by a priest while sitting in the remains of a decrepit building

Cast: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone, James Lafferty, and Elizabeth BerkleyDirector: Chris FisherRuntime: 103 MinutesRating: RRotten Tomatoes

I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if you hadn't known that Donnie Darko received a direct-to-video sequel, as the film had very little marketing and the only connective tissue between the films is Daveigh Chase, reprising her role as Donnie's younger sister more than eight years after the first film's release. Nevertheless, the sequel that no one asked for was a bust with fans of the series, critics who saw right past the film's intentions as a cheap knock-off of the original's defining attitude, and even Richard Kelly himself, who went out of his way to distance himself from this ill-advised blunder.

20th Century Fox Home / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

15.Epic Movie (2007)

Two pirates speak on a galleon

Cast: Kal Penn, Adam Campbell, Faune Chambers Watkins, Jayma Mays, and Jennifer CoolidgeDirectors: Jason Friedberg & Aaron SeltzerRuntime: 81 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

I don't know what cruel and unusual domino effect needed to happen to get pop culture from Scary Movie and Not Another Teen Movie, which all have their merits and genuinely funny moments, to the lifeless dreck that is Epic Movie, a spoof movie taking inspiration from the trailers of Hollywood's biggest films while throwing in random celebrity cameos in an attempt for a cheap laugh that never comes. Fun Fact: when I went to see Epic Movie in the theater, a member of the audience stood up and yelled "What is this?! This isn't a movie!" Looking back, he couldn't have been more right, and hopefully, the beast that spoofed movies will remain dormant for a while, or at least until someone with an actual funny bone in their body can whip up some worthwhile parody ideas.

20th Century Fox / Maximum Film / Alamy

16.Little Man (2006)

A little person pretending to be an infant winces when forced to wear a teddy bear onesie

Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Kerry Washington, Tracy Morgan, and Alex BorsteinDirector: Keenen Ivory WayansRuntime: 98 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Oh just because the other creative minds behind parody movies in the '00s doesn't mean that the Wayans Bros., who initially delivered some drop-dead funny flicks like Don't Be A Menace... and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka in the '90s, are off the hook for some of the cinematic crimes to their name. While most gravitate toward the nightmare fuel that is White Chicks, there's something even more problematic and off-putting about Little Man, a film that uses face-swapping technology to portray Marlon Wayans as a little person who decides to pass as a baby in order to steal a stolen diamond stashed in the handbag of a woman who desperately wanted a child. Though the film was a minor success at the time, Little Man has aged like milk on a summer day in the years since.

Revolution Studios / PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy

17.The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

Three people in various fashion styles examine a potential threat

Cast: Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, and Michael CaineDirector: Breck EisnerRuntime: 106 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Outside of the Fast & Furious saga, Guardians of the Galaxy, and, to a lesser extent, the xXx and Riddick franchises, Vin Diesel has had a bit of a hard time finding the next big property to his namesake in Hollywood. Some didn't work out so well, such as Babylon A.D., while others were the victim of circumstance, such as Bloodshot, which hit theaters only days before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world. But no Vin Diesel vehicle baffled audiences and critics quite like The Last Witch Hunter, a film that indulged Diesel's D&D fandom and sensibilities while feeling more at home with the bizarre contemporary fantasy films of the 1990s. Nevertheless, no one was particularly enthusiastic about exploring the world of The Last Witch Hunter, as the film has fallen into obscurity over the past seven years.

Summit Entertainment / Atlaspix / Alamy

18.The Ringer (2005)

A man gears up to participate in a race in the Special Olympics

Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Brian Cox, Katherine Heigl, Jed Rees, and Eddie BarbanellDirector: Barry W. BlausteinRuntime: 94 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Produced by the Farrelly Brothers, who make their second appearance on this list, The Ringer is not just a film that is confusing in its own existence but one that borderlines on ugly at times. I understand that the film carries the endorsement of both The Special Olympics and Best Buddies, programs that both empower and mentor those with disabilities, while also employing various individuals with intellectual disabilities, and does indeed plant its feet in a message of treating everyone with respect and dignity, which is ultimately what the film should be about. But the story of which these themes are a conduit, as well as some of the non-disabled performers in prominent supporting roles as characters with disabilities, feels inappropriate and regrettable at the very least.

20th Century Fox / Cinematic Collection / Alamy

19.The Dark Tower (2017)

A man in a leather jacket holds two guns in some kind of ornate temple

Cast: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Claudia Kim, and Fran KranzDirector: Nikolaj ArcelRuntime: 95 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Few modern movie decisions left their audience scratching their heads as hard as The Dark Tower movie, having been developed over so many years to eventually become something that feels incongruent to the entire mythos of the novels. But even beyond alienating the film’s built-in audience, the film somehow even found a way to make Stephen King’s voice feel tired and rote, eventually composing an emotionally impenetrable film about good versus evil where you don’t even care who wins. While King fanatics still hold out hope that a proper Dark Tower adaptation might come one day, this one ain’t it, fam.

Columbia Pictures / Lifestyle Pictures / Alamy

20.Mac and Me (1988)

Two kids sit in a pink convertible with a family of formally-dressed aliens

Cast: Christine Ebersole, Jade Calegory, Jonathan Ward, Tina Caspary, and Lauren StanleyDirector: Stewart RaffillRuntime: 93 MinutesRating: PGRotten Tomatoes

Perhaps best known to contemporary audiences as the movie from which Paul Rudd would play a particularly peculiar clip every time he appeared on Conan, Mac and Me is a cult relic of a time when Hollywood would more than happily craft propaganda on behalf of McDonald’s in the form of a goofy E.T. ripoff. However, the film would veer closer to kinder trauma than children’s classic, and with Mac and Me’s many product placement scenes and even a sequence featuring Ronald McDonald himself dancing with children, critics and audiences universally decided that the film works better as a pop culture punchline than a feature film for the whole family.

Orion Pictures / Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy

21.Ready to Rumble (2000)

Goldberg and Mene Gene Oakerland hang around a medieval-themed pro wrestler

Cast: David Arquette, Scott Caan, Oliver Platt, Diamond Dallas Page, and Rose McGowanDirector: Brian RobbinsRuntime: 107 MinutesRating: PG-13Rotten Tomatoes

Developed and released less than a year before World Championship Wrestling would go out of business, Ready to Rumble is a cinematic car crash that somehow botches both the world of professional wrestling and comedy filmmaking in one swoop. Granted, it’s at no fault of the performers, as David Arquette is trying his best and the likes of Joe Pantoliano, Oliver Platt, and Martin Landau at least appear to be having fun, but the film itself feels like a time capsule from 1999 was thrown into an AI screenwriting machine, as gross-out humor, pro wrestling antics, and hyper-stylized music video camerawork all feel embarrassingly dated.

Bel Air Entertainment / Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy
Get your heart pumping with Fall, a new thriller that will take you to terrifying heights. Watch it on demand right now, and on DVD/Blu-ray on October 18.Watch it on demand right now

Get your heart pumping with Fall, a new thriller that will take you to terrifying heights. Watch it on demand right now, and on DVD/Blu-ray on October 18.

Watch it on demand right now

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