I do not think that "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" is the worst movie ever made. There have to be at least four or five movies that were worse, or else (as Browning wrote) what's a "Cheaper By The Dozen" for? But "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" has to be the worst movie ever made that I actually went to see at midnight on opening night. I often like to say that I did this for my wife, who loved the Star Wars series so much that I don't believe she has ever gotten over not marrying Han Solo.*
*Not Harrison Ford. Han Solo.
But, I must admit more than a little excitement going to see the movie (though I tried to hide it). I don't really get science fiction beyond The Jetsons -- or anyway, that's what I've always believed because I didn't understand 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but I was stunned to find going into "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" that I knew a lot more about Star Wars than I would readily admit. Truth is, I was reasonably able to follow conversations between Star Wars nerds who enjoyed talking about things like the backstory of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter.
I didn't know I had picked up Star Wars knowledge through cultural osmosis or if I was a bigger fan than I realized. Whatever the reason, I really did want to see "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." In fact, based on my movie plus-minus system, I probably went into "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" expecting at least a three star movie (on a five-star scale), maybe three and a half stars. It was, instead, a minus-billion-shmillion-quillion-jillion-jarjarbinkillion star movie, which makes it among the worst movie experiences I've had.
I bring this up because, through the brilliant editor Mark Mravic -- fun fact: Mark's college team once topped the New York Times' David Brooks in College Bowl -- I came across this fun bit where the author tries to come up with the perfect order to watch the Star Wars movies. I know there are many people who believe that the true perfect order of Star Wars movies is to only watch the original three movies -- IV, V and VI in your program -- and there are those who believe you can skip VI and the Ewoks while you are at it.
But if you feel like you want to somehow get the whole experience, I heartily endorse Rod Hilton's machete order, in no small part because (spoiler alert) it eliminated "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" altogether.
This got me thinking about the worst movie sequel night I could come up with (in numerical order). This gimmick has been done by many other people before, so I don't claim this to be an original idea. My quirk is this: I'm not really interested in the worst movie sequels ever made because that would include pointlessly ghastly movies like "Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace," and "Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2" and "Leonard Part 6."*
*Which, I guess, is not actually a sequel … wonder if George Lucas ever considered making Leonard prequels.
No, I'm interested in terrible sequels for good movies -- or at least movies that some people think are good. Well, really, even more to the point, I'm interested in sequels where the first movies were good enough that I actually watched the sequel. This is a fairly low threshold -- I saw "Analyze That" for instance and also "Meet The Fockers" -- but not so low that it includes movies like "Troll 2" or "Leprechaun: Back 2 The Hood."*
*However -- and this, like the rest of this post probably only interests me -- I did actually see the astonishingly wretched "Highlander II" before I saw "Highlander." I don't recall exactly how this happened or a single plot line from the movie, but I do remember that I was probably 10 minutes into Highlander II before realizing that it wasn't a trailer for another movie.
In other words, I wanted to put together a terrible sequel night featuring only movies that were tempting enough that I actually saw them. I do realize that this is of limited use to you as a reader since you don't know what movies I've seen and not seen and don't care. But I suspect that is comes close to the very definition of this blog.
So, here then is my perfect "Worst Movie Sequel Night (In Numerical Order)"
No. 1: "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace"
Well, what else? I actually have quite a few memories of the night I saw it, the excitement in the theater, the way people were dressed up as Star Wars characters*, the way everyone cheered whenever they saw anything at all familiar, and more the ever-growing elephant-in-the-room realization (one everyone was trying to smother) that this movie kinda sucked.
*Margo wore a cape of some sort and … that was kind of it. When I asked her what character she was trying to be, she did not really know. She had dressed up as sort of a generic Star Wars character, the kind who might bring the Emperor iced tea while over oversaw the building of the new Death Star.
I'm going to say it was the pod racing scene that finally broke everyone's spirit. The thing that I think made the original Star Wars Trilogy so great to those of us who aren't normally science-fiction or special-effects driven is that the narrative was always interesting. I'm a sucker -- aren't we all suckers? -- for the story of a restless young hero who discovers (gradually and with constant surprise) that the humdrum life he or she is living is an illusion and really they are destined for an extraordinary adventure. This is at the heart of Harry Potter and Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz and the Matrix and the Terminator and many other cool things.
And the first Star Wars Trilogy just keeps delivering a driving narrative and constant questions -- Who is Obi Wan? What's Leia's story? Would you trust Chewbacca get to drive? What is haunting Han Solo? Why couldn't they have put a voice box in R2-D2? Why does Darth Vader's outfit magnify the sound of his breathing? Did the Emperor really take over the galaxy because he could shoot lightning from his fingers? Were women allowed to be stormtroopers? And so on.
But it was during that pod racing scene that I realized -- there was no point to this at all. None. There wasn't a single question that I wanted answered, not a single thought prompted by what was happening on the screen, heck, I didn't even understand what was going on. I didn't know why they were racing, I didn't know why I should care, I didn't have any doubt about how the race would turn out … I was just staring at a screen with pointless explosions and plotless effects and I absolutely cannot stand movies like that. They make me absolutely crazy. I don't mind a brainless comedy and can live through a schlocky drama … but that pod-racing scene was like torture.
When I tweeted about this, several people suggested that "Star Wars Episode II: Whatever The Heck That's Called" was actually a worse movie than "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." I'm not enough of an early Star Wars observer to know, but that wasn't my reaction. "Star Wars Episode II: You Know The Second One" left no impression on my memory whatsoever. Maybe I've just blocked it out, but I don't remember a single thing about it. But "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" left behind scars that I may never entirely recover from.
No. 2: Caddyshack II
Obviously, the biggest competition for terrible sequels is going to be the second movie. This is a choice field with movies like Jaws 2 and Staying Alive and Analyze That and City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold and The Sting II and Speed 2: Cruise Control*. My original choice for this was Grease 2 which I was forced to sit through again in the last few days because my young daughters simply refused to accept their father's assessment that it was horrendous … that is, until faced with the horror that is the "Let's Bowl Tonight" sequence.**
*I will never forget Anthony Lane's line about Speed 2: "I am thinking or suing Twentieth Century Fox for breach of contract, on the ground that most of it is set on a boat."
**I love Michelle Pfeiffer. If I had to list my Top 5 crushes ever -- which I will not do for more reasons than there are stars in the heavens -- she would be on it. I love her. And yet, she starred in two of my least favorite movies ever -- Grease 2, which I do not blame her for (she was so young) and The Story of Us, which I absolutely do blame her for. She certainly brought much joy into my life, but those movies were so bad that I'm not sure she has been a net positive.
But, as several alert Tweeters pointed out, there's simply no way you can ignore the hideousness of Caddyshack II. How about that movie meeting?
Producer: "OK, great news, we're going to do Caddyshack II. But we do have some challenges. We can't get Bill Murray or Rodney Dangerfield or Ted Knight, and Chevy Chase is only willing to be in the movie for like 29 seconds. That's a pretty big void. Who out there is big enough to make up for that kind of loss of talent?"
Casting director: "Jackie Mason."
No. 3: The Godfather Part III
My default position is that Godfather III never happened. But a few weeks ago, through an odd and fortunate series of events, I ended up having lunch with Joe Mantegna, who might be the single best guy in the world. It's so cool when you meet famous people that you admire and they turn out to be even cooler in real life than you expected. He told this great story about filming Godfather III. He said he was filming one day, and he looked across and there was Al Pacino. There was Diane Keaton. There was Francis Ford Coppola. And he suddenly had this crazy nervousness, this "What the heck are you doing here?" moment that is about as human a reaction as I can imagine. And it made me think that maybe I should give the movie one more chance.
I put it on -- just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in -- and watched exactly 23 seconds of it, turned it off. You're my hero, Joe -- I'll watch "House of Games" and "Search For Bobby Fischer" a hundred more times each. But The Godfather Part III never happened.
No. 4: Batman & Robin
I originally put "The Next Karate Kid" as my No. 4 disaster -- two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank as Ralph Macchio -- and several people rightfully pointed out the criminal fourth Indiana Jones movie. But then I did the math and realized that Batman & Robin was the fourth in the series.
Batman & Robin might be my least favorite movie of all time.
I'm not saying it's the worst. I've seen worse. I'm saying it's my least favorite. Above, I talked about how torturous it was for me to sit through the pod-racing scene in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Well, Batman & Robin was like a 125 minute pod-race for me. It's a comic book movie, right? A stinking comic book. I was not a comic book junkie, but I read comic books from the time I was like 3. And I could not follow this movie. Could … not … follow. I had no idea what was happening. I didn't know why things were blowing up. I couldn't figure out what anyone was trying to do. I didn't know what made the bad guys bad or the good guys good. I couldn't understand why Alicia Silverstone left Paul Rudd.
One way to know a movie is bad is when you look at your watch to see how much time is left in it. In Batman & Robin I looked at my watch after 20 minutes. TWENTY MINUTES. I still had almost two hours to go. It was like an endurance test. I wouldn't watch that movie again for Klondike Bar.
No. 5: Rocky V
There are movies that get better with age. Most don't. Most get worse. When I left the theater after watching Rocky V, I thought I had seen a bad -- but predictably bad -- movie. It had a few Rocky moments. And seeing Stallone beat up Tommy Morrison in a parking lot (sorry, should have said "Spoiler alert" there) seemed OK.
I saw the movie again not too long ago -- maybe a year ago. It was pretty close to unendurable.
No. 6: Leonard Part 6
As mentioned above, it's not actually a sixth part of anything -- except maybe the sixth sign of the apocalypse -- but I'll include it anyway for the title alone and because I should get SOMETHING out of actually seeing it.
That's as far as I can go in order -- I didn't see:
No. 7: Saw 3D: The Final Chapter
No. 8: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
No. 9: Super Bowl IX … I did see this one. The Vikings ended up with 119 yards of total offense and nine first downs. Steelers won a 16-6 snoozefest.
No. 10: Never Say Never Again. This was not actually the 10th James Bond movie made -- the official 10th was the Spy Who Loved Me with Roger Moore -- but after that there have been some real Bond stinkers. You could pick almost any of them, really. I would say Never Say Never Again, with an ancient Sean Connery, is as bad a choice as any.