Late last week, the British magazine New Statesman published a lengthy feature describing an unusual online phenomenon: Apparently, there are hordes of people who have taken to websites and message boards in recent years to justify their memory of Shazaam, a so-bad-it's-good nineties movie starring comedian Sinbad as a wisecracking genie.
Despite fervent protests to the contrary – including recollections of specific scenes and punchlines – no such film exists. (Most likely, everyone is thinking instead of Kazaam, which starred Shaquille O'Neal as a wisecracking genie. So, it's a case of barely subconscious racism.)
All of which doesn't change the fact that a dire prospect like Shazaam, or rather Kazaam, could have come out in 2016 and it still wouldn't even have come close to being named the worst film of the year. Before we say goodbye to the year that was, here's a look at the mistakes the industry should hope to avoid next year (and don't even think of actually trying to make Shazaam a real thing, Hollywood).
Five worst films of 2016, sequel edition
1. Independence Day: Resurgence: One of the most aggressively stupid films to ever emerge from the bowels of Hollywood's intellectual property bank, this two-decades-too-late sequel is an exercise in agonizing commerce disguised as diversionary entertainment. Worst of all, the movie knows how bad it is, how naked its financial ambitions are, and yet it doesn't even offer the kindness of being tongue-in-cheek bad, of embracing its inherent kitsch. Instead, it's a brutal, crass money grab. Burn it with fire.
2. Zoolander 2: A sequel to Ben Stiller's fashion satire never seemed necessary. But matters of necessity are not where Hollywood's interests lay. Or Stiller's, really – just witness his wildly overextended Fockers series of films (or his endless Night at the Museum series, or his Madagascar series, or … well, you get it). But if it had to be done, if the gods demanded it, you'd have thought that 15 years (15!) would have given Stiller and his "creative" team enough breathing room to develop a worthy sequel. No, not quite. See you in another 15 years for 3oolander, I'm sure.
3. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: It's not easy being Warner Bros., which came late to the "superhero cinematic universe" concept after Disney mined its Marvel properties for hit after hit over the past decade. Instead of building its DC Comics line slowly and steadily for the big screen, Warner went whole hog, smashing its Batman and Superman brands together like an impatient four-year-old. The result: a white-hot mess of a franchise starter, and the year's best industry punchline.
4. X-Men: Apocalypse: Where to start with Bryan Singer's desecration of the franchise he once carried so confidently? Perhaps it's the chief villain Apocalypse, a blue-skinned sourpuss who not only wastes the potential of his comic-book source material but also the considerable talents of actor Oscar Isaac. Or maybe it's the criminal underuse of Jennifer Lawrence, who seems to be purely riding out a contractual obligation. No, no, no – it's actually the scene where Magneto (Michael Fassbender) rips apart a CGI recreation of Auschwitz, a stunningly tasteless slice of exploitation that must be seen to be believed (although don't mistake that for an endorsement).
5. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: Seemingly made for $400 and change, this embarrassingly shot, incompetently edited and stunningly boring sequel will be the ultimate blemish on Tom Cruise's C.V. (and, yes, I'm aware of Rock of Ages, and his forthcoming reboot of The Mummy).
Suicide Squad: Not quite a sequel so much as a spinoff of Warner's Batman/Superman/Flaming Dumpster Fire of a cinematic universe, Suicide Squad promised plenty of action and Will Smith bon mots, and instead delivered a punch to the ear: an unexpected and particularly annoying act of needless aggression.
Five worst films of 2016, 'original' edition
1. Passengers: Boy wakes up alone on a spaceship. Boy gets bored. Boy meets girl asleep in space-hibernation pod. Boy selfishly wakes girl up so he won't be lonely. Girl gets mad at boy. Girl forgives boy as screenplay contrivances push them closer together. And audiences get the most sickeningly conceived romance of the year.
2. Mojave: William Monahan penned the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's The Departed, so he can't be that bad of a writer. Or perhaps there are two William Monahans running around town, with one inexplicably besmirching the other's good name for the sake of a paycheque. That might be an acceptable answer for how Monahan's name came to be attached to this dreadful meditation on masculinity and fame. No such excuses for how Walton Goggins, Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac (dude, start reading your scripts before signing on the dotted line!) ended up here, though.
3. Nocturnal Animals: When Tom Ford's high-gloss revenge drama first premiered at TIFF this past fall, I callously labelled it a perfume ad designed to be played in abortion clinics. In retrospect, I was wrong. It's more like a discount-perfume ad designed to be played in abortion clinics.
4. Miracles from Heaven: The passive acceptance that greeted this treacly drama when it was released last spring spells trouble for the critical community: Have we simply given up on calling out blatant proselytizing, so overwhelming is the faith-based film machine? This family drama contains such an insulting message – namely, that everything will be fine as long as you pray, pray hard, and pray specifically to Jesus Christ and no one else; oh, and that the medical community is a sham – and is delivered in such a forced manner that it discounts itself from any notion of art or entertainment. This is not a film, but evangelicalism, pure and simple. Expect more of its ilk in Donald Trump's newly Great America.
5. Dirty Grandpa: Robert De Niro, are you okay? Are you having trouble paying the bills? Is Zac Efron blackmailing you? It's going to be all right, Robert. Just reach out to The Globe and Mail. We'll get you back on your feet.
Hardcore Henry: I'm not even sure whether this counts as either an "original" film, or even a "film," to be honest, as it's more a 90-minute video-game simulation, minus any sense of control. Instead, this first-person POV experience finds you helplessly trapped within the skull of a mute thug as he slices and dices his way through Moscow on some ill-defined mission. Garish, nausea-inducing and not even the least bit fun, Hardcore Henry might have ushered in a terrifying new future of brutish VR-esque film had it not bombed spectacularly at the box office.