“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” Although Tommy Wiseau‘s heartbroken emotional breakdown had dramatic intentions, it’s been widely mocked as the funniest moment in one of the most notorious “so bad it’s good” movies of all-time. The Room inspired a cult phenomenon among moviegoers who were fascinated by Wiseau’s incomprehensible debut feature. Actor Greg Sestero chronicled his experience making The Room in his memoir The Disaster Artistwhich was adapted into an award-winning film from A24 in 2017.
Although it’s certainly the most famous, The Room was hardly the first unintentionally hilarious “bad movie” that found a cult fanbase. Low budget “midnight movies” have drawn out passionate cinephiles since the 1950s. The Internet era has helped platform many of these ill-begotten projects, and introduced them to a wider audience. Part of the reason that The Room took off as a cult hit was the popularity of sharing digital clips through YouTube and social media.
There’s a difference between a movie being intentionally campy and “so bad that it’s good.” A film like Sharknado is promoted for its ridiculousness, while The Room was a completely sincere effort on Wiseau’s part. There’s also a point in which a movie becomes so bad that it’s no longer fun; movies like Caddyshack II or Epic Movie aren’t enjoyable, they’re just bad.
If you love laughing at The Roomconsider popping on one of these films for your next cult movie screening.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957)
There is no more important figure in the “bad movie” subgenre than Ed Wood. Wood began writing and directing low budget science fiction, action, and horror films in the early 1950s, and became renowned for his poorly conceived concepts and cheaply thrown together productions. Plan 9 From Outer Space is his Citizen Kane. A clear attempt to cash in on the popularity of sci-fi “B movies,” Plan 9 follows an incomprehensible plot involving extraterrestrial vampires infiltrating the human race. Between the reused costumes from a recent medieval production and an appearance by Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, Plan 9 is the highlight of Wood’s filmography.
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
The Star Wars Holiday Special is the one thing that every Star Wars fan can agree on. Aired only once in 1978, the ABC variety special features the cast of the original trilogy alongside guest stars like Art Carney, Bea Arthur, Jefferson Starship, Harvey Korman, and Diahann Carroll among others. It loosely follows the original film’s heroes as they attempt to return to Chewbacca’s (Peter Mayhew) home planet Kashyyyk to celebrate the Wookiee holiday “Life Day” with his wife Malla (Mickey Morton), son Lumpy (Patty Maloney), and father Itchy (Paul Gale). However, it’s really a series of bad comedy sketches interspersed with recycled footage from A New Hope. Someone had the genius idea to not “dub” or offer subtitles for any of the Wookiees; try understanding them growl for a two hour special. The Holiday Special has never been re-released by Lucasfilm in any official format.
The 1989 Canadian indie film Things is truly one of the most baffling “bad movies” ever made. There’s nothing worse than bad comedy; while a bad horror film or a bad drama can be inadvertently amusing, a bad comedy is simply bad. What makes Things so unique is that it’s clearly trying to lampoon low budget slasher films, but the attempts at parody fail so badly that it’s hard not to be amused by the irony. Things is somehow worse than what it’s trying to satirize. Good luck trying to unpack the plot; it loosely follows the old friends Don (Barry J. Gillisthe film’s writer / director) and Fred (Bruce Roach) as they unearth a demonic cabin of monstrous creatures. Think The Evil Dead if it was starring the characters from Idiocracy.
Troll 2 (1990)
Low budget sequels to popular movies are a treasure trove of unintentionally hilarious movies; did you know that there’s direct-to-video sequels to classics like Donnie Darko, American Psycho, Starship Troopersand From Dusk Till Dawn? The original 1986 monster movie Troll was never any good to begin with, but the 1990 sequel Troll 2 is so baffling that it’s inspired one of the largest cult movie audiences of any “bad movie.” To start off, there are no trolls in the movie; the vegetarian goblins that do appear look like they’re part Gremlin, part Garbage Pail Kid. The film was also produced by a largely Italian production crew, so the language barrier made the incomprehensible dialogue seem even stranger.
Samurai Cop (1990)
The title says it all. Samurai Cop is exactly what you’d expect it to be; an attempt to merge Asian action cinema with mainstream American buddy cop movies. While the odd pairing of genres would be enough to make the film unusual, Samurai Cop is hilarious with its dialogue alone. Writer / director Amir Shervan was clearly going for a Lethal Weapon vibe with his one-liners, but nobody in Samurai Cop talks like an actual human being. “What does katana mean? It means Japanese sword. ”
The Wicker Man (2006)
Nicolas Cage‘s run of direct-to-DVD genre films has found a new audience following the release of his self-reflective comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. However, 2006’s The Wicker Man actually had a theatrical release, although the few that saw it in theaters were deprived of the famous “alternate ending” where Cage is devoured by bees. The Wicker Man is a remake of one of the greatest horror movies of the 1970s (a “cult horror” movie that’s about actual cults). While the original film is about the differences between Catholicism and Paganism, the remake is centered on the disparity between men and women. Why that required Cage to dress up in a bear suit and punch a woman in the face is anyone’s guess.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)
Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a tough film to recommend. It’s so poorly produced that some of the extended sequences can be unwatchable due to the awful audio mixing and grainy visuals. Although the cheap digital effects used for the villainous birds are what made the film so famous, it’s the dialogue and characters that really make Birdemic such an oddity. In the first hour of the film before any actual bird attacks, there’s an entire romantic subplot that’s just as wacky and melodramatic as The Room. The film’s last-minute attempt to include a message about environmentalism is just the icing on the cake.
Fateful Findings (2013)
If you’re looking for this generation’s answer to Tommy Wiseau, look no further than Neil Breen. Like Wiseau, Breen writes, directs, stars, and produces all of his films, and similarly seems to show no signs that he is in on the joke. Breen generally stars as the main character in his films, where he’s usually a savior or hero of some sort that possesses secret knowledge or special powers. In his 2013 “bad movie masterpiece” Fateful Findings, Breen is simultaneously the world’s greatest hacker, superhero, novelist, protestor, and father. Breen combines the inhuman dialogue of Wiseau with Ed Wood’s aptitude for cheap visual tricks and cheaply constructed sets.
Wish Upon (2017)
The rise of Blumhouse has inspired a lot of bad demonic horror movies aimed at an adolescent audience, but Wish Upon is a cut below (or maybe a cut above?) things like Truth or Dare or Ouija. The film follows the teenage girl Clare Shannon (Joey King), who discovers a magical “wishing box” beneath her house. Clare’s wishes are granted, but in true horror movie fashion, each wish results in the inadvertent death of someone that she cares about. It’s the absurd death sequences that elevate Wish Upon from bad to legendary. Plus, Clare is either the most psychopathic or most clueless protagonist in recent memory.