Summer at the box office is the season of promise, a time when loud trailers proudly herald the latest special effects bonanza. This year is no different than the others: the Enterprise will fly again, Brad Pitt will fight zombies, the Wolfpack is back and that’s not even mentioning the slew of superhero movies the studios are asking us to endure.
But summer at the movies is also a deceptive mistress. The promise of bigger and better special effects often overshadow every other important aspect of filmmaking such as character development, a script that doesn’t completely pander and logic. Most often, summer movies are like fast food, they look so good in the commercials but leave you feeling pretty sick and ripped off when it’s all said and done.
As the summer movie season kicks it into high gear, we here at Spectrum Culture have decided to revive our Year by Year feature (and why not- what’s a summer movie season without a reboot or a sequel?). We pored through every shoot-em-up bonanza and shitty Stallone movie of the past 30 years to create a list of the worst summer movies. The only rule? We could pick only one selection per year. Some years were easy, others nearly impossible to find one worthy suitor. Most difficult of all were the ones were numerous movies could have been the victor. But what we did learn is that year after year, the studios continued to shovel out heaps of crap, hoping for a big buck before they fade into much-deserved obscurity. Here are some that didn’t deserve one fucking red cent. – David Harris
Rambo: First Blood Part II promises (at least in the beginning) to continue with the themes introduced in the first film. The U.S. government is mishandling the fallout of the Vietnam War and doesn’t care about its veterans, while John Rambo suffered so deeply during the war that he can’t move on, and he still has the early-‘70s Levis and Hot August Night hair to prove it. But this sequel never really had any intention of picking up where First Blood (1982) left off. Any message the first film may have had is mere filler in First Blood Part II, moments of too-obvious dialogue never meant to be taken seriously, because plot would distract from the two real stars of the show: Sylvester Stallone’s well-greased biceps. This is a film that wants only to have an oiled-up Stallone strike a pose and blow things up with arrows, not court political controversy, which is why it’s the perfect movie for people who never figured out that Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” isn’t a patriotic song. – Stacia Kissick Jones
Do you remember watching “Darkwing Duck” as a kid? Remember how it was a cool, fun, sort-of-smart time, even though Darkwing said stuff like “that’s quackers!” and “you’ve messed with the wrong duck!”? Why anyone previously thought that premise would work outside of an afternoon cartoon block is beyond me. Howard the Duck is an “adult science-fiction comedy” appealing to a common denominator so low I’m not convinced it would be able to breathe on its own. The film’s first five minutes, spent on Howard’s home planet of duck-people, is packed with punny store names and movie titles (“Breeders of the Lost Stork”), not to mention that Howard’s last name is simply “Duck.” The groaning continues with such notable quotables as “No one laughs at a master of Quack Fu!” and “It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” “No, it’s a duck!” For. Two. HOURS.
The vague story is weak and predictable, and the characters are so wooden that you can’t develop a reason to care if they succeed, live or fall in love (and yes, there is a particularly revolting Lea Thompson-on-duck love scene). The duck costume is like a Splash Mountain animatronic let loose and wandering around Anaheim, its dialogue badly dubbed with its spazzing mouth. Fortunately audiences were not as dumb as Universal green-lighters, and the box-office bomb became synonymous with monumental failures. Now THAT’S a rotten egg! Quakka quakka quakka. – Tabitha Blankenbiller
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is what happens when a once proud franchise is reduced to a skeleton picked over by vultures. In this case, the vulture was Cannon Films, the oft-mocked domain of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who were somehow not actual comic book villains come to life. The studio mavens who brought you Breakin’, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (often considered The Godfather I & II of shitty ‘80s dance movies with cameos by Ice-T) and Delta Force purchased the rights to the revered Superman film franchise, and then performed the cinematic equivalent of stripping a stolen car for parts and crushing it in a compactor to remove any evidence.
Although Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder all returned from the relative debacle of Superman III, nothing could have prepared them for the horror ahead. Who needs a budget when you can get Jon Cryer, fresh from Pretty in Pink, as Lenny Luthor, Lex’s vaguely New Wave punk nephew? Who needs John Williams’ iconic score when you can get one of his buddies to do it? Who needs a competent villain when you can come up with “Nuclear Man” (the magnificently-coiffed Mark Pillow, in his only film role), a poorly conceptualized, topical Bizarro knock-off? Words truly cannot describe how shitty Superman IV is, but the fact that it killed the franchise for nearly two decades sure does. – Nathan Kamal
That’s not a sequel. This is a sequel. In 1986, Crocodile Dundee became a surprise international blockbuster, the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy striking a chord with audiences around the world as Paul Hogan exudes rough-around-the-edges charisma in his trademark croc tooth-studded hat, while Linda Kozlowski gets attacked both by the eponymous reptile and a fierce bikini wedgie.
So what do you do after one of the most successful Australian films of all time? You get a rookie director to helm a fast-tracked sequel that saps all the charm of the original. Instead of starting in the Outback and traveling to New York, you (get this) start in NYC and then travel Down Under. Mick Dundee has been shacked up with Sue in New York for about a year and life is happy yet uneventful until Sue is held hostage by members of the Colombian drug cartel because of some incriminating photos her journalist ex-husband sent her, or something. Mick once again rescues Sue from danger and decides to take her to the Outback to protect her. Turns out Mick owns a huge swath of land! And he has a bunch of wise-cracking aboriginal pals to help him out when the baddies come calling in the bush! And after danger is averted (wouldn’t you know it) Sue realizes that she wants to make the Outback her home! Roll credits and then promptly forget this movie ever existed. – Josh Goller
Ghostbusters II exemplifies the laziest elements of the sequel, not so much a continuation of its predecessor’s narrative or development so much as a complete replication of the original. Jokes and scenarios play so close to gags and witty dialogue from the first film that it often seems as if we are watching a feature-length production cobbled out of Ghostbusters’ outtakes, with a few new setpieces inserted to differentiate the two movies. The attack of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man perfectly climaxed Ghostbusters by bringing both the comedy and spectacle to their peak, but the march of the Statue of Liberty in Ghostbusters II only emphasizes the incongruity between the two impulses so impressively melded in the first film. – Jake Cole