- Each of the movies on this list achieved a high mark in at least one (and usually two) of these three areas: IMDB's MovieMeter, Metacritic's Metascore, Box Office receipts. In other words, don't expect to see Molly's Theory of Relativity* anywhere on here.
*it's unpopular on IMBD, received mixed reviews, and made little money
- I have not seen (most) of these movies. I have, however, read reviews, articles, and previews on all of them. If you're the purist type (understandable), look out for TheCroakingFrog Seal of Viewership, which indicates that I have actually seen the film. You can disregard the rest of my hypothetical rankings. But remember: we're ranking biology majors, not surgeons. Take this seriously at your own risk.
43. Getaway [Saturday, August 31, 2013 update]
42. After Earth
(read TheCroakingFrog review)
41. The Hangover Part III
*Update* 12 hours ago, I had Getaway listed among the "Bad Summer Action Flicks." As more reviews have rolled in, it's become clear that I comically overestimated the latest car chase thriller starring Ethan Hawke and that young woman they picked off the sidewalk.*
*It says "Selena Gomez" on IMDB, but I refuse to believe it. There's no way anyone with an ounce of celebrity experience would deliver such an atrocious performance.
If you had told me in 2009 that The Hangover Part III and a futuristic Will Smith sci-fi-thriller would be 2013's [second- and third-] worst movies, I would have asked which indie film festival you had just organized. They're meant to be summer popcorn flicks, after all, not Sundance nominees.
But in this case, truck drivers, Cannes Film Festival judges, and big game hunters can all agree: The Hangover Part III and After Earth are truly dreadful. Watching Directors Todd Phillips (Hangover) and M. Night Shyamalan (After Earth) attempt to relive the glory days in 2013 is like browsing your high school quarterback's Facebook page ten years after graduation. You feel guilty. You want to look away. But you can't.
40. The Lone Ranger
38. Identity Thief
Identity Thief seemed like a smart idea, until everyone realized that getting your identity stolen wasn't all that funny. With a more serious villain and a rising star (sorry Jason Bateman…you're fading), the film might have achieved a rare balance of comedy and sobriety (see 50/50). Instead, critics found the movie to be bumbling, off-key, and periodically dull.
Arguably worse, however, were Disney's two big (non-Pixar) bets: Planes and The Lone Ranger. Take one look at the Planes poster and you'll notice two things. First, the movie is a shameless copy of Cars. Second, the name "Pixar" is not mentioned. It doesn't take an aerospace engineer to guess that Dusty the Plane's cinematic adventure is destined for a crash landing. For Ranger, I could cite critics' complaints of superfluous violence, cultural insensitivity, or the multiple metaphors comparing the film to horse droppings (yes, multiple critics mentioned horse droppings). But instead, I'll simply present the runtime for a summer Disney movie with no further comment:
37. Olympus Has Fallen
36. White House Down
Yes: 2013 has graced us with not one, but two films about an assault on the White House, and the Secret Service agent who tries to stop it. I haven't been this confused since the near-simultaneous release of Antz and A Bug's Life in 1998.
35. The Internship
34. Gangster Squad
33. Now You See Me
32. Oz the Great and Powerful
All four of these movies have strangely familiar premises. There's a Disney-helmed, James Franco-led remake of a warm-and-fuzzy classic, an Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn farce, a Mad Men-meets-The Departed gangster flick, and a flashy bank robbery film from the director of Transporter 2.
These were novel ideas five years ago. Now? They're old and predictable. In 2013, we don't want another programmatic bank robbery, Mad Men clone, routine Wilson-Vaughn comedy, or really, anything where James Franco keeps smirking because he's getting paid not to care. Next.
31. The Great Gatsby [Saturday, August 31, 2013 addition]
When I first published this piece, I flat-out forgot to include The Great Gatsby, even though I previewed the film, saw it, and wrote an 800-word review. That should tell you just about everything you need to know about the latest flop from Baz Luhrmann.
That said, I'll give the movie two breaks. First, The Great Gatsby has never worked on the silver screen, and while it certainly doesn't work here, it's not any worse than the four Gatsby films to come before it. Second, Leonardo DiCaprio's performance will likely earn the movie its lone Oscar nomination for Best Actor, so that's something. Even Tobey Maguire would drink to that.
30. Kick-Ass 2
29. We're the Millers
Well-intentioned comedies that apparently sucked.
28. The To-Do list
27. The Heat
26. This is the End
25. Spring Breakers
All four of these films attempt to transcend, satirize, or comment on the very genre they inhabit, with (according to critics) generally successful results. The To Do List explores pre-college pressure to be sexually experienced; The Heat advances the women-can-be-funny-too torch (passed along from Bridesmaids); This is the End plays up celebrity excess, as serial funnymen Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Michael Cera, and Paul Rudd play themselves in a party-turned-apocolypse.
But most surprising of all is Spring Breakers, with a poster that seems to announce a sure misfire. Supremely marketed, the movie opened to such low expectations (trailers flaunted a gaggle of bikini-clad hotties in a court of law), that critics actually praised the film for how it featured "the pursuit of happiness taken to nihilistic extremes."
24. The World's End
From the boys behind Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World's End premiered with another quirky, violent premise: a group of old buddies attempt to hit all 12 local bars in one night (a feat they never pulled off in their younger years), only to be attacked by robot-like humanoids with blazing eyes and murderous machinations.
Unfortunately for The World's End, the Academy is far too solemn for silly comedies. In the Oscar race, it's better to be a 3.5-hour, poorly-plotted, excessively-violent Film-with-a-capital-F than a smart, tautly-crafted comedy that lifts everyone's spirits. Remember: the Academy Awards are serious!
21. 2 Guns
(read TheCroakingFrog review)
20. Man of Steel
19. The Wolverine
Your best bet as a bad summer action flick is to win for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, or Best Visual Effects. I don't mean to disparage the awards—they're legitimate categories and industry experts offer convincing arguments when required to defend them. The biggest problem, however, with awards like Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay is the Academy's tendency to nominate the same 5 - 8 films over and over. Even if you single-handedly redeemed a bad movie with a brilliant performance, chances are you'll go unrecognized.
But with Sound Editing? Who cares? Case-in-point: the often excellent, occasionally flawed Skyfall (2012) failed to land a single nomination among the glamor categories, yet received nominations for Score, Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography. Stand strong, 2 Guns, stand strong.
18. Pacific Rim
17. Fast & Furious 6
16. World War Z
(read TheCroakingFrog review)
15. Iron Man 3
14. Star Trek Into Darkness
I've had several friends recommend Iron Man 3 and Into Darkness, but I have approximately zero interest in seeing them. I remain shocked that people still celebrate big-budget action flicks with a reluctant male hero, destruction of a big city/planet, and female roles that seem like afterthoughts. Isn't anyone else tired of these?
Complaints voiced, let the record show that I put aside personal animus and gave these movies the ranking they (probably) deserved. They did safe, generic, and predictable, but hey, they did them well.
(read TheCroakingFrog review)
Two films with admirably risky themes, but sanitized of complexity. Missed opportunities.
The subject matter still grabs the public's attention, but Ashton Kutcher's turn as Steve Jobs reportedly plays more like a admiring eulogy than the gritty, documentary-style investigation the famous entrepreneur deserves.
10. The Croods
Tier 2 animated movies are nonetheless reliable Oscar nominees, as the Academy needs a couple of filler selections to distract from the actual contenders. The Croods is vintage second-rate, with four voice actors who've all seen better days. There's Emma Stone (former child star just holding on), Catherine Keener (former Oscar nominee who hasn't had a memorable role in eight years), Ryan Reynolds (peaked in The Proposal before Bradley Cooper replaced him as the go-to hunk) and—I'm not making this up—Nicolas Cage. You want one or two scrappy veterans on your team: not four.
Epic's cast is even less theatrically talented, but crucially, far flashier. Beyoncé and Amanda Seyfried lead a cast that includes such velvety voices as comedian Aziz Ansari and Hunger Games co-star Josh Hutcherson (Peeta). They won't come close to an actual Oscar, but expect between 16 and 27 reaction shots from the cast as they laugh together from the 4th row at the 2013 Academy Awards.
8. Monsters University
7. Despicable Me 2
If your studio's name is Pixar and/or you spend over $75 million on an animated film, you're guaranteed a strong shot at the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, a 5-week gasoline station merchandising run, and a glitzy 45 seconds of debate between Entertainment Weekly's movie 'experts' the day before The Oscars.
Although it received slightly worse reviews, I see Despicable Me 2 eking out the Oscar. The Academy won't vote for Pixar until they make Toy Story 4, and let's be honest: the last great Universal Pictures animated sequel was The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (1994). They're due.
6. The Conjuring
5. The Place Beyond the Pines
(read TheCroakingFrog review)
4. A Highjacking
Since the Oscar field expanded to 10, each year at least one spring/summer film has received a surprise Best Picture nomination. 2010's Winter's Bone provides the classic example, wherein a not-yet-super-famous Jennifer Lawrence delivered a beautifully understated performance as Ree, the movie's 17-year-old lead.
Of the three films listed above, The Conjuring is surely the longest shot, but it's gotten just enough praise for things like "classy old-school horror" and "doesn't exploit or mangle the female characters in the usual ways" to earn a cursory glance from The Academy.
The Place Beyond the Pines doesn't sport a break-out performance, but it does have a break-out organizational structure (three distinct chapters told one after the other). The film is somehow both too long and too rushed at the same time, but I could see The Academy recognizing the artsy effort.
A Highjacking is our best bet, with an appropriately gritty premise, a clash of cultures (Danish cargo ship meets Somali pirates—The Academy loves pretending to like this stuff), and a slightly weird title that makes it all seem more profound (why not just "Hijacking," or even "The Hijacking?"). Book it as #10 on the eventual list of Best Picture nominees.
3. Fruitvale Station
Though a vocal minority of critics complain that Fruitvale Station over-manipulates emotions, the film's themes are relevant and all-too-real. That said, the movie has a certain Tarantonian "stay-away" quality: the Academy will nod with respect, but will choose to avoid further controversy by voting for safer films instead.
2. Lee Daniels' The Butler
Lee Daniels' The Butler is the latest in a line of politico-historic Oscar hopefuls that prey upon our fascination with world leaders' gossip and political scandal. Past offenders include Thirteen Days, Frost/Nixon, Lincoln, and most egregiously, The King's Speech. The Butler smartly casts Alan Rickman (an Academy favorite), but fatally prepends its director's name to the film's title (intended to summon some Serious Movie credibility, but will reek of desperation come December). At least no one can say Lee Daniels didn't try.
1. Before Midnight
The only 2013 film more likely than not to snag a Best Picture nomination, Before Midnight has all the hallmarks of an Academy darling. It's the third—and best—entry in a critically-acclaimed pseudo-triology (think The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when the Academy couldn't ignore them any longer). It's talky, raw, and relationship-oriented. Best of all, critics describe it with confusing, artful phrases like "bleakly perceptive" and "rigorously truthful." Call it in: Before Midnight is the best film so far of 2013.