In 1981, American copywriter and publicist John J.B. Wilson started an annual event that would “honor” the year’s worst movies. (The 2012 nominees were announced earlier this week.) The Golden Raspberry Award, or Razzie, is often seen as a stigma of cinematic mediocrity, but sometimes they get it wrong.
1. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick may be considered one of the greatest directors of all time, but in 1980, he was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Director for his film The Shining. Prior to its release, fans of Stephen King’s novel eagerly awaited the film adaptation—but Kubrick steered the narrative so far away from the source material that audiences were turned off. (King wasn't pleased, either.) The Shining received a mixed critical response for not being a conventional horror film, and it was nominated for two Razzies.
When The Shining was released on VHS, however, critics immediately re-assessed it: Roger Ebert said it was one of the greatest horror films ever made, calling it “strangely disturbing.” Today, there are numerous interpretations of The Shining, many of them documented in the film Room 237 which attempts to uncover the true meaning behind Kubrick’s vision.
2. Newsies (1992)
In 1992, Disney was soaring high with the success of their animated musicals—so they commissioned choreographer and director Kenny Ortega to helm Newsies, based on the Newsboys Strike of 1899. Critics and audiences didn’t take to the film’s 19th century New York backdrop, musical numbers, and workers' rights narrative. Considered one of Disney’s biggest flops at the time, the film received five Razzie nominations, including Worst Picture and Worst Director.
Twenty years later, the film has been fully embraced by theatergoers and was adapted as a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 2012.
3. Ishtar (1987)
One of the biggest cinematic failures of the past 30 years, Ishtar became synonymous with the term “box office flop.” Critics panned the story of two failed singer-songwriters who unwittingly start a revolution in the fictional country called Ishtar. The film suffered from an over-bloated budget and Warren Beatty’s ego; in turn, it was nominated for three Razzies, and Elaine May received the Worst Director Award.
Unfortunately, May never directed another movie, despite her future accolades including her Oscar-nominated screenplay Primary Colors. Now, Ishtar is viewed as a biting and witty satire, considered ahead of its time; its view of Middle Eastern politics is surprisingly relevant today. Ishtar has yet to receive a proper DVD release, but rumors persist of future Criterion Collection consideration.
4. Showgirls (1995)
Director Paul Verhoeven is considered a master genre filmmaker, but in 1995, his reputation in Hollywood came into question with the release of the infamous Showgirls. The film is legendary for its bad acting, silly storyline, and dreadful dialogue (though the director claimed it was intentional); the film was nominated for 13 Razzies, and Verhoeven took home the Worst Director Award. He was the first and only director to accept it in person.
Today, many notable film critics and directors, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, J. Hoberman, and Quentin Tarantino, have re-evaluated and defended Showgirls as a serious satire of the trappings of Hollywood and celebrity. The film is also seen as a cult classic for its crude and vulgar subject matter and wry sense of humor.
5. Heaven’s Gate (1981)
Possibly the most notorious movie of all time, director Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate was responsible for bankrupting United Artists in 1981. The film’s $44 million budget ($122 million today) grew out of Cimino’s inability to reduce his vision. Critics waited to pan this film when reports of the director’s eccentric personality and the film’s 219-minute running time emerged.
United Artists later fired Cimino and cut the film down to a digestible 149-minute version. Grossing only $3 million ($10 million today), Heaven’s Gate became more than a box office flop—it became a fiasco. It was eventually nominated for five Razzies, and Cimino received the Worst Director Award.
Today, the Director’s Cut has received a small renaissance with a special screening at the New York Film Festival and a release and restoration by the prestigious Criterion Collection. While it remains controversial and polarizing, Heaven’s Gate is now considered a supreme achievement of Hollywood cinema.
For whatever reason, audiences and critics didn’t take to these movies when they were released. But with time, these films have come to be seen as misunderstood. So please remain dubious when someone calls a movie “the worst of the year.” Good movies are in the eye of the beholder.