Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the 10 Worst Films of 2019

6:00 AM 12/19/2019

by THR staff

A dreary 'X-Men' conclusion, a low point for Brian De Palma, an awful animated feature, two John Travolta flicks and a cat-aclysmic musical misfire — these and more were the worst movies of the year (in alphabetical order).

Cats- Dark Phoenix- The Fanatic- Rambo: Last Blood - Publicity Stills - Split - H 2019
Courtesy of Films

People inevitably have the same reaction when they find out you're a professional film critic. "Oh, that must be so much fun," they gush, apparently under the delusion that we spend our days watching classic films and then passionately debating about them with our colleagues while smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee at a café. Wearing berets, of course.

The reality is far different, as the lineup below will attest. For every good — let alone great — film we see, there are dozens of stinkers. Endless remakes, reboots and franchise installments. Horror films made cheaply enough that even when they bomb, they're still profitable. Animated films more designed to sell tie-in merchandise than enchant young minds. And even worse, self-consciously arty movies so filled with auteurial self-indulgence that you long for the return of the studio system led by cigar-chomping executives who knew when a film was too long (Harvey Weinstein doesn't count).

Anyone who aspires to become a film critic (and please don't, the competition is stiff enough) should be forced to watch all 10 movies in this year's 10 Worst list as a cautionary measure. If you're still inclined to join the profession after all that, you either need career counseling or a professional dominatrix. — Frank Scheck

  • 'Arctic Dogs'

    Jeremy Renner voices the role of an Arctic fox who dreams of becoming a courier in this dreadful animated film. As has by now become standard, a starry cast has been assembled to provide the voices, despite the fact that the target audience will be unlikely to recognize any of them. It’s baffling, unless the producers think that having Heidi Klum on the marquee will entice middle-aged dads who somehow fail to realize that she's playing an animated fox. A cute fox, but still. The film also features Michael Madsen, because when you think of kiddie-oriented animated movies, you naturally think of the guy who cut off someone's ear in Reservoir Dogs— Frank Scheck

  • 'Cats'

    A starry ensemble that includes Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson and Taylor Swift are left choking on furballs in Tom Hooper's unappealing screen adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical behemoth. While it busies itself trying with lots of frantic camerawork and fast cutting, the movie never gets around the fundamental misjudgment of its central visual concept, with the digitized human-kitty hybrids looking just plain weird at best, creepy at worst. There's definitely the stale cold smell of something here, and if you've never understood the show's appeal, this iteration is not going to explain it. — David Rooney

  • 'Dark Phoenix'

    After 12 installments spread out over two decades, the X-Men franchise badly stumbles toward its close. With a flat pace and tone that never quickens the pulse, longtime series producer Simon Kinberg's directorial debut lacks excitement, as well as any sense of dramatic nuance or balance. Everything is played at the same level of importance at a low heat. — Todd McCarthy

  • 'Domino'

    In his long and influential career, Brian De Palma has done things some might disapprove of. He has encouraged viewers' voyeuristic tendencies, stolen whole sequences (to excellent effect) from film pioneers and often been a king of the brainy, finely crafted guilty pleasure. But De Palma has rarely been guilty of dullness, as he is with this counterterrorism thriller starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, which offers just slightly more excitement than the average TV police procedural. — John DeFore

  • 'The Fanatic'

    Has John Travolta, the cool cat who enjoyed one unlikely comeback after another, finally run out of lives? Embarrassing both himself and his remaining fans in a Fred Durst vanity project, the erstwhile star affects the tics of a developmentally challenged man-child in a thriller about a guy so wounded by his favorite movie star's brusque behavior that he takes the actor hostage. Offering neither in-the-moment suspense nor a convincing portrait of obsession, the film succeeds in placing one burning question in viewers' minds: With so many established artists having trouble getting projects financed these days, how has Durst managed to make three features? — J.D.

  • 'The Haunting of Sharon Tate'

    Fifty years after her slaying at the hands of the Manson Family, Sharon Tate is having a moment. Unfortunately, it's not a dignified one, as evidenced by Daniel Farrands' horror film — starring a miscast Hilary Duff in the title role — filtering the 1969 brutal murders of Tate and the other victims through tired horror-movie tropes. Tate deserved more in life. And she deserves more in death than this tawdry exercise in exploitation. — F.S.

  • 'A Million Little Pieces'

    The disconcerting elephant in the room — or on the screen — in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of James Frey’s 2003 addiction memoir is the decision to omit the author's exposure for fabricating large parts of his story. That choice clouds the air as Frey, played by the director's husband and co-screenwriter, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, evolves from a nihilistic train wreck to an ennobled figure of integrity and hard-won self-control. Without emotional involvement in the central character's redemptive journey, the movie becomes just another grueling yet mechanical round of self-destructive degradation followed by begrudging accountability and cleansed deliverance that has little to add to the crowded field of addiction dramas. — D.R.

  • 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    This was presumably a chance to have a thematic reckoning with Sylvester Stallone’s now-geriatric iconic character. Instead, the screenplay, co-written by Stallone and Matthew Cirulnick, feels utterly tossed-off and generic, more resembling the pilot for a Rambo television series than a proper sendoff. Dirty Harry got a more dignified farewell in The Dead Pool, and that movie featured a chase involving a toy car. — F.S.

  • 'Serenity'

    An attempt at a contemporary tropical noir, Serenity leaves its talented cast, led by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, stranded on the beach. Too self-consciously tricky and never in the least convincing, this misfire from the sometimes-inspired writer-director Steven Knight (Locke) brandishes 1940s-style murder-melodrama and femme fatale tropes in a steamy setting populated by louche characters. But if the point is that life is but a game, we've heard that one before, and better told. — T.M.

  • 'Trading Paint'

    In Karzan Kader's drama, John Travolta plays a legendary former dirt-track racer in the deep South who wants to pass his torch down to his driver son (Toby Sebastian, Game of Thrones). There's plenty of material here for a reasonably engrossing drama, yet somehow screenwriters Craig R. Welch and Greg Gerani fail to come up with anything remotely interesting. Character motivations and nearly everything else are left unexplored, and the film limps from one listless, enervating scene to another, feeling much, much longer than its 89 minutes (eight of which are credits). — F.S.