Razzie Awards: Founder and Head Razzberry Opens Up About Show's History, Bill Cosby and Oscar's "Self-Importance"
"If you got paid $10 million to do something like 'Batman v Superman,' you should be able to have a sense of humor," says Razzie Awards founder John Wilson.
Since 1981, the Golden Raspberry Awards — or Razzies, as they are more commonly known — have "honored" the worst in film from each year.
Throughout its decades-long history, the Razzies have served as the anti-Oscars, recognizing the "worst that Hollywood has to offer." Over the years, the awards show has grown in popularity and notoriety, lambasting both commercial flops and box-office successes that were panned by critics, alike.
This year's event features such nominees as "The Entire Cast of Once Respected Actors" from Collateral Beauty for worst screen combo and Zack Snyder's infamously poorly received superhero flick, Batman v Superman, up for seven different categories, including worst actor for stars Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill.
Razzie founder, and self-proclaimed headRAZZberyy, John Wilson took some time out of his busy schedule leading up to the Razzies' big night, Feb. 25 — Oscar's eve — to speak to The Hollywood Reporter about the awards show's history with stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Bill Cosby, its diverse assembly of voters and that time director Uwe Boll called him an asshole.
How’d the Razzies first come to be?
They grew out of a couple of things. I was raised in a family where one of the few nights we stayed up every year was to watch the Academy Awards, so I’m very familiar with them and their history. I think they are self-important enough that they are a fun target for satire. I have a quirky sense of humor and I see a lot of movies. The year I came up with it I happened to see for 99 cents, and I did want my money back, a double feature of The Village People in Can’t Stop the Music and Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu, and I remember driving home from the theater after they wouldn’t give me my money back, and just off the top of my head, I could name a dozen movies where if there were the opposite of an Oscar as a movie award would be contenders. The very first [Razzie Awards] was in my living room, we had a potluck dinner, we called people up to a cardboard podium, we had a script, it was very silly. The silly part of it we’ve tried to hang onto all these years.
Do most stars get that?
We’ve had a couple of slogans that we use, one of them being “Own Your Bad," which was coined by co-founder Mo Murphy. It’s better if you own up to it. The two best examples of that are Halle Berry’s speech and Sandra Bullock's. They both took decidedly different tacks in addressing it. Halle Berry just had enormous fun at her own expense, and Sandra Bullock was kind of questioning whether we’d seen the film based on the grosses. We are the kids in the peanut gallery, having fun at some very famous, very elegant, very wealthy people. From our perspective, if you got paid millions of dollars to do something like Batman v Superman, you should be able to have a sense of humor. We’re not taking away your $10 million, we’re just saying “ha ha.”
Have a lot of people showed up over the years to accept their award? Who was the first to actually accept their Razzie in person?
Well, the first one to accept one, and he wasn’t at the ceremony but he flew us up to Lake Tahoe and arranged for Fox Television to make his Razzie out of Italian marble and 24 karat gold, was Bill Cosby. He had a wonderful attitude about it. I know he’s in a lot of trouble right now but our interaction with him was extremely positive. And then he decided that not enough people had seen him on Fox, so he took those three statuettes over to the Tonight Show and laid them out across Johnny Carson’s desk and just went to town on the whole idea of Razzies. He was a great deal of fun to work with.
What year did you start officially holding the Razzies?
The historic reference that I like to make was the Academy Awards that were postponed [in 1981] because John Hinckley Jr. had shot Ronald Reagan. We’ve been around a while [laughs].
How many voting members do the Razzies have?
We’ve been trying to cross the threshold of 1,000 members for quite some time. We made it past that during the period where people were joining to vote on the nominating ballot [this year]. Right now, I think it’s about 1,014 members and they are in 49 states – everyone always asks what’s the state we don’t have and I think it’s Wyoming – and I believe in 23 or 24 countries. I think it’s significant that I think we are the only awards that have all those different sectors of opinion voting on a single award. The other thing that I love to point out is that we now have 10 times as many voting members as the Golden Globes. They have less than 100 voting members; it varies from year to year. I don’t know why they are taken so seriously. We’re almost as respected as they are [laughs].
How does one become a member?
You join through Paypal [laughs]. No, our membership is about an even split. About half of them are just regular moviegoers who joined though our website. About a fourth of our members are journalists: film critics, reporters, people who covered the show and thought it was fun and wanted to participate. The other fourth of them are people who actually work in the business: publicists, screenwriters, a handful of actors. As is true with the Academy, if you win a Razzie and wish to become an honorary member, you can. We have not had a great many requests for that one.
Have any big stars actually joined?
We have a director or two, but they ask us not to [give their names]. We have one guy who has paid his dues for almost 30 years, now but every time I discuss it with him he says please don’t tell them my name [laughs].
Is running the Razzies a full-time job?
No, I kind of do it around the edges. I had been a publicist for a long time, and there were a number of occasions where I was actually doing the campaign for something I knew would be on the ballot next spring.
Have you ever had anyone get particularly upset about winning a Razzie?
There are two in our early years. One of them was reported in the British press, and if you know the British press it could be true, might not, but when Faye Dunaway won for Mommie Dearest somebody supposedly told her at a press party and, to quote the newspaper, she “flew into a litigious rage.” The other one, Sylvester Stallone, for about 14 years running from the mid-'80s to the turn of the century was up for something almost every single year. When he heard he was up for Worst Actor of the Century we did get a voicemail that sounded like him — for legal reasons we can’t say it was him — but his point was my movies make money, stop picking on me. And you’re not exempt from the Razzies if your movie made money.
Do you have any lifetime achievement honorees?
We do occasionally. There’s a German director named Uwe Boll and he did this video, I think he meant it to be funny but he was pissed off, where he kept mispronouncing the awards. It was absolutely hilarious — and well-deserved. I think we gave retired movie star Ronald Reagan a Razzie [in 1981 for Worst Career Achievement]. We have done career awards and something we came up with recently, actually it was my co-founder and co-owner Mo Murphy, a brilliant idea which is the Razzie Redeemer Award, which is somebody we have targeted in the past who has turned around and done something of quality. The first one went to Ben Affleck because he followed up Gigli with Argo. That’s quite a leap up in filmmaking quality. And last year, interestingly, it did go to Sylvester Stallone, who did Creed after all those other Rocky movies. We are trying to determine at this point whether we should do one this year. There is someone who has been in trouble with the media in the past who wasn’t really a Razzie nominee so should we say he got redeemed.
Can you say who that is?
Mmmm, yeah I guess so. Mel Gibson. I keep meaning to go check but I don’t think he was ever a Razzie nominee. [Note: Gibson was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor in 2015 for The Expendables 3.]
What’s the voting process like? Is there a ballot?
We learned early on that you kind of have to steer it or you just get 42 different things getting votes. Throughout the year, we do have a forum on our website where people discuss movies as they come out. We also partner with Rotten Tomatoes, the tomatometer. If you have less than 50 percent you’re of interest, If you have less than 25 percent approval you’re pretty likely to be on there, if you have less than 10 percent you’re pretty much going to get on the ballot.
Do you come up with the nominee titles such as “The Entire Cast of Once Respected Actors” from Collateral Beauty or “Johnny Depp & His Vomitously Vibrant Costume” from Alice Through the Looking Glass?
Yes, I write the actual language and then I use my position to promote certain things. I’m pleased to see that I shamelessly plugged Gods of Egypt, which I thought was a hilariously whack-o movie, and it did get in many of the major categories.