If there’s one thing Hollywood loves making movies about, it’s itself. (Babylon is the most recent example.) But more than that, there’s a fascination with awful filmmakers in particular. Audiences are intrigued by terrible movies. Birdemic and Tommy Wiseau‘s The Room, for example, have become cult classics precisely because they’re such stinkers.
Directors have cottoned on to the so-bad-it’s-good phenomenon. As a result, some pretty great films have been made about atrocious filmmakers, from biopics like Ed Wood to documentaries like American Movie. There’s something endearing about artists who doggedly pursue their craft, despite a total lack of talent. It’s frequently hilarious too.
10 ‘CQ’ (2001)
IMDb score: 6.2/10
CQ is a stylish and surreal film directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford Coppola). Set in Paris in the late 1960s, the film follows the creative struggles of Paul (Jeremy Davies), a young American filmmaker who works as an editor on a low-budget science fiction movie while dreaming of making his own artistic film. At the same time, he struggles with his complicated love life and the temptations of the Parisian counterculture.
The movie-within-a-movie is hilariously bad, but CQ itself is visually striking, thanks to Coppola’s distinctive use of color and design. The cast is talented too, especially Elodie Bouchez, Gerard Depardieu, and Giancarlo Giannini.
9 ‘Be Kind, Rewind’ (2008)
IMDb score: 6.4/10
Be Kind, Rewind is a heartwarming comedy directed by Michel Gondry. It’s about two friends, played by Jack Black, and Mos Def, who accidentally erase all the tapes in their friend’s video store and are forced to recreate the films themselves to save the store from closing down. The duo enlists the help of the local community to recreate classics such as Ghostbusters and Rush Hour 2 using only a handheld camera and their imagination.
The film features Gondry’s signature visual style and quirky storytelling, as well as a terrific supporting cast including Danny Glover and Mia Farrow. It makes for a charming and nostalgic ode to the power of storytelling and the importance of community.
8 ‘Silent Movie’ (1976)
IMDb score: 6.7/10
Silent Movie is a comedy directed by Mel Brooks, in which he stars as Mel Funn, a down-on-his-luck director who decides to make a silent film to save his failing career. Along with his two sidekicks, played by Dom DeLuise and Marty Feldman, Mel sets out to recruit Hollywood’s biggest stars for his film, including Burt Reynolds, James Caan, and Liza Minnelli.
However, things quickly fall apart, and the set turns into a train wreck (there’s one particularly funny scene where they mix up a seeing-eye dog with an untrained lookalike). Silent Movie works thanks to Brooks’s trademark brand of irreverent humor, clever sight gags, and some impressive physical comedy.
7 ‘Seven Psychopaths’ (2012) – IMDb: 7.1/10
IMDb score: 7.1/10
Seven Psychopaths is a darkly comedic crime thriller directed by Martin McDonagh. It centers on struggling screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who gets caught up in a surreal and violent underworld after his friend, played by Sam Rockwell, steals a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu. As Marty attempts to finish his screenplay, he encounters a cast of unstable characters, including a vengeful gangster played by Woody Harrelson and a mysterious masked vigilante played by Tom Waits.
Like In Bruges and The Banshees of Inisherin, Seven Psychopaths displays McDonagh’s penchant for witty dialogue and explosive violence. It’s a carnival ride through the dark corners of the human psyche, and a biting commentary on the art of storytelling.
6 ‘Best Worst Movie’ (2009)
IMDb score: 7.2/10
Best Worst Movie is a documentary exploring the cult phenomenon surrounding Troll 2, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. Through interviews with the cast and crew, as well as die-hard fans and critics, Best Worst Movie delves into the strange allure of this infamous cinematic disaster.
In particular, the documentary focuses on actor George Hardy, who played the lead role in Troll 2, as he comes to terms with his unexpected fame and connects with the passionate fan community surrounding the film. Best Worst Movie is a touching and often hilarious tribute to the enduring power of bad movies, and a testament to the strange and wonderful world of cult cinema.
5 ‘The Disaster Artist’ (2017)
IMDB score: 7.3/10
“Oh, hi Mark.” The Disaster Artist is a biographical comedy-drama chronicling the making of The Room, another movie in the running for the worst film ever made. James Franco (who also directs) stars as Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic and eccentric director and star of The Room, while Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, the actor who befriended Wiseau and starred alongside him in the film.
The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and poignant exploration of the creative process and the power of friendship, featuring standout performances from the Franco brothers as well as an impressive supporting cast including Seth Rogen and Alison Brie. It captures both the absurdity and the genuine passion behind the making of The Room. Although Franco and co. make ample fun of Wiseau, they clearly also feel affection for The Room and the cult phenomenon it has become.
4 ‘The Player’ (1992)
IMDb score: 7.5/10
The Player is a satirical crime-thriller directed by Robert Altman, the legendary filmmaker behind M*A*S*H and Nashville. Tim Robbins stars as a Hollywood executive who becomes embroiled in a series of increasingly dangerous and mysterious events after he starts receiving threatening postcards from an anonymous screenwriter. As he attempts to track down the culprit, he navigates the cutthroat world of Hollywood power players and deals with his own personal and professional struggles.
The Player is a satire of the movie industry and – like many Altman projects – an ensemble film, featuring stellar work by Greta Scacchi, Whoopi Goldberg, and Peter Gallagher. Altman draws on his wealth of experience in show business to produce a sharp and insightful critique of the Hollywood system that remains relevant to this day.
3 ‘Barton Fink’ (1991)
IMDB score: 7.6/10
Directed by the Coen Brothers, Barton Fink revolves around the titular character played by John Turturro, a successful New York playwright who is hired to write a screenplay for a Hollywood studio. As he struggles to find inspiration and overcome writer’s block, Barton becomes increasingly entangled in the strange and sinister world of the hotel where he is staying, and with the colorful characters he meets there, including a mysterious salesman played by John Goodman.
Barton Fink is a masterful exploration of themes of creativity, artistic integrity, and the conditions in which storytellers work, featuring stunning cinematography and a haunting score. Turturro’s performance as the tortured Barton ranks among his best. The Coen brothers would return to similar territory with Hail, Caesar!, but Barton Fink remains their most memorable story about Hollywood.
2 ‘American Movie’ (1999)
IMDb score: 7.8/10
Another documentary, American Movie tells the story of Mark Borchardt, an aspiring filmmaker from Wisconsin who is determined to make his dream project, a horror film called Coven, despite numerous setbacks and financial struggles. Along the way, we meet Mark’s eccentric family and friends, including his best friend and collaborator Mike Schank.
Director Chris Smith‘s sensitive approach to the subject matter, coupled with his masterful editing and pacing, make for a compelling documentary about DIY filmmaking and one man’s quest for artistic success. The heart of the film, though, is Borchardt himself, who radiates an infectious enthusiasm for his craft. Edgar Wright is a massive fan of American Movie, calling it “extraordinary” and saying that he was “obsessed” with it.
1 ‘Ed Wood’ (1994)
IMDb score: 7.8/10
Ed Wood is Tim Burton‘s biographical comedy-drama about the eponymous filmmaker (played by Johnny Depp), known for his notoriously bad and low-budget movies, including Plan 9 from Outer Space. As he struggles to get his projects made and recognized, Ed forms close relationships with fellow outsiders, including his girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), and the aging horror icon Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau in an Oscar-winning performance.
The film delves into both the joy and the tragedy of Ed’s life and career. Depp’s performance as the optimistic and passionate Ed is one of his most memorable, while Landau’s portrayal of Lugosi is spot-on both and deeply moving. Most of all, Burton’s love for the weird and offbeat are on full display. The result is a visually stunning and emotionally resonant film; the best movie about bad movie-making.