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The Worst Fantasy Films of All Time

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Highlander II The Quickening-smallWatch out, my friends. This weekend there is a storm a’blowing! The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in theaters, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much angst among the fantasy lovers of the world.

Personally, I really enjoyed both Hobbit movies, just as I loved The Lord of the Rings movies. Hell, at this point Peter Jackson could make a movie about the struggles of union workers in ancient Moria and I’d go see it.

I understand every movie (and every book) has flaws, but some people are absolutely livid about Jackson’s rendition of The Hobbit on the big screen. I feel it’s my duty as a fellow fantasy-phile to point out how awful these movies could have been under different management.

There is an entire industry of bad fantasy movies out there. Maybe if we take a stroll back through history, we’ll gain a little perspective. So here I give you, my list of Least Best Fantasy Movies.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

I loved, loved, LOVED the first Highlander movie. So when the sequel came out, I was all over it. I remember going to the theater and being so freaking excited. I was going to see swordfights and strange powers in an epic battle between good and evil played out over the course of hundreds of years . . .

No, wait. It’s the future. All right, I can handle that. Oh, and it’s a really stupid future where things suck for no real reason.

Dungeons & Dragons movies poster-smallAnd everything is dark, but not “cool dark.” More like stupid dark. And the Highlander is an old man, but then he gets young again and Sean Connery comes back, but it’s all really moronic and the fights suck.

Oh, man. How did such an awesome, over-performing cult classic get turned into this trash? This movie, my friends, is one of the biggest disappointments of my youth.

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Poor D&D. It’s just my luck that something I’ve loved so much for so long has spawned such crappy movies.

I think there are three D&D movies (?), but this is the one I saw in the theater, and I’m really sorry I did. I guess there was a plot about a wizard who wants to take over a kingdom (yeah, they really pushed the envelope with the storyline….) Then there are a couple of thieves and an elf chick and a dwarf who falls down a lot.

Listen, I might be able to overlook bad acting and a lame plot from a D&D movie, but one thing I expect are some kick-ass battles, and they sucked. Just… just… lame.

I read that the budget for this crap-storm was $45 million. I have no film directing or producing experience, but I’m pretty sure I could have made a better movie for about one percent of that cost.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)

I know I’m stretching what most of us would consider “fantasy” with this one, but it involved magic (sort of) and is just so bad that I needed to include it.

In the Name of the King A Dungeon Siege Tale-smallPoor Natalie Portman, so cute and smart, but sometimes she picks lousy roles.

I think this movie had a plot, maybe involving Molly’s desire to play piano or something, but I had a hard time focusing because everything was so damned annoying.

Mostly I remember a lot of kids running around a day-glow toy store that, perhaps, was supposed to evoke the same childish glee as the big room of chocolate in Willy Wonka but instead just looked stupid.

Oh yeah, and Dustin Hoffman reprising his Rain Man role but without the endearing sentiment.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)

Holy crap. Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta. Leelee Sobieski. John Rhys-Davies. Krisanna Loken. BURT REYNOLDS.

This movie is packed with stars. It should be pretty decent, huh?

No, not really. In fact, this may be my pick for worst major motion picture ever made.

Everything went wrong. Silly set design. Bad acting. Boring storyline.

You know a movie is bad when Jason Statham can’t deliver a decent fight scene. Did the production assistants drug him before each scene?

And don’t get me started on Liotta as the evil wizard who wants to take over . . . yada yada. You know the plot before you even start the movie.

This movie is the kind of shite that gives fantasy a bad name. Everyone involved should have been forced to donate a year of their life to the Peace Corps in restitution.

Conan the Destroyer-smallHonorable Mentions:

Conan the Destroyer (1984)

This wasn’t the worst movie ever, but it deserves a spot on this list because it took something pretty cool — the original Conan the Barbarian, a bloody rowdy sword & sorcery romp — and turned it into a campy lump of blah.

I can’t believe Arnold allowed this to happen. Even though the sets and costumes were more lavish, the whole thing reeked of desperation. As much as I applaud casting more minorities in major films (and I do), Grace Jones and Wilt-frickin’-Chamberlain?

Actually, Wilt wasn’t half-bad… certainly not the worst actor in this cast. Yes, my friends, this is what happens when a sequel is so bad that it tanks a promising movie franchise.

The Beastmaster (1982)

Now, some of you who have been paying attention to my posts may remember that I also included this movie in my “Best Fantasy Movies” list. Wait, how can a movie be counted among both the best and the worst?

Well, as Mr. Dickens put it, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The Beastmaster-smallThe Beastmaster will always have a special place in my heart because I saw it when I was a young buck. I was hungry for fantasy, any fantasy, even the bad stuff. The movie has some good elements — creepy witches, weird cultists, a barbarian horde, and Tanya Roberts.

But if I stand back and look at its quality just as a film, I have to admit it kind of sucks. The story is all over the place with a long-lost prince who was raised by a peasant and wants revenge for some stuff, and there’s an evil priest who takes over the kingdom, and John Amos is there in a skimpy leather bondage outfit.

Alas, this movie is fine if we turn off our brains and just enjoy the half-naked actors and the animals, but I’m listing it here because it could’ve been a lot better. I think the actors tried to make the best of a bad situation.

So there you have it. Some of the stinkers of fantasy past. Watch any one of these and, once you get past the nostalgia, I think you’ll admit that Peter Jackson is a godsend.

But this list isn’t the end-all-be-all. I know you’ve seen some worse fantasy movies. Let me know. I’m always up for a good-bad movie.


Jon Sprunk is the author of the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) and a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. His next epic fantasy series begins in March 2014 with Blood and Iron.

40 Comments »

  1. You forgot a couple:

    Masters of the Universe – Dolph Lundgren as He-man, that comes to the present. So terrible.

    Dragonheart – I actually liked this one but I know a number of people actually dislike it and found it bland.

    Comment by DragonTwins229 - December 18, 2013 8:25 pm

  2. I’m surprised The Sword & the Sorcerer didn’t get an HM nod. I love this movie for Lee Horsley’s performance–he’s the only one who seems to “get it.”

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - December 18, 2013 8:31 pm

  3. There are only two words you need to know to explain the train wreck that is Dungeon Siege: Uwe. Boll.

    And for me Highlander II failed as soon as I heard the phrase “aliens from the planet Zeist”.

    I think there are worse fantasy movies out there, but these are definitely the worst movies that had actual potential not to be terrible.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 18, 2013 8:32 pm

  4. Heavy Metal 2000. Lame vanity project.

    Comment by eeknight - December 18, 2013 8:48 pm

  5. Good list.Surprisingly I agree with all your choices!

    EE: Whachu talkin’ bout EEKnight? HEAVY METAL 2000 kicked ass.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - December 18, 2013 9:06 pm

  6. I think there are worse fantasy movies out there, but these are definitely the worst movies that had actual potential not to be terrible.

    I think that’s a good way to differentiate. Think Deathstalker or Space Raiders or The Warrior & the Sorceress.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - December 18, 2013 9:15 pm

  7. Let us not forget “Ironmaster” (1983). Vood the Conqueror will not be overlooked! He invented war!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyBCi6mqZaE

    Comment by Judith Priest - December 18, 2013 10:49 pm

  8. My problem with the “Dungeons and Dragons” movie was that they more or less made a new fantasy world they called dungeons and dragons and the people doing it clearly NEVER played or read the books…

    Like the “Beholders as guard dogs” scene…

    #1 – Beholders tend to be solitary and hate other beholders (why they don’t take over the entire world overnight)

    -and-

    #2 – If Beholders did do such work they would NOT have missed the “Heroes” of the story. A super high level thief/assasin/monk, maybe, but not that “Thud and Blunder” team.

    Clearly some producer just read through a few adventure books and wrote his own elements based on them…

    Heh, wish I could get a budget of $45 million for a movie… Well actually I’d shave off $5 million so I would be set for life, then I’d make two $20 million B movies, or rather a combination of $10 million C movies and $5 million D movies;-) Modern computer tech I have a 30x effective price boost for backgrounds, effects, correcting bad film, etc. versus decades in the past when these movies were made. I’d do many of the pulp stories I’m hammering out with complete abandon to the spraying acid criticism they’d receive or the riots some would cause! Then I’d get recruited as I was retiring by the “Film industry” that had tried to ignore me, now wanting to imitate me!

    Comment by GreenGestalt - December 19, 2013 12:48 am

  9. Master of the Universe is a definite runner-up for this. Not that I didn’t watch it over and over when I was younger.

    Same for Krull. Really cool ideas and I remember thinking it was a good movie. But then I saw some of it on YouTube recently and–damn–it’s bad. I was kind of surprised to see Liam Neeson in it, though.

    Comment by scottmarlowe - December 19, 2013 9:15 am

  10. I saw Ator at the movie theater. It remains the worst film I paid money to see on a big screen. Oof.

    Comment by Sherlock - December 19, 2013 10:17 am

  11. > I’m surprised The Sword & the Sorcerer didn’t get an HM nod.

    Jeff,

    I love that film too, mostly for nostalgic reasons. Um, what an “HM nod”?

    Comment by John ONeill - December 19, 2013 11:41 am

  12. > I saw Ator at the movie theater.

    I don’t know what Ator is, either. So much mystery this morning.

    Comment by John ONeill - December 19, 2013 11:42 am

  13. Yes, the D&D movie was insanely bad.
    BUT, it took one of the most obnoxious examples of comedy relief I’ve ever seen, kept him around long enough so you felt like driving pens into your ears whenever he opened his mouth, then had him beaten, stabbed and hurled out of a tower to his death.
    Huzzah!
    Would that more obnoxious comedy relief characters met such a deserving fate.

    Comment by John Hocking - December 19, 2013 11:43 am

  14. The D&D movie completely failed in capturing the spirit of the game, but it was plotted like someone reached into their Trapper Keeper and pulled out crumpled notes from an adventure they’d run when they were 13.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 19, 2013 11:44 am

  15. Hawk the Slayer
    Barbarians
    Conan the Barbarian (2011)
    Beastmaster II & III
    Hercules (with Lou Ferrigno)

    All watchable, campy, and “so bad, they’re good.” Just don’t watch any of them more than once. Especially the Hercules movies.

    Comment by TDoolan - December 19, 2013 11:49 am

  16. http://letterboxd.com/davejay/list/80s-sword-sorcery/

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 19, 2013 12:06 pm

  17. I’m completely with you Mr. Sprunk.

    Something dawned on me while reading this post: I think I know why I can turn a blind eye to almost every failing of the Jackson movies and have little sympathy with most people’s criticisms of them.

    It’s precisely because they are SO MUCH BETTER than the lot we had back in the 80s and 90s!

    Comment by James McGlothlin - December 19, 2013 12:59 pm

  18. > I saw Ator at the movie theater.

    I don’t know what Ator is, either. So much mystery this morning.

    Comment by John ONeill – December 19, 2013 11:42 am

    Here’s the trailer. It was a cheap knockoff of the first Conan. They made a couple sequels that I don’t think ever made it into theaters. Ator wasn’t campy, it was just terrible.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7uCgiB9xfw

    Comment by Sherlock - December 19, 2013 1:42 pm

  19. Great comments, folks. There are certainly a lot of bad fantasy movies. (How did I forget Masters of the Universe?) I was aiming at major films as opposed to B-movies or kids’ movies, which I suppose I judge by a different standard.

    Now, thanks to all of you, I now have a list of movies to seek out and see (at least once) before I kick the bucket.

    Comment by Jon Sprunk - December 19, 2013 1:43 pm

  20. To this 15 year old, Beastmaster, with Tanya Roberts in all her on screen glory, was the best fantasy film to date. And it is a MUCH better movie than Beast Master 2, also with Marc Singer.

    Comment by Sherlock - December 19, 2013 1:55 pm

  21. Ah, yes, later-era Marc Singer with his hair extensions and his little paunch hanging over his loincloth.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 19, 2013 1:59 pm

  22. The best and worst thing about BEASTMASTER was Singer’s jaw-dropping ability to get his ferrets to run in straight lines. I’ve worked with ferrets pretty extensively (I used to work at the Columbus Zoo), and one thing those lil’ varmints never do is go straight.

    I realize we’re talking feature films here, but does anyone remember the godawful Saturday morning cartoon SPACE GHOST? Crap every week, but every week, my sister and I optimistically tuned in, hoping to see some improvement.

    Hope springs eternal.

    ATOR. What’s ATOR?

    Comment by markrigney - December 19, 2013 4:03 pm

  23. Ator is a really, really bad Conan knock off. With cheap sequels, no less…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7uCgiB9xfw

    Comment by Sherlock - December 19, 2013 4:41 pm

  24. I think I saw Ator on tv a long time ago, or part of it at least. And then I promptly forgot about it until these comments.

    Comment by Jon Sprunk - December 19, 2013 8:08 pm

  25. I loved those bad movies of the 80s, primarily because I was a fantasy starved child, desperate to watch on the screen what I was reading in the books I was able to get hold of.

    Even today I still love them, despite how cheesy and bad they are. Most were made on a shoestring budget, with cheap special effects and B-grade actors at best. Thus even as an adult I appreciate what was created on such limited resources.

    Unusually I’m on the other side to James, in that I cannot turn a blind eye to the latest failings of Jackson’s movies (I saw THtDoS last week here in Sweden). For a man who declares himself a Tolkien purist, with access to the pick of the world’s best actors and a near unlimited budget, I find his produced interpretation of the Hobbit to be bland at best and increasingly egregious with each new movie.

    Sadly, Jackson seems to have succumbed to Lucas-style hubris, substituting action over substance and exaggerating scale and grandeur till it has become farcical parody. I wish someone would rein him back in, so that he’d produce good fantasy movies once more.

    Maybe there is a parallel between today’s increasingly stretched out book fantasy series which devote themselves to intricate soap-opera style character development, and modern fantasy movies which seem unable to simply portray a superhero or barbarian S&S flick without including an inevitable origin storyline.

    Sometimes ‘more’ is not more enjoyable or indeed even entertaining. Or maybe I’m just getting grumpier in my middle age…

    Comment by Pete Nash - December 19, 2013 8:11 pm

  26. Pete is on to something crucial: we hold Jackson to a higher standard, and it’s his own fault that we do so.

    He has a budget the seventies/eighties flicks would give their eye-teeth for.

    He has world-class actors at his disposal.

    He has been given ungodly amounts of time in which to craft his films.

    That, plus his LOTR movies were very well received (and, I think, deservedly so). How can we help but expect better from him than a fast-paced Indiana Jones and the Temple of Smaug?

    Comment by markrigney - December 19, 2013 8:28 pm

  27. All my college gaming buddies who were in Europe for Junior Year Abroad met in Paris for the opening weekend of Highlander 2, which of course put the epic in Epic Fail. After that, we had a standing bet, with a great steak dinner as the stakes, that nobody could get through the following sentence without laughing: “Highlander 2 was an excellent cinematic experience. Decades later, nobody has won that steak dinner.

    Mark, did you know that there was a comic reboot of Space Ghost that was actually pretty funny? I think it was on Cartoon Network in the late 1990s, and a couple of times it made me laugh so hard I thought I was about to black out from hypoxia.

    I was about to nominate Eragon, until I remembered how much better it was than the novel it was based on. That may be a low bar, but I really like your rubric of how much or little the film did with its premise and resources.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - December 19, 2013 11:43 pm

  28. Sarah, thanks to you I just checked out a couple of Space Ghost vids on Youtube. The new ones that I could find (not easy) were, er, bizarre. The old HB outings are EVEN WORSE than I remembered! Dialogue sample:
    SPACE GHOST’S FRIEND: It’s a trap!
    VILLAIN: Right. It is a trap.

    Comment by markrigney - December 20, 2013 12:42 am

  29. Dragonslayer.

    Comment by Hospitaller - December 20, 2013 4:54 am

  30. Although ‘Highlander 2′ didn’t make much sense, neither did the first – for example, why would Connery help out Highlander when each immortal is in competition with all the others? – but it certainly lacked the first film’s visual flair.

    I haven’t seen either film in decades, but I do remember that Lambert had to make a witty retort in both films, something that only exposed his difficulties with the english language and how a sense of humour may not be his strong suit; in the first, two cops are cross-examining him and one insinuates that Lambert is gay. Lambert ripostes ‘why? You cruising for a bit of ass?’ At least, that’s what I think he was saying. I’m not sure he even understood what he was saying. In the second film he pulls up in a car outside some maximum security installation and – when asked what he’s doing – explains (at some length) that he took a wrong turn. Or something like that. It was kind of hard to tell.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 20, 2013 6:35 am

  31. why would Connery help out Highlander when each immortal is in competition with all the others?

    Because Ramirez was a good guy, with a sense of fair play and a strong desire to reduce the odds of The Kurgan becoming all powerful?

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - December 20, 2013 8:03 am

  32. “There can only be one”

    Ramirez’s game-plan should have been the elimination of all potential competitors, if only to ensure his own survival – including McCloud and the Kurgan.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 20, 2013 8:28 am

  33. Should have been? He put a higher value on humanity not living under a dark lord than he did on his own success, and I think the better of him for it.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - December 20, 2013 11:40 am

  34. Alternatively, maybe he figured that he’d have a better chance one-on-one against MacLeod than against the Kurgan?

    Comment by Joe H. - December 20, 2013 12:05 pm

  35. And I’m not sure if it counts because it was a straight-to-DVD release, but the Dragonlance animated movie was pretty wretched despite having a good cast (Kiefer Sutherland as Raistlin) and a decent soundtrack. I feel like everybody involved should be made to sit down and watch Record of Lodoss Wars to see how it should have been done.

    Comment by Joe H. - December 20, 2013 1:28 pm

  36. I seem to recall that PJ wanted to the The Hobbit as two movies only, but the studio demanded a trilogy. So, he’s being forced to fluff things up to make three. Based on many such tales from Hollyweird, I am 100% comfortable believing this to be true.

    And Joe H. – Lodoss War kicked ass!

    Comment by TDoolan - December 20, 2013 4:23 pm

  37. Dude. I’m so with you on the Highlander 2. The Highlander was one of my favorite movies of all time. I musta saw it 8 times in the theater. Especially for its time it was of the hook and even with the limited special effects from then, I still think its current. But the squeal kinda killed the whole thing. I heard a remake of the original is on the table.

    Also I didn’t see any one mention Kull.

    Comment by kid_greg - December 20, 2013 4:32 pm

  38. Thank you Pete. You captured my sentiments exactly and I think there is a connection to the monster books.

    Fellowship is easily the best of the movies although Return of the King had some fine scenes also. The rest has been Hollywood junk.

    Beast Master does not belong on the list. It’s not a good movie but its better than most in the genre. And, yes, Tanya Roberts was awesome.

    Comment by Tyr - December 21, 2013 2:58 pm

  39. Tyr – re LOTR. I couldn’t agree more. A friend reckons this is because ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ is the best book in the trilogy, but I also think the film’s success owes a lot to Boromir. Funnily enough, he never made much of an impression on me when reading the book but it is his inner conflict – rather than Frodo’s – that carries the film. How much of this is due to Bean’s excellent performance is anybody’s guess. Quite a bit, I would suspect: I’ve read several reviews of ‘Game of Thrones’ in which people who’d read the original books said Bean’s performance as Stark really bought Stark into focus as character.

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - December 22, 2013 7:44 am

  40. [...] The Worst Fantasy Films of All Time [...]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in December - January 30, 2014 10:49 am


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