Continuing with the this-time-only tradition of acknowledging upfront that 2020 was a pretty harsh year for almost everyone (especially those in the arts and healthcare) and everything, it may feel somewhat of a moot point to do a Disappointing Movies list. After all, of course there were more disappointing movies to notice in 2020 – most of the non-disappointing blockbusters and experiments in filmmaking got moved to 2021. Plus, why bother with such negativity? You’d be surprised, however, that even in the 2020 cinematic year, there was still a ton of other great work that did get a chance at the spotlight, and right alongside it were works that aspired to greatness, but couldn’t quite get there. That isn’t to say that any of these movies are bad or even particularly egregious in terms of how lackluster they ended up being – I actually quite like one of them – but ultimately, they failed to live up to their potential. Some were grandiose, highly-anticipated sequels. Others were experiments that simply didn’t pay off as well as they could have. All are on this list. With all this in mind, here are my picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2020.
10. Wonder Woman 1984
Wondering which film it is on this list that I actually liked? Look no further. The first Wonder Woman film was both a financial and critical success for DC; despite the third act nearly sinking the whole endeavor, the film remained an iconic first step in the journey to getting more women behind and directly in front of the camera in the superhero subgenre, with killer performances from Gal Gadot as the titular character and Chris Pine as the hilariously charming Steve Trevor. A second WW movie was going to have to top all of that, and unfortunately (though I still enjoyed the movie), Wonder Woman 1984 dropped the ball in more than a few ways. Some have already been discussed at length – namely the haphazard and incredibly problematic fashion of bringing Steve back from the dead – but needless to say, this sequel did not live up to what fans had been wanting or expecting from this franchise. Sometimes that’s a good thing, such as with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but other times (like this one), it just isn’t. I ended up having fun with it as an extremely 80’s-centric silver age cartoon adaptation overall, but there are many ways in which I can understand why people just did not connect with Patty Jenkins’ second DC outing.
9. The New Mutants
No one expected this movie to be particularly good, but at least it floated some interesting ideas for the Fox X-Men brand to mess around with…until it got delayed 40 times and was DOA essentially the second it came to theaters. The New Mutants is hardly the worst superhero movie to come out in the past couple of years, and personally I don’t even think it’s the worst in the Fox X-Men arsenal; unfortunately, those two things don’t change how much of a disappointment it still ended up being. The way it connects to the broader X-Men movie canon feels forced (in execution, not concept), but the rest of the setting feels fresh and new. Many of the film’s characters get little bits of development here and there, but none of them are ever fully realized. I suppose how its events would affect the X-Men timeline going forward is a moot point now that Disney owns the rights to mutants again, but it still feels like there should be at least some sort of consequence to what occurs here. At the end of the day, nothing that happens in this movie actually matters or feels like it should, and that’s its own kind of bad. I didn’t hate it, but I most likely won’t be watching it again.
The Russo Bros. return to the directing chair, and my god, the MCU machine duo did not translate to the story being told here. Tom Holland is excellent in the film, as he is in everything due to his immense level of talent, but everything else feels as if it’s been hacked to bits and then stretched out to three hours (it is 2 hours and 21 minutes long). The camerawork in this film is nauseating on more than one occasion, never really committing to a style but always wishing to be stylish, which makes the hodge pog of camera effects, frames, movement, etc feel like a pair of directors trying too hard to prove to non-MCU fans that they really are the real deal. If this film is truly supposed to be about the opioid epidemic (which the filmmakers have said it is), the other hour and a half it haphazardly devotes to other things could have fooled me.
This seems to be where the majority of other critics and myself differ in terms of taste. There are certainly elements of Freaky that I enjoyed (the wine bottle kill at the beginning is an all-timer in my book), but the overall narrative saw every opportunity to make itself more compelling and challenging to the viewer, and bypassed it for the sake of an easy, fun ride. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in every case – Ready or Not isn’t particularly high-concept, yet it’s super fun to watch – but here, all the non-horror elements of it feel incredibly underdeveloped and lazy in their executions. There are more than a few places in the film where things could be brought up that would make sense to address, but they never are. I can understand people that have fun with this movie on a surface level, but it’s not particularly clever or smart enough for me to deem it anything more than passable.
This could have been a slam dunk. Tom Hanks writing a screenplay about naval warfare in the Pacific as one ship tries to survive its journey to the other side of the most dangerous area of the ocean? Yes, please. Unfortunately, the film – which starts off incredibly promising – soon becomes so repetitive that it manages to sink its own momentum. The fast-talking naval jargon makes for a lean, no-nonsense script, but we don’t really end up caring about any of the characters or the mission itself by film’s end. The action sequences are well-crafted, but when you’ve watched the same one about five or six times in a row, it loses its effectiveness and ends up actually kind of getting a bit irritating. This is hardly the worst movie AppleTV+ has made, but it’s certainly not one that will keep free trial users on board past day 7.
5. Wild Mountain Thyme
Outside Mullingar is a play that means a lot to me, personally. I even directed a production of it when I was in college, so it both intrigued and baffled me that John Patrick Shanley was adapting his one-act drama into a feature film starring Jaimie Dornan and Emily Blunt (two people who could not be a more ill-suited match), throwing Christopher Walken in there for good measure. Upon watching the film, I can safely say that I was entirely right to be baffled beyond explanation. I’m not one to claim that I understand an author’s material better than the author himself (in fact, I don’t believe I do), but if this is what was truly intended by Shanley’s text, perhaps there is a different route by which it could be made compelling. The added material which does not appear in the play offers nothing in the way of character development or significant plot detail, and the ending of it feels entirely alien to what the play is attempting to communicate. Beyond all that, however, the strength of it rests on the chemistry of the two leads, who (as noted) do not have any chemistry together, despite their individual performances being sufficient for scenes they act with others. Truthfully, Christopher Walken is the best part of the movie, and if you’re familiar with this story, you know that that is simply not enough to make it worthwhile.
4. The Devil All the Time
The ensemble cast for this movie is insane. Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska – the list goes ever on. Unfortunately, so too does the movie, despite the fact that it might have been better with about 20 minutes shaved off of its bloated runtime. It’s not that the film is particularly bad or even all that boring, but that the “epic” feel it’s meant to have in both its narrative and its ensemble simply doesn’t translate to the story being told. Pattinson refusing to have a dialect coach is both its own flex and impediment to his performance, but beyond that, the film doesn’t really seem to know what it’s trying to communicate across its multi-generational narrative. It all plays out like a bunch of famous actors doing scenes for other projects that somehow managed to get bundled together in this one, and none of them ultimately pay off to much satisfaction.
3. The Lovebirds
Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in a romantic comedy where they have to solve a murder mystery because someone posing as a cop ran over someone else with their car – how does this not work? And yet, for all its bells and whistle, The Lovebirds just feels empty at the end of the day. Most of the comedy isn’t particularly funny, the narrative doesn’t really end up going anywhere interesting, and the ending feels fairly lackluster given the pedigree involved with both the director and cast. Michael Showalter is a good director (The Big Sick is one of my all-time favorite rom-coms), but I can certainly understand now why Paramount was willing to give this and not other projects to Netflix – it was a safe bet to make. People would watch it, but it didn’t have to make a ton of money, so sending it to streaming was a smart move. Unfortunately, if the movie were half as smart as the Paramount execs that made this decision, it probably would have been a lot more fun.
Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan should be Oscar contenders for this. The film should be competing for Best Picture, Director, Costume Design, and several other Oscar categories – unfortunately, the film just isn’t that compelling. Winslet and Ronan are dynamite in it and have palpable chemistry, but the narrative itself feels a little too plain to make a splash in the awards race. There’s plenty to love in this movie about two women connecting with each other (in many way) whilst one of their husbands is away, but the “repressed lesbian” trope is starting to fall a bit by the wayside in terms of its novelty, and the striking cinematography can’t save what ultimately turns out to be a story less compelling than the one we could have gotten.
1. Earwig and the Witch
I’m not sure what I expected from Studio Ghibli’s first fully-CG animated feature, but holy shit, whatever it was is most likely a lot better than this absolute mess of a movie. The animation itself is often jarringly bad as far as the character designs are concerned, their movement feeling sufficient only for what could be an early Saturday-morning cartoon on Disney Jr. (like 7 a.m. early). The film’s inconsistency in both plot and character is baffling, tanking the respect Ghibli could have gotten off a project like this right down into the ground, and the fact that only the dubbed version is available on HBO Max (where the film finds its streaming home) does nothing to ease that lack of acclaim. This isn’t just the most disappointing film of the year relative to expectations/context, it’s genuinely one of the year’s worst films. Studio Ghibli released one of the year’s worst films. And I absolutely hated typing that sentence.
So, what are your most disappointing movies of 2020? Are there any on this list you agree with? Disagree with? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and watch for more end-of-the-year lists, coming soon to The Friendly Film Fan and Bitesize Breakdown!
- The Friendly Film Fan