by Jacob Thomas Jones
Disappointment is a fact of life, and as with every year, there are any number of disappointments on the cinematic calendar – films that fail to live up to expectations, potential, or both. Not every movie released in one calendar year can live up to the expectations placed upon it, whether by audiences or critics. Sometimes trailers can artificially inflate the idea of what a movie is (after all, the job of a marketing campaign is to sell people on the film’s quality), whereas at other times the very concept of a film in the minds of moviegoers can shape it into something more than it can ever hope to be. Think Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness having to follow the enormous expectations fans set on it after Endgame and WandaVision, or Yesterday failing to live up to its quite solid trailer by hiding its protagonist being the worst guy ever. The former of these remains a good film nonetheless, but the point remains that they both fell short of expectations and potential. To that end, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty, and mourn what could have been. These are our picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2023.
10. The Creator
To start off this list, we’re including two entries we still think have a good bit to offer, and we would consider good films at the end of the day. The problem with these titles is that they could have been genuine masterworks with the right scripts, whether it’s a lack of emotional connection to the characters, or some re-workings in the actual plotting of the films. The former of these two curses finds itself attached to our #10 choice: The Creator. Gareth Edwards’ sci-fi epic had a solid set of trailers that sold it as Apocalypse Now meets Blade Runner, but the film itself – despite looking and sounding like one of the best films of the year – fails to overcome a script devoid of emotional investment. As John David Washington’s protagonist character embarks on his journey to protect an A.I. child despite being ordered to destroy it, we’re clued in to more of his history, but that history never seems to end up mattering in the present tense, and despite a solid ending to the film, it’s all left feeling a little dry due to Washington’s performance being somewhat wooden. Still, from a technical standpoint, The Creator is one of the most stunning movies released in 2023, and I’m still very much looking forward to what he can do with the right script.
The second of the two “good” films on this list, Elemental finds Pixar operating on autopilot, neither innovating their script-writing nor animation itself. The film looks very nice on the whole and features on of the best scores in a Pixar film since at least 2015, but the story doesn’t reach the same unexpected emotional highs of the studio’s previous efforts. In focusing on the interracial love story element between dual protagonists Ember and Wade, which the film is ill-equipped to handle the harsher nuances of, it bypasses a more interesting immigrant story for Ember herself. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t work – it certainly still does, to a degree – but it doesn’t live up to its ultimate potential in exploring its most compelling avenues.
8. Next Goal Wins
How far has Taika Waititi fallen? Probably not that far overall, but nonetheless, his film about the worst soccer team in the world – American Samoa – lacks the comic punch that his more successful films have offered, though not for lack of trying. While it does get back to the heart from his earlier projects, Next Goal Wins can’t reconcile that with a story that’s probably still too recent to have a compelling narrative arc. There are one or two genuinely heartfelt scenes – the one in the bathroom comes to mind – but others go on for far too long, some jokes are too repetitive, and the characters are rarely offered genuine emotional insight. Overall, the film fails to coalesce into something larger than its individual moments are able to offer.
7. It Lives Inside
Culture-based horror is difficult to pull off, so it’s no mark on It Lives Inside that its ambition may have been a little too large, but as it happens, the film still doesn’t really work. Even with the intrigue of Indian-based monster stories and demonic entities being offered here, the horror in the film doesn’t take full advantage of its many opportunities to do things we haven’t seen in a horror movie before. Most of the scares are fairly rudimentary, the characters lack the depth necessary to get the audience to invest in this story, and while the ending teases something interesting, what came before is simply too unmemorable for it to mean something concrete.
6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3
I enjoy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. As one of the foundational rom-coms of the 2000s, it’s got a charming little footprint on the whole of the genre, becoming one of its most iconic entries. The second of the films works less, but still has some fun to offer. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns is on full display here as the family heads to Greece in order to mourn Toula’s father and find his best friends from before he moved to the U.S. There are a few new interesting characters, but the film feels unfocused, as if there were a few different ideas for the kind of movie it was supposed to be, none of which ever made it to a final draft. The comedy is appropriate but repetitive, the performances feel largely phoned-in, and we don’t really get any emotional insight into the characters other than what we already know. It’s a real shame this movie franchise fell so far; it could have been one of the greats.
A story about Dracula’s assistant where Dracula is played by the great Nicolas Cage? How could this not live up to every expectation placed upon it? Ultimately, Cage is the thing that works best about the film, but even with its largely farcical story about co-dependency and learning to love oneself, Renfield ultimately leaves very little left to chew on.
The idea of Champions is a premise designed to emotionally manipulate moviegoers of all sorts as it follows a temperamental basketball coach preparing to coach a team of players with down-syndrome to a regional championship title, but even emotionally manipulative films can be great if they’re focused on the right characters. Unfortunately for this one, its focus is too heavily on Woody Harrelson’s protagonist and doesn’t let the audience really get to know the team he’s supposed to be coaching in a meaningful way. Every time conflict arises, the film focuses on his feelings about it, rather than taking the time to get closer to the more interesting characters. There are one or two scenes which almost get the film into the right groove, but it always ends up going with the less compelling story.
Disney Animation Studios has been a stronghold of animated storytelling for the last several years, often churning out some of the medium’s great works. We got both Moana and Zootopia in 2016, we got Encanto in 2021, and since 2010, we’ve had two Frozen movies, Tangled, and Big Hero 6. But last year, the studio debuted a little film called Strange World, which boasted some interesting concepts but zero meaningful connections with audiences and no box office receipts to back itself up. This year, Wish was purportedly meant to be a celebration of Disney’s 100-year run, harkening back to its classic villains and animation styles, with any number of callbacks to different characters and films along the way. The resulting film is one which has all the pieces of a Disney animation classic, but none of the heart, and very little lyrical ingenuity. Fans were quick to point out that some of the songs failed to move the plot along and often repeated plot points from earlier in the film that the audience already knew about, but another thing I noticed is that so much of its plot hinges on the villain turning on a dime into a character he wasn’t before. And that happens with more than a few characters; they act completely out of where they’re written to be emotionally, and it makes the film’s conflict feel artificial rather than organic. Truth be told, it’s thanks to the talents of voice star Ariana DeBose that the film works at all.
2. The Last Voyage of the Demeter
A contained thriller set on a ship crossing from Europe with Dracula on board based on one chapter of the acclaimed novel sounds like one of the year’s most rewarding efforts, but The Last Voyage of the Demeter features so little of the iconic vampire that the journey feels more akin to In the Heart of the Sea, which similarly avoids the central intrigue of its story in order to tell a different one that’s not nearly as interesting. True, the production elements of Demeter do a fair bit to put it in the good graces of audiences who’ve grown weary of film relying too heavily on CGI-based effects, including an impressive makeup job on the creature aboard the ship, but the film spends so much time building up how terrifying this creature must be that the audience is robbed of how terrifying it is. The trailer wasn’t exactly doing it any favors in the first place, but Last Voyage remains one of the most thorough wastes of potential the past year has had to offer.
1. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
I was rooting for this one from the get-go. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a really good writer! James Mangold is an excellent director, the one who brought Wolverine into the greatest X-Men film to date; this guy knows how to do I.P.! Yet even with all of that potential, this film barely puts its mark above Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and some would argue fails to live up to even that very much not good film. This thing is is rife with script issues, plotting blunders, and little to write home about in terms of character development. Some decent visual effects in the film’s prequel sequence de-age Harrison Ford well enough to look like his younger self, but the movements of the body don’t match up, leaving the action sequences feeling slower than they’re meant to, and the framing of those sequences clunky and overwrought. Even the film’s final sequence, the most ambitious by far in the Indiana Jones canon, can’t measure up to the heights of Raiders or Last Crusade. If disappointment could be condensed into a single film this year, it would be this wildly overwritten, messy, and sub-par conclusion to the Indiana Jones legacy.
And those are our picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2023! What movies let you down this year? Any we left off the list? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan