Movies that are known for being so bad, they’re good form a loose genre, but it is one that can be hard to define. Sometimes these films are classed as guilty pleasures or cult classics, but straight-up terrible movies can occupy the former category, while genuinely great movies can occupy the latter. Often they are B-movies, but sometimes big budget films slip in too—I’m looking at you Moonfall (2022). Perhaps the most well-known examples of this type of film are Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003) and Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957).
Although there isn’t a snappy label to perfectly capture this category of movie, there are some clear features shared by the films that qualify. Their bad elements—things like bizarre acting, poor special effects, a clunky script, and weird plot points—are so strange and offbeat that they become funny. They can’t be merely mediocre in their badness, and purposefully bad, intentionally cheesy films (like the Sharknado series) are a different beast entirely. To be worthy of being called a good-bad movie, a film needs to have attempted to be good, but the end result has to be so weird or campy or hopelessly full of faults that it becomes enjoyably watchable (particularly with company).
Still, as this is such a vaguely defined genre, there will often be split opinions on whether a particular film is either just plain bad or actually good. So, here are my own personal top SFF movies that are so bad they’re good, but feel free to sound off in the comments if you disagree!
There are some truly iconic characters in the great pantheon of horror movie villains; think Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. I’m here to tell you that the Djinn/Nathaniel Demerest from Wishmaster deserves a spot on that list.
Trapped within a gemstone for hundreds of years, the Djinn is accidentally awakened and prepares to unleash his twisted wish-granting power upon the ’90s. If he manages to grant three wishes to the person who disturbed his slumber, a jewel appraiser called Alex, then his fellow djinn will be set loose upon Earth. Of course, as this is a Wes Craven-produced horror movie, he doesn’t helpfully serve up wishes like Robin Williams’ delightful Genie. Sometimes the Djinn’s horrible distortions of wishes are realized via awful CGI—which is hilarious in its own right—and sometimes they come to life via genuinely skillful and creepy practical effects.
Wishmaster is littered with cameos from horror legends, but despite featuring people such as Robert Englund (Freddy), Kane Hodder (Jason), and Tony Todd (the original Candyman), it is Andrew Divoff’s performance as the Djinn which steals the show. You may find yourself imitating his deep voice and oddly over-pronounced words for weeks after the credits have rolled. Although Wishmaster never found favor with critics or a wide audience, it is an absolute gem (pun intended) of fantasy-horror cheesiness.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Movies based on video games are notorious for being terrible, and while the 1995 version of Mortal Kombat is one of the better adaptations, it certainly isn’t a masterpiece. But many of the things that keep Mortal Kombat from being great actually make it all the more fun to watch. The only true disappointment is the fact that the filmmakers wanted a PG-13 rating, so they axed the graphic violence and iconic brutal finishing moves that the game is known for.
Three fighters are chosen to defend Earth in the Mortal Kombat tournament; if they fail, Earth will be invaded by evil forces from the Outworld realm. Although Mortal Kombat doesn’t deliver blood-soaked carnage, a large portion of the runtime is thankfully dedicated to the fighting. The actors also do a great job of embodying their video game counterparts, particularly Robin Shou as Liu Kang. And it’s impossible to not get hyped up when the epic techno theme song starts playing and everyone gets to bellow along with the words “Mortal Kombat!”
But there are a few specific things that push Mortal Kombat into so-bad-it’s-good territory: The martial arts sparring is punctuated with comically unnecessary flips and poses, Johnny Cage is constantly spitting out cringe-inducing one-liners, and the special effects are sometimes laughably bad. Reptile’s lizard form and Scorpion’s kunai (his sentient, serpent-like harpoon weapon) are particular highlights. It’s easy to see why these elements contributed to the film’s mixed reception when it was released, but their considerable goofiness only adds to its charm now.
The 1997 sequel Annihilation, which picks up right where the original movie ends, is far closer to being just a conventional bad movie, but it does still have some fun moments. The final fight scene in particular, which you can just watch on YouTube, features such astonishingly awful CGI that it feels like a fever dream.
Troll 2 (1990)
You might think that a movie called Troll 2 would be a sequel to Troll (1986) and would feature trolls, but you’d be wrong. Troll 2 is entirely unconnected to Troll and is actually about goblins! Specifically, it’s about vegetarian goblins that have to transform humans into plants before they can eat them. All of this indicates that Troll 2 is not going to be a regular, run-of-the-mill movie, but the level of weird that it eventually reaches is truly shocking.
It quickly becomes apparent that almost no one cast in the movie had prior acting experience. To make matters worse—or better, depending on your point of view—the script is absurd. Written and directed by Italian husband and wife Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, the language barrier led to a script which belongs in the far reaches of the uncanny valley. The plot itself also defies belief. Take, for instance, the scene where a woman seduces a teenager with a cob of corn and ends with an explosion of popcorn.
Watching Troll 2 is both a baffling and hilarious experience. I also highly recommend a viewing of Best Worst Movie (2009), a documentary about Troll 2 which is directed by its child star, Michael Stephenson. It looks back at the making of the film and explores why it has become so beloved.
Jason X (2001)
The Friday the 13th franchise went off the rails long before Jason X hit theaters, but the concept of Jason in space effortlessly elevates things to another level of ridiculous. Launching a franchise into space is often seen as a desperate Hail Mary, but with Freddy vs. Jason (2003) on the horizon, the filmmakers realized that a futuristic space setting was the perfect way to make a Jason movie without messing up the current timeline.
Jason X is incredibly self-aware, beginning in a research facility where scientists have been trying to kill Jason/figure out how he is always able to regenerate. After yet another murder spree, Jason is cryogenically frozen and left untouched for 455 years, during which time the Earth becomes uninhabitable and humanity moves to a planet with the highly unoriginal name of Earth II. In 2455, a group researching and exploring Old Earth stumble upon Jason and bring him aboard their ship, believing him to be dead (what fools!).
The rest of the movie follows Jason as he hacks his way around the spaceship, the slick futuristic look of which is horrendously tacky, murdering people with his shiny new machete. He gets a few creative kills in too, like freezing someone’s head in liquid nitrogen and then shattering it against a table. If you can stand the painful attempts at comedy and insufferable characters then you’ll be rewarded with Uber Jason: a nanobot-created cyborg version of Jason which teeters right on the line between cool and silly.
Is Jason X kind of a disaster? Undoubtedly. But is it fun if viewed through the right lens? Also yes.
Hawk the Slayer (1980)
Hawk the Slayer is a campy, low-budget sword-and-sorcery flick that has more heart than you’d expect. It tells a classic tale of good vs. evil: the heroic Hawk, possessor of the magical Mind Sword, gathers a team to battle his evil brother Voltan, who is delightfully overacted by Jack Palance and definitely visually inspired by Darth Vader. Much like J.R R. Tolkien’s fellowship, Hawk’s crew features an eccentric cast of characters, with my personal favorite being the bow-wielding elf called Crow who speaks in the emotionless monotone of a Vulcan.
The workarounds the film employs in its attempts to bring magic to life on such a small budget are as glorious as they are ridiculous. Glowing bouncy balls are used as firebolts and silly string is used as immobilizing rope. Then there’s the film’s score, which takes the expected medieval sound and adds synth pop to the mix. There’s even a dash of Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds in there. The combination honestly works better than it has any right to.
For many years director Terry Marcel attempted to make a sequel happen but it never came together. Then at the beginning of 2022, comic book writer Garth Ennis (known for Preacher and The Boys) finally brought the sequel to life on the page rather than the screen. Illustrated by Henry Flint, the comic feels like an affectionate continuation of the story rather than a piss-take.
Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)
The original Tremors (1990) is a fantastic monster movie, with a lovable cast of characters and giant subterranean worms, known as graboids, created with stellar practical effects. The many sequels may be objectively worse than the original, but they all have one very important thing in common: Michael Gross.
Gross plays Burt Gummer, a wacky survivalist prepper whose many weapons and graboid-killing skills play a vital role in the franchise. Gross’s larger-than-life performance of Burt is so much fun to watch. Tremors 2 sees him team up with Earl (Fred Ward also reprises his role) to kill graboids at a Mexican oil refinery. As well as giving Burt a bigger role, the second film also begins to explore the life cycle of the graboids in order to introduce new and highly entertaining threats.
Tremors 2 offers up shriekers—the second stage of the graboid life cycle—bipedal creatures that can attack above the surface. Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001) takes the silliness of the shriekers and ramps it up by introducing us to the third-stage graboids known as ass blasters, which can launch themselves into the air. Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004) is set in 1889 but still manages to star Gross, this time as Burt’s great-grandfather, Hiram Gummer. The first three sequels are worth a shot for anyone who loves a so-bad-it’s-good movie, but the last three lose some of the magic (so they should probably only be approached by people who are seriously invested in Burt).
Originally published September 2022
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her rescue greyhound, Misty.