The Worst Science Fiction Movie Ever!

Last month I wrote about the ten best science-based science fiction movies, which was fun and made me think a lot about all the average to decent movies that still fail to make the science grade in one or more ways.  It’s too easy to make a list of dozens of movies with the worst science (only including the ones making some effort to making the science plausible), and overwhelming to make it a list of only ten.

The Star Wars movies are fantasy, so we won’t even consider them, even the ones with Jar Jar.  Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is so bad it isn’t really trying.  Ditto for Ice Pirates.  Something like The Fifth Element has an amazing vision and isn’t trying to be scientifically accurate.  Galaxy Quest is a fun farce, and again, not trying.  Star Trek movies sort of try, but only fail in conventional ways, exploiting time travel and technobabble (although Star Trek V should be a contender for any “worst of” list).  Serenity has a bunch of science problems but has heart.  There’s a whole slew of science fiction movies to be excluded because they are really horror movies in disguise: Aliens 3+, Event Horizon, Pitch Black, Hardware, Aliens vs. Predator, The Thing,  etc.  Superhero movies are their own genre, too, and don’t try to make scientific sense.  It’s the movies that are pretending to have a clue I’m here to take issue with.

That leaves a bunch of crappy crap, like SupernovaJohnny Mnemonic, Mission to Mars, The Core, Battlefield Earth, The One, Ultraviolet, Total Recall, Lawnmower Man, Starship Troopers, Independence Day, etc., ad nauseum. The average to bad science fiction movie falls into this category.

Surprisingly, however, I have absolutely no problem picking the absolute worst: Armageddon.

Where do I start?  The answer is anywhere.  There’s not a minute of this movie that isn’t affront to science or common sense.

According to Wikipedia:

The physics and scientific approach of Armageddon was criticized for its poor adherence to the laws of physics. This has led NASA to show the film as part of its management training program. Prospective managers are asked to find as many inaccuracies in the movie as they can. At least 168 impossible things have been found during these screenings of the film.

Ouch.  The movie is only 150 minutes long.  That’s more than one impossible thing per minute on average.  I’m not the only one to target this movie a the biggest steaming pile of anti-scientific crap.  Check out Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, intuitor.com, and here and here and here.  And I could go on.  I love Phil Plait’s comment, “Here’s the short version: “Armageddon” got some astronomy right. For example, there is an asteroid in the movie, and asteroids do indeed exist. And then there was… um… well, you know… um. Okay, so that was about all they got right.”
What are my favorite (or most cringe-worthy) moments?  When  they talk about how only a few telescopes could even see the asteroid (no, even small telescopes could as in Deep Impact), and that you would use Hubble to study this.  Hubble is slow to point and not a good choice for initial observations.

The one example I use over and over again in physics and astronomy classes is the “Russian space station” gravity scene, usually back to back with the excellent 2001 scene.  The Armageddon scene makes many errors, the most fundamental being that they get the direction of gravity wrong.  Every kid who has played on a merry-go-round knows which way they get pulled when spun, but not so the screenwriters or director of Armageddon.  They have the understanding of pre-schoolers at best, and I’m being generous.  They show many scenes, including very clear computer graphics, and it makes the whole thing seem like a bad dream where the laws of physics have vanished inside Michael Bey’s butt.

I’m being especially harsh because this is a movie that hundreds of millions of people have seen, that made hundreds of millions of dollars, and more likely billions in total gross to date.  They try in this movie to be science based.  They spin the space station for gravity.  They use telescopes to get information about the asteroid. They pretend it’s based on science.  And Bruce Willis may as well be drilling in my ass for black gold.  Here in Wyoming we’re close to the oil industry (Dick Cheney has had dinner in my neighborhood at the University President’s house), and I know some guys who have worked on rigs.  They tell me the drilling stuff is every bit as ludicrous as the physics/astronomy stuff.

I won’t even go into the “space madness.”

Armageddon is just a piece of crap.  It isn’t okay that it’s “just a movie.”  It pretends that it knows what it is doing, and shovels ignorance down people’s throats with the help of Liv Tyler’s child-bearing hips and Aerosmith’s whiny soundtrack.  Sure, Steve Buschemi is a hoot as an insane sex-addicted genius, but he just plays one in the movies.  And while Bruce Willis is one in real life, he plays the hero who couldn’t drill a hole with a viagra pill the size of a killer asteroid.

Sorry, I’m afraid discussing this movie makes me get like this.  That is what makes it so bad.  It drives scientists like myself insane.  It’s “movie madness.”

Okay, I’m sure someone thinks some other movie is worse.  Let’s hear it.  I feel confident I can beat your Core with my Armageddon.  If you have to go back to Cat Women of the Moon, you’ll just distract me.  Mmm.  Cat women…

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  1. 1. Ian Sales

    Armageddon may be a piece of crap, but you’re not really trying if you’re looking for really crap movies… What about StarCrash, The Humanoid, Cosmos: War of the Planets, Bad Channels, or Galaxina?

  2. 2. Paul

    Nope, I have one even worse than Armageddon. One so bad that it got “Alan Smithee-d”

    SOLAR CRISIS:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100649/

    The recent SUNSHINE seems to be an unofficial remake of this abomination.

  3. 3. Karen Wester Newton

    All your points are valid but I still vote for Event Horizon. Armageddon is an affront to science fiction–it’s what happens when writers don’t care at all about the science–but at least it has a plot. I went to see Event Horizon because I love science fiction and Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne are two actors whose work I always admired. From the movie’s name and the trailers it sounded like science fiction, but after the first 20 minutes it became “how many gruesome special effects can we cram into the remaining run time?” I felt betrayed. And it was my birthday.

    I have never forgiven Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne for ruining my birthday.

  4. 4. Kindra Coates

    I agree with you on Armageddon. I waited until video, which my sister provided since she had a huge acting crush on Liv Tyler. She only got to put it in my VCR with the vow that she would mute the damn Aereosmith song that I had every hour on the hour on the only decent radio station I had to listen to and was ready to put a bullet in Steve Tyler. Then she broke her vow because I had to hear dialogue between the two love birds. I finally fumed my way through the movie praying that Keith David (Goliath) would have another line, and he didn’t!

    But take Independence Day off the sci-fi list, the director and producers said in the commentary that it is a disaster film, only the disaster happens to be an alien invasion. And when you compare the format to Earthquake and Inferno, it’s pretty obvious.

  5. 5. Ryan

    I could watch Armageddon again before I could watch Bay destroy pieces of my childhood with the abomination he calls “Transformers.” He should leave Science Fiction alone.

  6. 6. Mike Brotherton

    I put Armageddon at the top in part because if it’s big budget, big gross, and amazingly high blooper rate consistently throughout the movie. It does the worst in the biggest awful spectacle possible, and people ate it up. Galaxina at least has some eye candy. Event Horizon at least gets it right about exposure to vacuum (I was sure the guy was going to explode!). And I’ve avoided Sunshine because the premise is so dumb. But this Solar Crises does sound promising…

    And if Michael Bay didn’t do science fiction, what would his movies look like? Just actors screaming and laughing and randomly twisting in front of a big green screen…

  7. 7. poetryman69

    I don’t remember this movie. The title looks familiar though. My mind blanks on truly traumatic experiences to save it self.

  8. 8. C.E. Murphy

    I love Armegeddon. :)

  9. 9. Andy Havens

    Uh… “Waterworld?” Hellloooo?

  10. 10. Radish

    *So* in agreement re:Armageddon. Aside from the tech/sci screw-ups, my biggest gripe with it was the shameless pandering to sentimentality.

  11. 11. David B. Coe

    Have to agree with Andy — “Waterworld”.

  12. 12. Sriram

    I didn’t realise it at first, but Starship Troopers is a brilliant satire on American military patriotism.
    http://www.otago.ac.nz/DeepSouth/1198/film.html

  13. 13. Sammy Nelwan

    Compared to Deep Impact which use less special effects etc but contain much more accurate science, Armageddon is more like “how many ‘wow’ you’ll say when watching it”.

    And leave away waterworld and it’s not even Science Fiction, there’s even no science there at all. Kevin Costner waste his time playing that film.

  14. 14. dyd

    well, the movie is entertaining, and I think that’s supposed to be the point. Besides, after all that effort getting Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thorton, and Liv Tyler all together they got to sway the science a little bit. If they wanted to make the science as accurate as possible they may as well be making a documentary.

  15. 15. rich b

    I agree with every comment about Armegeddon. It was riddled with mistakes. But….when commenting about Starship Troopers you need to note that the Militarism in the movie was the Directors vision and perversion. Heinlein NEVER intended to ridicule the military. He was a Navy man in real life and in his later days a conservative after flirting with the far left as a youth. In the novel he did make obvious references to fascism but that was NOT what the book was about.

  16. 16. Emanuel

    C’mon! Nothing beats Flash Gordon for pure schmaltz, tacky sets and hackneyed dialogue.

  17. 17. tom jackson

    has everyone forgotten “Battlefield Earth”???

  18. 18. polesapart32

    Event Horizon is a great movie, I don’t know why people bash it. I love anything to do with alternate dimensions of chaos, (ala Doom and Warhammer 40k) and I think Fishburne and Sam Neill are at their best in this movie. I don’t think they could have picked a better actor for Doctor Weir. Some great supporting actors like Sean Pertwee and Jason Isaacs make it a classic sci fi flick. I would have liked it even more had they gone deeper. I love the cinematography in that movie, creates a very eerie and claustrophobic atmosphere, and plays off your nightmares. Black holes? Enough said.

  19. 19. polesapart32

    And I would have to say, Starship Troopers and Total Recall are great for what they are. Not to be taken overly seriously.

  20. 20. Craig

    Yeah, you kind of lost me when you lazily tossed “Starship Troopers” and “Total Recall” in your bad sci-fi pile. As one poster noted, the former is a campy buy keen satire of American jingoism. And the latter? C’mon, “Total Recall” was an effing romp. It makes me wonder about your criteria. Are judging these movies on cinematic merit, or scientific plausibility? If it’s the latter, you might as well trash “Star Wars,” too.

    And, hey, way to go out on a limb with “Armageddon.” Frankly, I get the impression that you don’t see many movies.

  21. 21. Ron F

    C’mon now — you’re forgetting the single worse abomination of them of all. one fans of the masterful book waited breathlessly for! DUNE! Oh, the humanity…

  22. 22. Bill

    I’ve not seen “Armegeddon”, so I can only say that from its buzz its reputation is truly deserved. For me, “Event Horizon” and “Starship Troopers” are singular, latter-day obscenities to which Ed Wood’s films (or Coleman Francis’s, for that matter) don’t deserve comparison. The former is a misanthropic exercise in murderous sadism, and the latter is a goose-stepping, neo-nazi propaganda film; both demonstrate the hatred the writers (including Heinlein for ST) have for humanity and human liberty. Sorry, folks; you’re not clever for liking such filth, only psychologically damaged.

  23. 23. Alice

    I remember watching Armageddon in 1998. I remember who I was with the theater, the auditorium, eating hot dogs – and NOTHING about the film! I sat there for two and a half hours counting the celing tiles. I will never watch this mind numbing piece of shit again. To say it didn’t capture my imagination is putting it mildly, lol.

  24. 24. S. M. Payne

    I never thought about the science once when viewing this. I’m a female that happens to like adventure-laden tear-jerkers. Armageddon was a winner for what it tried to do: entertain. It only applied as much science as was necessary to tell the story. Besides it was heavily edited from the script. I personally like the movie better than the script.

  25. 25. ceirelz green

    armageddon is fine with me even if it has a lot of science errors………..its a nice movie

  26. 26. mtnmedic

    Oh my GAWD…have you guys missed it by a MILE. You’re all WAYYY off!

    The WORST sci-fi movie EVER was the horrid “Starship: Adventure of a Million Lifetimes”, which aired in 1984. My girlfriend and I had to suffer through that endlessly dark, weak and confusing dirge for almost 2 hours at a drive-in theatre. We would have left the drive-in halfway through the movie if it weren’t for the second feature, David Lynch’s “DUNE” (I thought it was actually pretty good, all things considered), which is why we went there in the first place.

    The ONLY good thing to come out of this stinker film at the drive-in was the quality time I got to spend with my girlfriend that DIDN’T involve watching the movie. :-)

    I’m telling you, “Starship: Adventure of a Million Lifetimes” is SOOOO bad, you can’t even FIND it mentioned anywhere on the web. Not in IMDB. Not in any reviews. Not in the B- or C- films databases. Not in the MST3K movies list. Not in yard sales. Not in the libraries. Nowhere. I once found it on a foreign ebay site for sale as a VHS tape but the guy wanted $12 plus shipping for the stinker. I offered $4 including shipping because even THAT’S more than what it’s worth. I just wanted to see it again so I could have a moment of nostalgia, laugh at it, then upchuck and lose some weight.

  27. 27. Booyah

    Someone mentioned Waterworld? Not nearly as bad as Armegeddon.

    If Waterworld had been made as badly as Armegeddon was then the oceans wouldn’t have been wet.

  28. 28. Zuriel Seven

    The Core.

    Ask any mechanical engineer, nuclear scientist, geologist, material scientist, chemist, biologist, aerospace engineer, construction worker, opthamologist, weapons expert, programmer, factory worker, garbage collector, or English major about the moment when they said “Now I know I can prove that’s just not possible…” and each of them would average about ten or so responses from MEMORY. It claims to be Science Fiction but it’s further removed from Fantasy than even most fantasy movies…

    Ooh…. *ARGH!* I’d love to teach a college course for freshmen where you sit in a theater and rip that movie to shreds for COLLEGE CREDIT…

  29. 29. witek

    What, Johny Mnemonic a crap? Independence day a crap? The Thing a crap? Total Recal a crap? Starship Troopers a crap? Event Horizon a trap? Men, do you even know what science fiction is? “independence day” is very good, and it is a comedy. “Total Recall” is also very good, and book is even better. Event horizon, and The things are very good science-fiction horrors, which have something not often we find in movies. Johny Mneomonic is a cyber punk, and without reading Gibson you can think it is a shit, but isn’t. Starshit trooper from the side of science-fiction have no flaws, it is greate commedy. Why worst?

    Fifth Element is just action movie, interesting and futuristic, but out of ranking.

    Star Wars isn’t a science fiction. So yes it out of ranking.

    The worst: “Alien 4″, “Plan9 from Outer Space”, “Alien vs Predator”, “Ultraviolet”, “Armagedon”, “The Core”, “2012″, “First Spaceship on Venus”. This are very bad. “Deep Impact” is also bad as a movie.

    If you want good sci-fi, look at “Comet Impact” – low budget, but nicly done.

  30. 30. Jack

    I agree that the science was outlandishly bad in Armageddon…and the acting nearly as bad. But there are two movies that I would place above–or is it below?–this one: Starship Troopers, and Battlefield Earth.

    Having read both novels, I was horrified at what Hollywood can do to a great book. Starship Troopers was Robert A. Heinlein’s essay on politics and the responsibility of free men for their freedom. The movie was a special effects film that contained the same names of the characters, but turned them into cartoons.

    Battlefield Earth, which when it was first published was the single longest Science fiction novel ever written, is a marvel of storytelling. And not once did I ever picture John Travolta as a Psychlo. And the movie covered about a third of the scope of the novel. Poorly. Even the actor who portrayed Johnny Goodboy Tyler was pathetic.

    And this just covers “recent” disasters. Dune (the theatrical version) was a slaughtering of Frank Herbert’s epic (does anyone who read the book still cringe when they remember the “weirding modules?”).

    The list is endless. But there are some gems in the mix. Just have to watch a lot of crap to find ‘em.

  31. 31. Paul

    So many differed opinions and so much confusion when it comes to defining the best and worst of sci fi.

    But then you’ve got to wonder: how can one possibly define what science fiction is if someone else defines it differently? For if there is no universally accepted definition or criteria of the genre, then the argument to single out the specific elements woudn’t be very meaningful. It’s a human-made concept, one with no-higher power backing for it’s meaning. For what it is of telling other worlds or realms of existance through stories that are told with different settings, sci-fi could be no different than fantasy for most people.

    When it comes to films, ‘sci-fi’ movies are just movies themselves, cinematic creations meant to entertain and stimulate the human mind in what most of their writters try to do: tell a story, no matter how good/poorly it ws executed.

    For me, one definition of sci-fi i like to stick to is one that Arthur Clarke saw it as: sci-fi is something that could possibly happen but you wouldn’t want to happen, and fantasy is something that couldn’t possibly happen but you would want it to happen.

  32. 32. sharron schrock

    I enjoyed Armageddon so much that I have watched it multiple times. The only other movie which holds that distinction is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Maybe they have something in common.

    Both movies are about heroic actions taken, no matter how pointless or misplaced. Something in me responds to that element in human beings that just won’t quit, won’t give up no matter what the odds. Sundance is the better movie because it shows what usually happens to us poor heroic-striving humans. But Armageddon deserves kudos as well. It holds out the carrot of cock-eyed-optimist-lucky-American/earthman success while killing off the guy who insists on obtaining success. His death is fulfilling to the audience because with it he is paying off all the bad calls he made during his pre-astreoid life, not because it adds any believable penalty to the pricetag of success.

    Is science fiction involved at all in these stories? IMO, not at all. They are just movies about people trying to do things–to survive in a time that has moved past them, or to intervene in earth’s behalf and give it more time. Also IMO, if the human drive to keep trying is ever bred out of us, we’ve had it. The best science fiction concurs, no matter what species the “us” might be.

  33. 33. Joe

    Shut up. It is ENTERTAINING, doesn’t claim to be realistic. Great movie.

  34. 34. G.Donnelly

    No, this movie is shit. A terminator should be sent back in time from the resistance to destroy this attrocity and its creator. Yea, fock you micheal gay.

  35. 35. G.Donnelly

    Even watching your worst enemy getting visciously beaten half to death is “entertaining”, but its still very wrong. This piece of blatant shit makes Buckeroo Bansai seem like 2001 Space Odyssey. It should be baned forever like Soviet subversion.

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