Movies can fail on a variety of levels. They can be brilliant works of art that fail to capture an audience. Obvious grabs for cash that fail to provoke, inspire or merely entertain. Tone-deaf monstrosities that botch their treatment of subjects like race and gender, if they consider them at all. Though the first half of 2016 has offered many films well worth seeing, it has also seen its fair share of duds, whether at the box office, in the words of critics or in the eyes of fans. Here are this year’s films (so far) from which we simply expected more—and those for which we expected little to begin with, but hoped against hope they might have exceeded the bar we’d set for them.
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It’s a tricky proposition to take a harrowing, violent ordeal that really happened, not so long ago, and resulted in casualties, and adapt it for mass entertainment. How much time is the right amount to wait before converting tragedy into diversion? Is the objective to educate, inspire or simply cram two hours with as many explosions as possible? Those questions didn’t seem to be sufficiently considered in the making of Michael Bay’s action film about the 2012 Benghazi attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya. The movie never quite seems to balance its aspirations as a work of art, a gripping action spectacle and a somber teaching vehicle. As TIME’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote of one particularly emotionally manipulative shot, “I would have thrown a tomato—or a grenade—if I’d had one.”
A comedy about an old man on spring break that drops in January normally wouldn’t inspire stratospheric expectations, but for the fact that the old man is one of the greatest actors of the last 50 years and his screen partner is a rising star who’s proven, at least occasionally, that his comedy chops are as solid as his abs. But any talents Robert De Niro and Zac Efron might have brought to the table are squandered on a movie that relies on masturbation and tampon jokes for laughs. That wouldn’t be so unforgivable (see: The Hangover, American Pie) if the film didn’t also seem to think that lazily racist and homophobic humor could be anything more than lazily racist and homophobic humor. Case in point: including a gay character for the express purpose of directing mockery his way throughout the length of the film.
Gods of Egypt
Hollywood’s whitewashing problem is as worthy of derision today as it was when Marlon Brando played a Japanese character in The Teahouse of the August Moon in 1956 or Laurence Olivier played Othello in 1965—arguably worse, considering that it’s 2016—and Gods of Egypt serves, more than any other function (e.g. entertainment) as one in a long list of examples of this tradition. Despite its setting in ancient Egypt, almost all of its lead actors are white, and if it feels like déjà vu all over again, that’s because Ridley Scott’s 2014 epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was lambasted for the very same reasons. Outrage prompted director Alex Proyas and the studio, Lionsgate, to apologize for the movie’s lack of diversity, but that couldn’t save it at the box office, where it barely earned its budget back.
The Brothers Grimsby
The Brothers Grimsby is a good case study for questions about political correctness in comedy. Is it funny, for example, that Donald Trump gets AIDS in the movie? Some people thought so. Many did not. Very few cared to even decide for themselves—the movie’s box-office performance was the worst of Sacha Baron Cohen’s career. Whether there is a line in comedy that shouldn’t be crossed and Baron Cohen crossed it, however, becomes rather beside the point when you consider that offensive jokes are both the surface and the substance of this movie. Whereas Borat blended its offensive gags with satire, challenging cultural assumptions and balancing its stupidity with a kind of behind-the-scenes, barely detectable intelligence, Grimsby lacks a deeper purpose beneath its outrageous exterior.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The face-off between DC Comics’ greatest superheroes was memed, think-pieced and excoriated all the way to Krypton and back. What does it mean that a critically panned movie still goes gangbusters at the box office? Some wondered whether critics matter at the box office; others argued that critics hardly expect—or hope—that their reviews will make a dent on a film that’s destined to rake in the riches before anyone even turns on a camera. But the movie’s biggest downfall is its complete and utter lack of levity, reactions to which prompted rumors that DC ordered reshoots on its next big bet, Suicide Squad, to up its humor quotient (director David Ayers shot these down). The coming years’ battle between DC’s Extended Universe and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe may indeed boil down to who’s willing to have more fun.
Melissa McCarthy is a supremely talented comedian, which is why it’s disappointing when the movies in which she stars don’t do her talents justice. The Boss gives her too little to work with: a hackneyed backstory and a string of slapstick gags that lead to an all too predictable climax and denouement. We are supposed to walk away, it seems, warm and fuzzy with an easily digestible message about the importance of friends and family, the riches of relationships far greater than the kind you can invest in the stock market. Instead we walk away wishing we had laughed more, and hoping we will soon when McCarthy puts on her proton pack in Ghostbusters.
The Nina Simone biopic was not just a disappointment but, in the words of an exhaustive Buzzfeed recap of what went wrong, “a disaster movie” (and not the kind with tornadoes or tsunamis). This movie’s problems began with the casting of Zoe Saldana, a light-skinned black Latina actress, as the considerably darker-skinned (and proud of it) singer. It continued with Simone’s family calling the film’s plot inaccurate. And unfortunately, it culminated with a movie that did little to convert those who were already rooting against its success, an outcome which may have something to do with clashes between its director and producers during postproduction. Whatever the reasons, it’s safe to say that those seeking to know more about Simone would do well to watch Liz Garbus’ Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?
Huntsman: Winter's War
When we talk about sequels that nobody asked for, we are talking about movies like Huntsman: Winter’s War. Kristen Stewart, who played Snow White in its 2012 predecessor, responded to questions about her lack of involvement with a telling, “Thank God.” And stars Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt (that’s a lot of stars!) couldn’t rescue the lavish fairytale from that mortal enemy of moviegoers: boredom. As TIME’s critic Stephanie Zacharek puts it, the only reason to see this film is for its “insane, off-the-hook gowns.” It wasn’t a total flop—the movie made $160 million worldwide, which at least exceeded its budget (though it paled in comparison to Snow White and the Huntsman‘s nearly $400 million take). But if it doesn’t inspire studios to consider that perhaps this sequel thing has gotten away from us, it’s not clear what will.
In her review of Garry Marshall’s 2011 ensemble-cast holiday movie New Year’s Eve, a follow-up to 2010’s Valentine’s Day, TIME’s Mary Pols encouraged would-be moviegoers to stay home: “Miss a bad movie, save money and discourage Marshall from starting on Superbowl Sunday or Mother’s Day.” But Mother’s Day was practically a foregone conclusion. This movie, bless its heart, tries so hard to be progressive that it ends up feeling like an empty checklist of Progressive Movie Elements: lesbian couple, interracial couple, childless, career-oriented woman, awkward racial profiling incident too swiftly resolved when one of the cops recognizes the man they’ve racially profiled (Aasif Mandvi) as her doctor. The sheer number of characters means that each one is reduced to caricature, each plot thread tied in an insanely predictable and/or unrealistic bow. The best thing to come out of this movie, sadly, were the hilarious, unsparing reviews.
If Batman v Superman inspired “boos” and Captain America: Civil War inspired “rahs,” X-Men: Apocalypse inspired “mehs.” Coming off the well-reviewed X-Men: Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer’s conclusion to the latest mutant trilogy felt overstuffed with special effects and overcrowded with mutants new and old, at the expense of character and plot development. Oscar Isaac’s talents are underutilized as the villain Apocalypse, whose reasons for wanting to cleanse the world are vague and who’s rarely particularly frightening. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, arguably the most intriguing of the X-Men, gets a chunk of the action but it’s not enough: The movie would have been much more interesting had it stayed with the intrigue and gone full Magneto.