The word “cringe” is often used online – as an adjective, not a verb. Often a 20- or 30-something will declare the arts and entertainment of the previous decade to be “total cringe.” That's true even if they enjoyed those movies and TV shows when they were younger.
Some people seek out cringe, reveling in the awfulness of a reality TV show or a werewolf romance novel series. Recently a fan asked a popular online film forum which cringe films would be appropriate to watch with their 10-year-old sister. Some suggestions weren't age-appropriate (think The Room and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane). But they also recommend plenty of suitable-for-kids cringefests. Do you agree with their choices?
A futuristic buddy-cop movie with Whoopi Goldberg and a T-rex. Yes, a dinosaur. This 1996 movie is just as good as it sounds. Never released in theaters, it became one of the most expensive direct-to-video films ever made. On the bright side, it was the first DTV movie ever nominated for a Golden Raspberry (Razzie) award.
A gawky teen learns she is a reincarnated witch and will soon come into her full powers. With its numerous impromptu rap numbers, this 1989 movie has become a cult classic. “We endlessly teased our sister because she loved this movie so much,” recalls one forum member, who calls the rap sequences “pure cringe.”
The late Olivia Newton-John starred in this musical fantasy that featured her music and that of Cliff Richard, the Electric Light Orchestra, and The Tubes. Her character is one of the nine muses of Olympus, but it might also be the first appearance of a manic pixie dream girl. “It's terrible, and fabulous, and immensely entertaining,” according to one admiring commenter.
Troop Beverly Hills
Shelley Long was great as Diane on the TV show Cheers, but her movie career never really gelled. This 1989 comedy is a prime example: She's a socialite who winds up leading a ragtag bunch of wilderness scouts. A snake-infested swamp and a sabotaged rope bridge figure heavily in the drama. One forum member swears the movie “was fun in its era.”
The son and daughter of spies must rescue their parents from a megalomaniacal children's TV host. Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Til Dawn) wrote and directed this 2001 kiddie film, which spawned three sequels and an animated TV show. Danny Trejo, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub, and Teri Hatcher are among the stars. Excellent pedigree, but a cringe result, according to forum members.
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl
Another one from Robert Rodriguez, this 2005 superhero movie was shot in 3D and featured none other than Taylor Lautner (the Twilight movies) as Sharkboy. He and Lavagirl are from Planet Drool, a place that exists in a 10-year-old boy's imagination. Or does it? The film did poorly at the box office. Forum members know why.
Desperately Seeking Susan
A 1985 attempt at screwball comedy, this film concerns a bored housewife (Rosanna Arquette) who gets pulled into the orbit of a punk drifter named Susan (Madonna) and winds up the target of a mob hit. The movie earned three stars from critic Roger Ebert, but some films don't age well – even with a cast that includes Laurie Metcalf, Aidan Quinn, and Robert Joy.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Not the 2023 film! Several forum members nominated the 1993 version, which was also based on the wildly popular video game. It stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, two terrific actors who couldn't redeem the script and production values. On their TV show At the Movies, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called this one of the worst films of that year.
The Cat in The Hat
Based on the beloved Dr. Seuss book, this 2003 live-action movie starred Mike Myers as the title feline, with co-stars like Alec Baldwin, Dakota Fanning, Kelly Preston, and Sean Hayes. It bombed due to “double entendres and potty humor,” according to RottenTomatoes.com, where it earned only a 10% approval rating. Several commenters were skeeved out by the movie, even as children. “The Cat in the Hat felt like a fever dream to me,” recalls one forum member.
Michelle Pfeiffer had her first starring role in this 1982 musical rom-com, a sequel to the 1950s musical Grease. Fortunately, her career survived. The movie was a limp imitation of the original and, at times, a bit creepy, such as when the high-school art teacher exchanges risqué comments with a student. Sounds cringey to us!
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
In the 1980s, little kids collected trading cards about kids with disgusting habits; the cards were a parody of the saccharine-sweet Cabbage Patch Kids. The 1987 film was full of delights such as pants-wetting, vomiting, and flatulence. Bonus cringe for the “special effects,” which meant “little-people actors with animatronic costumes.”
In this third movie in the Batman series, Val Kilmer battles the criminals Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and takes on an orphaned circus acrobat (Chris O'Donnell) as his sidekick. Critics called it loud, too busy, and often dull. Also: What's with the Batsuit? “Pure camp,” croons one forum member.
Mac and Me
A blatant rip-off of ET: The Extraterrestrial, this film was nominated for four Golden Raspberry Awards (and won two!). Its thin plot, about a young alien stranded on Earth, primarily supports the massive product placement of McDonald's and Coca-Cola. According to one commenter, you must “watch with McDonald's in hand, or it doesn't count.”
The Next Karate Kid
Wonder if Oscar-winner Hilary Swank regrets this 1994 stinker? She plays Julie, a troubled teen who winds up in the care of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). Julie has some karate chops (pun intended) already since her dad was trained by one of Mr. Miyagi's pupils, but additional training gives her enough self-confidence to defend herself against a male bully. Mr. Miyagi also teaches her to dance to get ready for the prom. Cringe-o-rama.
Maybe it sounded better on paper? The 1995 adventure film stars Geena Davis as the daughter of a pirate who, of course, seeks treasure via a map tattooed onto her father's head. Yep, she scalps him when he dies. Cuh-RINGE! Matthew Modine and Frank Langella also star. According to one film forum member, “It bombed the box office so bad that Hollywood purposely stayed away from pirate films” until the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise set sail.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Four mutated reptilian ninja warriors who live in the sewer must team with a TV news reporter to save! the! city! Due to the TMNT franchise's colossal fan base, it would be hard to mess this up. It happened anyway, probably due to the “unimaginative pop-culture references and half-witted one-liners” cited by one reviewer. According to RottenTomatoes.com, it may be ‘the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles.”
Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo
Those wild break-dancers return for the 1984 sequel, as does a then-unknown rapper Ice-T. The kids want to keep the community rec center from being torn down this time. Like the original, it got primarily negative reviews. That '80s attire and beat are so, so cringey. On the bright side, it gave us the phrase “Electric Boogaloo” as a fun way to disparage other cringe works.
Wild Wild West
Two words: steampunk Western. Will Smith and Kevin Kline search for a renegade ex-Confederate general with help from weapons far beyond the actual capacity of that era. Despite their efforts and those of co-stars Salma Hayek, Kenneth Branagh, and Ted Levine, this movie quickly runs out of steam. But its cringe factor will likely never die.
Some people find The Spice Girls cringey all by themselves. But a whole movie based on their exploits? Well. The 1997 comedy was similar to the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night, but, well, Spice Girls! Roger Ebert called the film “an entertainment-free dead zone” and deemed it one of the worst of the year.
Never Been Kissed
Drew Barrymore stars in this 1999 comedy about Josie, a geeky woman who has never had a real relationship. Although she's a copy editor, not a reporter, she's sent undercover to a local high school. Josie falls in love with her English teacher, who starts to have feelings for her even though he believes she's underage. Ick. “It's super-uncomfortable watching it now as an adult,” admits one film forum member.
Halle Berry in skin-tight black leather seems to be the main reason this 2004 film exists. After she dies and a magic cat brings her back to life, Berry fights crime. She also hisses, eats a lot of tuna, and, we swear to God, sleeps on a shelf. At least they didn't show her installing a human-sized litter box.
From Justin to Kelly
A young Kelly Clarkson stars as a singing waitress in this 2003 musical rom-com that's also on many “worst film ever” lists. On a trip to spring break in Ft. Lauderdale with friends, she meets a guy named Justin. Will their romance survive a load of high-school-level twists and turns? Do you even have to ask?
23. Agent Cody Banks
Frankie Muniz plays a bullied high-schooler who applies for a CIA “junior field ops” position. Soon he's sent undercover into an elite prep school to learn more about a cruel scientist who wants to take over the world. Here's the ultra-cringey part: Because Cody has no social skills, CIA experts teach him how to talk to girls. They also do his homework and his chores so he can keep being a secret spy. Okay then.
Robert Altman, Jules Feiffer, Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Linda Hunt, Paul Dooley – how could these respected names turn out such a cringey flick? Critics just hated the depiction of the comic-strip sailor with his mumbling delivery and big, creepily-muscled arms. The movie was so reviled that director Altman couldn't get another job for years. One film forum member says that even though they “adore” this flick, “it is not a good movie.”
Cool as Ice
Vanilla Ice's feature film debut. Need we go on? Okay, we will: It's got a rapper who drifts from place to place, motorcycles, an ill-fated romance between the drifter and an honor student, a dad with a secret past, a kidnapping, corrupt police, a dramatic rescue, and of course, a face-off between the rapper and an angry boyfriend. “They tried to fit like 10 movies into one, and they all (stink). It's a train wreck of a masterpiece,” enthuses one film forum member.
Donna Freedman spent 18 years as a newspaper reporter, despite her lack of a college degree, before quitting to go freelance. After leaving an abusive marriage, she went broke while supporting a disabled adult child during the protracted divorce. On the bright side, she was also earning a university degree on full scholarship; during that time her essay, “Surviving (And Thriving) On $12,000 a Year” went viral. Ultimately, MSN Money hired her to create their Smart Spending blog, which jump-started her personal finance career. Donna is a money generalist, but her favorite topic is how to have the best possible life on the money you currently have without losing your dignity or your hope for a more solvent future. She believes that Star Trek and Star Wars fans can coexist peacefully, that you shouldn't have to pick sides when it comes to Marvel or DC, and that some zombie apocalypse survival skills can also help those struggling in an inflationary economy. Donna found true love in midlife and lives with her fella in Anchorage, Alaska.