Have you ever had a movie-watching experience in your life that was so awful that it left permanent scars on your psyche and your understanding of pop culture and the human experience? I know you have. I want to hear them. I have had seven. They are listed below, in orders of magnitude:
#7. "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." My friends rented it sophomore year of college. I lasted 10 minutes before walking out, after about the fifth Indian joke. A friend of mine in Chicago observed that he knew it was trouble when there was a boob shot on the DVD menu. Sadly, I missed this red flag because we'd rented it from a video store in snowy Grinnell, Iowa, called "Loops," which in 2002 had more VHS than DVD. They probably still do. Ah, Loops.
My swift recognition of how bad the movie was going to be, and subsequent exit, probably saved me from stabbing my own eyes out. To understand how much I hated the first 10 minutes of "Van Wilder," just know that I was once strapped into a chair by a mad scientist and forced to watch "Charlie's Angels" in the theater, and on another occasion had to see the entirety of "Can't Hardly Wait" which in addition to its general mediocrity also had serious negative ramifications for my high school lack-of-a-love life... and that I cut BOTH of these from this list, just to make room for the first 10 minutes of "Van Wilder." I'm also scratching the fifth viewing of "Star Wars Episode I," where I finally realized the movie was terrible AND that this meant I'd just seen a terrible movie five times in six weeks in the theaters and paid for every trip. The first ten minutes of "Van Wilder" were worse. Trust me.
Lasting impact: "Van Wilder" was my first exposure to a whole world of comedies that think that just mentioning the fact that sex happens is funny. A world I have avoided ever since. In a related development, the college frat comedy is dead to me now. I have never seen "Animal House." I have never seen "Old School." I probably never will. "Van Wilder" is why.
#6. Eddie Murphy's "Metro." Saw it at summer camp in 8th grade.
Lasting impact: First realization that a funny guy + a lot of violence doesn't equal a good movie. Later reinforced by "Bulletproof." I've never fully recovered from this realization.
#5. The poetry scenes in "Superman" and "Spider-Man 2." I'm not sure which one of these is worse, Lois Lane's "can you read my mind?" telepathy to Superman or Toby Maguire's recitation of the agonizingly sappy "when you cut me I bleed!" to Kirsten Dunst. I'm going with the former. I think "Superman" might be the most overrated movie ever. Watch it again sometime. Basically, the last half of the film is dreadful camp. Compare the original "Superman" to "The Dark Knight" and you'll realize why Batman has supplanted Superman as the most iconic American superhero.
Lasting impact: First, these scenes ruined poetry forever for me. All poetry. Second, the "Spiderman 2" poetry was the comedown from the high of good superhero movies at the start of the decade. It made us realize that just because the comic book industry was getting more involved in the Hollywood productions didn't guarantee a great outcome like had happened with the the first two X-Men films. If "X2" was Woodstock, "Spiderman 2" was Altamont. We all thought we were going to get superhero valhalla and instead we got deranged Hell's Angels stabbing people. By which I mean, Toby Maguire reading horrendous poetry to Kirsten Dunst.
#4. ABC's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." The only made-for-TV movie on this list, ABC's veeeery-loosely-based-on-the-original adaptation of Jules Verne so betrayed the original story that I actually went up to my room afterwards and cried. I was 8.
Lasting impact: It was my first experience with movie adaptations butchering classic stories I love. Before that, I just didn't understand that it could happen. The story was the story. You couldn't just go in and fuck it up for no reason. You just couldn't. It was probably good this realization occurred when it did, because otherwise when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" got made into a TV show a few years later, I would have had to kill myself.
Continued in Part 2! After all, we all know how sequels are worse than the originals.