When it was released in 2001, I Am Sam earned Sean Penn an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a mentally handicapped Starbucks employee, which is funny, because if it wasn’t for his performance this movie would never have been nominated in The Hunt. This is the first movie featured in this abysmal project that has an Academy Award nomination, which is mildly surprising considering how many rare misses that organization makes every year, but even more surprising is that it’s the first film in The Hunt featuring Dakota Fanning. She’s the worst, and by worst I mean 47-year-old animatronic emotionbot. Have you seen the video of her singing Usher’s “Love in This Club”? It’s great. She’s so talented. Seriously, I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get some Fanning up in this. We’re going to have to step our game up, you guys, if we ever want to find the grail of sadness. WE BETTER DRUMLINE.

As the movie opens, Sam rushes from his job at Starbucks (What has two thumbs and wins the Award for Most Awkward Product Placement of all time? This movie!) to the hospital where a woman we later find out was homeless is having his baby. Sure. But when the doctor tries to hand the newborn infant to its mother, she waves him away, and when they are walking from the hospital to the bus stop, she takes off running, because that’s a thing that happens. Homeless women are always sleeping with the mentally handicapped, carrying the children to term, and then literally running away from the hospital. I wish I could have run away from this movie. Get it? I think I’m going to put my Pulitzer in the bathroom, as a conversation piece.

Left on his own, Sam manages to raise Dakota Fanning until she is seven years old without anyone caring, but then he gets arrested at a mall because a prostitute talks to him, and that’s how child services finds out that a mentally disabled man is raising a child, so they take her away, because that is how child services works. They hang out at police stations all day long waiting for retarded men to get arrested for solicitation and then they take away their children. Meanwhile, Michelle Pfeiffer is a lawyer who would seem to have it all, looks, money, and a high powered career, but once she starts working on Sam’s case (because some other lawyers at a corporate cocktail party make her feel guilty about not doing pro-bono work, just another super realistic thing that happens all the time at almost every corporate cocktail party), you might be surprised to learn that we’re all a little disabled in some way or another. For Pfeiffer, it’s the disability of having cliché emotional problems that she can’t solve without being opened up to the world by the simple wisdom of a retarded client. Boo. The rest of the movie is about Sam’s attempts to win his daughter back, which include getting a job at a Pizza Hut in a Target, and crying a lot. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen until the last 10 minutes, but then it happens because Dakota Fanning’s foster-ex-machina decides that Sam loves his daughter a lot, and is also apparently in charge of the law and all the courts, and he wins her back and becomes a referee for her soccer team.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is that you’re supposed to be rooting for a retarded guy to win sole custody over a child, and I think that’s not really something that should be rooted for. No offense to any retarded parents out there, but raising children is hard, and I’m not convinced by this movie’s use of Sam’s charming origami hobby and lovably obsessive desire for IHOP pancakes that he’s capable of raising a child. Sometimes love isn’t all you need, when love can’t read anything more complicated than a Dr. Seuss book, and when love has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. Oh, that was my favorite thing also. The movie kept reminding us that Sam had the mind of a seven-year-old and that Dakota Fanning had just turned seven, with the ever-present question “what’s going to happen when she turns eight?” Because that’s how brains work. Every year on your birthday you are given all the mental capacity you are going to need for the next year. Unless, as this movie teaches us, you’re retarded.

This movie probably isn’t the Worst of All Time, but two hours and 15 minutes of Sean Penn’s incessant Oscar-baiting is particularly unbearable.

The weird thing is that there were three genuinely mentally handicapped people in the movie who played Sam’s friends, and they were the best thing about the whole movie. Why couldn’t one of them play Sam instead of Sean Penn? I’m all for making movies that tell meaningful stories about people from different walks of life and opening up our minds to the realities of how other people experience the world, but there’s such a thing as a healthy respect, and a huge difference between honoring those stories and letting Sean Penn revisit a role he created on the set of Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he stood around the Craft Services table joking with the teamsters about how Judge Reinhold had Downie ears.

Also, grow up, Netflix.

So, it’s not the Worst Movie of All Time, but it’s definitely one of the more painful performances for anyone who thinks that the line between dramatically portraying the mentally handicapped and being a drunk frat guy with bad taste in jokes is far too thin.

Next week: Johnny Mnemonic. As always make your suggestions for TWMOAT in the comments or in an email. If you have not before, please consult the Official Rules.

Comments (43)
  1. I hope Feed wasn’t disqualified by its lack of an A- or B-list star. It really is The Worst and I think you’ll love (hate) it more than Lawnmower Man.

  2. Definitely Neverending Story III, starring Jack Black.

  3. Chadams  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 0

    My contempt for this movie stems from the screenwriter’s need to have Michell Pfieffer get “romantically entangled” by way of being a frustrated lawyer/mother. Originally Penn’s and Pfieffer’s character were supposed to have sex. Why the hell would that even need to be a part of the story if them kissing wasn’t believable to begin with? Some screenwriters just need to be taken out back behind the shed.

  4. New nomination for THFTWMOAT:
    The Life of David Gale

    A List Actors completely wasted: Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney.
    Message So Annoying that even if you agree with it you want to murder someone: absolutely
    People who like this movie sucking: yep, I saw this movie in theaters five years ago and still remember walking out and hearing people talk about how good this movie was and then i looked at who was saying that and yep, they sucked.

  5. How about A History of Violence? It’s really embarrassingly bad, and also could be another entry in the “Horrible Movies That Somehow Got Nominated for Oscars” category. Seriously, it’s terrible.

  6. I always thought that about the fact that he probably shouldn’t be raising a child, but so many people said it was so touching and blah blah blah. Maybe he should have visitations? But not sole child-rearing rights. That just doesn’t work.
    I think someone mentioned it earlier, but I would recommend Black Snake Moan. It has Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci (and Justin Timberlake), so it should qualify. It’s sitting right next to me and the quote on the back of the DVD case is “Justin Timberlake gives a fine, sensitive performance.” That’s their good review. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson fake plays a guitar.

  7. Jonathon  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 -2

    History of Violence is a bit overrated, but it is an amazing movie in some parts. As for Oscar winners, I’d nominate Gladiator (though it might be disqualified since Alexander is on there)… not really the worst movie of all time, but so many horrible moments (like the ending confrontation where NO ONE IN THE CROWD SAYS A SINGLE WORD DURING THE ENTIRE FIGHT…come on!

  8. Hannah  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 +1

    TWMOAT: The Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
    The Lake House is the only movie I have ever walked out of, it was so terrible.

  9. Chadams  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 0

    Holy shit – Black Snake Moan is beyond awful. I second that nomination.

  10. john  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 -3

    C’mon, Videogum – the Worst Movie of All Time has to be a movie that ALOT of people think is great, that aspires to be great, but actually sucks: like Saving Private Ryan or Crash or Dazed and Confusezded or that one movie that all the hipsters like. You know, that one movie.

    Ooooo – you skewered “I Am Sam” and “Johnny Mnemonic” How edgy of you! Next week you’ll write an essay on how Keanu Reeves is, in fact, a bad actor?

    • meta-john  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 0

      In other words, a movie can’t be truly bad if it can be ignored. But, if it has a place in people’s hearts and minds – if it wiggles into the cinemascape like a parasitic worm and pollutes other movies with its influence — then, yes, it is truly awful. And must be purged. With fire.

    • Actually, wait, no, I think it just has to be a movie that sucks and is, therefore, in the running for Worst Movie. I don’t think it has to be an otherwise popular movie that is bad. Right? I thought the title of the project pretty much sums up the criteria.

      Also, A History of Violence? Kee-rist. That is a great movie. Or, at the very least, a good movie and should have no place in this column. For Shame, person who I am to lazy to look up.

      Let’s stick to the theme people. Mediocre movies like David Gale and the like have no place here. We are looking for K-Pax-like pure shit. Not fool’s gold. Wait, Fool’s Gold might be a perfect choice!!!!!

      Also, K-Pax!



    • Michael  |   Posted on Mar 8th, 2009 0

      I don’t like you. I love Gabe.

  11. Um, i would like to defend The Lake House based on Sandra’s cuteness and Keanu Reeves teddy bear interview from the 80′s: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Io0BqClHuPE

  12. After seeing the lake-house I actually had an idea for how the movie could have been salvaged. Change the name to “Time Travelling Sluts” and make it into a half hour long porn where Keanu Reeves tries to impregnate Sandra Bullock through the magic mailbox. I think it very well might be the worst and I’d second a nomination.

  13. Adam  |   Posted on Jul 14th, 2008 0

    Once again, I highly recommend ZARDOZ – the worst movie EVER made! Remember: Sean Connery, Red lederhosen, giant talking heads who tell you penises are bad… and that’s just the first ten minutes! Imagine how bad it could get after THAT!

    Good luck sitting through Johnny Mnemonic – but give props where they’re due to my man William Gibson.

  14. No, it can’t be Zardoz because Zardoz is the BEST movie of all time.

  15. brent  |   Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 0

    TWMOAT: Juno…2 hours of high school slang that would make Tiger Beat read like Shakespeare.

    • Ugh, Juno was a terrible movie. It’s Oscar was completely undeserved. Good acting talent was wasted on that piece of unfunny crap. And good music.

  16. I would like to nominate What Dreams May Come. it’s basically a buddy movie set in the afterlife starring Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr., who spend the entire film trying to top each other for most overwrought and hamhanded performance. Ugh.

  17. Matt  |   Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 0

    Once again, i need to mention that Zardoz is actually the BEST worst movie of all time and deserves its own glorious category.

  18. Max Sanford  |   Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 +1

    Hudson Hawk is terrible, start to finish. Bruce Willis is so bad it seems like it is on purpose. I think there are a couple other starts in it too…maybe Andie McDowell? I refuse to even look that up so it doesn’t waste anymore of my time than it already has. Zathura is also brutal, the first 45 minutes at least…I would not watch the rest to keep from screaming at the TV. Thank God Faverau redeemed himself with Ironman.

    • H.F.G.  |   Posted on Jul 15th, 2008 0

      Oh, but you must look up Hudson Hawk. David Caruso’s in it and he doesn’t say a word. I watch it over and over for the hard one liners NOT said.

  19. Eli  |   Posted on Jul 16th, 2008 -1

    OMG! What a dreadful movie and just so offensive. My nominations for others – a Tom Hanks 2fer;
    Forest Gump – “Anyone going to San Francisco?” cue song…
    Sleepless in Seattle – second most intrusive soundtrack, ever!

  20. Nominating I Am Legend AND/OR Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man… A battle of the terrible book adaptations?

  21. Alex  |   Posted on Jul 17th, 2008 0

    How have you not considered Crash (the 2004 not the good 1996 one by Cronenberg) yet? Now there is a movie that is beyond terrible and somehow managed to win an Oscar!

  22. Mr. Brooks. Worst ever.

  23. Liam  |   Posted on Sep 16th, 2008 +1

    i’m pretty sure the plot of this movie was a Mr. Show sketch at one point?

  24. I nominate Alpha Dog. And Speed Racer. Both have Emile Hirsch, bad thing.

  25. i wonder how many films a day watch to decide wich one is the worst? and how do you search your “victims”?)))

  26. Waldo Jeffers  |   Posted on Jan 15th, 2009 0

    I’ve never seen this but it looks corny as hell. But where’s Forrest Gump on this list? Not only does it feature a one note caricature performance by Hanks, it also trivializes history, transforming key events into boring Disney rides, and has the most repetitive plotline ever: Forrest does something amazing, he interjects in a historical event, but boy does he miss his Jenny repeat, repeat, repeat ugh

  27. Update: You never go full retard.

  28. Mloo  |   Posted on Feb 10th, 2009 0

    The life and death of David Gale was a good movie, as was I Am Sam. The only thing I seem to have picked up as a reason why this movie was bad was that Sean Penn was trying to win an Oscar. Does not a bad movie make.. Whats next? Dead Poets Society? Nb.. Dead Poets should nto be next.. its a good movie.

  29. Jaunty Missive  |   Posted on Feb 15th, 2009 0

    I am watching I Am Sam right now and holy shit! Is that Data from Star Trek?! Yes, that’s Data.

    Anyway, the Beatles-pandering is blasphemous. And I don’t know much about child development but doesn’t a child usually speak like their parent(s)? So you get a annoyingly-smart Dakota Fanning from a faux-retard Sean Penn?

    But none of this matters. This movie is pissing me off in ways that I can’t even express. Thank you, Videogum, for blazing the trail!


    He just got arrested because a hooker talked to him in IHOP???!!!


  30. Dave C  |   Posted on Feb 19th, 2009 0

    Never go full retard

  31. Okay, I totally have to defend What Dreams May Come. This is completely for personal reasons, but I had — so cliche — a religious experience during this movie. My friend that went with was so humiliated because I wept from the very beginning to the very end. i have never had this happen before. I was so embarrassed; I mean I could not stop. I could feel people in the audience trying to figure out who was busting out the waterworks. I mean, I know it was supposed to be a sad movie, but something strange happened to me that day.

    As far as crap movie goes, I am going to have to go with Alexander. My boyfriend dragged me to this steaming pile of crap and had the good sense, and nerve, to fall asleep a half hour through. I have never walked out during a movie because I like to give the movie a shot at redemption at a clever ending or, at least, one really great scene. The whole thing was just awful.

    One movie that a lot of people seem to love to hate now on these sorts of lists, Good Will Hunting, is, and will always remain on my top 5, also because of personal experiences. Same with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I loved this movie. I don’t care if it came off pretentious and I didn’t want to like it. I really didn’t. I heard it was super long, which usually turns me off on a lot of movies; Dances with Wolves case in point.

    I also love, love, love Boogie NIghts. I cannot tear my eyes away from that anytime it is on. I love everything about this movie: cast, soundtrack, costumes, little bits of nonfiction thrown in here and there. Loved it. Mark Walberg really lucked out finding a role that was basically him — just a porn star version of him,

    I also need to give a shout out to Raging Bull. Maybe part of it is because Cathy Moriarty trying to portray her character as 15 was hilarious, and I love that. I know this is on top of most people’s best of lists, and I, sadly, am no different.

    As far as guilt for liking something that resembles reality television, that award goes to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. That was just great. I wanted to know someone who reminded me of these two. I loved them.

  32. Shaz  |   Posted on Jul 16th, 2009 0

    Could people please stick to discussing the movie under review?

  33. I’m so glad I’m not alone in thinking I Am Sam was a horrible movie. I just thought I was a bad person for not liking it. Which isn’t true! It really is bad!

  34. I am VERY upset about this! I have NOT read it yet. But I’m about to. And I wanted to voice my displeasure FIRST.

  35. Okay, I can still be angry even if I am laugh-crying about “when love isn’t all you need”. I LURVE this movie!

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