The term "turkey" was long ago coined to describe either bad movies or huge financial flops, and there is a long list of them. (Although Kevin Costner movies like Waterworld or The Postman could better be described as "ham.") I combed through the trash to find seven treasures that I would actually recommend; these are the Butterballs.
1. Ishtar (1987, Elaine May)
Today, it's actually fairly difficult to see Ishtar, that "musical comedy" starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, even if you wanted to. It hasn't yet been released on DVD (except in the UK), and I bet most of those old VHS tapes have been carefully disposed of. But Elaine May's famous flop deserves reconsideration, if only because recent years have shown that May's first three films, A New Leaf (1971), The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Mikey and Nicky (1977), were masterworks way ahead of their time.
2. Hudson Hawk (1991, Michael Lehmann)
I'm determined to make an auteur out of San Franciscan Michael Lehmann for his odd, subversive comedies that no one seems to get. His first film, Heathers (1989), is a cult classic, and I have met people who like The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996), but you have to go out on a limb to find anyone who likes Meet the Applegates (1991), Airheads (1994), My Giant (1998), 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002), or this expensive flop that kicked off the summer movie season in 1991. On the surface, it looks like a Bruce Willis action flick (coming hot on the heels of Die Hards 1-2), but it's really a twisted comedy full of all kinds of delightful, weird touches (with Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard as a pair of brassy villains). Best of all is the robbery sequence in which Willis and Danny Aiello keep time by singing a duet of "Swingin' on a Star."
3. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Edward D. Wood Jr.)
This is the gold standard by which all bad movies are measured. If it's "bad in a good way," then it's funny and fun to watch and can be revisited many times. Surprisingly, this is not very easy to achieve. (Showgirls is the most recent example.) You have to give old Ed Wood credit for his very unique brand of bad. Bad should always be this good.
4. Dune (1984, David Lynch)
David Lynch took on the impossible by trying to adapt Frank Herbert's massive, complicated book. His original, three-hour screenplay was chopped down to a two-hour theatrical release, and then the restored, three-hour version (shown on television) failed to meet Lynch's standards, and so he took an "Alan Smithee" credit. It's almost completely incomprehensible in either version, but it's pure Lynch -- fascinating, often frightening and never dull. We could also substitute Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), which was another misunderstood disaster.
5. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Nicholas Webster)
There are dozens of bad holiday movies, but this one seems so innocent, as opposed to the callous, commercial nature of the others. It's crushingly boring, but it's so misguided and naïve that it remains an annual fascination for me. Hearing that opening title song, "Hooray for Santy Claus" makes me cringe and smile at the same time.
6. Catwoman (2004, Pitof)
7. Gigli (2003, Martin Brest)
Yes, I admit it. I'm not proud, but I do confess that I gave Catwoman a positive review, and I stand by that review today. I thought this ridiculous movie had just the right tone, playful, sexy and campy. I mean, come on! You've got Halle Berry in a black leather suit with high heels, teetering on the edges of buildings, you've got Sharon Stone acting like a harpy and you've got Alex Borstein being snarky. Didn't anyone else laugh when a magical cat bestows superpowers on Halle by breathing in her face? (Tuna breath! Eww!) Frankly, I'm surprised that Catwoman hasn't become more of a cult classic, and I'm even more surprised that it outraged so many people when the infinitely worse Van Helsing was also available as an even more horrifying example of Hollywood stupidity and excess.
I certainly do not recommend sitting through Gigli, especially considering that it's an interminable 121 minutes, but it's such a quintessential turkey, especially given Jennifer Lopez's infamous "gobble, gobble" scene. I will recommend -- if you have the stomach for it, or if it happens to be on cable -- watching the Christopher Walken scene fairly early in the film. It's absolutely one of the oddest, most surreal things I've ever seen in a mainstream film. Two words: "Marie Callender's."