To pick out bad moments in great films is really difficult job. In my opinion, a great film is absolute perfection and does not waste itself with forgettable scenes. But my research tells me that even the greatest of films feature some really bad moments that make you cringe. These might not hamper the film but they sure leave a not-so-pleasant impact on you. Needless to say, this can all be very subjective but I have managed to short-list worst scenes in otherwise great or good movies. Also, please note that the numbers do not indicate any sort of ranking of the films.
15. Kramer vs Kramer – “Phyllis Caught Naked”
‘Kramer vs Kramer’ is a rare, brilliant family drama that garnered some unwanted hate during its time due to its infamous Oscar win over Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’. Almost 38 years later, the film still holds up incredibly well and manages to capture the universal pain and trauma of family relationships. An despite my repeat viewings of the film, there’s one scene that invariably puts me off every time. As Hoffman spends a night in his home with his gorgeous colleague, his 6 year old son walks into the room before she gets caught naked in front of him. Apparently, this was intended as a light-hearted comic moment but gets way off tone and comes off as a pointless scene.
14. Million Dollar Baby – “Death Scene”
Clint Eastwood’s ‘Million Dollar Baby’ tells the story of Maggie, an aspiring boxer, who develops a deeply intimate bond with her coach and father figure, Frankie. The film is incredibly crafted and beautifully acted but the film scene is just blatant emotional manipulation. The film kicks off as a Sports drama and takes the form of a tragedy towards the second half. The final act is the kind of scene that tries to make you emotional but instead ends up putting you off from the film, leaving with a sense of displeasure rather than genuine sadness.
13. Casualties of War – “Final Scene”
Brian De Palma’s exploration of the Vietnam horrors pales in comparison to Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full metal Jacket’. Nevertheless, ‘Casualties of War’ is a film made with heart and tells a very human story of a man standing up against the atrocities committed by his comrades towards a young, Vietnam girl. The entire film is the protagonist recollecting the horrors of his time in ‘Nam and his inconsolable guilt over not being able to save the girl from getting killed. In the final scene we are shown that a girl ,bearing resemblance to the Vietnam girl in his memories, walking off the train as they share a moment with each other. This scene feels a little too contrived and overly dramatic for a film with such gritty realism throughout and comes off as an unimpressive ending that hardly resonates with you long after the film has rolled out.
12. Django Unchained – “Quentin Tarantino Scene”
There’s nothing apparently wrong with this scene. In fact, it’s quite a tense moment in the film. But the only reason why this scene comes off as a cringe-worthy one is Quentin Tarantino himself. We all know his infamous fetish for self-indulgence and while he is a genius filmmaker and an incredibly gifted screenwriter, his screen presence can be quite annoying in his films. In this cameo in ‘Django Unchained’, Tarantino dons the role of an Australian escorting Django but is tricked by Django into convincing him that he is a bounty killer. Tarantino’s larger than life persona off-screen and the half-baked Australian and American accent ensure that we end up cringing and losing focus on the heated moment in the film.
11. The Godfather – “I talked to Barzini”
Yes, it’s a mere technical issue but a really glaring one that you just can’t stop laughing at every single time you see the film. Michael meets Moe Green. They talk business. Moe gets heated up and in a moment he utters the words “I talked to Barzini”. It becomes so obvious to the ears the phrases was dubbed in. The Godfather’s influence on American cinema is undeniable. And for a film that is widely regarded as the epitome of cinematic perfection, this scene seems so laughably ridiculous and out of place.
10. Short Cuts – “Accident”
Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’ tells various interconnected stories of 22 lead characters whose lives are affected by a car accident. ‘Short Cuts’ is one of Altman’s most critically acclaimed films and is an inspiring piece of filmmaking. Towards the film’s half hour mark, Doreen Piggot accidentally hits a boy running across the street. This accident scene is one of the most hilariously bad movie moments of all time. The angle of the shot makes it visible to the eye that the boy way ahead of the car, making this scene one of the most unrealistic moments ever captured on screen.
9. Lost in Translation – “Lip My Stockings”
One of the major issues with Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’ is its irregular shift in tone. What works beautifully throughout the film is its subtly poignant feel that lets us breathe in the spaces and feel for the melancholic characters. But the film oscillates back and forth between romance and comedy and the latter comes off annoyingly at most places. This scene further exemplifies the same as Bill Murray opens the door and a Japanese woman walks in, ordering him to “lip” her “stockings”. When Murray is embarrassed and tries to get her up from the floor, the woman pulls him down and a very awkward, supposedly comedy sequence begins as the woman screams “let me go”. A classic example of comedy being horribly out of place in a film.
8. Sophie’s Choice – “Stingo’s Date”
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this heart-wrenching masterpiece and the more I see it, the more my mind fails to believe that there could be a better actress than Meryl Streep. I cannot think of a moment that takes me away from the film but there’s this one segment that still leaves me wondering of its relevance in the narrative. It’s Stingo’s date scene that happens just after the 30-minute mark of the film. Stingo goes on a date with a girl and invites her home. They spend some good time together but much to his disappointment, they don’t end up making love with each other. The scene cuts off and we are back to focus on the central plot. To this day I wonder what significant impact or relevance did that scene have on the film or change the narrative in any way. Was it intended to depict the flailing mindset of Stingo? Or his deeply infatuated desire to fall in the arms of a woman?
7. The Departed – “Rat”
‘The Departed’ isn’t Martin Scorsese’s best work by any means but is still a fine piece of thrilling cop drama with gripping intensity. The bloody, climactic ending leaves us on a highly satisfying note but then all on a sudden a rat appears near the window of the hotel where the shooting happened. Apparently the intention was to symbolise the the true meaning of the word “rat”. The characters betray each other in a bloody game of deceit and vengeance. The word “rat” is repeatedly used throughout the film and the final scene does nothing to the storyline or effectively represent the characters’ fate but rather just ends up being lazy symbolism.
6. Interstellar (2014) – “Love Monologue”
Not one but ‘Interstellar’ is replete with as many cringe-worthy moments as it is with awe-inspiring scenes. Anne Hathaway’s monologue on how “love transcends dimensions of time and space” somehow comes off as the most cringe-worthy scene in the film. While the entire film is so steeped in conversations about complex black hole theories, Hathaway and McConaughey converse about the importance of love in human life as she breaks into philosophical depths about how love surpasses everything that encompasses our existence on the planet.
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971) – “Ultraviolence”
Yes, this is Stanley Kubrick. Yes, this film is a masterpiece. But the infamous “ultraviolence” scene does not really leave an impact on you anymore and comes across as dated. Most Kubrick fanatics would vehemently disagree with me on this and is probably a sacrilegious thing to say but I personally find the scene lacking the essence of what it is trying to convey, both on an emotional and graphic level. The framing, as always with Kubrick films, is impeccable and the aura is undeniably intriguing but the scene, as a psychological exploration of the frighteningly bizarre fantasies plaguing the human psyche, does not quite deliver the punch in an otherwise great film.
4. Psycho – “Psychologist Explanation”
Perhaps the most popular psychological thriller of all time, ‘Psycho’ is a film that changed the landscape of a genre and continues to influence cinema in a way only few films have. Every work of art ages with time; how well and for how long is what matters ultimately. ‘Psycho’ has one such instance which, when watched now, hasn’t quite stood the test of time. In the penultimate act, we see a psychiatrist explaining the multiple personality traits of Norman Bates. Such an unnecessary exposition consumes quite a bit of screen time in a film that is otherwise a shot-by-shot masterpiece. The scene serves absolutely no purpose and does nothing to the narrative but some people have defended it claiming how it made sense for the audiences back in 1960 as many weren’t aware of complex psychological issues and the scene makes Norman’s character convincing and believable for the viewers.
3. Gravity – “Kowalski Returns”
‘Gravity’ is one of the most breathtaking cinematic experiences I’ve ever had in recent times. ‘Gravity’ is the kind of film which reminds us that cinema is primarily a visual medium. Alfonso Cuaron crafts a lovely contemplative tale of surveillance and revival with utmost clinical perfection. However, the scene where Ryan nearly gives up and starts hallucinating Kowalski entering the capsule feels absolutely contrived for the moment, blemishing an otherwise masterfully directed film.
2. The Godfather – “Sonny Beats Carlo”
Another one of The Godfather’s iconic goof ups. A pumped up Sonny bursts out on to the street and beats his sister’s husband who treats her badly. Acted brilliantly by James Caan. the rage and intensity becomes almost palpable only to be ruined by a ludicrous fight scene that seems visibly staged as we see Caan hesitating with his kicks and punches and the whole scene ends up being a laughing riot. With seething intensity poured on to every frame in this masterpiece, this one scene is certainly a misfit and very amateurish for its standards.
1. Magnolia (1999) – “Wise Up”
It breaks my heart to have this entry on the list because ‘Magnolia’ is a film I hold so close to my heart. ‘Magnolia’ flows in its 188 minute run time with not a single scene that fails to add anything to the plot and very nearly explores every character in detail. But for a film that features some of the greatest uses of music in cinema, the part where the characters break into Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” comes off as extremely cheesy and cringe-worthy. The sequence very nearly hampers the flow of the narrative and you can’t help but cringe all the way through.