The Undistinguished Seven | 2023

by Tim Gordon

For anyone familiar with games of chance, specifically dice, the point of rolling a seven (two dice together having seven eyes up) can be both a winning or a losing throw in this game, depending on the timing. Often, rolling “seven” means to “crap out,” similar to the films that made this year’s Undistinguished Seven most disappointing films.

As with every year in cinema, some films are winners, losers, and plenty are simply middle-of-the-road stories, neither objectionable but rarely memorable. As critics, we understand that opinions on films are subjective and that we all view each film through our prism, bringing our bias to every experience.

Having presented that disclaimer to this discussion, we should also address the elephant in the room – the inclusion of multiple superhero films to this list. 2023 was a difficult year for these films, which had dominated the industry’s box office over the past fifteen years. Both Marvel and DC were affected for a plethora of reasons, most notably “superhero fatigue,” for Marvel, an overabundance of content on Disney+ that failed to connect with the films in theaters as they had in the past, the conclusion of a popular phase, and the obvious letdown as popular characters transition and people failing to connect with current ones.

In addition, over the past decade, DC has experienced several changes at the top that have created a disjointed experience for audiences. Now that the labor unrest has been settled, it will be interesting to see how both studio’s cinematic universes reset.

Here are a group of films that crapped out in theaters this year, our Undistinguished Seven:

This experimental concept which is centered in the not-too-distant future focuses on the last two men on Earth who are forced to adapt and evolve to save humanity in the forgettable sci-fi comedy, Biosphere. Co-written and co-starring Mark Duplass opposite Sterling K. Brown, Duplass has directed a handful of independent concept films, many with his brother, Jay, but are under the radar. His latest explores a worthy subject matter but the execution leaves much to be desired. Brown is simply wasted in a story that feels underwhelming and incomplete. There is probably an audience for Duplass’ work, but my only thought was relocating to a different “sphere” – and quickly.

The Marvels
One of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel shares the screen with Ms. Marvel and Captain Rambeau in the uninspiring film, The Marvels. The problem with this story dates back to the initial film in this series, Captain Marvel, which failed to capitalize on how powerful her character is and how she is being underserved in the current cinematic universe. Co-written by Nia DaCosta, Megan McDonnell, and Elissa Karasik, the screenplay builds off the premise established in the Disney+ series, Ms. Marvel but has too little for Danvers and Rambeau but prominently features the young Ms. Marvel. All and all, a bad screenplay, poor execution, and limited star power equals the opposite of “marvelous.”

Spinning Gold
This “Green Book-esque” biopic of the colorful adventure of record executive Neil Bogart and his label, Casablanca Records seemed like a good idea – until they saw the final cut. Much like the aforementioned story, this one too was written by Bogart’s son and also plays wild and loose with the facts. Sure, Bogart signed Walter Hawkins to a contract while his choir sang in church, or instructed Donna Summer on her sensuality while recording Love to Love You, Baby. Not just these antidotes, but others are presented playfully and entertainingly, while one can surmise the truth with a simple Google search. If audiences can’t believe these stories, how can we take anything about this film seriously? There is some “spinning” in this film, but it’s not gold.

Shazam: The Fury of the Gods
The continuing adventures of young Billy Batson and his “Shazamily” take a dark turn when the Daughters of Atlas, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, and Rachel Zeigler’s characters aim to bring them down. While the origin story had some charm, this film immediately feels like “too many cooks in the kitchen.” In addition, how many films can waste the talents of an Oscar winner (Mirren), Emmy nominee (Liu), and Golden Globe winner (Zeigler)? Written by Henry Gayden (Earth to EchoThere’s Someone Inside Your House) and Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious franchise, WantedGang Related), the screenplay plays like a tug of war of dueling styles. There is no way Shazam and Black Adam share a universe, but since incoming boss James Gunn is rebooting DC, it is as good a time as any for him to exercise his “fury” for this character.

House Party
Thirty years ago, director Reginald Hudlin’s little film, House Party, based on his student thesis at Harvard, launched the careers of not just rappers Kid & Play, but Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Robin Harris, as well as introduced the world to John Witherspoon, and Full Force. This small but simple story connected with audiences and launched a franchise that has produced five more films. The most recent one reboots the franchise and unfortunately lacks all of the charm and originality of the original film and may be the one that shuts the party down. It uses the 1990 film for inspiration but instead of entertaining and inspiring, this soulless story of two guys who use Lebron James’ home for a party while he is away, steal one of his championship rings, and trash his spot is an embarrassment and only shares similarities due to the film’s title.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
The third and final film in the Ant-Man franchise had a huge task on its hands – to complete his singular journey while simultaneously battling Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). The former appeared simple until the charisma of Majors hit the screen. Before his dismissal, Majors was in line to become the villainous face of the MCU and his presence in this film completely overshadows everybody in this film including the star, Ant-Man, himself. Riding in the cinematic passenger seat of his film, Major dominates every scene between the two and everyone else. Despite Major’s impressive work, he can’t save this tired, uninteresting tale that suffers every time he’s off-screen. The screenplay doesn’t give Ant-Man or anyone else anything substantive and as a result, it was the suits at Marvel who had “mania” being deluded thinking this had any chance of success.

The Flash
In the history of cinema, there have been plenty of infamous cinematic trainwrecks that have stood the test of time – Popeye, Gigli, and Glitter, to name a few. Despite incoming DC boss, James Gunn’s proclamation that The Flash was “one of the best superhero movies ever made.” It is not a stretch to say that if Gunn is that far off in releasing a $200 million film that he felt the world needed to see, how bad was the $90 million Batgirl that the suits at Warner Bros. shelved? Ezra Miller’s legal troubles made many lose interest in The Flash, with some seeing Barry Allen’s actor as an abuser or a similarly controversial figure. Thus, even the nostalgia for Michael Keaton’s Batman wasn’t enough to generate fan interest in the doomed project, with many rightfully associated with Miller. It also didn’t help that the casting was god-awful (Kiersey Clemons as Iris West) and the special effects nightmare featuring the collapsing Multiverse sequence which left audiences scratching their heads. While Jonathan Majors’ career has taken a hit over two misdemeanors, only the absolute tanking of this film prevented Hollywood from casting this perennial abuser in future films.