The big-screen turkeys of 2012

What is the worst film of the year? Yes, it's tempting to just give the award to Adam Sandler's most recent offering and be done with it, and few would argue passionately for pardoning this year's instalment – That's My Boy. Yet, surely the measure of a film is in how it lived up to expectations. If it was meant to be good, but was bad, it is far worse than if it was expected to be awful and, well, was.

So if Sandler was just coming off the back of Punch-Drunk Love, expectations might have been high and the disappointment significant. But as last year he gave us Just Go With It and Jack and Jill, it was hard not to be pleased with anything that didn't leave us drooling in our own laps following full cerebral cortex shut-down. The writer and director of Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson, has gone from strength to strength, so the expectations on his new film The Master were very high, hence the resulting inclusion below.

At the other end of the scale, some films, some glittery vampire-ridden monstrosities, can manage to underachieve when held up to even the most basic requirements of sub-par cinema.

So which films this year delivered the greatest discrepancy between promised magic and soulless reality? Which 10 films most disappointed fans in 2012? These are the worst 10 films of the year, and a short list of other dishonourable mentions. And yes, such a list is inherently subjective. Some of these films were loved by other critics. To my eyes, that just makes them all the more disappointing.

Most disappointing musical: Rock of Ages

Dishonourable mention: Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

When Tom Cruise is the best thing about a musical, something has gone really wrong. This was a genuinely fun stage musical, but it revolved around taking the mickey out of glam rock and the '80s. Unfortunately Cruise was the only one who got that, as he committed to hamming up as Stacee Jaxx while the rest of the cast committed to nothing except a sense of awkward desire to retain their dignity. Hint: Glam rock and dignity just don't mix.

Most disappointing romance: Bel Ami

Dishonourable mention: A Little Bit of Heaven, Wuthering Heights

Where Andrea Arnold's rendition of Bronte tried far too hard to be important and clever, Kate Hudson made painfully little effort to engage our brains in A Little Bit of Heaven. Yet it was Guy de Maupassant who was most abused when his 1885 novel was adapted into a mindless and soulless vehicle for Robert Pattinson and three otherwise excellent actresses to stumble around 19th-century Paris trying to solve the mystery of the lost will to live.

Most disappointing teen film: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Dishonourable mention: Streetdance 2 3D

On a list defined by expectations, it was always going to take a lot for a Twilight film to qualify. After all, we expect nothing from these films except glitter and bloodless fangs. Yet the final instalment in the saga only highlighted how well constructed the other films had been by comparison. Storyline aside, this film had no beginning, no ending and its only plot twist was borrowed from a 1980s soap opera. Here's hoping we can all wake up soon to discover that the potent lack of chemistry, drama or narrative was in fact all a dream.

Most disappointing thriller: Savages

Dishonourable mention: Arbitrage, Gone

If the Twilight filmmakers were looking for an ending, they should have called Oliver Stone, as he had two. Despite the wonderful efforts of the elder trio of Salma Hayek, Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta, this was a woeful film as the three young leads conspired with Stone to deliver an impotent, self-indulgent story set in the drug world that managed to contain no real action, drama or point. As for the core romance, when you have to get Blake Lively to constantly narrate the love scenes to tell you there's chemistry, you have a problem.

Most disappointing "serious" film: Cosmopolis

Dishonourable mention: W.E.

Robert Pattinson starring as a rich man who has lost interest in the world seemed at least convincing, however placing him in a limousine in front of criminally poor green-screened New York traffic with the goal of a haircut and a fondness for fortune-cookie wisdom was the beginning of a terminally tedious journey. Madonna's W.E. was a worse movie, but we have come to expect no more from Madge.

Most disappointing comedy: Kath & Kim'derella

Dishonourable mention: American Pie: Reunion, The Three Stooges, The Watch

It was a disappointing year for big names in comedy. Reuniting the American Pie team left a bad taste, the decision to modernise The Three Stooges was like being poked in the eye and The Watch was, well, unwatchable. Yet when Kath and Kim were handed a big-budget trip to Italy it was hard not to hope for a bit of cinematic Azzurri amusement. Instead we got an over-long, over-tired, over-big television episode with a touch of half-hearted pantomime.

Most disappointing rom-com: A Few Best Men

Dishonourable mention: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Wedding Party, Friends with Kids

Declared “unreleasable” by one critic who was in turn publicly called out by the film's director, A Few Best Men did find an audience. How it did so remains a mystery as this romantic comedy proved to have less chemistry than Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, fewer laughs than the interminable Friends with Kids and less cohesion than the meandering Wedding Party. A Few Best Men was big, very big, but it was also unfunny, very unfunny.

Most disappointing action film: Taken 2

Dishonourable mention: Alex Cross, Act of Valor, Killer Elite

The toughest call. Alex Cross was quite literally laughably bad, with audiences taking to jeering the woeful lack of action. Yet Taken 2, one of the most anticipated films of the year, was a lesson in poor sequel making. It took the same premise and the same characters and pressed repeat, hoping no one would pause to ask ... well, anything. It was dull, unoriginal and worst of all had action fans noting how implausible the whole thing was.

Most disappointing ... What was it? The Master

This was possibly one of the most technically proficient films released in 2012. The performances from both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman were excellent, the look and style exceptional, but it was lost in terms of plot and engagement. This is not a question of escapism, clearly this was not popcorn entertainment, but as a holistic piece it was not engaging or captivating. From a master like Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master was disappointing.

Most disappointing sci-fi movie: Prometheus 3D

Dishonourable mention: Total Recall, Underworld Awakening 3D, Dredd 3D

Total Recall and Underworld Awakening were just plain bad. Dredd would have been a whole lot better were it not a pale imitation of The Raid. Prometheus, though, was almost bound to disappoint as cinema fans anticipated the second coming of film, Ridley Scott returning to the Alien franchise. Would it be horror? Would it be action? Would it be something else? Sadly we still don't know. It was long and vague, over-ambitious and underwhelming. It wasn't awful, but it was a galaxy shy of our expectations.

The Big Losers

There are a few trends worth noting above. Clearly it has not been a good year for comedy with so many worthy candidates for the wooden spoon. Sadly we can also see that while Australia keeps producing some outstanding cinema, we are also more than capable of producing some of the biggest turkeys as well, though at least we are doing it in a number of genres. It is also disappointing to see how many sequels or remakes made the list as Hollywood proves once again that it is always a good idea to destroy a legacy if money can be made. Most impressive is Robert Pattinson's ability to star in no fewer than three of the worst films of the year, which should at least provide some good news as surely our expectations next year will be so low it will be much harder for him to make the list again.

This story The big-screen turkeys of 2012 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.