From Trolls to Transformers: toy films – ranked!

Lego … Care Bears … My Little Pony … all great toys. But which film spin-offs delivered, and which were cynical cash-ins?

20. Bratz: The Movie (2007)

For the uninitiated, a Bratz doll is a Barbie doll without any of the intellectual heft. Accordingly, Bratz: The Movie is what Mean Girls would have been if everyone gave the impression of being there against their will. A terrible, miserable, cynical film that would have exploded if it had contained a single original idea.

19. My Little Pony: The Movie (1986)

Not to be confused with the 2017 movie of the same name or the myriad straight-to-video sequels, My Little Pony: The Movie rode the mid-80s wave of animated toy films that also brought us The Care Bears Movie and Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw (more of which later). In this film, the ponies are forced to band together to save their land from a sentient purple gunk with a song called Nothing Can Stop the Smooze, which sounds exactly like what dying must feel like.

Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons.
Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

18. Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Again, not to be confused with the animated TV series, this reimagining starred the likes of Thora Birch, Jeremy Irons and one of the guys who played Jimmy Olsen in The New Adventures of Superman. The 39th worst film of all time, according to a reader poll in Empire magazine a decade ago, it hasn’t improved with age.

17. Digimon: The Movie (2000)

I’m including this in the list partly because it is loosely based on a Tamagotchi competitor, and partly because it’s terrible. Flung together with little attention paid to tone, plot or continuity, it was released to cash in on a fad while there was money to be made. To make matters worse, the soundtrack contains a song by the Barenaked Ladies.

16. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Once a concussed-looking, moss-haired dullard with no genitals and shifty eyes, the classic action figure was reimagined in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra as a film you already forgot existed. Channing Tatum was in it, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in it, Sienna Miller was in it, but even they couldn’t scrape together anything worth remembering.

15. Battleship (2012)

The world’s dullest board game becomes the world’s most pointless film. The game didn’t feature aliens. It didn’t feature Rihanna. It didn’t feature a ship insulting the laws of physics by doing a handbrake turn in the middle of the ocean. But the film did. Oh boy, the film did.

Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer.
Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer. Photograph: Alamy

14. Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer (1985)

Rainbow Brite is a yellow-haired doll who wears colourful clothes. However, for some reason, she is also the owner of one of the most convoluted mythologies in toy history. She is originally a girl called Wisp tasked with bringing colour to a grey world by locating a magical sphere. There’s a magic belt and some Colour Children, and they’re all in charge of a different colour or something. And there’s a horse and a robot horse. And this film is absolutely not worth watching.

13. Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw (1988)

Pound Puppies were toys that looked like dogs, but in the toy-film boom of the 1980s, that was apparently enough to warrant a movie. Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw operates on the berserk assumption that the children of 1988 wanted nothing more than to watch a bunch of cartoon dogs perform pastiches of 30-year-old rock’n’roll standards. It is the lowest-grossing toy-based film ever theatrically released.

12. The Garbage Pail Kids (1985)

Where to begin with this? First came the Cabbage Patch Kids, a range of unintentionally terrifying dolls with giant faces. Then came the Garbage Pail Kids, a line of flatulent, filthy trading cards that mocked the Cabbage Patch Kids, with names such as Junkfood John and Intense Payne. Then came The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, a Gremlins imitation about some dolls that look like they belong in the final scene of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is so bad, it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also the third film I ever rented on VHS.

11. Trolls (2016)

Are Trolls even toys? Aren’t they just pencil toppers, or ornaments designed for murderers to collect? Whatever, they made a Trolls film, and it doubled as a jukebox musical for songs that deserved much better than to end up in a forgettable-to-annoying animated Justin Timberlake vehicle. Even my four-year-old hates this, and he’s four, for the love of God.

10. Transformers (2007)

I know what you’re thinking: “But Transformers is terrible. Every Transformers film has been an incomprehensible, overlong mishmash of damp mythology, impenetrable battle sequences and scene after scene where the camera uncomfortably leers over the bodies of young women. The Transformers series is utterly and unforgivably without any merit whatsoever. Why the hell is it all the way up at No 10?” My answer is this: I agree, but cut me a break. I’m dying here.

Bruce Willis in GI Joe: Retaliation.
Bruce Willis in GI Joe: Retaliation. Photograph: Jaimie Trueblood

9. GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

You thought GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra was forgettable? Guess what – they made a sequel, and it was even more forgettable. Do you remember GI Joe: Retaliation? Do you remember that London got completely levelled in it? Do you remember that Bruce Willis plays General Colton, who was actually the first ever GI Joe figure back in the 60s? Do you remember that the lead actor was the goddamn Rock? No, me neither.

8. Jem and the Holograms (2015)

Jem is the singer in a band. Her best friend is a “holographic computer” called Synergy. This is the most 1980s premise for a toy ever, so of course it makes perfect sense that it wasn’t turned into a film until 2015. The resulting movie had the worst opening of the year and the worst opening ever for a film released by a major studio. Universal pulled it from screens after a fortnight, and the director claimed to have received death threats. So why is it all the way up at No 8? Like I said, all these films are terrible. I really can’t reiterate that enough.

7. Care Bears: The Movie (1985)

You probably have the Care Bears to blame for this whole films-based-on-toys nightmare. The Care Bears Movie – about a group of bears who live on a cloud and hypnotise the depressed into being happy or something – contained original plot-specific songs by Carole King and made its money back 16 times over. And you know what? It’s quite good. Sue me.

The Lego Batman Movie – the best Batman film for a long time.
The Lego Batman Movie – the best Batman film for a long time. Photograph: Allstar

6. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Lego Batman was the breakout star of The Lego Movie, thanks to the hilarious way he communicated that he was a depressed orphan. He was given a spin-off as a result and, while it never quite hit the heights of The Lego Movie, it was still the best Batman film in about a decade.

5. Clue (1985)

Board games tend not to translate very well to the big screen (see Battleship), but Clue just about managed to buck the trend. Clue took Cluedo and turned it into a work of high farce, with the likes of Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Lesley Ann Warren yucking it up for all they were worth. Three endings were shot for this film, each declaring a different murderer; if you saw it in a cinema, the ending was chosen at random. If you watch it now, you get to watch all three in a row, which is very confusing if it’s on TV in 1992, and you’re a helpless child.

Frank Langella … one hell of a Skeletor.
Frank Langella … one hell of a Skeletor. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

4. Masters of the Universe (1987)

Oh sure, it’s flawed. Oh sure, it grabs all the fun intergalactic action of the cartoon and transplants it to dreary old mid-80s US. Oh sure, it invented the abomination that was Gwildor because Orko was too difficult to get right on-screen. And the plot revolves too heavily around synthesisers. And it contains the single most generic James Tolkan role ever committed to screen. But you know what? Frank Langella was one hell of a Skeletor. I will die on this hill.

3. The Lego Movie (2014)

When it was first announced, The Lego Movie seemed like an act of pure craven greed. So what an amazing surprise to discover that The Lego Movie was an incredible vehicle for the toy – show me a more tactile-looking animation and I’ll eat my hat – and a sly critique of the toy’s biggest fans. For what is Will Ferrell’s Lord Business if not an uptight, overwrought, order-obsessed Lego fanatic? This film could have been No 1, had all the sequels and spin-offs not diluted its punchy appeal.

Transformers – the less dreadful one.
Transformers – the less dreadful one. Photograph: Hasbro/Marvel/Kobal

2. Transformers: The Movie (1986)

I know what you’re thinking: “But didn’t you already do Transformers?” And, yes, I did, but only the Michael Bay live-action horror-shows. The animated Transformers movie, by comparison, is a masterpiece. This is the film, remember, that had an incredibly child-unfriendly soundtrack. This is the film in which Orson Welles played a robot who could turn into a planet. This is the film where – spoiler alert – Optimus Prime was murdered in the first act. Did nobody think of the toy sales?

The original Mars Attacks! trailer

1. Mars Attacks! (1996)

Based on a 1962 trading card series, Mars Attacks! is Tim Burton at his absolute giddiest. Gone was the creeping melancholy of Edward Scissorhands. Still to come was his descent into Disney yes-man. And here, right in the middle, is a silly, goofy, star-filled pastiche of whatever Burton felt like pastiching on any given day. At the time, it was his worst-reviewed film to that point, but to watch it now is to see a sense of aggressive playfulness you just don’t often get to witness. Tom Jones shouts: “JESUS CHRIST!” at a Martian. Honestly, what more do you people want?


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