The Worst Movie Ever Made

One of these days – probably in the month of May – I’m going to do a post about racing movies. There have been several of them made over the years – some better than others; but almost all of them have, at least, some redeeming quality about them if you look close enough. But we’ll save that discussion for another time. In Wednesday’s comment section, I was reminded by commenter "Billy The Skink" that there is one racing movie that has no redeeming qualities. It was so bad that it transcends not just racing movies as being bad. I consider it to be the worst movie ever made. Period. If you’ve seen it, there is no doubt that you know which movie I’m talking about – Driven.

This abomination was written and produced by Sylvester Stallone, who also thought he should be the perfect actor to star in it as an Indy car driver– never mind that he was fifty-five at the time of release. Stallone had planned to base his script off of Formula One, but he failed to get the desired level of cooperation from the F1 teams. It was then that he turned to CART, who saw this as a chance to showcase their series.

Stallone and company followed CART around through the summer of 2000 getting actual footage from races. Too bad he didn’t use more of it. Instead, Stallone chose to treat the few paying customers who actually watched it, to countless shots of race cars being launched from ramps. One shot of a flying Reynard would have been more than enough, but these over-the-top effects permeated the entire movie.

To me, it was a toss-up if I’d prefer to watch what looked like Maurίcio Gugelmin’s car soar through the air than some of the worst attempts at acting I can recall. The only thing that exceeded the bad acting was how lame the storyline was.

In a very brief nutshell, rising driving star Jimmy Bly is winning too much to the liking of the established champ, Beau Brandenburg (not to be confused with Beaux Barfield). Brandenburg figures his fiancé is to blame for his recent slump, so he dumps her and miraculously starts winning again. Jimmy’s owner – the wheelchair bound Carl Henry – is concerned that Jimmy’s performance is sliding. He therefore removes Jimmy’s teammate, Memo Moreno (not to be confused with Memo Gidley or Roberto Moreno) and puts retired driver Joe Tanto in the cockpit to serve as a mentor for Jimmy. Oh, by the way – Joe’s ex-wife is now married to Memo and Jimmy hooks up with Brandenburg’s ex-fiancé. It gets worse.

There are team orders galore from the maniacal owner Henry. Then, in one of the most ridiculous scenes to ever hit the silver screen, Memo’s car goes flying (as all race cars do) into a trackside lake and lands upside down. While battling for the championship, Jimmy drives off-course and drives his car over to the lake and hops out to save his fellow driver. If that wasn’t enough – Brandenburg does the same. So now we have the two championship contenders out of their cars attempting to rescue a colleague. Sort of makes you wonder what happened to the CART Safety Team. With flying cars being so common, surely they planned for cars occasionally soaring into the lake.

Unfortunately, the insanity doesn’t stop there. The championship goes down to the final race of the season – at Belle Isle, of all places. More cars go flying and the two championship contenders, Jimmy and Brandenburg, race neck and neck to the last lap (of course). Then, as they are both approaching the finish line, Jimmy channels his inner Luke Skywalker in the obligatory slow-motion sequence, and Jimmy somehow manages to inch past Brandenburg, who mysteriously starts spinning in circles out of control at the line. The movie comes to a merciful end with our heroes, Jimmy Bly and Joe Tanto swigging Champaign in celebration.

Say what you will about Robin Miller, but in the early stages of production, he was getting a pretty good idea that this was going to be a dud and started giving us warnings. I didn’t listen. I had hoped against hope that he was wrong and that for the first time ever, Sylvester Stallone would make a movie that wasn’t incredibly cheesy. I had hoped that open-wheel racing had found a vehicle to bring in new fans. My hopes were dashed.

Driven opened in theaters in April of 2001. I knew that if I wanted to see it, I’d better go quickly. I took my son Trey, who was eleven at the time, to go see it the second night it was in town. We practically had the theater to ourselves. Halfway through the movie – we did have it to ourselves, as the smart ones all had gotten up and left. We stayed until the bitter end, losing two hours out of my life that I’ll never get back.

As we drove back home, I told Trey that if he lives to be a hundred, he’ll never see a worse movie than the one he just saw. Even an eleven year-old knew how over-the-top the “action” scenes were.

This train wreck starred Sylvester Stallone as the once-retired Joe Tanto. Burt Reynolds played the villainous car-owner who was mysteriously confined to a wheelchair. Perhaps Stallone had already decided to base a character off of Frank Williams, when Driven was going to take place in Formula One. Jimmy Bly was played by Kip Pardue, who was coming off of a decent performance in Remember The Titans. Unfortunately, Driven killed whatever professional momentum Pardue had enjoyed. His career never recovered. He went on to star in such memorable films as Loggerheads and The Wizard of Gore. Most drivers that made cameo appearances have since retired from racing, but Tony Kanaan is an active driver who can list his appearance in Driven as one of his lesser moments.

This cinematic masterpiece was directed by Renny Harlin, who is best known for…OK, he’s not really known for anything. But other credits to his name are Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea. But I must correct one thing I said earlier. Harlin is actually known for something. He directed Cutthroat Island, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the worst box-office flop ever. Driven was a commercial and critical flop, as well. It grossed only $32 million against a $72 million budget. Ouch!

Which was worse? The plot? The script? The acting? Take your pick. If I’m not allowed to pick “all of the above”, then I’m going with the action footage of cars constantly flying through the air. After about the tenth one, I got just a little numb to it.

I’m not sure how long Driven remained in theaters, but it wasn’t long. If it ever made it to HBO, Showtime, Netflix or the WB Network – I never noticed. In fact, I haven’t watched it since that dreadful night in April of 2001; although I did see a copy of it for sale in Big Lots not too long ago. For $3, I could have added it to my permanent DVD collection. I passed.

Am I being too harsh? Is there anyone out there that actually liked Driven? Maybe it was the mood I was in, but my one viewing of Driven has me convinced that it was the worst movie ever made.

George Phillips

20 Responses to “The Worst Movie Ever Made”

  1. I never saw “Driven” (thankfully) but it sounds remarkably like what I would have listed as the worst movie I ever saw, “The Tarnished Angels”, starring Rock Hudson. It was also a racing movie, although it was about pylon air racing, and coincidentally, it also had one of the racers fly into a lake near the race course, and the other contender immediately left the race to land his plane on the beach and try to rescue the victim, his enemy. The only reason I watched it (and, unfortunately, added it to my DVD collection) was because an airplane that I have flown, NC14339, an open cockpit 1934 Fairchild 22, was one of the planes used as a pylon racer. Since the Fairchild is not capable of speeds over 100 mph, the race footage was actually speeded up to make the planes look faster – talk about a cheesy effect.

    Invariably, when Hollywood tries to make a movie about something I care about, be it flying, or racing, or history, they invariably mess it up with stupid plots (not everything in life revolves around romance), bad acting, improbable action and technical inaccuracies.

  2. George, you left out the ultimate unreality: The street race between the two protagonists sans helmets. I saw that and almost launched my lunch: It was almost like we’re going to do “Tokyo Drift” in million dollar cars.

    The only redeeming quuality of any of it is the announcing of Paul Page. It was truly a stinker.

    • I agree wity you. The street sc ene was a joke as was the entire movie. Driven is an embarassment to such classics as Grand Prix and Lemans.

  3. Really bad movie but, I have seen much worse. “The Room” comes to mind.


    The quarter scene is on par with Steve McQueen trying to outrun the nazis on a motorbike in The Great Escape.

    Joe Tanto is an American hero. You’re a dirty pinko commie America-hating jerk.

    The lake accident happened because it was an overseas road course. That would have never happened at Phoenix. Remember when the water caught fire? I thought methanol was water-soluble.

    I’ll stand by this till the day I die: any movie with Gina Gershon is worthwhile (see: Face/Off)

    • billytheskink Says:

      Driven’s quarter scene does contain two of the greatest bits of hammy dialogue.

      “What’d you give him?”
      “Gas money.”

      “What’s that sound?”
      “Sounds like he’s humming…”
      “Why is he humming?”
      “Just some crazy thing he does when he’s pushin’ close to the edge.”
      “Anyone else ever do that?”
      “Not among the living…”

    • Man, I agree, especially with the Gina Gershon comment. Oh, those lips!

  5. As bad as it was, it makes me pine for the old CART days.

  6. I am looking forward to Ron Howard’s upcoming F1 film about Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Besides the huge difference on how to produce great films, unlike Stallone, Ron Howard seems to be a fan who knows how to provide a realism that a fan would expect. Check out “Apollo 13” and you will see what I mean.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    You are being too harsh George, but not by much. Driven is a truly terrible movie, but there are worse movies, even ones involving auto racing. A couple to consider:
    -The Charlie’s Angels movie – a pair of humpbacked Indycars that I never could totally identify engage in a high speed chase out of the Fontana track and onto the Southern California freeways. And it’s not the worst scene in the movie…
    – Dorf Goes Auto Racing – Tim Conway’s poorly-accented European dwarf character moves stateside to compete against Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Ken Schrader in a NASCAR schedule that consists of Sears Point and the Indy 500… Say what you will about Driven, but it never did anything so egregious as call the 500 a NASCAR race.

    Driven is full of intentional ham and unintentional comedy. Catching the seemingly infinite number of goofs and continuity errors can be an entertaining (or maddening) exercise. “Didn’t Cristiano da Matta already crash this race?” “Does Mauracio Gugelmin know that the guy he’s talking to (Tanto) is gonna steal his seat?” “Did they really just run clips from an oval race for a scene in Bell Isle?” “Is that a guy holding a ‘Keep Humming Joe’ sign?”

    As for the movie’s performance, Box Office Mojo tells me it was in theaters for 11 weeks, and was in over 1,000 theaters for 6 of those weeks. It shows up on television every so often, usually as a local station’s weekend afternoon movie. I do know it was nationally broadcast during the final summer of UPN’s existence, as their Friday night movie. I know this because I taped it (hey I wasn’t gonna buy it).

    A final thing worth noting, Driven was released the same weekend as CART’s non-race at Texas Motor Speedway. It’s arguable which was the bigger disaster…

  8. I was at Chicago motor Speedway when they shot the season finale confetti scene. It went on and on and on for about 4 minutes

  9. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    Thanks, George. You provided a much needed laugh this morning.

  10. Savage Henry Says:

    Regarding the CART safety crew and the pond scene, Dr. Steve Olvey gives some very entertaining backstory in his book “Rapid Response”. Apparently the whole safety crew was flown in, pampered like movie stars (initially), and then had to shoot the rescue scene over and over again for an entire day at least. Sounds like a couple million of the $72 million budget was spent shooting the scene.

    … and then they cut it. He says that the safety crew is on screen for something like 1 second.

  11. billytheskink Says:

    One other interesting tidbit on Driven; Stallone was a guest on Letterman around the time of the movie’s release. Sly spent much of the interview floundering around discussing how “realistic” the movie was, how the CART cars suck manhole covers off of the streets and ramp high in the air and crash into lakes, while Dave looked at him incredulously.

  12. This reminds me – when is that Indy 500 movie with the snail coming out? Was that slotted for 2013?

  13. You have to believe in me, but there is an italian movie with the former skiing champion Alberto Tomba that is worse than Driven…so, I voted “It was pretty bad, but I’ve seen worse” only because it’s the second worst movie ever made…the first was “Alex l’ariete” with Tomba…

  14. People who liked it also stated that they had to put in some physical
    exercising and a control more than diet plan to lose fat from the abdomen.

  15. Morgan Mollwing Says:

    I like it. Not that it is realistic, but it is entertaining to me at least. Does anyone else wonder if Stalone is inspired by Ronnie Petersons driving style, or is it common to drift with cart cats?

  16. […] you’ve seen readers inexplicably ask questions about the movie Driven. Back in 2012, I wrote a post about Driven, and I entitled it “The Worst Movie Ever Made”. If you’ll notice, I didn’t […]

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