Back in January 2013, when we were all hating on Movie 43, the world felt like a simpler place. Sure, Hollywood had released big turkeys before then (January was known for it), but the variety and prolificity of the celebrity cast, as well as the extreme nature they were all happily embarrassing themselves, made for a unifying, perplexing cultural oddity. Grouping together an eclectic array of gross-out sketches, often involving bodily excretions and half-a-dozen sex crimes, many actors (including three Oscar winners) put themselves in knowingly shocking and wannabe-provocative scenarios—making audiences theorize how much dirt producers Charles B. Wessler and Peter Farrelly had on many of Hollywood’s finest. Farrelly now has two Oscars, so hopefully all of those debts have now been paid.
The most interesting thing about Movie 43 is not anything in the film, but rather the story of how it came into fruition, not to mention how much fun reviewers had tearing it to shreds. Sketch comedy has evolved since this last gasp of the gross-out anthology film: SNL has doubled down on fueling their sketches with half-life references; Tim Robinson and Eric Andre have found a passionate following for their own brand of absurdism; Gen Z satire is starting to leave its infancy and get less excruciating. Even the Jackass yucks-and-stunts have been laid to rest with last year’s heartfelt Jackass Forever. Movie 43 is an oddity in appealing to pretty much nobody, and thankfully no attempts to reappraise it have risen since its release. So, a decade after it dropped like a lead balloon, join us on a ranking of every putrid skit you can see in Movie 43 from best to worst. May God have mercy on our souls.
Unranked: “The Pitch” / “The Thread”
No, these two framing device sketches aren’t unranked because they’re too offensive, but because you only get to see one of them during the film depending on which region you watch it from. In the US release, Dennis Quaid plays a mad screenwriter pitching each sketch to a producer played by Greg Kinnear. He starts threatening him at gunpoint and eventually shoots him to death. In a European cut of the film, a bunch of braindead teens scour the dark web for the most horrible film to ever exist, finding a band of violent criminals and inadvertently causing the end of the world. These are not sketches, not just because they’re not funny, but because they are connective tissue, and thus I cannot pass judgement on their quality. (They’re dogshit.)
There’s also a cut sketch with Anton Yelchin as a necrophiliac mortician which has only shown at festivals, and a mockumentary written and directed by Bob Odenkirk about a missing flasher daughter. Apologies for not being thorough enough to seek this out; it only appeared in the behind the scenes of the blu-ray, which I did not deign to purchase. I’m sure they sold like hot cakes.
Veronica (Emma Stone) visits her ex-boyfriend Neil (Kieran Culkin) at his grocery store workplace. They trade ridiculous, pseudo-venomous insults at each other, which soon turn to overly-explicit descriptions of the sex acts they would like to perform on each other. Little do they know the intercom is projecting their conversation to the whole store! This is the best skit in Movie 43 because two very talented performers just get to riff strange sentences at each other, capably directed by After Hours and An American Werewolf in London’s Griffin Dunne. It feels reminiscent of David Wain and Michael Showalter’s brand of absurdism, and it’s worth it for the insult/retort of “You sucked off that hobo for magic beans.” / “He was a wizard, Neil!”
11. “Machine Kids”
Like “Veronica,” this one benefits from not being an actual sketch in the conventional sense. This is a fake PSA about all the children who operate ATMs, photocopiers and vending machines from the inside, and every time an adult berates or vandalizes one for not working properly, it saddens the child sitting in its dark confines. Not really much to say about this one. It’s cute. It got a laugh.
10. “The Catch”
Buckle up everybody—this top ten is going to be increasingly painful. Kate Winslet plays a skeptical single woman who lands a date with a shockingly eligible bachelor, Hugh Jackman. What’s the catch? He has an incredibly lifelike pair of testicles hanging from his neck—but she’s the only one who can notice them! But wait, then why is he still single if no one else cares about the testicles? It’s puerile and it doesn’t really have an ending, but to say the material is elevated here by the actors is an understatement. Unlike some of the other A-listers, Winslet and Jackman don’t feel like they’re trapped in their skit.
9. “Middle School Date”
The idea of bringing children into this film fills me with a really unpleasant dread. Still, this female-written and directed skit about a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) having her first period, and the ways immature and ignorant men deal with it at least has some sort of point, which is sorely lacking from any of the other sketches. Plus, Patrick Warburton is in it, and it’s impossible for this man to have an unfunny line delivery.
8. “Happy Birthday”
Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott star in this sketch, so they’re able to convincingly sell how completely stupid things get. Knoxville reveals he’s kidnapped a leprechaun (Gerard Butler) in their basement, and the three of them violently scrap until they find his massive pot of gold—at which point the leprechaun’s brother (also Gerard Butler) attacks them. After disposing of the two creatures, it’s revealed Knoxville has also captured a fairy who “sucks cock for gold coins.” This sketch is not very sensitive to the Irish, unfortunately, but the shot of Knoxville dragging a comically large pot of gold into the basement is pretty funny.
7. “Victory’s Glory”
Riding the line between satirizing racist stereotypes and point-blank regurgitating them, this sketch is for everyone who’s wondered where Terrence Howard has been since Iron Man. A 1950s basketball coach (Howard) motivates his team against their more experienced opponents by reminding them that his team is all Black, and the opponents are all white. It’s dragged down by its contemporary “edgy” humour, but the cast are uniformly funny and the players trying to interpret their coach’s tirade as a cliched motivational sports speech works well.
James Gunn, everybody! The fact that this comes midway into the credits confirms that the filmmakers didn’t really know what to do with this live-action-animation hybrid. Here, a girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) finds out how depraved her boyfriend’s (Josh Duhamel) pet Beezel is—finding a cartoon cat masturbating to swimwear pictures of his owner is just the tip of the iceberg for her character. It’s a bit of a slog if you’ve not got a taste for Troma-esque comedy, but at least the sketch feels like it has an identity, even if it’s one Gunn himself has grown out of. The best thing about “Beezel” is that once it’s over, there’s no more movie to watch.
5. “Superhero Speed Dating”
An excellent exercise in outstaying your welcome, this is where the going gets really rough. Robin (Justin Long) is trying his luck at speed dating, but Batman (Jason Sudeikis) thwarts his flirtations with Supergirl (Kristen Bell) and Lois Lane (Uma Thurman?!) It’s just so intolerably long, with a whole host of improv’d sexist remarks, and a couple sex crimes described/depicted on top of that. This is also the most decorated cast for one of these sketches, with six Emmy trophies and two nominations shared among the ensemble.
Richard Gere! Kate Bosworth! Jack McBrayer! Aasif Mandvi! What the hell are you all doing here?! Gere is notable for trying to trick Wessler into letting him escape the project by making demands so inconvenient he’d be dropped from the movie. This did not work, meaning he’s trapped here as a tech guru who can’t understand why teenage boys keep sticking their genitals in the vaginal port of a naked woman iPod. The fact that this one most resembles the structure and rhythm of an actual sketch only further emphasizes how unfunny it is.
This sketch, where two parents (Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber, a married couple at the time) try to replicate all aspects of school life for their homeschooled son (a young and perpetually 1000-yard-staring Jeremy Allen White) starts promisingly enough. They bully and haze him—with Watts and Schreiber really leaning into socially ostracizing their child—but the fun all dries up when they reveal they also gave him his first kiss. We watch a visibly uncomfortable child have his parent force a kiss onto him and wonder if director Will Graham and co-writer Jack Kukoda understand the difference between awkward comedy and depictions of child abuse, or if they thought they could make the latter funny.
2. “The Proposition”
This is the second sketch to feature a real-life couple that are no longer together—confirming that Movie 43 is responsible for at least two Hollywood divorces. Here, a loving boyfriend (Chris Pratt) agrees to defecate on his girlfriend (Anna Faris) during sex. This is the third sketch in the film and by this point it’s clear the film is not only out of ideas, but also that it’s not going to get any better. Maybe you could get a lot more mileage for jokes about Mexican food farts and explosive diarrhea back in 2013, or at least they were popular with director Steve Carr, who had by this point helmed Dr Doolittle 2, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and other razor-sharp, ahead-of-their-time comic gems.
1. “Truth or Dare”
This is it. The worst sketch in a film filled only with bad sketches. Steven Merchant and Halle Berry spice up a date at a Mexican restaurant (because, as we recall from “The Proposition,” Mexican food is inherently funny) with a game of truth or dare. Like “Homeschooled,” it begins grounded enough, but soon careens into each of them getting tattoos and plastic surgery—ending with Merchant altering his face to look like a racist caricature of an Asian man. There’s no way to recover from that, is there? It’s a shame Merchant seems to have brought along the horribly racism of 2000s British comedy with him. Thankfully, no one’s going to be rewatching this one to call him out on it.
Rory Doherty is a screenwriter, playwright and culture writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. You can follow his thoughts about all things stories @roryhasopinions.