The definition of a “WTF moment” in a movie is very broad. Many people will say that a “WTF moment” is a moment that legitimately surprises and shocks them and I can’t disagree. If nothing else, I can say that when the scenes on this list happened, I legitimately was not expecting them. However, I personally think the term “WTF” is best applied to scenes and moments that almost seem to exist in an entirely different universe than the rest of the film… or humanity in general, for that matter! I’m talking about scenes that just seem to come out of nowhere and don’t seem to have any context whatsoever. Scenes where you wonder if the filmmakers ingested a lot of drugs on the day they came up with them. As an example, I recently posted this clip when I talked about the infamous Al Pacino “gay serial killer” cop thriller, Cruising. In this scene, Pacino is being interrogated by the police when a muscular black guy wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and a jock strap suddenly walks into the room and punches him out!
There is no rational explanation for this moment before or after it happens, and the only possible reaction the viewer can muster is “WTF?!”. Now, this isn’t to say that all the movies featured on this list are bad. In fact, I flat-out love a couple of these films, but that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of provoking a “WTF” reaction. Indeed, a “WTF” scene can sometimes be a good thing, so without any further ado, here are ten scenes, both good and bad, that I randomly selected. Today’s column on The Back Row was brought to you by the letters “W”, “T” and “F”.
The Deadly Bees (1967) -The Guy in the Bowler Hat:
This is the first appearance on this list of a film which was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it will not be the last. The Deadly Bees is a pretty lame British horror film about a deranged beekeeper who breeds an army of killer bees as a means of murdering people and while I wouldn’t place this on my list of all-time favourite MST3K episodes, it does contain one of my all-time favourite MST3K moments. At the very end of the film, after the evil beekeeper and his bees have all been destroyed, a guy in a bowler hat suddenly shows up at the scene. As the guy walks towards the camera with his own goofy theme music playing in the background, the end credits start rolling! And then the movie fades out before we even find out who this guy is! WTF?!
There are few moments on MST3K that have ever made me laugh harder than Mike Nelson’s line: “Hello, I’m here for the movie, am I late? Hello?”. Gee, I wonder if back in 1967, the guy in the bowler hat provoked as much intense debate as the spinning top at the end of Inception? In actuality, Mr. Bowler Hat is a police inspector and he DOES make a very brief appearance in an early scene in the film. However, I guarantee you that on a first viewing, NO ONE remembers this guy when he makes his reappearance at the end (especially since he wasn’t wearing his bowler hat in the early scene) and since there really is no purpose for bringing him back in the first place, this leads to one of the most head-scratching conclusions in cinema history. Anyway, you can see this moment at the 3:16 mark of this clip, along with an hilarious ending to the MST3K episode where a guy in a bowler hat suddenly appears on the Satellite of Love.
Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961) – The Destruction of the Hitler Building:
Ah, Mystery Science Theater, you manage to stir my “WTF” meter yet again! There have been few movies featured on that show which are more brain-numbing than an old Japanese sci-fi oddity called Invasion of the Neptune Men. The storyline involves aliens from Neptune trying to take over the Earth and legendary martial arts star Sonny Chiba (in one of his earliest roles) plays an intergalactic superhero called “Space Chief” who tries to stop them. The film climaxes with an endless battle scene in the middle of Tokyo that drags on forever and reuses the same special effects shots over and over again, but just when you think the whole thing’s going to make you doze off, they suddenly cut to a shot of the aliens destroying a building with a large picture of Adolf Hitler on it! WTF?!
So I guess we’re supposed to hate the aliens even more because they dared blow up… the Hitler Building?! I mean, I know Japan and Germany were allies during World War II, but why the hell would Tokyo have a giant building with Hitler’s picture on it in 1961? The presence of this building has been hotly debated amongst MST3K fans. It’s rumoured that the cheapskates who made Neptune Men actually used real World War II stock footage of Tokyo being destroyed for the climactic battle scene and that this may have been a clip of a real building featuring Hitler’s likeness which actually existed and got blown up. However, this has never been confirmed, and in my opinion, the Hitler Building does look an awful lot like a model being destroyed. But if someone actually went to the trouble of building a Hitler Building from a scratch for the purposes of this film, that only puts the needle in the red on my “WTF” meter. Needless to say, I almost wish there was a prequel to Invasion of the Neptune Men, just so I could find out: “What WAS inside the Hitler Building?”.
Mac and Me (1988) – The McDonald’s Dance Number:
I already posted this clip during the early days of The Back Row, but no “WTF” list would be complete without it. For the uninitiated, Mac and Me is considered the most infamous example of a commercial disguised as a feature film. This was a blatant rip-off of E.T. which was filled wall-to-wall with non-stop product placements for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and even the title served as an obnoxious plug for Mickey D’s (“Mac” is an acronym for “mysterious alien creature”… get it?). One scene from the film involving the wheelchair-bound young hero rolling down a hill and plummeting off a steep cliff into a lake became a running gag on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, as Paul Rudd would frequently appear on the show and present that clip. Anyway, the product placement lunacy of Mac and Me reaches its peak during a sequence where our hero disguises his alien friend in a teddy bear costume and takes him to a friend’s birthday party at McDonald’s, which turns out to be the most elaborate children’s birthday party of all time. Ronald McDonald himself is there and the whole party winds up breaking down into a long choreographed dance number. WTF?!
For reasons unknown, there are even a bunch of football players dancing around in there in full equipment! And when Mac leaps onto the counter and starts dancing in his teddy bear costume, the sequence reaches a height of surrealism that Luis Bunuel could only dream of. I mean, if they wanted to set the scene in McDonald’s in order to provide an obnoxious product placement, that’s their business, but this is a point in the story where the hero and the cute little alien are trying to evade government agents. When the movie is supposed to be building suspense, it probably isn’t the best time for them to pull a dance number out of its ass! I first saw this movie when I was nine years old (yes, I actually went to see this in a theatre!) and even back then, this scene confused the hell out of me. You know, I think I was also disappointed that Ronald McDonald’s cameo was so brief since the original trailer for Mac and Me actually tried to present him as the star of the film!
Magnolia (1999) – It’s Raining Frogs:
From the outset, I must establish that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia is one of my all-time favourite films and I consider this to be the ultimate example a GOOD “WTF” scene. If nothing else, this is most definitely a sequence which you do NOT see coming! After jumping between multiple characters and storylines for nearly three hours, Magnolia finally delivers a big climactic event that ties all these threads together when… it starts raining frogs?! WTF?! Yes, after pretty much staying grounded in reality for most of the film, Anderson totally pulls the rug out from underneath his audience with a sequence where Los Angeles is suddenly pelted with thousands of frogs falling from the sky! Now, unlike many of the other selections on this list, I can’t say that the “frog raining” sequence comes completely out of nowhere and has no context. There actually have been documented real-life cases of animals falling from the sky like rain, so this type of thing isn’t unprecedented. One of the underlying themes of Magnolia is unexplained events happening by chance and there are numerous references throughout the film to a passage from Book of Exodus 8:2: “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs”.
However, there’s no way any first-time viewer could hear a reference to that passage and suddenly predict that the whole film was going to end with frogs falling from the sky, so the “WTF” reaction is unavoidable. Even though I personally loved the frog-raining scene, I know of numerous people who thought it was one of the stupidest things they had ever seen in a film, so even the best “WTF” scenes will always be open to debate. But then, I guess if everyone liked it, it wouldn’t be a scene that made you go “WTF”. For another example of a terrific “WTF” scene from Magnolia that I personally love, here’s the sequence where all the main characters simultaneously sing along with Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”.
On Deadly Ground (1994) – Steven Seagal Changes the Essence of a Man:
You may not believe me when I say this, but there was actually a time when Steven Seagal had credibility. Most of his early films are actually pretty decent and while no one was ever accusing of Seagal of being the greatest actor in the world, he was starting to build a reputation as a reliable action star. He hit his peak with the critical and commercial success of Under Siege, but unfortunately, he decided to follow that up with his directorial debut, On Deadly Ground, and pretty much flushed all his goodwill down the toilet. Not only did Seagal prove himself to be completely incompetent at staging and directing action sequences, but he surrounded his film with a preachy environmental message that pretty much makes On Deadly Ground “the Inconvenient Truth of action pictures”. A lot of people think that Seagal’s long sermon about the environment at the end of the film is the “jump the shark” moment of his career, but you could already tell something was wrong during an early sequence where Seagal beats up an asshole and convinces him to change his ways by asking: “What does it take to change the essence of a man?”. WTF?!
One of my personal favourite “That Guys”, Mike Starr, plays the asshole who enjoys insulting Native Americans in a bar. After Seagal beats the crap out of Starr’s buddies, he decides to challenge the asshole to a… uh, game of pattycake, I think. After several minutes of intense hand slapping, Seagal finally beats Starr down and asks him the profound “essence of a man” question. Amazingly, Starr starts crying, says “I need time to change” and sets off on a new path to change his ways! Man, think of all the needless bar fights that could have been prevented if those men had just taken the time to slap each other’s hands and figured out how to change their essence. Anyway, on the list of all-time weirdest movie fight scenes, this one definitely ranks right up there at the very top and was the first indication to the world that Steven Seagal had gone insane! As further evidence, here is Seagal’s climactic environmental speech and keep in mind that the original cut of this speech was 11 MINUTES LONG before the studio made him trim it down!
The Room (2003) – The Flower Shop Scene:
We’ve featured The Room at The Back Row numerous times before and you could almost say that the whole film is just one long 99-minute “WTF” moment. In fact, it cannot be a coincidence that Tommy Wiseau’s initials are “T.W.”, two of the letters that make up “WTF”. Quick, what’s Tommy Wiseau’s middle name and does it start with an “F”? Anyway, The Room is wall-to-wall with scenes that make you go “WTF”, many of which will live in “bad movie” infamy forever. However, the one scene that just seems to baffle and confuse me the most is where Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny goes into a shop to buy flowers for his beloved Lisa. The whole scene is completely pointless and doesn’t even need to be in the movie, but then, you could say that about pretty much ANY scene in the movie! However, it features some of the most awkward pacing and timing I’ve ever witnessed on film and once it’s over, you feel compelled to rewind it and watch it again to completely register what you just saw.
For starters, the flower shop clerk says “Hi, Johnny, I didn’t know it was you” even though she’s staring RIGHT AT HIM! And then, a couple lines of dialogue later, Johnny inexplicably says “That’s me”, as if Tommy Wiseau had forgotten to say the line when he was supposed to and just decided to slip it in there once he remembered it! WTF?! Both actors seem to be spouting off their lines at lightning speed without any regard to whether or not their exchange resembles a real conversation or makes any damn sense! The whole thing almost resembles a live stage performance where someone has forgotten their cue and thrown off everyone’s timing, so that the end result resembles a car wreck. What Mr. Wiseau seems to have forgotten is that this is A MOVIE, which means you can film another take or edit around this shit! It’s really hard to express in words the pure weirdness of this scene, but I think The Nostalgia Critic provides an hilarious analysis.
Slugs: The Movie (1988) – Worst Line of Dialogue Ever:
I had to include at least one astonishingly bad line of dialogue on this list. My idea of a true “WTF” line of dialogue is one that just stops an entire scene cold and makes the viewer say to themselves: “Did I really just hear that?”. As you can imagine, there are SO many lines of terrible dialogue out there to choose from, but I decided to make my selection from a lousy American-Spanish horror film called Slugs: The Movie (as opposed to what – Slugs: The Mammal?), because not a lot of people know about it and, quite frankly, they SHOULD! As you can imagine, Slugs is pretty terrible and contains more than its fair share of “WTF” scenes, but the standout moment occurs when our hero marches into the office of the town mayor (who bears a striking resemblance to Leslie Nielsen) and tries to warn him about the massive slug problem. Of course, it’s a standard cliche for horror movie mayors to be complete dumbasses who don’t listen to anybody, but this guy takes dumbassery to a whole new level with this classic exchange:
Hero: “We’ll declare a health emergency. I’ll take full responsibility.”
Mayor: “You ain’t got the authority to declare Happy Birthday!”
WTF?! What does that even MEAN?! When has anyone EVER needed the authority to declare “Happy Birthday”? In fact, why would you declare “Happy Birthday” in the first place?! Honestly, I think the fact that the mayor resembles Leslie Nielsen makes the scene ten times funnier because “You don’t have the authority to declare Happy Birthday” sounds just like one of those nonsensical lines of dialogue Nielsen would deliver with a straight face in the Naked Gun films to garner a laugh. However, in Slugs, the line is used with 100 % seriousness. That said, if I ever worked as a customs agent, I would probably be using that line ALL THE TIME on people who try to declare something.
They Live (1988) – Rowdy Roddy Piper vs. Keith David:
First off, let me state that I absolutely LOVE this scene and a lot of other people also think that this is one of the greatest fight scenes in cinema history. However, that still doesn’t change the fact that it MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE! I’ve always been a huge fan of John Carpenter’s They Live, where Rowdy Roddy Piper plays Nada, a drifter who finds a pair of mysterious sunglasses that allow him to see hidden subliminal messages and discover that a lot of humans are actually in aliens in disguise. Keith David plays his buddy, Frank, and in this scene, Nada tries to convince him to try these sunglasses on. Frank doesn’t want to put the glasses on, so the two men get into an intense fight over this that goes on for over five minutes! WTF?!
I mean, has there ever been a more illogical reason for a long fight scene in a movie than a guy not wanting to try on a pair of sunglasses?! In fairness, the fight was originally intended to only last twenty seconds, but Piper and David decided to choreograph and rehearse an elaborate five-minute fight scene on their own. Carpenter was so impressed that he decided to include the whole thing in the movie, and the fact that’s he known for being a devout wrestling fan probably influenced his decision. Now, personally, I don’t really CARE that this fight scene make no sense, and think that the fact that it drags on and on for no logical reason is a large part of its charm and entertainment value. However, many critics of They Live have cited this sequence as the film’s “jump the shark” moment and believe it grinds the whole movie to a dead halt. Either way you look at it, this is definitely a scene that makes you go “WTF”, but in my eyes, it’s a delightful “WTF”.
Troll 2 (1990) – The Popcorn Seduction:
Like The Room, you could argue that the infamous Troll 2 is simply one long 95-minute “WTF” moment. Troll 2 has built up a very devoted cult following and has become arguably the most popular bad movie of all time by transcending awfulness in such bizarre ways that the end result is often hilarious and tremendously entertaining. Obviously, the most famous moment in the film is the “OHMYGODDDDDDDDD!” scene, which has since become a legendary Internet meme, but the whole movie is just wall-to-wall with weird moments like that. After sitting through the first hour of Troll 2, the viewer starts to become numb to all the madness and believes the movie couldn’t possibly get any weirder, but somehow, it still manages to deliver one sequence that raises the “WTF” bar as high as it can possibly go. It involves the film’s villain, Creedence Leonore Gielgud, performing a VERY strange seduction on a geeky teenage boy in a motor home. She inexplicably brings a corn on the cob with her and after they both start munching on it together in an erotic fashion, the corn spontaneously explodes into a shower of popcorn. WTF?!
While the poor guy is completely buried in popcorn, a later scene reveals that he survives this, so what exactly was Creedence trying to accomplish here? Anyway, a documentary called Best Worst Movie was released last year about the Troll 2 phenomenon and it features many hilarious interviews with the film’s Italian director, Claudio Fragasso, who genuinely seems to think he made a masterpiece. Whenever anyone asks him a perfectly reasonable question (such as why Troll 2 doesn’t feature any actual trolls!), he angrily says in his broken English: “No, no! You just don’t get it! You understand nothing!”. So if you happen to think the popcorn seduction scene is one of the most baffling things you’ve ever seen and that it must have taken an awful lot of drugs to dream it up, remember: you just don’t get it and you understand nothing!
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) – The Tunnel Sequence:
Okay, I know that Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory is a wonderful beloved classic, but even its biggest fans have to acknowledge the large elephant in the room whenever the film is discussed. I’m sure most of you already know what it is, but it bears repeating: just what IS the deal with that sequence where Willy Wonka takes his guests on a boat ride through that dark tunnel and treats them to fucked-up images like a chicken getting its head cut off? What the hell is up with that creepy poem Wonka recites? What possible purpose does this scene serve except to needlessly scare the shit out of every single child who watches it? WTF?! I mean, what he does it say when Tim friggin’ Burton did a remake of this film and even he thought “I ain’t touching this shit”?!
In retrospect, it’s not really the scene itself that makes you go “WTF”, but the fact that’s it never referenced again during the rest of the film! I mean, the characters on the boat act terrified about the whole experience while it’s happening, yet no one bothers to acknowledge it afterward and they just simply follow Wonka along as he continues his tour. Even though the parents of the bratty kids are constantly bitching at Wonka for every little thing throughout the whole tour, none of them take a moment to ask: “Dude, what the fuck was up with that tunnel?!”. Anyway, the clip I posted here was from the MST3K Rifftrax version of the film, featuring special guest riffer Neil Patrick Harris! Even though most people have never been able to figure out the purpose of the tunnel sequence, NPH does present a plausible explanation for its existence: “It’s for all those eight-year olds who dropped blotter acid before going to see the film”. Ah, makes perfect sense to me!