Is Cell — which hits limited theaters this weekend after debuting on VOD formats June 10 and suffering numerous release-date delays — the worst Stephen King adaptation of all time? It”s impossible to definitively answer to that question! Still, based on the film”s bleak 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, it”s very possibly one of the worst, and given the competition, that's something.
A couple of caveats:
1. Cell was presumably not screened for many (if any) critics, given the low number of reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes (20 as of this writing). Films tend to benefit from a greater number of reviews given that they offer a broader spectrum of opinions, some of which are bound to be less discerning.
2. A Rotten Tomatoes score of 0% doesn”t mean a film was universally given ”F”/”zero star” reviews; it means that every review tabulated was “net negative.” A more accurate representation of the critical community”s assessment can be discerned through a film's “Average rating,” which for Cell currently stands at 3.6/10. That”s very similar to the film”s 37/100 score on review aggregator Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average to come up with its own scores.
In any event, that 0% score has gotta hurt for everyone involved, from director Tod Williams to stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson to King himself, who shares screenwriting credit on the project with Adam Alleca. Here”s how the site”s “Critics Consensus” interprets the results for the film, which centers on a zombie plague that's kicked off by a mysterious electrical signal transmitted through cell phones:
“Shoddily crafted and devoid of suspense, Cell squanders a capable cast and Stephen King's once-prescient source material on a bland rehash of zombie cliches.”
That”s a pretty grim assessment no matter how you slice and dice it, but could Cell actually be worse than all of those other terrible Stephen King adaptations? It certainly boasts the lowest RT average of any of those others by far, though a few come reasonably close, with 1990″s Graveyard Shift ranking the second-lowest with a score of 13% (and an “average rating” of 3.9/10 from 8 reviews).
Next on the list comes 1996″s Thinner with a score of 16% and an average rating of 3.7/10 based on 19 reviews, while the King-directed Maximum Overdrive is just a notch above that with 17%, though that film actually boasts a worse “average rating” than either Graveyard Shift, Thinner or Cell with a measly 3/10 (from 12 reviews). And while 1995″s The Mangler carries a marginally better overall score of 20%, its “average rating” is far worse than any other King adaptation at 2.3/10 (10 reviews).
Other King adaptations with dismal RT scores include 1993″s Needful Things (26%, 4/10 average rating from 23 reviews), 2004″s Riding the Bullet (27%, 4.2/10 average rating from 22 reviews) and 2003″s Dreamcatcher (30%, 4.7/10 average rating from 168 reviews). (I should mention that I”m including only theatrically-released adaptations here to offer a fairer basis of comparison, as TV movies tend to be judged differently than their big-screen counterparts.)
Cell“s critical drubbing is even more notable given that a) the screenplay was written by King himself and b) it stars Cusack and Jackson, who previously toplined one of the better King adaptations, 2007″s 1408. That film was certified “Fresh” at 79% (6.7 average rating, 170 reviews), a far cry from the duo's subsequent pairing.
Again, it's impossible to objectively determine the worst Stephen King movie adaptation, critical aggregators be damned. Every King movie fan will inevitably have a different opinion on what the worst is, and that is as it should be. Personally, I would put the oddly-revered Children of the Corn at the top of the list of all-time stinkers, even though I know the film has its share of admirers (for some reason). Whatever the case, you can fully expect Cell to be included in that conversation in the years to come.