Ranking the Terrible Movies of Ed Wood from the Least to Most Hilarious

Edward D. Wood Jr. is the Godfather of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. In the mid-1980s, his low-budget, schlocky b-movies were revitalized in the public eye. Today, they bring joy to millions who find laughter in his charming and ridiculous filmography. Most mainstream audiences would know about this infamous director from the Tim Burton film Ed Woodstarring a bright-eyed Johnny Depp.

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Unfortunately, Ed Wood did not live to see himself become a cult movie hero; in 1978, his long-time struggle with alcoholism caught up with him, and he died in poverty. However, his movies kept growing in popularity and continue growing to this day. Ed Wood lives on in the hearts and minds of film fanatics worldwide. Six films, in particular, stand out in Wood’s filmography before his career shifted into directing and writing for adult films. Though all of his films can be enjoyed for their corniness and ineptitude, some of his movies are worth your time more than others.


6) ‘Night of the Ghouls’ (1959)

The sequel to Bride of the Monster the world was apparently clamoring for, Night of the Ghouls, is unwatchable in every sense of the word. On paper, Night of the Ghouls looks like it should be another laughably terrible Ed Wood romp. Unfortunately, while it is unquestionably a bungling mess, Night of the Ghouls is a chore to sit through. Tor Johnson makes a welcome return as “Lobo,” the lumbering Frankenstein-esque monster from Bride of the Monster, and the dialogue is reliably embarrassing. Asides from that and a moderately amusing séance scene, Night of the Ghouls offers little to the Ed Wood oeuvre.

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Bela Lugosi‘s charm is absent in Night of the Ghouls. Unfortunately, the great Dracula actor and horror legend who graced the screen in Ed Wood’s three most famous pictures passed away before production started. There are some obvious stand-ins for the titular ghouls that are worth a chuckle now and then, but besides that, there are long stretches where nothing happens or where expository scenes are repeated over and over again. Maybe someone would enjoy this if it were their first Ed Wood experience, but once you’ve seen his other works, Ghouls falls short by comparison.

5) ‘Jail Bait’ (1954)

Ed Wood’s second feature, Jail Bait, is a reworking of better crime films of its era, and it’s far less ambitious than his science fiction flicks. It’s definitely not a good film: it’s not even fascinatingly bad like some of his most substantive works. At 70 minutes, Jail Bait still feels too long. One reason Jail Bait is not consistently funny is that there’s far less dialogue and narration than a typical Ed Wood joint. There is, however, a hilarious scene that involves a son confessing to his father that he murdered someone. The father shakes his head and gives his son a stern talking-to, as if he had just eaten a cookie before dinner, rather than taking a life.

The sound editing may be the worst in any of his movies, the score is just one song played on an endless loop, and there’s also an unbelievably uncomfortable minstrel show roughly 15 minutes in. In contrast to his most famous works, though, Wood incorporates real locations instead of comically cheap sets and halfway competently frames sequences. It may seem like faint praise, but if Wood continued making films up to the standard of Jail Baithe wouldn’t be considered one of the worst directors ever.

4) ‘The Sinister Urge’ (1960)

Out of every Ed Wood movie, The Sinister Urge is the closest to passing for a real movie. Like Jail Baitthere are occasional hints of competence. The Sinister Urge even has proper stakes and keeps you engaged throughout. It’s not hilarious, but it is fascinating. The dialogue is terrible, there’s an abundance of over-dramatic musical stings, and there are several scenes where you can see both the boom mic and its shadow.

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The Sinister Urge is a propaganda film about the evils of pornography and its detrimental effect on society. The nuance and understanding Wood so thoughtfully illustrated in Glen or Glenda is entirely absent here. A Sinister Urge is to porn what Reefer Madness is to cannabis. It’s a hyperbolic, fear-mongering picture with absurd lines like “Smut peddling is worse than kidnapping or dope peddling!” This demonization of pornography is particularly ironic, as Ed Wood would spend the rest of his career directing softcore pornographic films. While The Sinister Urge claims to be a movie about how awful pornography is, it is itself a sexploitation film specifically designed to titillate voyeuristic male viewers. Urge was a sleazy attempt by the production company, Headliner Productions, to capitalize on the success of Peeping Tom and Psychothough without any of that pesky “artistry” getting in the way.

3) ‘Glen or Glenda’ (1953)

Glen or Glenda is fascinating in every way. Initially intended by Z-grade producer, George Weiss, to be an exploitation film about America’s first high-profile sex-change operation, Wood had different ideas. Instead of treating trans people and cross-dressers as exhibits in a freak show, Wood uses his first full-length film to promote tolerance and sympathy for the LGBT+ community at a time when most Americans couldn’t even conceptualize what being transgender was. Wood was a cross-dresser himself and played the titular character. Glen or Glenda is an extended plea to the world for acceptance.

Bela Lugosi plays the narrator, or perhaps he’s “the puppet master”? It’s not clear what his purpose is. His scenes involve him sitting in an armchair, playing with a phony chemistry set, or reacting to super-imposed stock footage. His dialogue is lofty-sounding gibberish, and it’s the highlight of the movie. Glen or Glenda is not a mere fiction movie nor a documentary; it’s more akin to a docudrama. Though it’s poorly made and shot on a shoestring budget, it’s strangely bold and ahead of its time. There is also a nightmare sequence full of artistry you wouldn’t expect from a B-movie, especially one in the 1950s. It’s not a great flick, but it’s unlike anything you have seen or will ever see again.

2) ‘Bride of the Monster’ (1955)

Bride of the Monster is the first movie (followed by Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls) in what fans have dubbed “The Kelton Trilogy,” named after the bumbling policeman “Officer Kelton” (played by long-time Ed Wood gofer, Paul Marco) who appears in all three films. Bride also marks the first appearance of mammoth wrestler Tor Johnson in an Ed Wood joint. He plays a grotesque henchman (“Lobo”) to Bela Lugosi’s mad scientist character. Lobo is an amalgam of Igor and Frankenstein’s monster. Tor Johnson’s make-up is terrible, and his acting is not much better. The greatest moments in Bride of the Monster involve a giant octopus “attacking” its victims. Ed Wood either stole or borrowed (the details are sketchy) a giant octopus prop from another studio but forgot to take the motor that made it function, so we get actors and stuntmen flailing on top of a giant rubber squid, screaming while pretending to be eaten alive. It’s hilarious.

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The only film by Wood to star Bela Lugosi as the lead character, Bride of the Monster, is Bela Lugosi’s movie. No matter how stilted and unconvincing the dialogue may be, Lugosi formidably acts it out with the same respect one would give the writing of Shakespeare. It’s up for debate whether his performance is good or not, but unlike so many fading stars at the end of their careers, he gives it his all. Bride foreshadowed the greatness of Ed Wood’s next film, which would become the crown jewel in his filmography.

1) ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959)

“He’s dead. Murdered. And somebody’s responsible!”.

It may be a predictable choice, but Plan 9 From Outer Space is the most entertaining Ed Wood flick. It’s worth the hype. A semi-rip-off of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Plan 9 is about the dumbest aliens ever trying to warn humanity about Earth’s imminent destruction. The only problem is that every government on Earth denies the aliens’ existence whenever they reach out for contact. Instead of broadcasting their existence on television, landing a spaceship in a populated area, or any of the other million ways they could easily prove their existence to everyone on Earth, the aliens resurrect three dead people in a small town and have them slowly lumber around . If this doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry, that’s part of the fun.

Plan 9 is so watchable and fascinating because it has far more variation than other Wood productions, allowing extra room for unintentional comedy. Whether they’re scenes in a cheap spaceship set, in a graveyard with cardboard tombstones, or just on someone’s porch, every scene is a goldmine of hilarity. One second you’re laughing at the redundant narration of sham psychic “The Amazing Criswell,” and the next, you’re howling at the goofy flying saucer effects. There are too many memorable scenes to list; luckily, Plan 9 is in the public domain, so you can watch it free on YouTube anytime, along with the other movies on this list.

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