How ‘Xanadu’ and Village People Helped Birth the Razzies
To be recognized as the best of something is an achievement worthy of pride. But to be recognized as the worst - and given a physical award for it - is a considerably less triumphant moment.
The Golden Raspberry Awards, or the Razzies, have served as Hollywood's top satirical award show for four decades, annually presenting stars with trophies for their cinematic underachievements. But how did such a nontraditional tradition begin?
The idea spawned from John Wilson, a UCLA film graduate and publicity professional who, in 1981, was hosting an Oscars party at his home in Hollywood. As usual, the ceremony began around 5PM California time and ended around nine in the evening, leaving the night still young. Not quite ready to call it quits, Wilson set up a small cardboard podium and invited his guests to put forth nominations for the worst films and performances of 1980. The lucky recipients of those first awards were Allan Carr's Can't Stop the Music, a fictional account of disco kings Village People that won Worst Picture, and Robert Greenwald for Worst Director with Xanadu.
"I happened to pay 99 cents for a double feature of Can't Stop the Music and Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu and was refused my money back afterward," Wilson told Time in 2009. And because of the nature of his job with a movie-trailer company, Wilson had recently been asked to watch more than 250 recent releases slated for competition. So, he had seen them all: the good, the bad and the ugly. But in accordance with his friends' votes that evening in 1981, Newton-John did not win Worst Actress; that honor was bestowed to Brooke Shields for her performance in The Blue Lagoon, while Neil Diamond took home Worst Actor for his role in The Jazz Singer.
The event was really only intended to be a fun activity among friends, but the next year Wilson did it again ... and then he did it again the following year. Before long, word got around town, and suddenly the industry knew all about his annual parody show. By the time the fourth annual Razzies were held - by then, they had graduated from the confines of Wilson's living room to a larger space - the event was being covered by multiple news networks.
"When we moved it to the night before the Oscars, it suddenly became this big deal," Wilson noted. "Part of it is that you have all this press in town for the Oscars from all around the world, and the night before the show, they really have nothing else to do."
It eventually turned out that even the stars themselves didn't have much else to do. Occasionally, a nominee would attend the event and perhaps even say a few words. Paul Verhoeven, who won Worst Director for Showgirls, appeared at the 16th Razzie Awards in 1995. "He sat through the entire ceremony," Wilson recalled, "and then got up at the end and said, 'Obviously, my film has entertained you, but not in the way I intended it to.'"
Some actors have taken the nominations more personally over the years. On a 2021 episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, guest Eddie Murphy, a nine-time Razzie Award nominee and three-time winner (for his performances in Norbit, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and Meet Dave), noted that it wasn't particularly thrilling to be consistently labeled the worst. At the 2010 Razzie ceremony, he was even deemed the Worst Actor of the Decade.
“I was making shitty movies,” Murphy said. “I was like, ‘This shit ain’t fun. They’re giving me Razzies. … Motherfuckers gave me the ‘worst actor ever’ Razzie. [So I thought], ‘Maybe it’s time to take a break.’” After appearing in 14 movies the previous decade, Murphy has starred in only five since 2011, including 2019's well-received Dolemite Is My Name, for which his performance garnered substantial praise and earned him a Razzie Redeemer Award, an honor granted to those who manage to come back from their lowest critical or commercial career points.
The intention of the Razzies was never to purposefully make those in the industry question their value but to encourage them to find some humor in productions that aren't necessarily blockbuster successes. Plus, the nature of the Razzie Awards was always purely subjective. Some Razzie nominees have also been nominated for actual Academy awards and have, despite their critics, won. "There are some people in Hollywood who get the joke," Wilson said. "But most just seem to hate it and wish we would go away — which, of course, makes all this that much funnier."
One person who did indeed get the joke was Halle Berry, who won Worst Actress at the 25th Razzie Awards for her role in 2004's Catwoman. "I want to thank Warner Bros., thank you for putting me in a piece-of-shit, god-awful movie," Berry said in her satirical acceptance speech. "You know, it was just what my career needed, I was at the top and then Catwoman just plummeted me to the bottom. Love it. It's hard being on top; it's much better being on the bottom."
Watch Halle Berry Accept Her Razzie Award