Some emotional responses may mask what we’re feeling. For example, when we’re nervous, we may laugh even though nothing is funny.
Other responses are exactly what they appear to be. If you say something to someone, you can tell that you said the wrong thing if they cringe. They mean it. Indeed, they can’t even help it.
While some cringey scenes are that way by design, most result from artistic impulses gone wrong, so if you’re a filmmaker and one of your scenes is dubbed “cringey” despite what you intended, cut it out of the movie. Otherwise, it may end up on a list like this one, which recounts ten scenes from the silver screen that we would pay cash to un-see.
‘Batman & Robin’ (1997)
In “Batman & Robin,” Arnold Schwarzenegger played the villain Mr. Freeze, and his dialogue consisted primarily of puns involving ice, such as “Ice to meet you!” This would be cringey enough on its own, but “The Simpsons” character Rainier Wolfcastle – a none-too-subtle parody of Schwarzenegger – had already made the same joke in a 1993 episode, making it both cringey and unoriginal.
‘Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ (2006)
If you cringed at any point in this 2006 comedy, then you got the experience the filmmakers intended. The story of a hapless Kazakh journalist who comes to America and runs afoul of every societal norm derives its humor from the character putting himself in situations that we really don’t want to see him in. All are awkward, but none hold a candle to the most traumatizing one, in which he and his manager wage naked combat in a hotel hosting a mortgage broker’s convention.
Few movies stink as odiferously as Oscar candidates gone wrong, and the 2019 version of the musical “Cats” is a prime example. When watching this 110-minute crime against humanity, finding a scene that doesn’t induce cringing is a challenge. But since we can pick only one, we’re going with when the Jellicle cat Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), sings “The Old Gumbie Cat,” a scene that gets so much so wrong so fast that it feels like you just ate 20 expired edibles.
The 1997 action movie “Face/Off” stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as a cop and a criminal, respectively, who switch faces via a ridiculous medical procedure that exists nowhere on earth. If you can ignore at least 80% of the dumb parts, it’s an enjoyable movie, but you will join the rest of the audience in visibly cringing when a high-speed boat chase ensues for absolutely no reason whatsoever towards the end of the movie.
‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008)
The iconic “Indiana Jones” franchise consists of movies that make the unbelievable believable. Having said that, many who saw 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” absolutely could not accept an early scene in which the grizzled archaeologist survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator. It may be that such a maneuver is possible, but in the movie, it was too stupid to escape the audience’s collective cringe.
‘The Room’ (2003)
Whatever filmmaker Tommy Wiseau might have intended for his starring vehicle “The Room,” it’s hard to believe it turned out the way it did on purpose. Every scene is an unmitigated disaster, but if we’re going for maximum cringe, it’s in the sex scene that goes on for what feels like months near the beginning of the movie. Honorable mention must go to the scene in which Wiseau’s character hears an anecdote about a woman physically brutalized by her boyfriend, at which he laughs and says, “What a story, Mark!”
1995’s “Showgirls” is considered one of the worst movies of all time. Like many other films on this list, we’re spoiled for choice when picking a single cringiest scene. While it’s painful to cast aside the one where the main character throws her French Fries or the one where a terrible dancer says he studied at Alvin Ailey, we must concede that the pool sex scene is not only the cringiest in the movie, but in any movie made in the 20th century.
‘Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones’ (2002)
Do you hate sand? Well, angsty teen and future Sith lord Anakin Skywalker not only hates it, but he also goes on at length about it in the cringiest scene in the entire “Star Wars” prequel trilogy. In “Attack of the Clones,” he utters the infamous line, “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere.” It sounds almost as bad as glitter! The woman he says it to ends up marrying him, so if you’re single, give it a whirl at your next speed-dating event.
‘Superman: The Movie’ (1978)
The “Superman” story was never told onscreen as effectively as in this 1978 film. Unfortunately, it features a scene in which Lois Lane recites the poem “Can You Read My Mind?” via voiceover as she and the Man of Steel take a romantic flight through the clouds above Metropolis. The movie gets everything else right, but this scene is so jarring in its clumsiness that it takes a few minutes to forget it happened.
‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)
The cringiest scene in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” is meant to elicit that response from viewers. Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a cabbie smitten with a character played by Cybill Shepherd. Sadly, he’s so socially inept that the one chance he gets to go on a date with her, he takes her to an adult movie theater. She rightly storms out, enraged, and the whole scene is so painfully awkward it makes you want to hide under your seat.