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5 Popular Movies and Their Obviously Superior Counterparts

For every wildly popular movie that rampages through the box office like a cash-hungry Pac-Man, there is another film that took the same idea and did it way better, only to languish in relative obscurity. For every Hunger Games, there is a Battle Royale. For every Kick-Ass, there is a Super. For every Rollerball, there is a Rollerball. Those films should be the ones with millions of Facebook fans, angry message board defenders, and gift baskets full of wealth and nudity. Here are five mediocre movies that overshadowed great ones (please forward all wealth and nudity baskets to me, and I'll make sure they get them).

#5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Big Talk Films/Universal Pictures

I am easily the only person I know, and possibly the only person on the Internet, who did not like Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I really wanted to like it -- I love Edgar Wright, and I loved the comics. I saw it the day it came out at the earliest possible showing I could attend, because my employment situation at that time was largely theoretical.

Big Talk Films/Universal Pictures
"Take that, student loans!" -poverty forbearance.

For the first half hour, I was super into it, but then the ending rolled around and blasted me in the face with a thunderous anal belch. They turned strong, willful Ramona into a helpless damsel that needed to be rescued (whereas, in the original story, she just left, and neither Scott nor the villainous Gideon had any idea where she went -- each assumed she was with the other). The ending of the comics was about both Scott and Ramona needing to grow up and accept responsibility for the harm they'd caused others -- the ending of the movie is about Scott apologizing to a few ex-girlfriends and rescuing Ramona, who is literally being mind-controlled by her former boyfriend, because women be shopping.

Big Talk Films/Universal Pictures
"But if she doesn't just do what she's told, audiences will be confused." -Hollywood.

Also, I hated Michael Cera as Scott (I don't hate Michael Cera, but he was completely wrong for the character). Scott Pilgrim in the story is an unreliable narrator, a person who is so completely self-absorbed that he notices people only when he is infatuated with them or he believes they are causing him some kind of personal injury. We are at his mercy for most of the book, because we have no choice but to see his version of events both past and present. It's only when he starts to realize what a shitty person he's being that we are finally given an undoctored view of what really happened. In the movie, Michael Cera awkwardly mumbles his way through obvious lies that are played for laughs. The most unreliable part of his narration is him asking us to believe that he's drowning in attractive women. And that anyone would have ever broken up with Chris Evans for any reason.

Big Talk Films/Universal Pictures
Really, the movie should've just been about him.

The Objectively Superior Counterpart: River City Rumble

X-Strike Studios

River City Rumble (loosely based on River City Ransom for the Nintendo Children's Make Fun Time Video Play Box) is about a guy and his best friend beating up a legion of color-coordinated thug-bros to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from the clutches of the nefarious Slick, who rules over River City's gang population from within the local high school like Ernie Hudson in The Substitute. It was heroically produced by X-Strike Studios, an independent company that is so independent you can't really even refer to them as independent because it sounds too prestigious, almost a decade before Scott Pilgrim came out. It's essentially a bunch of friends who got together and made a video game movie shot entirely on handheld video, but if you can overlook that (and you should), you will find the movie that I really wanted Scott Pilgrim to be. River City Rumble joyfully plunders its source material and celebrates its own blazingly nerdy absurdity -- Scott Pilgrim was no less joyous, but it wasted too much time and energy trying to be cool, like a kid who admitted to playing Street Fighter only after hipsters began wearing video game T-shirts.

X-Strike Studios
Emphasis on "absurdity."

X-Strike Studios must have been cursing with incandescent rage when Scott Pilgrim came out, because River City Rumble literally did every single thing that Scott Pilgrim does, with admittedly less style but way more substance. Bad guys get beat up and drop coins. There are boss fights, hidden item rooms, power-ups, and 8-bit video game sprites aplenty.

X-Strike Studios
And people getting thrown off of goddamned bridges.

The heroes get into an argument over which one of them is Player 1 and which is Player 2. Two villains are defeated by the pixelated Lee brothers from Double Dragon, and the main character gains a secret special ability called Stone Hands, which he uses to detonate a man's head with a single punch.

X-Strike Studios
This is the dessert section of the menu for the greatest 71 minutes of your entire life.

River City Rumble should retroactively win that year's Academy Award for best picture; Return of the King can suck a fart out of my hobbit hole.

X-Strike Studios
What? That fart needed to happen.

#4. Taken

20th Century Fox

Taken is my specific example, but really I'm talking about every movie in the recently minted "Liam Neeson beats the shit out of everything" genre. Don't get me wrong, I love this genre. I want Liam Neeson to be the guest speaker at every major event of my life, including my wedding and the first time I buy a new car. And I'm clearly not the only one -- every installment in Liam Neeson Rage-Punches the World With Bullet Fists rakes in around $100 million. The formula for each is basically the same -- he stalks around whispering articulately ferocious threats in some exotic foreign locale and scowl-murders all those who cross his path of righteous fury.

20th Century Fox
This man either foolishly kidnapped Liam Neeson's daughter or foolishly asked Liam Neeson to autograph his Krull DVD.

The Objectively Superior Counterpart: Hanna

Focus Features

Hanna is all of those things, plus a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers. It's a more restrained and artfully done version of Liam Neeson's globetrotting murder sprees, using the revenge film template to tell a story that is essentially about a girl growing up. Hanna just happens to straight-up slay motherfuckers with her bare hands on her journey out of adolescence, as opposed to writing poetry in her journal while listening to a Saddle Creek Records compilation.

Focus Features
"You guys go on ahead to the coffee shop. I have to hollow out this bear carcass and make it into a suit of armor."

In the film, Hanna is a genetically modified assassin created by a secret government program, but she's stolen away by her surrogate CIA father, played by Eric Bana, to live in the wilderness rather than be turned into a soulless killing machine. He spends the next decade and a half training Hanna to kill, because Eric Bana does not believe in irony. He also doesn't believe in boats, as evidenced by the scene wherein he strips down to his underwear and swims across the Baltic Sea.

Focus Features
Pictured: That thing I just said, totally happening.

Hanna, meanwhile, sets out to destroy Marissa, the evil government agent who created the super-soldier program and murdered her biological mother. There are so many fistfights, gunfights, foot chases, and tense cat-and-mouse sequences dusted with sprinkles of German weirdness that I am amazed it isn't part of the Justice League of constantly rotating GIF sets on Tumblr.

Focus Features
Don't worry -- this sequence is never explained.

The most appealing thing about Hanna, to me, is how unlikely a movie it is. Saoirse Ronan, the teenage girl from Atonement and The Lovely Bones, is a force of goddamned nature. Every single character in the movie that raises a hand to her in anger gets the absolute shit killed out of them. It's like Soldier if Kurt Russell had been a 90-pound Irish female and people had actually watched that movie.

Focus Features
"I'm not even IN Krull!"

#3. Juno

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Juno was the movie that made people around the world realize how much they wanted a pet Ellen Page for Christmas. Ostensibly, it's about a teenager dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, but it's really just a 90-minute collection of witty retorts. It's like a piece of Kevin Smith fan fiction. Ellen Page is just so likable that we forgive the movie, sort of like how we all agree to overlook the many, many problems with The Dark Knight because Heath Ledger kills it so hard every time he is onscreen.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
There is something eerily captivating about a Canadian pixie behaving like a jaded rest-home comedian.

For example, Juno and her friend furnish Michael Cera's bastard-fathering front lawn with an entire living room set, under cover of darkness, without alerting a soul in the neighborhood, in order to catch him on his way out for early-morning track practice. How does she clean all that up? Michael Cera can't help or he'll be late for practice. And unless Juno wants to just leave it on the lawn, she'll need to pull a fucking Silverado and an extra set of hands out of her jacket pocket. Evidently, she's a wry, hip sorceress.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
With so much irony to spare, maybe she can teach Alanis Morisette what that word actually means.

Later on, in the movie's quest to be ironically cool, Juno misquotes ThunderCats by saying "ThunderCats are go!" ThunderCats have never been go, ever, in their entire lives. Thunderbirds were go. The mustering battle cry of the ThunderCats was "ThunderCats ho!" Way to go, Diablo Cody. That would've taken five seconds and a clear path to a Google search bar to verify.

The Objectively Superior Counterpart: Hard Candy

Lionsgate

Hard Candy is the film that should've catapulted Ellen Page into everyone's living room. She plays a volatile, possibly psychopathic teenage girl who imprisons the child-predacious Patrick Wilson inside his own house after he seduces her in a chatroom with promises of a Goldfrapp bootleg. Next to baiting a box trap with Chris Hansen in pleats and pigtails, this is possibly the most obvious set-up in history, because nobody likes Goldfrapp. Anyway, we soon learn that one of Ellen's friends was kidnapped and murdered by a suspicious Internet character, and she means to torture a confession out of Patrick like the Chinese man in Lethal Weapon.

Lionsgate
Mel Gibson is actually hooting a varsity stream of gibberish in the next room.

This movie is crazy. There's really just those two actors in it -- 98 percent of the film takes place in one location, with them being the only people onscreen. It's like watching a minimalist play wherein one of the characters tries to surgically remove the other's testicles.

Lionsgate
I won't spoil who.

Juno was cute and occasionally funny, but Hard Candy is a thousand times more engaging, particularly the first time you watch it -- it goes back and forth between righteous Death Wish revenge and terrifying home invasion so often that it eventually becomes staggeringly unclear who the villain really is.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Whereas in Juno it's pretty clear that Jason Bateman's penis is the villain.

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Tom Reimann

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