You've probably been in this situation before: You see a movie on Netflix with an awesome name, like Santa Claus Battles the Demon Unicorns. Your friend convinces you that you should watch this movie together, because it's going to be "so bad it's good." You sit down, put it on, and awkwardly pretend to have fun watching a character actor, who's obviously battling alcoholism in real life, mumble his way through some bad dialogue. Thirty minutes in, you snap and bludgeon your friend to death with the popcorn bowl. Throughout the murder trial you ponder whether the phrase "so bad it's good" has any meaning at all anymore.
Part of this confusion comes from the phrase itself: "So bad it's good" implies that once a movie dips below a certain level of quality, it somehow automatically shifts into the "good" category. If this were the case, channels like SyFy and Lifetime would be the most celebrated forms of entertainment in America. But they're not, and that's because, to achieve true good-badness, movies must follow a surprisingly complex series of rules. For example ...
5They're Not the Same as "Intentionally Bad"
The "so bad it's good" label is often thrown around to describe the cheap, low-quality movies that flood today's Netflix accounts and Redbox machines. These kinds of films, sometimes called B-movies (because they traditionally formed the less-worthy half of a cinematic double billing), were popularized in the 1950s by a production company called America International Pictures. AIP had a unique way of making movies: First, they'd come up with a title that sounded awesome, like I Was a Teenage Werewolf or Terror from the Year 5000. Then they'd commission a poster to match it. Finally, once the truly important stuff was out of the way, they'd hurriedly fart out the actual film.
Via Cool Ass Cinema
Sometimes the title wouldn't even match the movie anymore, and then
the people in the movie comment section got really angry.
This title-comes-first, budget-and-quality-come-last method was so successful that it's still being used today by production companies like the Asylum, the guys responsible for such recent titles as Nazis at the Center of the Earth and 2-Headed Shark Attack. The Asylum gets a great deal of business from people seeing these awesome titles and saying, "Zombies vs. Squirrel Ninjas? Whoa, that must be so bad it's good."
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"The wise win before the fight, but the ignorant fight to win. Remember this, young Puffcheeks McNuttikins."
These viewers inevitably wind up disappointed, though, because Asylum-style B-movies almost never follow the crucial rules of good-bad movies. Like ...
4They Should Succeed on Some Level
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy wrote: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Of course, he was talking about life in 19th century Russia, when they presumably had a greater variety of fatal STDs to keep things interesting than we do now. But the idea still endures that good things are generally monotonous and dull, whereas bad things are terrible in unique, interesting ways. So if a movie looks awful or ridiculous, it must have something inherently interesting about it. This is complete bullshit.
You're such a douche, Tolstoy.
What makes Jurassic Park enjoyable isn't the same thing that made No Country for Old Men a success. The Avengers and The Seventh Seal are not good for the same reasons. But bad movies? Almost always, bad movies are bad in the same way. The acting sucks. The monsters are stupid looking. The ghost shark is just phoning in his lines. It's duller than watching a plant die. And yet these dull B-movies keep making money, because every time we come across a new one (Amish Vampires vs. a Yeti! A Giant Tsunami of Velociraptors!), we convince ourselves that this one will be different.
What we're forgetting is that for a movie to be enjoyably bad, it must also be a success. Remember "Friday" by Rebecca Black? It was a terrible song, yes, but it was also a successful song, because it did what a pop song is meant to do: It got into your head and wouldn't leave.
And now it's there again. Sorry.
Similarly, a good-bad movie should succeed at its job: It should entertain us for 90 minutes. And this achievement is so rare that it's almost impossible. For every Troll 2 or The Wicker Man, there's a thousand bad movies that sank like dead two-headed sharks because they were terrible and boring.
How do some bad movies manage to avoid this and achieve greatness, then?