Usually you find bad scenes right where they belong: in the middle of bad movies. But sometimes these terrible scenes surface in films that are otherwise good, like a dead spider bobbing up onto the surface of the milkshake you're drinking. If you leave the movie theater to go pee just before one of these lone bad scenes is playing, you'll find yourself disagreeing with your friends afterward about how good the film was. You're thinking it was great, while all your friends are saying, "But what about that one scene where the hero just starts randomly shooting blue jays?"
For example, there's ...
The 2008 Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In deals with many serious issues, like self-sacrificing love, bullying, and being Swedish. Partway through the film, a woman is attacked by the main character, the child vampire Eli, and soon starts turning into a vampire herself. The vampire-to-be heads to a neighbor's house, possibly planning to attack him and use him as a human kebab. But the man who lives there is the male version of a cat lady, and ... well, this happens.
In case you can't watch that video, the lady vampire is attacked by the man's cat collection. Cats fly at her from all directions and drive her away from her intended victim, or more accurately, the actress is pelted with unmoving cat puppets like she's in some PETA-unapproved version of dodgeball, and said kitty-puppets then pretend to bite her in an orgy of unintended puppet-hilarity.
Why It Ruins Everything:
When I first saw this scene and experienced the audience around me guffawing in hearty laughter, I thought it was because the cat-puppet effects were so bad. Because let's face it: It's a Swedish horror movie, they weren't working with a Michael Bay budget here. But now I think that there's more to the awfulness of this scene than just the "bad puppet" aspect. Even if the filmmakers had spent $56 million and produced a photorealistic cats-attacking-vampire masterpiece, the scene still would have been ridiculous, because cats on screen just can't be that horrifying.
Look at this guy's adorable little head!
"Cat yowls off screen after a character throws something" is a comedy staple for a reason, and that reason is not that animals in pain are hilarious. Cats just have a tendency to be inherently funny. I think it's the gulf between their dignity and their real-life helplessness. A small dog falling off a chair is not funny. A cat falling off a chair is funny, because a cat will fall off that chair with an air of quiet, self-assured dignity, and then look at you afterward like it meant to do that.
Whatever the reason behind kitty-hilarity, audiences are primed to find anything cat-related funny. So while the book that Let the Right One In is based on can pull off the cat-attack scene and actually make it rather touching and poignant, you just can't do that with cats on the screen. Add in some terrible puppet effects, and the result is an audience that's still giggling half an hour later at the adorable little critter chewing on a vampire's leg.
The Book of Eli also happens to be about someone named Eli, although unfortunately he's not a vampire. Instead, he's a guy who travels around post-apocalyptic California protecting a rare book that (spoiler!) turns out to be the last surviving copy of the Bible, written in Braille. After a long journey in which Eli kicks copious ass in order to keep the Bible out of the hands of a Gary Oldman who wants to use it for evil, Eli eventually travels to an island where some shreds of civilization have survived. There, Eli recites the whole Bible from memory so the civilized survivors can transcribe it. Yup, even the boring bits.
"From Ephraim, Elishama, son of Ammihud. From Manasseh, Gamaliel, son of Pedahzur ... wait,
are you just doodling pictures of seahorses?"
That's fine so far, but then comes the ending, which ruins everything. Ending-ruinings are the worst, because you've just spent two hours of your life preparing for a movie to be good, only to see that hope shatter in front of you like a balloon full of cockroaches. It's like watching a gymnast bounce her way through a perfect routine, only to let out a huge, roaring fart in the middle of her last jump. In this particular movie, the ending-fart is this:
The people Eli fought, killed, and eventually died for just so that he could bring them that one copy of the Bible? They print it out, bind it, and stick it on a shelf next to a bunch of other books.
Why It Ruins Everything:
Now, the problem here isn't about one's thoughts on the Bible (or any religious book). Whether you believe that the Bible is the perfect life instruction manual or just a handy heavy thing for squashing centipedes, we're dealing with the book's importance in the context of the movie. And in this movie, viewers have invested two hours of their time and their emotions into Eli's struggle to get his book to a receptive audience. Viewers are then forced to watch the fruit of that struggle dumped in a sad, abandoned-looking library while the "receptive audience" heads back out to play foosball or something. Eli's actions would have had about as much effect if he'd just stayed home and recited the Bible to his pets.
It's kind of like Eli had been carrying the world's last packet of ketchup, fighting off people who wanted to put it on their inferior, soggy french fries. And then he finally reached humanity's last surviving french-fry connoisseurs and dropped the dusty ketchup packet at their feet, only for them to toss it in the back of a fridge somewhere because mayonnaise on fries is way better anyway.
OK, maybe Dear John doesn't qualify as a particularly great movie, but Nicholas Sparks wrote the book it's based on and he's a millionaire, so obviously many, many people enjoy watching his tales of white people with troubled pasts taking a really long time to decide whether they truly love each other.
"Will she still love me when she finds out about my jaw-implant surgery?"
In Dear John, the troubled white couple is John and Savannah. Their years-long quest to decide whether they truly love each other is complicated by their friend Tim, and Savannah eventually dumps John to marry Tim. Troubled white couples need regular infusions of trouble to keep things interesting, though, so Tim quickly comes down with the cancer. John decides to sell the super-valuable coin collection he inherited and buy treatment for his romantic rival. Tim lives, and John walks away with that sweet fuzzy sense of self-satisfaction to keep him warm at night and have sex with him.
Wait, no. That's what happens in the book version. Studio execs decided at the last minute that they didn't like Channing Tatum not ending up with the girl, so a new ending was hurriedly shot explaining that John's hot money injection only allowed Tim to live for an extra two months, after which John and Savannah got back together.
Why It Ruins Everything:
Look, obviously an extra two months of life is far from worthless. You can clean out an entire garage in two months, and we all want to do that before we pass on from this world. But keep in mind that Dear John's whole plot was set up and shot in preparation for the original uplifting ending about John's meaningful sacrifice. So when they attached the new ending, the studio was forced to shove in a voice-over that implied that Tim dying young of cancer was just as equally happy and awesome for all involved:
Uplifting music! Orgasmically satisfied voice-over! Wistfully happy gaze! Some Big Pharma exec got a new ruby-studded yacht out of John's one valuable possession and Tim died anyway, but we should still weep with happiness, because after all, the two more conventionally attractive people in the love triangle ended up together.