5 Famously Terrible Movies (That Actually Don't Suck)
There have been lots of articles about big film flops and/or the worst movies ever made. Usually, they're filled with stats about inflated budgets, production problems and crappy box office returns. Or sometimes, they're just long-winded rants about substandard writing, directing and acting, regardless of box office returns. But over the years, I've noticed that a handful of these movies not only don't suck, but are actually enjoyable. Don't get me wrong, Waterworld, Gigli and Matrix 3 are all as terrible as everyone says, but a "bad" movie's reputation doesn't always go hand in hand with reality. Some of these duds just don't deserve their reputations. Instead, the public had some agenda for hating that far outweighed anything that ever happened on screen.
But, again, Waterworld did indeed suck.
Jurassic Park III
In 2001, we got to see the third installment of the Jurassic Park series. Here, Tea Leoni and William H. Macy essentially kidnap Sam Neill from the first movie to find their son, who is lost on a dino-filled island. That's about it.
Why People Hate It: Unlike the first two movies, Jurassic Park III was not based on a book by Michael Crichton or directed by Steven Spielberg. It had none of the legitimacy of the first two films. Instead of being an exploration of the possibilities of genetic manipulations and the responsibilities of science, it was just a movie about killer dinosaurs.
Why It's Still Good: Jurassic Park III is just a movie about killer dinosaurs!!! Let me tell you something about the first two Jurassic Parks. They kind of suck. The characters are flat, the plot is contrived and Spielberg doesn't do anything in them that he didn't do in Jaws. They're land shark movies, and Jeff Goldblum's monologues about science's moral obligations or Vince Vaughn's Greenpeace rants don't change that. I remember when Jurassic Park came out. It was a watershed moment in the infancy of CGI. We went to the movies for one reason: to see what dinosaurs really looked like. Sixty years of suspended disbelief with stop-motion animation wasn't cutting it.
Jurassic Park III understood this. It is a tight, simple story about a boy on an island of dinosaurs, and CGI had only improved since the first movie. Unlike those vaguely awkward, translucent ostrich-like dinos in JP1, these dinosaurs looked real, and there were lots of them. All the time. Call me a Philistine, but that's all I ever wanted from a movie about 21st century dinosaurs, and JP3 delivered.
Terrible individual songwriters Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty join up to become an awful songwriting team in Elaine May's Ishtar. Soon after, they get wrapped up in a tale of U.S./Middle Eastern intrigue.
Why People Hate It: Ishtar was plagued with production problems. The shoot went long, and delays caused the film to go millions over budget, in part due to the difficulties of desert shooting. Whenever something goes over budget without obvious Titanic-esque special effects, people seem eager to hate. And there were more problems. Even though Warren Beatty is a talented comedic actor, people just don't want him to be funny, especially when he's playing against type as a bumbling clod.
There are no good clips online. Enjoy a movie poster!
Why It's Still Good: Because it's funny. Not all of it, but a lot it is just funny. And why wouldn't it be? Elaine May is a comedic genius. No student of comedy would ever tell you otherwise. In the early '60s, she and her partner Mike Nichols put together a string of classic comedy sketches. Ones like this:
May, Hoffman and Paul Williams wrote some incredibly bad songs that still crack me up, and Ishtar also has Charles Grodin, who, at that time, had not yet decided to forgo being funny to yell at huge dogs named Beethoven.
And yet no one talks about how this movie sucks.
I can't find a single good clip of Ishtar online, but you'll just have to trust me. If you rent it, you will laugh. And it's not just me who thinks so. Apparently, after seeing the movie, Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson said he wanted to apologize for his cartoon where Ishtar is the only movie in hell's video store. Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright have both said that they like the film, and Martin Scorsese called it one of his favorite movies of all time.
The Razor's Edge
For the last decade or so, people have finally accepted that Bill Murray is a talented dramatic actor. He chipped away at the former perception of himself as the SNL/Meatballs drinking buddy we all wanted with darker roles that still had a trace of comedy. But back in 1984, he jumped into a dramatic role with both feet in his remake of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge. It's the story of a soldier, Larry Darrell, who comes home from World War I, traumatized and wanting more from life than the upper crust society life he was born into. He travels the world looking for enlightenment until returning home to America with the lessons learned.
Why People Hate It: It's not funny. That's a big one. Also, Bill Murray is probably a little too old for his character. His character is also supposed to be a bit boyishly handsome, and while I would certainly switch teams for Bill Murray snuggles, I don't think he quite pulled off boyishly handsome in the movie:
Maybe it's me.
People were just not ready to see Bill Murray try to be taken seriously and they rejected it out of hand. Rather than critiquing the movie, people just used it as a lesson about allegedly ingrate celebs who weren't content to just be funny and famous.
Why It's Still Good: Watch it. The Razor's Edge tells a compelling philosophical story about the meaning of existence. Yeah, how often do you say that? Also, Bill Murray and Teresa Russell have really good on screen chemistry, and Bill's brother Brian Doyle Murray gives a great performance as a World War I captain who eulogizes the dead with insults to ease the pain of their loss.
But if you really want to be impressed with the movie, read the book. I did. Ouch. It's every bit as dry as you would expect from a book about a man's search for existence. But Murray humanizes Larry, makes him sad and compelling, generating tremendous empathy like few actors can.
In 1997, director Adrian Lyne decided to remake Stanley Kubrick's version of Vladimir Nabokov's classic book Lolita -- the story of a college professor who marries a woman, only to engage in a pseudo-incestral, fully pedophilic relationship with her teenaged daughter. In doing so, he stayed closer to the source text, engaged in pitch-perfect casting and created one of the biggest financial flops in film in the last 15 years.
Why People Hate It: It's always a gamble with a remake. There is a natural hostility toward people who can't leave well enough alone. We want those films to fail to beat the arrogance out of directors for thinking they can do it better. Even more so when they have the audacity to remake a movie by the brilliant Stanley Kubrick.
Why It's Still Good: While Kubrick may have been a genius, making some of the most important films of all time, Lolita isn't one of them. The already controversial material was difficult to film in 1962, and had to be toned down. A bigger problem for me, though, was Kubrick's casting of the titular role. This is his Lolita, Sue Lyon:
Although she was a teen, she looked older, and she flits about the screen in her sassy pants like a pouty girl gone wild. The pedophilia seems more like an age difference than a crime. Lyne, however, cast Dominique Swain:
Although there is a trace of an older sexuality in some moments, the audience never loses sight of the fact that this is a girl. That Professor Humbert is broken in some way that allows him to behave like this. It is the difference that makes the movie work as it should and as the novel intended. The only downside is that the child pornographer played by Frank Langella is not nearly as seedily hilarious as Peter Sellers played him in Kubrick's film. (But again, that, too, is more in the spirit of the book.)
All right, let's have it! I'm ready for you. Spider-Man 3 did not suck. You heard me. Was it as good as Spider-Man 2? No. Few comic book movies are. Did it have some terribly, awfully horrific, unforgivable moments? Good God, yes.
Shut up, I already said yes.
For anyone who doesn't know, Spider-Man 3 was Sam Raimi's third and final installment in the series. It's the one with Sandman and Venom and, yes, Emo Peter Parker.
Cut it out!
And despite being one of the better superhero movies ever made, it's hated as if it were the original Captain America or Fantastic Four. But I argue that if you look at what's great about SM3 and compare it to what's horrible, you still end up with a pretty good movie that does not deserve the reputation it has now received.
Why People Hate It: Quite simply, SM3 bit off more than it could ever possibly chew. It had three bad guys, two girlfriends and new details regarding Uncle Ben's murder from the first movie. And in that mess of details some things went very, very wrong. And even though I like the movie, there are things I won't defend.
Things like Gwen Stacy. Yeah, she was supposed to be in the Spider-Man universe, but Raimi already nixed her in the first movie when he ignored the comic and made Mary Jane the high school girlfriend. So why bring her up now? It was just one more character in an already crowded movie. And while we're at it, Mary Jane kinda sucks here, too. She kinda sucked in all the movies, but here she gets real screen time. Bad.
But maybe the biggest problem with Spider-Man 3 is the Green Goblin story. Harry goes from the new Green Goblin, sworn to kill Spidey, to an amnesiac who loves Peter Parker, to a vengeful monster bent on Spidey's destruction, to a repentant sinning martyr who gives his life to save his friend. That is an obscene character arc for any movie, let alone one with two other bad guys.
So yeah, no argument from me. The love story sucks and the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin character arc is a total mess.
Why It's Still Good: Let's talk about what the movie gets right, because it's a lot more than what went wrong. Let's start with Venom. Like every Spider-Man fan, I was stoked for Venom's inclusion because there's a real dearth of quality villains in Spidey's universe. We all wanted Venom, and the special effects around him were perfectly executed. I also approve of the Topher Grace casting as Eddie Brock, the man ultimately consumed by Venom. Some argued Brock should have been more of a buff bruiser like in the comic, but since Venom is like a "bad Spider-Man," it made sense to cast an actor who could portray a dark reflection of Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man.
Raimi also did a lot more than just add a kickass enemy; he built the movie's entire theme around the villain. Venom is a powerful black substance from outer space that thrives on negative human emotions, and SM3 is about overcoming those emotions -- particularly revenge. What greater incentive for revenge would Spider-Man have than finding the man who killed Uncle Ben? We learn that the carjacking thug from the first movie was only the accomplice of the man who actually killed Ben Parker. What's more, Uncle Ben's murderer shot him accidentally and was only a part of the robbery to get money for his daughter's medical treatment. Even more ambitious, that murderer later becomes Sandman.
That's a lot of plot right there, but the thing is, all of that works. I've never heard anyone say anything negative about those parts of the movie, and those are the main parts. But there's another reason SM3 deserves praise: Sandman. Yeah, Sandman. Sandman is maybe one of the most ridiculous villains ever. He's a man made of sand with all the wonderful shape-shifting abilities of ... sand. But Raimi imbues him with such pathos that he becomes one of the most compelling comic book characters ever on the screen. We learn that Sandman was a loving father who turned to crime only to save his daughter's life. And it's his love for his daughter that motivates him to figure out how to reassemble his body from obliterated molecules mixed with sand into something approximating a man. It is one of the most moving things I've ever seen on film.
So let's tally up SM3: It chooses the right villain, Venom, executes him perfectly on screen and builds a whole thematic structure around that villain. Then it takes a third-rate villain like Sandman and makes him compelling -- integrating him perfectly into that theme about forgiveness and redemption. Those are huge accomplishments. On the downside you have the Green Goblin mess, a stupid love story and this:
I still think the good outweighs the bad. Oh, and I have to confess, I thought some of the Emo Spider-Man stuff was kinda funny.
Also kinda funny? The season finale of HATE BY NUMBERS about Principal Lady Gaga. Also, be sure to follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up-to-date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.
For more from Gladstone, check out The Top 5 Worst Lines of Dialogue (From Movies That Don't Actually Suck) and 6 Songs People Apparently Think Are by the Wrong Artist.