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).
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
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.
"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.
"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.
Really, the movie should've just been about him.
The Objectively Superior Counterpart: River City Rumble
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.
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.
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.
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.
What? That fart needed to happen.
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.
This man either foolishly kidnapped Liam Neeson's daughter or foolishly asked Liam Neeson to autograph his Krull DVD.
The Objectively Superior Counterpart: Hanna
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.
"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.
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.
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.
"I'm not even IN Krull!"
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Whereas in Juno it's pretty clear that Jason Bateman's penis is the villain.
Dawn of the Dead
Many people consider George Romero's Dawn of the Dead to be the ultimate zombie movie, because those people tend to forget that Dawn of the Dead is intensely boring for most of its considerable runtime. Once the four main characters reach the mall, there is about an hour of downtime where absolutely nothing happens. For example, we are treated to an extended sequence in which the heroic Captain Hero serves Kurt Loder and Disdainful News Woman a romantic dinner in a Harry and David stock room for reasons that I have never been able to completely understand.
"Isn't it wonderful? In spite of all this horror, we still managed to make the only black person in the cast wait on us!"
Also, the characters do things that make no sense. Roger gets bitten while being a tragic dumbass because he was apparently seized by the spirit of Ragnarok and decided that his ancestors would not be satisfied unless his blood mixed with that of his rivals in the dirt of the Monroeville Mall. It is because of his inexcusable idiocy that he does not get a fancy nickname; he's just Roger.
The group of raiders that storm the mall at the end of the film make equally stupid decisions in rapid succession, the most legendary of which is the fatal error belonging to the Man in the Sombrero, who decides, in the middle of blood-jetting, tendon-fiddling bonemeat gore explosions of disturbingly orgiastic proportions, to sit himself down in a sea of pawing hunger ghouls to stick his arm into the cuff of one of those "check your blood pressure" machines that my mom made me sit in while she was collecting prescriptions and store-brand potato chips at Walmart.
Unsurprisingly, the zombies eat him immediately, tearing his arm theatrically from his shoulder as he shrieks out a torrent of hysterical death giggles.
It will forever be known as The Day the Sombrero Was Silenced.
The Objectively Superior Counterpart: Dead Alive
Dead Alive (or Braindead, as it was originally titled) is quite possibly the only hyperviolent Vaudevillian comedy I have ever seen wherein a zombie baby in a sailor-striped onesie rips his way out of a woman's head like Hulkamania running wild on a banana-yellow muscle shirt.
This is but one of a dozen times something like this happens.
It's also one of Peter Jackson's first movies. In it, the most terrible old woman to have ever existed gets bitten by an evil rat-headed monkey, whose saliva transforms her into the bloated queen of zombies. Her son Lionel manages to keep her corpseified stench bag trapped in the house with the cunning use of pratfalls and physical comedy, but she steadily turns the entire town into a legion of undead people-eaters, and he is forced to kill all of them with a lawnmower.
Pictured: Lionel boldly ignoring the warning label advising against this specific activity.
She then transforms into a weird tyrannosaurus with giant, deflated breasts and stuffs Lionel back into her womb. Luckily, he is able to punch himself free with the power of love and casts her down into an exploding mansion, where she also explodes.
Every single one of those things definitely happens.
I haven't even mentioned Father McGruder, the kickboxing priest, which is another way of saying Dead Alive is the greatest zombie movie in history, and should've replaced Dawn of the Dead on everyone's list the minute it was released.
Seriously, why the hell aren't you watching this movie right now?
Related: Baseball Is Dead. Again.
Sharknado was another installment in the endless stream of Syfy original monster movies that managed to collect enough ironic Twitter publicity to earn a limited theatrical release. It is about a tornado made of sharks that rips through a settlement of human beings, and poorly rendered CGI hijinks ensue. It is admittedly hard to get down on a movie that so gleefully wears its heart on its sleeve:
But the fact is, Sharknado is really, really terrible. It's not even good in a "watch it with a bunch of friends and laugh" way. It's like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 with the sound off. It's so boring I was more interested in Ian Ziering's character development than the vortex made of sharks, and in a movie called Sharknado, that is an abject failure along the lines of going to a stripper booth and being so disgusted with the decor you can't even masturbate.
"I'm trying to watch this movie, but these sonofabitch sharks won't stop landing on people!"
The Objectively Superior Counterpart: Ghost Shark
Ghost Shark is, without hyperbole, the single greatest monument to human imagination that has ever been constructed by mortal hands. A shark is attacked by fishermen and, dying of its wounds, wanders into a mysterious cave, where it is cursed by ancient pirate magic. Now the shark has the power to spring out of any body of water like a phantom jack-in-the-box and kill people, and only Bull from Night Court can stop it. That sentence is a gift to mankind.
He's literally glowing with divine light.
Ghost Shark explodes through reality like a spectral javelin, lopping off arms, legs, heads, and occasionally just carrying its victims off into the heavens. And since Ghost Shark can spring from the tiniest drop of water, its domain is infinite. Guy fixing the plumbing beneath a sink? Ghost Shark eats him. Guy sits down on the toilet? You better believe Ghost Shark eats him. Guy takes a sip of water? Ghost Shark grows inside of him and splits him in half like a hot dog in a microwave.
One of my favorite moments occurs when some metal-fanged 12-year-old smears mud on his dad's Mustang and drives it down to the local bikini car wash (which employs entirely too many women to clean a single vehicle) to get his first erection. Ghost Shark, sensing it's time to shine, erupts from the plastic soap bucket like the shadow of Poseidon's vengeance and kills the entire bikini car wash staff. It doesn't even leave the bucket -- it just drags its victims down through a 20 inch plastic hole like a vegetable juicer.
Ghost Shark may be a ruthless incorporeal assassin, but it understands the value of physical comedy.
And then, of course, there's this, which needs no introduction or context:
Ghost Shark is predictable, to be sure. But it's predictable in the same way as opening a present on your birthday and getting exactly what you wanted. I know Ghost Shark is going to pop out of that soda can like a papier mache snake in an explosion of ectoplasmic massacre, but that doesn't make me want to see it any less.
The popularity of Tom Reimann: Shadow Recruit unjustly overshadows the tense, masterful storytelling of Tom Reimann: Terror Farts in a Silent Room. Read his novel Stitches and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.