Critical consensus is generally a pretty good indication of a film’s overall quality. Sure, there are many films that have a devoted cult following that were slammed by critics (think The Boondock Saints or Speed Racer), but for the most part, you can generally assume that a film is good if the majority of critics respond positively to it. However, some films are more like a fine wine and seem to go down much better with age. For whatever reason, these 10 films were not well-received in their time, but are generally considered to be classics in their respective genres today, proving that critics aren’t so infallible after all.
10. Sahara (2005)
To be fair, it would be difficult to make the argument that 2005’s Sahara is a great film in the same vein as some of the other films mentioned on this list. It is however pretty good in its own right, a solid action-adventure film that plays better than its negative critical reception would suggest. Based off of Clive Cussler’s popular Dirk Pitt adventure novels, Sahara stars Matthew McConaughey as the roguish Pitt as he tries to find a fabled Civil War-era battleship in the West African desert. The story is pure pulp absurdity, but Sahara is elevated by its charismatic cast — McConaughey and Steve Zahn’s chemistry is underrated and Penelope Cruz is always a welcome addition to any film — and a general focus on fun action setpieces. Sure, Sahara is not a true “classic”, but it definitely doesn’t deserve to be remembered as a “vapid, lengthy, and mostly lifeless” film, as one critic summarized it.
9. Predator (1987)
Predator is easily one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best action films, an 80s timepiece that sees Arnold and his muscle-bound buddies (a rock-solid cast that includes Carl Weathers, Bill Duke , and Jesse Ventura) alternating between blowing up an insurgent camp and running scared through the South American jungle from a menacing alien that hunts for sport. Despite the film’s winning combination, Predator was not well-received upon release, garnering a pretty dismal Metactic score of 36, based on reviews from 1987. The film’s cable syndication and the popularity of the Predator character have helped the film score much more favorably in recent years, as it’s now regarded as not only one of Arnold’s best films, but a landmark title in the action genre as a whole.
While Equilibrium may still be a bit too recent to have hit that coveted “classic cult status” yet, it’s still an innovative science fiction film that gave us the visually-dynamic Gun-Kata martial art style, as well as a pre-Batman Christian Bale, who displays some of his signature charisma as the highly-lethal John Preston. Admittedly, Equilibrium is pretty derivative of other dystopian fiction, but it wears its 1984 and Brave New World homages on its sleeve and tells a pretty a solid story to boot (which is a feat in a film that sees its protagonist clear a room of 50 armed men in about two minutes flat). Rotten Tomatoes’ summary “Equilibrium is a reheated mishmash of other sci-fi movies,” while accurate, does the film and its sizable base of devoted fans a major disservice.
7. Halloween (1978)
Critics have generally never been kind to the horror genre, but there have been some films, like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Brian De Palma’s Carrie, that have been exceptions to the rule, garnering both critical acclaim and mainstream success. John Carpenter’s Halloween is easily one of the most influential films in all of horror, essentially kickstarting the slasher subgenre that would come to define horror in the 1980s thanks to other franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. That being said, while considered a classic today, Halloween was disliked by many critics, who saw it as little more than a pale imitator to the work of Hitchcock or De Palma. The irony is that Carpenter’s style and technique are now seen as being hugely influential to the horror genre, proving that those early reviews hold no water when it comes to this film’s legacy.
6. Wet Hot American Summer
Already a beloved cult comedy film, Wet Hot American Summer is currently enjoying a sustained wave of renewed interest thanks to the upcoming Netflix prequel miniseries, First Day of Camp. With all of the hoopla surrounding Wet Hot American Summer, casual observers may be surprised to learn that the film was thoroughly blasted by critics, including Roger Ebert, who hated the film so much that he penned his review as a sarcastic recreation of Allan Sherman’s song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Compare that to the legions of fans who love this underrated comedic gem, including actress Kristen Bell, who has claimed that it’s her favorite film, having watched it “hundreds of times.” A cult classic if there ever was one, this film’s legacy is also helped by the fact that its cast is filled with a who’s-who of comedic talent, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and Elizabeth Banks.
Casablanca‘s status as a classic romance is nigh-unshakable, but it wasn’t always held in such high regard. While it did receive generally positive reviews upon release — and even though it won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture — Casablanca was largely dismissed as being an average film with some above average acting, courtesy of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman — a far cry from it’s current status atop dozens of “Best Films of All Time” lists. Critics definitely didn’t hate this film, but it’s amazing how much of a disconnect there is between the muted response it received in its heyday (even those involved with the production didn’t think it was anything special) and its current standing as one of the greatest love stories in all of film.
4. The Shining
Stephen King’s disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the author’s horror novel The Shining is well known, but the prickly author wasn’t the only one put off by Kubrick’s vision. When it was initially released in 1980, many critics and viewers weren’t sure what to make of Kubrick’s atmospheric film. While it was praised for its disturbing imagery, critics didn’t like the film’s slow pacing or the cold, off-putting characterization. The Shining was also astonishingly nominated for two Razzie Awards for Worst Director and Worst Actress. Considering the film is now widely considered one of the best horror films ever made, it seems absurd that it took years for The Shining to be hailed as a masterpiece.
Not many films can claim to hold the same level of regard that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho does. The film not only created the slasher genre, it influenced countless subsequent films and filmmakers in practically every genre. While anyone familiar with Psycho knows its merits go well beyond just the infamous shower scene, critics of the time were extremely divided. One of the main criticisms leveled at Psycho had to deal with the moral implications of the film’s violence, as some critics felt that this would just lead to gorier, less sophisticated films down the road. While that turned out to be true, the reach and impact of Psycho extends much further than simply enabling filmmakers to make gorier films. Psycho changed the way people thought of suspense and horror in film and that’s a legacy that no critical dismantling can kill.
2. Blade Runner
Blade Runner, generally considered to be one of the best science-fiction films of all time, has had a long and winding road to earn its legendary status. Ridley Scott’s neo-noir dystopian adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was very uneven upon release and critics were divided as to the film’s merits. While Blade Runner‘s visuals received almost universal acclaim, reaction to the film’s plot was a mixed bag, not being in-depth enough for some tastes. Thanks to a large cult following and Scott’s repeated tinkering with various cuts (the “Final Cut” was released in 2007 and is essentially the definitive version of the film), Blade Runner slowly became a classic.
1. Citizen Kane (1941)
Citizen Kane is repeatedly championed as one of the greatest films ever made and yet, Orson Welles’ magnum opus didn’t get much love when it was first released. While critical reviews at the time were fairly positive, there was an enormous backlash against the film, spurred by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, as he was the primary influence for the Charles Foster Kane character. Hearst was furious at Welles for his unflattering depiction and made various attempts to have the film destroyed. Citizen Kane also performed poorly at the box office and largely faded into obscurity after it failed to win Best Picture at that year’s Academy Awards. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that Citizen Kane was reevaluated as being an important film and it has remained critically popular ever since.