Bad movies are released every year and if you have the misfortune of paying to see one, that movie probably deserves the hate coming its way. No one wants to waste their hard-earned money on terrible movies (unless of course you’re one of the millions of people still forking over cash to see the latest Transformers abomination), so studios really shouldn’t be surprised when there is a backlash against their shoddy product. There have also been a number of movies released over the years that, for whatever reason, have become the proverbial punching bags of internet movie sites. Some of these movies (2004’s Catwoman, for instance) are well-suited for this sort of disdain but a number of these movies don’t deserve the hate they seem to get from all directions. While none of the following 12 movies would ever be confused with being high art, they have enough redeeming qualities so as to make them unworthy of the scorn they receive.
12. Waterworld (1995)
Waterworld is regarded as one of the most expensive mistakes in cinema, a film with a bloated budget that failed to recoup its costs and also failed to make any meaningful impression on critics and audiences alike. Still, as a piece of entertainment, Waterworld isn’t half bad and contains some really interesting concepts that few films before or since have tackled. Conceptually, Waterworld is actually quite interesting, as its vision of a world engulfed by endless oceans is very different take on the usual post apocalyptic formula that also serves as a prescient, if over-exaggerated warning of the dangers of runaway climate change.
Really though, it’s the little things that keep Waterworld afloat: Kevin Costner is way too overly serious in his role as a half-man/half-guppy, but it’s hard to deny that idea of some humans evolving for life on the sea is an interesting concept. The way that the world’s inhabitants have built a mythology around “Dryland” and obsess over trinkets from the old Earth is also a nice touch. Plus, it’s hard to hate any film that features the late Dennis Hopper as an eye patch-wearing pirate commanding an army of mercenaries zipping around on jet-skis.
11. Hook (1991)
Hook, the 1991 Peter Pan film starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, is widely considered to be one of Steven Spielberg’s worst films and it’s hard to dispute this sentiment. Hook is wildly uneven and Spielberg’s worst qualities as a filmmaker are on full display, as the film devolves into treacly sentimentalism repeatedly and often. That being said, even a “bad” Spielberg film is still better than 90% of the movies that come out in a given year and if you can get over the fact that Hook is no E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark, there really is a lot to like about it.
For one thing, the plot itself is inherently interesting, as it asks the question: what if Peter Pan grew up and forgot about Neverland? There’s a melancholy air to the whole enterprise, as Peter (Williams) rediscovers the world and friends that he left behind. The real standout though is Hoffman as Captain Hook. Hoffman plays the villainous pirate as a deranged, quasi-suicidal man who has lost his reason to keep going after Peter left Neverland and he’s absolutely delightful in his flamboyance. Why the critics hated Hook so vehemently is something we’ll never quite understand, as its moments of brilliance elevate it far above the majority of unimaginative family movies out there.
10. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Christmas movies aren’t exactly regarded as a form of high cinematic art, but they can be comforting viewing experiences to fall back on on an annual basis (preferably accompanied by a tall glass of eggnog). One of the most beloved Christmas specials is the 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was adapted into a live-action, feature length film in 2000 but whereas the former is regarded as required viewing every time Yuletide rolls around, Ron Howard’s film is seen by some as an abomination that tarnishes the good name of Dr. Seuss. While it’s true that Howard’s film is overlong and takes some …interesting creative liberties with the source material, The Grinch is much better than its reputation would suggest.
Jim Carrey commits fully to the title role and delivers some hilarious zingers, and the supporting cast is also strong across the board, with Christine Baranski’s Martha May and Jeffrey Tambor’s conceited Mayor of Whoville being particular standouts. Also, from a production design standpoint, The Grinch is simply immaculate, with the town of Whoville and its denizens brought to life through what must have been a painstaking and exhausting process for the design, costuming and makeup departments. Yes, you could watch the Grinch cartoon more than four times in the span it takes to sit through one viewing of Howard’s film, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas deserves to be reconsidered as a holiday classic.
9. Tron: Legacy (2010)
Tron: Legacy is one of those blockbusters that just sort of came and went with little fanfare. A sequel to the 1982 cult sci fi film Tron, Legacy was criticized for its lifeless characters and lackluster story which, you know, fair enough. The plot really is quite forgettable and none of the actors save Jeff Bridges and a delightfully flamboyant Michael Sheen turn in anything resembling a memorable performance. Here’s the thing, though: the original Tron was never that great to begin with and the only reason it’s endured is because of its innovative special effects and cool sci fi elements, such as light cycle battles.
And from a technical standpoint, Tron: Legacy delivers in spades, with an impressive visual design and CGI that brings the computerized world of Tron to life like never before. If the writers had just injected a bit more life and fun into the proceedings, Legacy really could have been something great but even with its issues, it’s far from being a bad movie and is worth watching for its cool visuals alone (and to marvel at how weird young CGI Jeff Bridges looks, as this technology was really not ready for prime time in 2010).
8. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum of Solace had the misfortune of coming only two years after Casino Royale, a film that not only reinvigorated the entire James Bond franchise but is regarded by many to be one of, if not the, best 007 film ever made. That’s a tough act to follow and what makes matters worse is that Quantum of Solace is a very different kind of Bond film, stripping the globetrotting espionage format the franchise is known for in favor of being a revenge-soaked, straight-up action film. Many Bond fans were not happy with this change in direction and rightfully so, as Quantum of Solace is really a 007 film in name only.
That being said, this is the kind of film that becomes more enjoyable if you take it for what it really is: a direct continuation of, and conclusion to, the story introduced in Casino Royale. Sure, Quantum of Solace is an inferior second half but it does a good job of finishing the first chapter in Daniel Craig’s turn as Bond and wraps up the story and themes introduced in Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace may not be a great Bond film but we’d still rather sit through its brisk running time again than sit through the overlong and misguided Spectre again.
7. Iron Man 3 (2013)
While Iron Man 2 is almost universally regarded as the worst installment in the Iron Man trilogy, the third movie doesn’t fare much better in popular opinion and is generally thought of as one of the lesser films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, anyone who thinks this should really reevaluate that opinion, as Iron Man 3 arguably rivals the first film in the trilogy as much like that film, it puts the focus back on Tony Stark after Iron Man 2 spent too long setting things up for The Avengers.
In fact, this is really a movie more about Tony Stark than it is Iron Man, as Robert Downey Jr. spends much of the film’s runtime out of his character’s many metal suits and instead has to prove he can still be heroic without the aid of his armor. Director Shane Black, who also wrote the screenplay, does an excellent job taking over for Jon Favreau and delivers a script that is easily one of the funniest in the MCU, but never allows the humor to derail the character drama operating at the film’s heart. Iron Man 3 is by no means the pinnacle of superhero blockbusters, but it’s a fine trilogy-capper that deserves a reevaluation.
6. Prometheus (2012)
Ridley Scott’s first Alien prequel is a dumb movie, full of dumb “smart” people making an astounding number of dumb decisions … but is it a bad movie? Hardly. Prometheus has some significant issues that hold it back from true greatness but it has enough good qualities — and a few scenes that are downright incredible — that to call it a bad movie would simply be wrong. Michael Fassbender’s unsettling performance as David the android alone separates Prometheus from legitimately bad movies like Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (to name something completely random) and even though a fair amount of the film’s plot is convoluted and doesn’t make a ton of sense, the film ultimately succeeds as a piece of sci fi horror thanks to one scene in particular: the alien C-section that is arguably an even better display of body horror than the iconic chest-burster scene from Scott’s original Alien (1979). Given the talent behind it, Prometheus definitely should have been a better film, but it’s not the affront to cinema that some Alien fanboys would have you believe.
5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
In retrospect, it’s pretty absurd that any of us actually thought Christopher Nolan would be able to top what he accomplished with The Dark Knight; a film that not only elevated the entire superhero genre but also gave us Heath Ledger’s Joker, arguably one of the greatest performances in modern filmmaking. So yes, The Dark Knight Rises falls well short of the bar set by its predecessor, but is it a movie that really deserves all the disdain it gets? Nolan’s film has many flaws — Bane’s ridiculous voice, character motivations that make no sense, plot holes the size of the pit Bruce Wayne gets thrown into — but if you can come to grips with the idea that this isn’t The Dark Knight, there’s actually quite a bit to like in Rises.
Bane’s voice may be laughable, but Tom Hardy is terrifyingly imposing and the scenes of him breaking Christian Bale’s Batman are still hard to watch. Speaking of Bale, he’s just as good as ever here as a Batman who is well past his prime and still haunted by the past and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is so good that it’s a damn shame she never got the chance to do a spin-off. If Nolan had reined things in a bit and cut out some of The Dark Knight Rises’ extraneous bits, it could have been a leaner, more coherent film but even with all of its bloat and misplaced expectations, it’s far from being a bad movie, especially when you consider how poorly most trilogy-ending films tend to turn out.
4. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Spider-Man 3 has become the poster child for bad superhero movies in the decade since its original release and while it is definitely a disappointment when measured up against Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, it’s nowhere near as bad as it’s made out to be. It’s arguably not even a bad movie, period; just a very flawed one. Spider-Man 3 went through a notoriously troubled production, with Raimi and Sony Pictures having two very different visions for what the film should be, and that lack of creative cohesion is all up there on the screen. Spider-Man 3 is a disjointed mess, with far too many subplots and villains (the film would be much better off if Venom had just been cut out entirely).
Still, some of the stuff that Spider-Man 3 gets the most crap for — like the infamous emo Peter Parker dance number — are arguably its best moments; sure, that scene is cheesy as hell but that’s kind of the point. Peter Parker is a total dork and strutting down the street to jazz music is just the kind of thing he would think is cool; we’re supposed to think he’s totally lame in that moment! Throw in everything having to do with Sandman — well, besides the whole “he’s Uncle Ben’s real killer!” stuff — and Spider-Man 3 really isn’t all that bad. At the very least, it’s considerably better than either of the Amazing Spider-Man films and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters, right?
3. The Star Wars Prequels (1999-2005)
Let’s get this out of the way: the Star Wars prequels, particularly The Phantom Menace, are not good movies. They’re full of wooden dialogue, boring characters, and simply lack the charm of George Lucas’ original saga. However, if you strip all the baggage that these films have accumulated over the last two decades, you’re left with a trilogy of films that simply leaned too heavily on the wrong things and were made by individuals who didn’t quite recognize at the time what it was that people loved so much about Star Wars.
As much as fans may pile on the prequels for things like Jar Jar Binks and midi-chlorians, George Lucas succeeded in expanding the universe he created with all sorts of imaginative additions. Naboo may be a planet filled with boring people, but it’s a visually-arresting world that feels wholly unique from a planet like Coruscant, with its endless skylines. By the time we get to Revenge of the Sith, Lucas had abandoned a lot of what people disliked about Episodes I and II and delivered a film that remains the darkest of the entire franchise. These films certainly deserve to be criticized but they do not deserve all the hatred and vitriol that has been thrown their way over the years.
2. Watchmen (2009)
The fundamental problem with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is that it’s in the wrong medium. A comic as dense and complex as Alan Moore’s Watchmen deserves to be given the lengthy miniseries treatment, as it’s pretty much impossible to capture all of the story’s intricacies in a feature length film. That being said, Snyder’s Watchmen is still arguably one of the best direct comic book adaptations out there, as it faithfully adheres to the source material’s central themes and delivers some outstanding visuals and performances in the process.
Very few live action films deliver the same kind of “lifted off the page” experience as Watchmen and even though the film features one of the most painfully awkward sex scenes in cinematic history, there’s a lot to like about it, especially the performances of Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley as Doctor Manhattan and Rorschach, respectively. The film even arguably improves upon Moore’s original ending, which is a considerable accomplishment in itself. Why this film is so underrated we’ll never really understand.
1. Avatar (2009)
It boggles the mind that Avatar is somehow the highest grossing movie of all time, as it feels like no one likes it anymore and the film as a whole seems to have almost zero cultural relevance these days. Detractors write off Avatar as “Dances With Wolves meets Fern Gully” and while that’s not an unfair assessment, James Cameron’s labor of love is still a technological marvel and one of the more enjoyable original blockbusters of the last decade. No one really disputes the magnificence Avatar’s visuals so there’s no real point in defending that aspect of the film; it’s the plot and characters that people seem to hate but are either really so bad?
The “man taken in by exotic savages whom he learns to identify with and love” trope has been done to death, sure, but Cameron uses it to tell an entertaining story with rich environmentalist themes that also allows him to show off the wondrous world he and his team have created. As for the cast, they may all be playing familiar archetypes but they’re convincing across the board. Hell, even Sam Worthington is pretty good here as protagonist Jake Sully and if Avatar could convince all of us that Worthington was going to go on to become a bankable leading man, it must have done something right!