Despised by Reviewers… and Actually Great?
There are plenty of flicks that upon their release were given rave reviews and even now get nothing but praise–or at least have a cult following. What about those movies that critics hated upon release, however? The kind of films that now everyone or at least a big fanbase agrees are great, but were just savaged by reviewers? Let’s examine 10 of those movies and then discuss a theme that emerges upon looking at these films.
10. Fight Club
A lukewarm success at the box office that became a certifiable hit on DVD, many critics looked at this movie and basically shrugged with disinterest. The Hollywood Reporter admired Fincher’s amazing skill at making movies but found “Fight Club” to be “Hypocritical.” Roger Ebert barely gave it 2 stars and referred to it as, “Macho porn.” A lot of critics seemed to miss the point of “Fight Club,” the same way men who loved it and wanted to unironically start fight clubs did. The people in this movie are not heroes, they are horribly broken and basically the bad guys. You don’t root for Tyler Durden, you watch him with a mixture of excitement and disgust. All these years later people still debate,“The point” of,“Fight Club,” but it also gets a lot more love as being a good movie.
9. Man on Fire
First of all, any movie with Denzel Washington automatically cannot be too bad because it has Denzel Washington! However, when this Tony Scott-directed movie landed in theaters, critics derided how violent it was, missing that the whole story is about a man who used to be enmeshed in violence, tried to quit it, but has to do a lot of terrible things to rescue a young girl he’s supposed to be the bodyguard for. In retrospect, aspects of “Man on Fire” read a little bit like a prototype for the beloved “Equalizer” movies, which also starred Denzel and featured a man haunted by a bloody past that won’t stop hounding him. Why those got raves and “Man on Fire” received thumbs-down is a mystery.
8. National Treasure
There’s no denying a movie where Nicholas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence to find a secret treasure sounds silly. You know what? It is silly, but it also is great fun. “National Treasure” is like a modern-day Indiana Jones movie between its mysterious caves, humor, and meme-worthy lead. It’s too bad that some reviewers couldn’t see past the absurd premise, with Reelviews outright saying it lacked “…intelligence, character development, and a legitimate storyline.” Yes, the story is bonkers, but that’s part of the charm. It’s Nicholas Cage, being Nick Cage and looking for historical buried treasure! Just enjoy the ride, folks!
7. Vanilla Sky
If you’re willing to accept a totally out-of-left-field ending that almost takes the entire metaphorical train off the tracks, then “Vanilla Sky” is actually a damn good movie. Tom Cruise plays a man who is horribly disfigured in an accident caused by a psychotic ex (a wonderfully over-the-top Cameron Diaz), but then is able to undergo a revolutionary surgery that returns his face and life to normal… or does it? Throughout the movie, there are hints that something just isn’t quite right, and a shocking final reveal about the nature of Cruise’s reality was just too much for basically any reviewer on the planet Earth. Seriously, almost everyone hated this movie. Years later, there are many articles you can find offering a defense of the story, and in the time since we have had some really trippy flicks that critics adored–“Inception” anyone? “Vanilla Sky” was maybe just too much weird, too soon.
Keanu Reeves’s career is currently undergoing a renaissance. Between the “John Wick” movies, a new “Bill and Ted” and stealing the show as a stunt-obsessed action figure in “Toy Story 4”, Reeves is a hot property. Back in 2005 though, Reeves wasn’t getting much respect from the film industry or moviegoers. Critics who liked the “Hellblazer” comic were annoyed how little the movie tied-in with it. Critics who didn’t like Reeves railed on him as stiff and boring. It just didn’t get any love. Now that Reeves is getting his much-deserved plaudits, however, you know what everyone is doing? Revisiting “Constantine” and admitting, “Hey, this was pretty good.” It features a secretive world, much like in the “John Wick” movies, full of angels and demons instead of assassins. It has Reeves playing his calm, cool, collected persona that he started-out with Neo and mastered with Wick. The Hellfire special effects are impressive even today. “Constantine” is different from the comics that inspired it, but it is a fantastic vehicle for Reeves. It just took a bit over a decade for everyone to realize it–enough that now even a sequel is rumored.
5. The Shining
Full disclaimer: Yes, Stephen King still hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining” with a passion all these decades later. Him aside, “The Shining” is now regarded as a horror classic. Critics at the time thought it moved too slowly, Jack Nicholson didn’t make a convincing loving-Father-gone-mad, and Indiewire observes that in 1980, “Critics tore it to shreds.” The general populace disagreed with the critics, however, bringing in a massive box-office for “The Shining.” Now, over 40 years later, it’s considered one of the best horror movies of all time!
Steven Spielberg can run hot and cold. For every “Jurassic Park” there is a “War of the Worlds.” One movie that critics derided and which utterly cratered at the box office was a modern-day retelling of Peter Pan grown-up titled simply “Hook.” Now that time has passed, however, a lot of people look back at “Hook” and say, “Hey, that was actually a stellar movie.” Perhaps “Hook” was partially hamstrung at the time by Robin Williams, who was famous for his comedy but could also provide fantastic dramatic performances if people gave him a chance (they didn’t always do so). Nowadays, doing clever modern retellings of fairy tales is the norm, but in 1991 it just confused reviewers and turned-off audiences who wanted a bombastic Spielberg film like “Jaws” instead of a quiet and meditative film about mortality and responsibility. The crux of the issue was people weren’t sure if “Hook” was for children or adults. The answer, however, was there all along. It was for both, and anyone who appreciated the power of magic!
A movie all about excess that was slammed by critics for being excessive. By the time “Scarface” was done shooting, it was grossly overbudget, dealing with an MPAA that was threatening it with an X-rating for its violence (a kiss of death at the box office), and once it finally hit theaters critics called it “Camp for the coke crowd,” and, “A pointless bloodbath.” It didn’t make enough at the box-office to even cover its budget… but then “Scarface” hit VHS and Betamax. “Scarface” found itself beloved by younger viewers who somewhat missed the lesson and aspired to be like Tony Montana as well as older watchers who realized that behind the cocaine and bloodshed was a morality tale of one man’s unending quest for everything, leaving him with nothing. Now, “Scarface” is referenced so much in popular culture those who haven’t even seen the movie know it well through secondhand homages or parodies!
2. Love Actually
One of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time was fairly well-liked by British critics upon its release in 2003, but over in America, it faced less glowing opinions. Described as overly sentimental or as having too big a cast who overall get too little screentime, critics were left cold by this warm holiday flick. Audiences adored the movie, warts-and-all (the Prime Minister hooking up with an employee is admittedly a creepy plotline), and now it basically is mandatory holiday viewing every year for many families.
Considered by many to be Hitchcock’s greatest film of all time, “Psycho” was actually hated by critics who were granted private screenings and promised not to spoil any twists in their reviews (because this is a movie with some shocking turns). In 1960, its depictions of violence and sexuality were considered extremely controversial and upset more squeamish reviewers. Audiences ate it up, however. As time passed, critics came around, and currently “Pyscho” is held up as one of the best films from the 1900s ever made.
A Theme Can Be Observed
With almost all of these movies, a theme emerges. Even if critics hated these flicks at first, over time they came around. Maybe not all of the critics, but even movies like “Vanilla Sky” now have defenders and some of these movies are stone-cold classics today. Sometimes, a movie just was released before its time or critics missed the point, but eventually, it garnered the following it deserved. A great movie is a great movie, regardless of initial public dismissal.
David Bitterbaum is the longtime writer of The Newest Rant where he discusses how he loves all of popular culture, except for the stuff he hates. He often rambles about everything from movies, to music, television, and often comic-books. He lives in Saint Louis with his extremely patient wife and son.