It’s hard to judge a movie at the time of its release. Some movies just don’t hit the right tone for audiences at a given time, but are more enjoyable when removed from their specific place in cultural history. Here are some films which were hated upon release, but which, while not necessarily flawless gems, are certainly more enjoyable than people think.
'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace'
The biggest problem with “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (aside from having two subtitles) is its gigantic legacy. If you ignore the previous “Star Wars” movies, “The Phantom Menace” is a flawed but fun children’s sci-fi fantasy adventure flick.
'Batman and Robin'
“Batman and Robin” had the misfortune of releasing just at the tail end of the bright, colorful ‘90s. Dark, gritty cinema was about to take off (as evidenced by the popularity of comic book movie “Blade”) and cheesy camp felt old-fashioned. Culture has cycled back round, and it’s now easier to enjoy a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously.
Here’s a question: does “Twilight” get such a heavy kicking because it’s actually inherently terrible, or because it was popular among teenage girls? Look past the kneejerk hatemongering, and it’s possible to enjoy this as a dark but heartfelt coming of age story.
'The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions'
Like many movies on this list, the “Matrix” sequels, “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” had the unfortunate problem of following on from a beloved megahit. The movies do feel a bit rushed, but considering what the Wachowski sisters managed in such a short time after the release of the first movie, there are a lot of interesting plot elements in here that expand the “Matrix” universe.
Yes, the “Transformers” series has devolved into lazy chaos, but it’s worth remembering that the first movie has a pretty solid structure and some engaging performances. This was the first time that the human characters in a “Transformers” story were actually interesting, and to this day, Megan Fox doesn’t get her due for a performance that has more to it than meets the eye.
“Spider-Man 3” was ahead of its time. Critics love to point to the elaborate dance scenes as the worst element of the film, while simultaneously loving comparable scenes in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Ultimately, “Spider-Man 3” needed a more aggressive edit, but its big failing was being a colorful movie at a time when audiences were eagerly awaiting “The Dark Knight.”
It’s weird that “Tron: Legacy” is compared so unfavorably to the original “Tron,” considering that the first “Tron” isn’t exactly great. The sequel features a rubbery CGI Jeff Bridges and a plot that really doesn’t stand up on its own, but it’s a gorgeous spectacle of neon that is well worth staring at for a couple of hours.
Both “Fantastic Four” movies ended up receiving a bit of a kicking from critics upon release, in large part because they lean heavily into the cartoonish charm of the original comics. While some comic book heroes can be made dark and grumpy, Marvel’s First Family definitely belongs in more colorful world. The eventual gritty reboot makes the original “Fantastic Four” look better by comparison.
There are a lot of interesting themes at play in “Alien: Covenant.” It’s an engaging movie about the nature of humanity, the role of artificial intelligence in our species’ future, and the dangers of playing god. If “Alien: Covenant” and “Prometheus” were wholly divorced from the “Alien” brand, they’d be a lot more enjoyable, and audiences wouldn’t spend the whole time waiting for some good xenomorph action.
'The Last Airbender'
“The Last Airbender,” based on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Avatar,” has a lot of good action setpieces. It would have been impossible to crunch down such a longrunning (and beloved) cartoon series into a single live-action movie, so M Night Shyamalan’s finished attempt should be celebrated for its successes rather than denigrated for not living up to impossible standards.
'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians'
One of the classis so-bad-it’s-good, the 1964 sci-fi movie “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” has shown up several times on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and similar endeavors. While people love to bash this film, there’s a reason it remains fun to hate on it: the movie is simply so silly and weird that it’s actually quite fun to watch, so long as you don’t take a movie about Santa fighting aliens too seriously.
'Master of Disguise'
“Wayne’s World” comedy duo Mike Myers and Dana Carvey both starred in spy comedies that were released one week apart in 2002. The more popular movie is “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” but the unsung “Master of Disguise” is better than most people remember. Silly and over-the-top without being quite as dumb as anything from “Austin Powers,” the standout scene from “Master of Disguise” involves Dana Carvey as a giant turtle man, and it’s just phenomenal.
'Wild Wild West'
On paper, “Wild Wild West” made a lot of sense: Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, all directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, who helmed “Man in Black.” The movie ended up being a bit weirder than most people anticipated, featuring, as it did, a giant mechanical spider. It’s not quite on par with “Men in Black,” but it’s certainly more engaging than some of the sci-fi movie’s eventual sequels.
Imagine if James Bond fought a volcano. “Dante’s Peak” came in the mid ‘90s, when disaster movies were all the rage. Pierce Brosnan stars as a volcanologist who is really bad at his job, as he manages to miss all warning signs that the titular Dante’s Peak is about to imminently erupt. The movie was drowned out by other, better disaster flicks, but removed from that saturated environment, so long as you remember that Brosnan’s character is an idiot, it’s a lot of fun.
'The Wicker Man' (2006)
The original version of “The Wicker Man” is a perennial classic. The 2006 remake was the first time audiences began to realize that many Nicholas Cage wasn’t as good an actor as we’d previously thought. With hindsight, it’s possible to enjoy this movie as being one of the first weird Nic Cage projects, especially when he starts screaming about fire and bees.
'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'
The “X-Men” movies took a sharp turn between “The Last Stand” and “Origins: Wolverine.” Suddenly, the series went from biting political commentary to overblown action nonsense, and it was jarring to audiences at the time. Now, it’s easier to accept that “Origins” is literally a cartoon (see as proof Jackman’s hilarious CGI claws), and the movie can be enjoyed as a piece of silly fluff – especially as we eventually got a serious Wolverine film in the form of “Logan.”
'Cowboys & Aliens'
“Cowboys & Aliens” features Daniel Craig being gruff and surly, which is always fun. The standout star of the movie, though, is Harrison Ford, who is perfectly cast as an aging, slightly senile old cowboy who refuses to listen to reason. It’s hard to be sure how much of this acting, but either way, the performance really sells the film.
“Street Fighter” is not exactly more than the sum of its parts, but it’s the best you can expect of a video game movie, especially in the ‘90s. No, it’s not more fun than actually playing the “Street Fighter 2” arcade game, but it’s worth watching solely to see Raul Julia chew scenery as the villainous M Bison.
'She’s All That'
Possibly the most ridiculed teen movie of all time, “She’s All That” involves Freddie Prinze Jr “discovering” that Rachael Leigh Cook is gorgeous simply by taking off her glasses. For all that the film is sappy and cutesy, it’s remained culturally relevant for a reason. Plus, that Usher “Funk Soul Brother” scene is gold.
The “Final Destination” movies have earned a cult status thanks to the cathartic joy of watching whiny teenagers die in elaborate and gruesome accidents. While the first movie was panned by critics upon its release, it launched an ongoing franchise on schlock alone.
'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'
Before the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise got so tired that Johnny Depp stopped bothering to learn his lines, the series had one last hurrah which, while not fantastic, is still better than it’s remembered to be. “On Stranger Tides” features great performances from Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz and Sam Claflin, and while putting Jack Sparrow front and center doesn’t entirely work, the movie is the most recent big budget pirate movie that’s vaguely worth watching, so that must count for something.
'Masters of the Universe'
“Masters of the Universe” was panned at the time of its release for being too dumb, which does seem to be an indicator that audiences missed the point of a movie based on an incredibly camp range of action figures. Like the majority of movies on this list, it’s only a bad time if you take it seriously; remember that the villain is named Skeletor and that the hero is He-Man, and you can have a great time.
'Plan 9 From Outer Space'
“Plan 9 From Outer Space” was released in 1959 but faded into obscurity until it was rediscovered in the ‘80s and branded as the worst movie ever made. This silly movie about space ghosts has been labelled as “the epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema” and is perhaps beaten only by “The Room” as an ironic good time at the movies.
Speaking of “The Room,” it’s awful. Terrible acting, a nonsensical script, and played entirely serious, this movie is atrocious, but also unexpectedly fun to watch. Herein lies the big question: if a movie is “bad” but enjoyable, is it actually bad? After all, if the point of art is to leave an impression on an audience, then “The Room” succeeds far more than the majority of studio mandated, passable but otherwise forgettable franchise films. Which leads nicely to...
'The Last Jedi'
“The Last Jedi” is not the worst movie ever made. It’s about half an hour too long, but otherwise, it doesn’t deserve much of the criticism that’s been hurled against it over the past two years. If you’re still mad because Luke Skywalker doesn’t do a flip, then fair enough, feel free to stay angry. Just be prepared for the point when today’s children are all grown up and are furiously defending this movie against the inevitable “Phantom Menace” inspired “Star Wars” movies of the 2020s.