In Defense of the Good-Bad Movie

Popcorn and Good-Bad Movie - Nothing Better! Photo copyright: niolox
Popcorn and Good-Bad Movie – Nothing Better!
Photo copyright: niolox

If you do a Google search for bad movies you will find list after list with titles like “Movies So Bad They’re Good” and “The Worst Movies of All Time.” If you don’t believe me, go ahead and try it; I’ll wait.

A true cult classic - if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for? Photo courtesy Trans World Entertainment
A true cult classic – if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?
Photo courtesy Trans World Entertainment

Some bad movies are so bad they’ve managed to transcend their badness and reach cult status. Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Howard the Duck both come to mind. But what about all the movies not bad enough to reach mythic proportions? What about those movies that are just slightly bad?

Well, I’m here to stand up for the good-bad movies. You know the ones I’m talking about–they run on those cable channels with numbers too big to memorize. You probably wouldn’t spend the money to stream them, but when they’re on for free, you go ahead and watch. These are the movies you keep on in the background–while making dinner, taking a nap, or during that brutal weekend workout. We all have our stable of good-bad movies that make up the background noise of our lives.

This past weekend, my husband and I went out with a couple of our best friends for a traditional good-bad movie night. How these evenings got started, I really can’t remember, but I’m glad they did. We’ve given up pretending we want to see the most recent up-and-coming mind-broadening future Oscar nominee and have gone straight for the cotton candy category of film. Our lives are stressful, and this makes for a fun release. This weekend’s selection isn’t likely to make it onto any of our good-bad movie lists. The Huntsman: Winter’s War just didn’t hold us the way we’d hoped. During our after-movie margaritas, we tried to break down exactly what makes a movie good-bad.

Good-Bad Movies versus Bad-Good Movies

Yup, that's about how Transcendence made me feel too. Photo courtesy Warner Brothers
Yup, that’s about how Transcendence made me feel too. Photo courtesy Warner Brothers

While there is certainly a lot of personal taste involved in the selection of good-bad movies, our margarita meeting determined that the most effective films in this category all share simple and easily understood plots. For my taste, I prefer the action, but some of my friends love the romantic varieties.

Some of the films I can’t seem to flip past include The Brothers Grimm, Van Helsing, The Bourne Legacyand just about anything with Jason Statham. A few of the romantic films mentioned by my friends are Serendipity and Simply Irresistible.

So why am I differentiating between good-bad and bad-good movies? Because very few good-bad movies were ever conceptualized to be anything more than brain candy. A fun, easily forgettable frolic into the pastures of entertainment. But a bad-good movie? That is a whole other animal.

A bad-good movie was supposed to be more. It was designed as art more than entertainment. The actors, directors, and screenwriters aimed high, and thus the fall was twice as far. My margarita-swilling friends and I have accidentally stumbled on a few of these stinkers in our quest for the perfect mindless entertainment.

The most egregious mistake came in the form of Transcendence with Johnny Depp. This movie could have been so much more–it could have made some important points and left us thinking. Instead, we all sat mystified and confused.

A bad-good movie is just bad. Sadly, unfortunately, and completely, bad. It won’t be running nonstop on TBS or find a permanent place on your DVR.

Bad-Bad Movies versus Cult-Bad Movies

Bruce Campbell is my spirit animal. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures
Bruce Campbell is my spirit animal.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

While this article is about those wonderfully yummy good-bad movies that make up the mindless view-a-thons, I feel the need to touch on two other categories. I’ve already mentioned a couple movies that have moved into cult status, but the question came up over our second pitcher of margaritas–how, and when, does a movie move from bad-bad to cult-bad?

I wish I had a hard and fast rule on this one. Like so many things in life and culture, a number of factors come together and the zeitgeist speaks. Why is that we come together with popcorn to watch Army of Darkness or Plan 9 From Outer Space but no one wants to revisit Pam Anderson in Barb Wire?

As my professional physicist movie companion (yes, that’s his real job–and he’ll make sure you know it) pointed out over his third (or fifth) drink, some movies are just so bad, they are good. The camp factor and the special effects come together to make a sum more than the whole.

As for bad-bad movies? There’s just so much I could say about this, but I think I’ll just leave it at this: Fantastic Four (2015)

Here are is a curated list of some of my (and those who replied to my emails) favorite good-bad movies; feel free to email me with some of your favorites!

This is by no means my complete list. That is another fantastic thing about the good-bad movie–they are easily forgettable so re-watching is almost like the first time!

Kate again! Van Helsing makes for mindless fun. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures
Kate again! Van Helsing makes for mindless fun.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures