In our age of Rotten Tomatoes and instant Twitter reviews, it’s easy to immediately decide whether or not to see a movie. Whether the reviews are positive or negative, a consensus is only a click away. But before the Internet rose to prominence, the only way to know if a movie was good before seeing it was to trust movie critics, or usually, one movie critic. The one that wrote for whatever newspaper or magazine you happened to read.
Back in this crazy time you’d be forgiven for thinking that no movie was ever worth seeing, as even films that are held up today as indispensable classics were once dismissed as pure garbage. But that’s the thing with movie reviews; no one really knows everything, and you should trust no one.
Especially after you see our list of 10 Great Movies That Were Panned by Critics.
10. Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is a breathtaking, harrowing, and technologically spectacular film that may very well have changed cinema forever. The psychological military thriller is widely considered one of the finest works of modern cinema, but at the time of its release… No one really understood what it was going for.
General feelings of confusion met Apocalypse Now’s release, and a Time Magazine review even called the film “intellectually empty” and “emotionally obtuse.” Tell that to the film students all over the world that are pulling apart every scene at this very moment.
9. Blade Runner
Believe it or not, one of today’s most well-respected sci-fi films was a huge problem for studio execs leading up to its release. While Harrison Ford and director Ridley Scott were promised that the version of Blade Runner they shot would be the version shown in theaters, that never happened.
Ford recently admitted that he was forced to record a bland voiceover narration to help clarify the film. Subsequent test screenings of the films were panned by audiences and studio execs, and the dull voiceover eventually led to miserable reviews brought on by critics claiming too much exposition ruined the final product. While the later Director’s Cut axed the voiceover and paved the way for the film to be considered a classic, it’s impossible to say how many viewers were turned off by negative reviews upon the film’s release that they never got a chance to see this masterpiece.
Disney’s Fantasia was originally set to be a cinematic event unlike any other, intended to be released every year with new shorts in a bid to create one of the first ever movie franchises. However, those plans were scrapped after the now-famous animated film debuted to measly box-office receipts and confusion.
Set to classical music and featuring spectacular, state-of-the-art animation, Disney pioneered so many technologies with Fantasia that it should’ve found success based on that alone, but angry backlash from parents claiming that the film was satanic and too dark for children ultimately did the film in. Eventually, with the onset of the 60s and people’s mellowing attitudes about colors and music and, gasp, scary pictures(!), the film was appreciated as the ground-breaking piece of motion picture history that it should’ve been from the start.
7. Fight Club
We all know Fight Club. It’s one of David Fincher’s greatest films. It’s the one with the stinging message about capitalism and the stellar twist that put an end to any movie that followed ever using a similar twist again. It’s brutal and funny and inventive all at once. But, surprise surprise, like every great movie on this list, it was considered an empty shell of a movie and no one was falling for its charms.
While many thought the film was average and not as ground-breaking as it thought it was, those feelings seemed to fade from the world pretty soon after its release, as the film was only released in 1999 and has been considered a must-see for at least the past 15 years. With so much packed into such a unique package, the one thing that can be said about Fight Club is that it’s the furthest thing from ordinary; and just another film that the critics needed a while to fully appreciate.
6. It’s a Wonderful Life
The year was 1946 and the world was apparently filled with scrooges, because perennial Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life was greeted with contempt and a thud when it hit the box office. While James Stewart’s delightful performance thankfully wasn’t one of the things critics hated about the film, no one liked the sentimentality behind the story or the fact that the characters ended up in a place of optimism.
Apparently, It’s a Wonderful Life would’ve done a lot better at the time if it had just ended on George Bailey jumping off the bridge and drowning. Luckily for humanity, that never happened and the next generation of (obviously more positive) baby-boomers embraced the film to make it the classic feel-good holiday film that it is today.
5. The Graduate
Back in 1967 The Graduate was released to a very confused world, many of whom thought it was a comedy that failed to generate enough laughs. Time Magazine criticized legendary director Mike Nichols and said that the screenplay “begins as a genuine comedy, (but) soon degenerates into spurious melodrama.”
These days, not only is The Graduate considered one of the best written and acted films of all time – with a breakout performance by Dustin Hoffman – but Nichols gets most of the credit for stellar direction. The film is held up as the standard in something that knows exactly what it wants to be; it’s classy, confident, and calm, and that was apparently an issue for people upon its initial release.
4. The Shining
Dissect The Shining all you want. Read into it, re-watch it a billion times, explore the conspiracy theories behind it if you really must. But just know that initially The Shining was a film that no one wanted to watch, and it wasn’t until a few years later that the world collectively changed their minds and held up the film as a modern masterpiece.
Upon its 1980 release, critics were concerned and confused with the film’s butchering of the original Stephen King source material and many wondered what went wrong to make this film so different from what everyone loved about the book. In fact, star Shelley Duvall was nominated for a Razzie for her role in the film, not to mention the fact that Stanley Kubrick was nominated for worst director. So, maybe that’ll make you re-think the Razzies. If The Shining is any indication, two decades from now we could be here talking about what a classic film Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill is.
3. The Thing
When John Carpenter released The Thing on the world in 1982, critics really, really, really hated it. Many reviews pointed to the ground-breaking practical effects as a flaw, wishing for something less brutal and violent than a film about a monster attacking people.
Along with criticizing the lack of humor and bland characters, some even wrote that John Carpenter should never have been allowed to direct a sci-fi movie. Carptenter later said that he thought audiences would want his “gruelling, dark movie,” and he was right, it just happened that the audience he was catering his film toward wouldn’t come around until a lot later, when the film would eventually be considered one of the best horror/sci-fi films ever made.
2. The Wizard of Oz
“Cringing” was a word used to describe one critic’s reaction to The Wizard of Oz in a New Yorker review. It was said that the film contained no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity, and that it’s use of Technicolor was “especially bothersome.” It was also called “a stinkeroo.” So, yeah. Not kind words for Dorothy and her friends.
Not only were critics not kind to the film, but audiences didn’t embrace it either, leading to the film being a major flop when it was released in 1939. After high production costs thanks to large sets and special effects, MGM lost $1.1 million on the film. However, the studio prevailed and re-released the film 10 years later, finally breaking the profitability barrier on its way to becoming one of the most widely seen and recognized films of all time.
Maybe you can’t tell by its current 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes or its place among the greatest films in cinema history, but Vertigo was not for everyone when it came out in 1958. Dismissed by critics and the public as just another boring Hitchcock film, if the internet had been around in the late 50s, chances are there would’ve been plenty of angry commenters criticizing everything about the tense thriller.
The movie was so poorly received in fact that Hitchcock himself eventually took it out of circulation, effectively hiding it from the public, in 1973. Eventually, after Hitchcock’s death, the film was re-released and this time thoroughly appreciated, moving on to be the classic it’s considered today.
Which of these films are you most surprised to hear was panned? Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments!