With the rise of internet message boards and the endless stream of fan sites since the turn of the millennium, we’ve heard extreme voices of love and hate rise to do battle over every new release.
These days, it seems just about any film can inspire a passionate debate between fans and haters, but some are such extreme cases that it’s almost impossible to discuss it without having a mediator present to defuse the inevitable conflict. Here are twelve of the most polarizing movies of the 21st century. Bring your flame shield.
Here are the 12 Most Polarizing Movies of the 21st Century!
***Warning: Some entries may contain SPOILERS.***
Is Watchmen Zack Snyder’s magnum opus, a superpowered version of Goodfellas about the rise and fall of costumed heroes? Or is it an over-stuffed mess of bad acting, overwhelmingly dense plotting, and gratuitous CGI? Fans of the film claim it is a wonderful love letter to the comic, full of call backs to the original while remaining as faithful to its source material as can be reasonably expected, if not more so. Detractors claim its use of the original panels to frame its shots to be shamelessly reductive, its MTV-styled music video sequences to be egregiously overdone, and its story to be not close enough to the source material.
But, as is often the case, many of these so-called negative points are just as frequently cited as reasons why the movie is so great, particularly in its use of licensed music. Regardless of where one falls on the Watchmen debate, at least we can all agree that the film has one of the greatest opening titles sequences of all time. Oh, and make sure you get the Director’s Cut; it’s a huge improvement over the schizophrenic pacing of the theatrical cut, giving it the epic “Old Hollywood” feel it is clearly aiming for.
12. Superman Returns
Fans of Superman Returns say it’s a great continuation of Richard Donner’s legendary Superman films of the ’70s and that Brandon Routh is a dead-ringer for Christopher Reeve. Further, they’ll say that Kevin Spacey is an inspired choice for Lex Luthor and that the film, as a whole, was a fitting tribute to the legacy of the character. Detractors insist the movie lacks punch, that the action scenes are underwhelming, and that the supporting cast is too large and muddled to allow for a meaningful arc for our hero.
The legend goes that Warner Brothers was only willing to pursue one sequel between Batman Begins and Superman Returns, and while Superman actually outperformed Batman at the global box office, the critical reception of Christopher Nolan’s reboot was much warmer than Superman’s divisive return. We all know how The Dark Knight turned out, but it seems unfair that they couldn’t just do both.
When Ridley Scott announced he was returning to the universe of one of his most iconic films, directing a prequel to Alien, the fandom, needless to say, got excited. We were promised a film which would explore the origins of the terrifying and deadly Xenomorph, as well as that of the Space Jockey, as he was known back then, the mysterious pilot of the ship which carried all of the Facehugger eggs in the original film.
What we got was either a mess of unconnected and uninteresting sub-plots with no payoff and a cast of unlikable protagonists, or a flawed masterpiece layered with story teases and an open-ended conclusion ripe for interpretation. There are alien creatures, but the only one which vaguely resembles a traditional Xenomorph appears in the closing seconds of the film. The Space Jockey’s race, the Engineers, appear, but their motivations are only hinted at and their history can only be inferred by the audience.
Strangely, more concrete explanations appear in deleted scenes, in which it is revealed that Jesus was an Engineer, but when he was killed by humans, their own creations, the God-like race decided to destroy humanity, their own experiment gone wrong. Regardless of one’s own view of Prometheus, we’re still excited for 2017’s Alien: Covenant, to be directed by Ridley Scott, as well as the promised Neil Blomkamp Alien sequel.
When a movie is the single most successful worldwide hit of all time, there’s no doubt that some will come crawling out of the woodwork to cry foul. For every fan who loved the fully realized world, gorgeous 3D effects, and classic tale of good versus evil with a timely environmental message, there is a hater who dismissively compares Avatar to films like Dances With Wolves or even Ferngully, while calling out the off-the-shelf characterization and other well-worn storytelling techniques.
James Cameron knows what works; some are receptive to its familiarity while others are repelled by the overly complex method of telling what is, at its core, a very simple story. Still, we can’t help but feel like Cameron has a particularly large target on his back because of Titanic, his other mega-hit with a straight-forward story and unprecedented use of special effects. He can’t lose, and a certain subset of naysayers won’t allow that level of success to go unpunished.
9. Sucker Punch
It’s time for round 2 with Zack Snyder, the most divisive director this side of the Wachowskis. This time, let’s look at Sucker Punch, perhaps his most divisive movie yet. First things first, make sure you catch the Director’s Cut of the film, which is superior to its theatrical counterpart in every way.
Is Sucker Punch a visually arresting ode to femininity and a criticism of misogyny? Or does it claim to revere the former while gleefully indulging in the latter? Do the numerous action sequences establish Snyder as an auteur of action, or are they brain-numbing and artificial exercises in pointless extravagance? Sucker Punch bombed when it first hit the box office, and while the Director’s Cut is generally accepted as an improvement, it is up for epic debate whether the movie is a pop classic or a misfire of epic proportions.
8. Star Trek Into Darkness
While both J.J. Abrams movies easily deserve a spot on this list, the first film got a pass with fans simply because it made Star Trek hip again. It brought the franchise back from the brink of oblivion and into the public eye, regardless of the fact that its script was held together by duct tape and wishful thinking, and it was chock full of plot inconsistencies through which the Enterprise would fit. Into Darkness has a much tighter script and flows more seamlessly from scene to scene. Fans point to Benedict Cumberbatch’s charismatic performance, as well as the film’s reverential treatment of The Wrath of Khan as examples of why the film is an improvement over its predecessor. Detractors use those exact same points; they accuse Into Darkness of being a tired retread, a “Greatest Hits” montage of Wrath of Khan, while also citing the casting of Cumberbatch as face-palmingly racist.
Khan was an Indian character, portrayed by the Mexican Ricardo Montalban. Not exactly accurate ethnic casting, but for 1967, it was progressive enough to have a person of color as a physical and intellectual match for Captain Kirk. Fast-forward to the politically correct 21st century, the perfect opportunity to reimagine the character with a racially accurate actor, and they cast… Benedict Cumberbatch. Not just a white man, but literally the whitest man.
7. The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky’s 2006 sci-fantasy love story, The Fountain, is undoubtedly a thought-provoking head-scratcher. To some, the thoughts it provokes are related to grasping the themes of the film and its stunning imagery, but to others, the question is, “What did I watch and can I unwatch it?”
Aronofsky’s struggle to get The Fountain made is well-documented, as is the fact that he rewrote the script to facilitate a smaller budget after Brad Pitt dropped out and funding for the film was reduced considerably. Aronofsky even wrote a graphic novel version of the story when he feared the film would never be made. Regardless, the movie is loathed by many who feel that it requires a degree in religious studies and the keenest of eyes to even begin to follow. Others feel that its esoteric nature is great for multiple viewings and that the shared messages of the three somewhat interconnected stories offer enough substance to keep the viewers from feeling thematically cheated. Those who felt cheated disagreed. While a “you either get it or you don’t” film can be accepted as such (which is why The Tree of Life is not on this list), The Fountain earns its spot for straddling the line between commercial viability and incomprehensibility, hence its divisiveness.
6. Man of Steel
Rounding out our trilogy of Zack Snyder base-breakers, we have Man of Steel. While fans universally appreciate the hard-hitting action and full display of Superman’s strength with cutting-edge, 21st century CGI, virtually every other element of the film is a fiercely debated, from Kevin Costner’s melodramatic act of self-sacrifice, to Clark Kent becoming Superman because his Kryptonian father tells him so, to the excessive destruction in Metropolis during Superman’s battle with General Zod (which may or may not thematically pay off when Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice comes out on March 25th), to Superman’s brutal killing of Zod at the film’s end.
Sure, it was self-defense, but it rubbed some people the wrong way. To many, Superman snapping Zod’s neck like a twig was a ruthless indulgence of the perceived bloodlust of modern audiences, the button on a scene full of endless destruction and the deaths of untold thousands of innocent residents of Metropolis. Fans of the film argue that Man of Steel is an origin story and the mistakes the character made in that film will strengthen his portrayal in future movies, but we are confident that regardless of the fan reception to Dawn of Justice, the Man of Steel debate will continue to rage on.
5. Jurassic World
Let’s hear it for Jurassic World, the second-most-successful film of 2015. The long-awaited sequel to Jurassic Park, one of the most beloved films of all time, there is absolutely no disputing that Jurassic World made an obscene amount of money.
What is disputed, however, is the quality of the film. Does the fully-functional dinosaur theme park capture the imagination and palpable sense of wonder of the 1993 original? Is the Indominus Rex the dinosaur equivalent of Jason Voorhees, an unstoppable and genuinely scary monster? Or is she just a schlocky sci-fi monster? Is Chris Pratt thoroughly watchable, or is he too annoyingly perfect to be believable? Does Bryce Dallas Howard have a strong and fully-realized story arc, or is she just utterly unlikable, to say nothing of her outrunning a T-Rex while wearing high heels? Do the human characters even matter? What about the raptors? Is the Resident Evil-esque plot of creating hybrid-dinosaurs for use as wartime weapons gloriously cheesy or a step too far into B-movie silliness?
4. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
The Star Wars prequels have a small-but-dedicated fandom, but the general consensus is, that while they had some good ideas and Ewan McGregor, they were a creative disappointment and that George Lucas was right to hang up the proverbial cape. That being said, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith has a far more passionate following than its two predecessors, because of its impressive battle sequences and Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader. Meanwhile, other fans like the fact that they can put the prequels behind them forever and pretend they never happened. Revenge of the Sith fans appreciate the film’s dark and gritty subject matter. Set during an all-out galactic war (a Star War, if you will), the film contains harsh bits of family-unfriendly violence like Count Dooku’s decapitation and a limbless Anakin screaming while on fire like he’s the subject of “One” by Metallica.
Detractors find the film’s pockets of violence to be tasteless and pandering to the “mature audience” trend that was all the rage in 2005, while insisting that the film suffers from many of the same problems as the other two prequel chapters: wooden acting by Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen, overwhelmingly obstructive CGI effects, and an uninspired script full of boring space-politics, paper-thin characterization and nauseatingly poor dialogue. At least Jar-Jar only has one line in the whole movie, so that’s… an improvement.
3. Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive was a pretty divisive film, but it was nothing compared to his follow-up, Only God Forgives. Depending on who one asks, Only God Forgives is either one of the greatest films of all time or ninety endless minutes that one can never get back. This tale of revenge in the Bangkok underworld is full of trance-like periods with no dialogue; only a Michael Mann-esque blending of stunning and provocative visuals and a piercing score (by Cliff Martinez), punctuated by bursts of shocking violence and an intimately disturbing turn by Kristin Scott Thomas as a criminal matriarch.
Fans of Drive who appreciated its Miami Vice-style music videos were burned why what they saw as Refn’s decision to essentially make Only God Forgives a full-length MTV video, while its fans love it for the exact same reason, as they believe the music and the imagery tells the story much more intimately than scripted dialogue ever could.
2. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3, the grand finale of solo Iron Man adventures (for now) is easily the most polarizing MCU film, edging out even the highly divisive Avengers: Age of Ultron for its wonderfully subversive twist. The film’s advertising played up the introduction of Iron Man’s greatest enemy, The Mandarin, into the MCU, updated from his embarrassing 60s “yellow peril” portrayal to a modern-day terrorist leader played by Ben Kingsley, based on Osama Bin Laden. The twist occurs when, after spending the entire film building up the threat of this reimagined Mandarin, it is revealed that Ben Kingsley is actually playing Trevor Slattery, an actor paid to portray a charismatic terrorist leader so that Guy Pierce’s Aldrich Killian could have a monopoly on the War on Terror.
Some passionate fans of the character were… unamused. While critics and general audiences were floored by the well-executed twist, comic book purists were shocked that director Shane Black had the audacity to essentially make the most iconic Iron Man villain of all time a red herring. The reaction from this faction of the fandom was so extreme that the Marvel One-Shot, All Hail the King (featured on the home video release of Thor: The Dark World), reintroduced the character of The Mandarin, this time as a genuine threat out for vengeance on those who have misused his name. Time will tell if he shows up again in any future Marvel projects, but if we know one thing, it’s that one group of fans or another will have a serious problem with his casting and/or characterization. #notmymandarin, anyone?
1. Any Film by The Wachowskis (Except for The Matrix)
Speed Racer. The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions. Cloud Atlas. While we can mostly agree that The Matrix was an instant classic and Jupiter Ascending was pretty bad (except for the deliciously hammy performance of Eddie Redmayne), the jury’s still out on the rest of The Wachowskis’ catalogue.
The Matrix sequels were so disputed that the Blu-Ray boxed set contains two commentary tracks for each movie; one with scholars (including Dr. Cornel West!) discussing the philosophies and themes of the film, and another one with three critics tearing the films apart. It’s wild and well worth a listen.
Speed Racer fans love the film for perfectly capturing the spirit of the original anime and for having an eye-poppingly imaginative style unlike anything else out there, while others say it’s the visual equivalent to eating a big bowl of candy laced with cocaine.
Cloud Atlas is either their magnum opus tour de force filled with transformative performances which transcend time and space, or it’s an overstuffed mess and exhibit A in the argument for why the original novel had been described as “unfilmable.”
As long as The Wachowskis continue to make movies, viewers will continue to debate their quality, and in these debates, middle ground will continue to be as rare as diamonds.
So, which of these movies do you love? Which do you hate? What movies did we miss? Sound off in the comments below, but be nice; we’re all entitled to our own opinion, can you dig it?
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