Over the past decade, blockbusters have become the norm of modern cinema, regularly racking up billion dollar grosses. Last year alone brought four billion dollar movies, of which now are now amongst the top seven highest-grossing films of all-time. With grosses getting higher, one of the key factors thought to influence the incredible box office intakes are good reviews, but that isn’t always the case.
The latest blockbuster on the block, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is garnering less than stellar reviews – standing at a 29% Rotten Tomatoes rating – but its ultimate goal of becoming a massive success definitely isn’t out of the question. It just scored an impressive $166 million domestic opening while taking in $424 million worldwide in just three days, and it looks as though the negative reviews will do little to slow it down at the box office. This list isn’t another pessimistic review of the following movies, but an examination of their box office success juxtaposed with critical failure. Given their grosses, many people wanted to see the movies for a reason, and their voice spoke louder than critics.
Here are the Worst Reviewed Blockbusters of the Last 20 Years.
11. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Four years after the first Jurassic Park rewrote the record books, Steven Spielberg and company came back for round number two. The Lost World was supposed to pick up right where the original had left off, and financially, it did to some extent. Grossing $92.6 million in its initially four-day release, it began by shattering records. Eventually ending up with $618 million worldwide gross, The Lost World became another massive success for Steven Spielberg, although it did slip somewhat from Jurassic Park’s take. But the reviews weren’t too kind to the film.
Currently sporting a 51% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, it very nearly split the review community right down the middle. The film was criticized for its so-called recycled material and overly drawn out climax. Even director Steven Spielberg voiced his frustration with the production of the film. Although it did not reach the heights of its predecessor, The Lost World was a huge success and set the stage for Jurassic Park III and eventually, Jurassic World.
10. Hancock (2008)
Will Smith was widely viewed to be the biggest movie star in the world during the 2000s. This notion rang true when he led Hancock, the story of a worn down superhero, to box office gold in 2008. Hancock took in $103.8 million in its first five days of domestic release and went on to gross $624 million worldwide by the end of its theatrical run. Unfortunately, it wasn’t seen upon too kindly by critics.
Hancock owns a Rotten Tomatoes score of 41%. While the movie was praised for its original take on the superhero genre, critics focused on its flimsy narrative and poor execution. It’s bizarre second act twist wasn’t too highly-regarded either. Nonetheless, the original movie proved to be mightily successful in a pre-MCU world of superheroes. As it is, the vast Hollywood landscape has been criticized for lacking original ideas, and Hancock has been one of the few original movies to succeed, at least financially.
9. Man of Steel (2013)
Following the success of The Dark Knight trilogy, Warner Bros. wanted to reboot the Superman franchise in a similar direction after the failed Superman Returns. They hired Zack Snyder, the director of 300, and set the ball in motion for Man of Steel. With promising trailers and the chiseled Henry Cavill, the Superman reboot was set for success. Opening in June 2013, the film grossed $116.6 million in its opening weekend and ended up with $668 million by the time it was all said and done.
Critics, on the other hand, didn’t quite warm up to the idea of a murderous Superman, and the film currently stands at a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some of the main criticisms of the film included the underdeveloped characters, overly drawn-out fights, hyper-reliance on CGI, and the dark take on the son of Krypton. The Christopher Reeve films were on the campy side while this reboot tried to take a darker perspective to Superman, which didn’t pay off. Still, the film was a solid success for Warner Bros., and Zack Snyder returned to direct the unofficial sequel, Batman v. Superman. Whether or not that was the right decision has been a hotly debated subject over the last week or two.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The second reboot to make the list, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was the continuation of the Andrew Garfield reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. Having set the tone for the franchise with the first entry, the stage was set for this new series to truly find its own identity and differentiate itself from the Tobey Maguire films. The film grossed $91.6 million in its domestic opening weekend, culminating with $709 million worldwide. By most accounts, it was a rousing success, but the reviews…complicated matters.
The Marc Webb-directed sequel didn’t fare too well with the critics, ending up with a 53% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Among its highlighted faults were the unfocused narrative and the overabundance of characters. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote, “Things go wrong quickly with Amazing 2. Am I the only one who hates the word Amazing to describe a movie that isn’t?” Setting aside the financial success, the criticism of the film got the franchise scrapped in favor of a new reboot, this time with the realms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is one of the few occasions where mediocre reviews actually directly led to fans getting exactly what they wanted.
7. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I (2011)
The Twilight franchise isn’t exactly known for its groundbreaking storytelling or well-developed source material. But the franchise is one of the most successful ones ever, oftentimes surpassing even its caped and cowled counterparts (two on this list, for instance). One of the high points for the series was with the release of the first chapter of the two-part finale, Breaking Dawn – Part 1. The film took in $138.1 million in its domestic opening weekend in November 2011 and earned a final tally of $712 million worldwide.
But, true to form, the film earned scathing reviews. The Rotten Tomatoes score for Breaking Dawn stands at 24%, earning the undesirable title of being the lowest rated Twilight film. Critics pointed out the slow pace and bloated production as major problems with the film, and many were incensed by the obvious money grab that was the studio’s decision to split the final novel into two movies. As with the previous films in the series, the critics didn’t slow down the film or the momentum of the Twilight franchise.
6. The Da Vinci Code (2006)
When The Da Vinci Code was released in 2003, the mystery novel become a bestseller overnight and took the world by storm. Naturally, Hollywood got a hold of the rights and a film adaptation was fast-tracked. Ron Howard was brought on to direct while Tom Hanks was cast as the lead, and the film was released in 2006, grossing $232 million in its first weekend, cashing in a total worldwide cume of $758 million.
The film was highly successful, but the reviews weren’t mixed to say the least. Critics were quick to point out the lack of carry-over elements that made the novel a bestseller (although the novel itself was a divisive one), as well as its so-called attack on religion. The film was dubbed “critic-proof,” as the negative reception did little to slow down its financial intake. It produced another highly successful sequel in Angels and Demons, with a second sequel – Inferno – set for release later this year.
5. 2012 (2009)
Roland Emmerich has long specialized in the world-disaster genre and transformed it into box office gold. So it comes as no surprise when a film based on the destruction of the world was in the works, the Independence Day director got brought on to lead it. 2012, a huge spectacle of destruction based on the end of the world “predicted” by the Mayan calendar, went on to became a huge financial success, grossing $769 million worldwide in 2009. But as has been the case with past Emmerich films, the film was no critical darling.
Standing at a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film earned some less than stellar reviews, in which everything from its plot to the overblown production was criticized. Some appreciated the film for the disaster porn it was intended to be, but others pointed out that the weak script wasn’t enough to carry a film of such magnitude. Critics also pointed out the exhaustive length and anemic character developments as major faults.
4. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
It had been 16 years since the last Star Wars movie – Return of the Jedi – had been in theaters, and the date was set for the long awaited prequel that would take people back to the world of Jedis and Stormtroopers. In 1999, George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace opened to record-breaking numbers, becoming the fastest domestic film to ever gross $100 million (at the time). That mark was just the beginning; it eventually ended up with a $1.02 billion worldwide cume, some of which came years later with a 3D re-release. Aside from the fantastic numbers and hype, that was where the good news ended for The Phantom Menace.
Having lofty standards to reach, the first of three planned prequels fell a bit flat with critics. Everything from the overuse of CGI to plastic dialogue and cardboard acting was criticized, particularly that of young Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd. It earned a 56% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest rated Star Wars film. One of the main targets of the critic’s venom was the widely despised Jar Jar Binks character, who to this day is seen as one of the worst aspects of the Star Wars prequels. The film did reach profitability, but even now, it’s seen upon unfavorably by fans and critics.
3. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
The magic between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp is unquantifiable. The duo responsible for hits like Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory teamed up again to bring a live action rendition of Alice in Wonderland. They again pumped out not just another hit, but the one of the biggest hits in their entire careers. The film’s domestic opening weekend brought in an awesome $116.1 million on its way to a worldwide total nearly identical to that of The Phantom Menace ($1.02 billion). It is Burton’s most successful film to date and Depp’s highest grossing film outside the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Box office gold seemed to be on Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s side, but not the critics were a bit more polarizing. When the reviews came in for the film, they weren’t too keen on the new take of the children’s book. Critics were quick to voice their displeasure with its lack of narrative and over-reliance on CGI. The Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 53%. The mixed reaction by critics didn’t offset the huge success of the film, which has a sequel — Alice Through the Looking Glass — hitting theaters in May.
2. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
After a successful initial trilogy, Johnny Depp and crew decided to hang up their pirate wardrobe for the last time in 2007. But money talks, and Disney decided to semi-reboot the franchise and brought only a few of the characters of the original films, primarily Depp, for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Even without director Gore Verbinski and stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, the film went on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide.
The fourth film became one of the highest-grossing films of all-time, that wasn’t because critics loved it, earning a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics honed in on the sloppy script and a plot held together by the duct tape of explosions and loud noises. Many also criticized the worn out act of Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. It too, like the previous films on this list, wasn’t stopped by the negative reaction, and a fifth Pirates film is due out next year.
1. Transformers: Age of Extinction
The Transformers franchise isn’t synonymous with quality filmmaking (or so critics say), but it is with box office success. After a falling out with stars Shia LeBouf and Megan Fox, director Michael Bay decided to reboot the franchise after 3 entries with a whole new cast of actors. Bringing in Mark Wahlberg and a cast of unknowns, Transformers: Age of Extinction followed in the footsteps of its predecessors to box office gold. Taking in $1.104 billion worldwide, Age of Extinction is currently the 15th highest grossing film of all time. But it also followed its predecessors in critical reception.
Just like the past trilogy, Transformers: Age of Extinction was largely lambasted by critics. With an 18% certified rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it has the lowest score of the franchise (beating out Revenge of the Fallen by one point), making it the lowest rated film on this list. The unrelenting CGI-fest action simply wore critics down. The 165-minute film was criticized for offering little in plot, character development, surprises or joy, as director Michael Bay seemingly decided to abandon those essential elements for action sequences. But just like the previous few entries on our list, the critics weren’t enough to kill this franchise, and another Transformers film is in the works for 2017. Like few others before or since, Age of Extinction is proof of the growing disconnect between film critics and moviegoers.
Fantastic reviews don’t equate success, although they can play an integral role in certain films. Calling any of these movies bad is a subjective claim, as their grosses indicate that there are a lot of people who watch them and likely enjoyed them. Batman v. Superman is looking to become the next billion dollar movie, and it’ll probably get there, no thanks to critics. But fans will support it just like they supported the films on this list.
Did we leave out any of your favorite critically-divisive films? Sound off in the comments section.