A new movie hits the critical compilation site Rotten Tomatoes, and it maintains a perfect 100% Fresh score even after the initial flurry of 25, 50, maybe even 75 reviews. After that, it becomes a waiting game among the site’s followers, as they refresh their browsers repeatedly throughout the day to see which critic will dare knock it down to 99% with a Rotten review. Once that happens, the debate begins. Is this critic being honest? Or is this critic merely being a — gasp! — contrarian, bumping the movie off its lofty perch purely for the sake of a few moments of Internet infamy (and page views)?
It’s impossible to say, though we would like to err on the side of the reviewer’s integrity. At any rate, this lone voice standing against the majority is hardly a new phenomenon, as even the classics of yesteryear – the films perpetually brought up in discussions of the greatest films ever made – were subject to unflattering reviews here and there. Interestingly, many of these reviews, despite being decades old, have been preserved (through links) on Rotten Tomatoes.
Fortunately, many of cinema’s acknowledged masterpieces – movies like Citizen Kane, All About Eve, Singin’ in the Rain and The Maltese Falcon – deservedly maintain a 100% Fresh rating on the site. Other gems aren’t quite so lucky. Here, then, are 16 Movies You’ll Be Shocked To Learn Don’t Have 100% On Rotten Tomatoes.
16 TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (91%)
Gregory Peck's Oscar-winning performance as lawyer Atticus Finch is the bedrock of 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of those rare instances when a movie captures the essence of its source material without ever compromising it. A superb look at the unique way in which children view the world around them, this adaptation of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel finds Atticus' daughter Scout (Mary Badham) learning valuable life lessons by watching her dad defend a black man (Brock Peters) against fraudulent rape charges in a small Southern town.
At the time of the film’s release, Andrew Sarris offered a blistering review in the Village Voice, calling it an “overrated trick film” and stating that “the Negro is less a rounded character than a Liberal construct … infinitely nobler than his white-trash accusers [and] incredibly pure of heart.” Analyzing (perhaps unfairly) the film from a modern perspective, Roger Ebert spent his 2001 review largely lambasting what he perceived as naivety, particularly in scenes that he states could now only be “met with a weary cynicism. … To Kill a Mockingbird is, as I said, a time capsule. It expresses the liberal pieties of a more innocent time.”
15 GONE WITH THE WIND (94%)
From a social standpoint, this 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's bestseller remains ingrained in controversy. Along with D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind is the film most responsible for whitewashing the evils of racism and in effect making a romanticized vision of the Old South palatable to the nation at large. Yet purely from a cinematic standpoint, this drama about a Southern family's struggles during the Civil War is a genuine treasure, an engrossing epic distinguished by breathtaking achievements in pure moviemaking. Clearly, critics have always responded more strongly to its technical prowess than its thematic sore spot, since it’s long been heralded as one of Hollywood’s finest achievements.
There have been a few dissenters along the way. Arthur Schlesinger, revisiting the film during its 1973 reissue, wrote in The Atlantic that it’s burdened by “a morass of unconvincing sentimentality. It aspires to opera and achieves soap opera. It is a bore.” Schlesinger’s Atlantic colleague Richard Schickel, also catching that 1973 re-release, further opined that the movie is “curiously lifeless — mostly talk, and very flowery talk at that.” He dismissed it as “glossy, sentimental, chuckle-headed.”
14 IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (94%)
In Frank Capra’s 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life, James Stewart delivers arguably his greatest performance as decent George Bailey, who requires some heavenly intervention to help him get through what can only be described as his dark night of the soul. It’s a Wonderful Life has the power to move viewers to tears, and it does so not by blatant button-pushing but by honestly showing how an individual's life is truly something to celebrate.
Capra’s detractors would often call his pictures “Capracorn,” and that derogatory term can be found in Manny Farber’s takedown of the film in the New Republic. As he puts it, “It’s a Wonderful Life, the latest example of Capracorn, shows his art at a hysterical pitch.” Farber then goes on to criticize the director’s “absurdly over-simplified characterizations and unbearable whimsy.”
13 ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (95%)
Notable as one of only three films to win all five major Academy Awards (It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs are the others), 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is equally superb as a comedy, a drama and a social critique. Jack Nicholson is sensational as Randle McMurphy, a live wire who fakes mental illness and ends up in an institution run by the dictatorial Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
Two stateside bigwigs, the New York Times’ Vincent Canby and TIME Magazine’s Richard Schickel, both panned the film upon its release, although it was the 1976 review by British scribe Kenneth Robinson in The Spectator that emerged as the most hysterical — in both senses of the word.
Unfairly revealing McMurphy’s ultimate fate in the first paragraph, Robinson proceeds to call the film “disgusting” and “devastatingly awful” before concluding that, “apart from some very good performances, the film has nothing to offer me — apart from a sustained feeling of nausea.”
12 SCHINDLER’S LIST (96%)
It didn't take long for Steven Spielberg's 1993 Holocaust drama to establish its foothold in the annals of cinema. Its dominance on critics’ year-end 10 Best lists was a given, as was its Academy Award win for Best Picture. But it was in 1998 that Schindler’s List truly flexed its muscles as an instant classic. A mere five years after the movie’s release, the American Film Institute placed it #9 on its list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, and the 2007 reworking of the list moved it up a notch to #8.
Yet not every reviewer was in awe of Spielberg’s achievement. One dissenter was People Magazine’s Joanne Kaufman, whose criticism rested with the central character of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), the German war profiteer who single-handedly saved thousands of Jews from extermination. As Kaufman wrote, “The film never successfully explains what drives Neeson, a Nazi party member, a heretofore unremarkable man and frankly a bit of a cad and a swine, to such a change of mind and heart and lo such spectacular acts of heroism. [H]is epiphenomenal moment … seems thin and pat.”
11 ANNIE HALL (97%)
After years of producing pictures designed only to trigger hearty laughs, Woody Allen stretched as a filmmaker with 1977’s Annie Hall, a peerless seriocomedy in which the neurotic Alvy Singer (Allen) reflects on his relationship with the equally neurotic Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Critics, audiences and Academy members enthusiastically embraced the film, and Allen was no longer being hailed as just a bright comedian but also an artistic genius.
Yet it was specifically Allen’s ability to turn the corner on his career that led Gary Arnold of the Washington Post to air his grievances with the film. “After slapstick farces as exuberant and hilarious as Sleeper and Love and Death, Annie Hall comes as a soft, fuzzy, mildly diverting letdown,” he wrote. “While there are funny lines and situations, they tend to be widely, frugally scattered. Personally, I feel the change in Allen's approach as a deprivation, both emotionally and stylistically.”
10 PSYCHO (97%)
Not everyone was electrified by The Master’s movie, though. TIME looked down on this one as well, although it was Robert Hatch of The Nation who was particularly incensed by the picture. “I am offended and disgusted,” he revealed. “The clinical details of psychopathology are not material for trivial entertainment. Psycho puts you in the position of rubbernecking at the horrors of the diseased mind; it makes you feel unclean.”
9 JAWS (97%)
Entrusted with Peter Benchley’s gargantuan bestseller about a great white shark terrorizing a New England oceanfront community, Steven Spielberg found himself working with extremely thin source material. With only one other big-screen credit (1974’s The Sugarland Express) under his belt, the potential for disaster was enormous — especially since the mechanical shark didn't work most of the time!
The director, drawing from a screenplay that improved upon the book, ultimately fashioned an instant classic with 1975’s Jaws, a movie which owes the majority of its success to Spielberg’s superb orchestration of the thrilling set-pieces and shock sequences.
While conceding that the shark sequences were “suspensefully done,” Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin nevertheless called Jaws “a coarse-grained and exploitive work which depends on excess for its impact.” And while he admired the performances by Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, he noted that, “Ashore it is a bore, awkwardly staged and lumpily written. [It] is melodrama, broad and obvious.”
8 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (97%)
David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia has long been regarded as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, and its status extends far beyond the critical community. Its numerous accolades include seven Academy Award wins and lofty placement (#7) on the AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 best American movies. As for Peter O’Toole, everyone agrees that his star-making performance as British adventurer T.E. Lawrence is flawless.
Make that almost everyone. One of the staff critics at The Monthly Film Bulletin, a British Film Institute publication that later became part of the highly influential Sight & Sound magazine, wrote that “Peter O'Toole's performance, likeable, intelligent and devoted, lacks that ultimate star quality which would lift the film along with it.”
On this side of the Atlantic, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times spared O’Toole but not the film’s treatment of his character, asserting that the movie “reduces a legendary figure to conventional movie-hero size amidst magnificent and exotic scenery but a conventional lot of action-film clichés.”
7 CASABLANCA (97%)
Bogart and Bergman as Rick and Ilsa. Laszlo and the letters of transit. Captain Renault and his charming corruptibility. "As Time Goes By." "Here's looking at you, kid." You know the routine. So round up the usual accolades for 1942’s Casablanca, whose standing as one of Hollywood’s most popular — and quotable — pictures remains undiminished as time goes by.
Casablanca pleased the critics and furthermore nabbed the Best Picture Oscar, but the curmudgeons at TIME Magazine were having none of it. In the publication’s weekly roundup of new releases, the assigned critic mainly used his review to comment on the actors’ physical appearances — for starters, Bogart “looks like Buster Keaton playing Paul Gaugin,” while jowly S.Z. Sakall “should consider wearing his face in a brassiere” — before concluding, “Nothing short of an invasion could add much to Casablanca.” It’s hard to imagine anyone took this review seriously since, in the write-up for one of the other new films covered that week (Once Upon a Honeymoon), the critic repeatedly referred to Cary Grant as “Gary Grant.”
6 ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (98%)
Sergio Leone's operatic oater remains notable for a number of achievements, including the casting of Hollywood hero Henry Fonda as a cold-blooded killer and the way the visuals match up beautifully with Ennio Morricone's exceptional score (Morricone actually composed his music before Leone began filming). But it was only in other countries where audiences were able to enjoy all 165 minutes of this 1968 classic, since the version released in the U.S. the following year was chopped by 20 minutes. Only much later was the entire cut made available stateside.
Roger Ebert reviewed the picture when it first hit the U.S. in 1969, and it was, yes, the length that led to his lukewarm review. While he admits the movie is “good fun” and distinguished by “some interesting performances,” he also bemoaned the fact that “the movie stretches on for nearly three hours, with intermission, and provides two false alarms before it finally ends.”
5 A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (98%)
Released stateside in August 1964, six months after The Beatles' legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, director Richard Lester's landmark A Hard Day’s Night looks like a documentary, sounds like a musical, and feels like a comedy. At this freeze-frame moment in time, John, Paul, George and Ringo come across as nothing so much as complete innocents ready to share their joyous sounds with the world. With so many classic bits pouring from the screen in a mad rush, it’s no wonder the movie was famously described by Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris as "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals."
Jonas Mekas, the Village Voice’s other critic, disagreed, and he even used his review to take Sarris to task. “Only one who is completely ignorant of the work of the ‘new American cinema’ filmmakers during the past three years can call A Hard Day’s Night, even jokingly, the Citizen Kane of the hand-held cinema (Sarris did it).” As for the picture itself, Mekas groused, “Neither good acting nor good photography can make a good movie. … At best, it is fun. But ‘fun’ is not an aesthetic experience: fun remains on the surface.”
4 CHINATOWN (98%)
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown." This immortal line is enough to make any movie lover swoon, yet it's just one of the countless classic moments in this 1974 neo-noir masterpiece from director Roman Polanski, screenwriter Robert Towne and star Jack Nicholson, the latter cast as a private eye in 1930s Los Angeles who becomes involved in a labyrinthine plot involving murder and political corruption.
The fact that Chinatown earned the admiration of his peers and subsequently nabbed 11 Oscar nominations (winning for Best Original Screenplay) didn’t impress Gene Siskel, who wrote in the Chicago Tribune that he found the movie “tedious from beginning to just before the end. The majority of problems are to be found in Polanski's direction. The opening shot of almost every scene has been so artificially overcomposed as to make one aware of Jack Nicholson wearing '30s clothes while standing in a room decorated to look like a '30s room while talking to stereotypes plucked from an assortment of '30s movies.”
3 TOY STORY 3 (99%)
Pixar’s most enduring franchise almost pulled off the hat trick, but in the end, it came up one percentage point short. Certainly, it’s impressive that 1995’s Toy Story has a 100% Fresh rating from 78 reviews. And it’s remarkable that 1999’s Toy Story 2 similarly maintains a 100% Fresh rating with 163 reviews. But with nearly 300 reviews, the odds were dramatically stacked against 2010’s Toy Story 3 not finding a few dissenters among the ranks.
Chief among these naysayers was, of course, former New York Press reviewer Armond White, whose online notoriety as a contrarian largely stemmed from his bashing of this film. On the same day that he submitted a rapturous review for Jonah Hex (“True art"), White panned Toy Story 3 as “a bored game that only the brainwashed will buy into. Besides, Transformers 2 [Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen] already explored the same plot to greater thrill and opulence.”
2 THE GODFATHER (99%)
While film buffs continue to argue over whether Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather or The Godfather: Part II is the best of the trilogy (1990’s The Godfather: Part III never enters the discussion), there’s no denying that the first film made more of an impact than its 1974 follow-up. Released in 1972, The Godfather smashed box office records, revived Marlon Brando’s career, made a star out of Al Pacino, and turned “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” into an omniscient movie quote. Yet neither film can claim a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Part II at 97% Fresh and the original at 99% Fresh.
The sole negative review on RT for The Godfather comes courtesy of New Republic critic Stanley Kauffmann, who largely focused on Brando’s performance. “I don’t see how any gifted actor could have done less than Brando does here. His resident power, his sheer innate force, has rarely seemed weaker.” Kauffmann didn’t spare the other participants, stating that Pacino “rattles around in a part too demanding for him” and Coppola “has saved all his limited ingenuity for the shooting and stranglings, which are among the most vicious I can remember.”
1 THE WIZARD OF OZ (99%)
This 1939 family classic long ago left the realm of being mere entertainment to emerge as a cultural touchstone for generations of Americans. Its attributes are plentiful, including the peerless Judy Garland as farm girl Dorothy, the lovely "Over the Rainbow,” the irresistible tag team of the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), the Tin Man (Jack Haley) and the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Munchkins pointing the way down the Yellow Brick Road.
It’s inconceivable to imagine any critic – even the most hardened among them – not succumbing to The Wizard of Oz’s charms. Yet Otis Ferguson of the New Republic resisted its appeal when the film initially hit theaters. Negatively comparing it to the previous year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Ferguson wrote, “The story of course has some lovely and wild ideas, but the picture doesn’t know what to do with them, except to be painfully literal and elaborate about everything — Cecil B. DeMille and the Seven Thousand Dwarfs by Actual Count. As for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.”
Do you think any of these movies deserved 100% on Rotten Tomatoes? Let us know in the comments!