There are bad movies, and there are good movies. There are the movies the critics like, and the ones they pan. Sometimes, critics can be unnecessarily harsh towards a film. But we get why they can be that way – they’re paid to professionally analyze film and to suss out the good from the bad, and so sometimes their criticism can seem hyperbolic or nit-picky. Critics usually get it right, and the merit-based recommendations they make are echoed by the general public. Every year, a bushel of lucky films ride a wave of great reviews to healthy box office returns and industry awards shows.
But on the other end of the spectrum are the movies that make it past the critics and initial showings, only to later be discovered to be overhyped and middling. Movies like these are often typified by over-the-top performances, self-involved direction, and excessively sentimental dialogue. We wanted to find out which were the best examples of movies that, despite what we’ve been told, just arn’t all that great. So sit back, relax, and enjoy Screen Rant’s 10 Renowned Movies that are Actually Kind of Bad…
10. American Hustle (2013)
An ensemble cast and adept directing gave American Hustle a really impressive starting point. And it was a watchable film – Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence give charismatic performances in this real-life tale of a fast-talking New Jersey hustler who ends up working with federal authorities to take down some corrupt politicians.
It had all the pieces to be a great film, except it just isn’t. American Hustle doesn’t grab the audience and take them on a ride. It’s too sedate, too insulated in its own bubble to provide anything that’s compelling or spirit-rousing. Critics were bowled over by the acting, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture in 2013, but since then it’s been mostly forgotten.
9. The Blind Side (2009)
The Blind Side is based on a true story, and since that sort of thing is readily interesting to pretty much everyone, it’s not very often that Hollywood gets this sort of thing wrong. And the story within The Blind Side is pretty inspiring: Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless teen, is taken in by the Tuoghy family, led by matriarch Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock). The Tuoghys eventually become his legal guardians and he pursues opportunities he never had, soon becoming a star football player. And while Oher has continued his success since that chapter ended – he is still become a respected NFL player – The Blind Side has not had quite as good of a shelf life.
8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Put Brad Pitt or Cate Blanchett in anything and you’re going to have critics on it like flypaper. Each actor has carved out a venerable Hollywood career, and each now resides, comfortably, at the top of the A-list. So put the two in a slow-moving drama together and it’s sure to be great, right?
Most top critics loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for David Fincher’s direction, and they lauded Pitt’s performance as a man who is born aging in reverse. It’s sentimental, it harkens back to an earlier era, and the visuals are gorgeous, but the characters are only skin-deep and the story reads cold. The nearly 3-hour epic had audiences fidgeting and left a great many underwhelmed. It won three Oscars, all for how it looked (Visual Effects, Production Design, Hair and Makeup), but unfortunately that’s about all it can be remembered for.
7. The King’s Speech (2010)
Critics are suckers for British period dramas. And you can’t blame them. There are plenty of fascinating stories to base movies off of when it comes to the British royal family in particular, and The King’s Speech uses an especially piquant story as a baseline: Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome a debilitating speech impediment if he is to ascend to the throne and lead his country. Surreptitiously, he and his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seek out the help of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush), and the two men forge a bond that will help the prince overcome many obstacles along his journey.
It is moving to watch thanks in large part to the excellent performances and direction, but there are virtually no stakes. Even if Albert doesn’t overcome his impediment, he is still one of the most advantaged people in the world. The film is great in many ways, yet is easily forgettable.
6. Mystic River (2003)
Mystic River works really hard to come across like a deep film, and one that is dealing with serious moral quandaries. And you have serious actors starring in it, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, who are incredibly gifted but have a bit of a reputation for coming across as highfalutin.
The movie suffers from having a great cast and not enough of a story locked in. The daughter of Jimmy (Penn) is murdered, and everyone believes that his boyhood friend Dave (Robbins) had something to do with it. It’s a movie that could have done well with exploring friendship, family, loss, and trust. The movie hints at some pretty big ideas, but it gets caught in its own reflection.
5. American Beauty (1999)
A movie seemingly purpose-built for getting shiny reviews from movie critics, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty is a forgettable wannabe-classic. Released in 1999 at the height of the housing bubble, the film focuses on the midlife crisis on Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-class dad who decides to shirk his responsibilities and start living like a kid again. Laid-back Lester is surrounded by a complementary cast of strong personalities: a controlling wife (Annette Bening) who is seeing someone else, his teenage daughter’s flirtatious friend, and his neighbor, a conservative veteran with anger issues.
The movie deals with different aspects of sexuality, and in many ways, it is a good, progressive film. But the characters are so one-dimensional that it just ends up feeling like a half-baked, cynical attempt at the Oscar for Best Picture (which it won).
4. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Shakespeare in Love has already gotten a fair amount of criticism. Since it won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1998, it’s oft-remembered, rather derisively, as “that movie that beat Saving Private Ryan.” And this is not an unfair critique.
The premise is enticing enough: A young William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) has hit a sort of writer’s block, wandering around until he meets a muse, a beautiful young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who inspires him to write his greatest work. Critics positively fawned over the thing when it was released, feeling it was quite a seductive mix of wit, romance, and drama.
But there is another camp that feels the film is facile, portraying Shakespeare as a concupiscent teenager, not so much an unbridled genius as a cheesy schmoe. Add to that the fact that a lot of the dialogue sounded a lot more 1990s than 1590s, and you had plenty of people ready to side with Private Ryan.
3. Scarface (1983)
Scarface has enormous caché in our pop culture heritage, occupying a similar zone with many classics. Most often, it is put in the same category as gangster film like The Godfather. It might be easy at first glance to draw such a comparison, because Scarface ticks all the right boxes to be a crime classic: it’s a 3-hour epic about a broke immigrant in Miami who builds one of the largest drug empires in the world, it has plenty of action, memorable lines, and it stars a fire-eyed Al Pacino.
But while it often gets conflated with crime movies like The Godfather, it shouldn’t be. The care that went into that film was extraordinary, and while Scarface was competently made by the generally-great director Brian De Palma, it lacks refinement. And just as importantly, while those films are populated by characters we come to know and love, the supposed protagonist in Scarface, Tony Montana, is a wretched person through and through.
2. Crash (2005)
Hey, remember Crash? You know, Crash, the biggest cultural event of 2005. It broke down all sorts of invisible social and racial barriers, and did so in jarring and heart-wrenching ways? Hold on, did we go too far?
Yeah, we sort of did. While Paul Haggis’ Crash was a well-respected work on modern society coming to terms with its own race struggles, it was not quite the major social think piece that many critics and theater-goers thought. A spirited scroll through 24 hours in the disastrously intersecting lives of a diverse group of Los Angelinos, Crash starred an ensemble cast including Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Michael Pena. The film uses stellar dramatic acting and intense scenarios to emotionally grip the viewer, but it never really delved into the underlying issues. It won all kinds of awards, including the 2006 Academy Award for Best Picture.
1. Avatar (2009)
Avatar is amazing when you look at it on paper. It’s the highest-grossing movie of all time, by a comfortable margin. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the second-highest, after only Gone With the Wind. It’s official budget stood at $237 million, while another $150 million was spent marketing the thing. James Cameron’s motion capture extravaganza was an eye-popping visual experience, enrapturing audiences around the globe in the lush jungle world of Pandora. The film’s story was a simple environmental one, which we’ve heard a million times before: the big bad corporate enterprise wanted the natural resources lying in the indigenous zone of Pandora, and they would stop at nothing – even threatening the native Na’vis’ very existence – to get what they want.
While the storyline obviously served as just an excuse for showing off a visual effects playground, the characters and their motives were just a little too simplistic. Movies are about telling stories, and while Avatar was gorgeous, the story was lacking. Such criticism clearly didn’t stop many from seeing it, but when you try to watch this movie at home on your TV and not on an IMAX screen, you realize it’s not all that great.
And so there you have it: 10 of the most critically-acclaimed films that actually don’t really deserve it…
Well, did we miss any?
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