For new films, Rotten Tomatoes is the little review aggregator that can take down the largest of films. It may have even defeated both Batman and Superman in their crossover film last year; Warner Bros. believes its overwhelmingly negative 27% score is what slowed it down so quickly at the box office.
Since Rotten Tomatoes derives its scores from professional reviews of movies, the difference between the way a critic views a film and the way the public does is underlined. Audience scores are frequently much higher than Rotten Tomatoes scores - particularly for less "serious" films - horror, comedy, and genre pictures in particular. It seems like a safe bet that a movie starring a bunch of Oscar nominees, helmed by an auteur director, based on a true historical event will be liked by critics - and so deemed Fresh - but that's not always the case.
There are Oscar-bait movies that fall flat on their faces. There are films with great pedigrees—perfect casting, directing, and writing— that you’d think would have incredible scores, only for them to have fallen short, or, most surprisingly, get completely trashed.
These are 15 Surprising Movies You Didn’t Know Were ‘Rotten.’
15 Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a listless film with no real point. It features Johnny Depp’s usual immersion into a strange character, this time as the brilliant Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a good, bizarre movie, but Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t seem to agree, given it's 49% Rotten rating.
Loathing is an invitation to trip alongside its characters—it’s actually very similar to Jacob’s Ladder, just without that whole Vietnam thing. Considering Loathing’s status (or perhaps because of its status) as a cult classic, it has a small collection of fans while most people just don’t care for it.
Despite the fact that it may have helped birth the modern biopic, its meandering, stream of consciousness style-over-substance (even as the characters are taking all of them) tendencies leave some people in the cold. However, if you were to put this movie on in front of a group of friends, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t like it.
14 The Iron Lady
All the ingredients are there: controversial figure—check; opportunity to politically grandstand—check; biopic—check; Meryl Streep—check. All you had to do was release the dang thing and the Oscars would arrive on a wave. And they did—Streep, of course, won. There were even occasional Best Picture, Screenplay and technical award nominations; by any account it’s a good movie. But, strangely enough, for all its accolades, The Iron Lady faltered with critics, only getting a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Perhaps it's because the film doesn’t make much of an attempt to actually tell the whole story of Margaret Thatcher. It doesn’t provide you with an unconsidered take on Thatcher, nor does have an especially intimate insight.
Rather than reconsider a controversial figure, it largely served to merely confirm preconceived notions or conflate the truth with something that can move the plot to the next scene. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, just a lazy one.
13 The Tourist
No, wait, hear us out. There’s more to this than underrated or misunderstood movies. The Tourist is indeed a Sisyphean trap of unending banality—that’s undeniable. However, this garbage fire managed to attract two of the biggest stars in Hollywood—Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie (the latter of whom has become extremely selective in her film roles) as its leads.
Up to and even after its release, Columbia Pictures inundated us with posters, trailers and commercials in a bid that now reads as desperate rather than confident. Depp! Jolie! Look at that budget! It has to be good. Even if it was as tepid as its commercials made it seem, it could still be a fun diversion— an instance where the actors elevate the production. Nope. No chance of that here.
You really wouldn’t think this much effort would be put into something that only nabbed 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film did snag a much-mocked nomination in the Best Picture-Musical or Comedy category at the Golden Globes.
12 J. Edgar
Back in those dark days where Leonardo DiCaprio was not an Academy Award winner, his thirst for the prize was readily apparent in many of the films he chose. J. Edgar is one of them. Biopics were gold at the time—Ray and Walk the Line were incredibly popular and nabbed Oscars for those involved.
With J. Edgar, DiCaprio could not only play a historical figure but potentially make a tepid, safe political statement that movie stars love to congratulate themselves over. But J. Edgar burned up before it ever cleared the atmosphere at 43%. Despite DiCaprio’s performance and its Oscar-baiting premise, no one could save this film from being incredibly boring, nor could any lighting cover up DiCaprio’s bad make-up.
The poor guy had to practically get hypothermia to finally win an Oscar for The Revenant several years later.
11 The Monuments Men
Who doesn’t love a war movie? Well, audiences and critics alike love war movies— just not this one. World War II may be the go-to war for films, but The Monuments Men took a novel angle by focusing on soldiers tasked with recovering artifacts stolen by the Nazis.
Given that, by this time, Germany was losing the war and Hitler had tasked his soldiers to destroy everything, one would imagine this film would beat with a sense of urgency. Rather, it just kind of plodded along in neutral for a while.
Neither audiences or critics were particularly fond of this 30% Rotten film, which is sad considering it isn’t necessarily a bad movie, just a poorly paced one. That’s not something you usually say about big budget war movies with "Oscar-bait" written all over them.
10 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Like The Iron Lady, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close received a great deal of media and award season attention. Going by that, you’d assume this was a movie worthy of its nominations. As you can see, nope, it was not.
Films about 9/11 have a difficult choice to make— be a documentary, a biopic, or incorporate fiction into a real-life tragedy. By going with the third option, the story can immediately feel like manufactured sensitivity and a naked attempt at winning an Oscar (it was nominated for two).
Whatever its intentions, the film is virulently manipulative—it desires its audience to cry, and does so not through organic means, but at gunpoint. The film chokes on its weighty goals, though it does make many attempts to blind you with its syrupy sentimentality and equally persistent sense of self-importance. Critics weren't fooled, as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close only has 46% on Rotten Tomatoes.
9 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (56%)
Well, this is a travesty. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou may be eccentric for the sake of eccentricity It may even be a little too in love with itself. It should not, however, be Rotten.
The film is a whimsical mid-life crisis that finds the titular documentarian dealing with the hallmarks of middle age: failure, legacy, divorces, friends lost, friends made, and friends dead. These aren’t new concepts or themes, but The Life Aquatic feeds familiar stories through a new system. It certainly isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t deserving of 56%.
While Wes Anderson’s movies digest better on repeated viewing, Life Aquatic's place in pop culture would make you think it’s more critically beloved than it is. Then again, given its comparative 82% given to it by fans, The Life Aquatic is another disconnect between reviewer and audience.
8 The Boondock Saints
There is, perhaps, no movie more purposely created for “cult status” than The Boondock Saints. It’s a strange combination of The Punisher with a little of Daredevil’s Catholic outrage sprinkled in, so of course critics were never going to respond to it. But a 20% rating is ridiculous.
This movie is an ugly kind of fun; it’s aware what it is but it doesn’t constantly wink and nudge the audience like Shoot ‘Em Up. Somehow, all of the movies just mentioned (including Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher in 1989) rank higher on the Tomatometer than the Boondock Saints. If anything, this just goes to prove the MacManus brothers were right: there is no justice in this world.
If you haven’t seen this blood-spewing masterpiece, go do it. It’s worth it—if not for Norman Reedus fans, then for Willem Dafoe’s weirdest and best performance since Wild at Heart!
7 The Basketball Diaries
It’s Requiem for a Dream with preppy kids! The Basketball Diaries debuted right before Leonardo DiCaprio became “a thing.” It's an incredible performance piece that shows how capable an actor he was, even as a kid.
Based on Jim Carroll’s dark, brilliant memoir, the film never falls into "after school special" territory even as DiCaprio’s Jim falls into his heroin addiction. At its core, it’s an unfocused mash-up of The Catcher in the Rye and the aforementioned Requiem, made more disquieting by the fact that this is, after all, a true story.
Perhaps that’s the reason it was poorly received: it brings up uncomfortable topics—heavy drug use, child abuse and prostitution—that we have never had a good handle on stopping or even addressing. The easy narrative road is not taken here, which makes us wonder why The Basketball Diaries receive only 46%.
6 Tron: Legacy
If we're being honest, Tron: Legacy deserves a better legacy. Vibrantly colored and visually stimulating, Legacy fed nostalgia while also creating a new way forward for the cult classic should-have-been series. Unfortunately, franchising was not to be (and, admittedly, the titular Tron is only seen for about six minutes total). Regardless, it should have been a hit with critics if not with the box office.
Tron: Legacy boasted incredible visuals (minus the de-aged Jeff Bridges), posed its questions about existence and sentience with accessibility, but never found its footing with critics, who gave it 51%. Then again, critics initially panned The Shining and The Third Man. All it takes is rediscovery, or enough people telling you you’re wrong.
5 Die Hard with a Vengeance
This one hurts just as much as it defies logic and sanity. Not only is Die Hard with a Vengeance the finest of the Die Hard sequels, but it’s a good movie in its own right. The film that saw John McClane finally return to his home turf of New York and boasted a cast that included Samuel L. Jackson and Jeremy Irons has a 51%.
The critical consensus quote claims that the “clatters to a bombastic finish in a vain effort to cover for an overall lack of fresh ideas.” If this wasn’t bad enough, the staid Die Hard 2 is Certified Fresh at 69%. Surprisingly, 2007's Live Free or Die Hard has an 82% standing, making it the second-best reviewed film in the franchise. And don't even mention A Good Day to Die Hard.
4 The Sandlot
Yes, The Sandlot is diabetes-inducing in its sweetness, but it's all about the innocence of childhood and a wish to return to a simpler time that may have never existed. Even city-folk uninterested in sports (like the author of this article) can’t help but enjoy it for what it is. Yet, it stands at a 57%.
Critics are particularly rough on children’s films, and The Sandlot has fared better than many, but 57%? Is joy really this dead? You don’t feel even a little bit of warmth as Smalls finds friendship for the first time? Do you not feel sad as the boys slowly begin to lose touch because that’s the way life is? Does The Sandlot belong in the same Rotten refuse pile as Beverly Hills Chihuahua?
3 8mm (1999)
Even in 1999, we were still dealing with that Silence of the Lambs hangover. There were many, many spiritual copycats out there, and 8mm certainly has some in its celluloid-DNA. And yet, it’s a surprisingly measured film. Even Nicolas Cage is on his best behavior.
The film was panned for its bleakness and violence—indeed, it is both bleak and violent in equal measure, but its morality ever-present without falling into hypocrisy. Even the violence doesn’t veer into the exploitation category If anything, its violent climax seems more of a hopeless acknowledgement about the state of the world than it is about the irony of its utility.
Unfortunately, 8mm never even reached cult status. It remains a hardly remembered, disliked thriller with 22% on Rotten Tomatoes.
2 The Last Boy Scout (44%)
Shane Black doesn't make bad movies. Like 8mm, The Last Boy Scout has been largely forgotten, and likely suffered because of its proximity to Die Hard.
Bruce Willis looks as drunk and beat up and put-upon as John McClane but lacks much of the humor. Willis’ Hallenbeck is certainly lower than McClane was at his lowest, which in turn reflected Black’s frame of mind at the time of writing. The film does have Black’s trademark sense of humor - as bleak as its plot. The film is a noir-esque action comedy, but was dismissed for simply telling a good story rather than a timeless one.
Part of its failure has to do with its release during Christmas (this is not exactly a cheery holiday release) along with the original version of the script being substantially rewritten due to studio interference (because studios always know better than writers).
1 Power Rangers (2017)
This one is something of a surprise. Power Rangers is like Transformers: it exists to sell toys. This movie reboot looked like your usual gritty reboot but instead it was a character piece with an action chaser. Nonetheless, Power Rangers ended up with a Rotten score of 42%, only negligibly better than the original one in 1995.
Sure, the climactic battle is incomprehensible (again, not unlike Transformers), but the sheer amount of effort put in to develop flawed but likable protagonists in a big budget blockbuster has become a lost art. Considering that it did so poorly critically and financially, it looks like that art will remain lost. Where’s another reboot when you need one?
Did we miss out on any surprises? Let us know in the comments!
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