16 Good Movies That Opened To Bad Reviews

16 Good Movies That Opened To Bad Reviews
Jack Nicholson walking through snowy maze in lobby card for the film 'The Shining', 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Jack Nicholson walking through snowy maze in lobby card for the film 'The Shining', 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

There's no accounting for taste, as evidenced by the foolhardy reception certain cinematic gems initially garner. These 16 films exemplify that as well as any others. You'll find most of them with the click of a TV remote because that's how ubiquitous these once-panned titles have become. Whether that means we'll do U-turns on "Ride Along" and "I, Frankenstein" in a few years is yet to be seen (as in, it will not be seen), but somewhere buried among recent critical duds is a rainy-day TNT marathon waiting to happen. "Jupiter Ascending" fans, unite.

"Psycho" (1960)
Getty Images
The public went berserk for "Psycho" in 1960, but critics were not as crazy about Alfred Hitchcock's seminal thriller. Today we think of it as part of the horror genre's framework, but it was initially seen as melodramatic, cheap and a low point in the director's career.

Sample takedown: "There is not an abundance of subtlety or the lately familiar Hitchcock bent toward significant and colorful scenery in this obviously low-budget job. [...] The consequence is his denouement falls quite flat for us." -- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"Pretty Woman" (1990)
Buena Vista Pictures
Seen today as a defining romantic comedy and a star vehicle for then-burgeoning America's sweetheart Julia Roberts, "Pretty Woman" was met with vitriol from certain critics who deemed its Cinderella story a tale of greed instead of love. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman was the most vocal. He gave the film a D, challenging its values under the pretense that "Roberts’ character becomes a better person when she lands a rich guy and learns to cry at the opera." Gleiberman later wrote a mea cupla of sorts, maintaining his ultimate thesis but saying he'd award it a B instead. (We, too, defended the movie after Vulture left it off a list of the best rom-coms since "When Harry Met Sally.")

Sample takedown: "No one has yet made a romantic comedy in which, say, a toxic-waste dumper falls for a terrorist hijacker. [...] But 'Pretty Woman' comes close to finding the least admirable characters to build a feel-good movie around." -- Richard Corliss, Time
"Caddyshack" (1980)
Getty Images
The shtick of "Caddyshack" wasn't on par with critical preferences when it opened in July 1980. Harold Ramis' golf comedy garnered several high-profile eviscerations, including one from Roger Ebert, who wrote it "wander[s] off in all directions in search of comic inspiration."

Sample takedown: "In 'Caddyshack’s' unabashed bid for the mammoth audience which responded to the anti-establishment outrageousness of 'National Lampoon’s Animal House,' this vaguely likable, too-tame comedy falls short of the mark." -- Variety
"Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999)
Getty Images
Many thought the dark mockumentary about a Minnesota beauty pageant was a series of miscalculations. The movie barely made waves at the box office, despite a cast that sounds like its own pageant of Hollywood A-listers. "Drop Dead Gorgeous" instead found a voracious fan base via DVD and cable. It's been beloved ever since, as proved when the Internet celebrated its 15th anniversary last year. (We chatted about the film with Allison Janney.)

Sample takedown: "Thanks to such movies as 'Smile,' 'Citizen Ruth' and the infinitely funnier 'Waiting for Guffman,' this kind of genre is already an overdone deal. Unless someone comes up with particularly inspired material, it's just not that bone-ticklingly hilarious to watch "small town people" being 'overly religious,' talking in 'Minnesota accents' and showing us America at its 'small-town funniest.'" -- Desson Howe, The Washington Post
"Fight Club" (1999)
20th Century Fox
"Fight Club" has fermented into something of a macho wet dream, but a significant faction of critics and moviegoers was disdainful of David Fincher's film upon its release. Part of that may be due to 20th Century Fox's struggles to market the movie, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's gritty debut novel. Whatever the reasons, writers criticized its philosophy as "paint-by-numbers nihilism" (some likened its ostensible pro-violence messages to "A Clockwork Orange") and labeled it "tedious." Fincher became one of the first directors to supervise the DVD release of his film, loading it with special features and packaging that's credited for helping to turn "Fight Club" into a cult smash.

Sample takedown: "If it had all continued in the vein explored in the first act, it might have become a great film. But the second act is pandering and the third is trickery, and whatever Fincher thinks the message is, that's not what most audience members will get. 'Fight Club' is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy -- the kind of ride where some people puke and others can't wait to get on again." -- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)
Archive Photos via Getty Images
If "Fight Club" was ridiculed for glorifying violence, it was nothing compared to the reactions "Bonnie and Clyde" provoked in 1967. Longtime New York Times critic Bosley Crowther's especially severe review, in which he pegged the movie as the benchmark of Hollywood's apotheosis of violence, is credited with prompting his Times departure the following year, as many called him out of touch with contemporary cinema. The turnaround for Arthur Penn's groundbreaking film came with several esteemed defenses, notably one written by then-freelancer Pauline Kael. Her 7,000-world essay applauding the effort as hope for the future of mainstream filmmaking led to Kael's becoming The New Yorker's most illustrious full-time critic, and it helped to reinvigorate the movie's public perception.

Sample takedown: "This blending of farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste, since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth. And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr. Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique, sentimental claptrap." -- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
"The Shining" (1980)
Archive Photos via Getty Images
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's chilling novel has been examined so obsessively over the years that its murky reception has become a footnote in the Overlook Hotel legacy. In truth, that's the case with a lot of Kubrick's work: "Spartacus," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange" all cemented their iconic reputations after initial trepidation. "The Shining" was slammed particularly hard, earning Razzie Award nominations for Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) and Worst Director.

Sample takedown: "Kubrick is after a cool, sunlit vision of hell, born in the bosom of the nuclear family, but his imagery -- with its compulsive symmetry and brightness -- is too banal to sustain interest, while the incredibly slack narrative line forestalls suspense." -- Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"Footloose" (1984)
Everett Collection
You've spent umpteen Sunday afternoons rewatching "Footloose," but the consensus at the time wouldn't have forecasted anything of the sort. Kevin Bacon's dance moves propelled one of 1984's highest-grossing movies, but critics weren't as groovy. The New Yorker's David Denby, for example, renamed it "Shlockdance" and called it "trash."

Sample takedown: "'Footloose' is a seriously confused movie that tries to do three things, and does all of them badly. It wants to tell the story of a conflict in a town, it wants to introduce some flashy teenage characters, and part of the time it wants to be a music video. It's possible that no movie with this many agendas can be good; maybe somebody should have decided, early on, exactly what the movie was supposed to be about." -- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times
"Halloween" (1978)
Compass International Pictures
It was later credited for invigorating the slasher genre, but critics failed to recognize the significance of "Halloween," which gave us some of horror's most distinguished imagery and one of its signature scores. The initial critical mass was so dismissive of John Carpenter's film that critic Andrew Sarris, in a Village Voice feature about cult films, said it "bids fair to become the cult discovery of 1978."

Sample takedown: "Carpenter isn't very gifted with actors, and he doesn't seem to have any feeling at all for motivation or for plot logic. Halloween has a pitful, amateurish script." -- Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
"The First Wives Club" (1996)
Everett Collection
Lesley Gore singalong or not, some critics did not take to "The First Wives Club" as warmly as the many women who worshipped Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Middler's comedy about divorcees seeking revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women. Despite a few harsh reviews, it garnered the National Board of Review's ensemble prize. Today, it's a Broadway musical and a genre classic.

Sample takedown: "Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn make a spirited, surprisingly harmonious trio. They reel off one-liners with accomplished flair, even when the film turns silly and begins to, pardon the expression, sag. As directed by Hugh Wilson ('Police Academy,' 'Guarding Tess') and written by Robert Harling ('Soapdish' and 'Steel Magnolias'), it fares better with sight gags and quick retorts than with plot development. There's a lot to enjoy here, but the ladies wind up sanctimoniously opening a women's crisis center and romping through a girl-group musical number that's painful to see." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Alien" (1979)
The sci-fi boom of the 1970s found some critics deeming "Alien" inferior to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Star Wars" and the like. Those reactions didn't last long: Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley became a legendary character, and the film's box-office haul made Ridley Scott a star director.

Sample takedown: "Technically slick and commercially singleminded, this film attempts to crossbreed the scare tactics of 'Jaws' with the sci-fi hardware of 'Star Wars.' The result is a cinematic bastard, and a pretty mean bastard at that. 'Alien' contains a couple of genuine jolts, a barrage of convincing special effects and enough gore to gross out children of all ages. What is missing is wit, imagination and the vaguest hint of human feeling." -- Frank Rich, Time
"Scrooged" (1988)
Everett Collection
Bill Murray's modernization of "A Christmas Carol" has arguably become one of his and the winter holidays' defining films. Upon its release, however, it was called "unsettling" and "appallingly unfunny." Moviegoers were looking for an interlude while awaiting "Ghostbusters 2," so perhaps the ghoulish reception that sequel received inspired everyone to reconsider "Scrooged." Now you can't make it through December without spotting a dozen airings.

Sample takedown: "Despite the incessant action, the star personnel (on both sides of the camera) and the high-gloss, state-of-the-art Hollywood filmmaking, the movie seems so oddly disembodied -- like Murray, there but not there. But despite its power look, as 'Scrooged' unspools, you watch with increasing indifference. The last sequence, featuring a faceless Ghost of Christmas Future, is a total bust." -- Hal Hinson, The Washington Post
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955)
Archive Photos via Getty Images
People really hated this movie when it opened, but now you'll find it on best-of lists of all shades. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, and drawing on inspiration from German expressionism that did not resonate with viewers, "The Night of the Hunter" was initially so reviled that Charles Laughton never directed another movie. Today, it's listed on the National Film Registry and a staple of film-studies courses everywhere.

Sample takedown: "The relentless terror of Davis Grubb’s novel got away from Paul Gregory and Charles Laughton in their translation of 'Night of the Hunter.' This start for Gregory as producer and Laughton as director is rich in promise but the completed product, bewitching at times, loses sustained drive via too many offbeat touches that have a misty effect." -- Variety
"Jennifer's Body" (2009)
Everett Collection
Diablo Cody ("Juno," "United States of Tara") wrote the script for "Jennifer's Body," an under-appreciated horror-comedy that became most famous for Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox's intimate smooch. Some thought it was a cheap version of "Heathers" that was neither funny nor scary enough. The movie didn't overwhelm at the box office, but it's found ample fans nonetheless.

Sample takedown: "Much of the humor and the scares fall short. 'Jennifer's Body' generally follows the conventions of a teen horror tale, interspersed with some lackluster, wannabe edgy humor." -- Claudia Puig, USA Today
"Heartburn" (1986)
Paramount Pictures
Mike Nichols and Nora Ephron couldn't save the derision their divorce dramedy suffered. Neither could Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Yet the film was exalted in the wake of Ephron's and Nichols' deaths, earning the proverbial "underrated" stamp.

Sample takedown: "This is the most disappointing film of the year, considering its pedigree. [...] We have a movie that gives us one cipher and one illogical character in a marriage that consequently means nothing to us." -- Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
"Wet Hot American Summer" (2001)
Everett Collection
"Wet Hot American Summer" played to sold-out crowds at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, but it couldn't crack $300,000 at the box office and was a critical flop. It's seen a meteoric rise in the years since, collecting bona fides within the comedy circuit and becoming a throwback favorite for much of its now-distinguished cast (Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Joe Lo Truglio, Elizabeth Banks, etc.). The ensemble will reconvene for more regional theater an eight-episode Netflix miniseries this year.

Sample takedown: "It's also hard to know when 'Wet Hot American Summer' is satirizing cinematic ineptness and when it's simply guilty of the same. A character appears on a bicycle wearing a silly wig, for example, and when the movie cuts away to someone else and then back to that original character, the wig is mysteriously gone." -- Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle
Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community