There are some movies that are so brilliant, so perfect, so totally realized masterpieces of film, that they are unabashedly, unashamedly loved. Think E.T., if you’re having a hard time with this. Or the first Star Wars. The real first Star Wars, guys. Then there are some movies that are so well and truly terrible, so horribly done, that they are universally reviled. This group includes total shlock like Howard the Duck (please don’t run and watch it just to “make sure” I’m right- I am) and big blockbuster failures along the lines of Ishtar and Waterworld (the granddaddy of failed blockbusters). And of course there are always the critical darlings, movies that are fantastic but not to everyone’s taste (the entire oeuvres of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers come to mind).
In between lies the vast bulk of moviedom, the thousands upon thousands of movies in existence that range from sort of bad but watchable to “ehh” to kind of good. These are the movies that keep the film industry going, the ones that give actors and production crews’ jobs and slowly but surely maintain studio coffers.
But there’s one final genre of movies we haven’t touched upon, have we? I’m talking, of course, about those movies that everyone knows are awful but secretly love. Now, the list isn’t quite as large as you might think for this category anymore. That’s mostly because a good number of these sorts of films, like Halle Berry’s Catwoman or just about any Nic Cage vehicle post-2001, aren’t secretly loved anymore but are openly appreciated in online forums like Reddit, popular culture (anyone remember Community’s Abed doing his Nic Cage impression/meltdown?) and even in articles on cool sites like our very own The Richest. But there are still a few movies out there that we all know are awful but secretly love. Here are 15 of the best.
What do you get when you put Ice-Cube, J-Lo and a giant jungle snake together? Why you get Eric Stoltz running around screaming. That’s how good Anaconda is- you don’t even see its unbelievable awesomeness coming. The plot doesn’t really matter- Cube, Lo, Stoltz and gang are some kind of documentary crew that are attacked by jungle beasties. The cinematography doesn’t matter- it’s no good anyway. The dialogue doesn’t matter- it’s no better or worse than any other killer critter flick.
What does matter is the awful acting (Ice Cube sneers! Ice Cube Screams! Is there any difference?!!?), the wonderfully worse special effects and the always-looking-to-slum Jon Voight and his incomprehensible accent. This is a seriously good bad movie. And I didn’t even mention Owen Wilson’s part in it all…
14. Batman & Robin
It’s possible there’s a bigger confluence (divine convergence?) of wasted A-List Hollywood talent out there somewhere but not probable. This is, after all, the movie that killed the original Batman movie franchise. Not for long (thank you Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale!) but still, it did, it really did.
So, what happens when you make a studly George Clooney Batman (nipple suit and all), a hugely popular Uma Thurman the ever-naughty Poison Ivy, the star-of-the-moment Chris O’Donnell (remember him? No you don’t) as Robin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze? A whole lot of incredibly bad badness, actually; enough, in fact, to keep us happily shocked and laughing for decades. Throw in director Joel Schumacher, more commonly known as “He Who Created the Brat Pack” (The Lost Boys, St. Elmo’s Fire, Flatliners and Dying Young, anyone?) and you’ve got a train wreck of beyond epic proportions. This movie is the best. I promise.
13. Masters Of The Universe
OK, so a movie based upon a Saturday morning cartoon based upon a line of toys created by Mattel (or was it Hasbro? Those were the only two toy companies in the 80s, you know) doesn’t sound like a candidate for a list of all-time most secretly beloved movies, does it? But, I sh*t you not, He-Man is awesome and plenty of people know it. Maybe it’s the fact that “I Must Break You” Dolph Lundgren of Rocky IV fame brings his Iron Curtain smile, I mean frown, umm, I mean stone-face, to the hero’s role as He-Man. Maybe it’s that creepy-smarmy Frank Langella plays bad guy Skeletor with such relish (guys, you didn’t need to put Frank Langella behind an evil skeleton’s mask- he’s Frank Langella!) you forget that he’s slumming it. Or maybe it’s that a pre-Friends Courteney Cox plays an orphaned high school girl who just happens to discover He-Man’s “magic key”… Hey, get your minds out of the gutter guys-this is serious sci-fi/fantasy stuff we’re talking about here!
12. Wild Wild West
Will Smith once had himself quite a little run as an action hero. Anyone who saw the Independence Day sequel, Independence Day Sucks Hard, knows just how badly his brand of whipsaw-smart, sassy-badass, hero-guy was missed, in that film and others. So why doesn’t Wild Wild West get more public love? It’s based on a dumb old TV show, which is usually good for a few hundred million bucks in box office. It stars Smith as a cool cowboy dressed all in black and silver (cha-ching!) and Kevin Kline plays his part, which means both the serious actor and cerebral-funny guy crowds should have been appeased.
It even has the former King of England (well, wasn’t he?), Kenneth Branagh, as a proto-Steampunk bad guy, which means there’s an Oscar-worthy English accent on board as well as tons of cool special effects and gadgets. As if all of that isn’t enough to sell you on this movie, finally there’s Salma Hayek showing off her butt. In a cage. Hey wait, where did everyone go?
11. Troll 2
There’s one outlier in every list of this nature and Troll 2 is surely it for this one. I mean, after all, it probably isn’t secretly beloved by everyone but that’s mostly because not enough people know of its existence. If they did, they would all love it too. But why, you ask? Because it’s the most inept, crazy, nonsensical thing ever committed to film, that’s why.
This is a movie starring a bunch of non-actors from Utah who often don’t even seem to know they are in a movie. The plotline concerns a gang of vegetarian goblins (wait, I thought it was about a troll? Are trolls and goblins the same thing??? I thought goblins were more like orcs!) who want to turn people into plants in order to eat them… Umm, did I just write that? It’s supposed to be a sequel but it’s a “sequel” to an actual movie about trolls that has no relation to it. Are you confused yet? Should I stop? This film should be on everybody’s Must-See list. It’s that frickin’ good.
10. Be Cool
Get Shorty was a highly original take on the mob movie genre, a great flick perfectly done. Be Cool isn’t, quite (or at all, actually), but it’s way, way better than people like to pretend. When I say way, way better, what I really mean is so bad that it’s good. Need proof? How about the fact that there’s a celeb cameo about once every minute. Who needs a plot when the audience is constantly leaning over to each other and saying “Hey, that’s…,” then Googling said celeb.
Need more proof? How about The Rock as an over-the-top gay bruiser, in cowboy boots no less. If you thought Hank Azaria’s character in The Birdcage was outrageous, you ain’t seen nuthin yet! Come to think of it, John Travolta’s in another movie on this list- could he be the king of awful movies we all secretly love? Who knew!
9. Alice In Wonderland
There’s no way that any list like this would not have a Johnny Depp appearance in it. The man is just too weird not to have made a movie that seems awful but is really just totally cool. That’s not to say he doesn’t make awful awful movies, if you know what I mean- how about every Pirate’s movie after the first one, for starters? But Alice in Wonderland has the requisite Depp kookiness, filtered through the requisite Tim Burton kookiness, which we have all come to know and love. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual weird self as the Red Queen (the whole “Um from Umbridge” scene gets me every time) and the visuals, as you would expect from Burton, are beyond trippy. This one makes us off with our heads every viewing!
8. Battlefield Earth
Here’s one that all of the sci-fi geeks know they love, even if they look down upon the fact that Scientology founder and full-on freak L. Ron Hubbard wrote the novel it’s based upon. I suppose that they could also be happy Scientologists themselves and still appreciate Battlefield’s “alien master race enslaves humanity but there’s still hope” premise. This is the movie that probably killed the brief personal renaissance John Travolta so awesomely began in Pulp Fiction. His Terl, a nine-foot tall “Psychlo” (really?) commander who just reeks of evil, is one of the great alien baddies ever- especially with the dreads and giant combat boots; he’s like an out-of-work Klingon captain slumming it. Toss in Barry Pepper running around in blond braids like some post-invasion, super-smart caveman and we’ve got a winner folks.
7. From Justin To Kelly
Even people who have never seen American Idol have seen this movie- it’s just that awesome. The fact that it stars Idol’s first ever winner Kelly Clarkson and first ever runner-up Justin Guarini is its best selling point. Because…well, because why not? I mean, Clarkson hasn’t done much since this flick but Justin’s the Man! OK, that’s not true, but the truly awful dialogue like “My friends call me Kelly for short” (what the hell do they call her for long- Kellica? Kellini?)- is beyond inspiring and the endless, pointless shots of skateboarders (this was when skateboarding was a thing) have an almost Zen-like quality to them. Oh, and did I mention Justin’s hair? Priceless. How could anybody not love this drivel, I ask you?
I almost want to put this movie higher up on our list because, to a certain segment of our society, having Elizabeth Berkley (of Saved by the Bell fame) get naked and pretend to be a stripper is just about as hot as anything could ever be. But given that the segment of society I’m talking about is mostly me and a few other guys from that time period, Showgirls can stay safely out of the top five.
But what a movie it was! Terrible, terrible acting and dialogue (anyone remember all of the shocking “wh*re” call-outs in the movie?) couldn’t cover for the fact that Berkley couldn’t strip her way out of a wet paper bag, let alone dance as a Vegas showgirl. But who cares? The “shoot for the stars” shock value director Paul Verhoeven (who did a much better job with Total Recall and Basic Instinct) tried to create is awesome to laugh at now and any movie with early 90’s wholesomely creepy leading guy Kyle MacLachlan in it has to be way better than bad simply by default.
Is there anything better than a wild, overwrought ride through the lonely, centuries-long existence of one immortal man as he strides through history toward his meeting with destiny? Not if you’re a Highlander fan. Forget the movie sequels, forget the execrable TV series, and forget even the many, many pop culture nods to this swords and sorcery masterpiece. The original may arguably be the greatest bad movie ever.
For starters, Christopher Lambert’s wounded glare is the best piece of acting you’ll ever see. In a Highlander movie, that is. Then there’s Clancy Brown’s Kurgan, the most outrageous bad guy ever. Seriously- check out the church scene if you don’t believe me. And hey, wait a minute; is that Sean Connery we see? Is he Spanish? Egyptian? We know he’s a fop but is he a gay fop too? Who cares- “it’s the Quickening, McCloud!” Finally, just in case all of that wasn’t enough, you’ll have to choose between Queen’s “The Hammer to Fall” or “Who wants to Live Forever” as the best soundtrack song ever. I choose both.
4. Road House
There are Patrick Swayze movies out there that are really loved (Ghost, Dirty Dancing). There are Swayze movies that are cool (Point Break, Red Dawn). And there are horrible Swayze movies (Next of Kin, Father Hood). Then there’s Road House, the ultimate Patrick Swayze movie. Everyone loves this one, even if they groan at its mention. I mean after all, Swayze plays a bouncer with a heart of gold ( I guess that’s the guy’s version of the proverbial “hooker with a heart of gold) who would rather not fight but will, if you push him, totally destroy you. How can you not like that? When he takes on a whole town’s worth of bad guys you’ll be cheering him on as loudly as the next gal.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
A lot of people like to diss on Hunchback publicly. And why not? It’s a Disney movie based upon a 19th century Frenchman’s novel about a deformed bell-puller in a cathedral and his equally psychically-twisted father figure. It’s dark and gloomy, full of ponderings about morality, lust, damnation and the like. It’s in-your-face religious at times.
Sounds about right for Disney, don’t it? Well, no. But, the movie succeeds gloriously, by combining lush, incredible, vibrant visuals with a stunning soundtrack and a masterfully sympathetic voice performance by Tom Hulce as Quasimodo. Sure the Disney princess gig in this one is filled by a vaguely sluttish gypsy-girl (The ever-throaty Demi Moore) and the long panning medieval cathedral shots are different than the usual animated fare, but all of it is in an awesomely good way. As everyone who has ever watched the insanely powerful “Hellfire” number in this flick knows. Hunchback is awesome- even the people who pretend to badmouth it know that by now.
If you thought we would get through this list without an “Ahhnold” movie on it, well, I’m sorry, but you’re insane. Arnold’s entire filmography is basically a salute to the magnificently cheesy- well, except for The Terminator; that one’s just magnificent. The question, though, is which of the Governor’s movies is the most awfully awesome? Raw Deal and Red Heat are right up there, for sure, as are Jingle All The Way (Arnold Saves Christmas!) and Junior (Arnold Saves Motherhood!).
However, to quote another movie on this list, “There can be only one.” That one is the Holy Grail of beloved bad Schwarzenegger movies, Commando. Why Commando, you ask? You mean you don’t know? One, it has more bad Arnold one-liners than the rest of his movies combined (“Don’t disturb my friend; he’s dead tired”). Two, it has a grossly out-of-shape British baddie with a mustache dressed in what looks like a chainmail vest. And three? Rae Dawn Chong. What’s not to love?
1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
OK, OK, I know you think nobody secretly loves Rocky Horror anymore, in our enlightened 21st century society where plain old cross-dressing fetishism is as All-American as mom and apple pie. You think the world’s biggest cult flick is openly loved by now. But guess what? Somebody out there (or many somebodies) has to keep discovering it and secretly thinking that they are the only one in East Armpit, Montana who really gets it.
If there weren’t thousands, if not millions, of tweeners and closet freaks constantly discovering this movie in secret than how to explain the perpetual revivals in every major city across America and the ever-rotating “cast” of kids filling up theaters at midnight showings in full dress-up? I mean, this movie has been out since 1975 and people are still lip-syncing to it on stage; it can’t possibly be the original fans, can it? That would be like all Deadheads being from San Francisco, circa 1967- it just isn’t possible. So yeah, it must still be a secret love for a ton of people.