Revisiting the Collective: Box Office Hits That Were Critically Panned


(CS: The plan was to post three movie reviews this weekend, but fate and family has other more sinister plans. If we describe 'sinister' as any minute that I wasn't finishing up the week's client work was occupied by my adorable children wanting to spend time with me. The challenges a parent must endure. Instead, I'll throw up another Collective Publishing columns from back in the day that needs a new home along with some modern thoughts thrown in.)

A film critic’s job is to try to guide the movie-goer towards the best motion picture for their precious dollar and time, but to also help them avoid soul-crushing disasters. (CS: Doing this film criticism thing professionally now for a decade, I no longer say that is the main job of a film critic, even if most read them that way.) Sometimes the general public nods their head while reading a review panning a film, and then promptly heads out to the cinema to hand over their money. Last year I looked at several works that were popular despite the thrashing from critics. In honour of Ride Along, a picture that has been critically ripped to pieces but got the top spot two weeks in a row at the box office, I’ll look at movies that the critics hated but the audience happily gobbled up. (CS: This places the piece at the end of January 2014)   

Grown Ups 2 (2013): The only thing almost as consistent as the sunrise is well-respected critics putting the latest Adam Sandler picture on their worst of the year list. (CS: Unless it is produced by someone different than Happy Madison) A quick stroll over at Rotten Tomatoes shows that almost every wide-release Sandler picture has been massacred by critics. This isn’t to say that critics are out to get Sandler, because his few limited-release indie comedies that don’t rely on the same broad, potty humour and instead forces the actor to showcase his more complex acting, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, have been very popular among many critics. (CS: And now Safdie Brothers found the amazing in Uncut GemsIt also becomes pretty clear why Sandler rarely dips into the world of character-driven and thought-provoking comedies when you realize those films sputtered in the box office while pictures like this one involving deer urine gags and David Spade enemas have been box office gold. (CS: This was actually his last really big box office hit, and probably a major reason that he shifted over to Netflix) There was some hope the Sandler money train derailed after the weak box office performances by Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy but Grown Ups 2 proved many are still eager for a man-child berating kids along with jokes about every form of bodily fluids. 
Planes (2013): Critics slammed the Cars spin-off as being lazy and uncreative, and accused it for solely existing to sell more merchandise and toys. As my 2 year old son has taught me, kids dig planes, and they’re even more awesome if they have cute faces and voices. (CS: Everett is now 10, and doesn't seem as stoked about planes) It also appears kids aren’t bothered by a 90 minute ad for toys, but instead, happily consume it and then start begging for more toys. While we’re already here, I should note that the Cars franchise is the least popular Pixar series among critics, but by far one of the most successful from a financial standpoint. Talking vehicles equals money, and I’m sure we can look forward to Boats and Riding Lawnmowers real soon. (CS: Luckily, my prediction failed)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011): If one listened to the critics then they’d believe the popular franchise was long dead and this fourth installment was the anchor to sink it deep into the ocean forever. (CS: I actually like the first three, because the Gore Verbinski sequels were not afraid to be really bold and odd) Reviews tore apart the picture for having an incomprehensible plot, being aggressively loud, and the Depp act becoming irritating. Movie-goers apparently were looking for all those things in the summer of 2011, because it brought in over a billion worldwide. Despite only the original picture garnering a positive critical reception, the grosses continue grow globally and we look destined to have enough pictures that the stories will eventually revolve around Captain Jack Sparrow’s adventures in looking for where he last placed his dentures. (CS: Dead Men Tell No Tales was enough of a disappointment that the series has stalled and may be destined to be Disney Plus fodder)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004): This film was labelled a two hour plus visual effects spectacle that forgot that it is nice to have a story and plot too. Director Roland Emmerich tends to get very cold receptions from critics for movies deemed all style and no substance with plots usually being ridiculous and headache inducing if you try to follow them. Despite that reputation, critics were especially hard on this picture for having a ridiculous premise of global warming suddenly causing ice to get a mind of its own so that it sometimes even chased the protagonists. (CS: Could be worse, it could be the moon) Disaster pictures aren’t known for their nuanced storytelling or captivating performances, but the picture was accused of having mind boggling ridiculous dialogue and characters ruled by the goofy plot. People just wanted to see stuff get smashed and frozen in a spectacular fashion, so it turned into one of the highest grossing films of the year. (CS: In an era of the tentpole, it seems disaster movies have lost their selling point, since almost every other movie is a special effects spectacle with explosions and sky beams)

Police Academy (1984): If this franchise ever comes up in conversation, most will admit it is pretty humourless and stupid, but will try to argue at least the first was funny. Famous film critic Roger Ebert has panned many pictures in his lifetime, but rarely bestowed 0 stars, leaving that for the spectacularly awful. The original got that honour by the respected critic, and most followed his lead in panning it. Audiences disagreed as it not only made a great profit, but was successful enough to justify six even more nauseatingly bad sequels and we’re now being threatened with a reboot. (CS: Thankfully, still hasn't happened, but I am sure if Netflix will greenlight it within a week)

Identity Thief (2013): Curmudgeon posing as film critic Rex Reed was infamously cruel in his assessment of Melissa McCarthy’s performance (and appearance) in this picture, and it lead to many fans, actors and filmmakers jumping to her rescue. Not that the eloquent and classy actor needed it. Even though most other critics acknowledged she was talented, most criticized an unoriginal script that felt too similar to the far better films like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Midnight Run. Those movies are also from the 1980s, and there is a chance the target audience didn’t even really remember them. (CS: Or know they ever existed, because people who remember the 1980s are old) It also felt like audiences were hungry for a new hot comedy star, and McCarthy grabbed a lot of new fans with her star-making performance in Bridesmaids. The movie-goers went with the newfound star power over the professional criticisms to make Identity Thief one of the surprise huge hits of the first half of last year. It was the definitive proof that McCarthy was now a box office draw. (CS: And now even McCarthy seems destined for streaming releases with her comedies, as the big studios have lost most of their faith in the genre)

Night of the Living Dead (1968): The picture that is considered a horror classic and is the inspiration for every zombie move that followed wasn’t appreciated by most critics upon its release. This is a case where many critics have retroactively acknowledge now that it is a ground-breaking film and bestow upon it rave reviews. (CS: Like Blade Runner, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China, except those didn't connect with audiences either during their initial release) Most critics weren’t prepared for what appeared on the screen as ‘monster features’ prior to this were usually goofy and marketed towards children and young adults. This picture turned out to be much more disturbing and unsettling along with an actual political message that was completely unexpected. The film became almost an instant cult hit among horror audiences and spawned a legion of sequels and clones over several decades. This is a case where the average movie-goer understood it long before the professional critics. (CS: I know Roger Ebert championed this right away and so did Pauline Kael, so this may have been more 'myth' than reality that most critics disliked this one.)

Friday the 13th (1980): This is one of the pictures responsible for “slasher” films becoming their own sub-genre of horror and filling up movie theatres in the 1980s. As almost a rule, critics despise this type of film and knock them for often being unoriginal, exploiting extreme violence, and having stupid characters (run up stairs from the killer, check out that noise in the creepy woods, always remain alone when a serial killer is free). (CS: They year's X actually was a critical hit, but by concentrating on things the subgenre often ignored like characters) Halloween in 1978 was one of the exceptions as it was praised by critics and considered a dark, entrancing thriller. It also had the advantage of the “slasher” term not being common or having those type of film constantly churned out by studios yet. Two years later, knife wielding stalkers murdering scantily clad teenage girls started becoming the next big phenomenon in cinemas. Critics dismissed almost all of them as nasty and overly-gory clones of the much more revered Halloween. This picture was slammed not just for its perceived unoriginality, but for being the first mainstream slasher with explicitly violent murder scenes. (CS: The slasher concept known in the 1980s started with this movie, so the unoriginal aspect would just be coming from similarities to HalloweenEven though this series continues to be bashed by critics, it has become one of the most popular and successful horror franchises of all time. It was the financial success of the original that launched it all. (CS: And you could argue the entire subgenre)

Home Alone (1990): Most today would consider Home Alone a holiday classic and watching it is likely a Christmas time tradition. These same groups of people may be shocked to discover this beloved film was disliked by almost every major critic at the time of its release. Most critics beat down the picture for having an outlandish premise, over-the-top cartoon violence, and a story that relied on too many overly-contrived plot elements. The disconnect between the audience and the critics turned out to be so large that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on their television show devoted a segment trying to analyze why movie-goers loved the movie so much more. The audiences loved it to the point of it being the highest grossing movie of 1990 and turned Macaulay Culkin into an instant star that many still remember today. The interesting thing is that the massive embrace by the general public of the film at the time of the release has caused many modern critics to forget it wasn’t a well-reviewed picture and now claim it to be overrated. It is also surprising that a silly family picture like this turned out to be the highest grossing film of its respective year, but it likely was an example of an escapist family picture that spoke to a society looking for something hopeful during a recession and an oncoming war. (CS: And those critics panning the movie just needed to see Home Sweet Home Alone for comparison)  

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012): Peter Jackson established himself as one of the major mainstream filmmakers with the major critical and financial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He tried to recapture that magic by turning the slim children’s novel into a gigantic prequel trilogy. After two films, the latest trilogy feels more like the pictures that audiences loved in the early to mid-2000s rather than the whimsical children’s tale many may remember when growing up. Of course, this is fine, because the films are designed to appeal to the mainstream audience who are likely looking for more epic fantasy in the vein of the Lord of the Rings pictures. The audiences definitely came out for the first Hobbit picture to earn it over a billion dollars worldwide, despite many critics believing it to be an overly long slog that drifted more to being juvenile rather than charming and child-like. The criticisms haven’t stopped the latest additions to the franchise from being a huge success, and it has its loyal fans that will loyally defend it against anything being tossed from the dissenting critics. (CS: I don't feel the Hobbit trilogy has maintained a positive audience reputation)

 What are some pictures that you loved that seem to be reviled by critics?