20 Movies So Bad, They’re Actually Really Good

20 Movies So Bad, They’re Actually Really Good

For the most part, I don’t buy the premise that movies can be so bad, they’re actually good. If a movie’s good, isn’t it just…good? There’s no question, however, that movies can succeed by failing. Ed Wood is an extreme-but-perfect example of a filmmaker who never achieved precisely what he set out to do with any of his movies, but who nonetheless made cinematic magic out of enthusiasm, shamelessness, and no small measure of self-delusion. That kind of thing is always better than something like Sharknado — a movie that’s fun, but that works so hard to achieve silliness that you can see the flop sweat. Other, more enjoyable (better?) “bad” movies get there quite by accident.

For me, I’d almost always rather watch an interesting failure than a boring success — sometimes because passion is contagious, and just as often because a true WTF-level debacle is a rare and glorious thing. Here are 20 of them.

Skidoo (1968)

Imagine a whacked-out, trippy counterculture LSD movie directed by one of the leading lights of classic Hollywood and starring mostly older actors with names like Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Mickey Rooney, and Groucho Marx (as a gangster named “God” who might also be God).

It’s about…well, OK, I’ve seen it at least three times and have no idea what it’s about, but following some heist antics and a handful of acid trips, it culminates with Channing’s character (in a slightly naughty sea admiral’s uniform) leading a flotilla of hippies to storm God’s yacht before Nilsson (the film’s composer) sings the entirety of the closing credits. Some would say that Anatomy of a Murder or Laura are director Otto Preminger’s masterpieces, but this is an all-time triumph of weirdness.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

It’s clear that the filmmakers behind Battle were in on the joke, at least to a point. One of the movie’s centrepiece models is, after all, “Nell,” an organic spaceship which looks, very deliberately, like a pair of breasts attached to a set of ovaries.

Still, the Roger Corman-produced space opera is an uneasy combination of silly and serious, with an impressive cast (Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, etc.) giving their all to do a take on Star Wars that the movie only partly commits to. That tension, though, is a hallmark of the “so bad it’s good” genre.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Batman & Robin (1997)

I’ve yet to encounter a convincing, revisionist take that Batman & Robin is some kind of misunderstood masterpiece — though that’s a tempting take. The day-glo styling and notoriously pronounced nipples suggest a misunderstood queer classic in the offing…but it’s simultaneously too much and not enough.

For everything going on, the movie still manages dull stretches, and the comic book-inspired palette tends toward the cheap and ugly. And yet! It’s a fascinating misfire, and serves as a throwback to a moment when a major studio would spend boatloads of money on something so weird and idiosyncratic. And, though it doesn’t ultimately work, it’s the last time that big-screen Batman was anything approaching fun.

Where to stream: Stan

Fear (1996)

On a surface level, this is heavy material: gaslighting, abuse, sexual assault, and manipulation swirling around a teenage relationship. It’s all done with such over-the-top style, though, that it’s nearly impossible to take any of it seriously — by the movie’s conclusion, Mark Wahlberg’s hard-to-kill David might as well be Michael Myers. Those elements, as well as the movie’s soon-to-be A-list cast, explain why a movie with the plot of a middling Lifetime movie has become a minor cult classic.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Cats (2019)

If “camp” can be defined as failed seriousness, then Cats stands as a shining example of the form. The talents assembled here is extraordinary, with an Oscar-winning director in the lead of a to-die-for cast performing numbers from one of Broadway’s all-time most popular musicals. Clearly, everyone involved thought they were involved in a prestige film tailor-made for awards season.

We weren’t much past the release of the first trailer before those hopes were dashed, with the suspension of disbelief accorded to costumed performers on a theatre stage disappearing completely into an uncanny valley of digitally enhanced cat bodies and sets. What was meant to be charming became vaguely nightmarish, but that disconnect between what was intended and the end result is a sure indication that Cats, given just a bit more time, is a guaranteed a slot in the canon of deeply trippy cult classics.

Where to stream: Netflix

Mommie Dearest (1981)

As with Cats, it was clear from early on that audiences weren’t receiving Mommie Dearest as it was intended. What was intended to be a deeply serious biopic and an exploration of child abuse was, instead, viewed as a high-camp dark comedy. Wisely, Paramount quickly shifted gears and changed the movie’s marketing to lean into its more outré elements — adding wire hangers to the posters and promising “…the biggest MOTHER of them all!” as if to reassure audiences that they were in on the joke, which they most assuredly had not been during production.

The flawless retro production design is a huge part of the appeal here, as is Faye Dunaway’s wildly, perfectly over-the-top performance. Her commitment to a serious performance is precisely why it’s so brilliantly funny.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Supergirl (1984)

Speaking of Faye Dunaway, she gives another completely delicious performance in this muddled spin-off, an early attempt at creating a superheroic cinematic universe. Supergirl wisely attempts to move away from the science fiction trappings of the Superman movies and into something a bit more fantasy-inspired, but it plays like a bunch of set-pieces that never really come together into anything coherent. Still, Dunaway is fun to watch and Helen Slater is perfectly cast as Kara Zor-El, even if the movie only sporadically works.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

Pootie Tang (2001)

Writer/director Louis C.K.’s name doesn’t carry nearly the cachet that it used to, and it’s entirely reasonable to be a little skeeved by him and his work. Nevertheless, movies are so thoroughly collaborative that it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Mileage will definitely vary. As for Pootie Tang, it’s goofy as hell, with a tossed-off quality, but the silliness is often inspired, parodying the blaxploitation films of the 70s and grounded by performances from some incredibly talented and reliably funny people, including Wanda Sykes, J.B. Smoove, Chris Rock, Reg E. Cathey, and Jennifer Coolidge (who, as always, steals every scene she’s in). It’s also wildly quotable, particularly if you saw it at a particularly impressionable and frequently stoned age.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Alex Proyas is responsible for The Crow and Dark City, two of the most imaginative films of the past few decades. He’s also directed…other movies. Proyas’ vision of an alternate ancient Egypt in which Gods walk among mortals is, ultimately, deeply silly…as well as being (with the exception of Chadwick Boseman) overwhelmingly white.

Putting all that aside, though, it does manage to reflect Proyas’ impressive visual imagination and idiosyncrasies. In that, at least, it’s not bad as an antidote to our current glut of more coherent, but also far duller, superhero movies.

Where to stream: Netflix

Dune (1984)

The arrival of the new Denis Villeneuve adaptation has, quite naturally, drawn attention back to the 1984 version, from popular director “Alan Smithee,” a pseudonym used by David Lynch by way of disavowing the film. He wasn’t wrong to be disappointed — the movie isn’t a misunderstood masterpiece, but it is a fascinating curiosity with moments of real power that occasionally captures essential elements of Frank Herbert’s novel. Ultimately, Lynch’s vision is probably far too distinct to ever have made him a good fit for this type of adaptation, and studio interference further compromised a project that was already going to be a tough sell.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Masters of the Universe (1987)

Feelings about He-Man run hot, we’ve recently had cause to learn, and only slightly less so in the pre-internet days of the late 80s. Moving the action from Eternia to Earth and adding some teenaged sidekicks was never going to be the way to appeal to fans of the overwhelmingly popular cartoon, leaving pretty much no one to cheer for a movie that should have been a slam dunk.

Its status as an adaptation of the show is its biggest problem, as it happens. Viewed as a standalone mid-80s fantasy film, it works much better. It’s still incredibly goofy, but elevated by a scenery-chewing Frank Langella and some Jack Kirby-inspired character designs that lend the movie a visual distinctiveness.

Where to stream: Stan

Grease 2 (1982)

The virtues of the first Grease movie are debatable, but it was unquestionably a mega-hit that became an instant classic with audiences. I like Grease 2 better, honestly, even if it’s a far less polished film. The musical numbers are all over the place, many of them seeming as though they were just dropped into the movie at random (the ode to bowling, for instance). Lead Michelle Pfeiffer’s Stephanie is, on the surface, the coolest character in either of the films — but lacks any motivation beyond wanting a tough-guy boyfriend. It’s all pretty slapdash, but the cast is clearly having fun and the whole thing so amiable and lively that it’s hard to hate.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Staying Alive (1983)

Staying in ill-conceived sequel territory for a moment, we rejoin John Travolta’s Tony Manero as he continues the quest for dancing glory begun in the disco classic Saturday Night Fever. There’s not really a plot here to speak of, but there are some very fun dance numbers and impressive costumes, as well as a self-seriousness that runs to hilarity if you’re in the right mood.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Xanadu (1980)

A fantasy roller-disco musical staring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly? What could possibly go wrong?! Turns out, Xanadu was a failure on almost every level: The dance numbers are stale and stagy, the effects are fairly terrible (even by 1980 standards) and the acting isn’t great. Given that there isn’t much of a plot, it needed to work as a spectacle, and didn’t — even inspiring the infamous Golden Raspberry Awards.

A movie can be a critical and box office flop, though, and still achieve cult status. It’s utter weirdness is a draw (Gene Kelly? Really?), and it can be a ton of fun if you’re willing to entertain the question “what were they thinking?” for 90 minutes or so.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

Ed Wood reigns, of course, as the patron saint of cult movies — a filmmaker with such passion and seriousness that he doesn’t seem to have realised that he was making films that weren’t just terrible, but so terrible that they achieved immortality. In that vein, Plan 9 is his magnum opus, a movie about alien invaders that hopes we won’t notice that Bela Lugosi was replaced mid-production by a much taller chiropractor. The thing is: We did notice, and we only love it that much more.

Where to stream: Prime Video

Troll 2 (1990)

We have to give a mention to Troll 2, a notoriously troubled film that became the subject of a documentary (Best Worst Film) exploring the reasons for its popularity in the face of its very debatable merits as a film. It’s unclear how much of the film is meant to be funny, given the language barrier between the Italian-speaking writer/director and crew and the English-speaking cast, but it certainly earns its status as a movie whose failings make it far more entertaining than it likely would have been were it a success.

Oh, and don’t worry if you go in cold, it’s not actually a sequel to anything…the producers just wanted to capitalise on the relative popularity of the 1986 movie Troll.

Where to stream: Apple TV

The Room (2003)

An autobiographical passion project for writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau, The Room has a spot in the bad movie hall of fame, alternating between incomprehensible monologues and sub-porn level dialogue, while throwing in a couple of truly weird sex scenes.

The thing is, a successful The Room, one that resembled whatever the hell Wiseau had in mind when he conceived this thing, couldn’t possibly have been more purely entertaining than the finished product. No intentional parody could ever replicate the sheer entertainment value in trying to figure out exactly what’s going on in this movie from moment to moment.

Road House (1989)

Road House, I won’t lie, is my favourite Patrick Swayze movie, all the more so for its rather heightened view of life among bouncers in Missouri. It’s practically operatic, including far more explosions than you’d think the typical roadside bar experiences and multiple deadly fights. It’s also got some truly laughable dialogue and several dead-end plots, but all the more glorious for all of that.

Where to stream: Stan

Anaconda (1997)

Anaconda walks the line here, in that it’s clearly intended to be a little ridiculous, but also achieves something through over-the-top acting and dodgy special effects that puts it above and beyond a more typical jungle-action monster movie. Sorry for the spoiler, but watching Jon Voight get eaten by a giant CGI snake is a pleasure all its own.

Where to stream: Youtube Movies

Showgirls (1995)

Paul Verhoeven is a complete mystery to me. While his Starship Troopers is often seen as unintentionally hilarious, I have no doubt that he knew exactly what he was doing with that one. I’m not so sure with this notorious erotic drama — I made a commitment to not include intentional camp on this list, but I’m honestly not sure how much of Showgirls stilted strangeness is intentional, and how much is by accident. Either way, it’s entertaining as hell.

Where to stream: Foxtel Go

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