Defining the bad movie
I’d like to write a bit tonight regarding a subject I’ve had a lot of back and forth on the topic of with films such as Arrested Development, Hannah Montana, Sex and the City, and Transformers. These films might seem to have little in common on the base level, but there is one characteristic they all share in common.
There’s a large group that thinks they’re amazing, and a large group that thinks they’re bottom rung.
So which group is correct when it comes to this differing of opinion? Why can one critic give Twilight a high rating, another the bottom of the barrel? With the diversity of people and audiences in the world, with sheer countless attitudes and personalities as to what makes a film good or not, is it truly possible for there to be an actual bad movie?
Cue thousands of posts of films like Batman and Robin, Disaster Movie, Ecks vs. Sever, etc. Obviously these films come up time and time again when the topic of “bad” movies is brought up. But what makes these films so definably bad?
The answer, I think, lies in the films’ intended audiences. In order to truly define a movie as bad, I think fairly speaking, one must figure out what audience the film was going for, and how successful was it for that audience.
For example, let’s take a look at two films, Godzilla, and Transformers. From a purely objective standpoint, these films are pretty much the same. They both feature big explosions, cheesy dialogue, and massive special effects budgets. Yet the spitting I’m already reading below obviously tells that Transformers is amazing whereas Godzilla is junk. Why the disparity despite being, at least on paper, the same film?
While the paper looks the same, the audiences are incredibly different.. Godzilla fans tend to view the story as, at it’s heart, desolate and a metaphor for nuclear proliferation. There are layers of context in the original material that tends to invite intellectual analysis, despite the cheesy camp factor. Transformers was about cars becoming robots and beating the snot out of each other. Yes, there are more details, but these details only exist to add more robots and more snot-beating. The result was Transformers and a mediocre director receiving massive praise, whereas Godzilla received massive scorn. Despite being the same on paper, the films tried appealed to different audiences, and while Transformers’ audience got what they were expecting to the nth degree, Godzilla’s audience was left disappointed beyond measure.
This disappointment is the only true factor I think that can be said to imply a film’s quality or not. Put simply, a bad film leaves it’s intended audience disappointed, and as a result is disliked by it’s intended audience. In practical terms, you wouldn’t expect Cyrus, who is an excellent critic, and very knowledgeable about geek culture in general, to be able to really leave satisfied from a film like High School Musical. Quite obviously, without having seen even a minute of the show in advance, it’s pretty safe to say he would already be against it.
With rare exception, a film will not appeal to more than a select audience. This is why cinemas have multiple screens, and your television has multiple channels. The idea is to draw in different audiences. While Dad’s getting ecstatic enjoyment form the Stealers game, Janie can be zoning out to MTV and Mom can be taking notes on CSPAN. All get great ratings, but obviously if you ask Janie about the game, or Dad about MTV, they’ll respond with scorn. The question must be asked, though, is either channel bad entertainment?
High School Musical 3, despite the pleas of you teenage boys out there, did not get on the Razzies list. This was because it was not a bad movie. You may not have liked it, but to put it bluntly, nobody cares about you. In the same vein, when Transformers came out, nobody gave two twists of a lamb’s tail about us Disney fans. High School Musical set out to please young girls, and it delivered exactly as it set out to. In fact, it exceeded many people’s expectations.
Really bad films can be recognized as failing to achieve this criterion. Batman and Robin was a perfect example of this. Batman and Robin was meant to appeal to comic book fans. Comic book fans despised it. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was meant to appeal to horror fans. It failed to do so.
Of course, Rocky Horror is unabashedly popular today, despite the movie being very bad. The reason was it managed to jump demographics and pull in an audience that would otherwise have not cared. Other examples of this can be seen with shows like Smallville. Smallville was initially intended for Superman fans, to be sort of a Superman: Year Once: for the screen. This audience quickly tuned out, but in their place a young audience that was more used to shows like 90210 or Melrose Place. Once the studios realized this audience switch, they went out of their way to appeal to this new audience, turning shows into great shows.
My point is simply this. While you may find it easy to make a claim like “The Three Stooges are moronic” or “Hannah Montana is gay”, in the end, they’re still successes. No matter how much you hate them, they achieved their goals, they snagged the audience they wanted, and the exceeded the expectations expected by that audience. Can any film that makes a profit be really considered a negative? Would you yell at a fisherman for not doing your taxes in addition to his job? If a film does the job it is meant to do, and succeeded to the audience it was trying to, it cannot really be called a bad thing.