“So Bad, it’s Good”—The Rise of Intentionally Crappy Movies

Bad movies have been around almost as long as there have been movies. The 40s and 50s gave rise to second rate, quickly and poorly made science fiction, horror, western, and films noir which were played before the main showing. Dubbed as B-pictures, they were considered as cheap shlock. They lacked any major stars and received considerably less funding and time from studios. They had to be made as quickly and inexpensively as possible. The results were narratively absurd, poorly acted, poorly designed junk that audiences generally didn’t care about.

In 1959, the low-grade B-Picture known as Plan 9 From Outer Space was created by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Wood couldn’t have known the legacy he left behind, posthumously spawning what’s known as “so bad, it’s good” cinema – in other words, a film that’s so horrendously acted and so roughly assembled that it transcends pure “badness” and evolves into something entirely new; a laughably awful picture to be screened at midnight in theaters all across the country.

Since then, there has been a growing popularity for “so bad, they’re good” movies. The Room, Troll 2, Reefer Madness, Manos: the Hands of Fate, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space are just a few titles that have achieved cult status for being comically bad. Each features a ludicrous story with stiff acting and shoddy camera work. No doubt these films would have been all but forgotten if it weren’t for late night screenings for cinematic misfits to revel in.

The rise in popularity has led to a new type of “so bad, it’s good” movie – the intentional “so bad, it’s good” movie. What a strange world we now live in, when a filmmaker sets out with the intention of making something terrible.

A few recent films gained a cult following not too long ago during this craze. They feature some of the worst CGI ever put on screen, and even worse writing, directing, and acting. The films were called Sharknado and its sequel, Sharknado 2: The Second One. These Twister/Jaws mash-ups (or rip-offs) aired on the SyFy channel in 2013 and 2014, and for whatever reason, a third one (Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!) is set for release this year.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) the trend of intentionally bad movies didn’t start with the Sharknado trilogy. It was in 2006 that Snakes on a Plane had its monkey-lovin’ debut causing audiences to flock to the theater to witness what they believed would be the next “so bad, it’s good” midnight masterpiece.

Take it for what it is, Snakes on a Plane had exactly that, but most critics didn’t find it all that endearing. Then, in 2007 Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released the Grindhouse double feature of Planet Terror and Death Proof. These two homages to the exploitation cinema of the 70s received a fair amount of critical and box office success.

Both films feature the trademarks of their respective directors, beautiful kick-ass women, tons of gore, intentionally added “missing reels”, and grainy, jumpy film stock to add to the overall aesthetic of the late night 70s drive-in movie. For better or worse, they are decent films and together they make good companion pieces, even if Death Proof is arguably Tarantino’s weakest effort.

Other films that fall into this category: Iron Sky, Piranha 3D and the even worse Piranha 3DD, Hobo with a Shotgun, The Expendables, Casa de mi Padre, and Machete and Machete Kills.  There are some that are better than others, but sadly most of them will probably not be remembered 10 or 15 years from now. Or at least not in the way that The Room or House is remembered.

The question is then raised: can a good intentional “so bad, it’s good” movie exist? Can that type of film be replicated?

After seeing most of these films, the answer might regrettably be “no.”

All of the films that are generally regarded as good “so bad, it’s good” movies all have one thing in common; they were made by either delusional, misguided directors or young filmmakers who were in over their heads. In the cases of Tarantino and Rodriguez, it was out of genuine love for that style of film.

Ultimately, “so bad, it’s good” films cannot be replicated or manufactured. They must grow organically.

Justin Russ

Justin Russ

Since he was a kid, Justin Russ always wanted to make movies. In high school he developed a ritual of watching cult flicks at the theater every Friday. His love of film has led him to make several short films and documentaries in his young film undergraduate life thus far.

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