What Makes a Movie “Bad” – What Makes a Bad Movie “Good”

If you’re looking for a good bad movie then you’re already on an ironic quest; you probably didn’t pause before watching Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, and think, “Well isn’t that a silly way to describe something, good bad,” because you wanted to watch a bed eat people. Well carry on intrepid dumpster diver! But for the virginal wayfarer, stifling an amazed chuckle as stringed birds circle over head, with one maidenly foot hesitating over the great pool of schlock filled with sharks jumping themselves, consider the following to be two helpful hands shoving you full force in the back. Now swim!

What do we mean when we say, “a good bad movie?” 

By bad we mean the movie is dysfunctional. Good is referring to our enjoyment of the movie. So taking all the cuteness and fun out of the statement we have, “an enjoyably dysfunctional movie.” When your average person talks about a movie they use one word to refer to all of this and more. How was the movie? Good. And this response is the combination of critique and emotion and impulse, in any chance ratio. So be mindful of what exactly we mean by the words good and bad as we progress lest we be logically forced to appreciate the Twilight series.

What makes a movie bad?

To answer this question we must first define what a movie is. A movie is a statement made combining sight and sound. Through comedy, drama, horror, through as many means as the written word, a movie, like all statements, bares the weight of implying a truth (even a lie implies a truth, albeit one factually unsound, sarcasm an ironic truth, etc.) The fact that all statements imply a truth is what solves the Liars Paradox  (“This statement is false”), making it simply a contradiction (akin to, “I went north south”), and what helps us to understand if we’re laughing at or with a movie.  Even if it’s as base as, “boobs and guns are cool,” as fictional as, “damn it feels good to be a gangster,” or as simple as, “wouldn’t it be funny if… ,” the fact that a movie has a goal is all important.

All movies are meant to find its intended audience and to captivate them. I call a movie bad that fails to accomplish these goals. I call a bad movie good when it fails to find its intended audience but captivates its inherited one.

There are endless subjective arguments to be had over what is captivating about a bad movie, from babelfish dialogue crossing into a concussed noir to the weightless ballet of a sloppy fight scene, and never ending hairs to split over what hits or misses its mark, but it is important that we have a starting point for such discussions. The latter is especially critical. Countless lists confuse Troma flicks or Andy Sedaris with the Rooms of the world. As unsuspecting as it is on paper, there is a stark difference between the awesomely stupid and the stupidly awesome.

Let’s take a look at a few famous examples.

The Room:

Intended Audience – Everyone. Similar to that of any drama. More specifically, adults with an interest in relationships.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, voyeurs of spectacle.

Conclusion – The Room is a movie whose aspirations are artistically pure but whose expression is flawed. The enjoyment of movies in this category easily crosses into schadenfreude. There is no self parody taking place; a movie in this category cannot be faked.

Troll 2:

Intended Audience – Fans of camp and rollicking horror flicks.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema.

Conclusion – Troll 2 wants to circle us around the campfire and entertain with some tried and true imagination: an interesting setting, an eerie atmosphere, a surprising turn of events. It is not setting a high bar for itself, however any of its failures are unintentional. The differences between successes and failures for such movies may not be distinct; they may both happen multiple times in the same movie. Budget and personnel constraints often create unique opportunities for each. Most best bad movie’s fall into this category.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii:

Intended Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, fans of camp.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, fans of camp.

Conclusion – Entirely self aware, tongue firmly planted in cheek, Hard Ticket to Hawaii has few, if any, artistic motivations and can only fail if it fails to entertain you. For all of the similarities to Troll 2 (acting, special effects, etc.), its intention to be ridiculous entirely changes the experience. On the whole they are less surprising and eccentric, which may effect your enjoyment. Often base and crass, movies in this category are quintessentially “guilty pleasures”.

Big Trouble in Little China:

Intended Audience – Everyone. Fans of action and adventure.
Inherited Audience – Everyone. Fans of action and adventure.

Conclusion –  As long as you don’t need your movies to be serious, Big Trouble in Little China provides characters with depth, a transportive, imaginative plot, and memorable dialogue. While frequenting the territory of camp, it never lets itself off the hook; uses it as a tool not an excuse; has a goal in mind and strives towards that goal in earnest. As you cover up momentary cheesiness and step back, you see logical steps towards Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride.

 Twilight (Series):

Intended Audience – Young adults. Fans of romance and fantasy.
Inherited Audience – Young adults. Fans of romance and fantasy.

Conclusion – Like Hard Ticket to Hawaii, technically speaking, Twilight is a “good” movie. Just keep in mind that the use of the word good thus far has simply meant functional: it found its intended audience and captivated them. It has been well documented that the English language is insane. The same word can have a half dozen strikingly different contextual meanings. We love drink specials, we love puppy yawns, we love bubble wrap, but not as much as we love our mothers, which isn’t to say we make love to our mothers, because then we’d be lovers… We say Twilight is good in this instance, but by good we mean something a little different. Something closer to… killpaindeath. There! Twilight is a killpaindeath movie.  I suppose I could have been making up new words this whole time but this post is far enough up its own ass already.

There you have it, a guide to circling the drain with me hand in hand!


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