Why Do We Love Bad Movies?

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How bad movies become good.


Want to know how much I love bad movies? One of my favorite movies of all time is – and I promise I’m being serious here – The Room.

It an incompetent mess of cinema, yet it’s simultaneously a perfect work of art. I’ve literally seen it dozens of times by now, and somehow its only gotten better. I love Tommy Wiseau’s silly accent. I love Lisa freaking out at Denny over his drug money. I even love the spoon pictures that are inexplicably scattered across the set. If I’ve done any good in this world, it’s been to introduce this movie to every single person I know.

It’s not just Wiseau’s magnum opus though. Troll 2, Birdemic, and countless other movies like them are considered cult classics today. Why, exactly, do we love bad movies? Let me count the reasons.

Humor is best when you can’t see it coming

A good comedy is harder to write than it looks. A well executed joke requires impeccable set up, timing, and delivery in equal measure, and you don’t want the audience to predict the punchline either. Pulling this off once is hard, but doing it for roughly 100 minutes should be considered a miracle.

Bad movies, on the other hand, aren’t funny because they’re trying to be. Since the audience is laughing at the film’s incompetence, it’s way harder to ruin a punchline with a botched set up. For example, Birdemic does nothing to prepare you for birds exploding into buildings, which makes its appearance way more hilarious in the end.

Since you’re already lowering your standards by watching the flick to begin with, your mindset is wide open to hilarious left-field antics. Not every bad movie is funny, but the best bad movies can leave your sides practically in pain by the end.

Audience participation makes the movie

Let’s be honest, the magic of bad movies isn’t (always) found by yourself at 11:00 at night. The real fun  is getting a group of friends together, serving up some fun drinks, and shouting at the screen with reckless abandon.

Unlike actually good movies, you aren’t watching a bad movie right if you’re doing it in silence. Audience participation is so vital  that midnight screenings are organized year after year. And movies like The Room have established rituals like throwing plastic spoons in the air when a spoon is visible on screen. The real treasure truly is the friends you’ve made along the way.

You get to look inside the film maker’s psyche

As absolutely inane as The Room is, there is a bizarre logical consistency to it.

… Let me rephrase that; I have no doubt that the movie makes complete sense to Tommy Wiseau.

Authors write fiction based on what they know. This is why Jane Austen never wrote characters who kissed, and this is why I’ll never write a story about getting a college education for a reasonable price. Every aspect of The Room is how Tommy Wiseau genuinely believes the world works. It doesn’t matter if it’s playing football in tuxedos, or if it’s bluntly asking a friend about their love life in a coffee shop. The Room is an unparalleled look into the mind of a fabulously enigmatic man.

Perhaps this isn’t a selling point for a bad movie on your first watch. But once you get established into the cult of bad movie watching, these subtle details start to pile up. To this day, I can’t decide if Birdemic‘s heavy handed global warming education isn’t actually effective in its sheer, unabashed earnestness.

The best movies are bad where it counts

Let’s give credit where credit is due: The Room is not actually the worst movie ever made.

This is a claim that’s often thrown around, especially in the wake of The Disaster Artist. But there are a ton of movies that are either unwatchable or just plain boring. I mean, have you heard of anyone whipping out From Justin To Kelly at a party to uproarious applause? Or what about Baby Geniuses 2? Despite being just as critically panned as The Room, no one cares about these movies anymore because they just aren’t fun to watch.

Bad movies get their cult followings by not only being bad, but simultaneously watchable and entertaining. Even movies that intentionally try to be bad often miss this mark. This is what makes these cult classics so special. Their sheer existence is lightning in a bottle. Movies like The Room can only be made once in an author’s lifetime, and who knows when an ambitiously misguided auteur will make another movie like it?

Don’t get me wrong, I love your critically acclaimed Citizen Kanes as much as the next guy. But if you asked me to pick one movie that I don’t think will ever be surpassed in my lifetime, I’m going with The Room. It would tear me apart to pick otherwise.

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