Every movie fan knows what it feels like to waste time and money on an awful film, but there is such a thing as being too cautious. While review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes have done their part to help spare us from the worst offenders, they do, on occasion, send an innocent movie to the cinematic gallows. With that in mind, we picked out some of our favorites from cinema past that get a bad rap. Don’t let their “rotten” reputations fool you — these bad movies are better than the all-important critics’ consensus suggests. If you are looking for genuinely great films, check out our picks for the best of Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or Amazon.
(Critical opinions pulled from Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus.)
Rotten Tomatoes: 58 percent
Reviewers say: “It’s difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it’s undeniably fun to watch.”
We say: The critics got it half right! Yes, The Mummy may not be high art, but it was never trying to be. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is a throwback to the pulp adventure stories of the 1930s, with a sardonic, charming hero, funny dialogue, and exciting set pieces. If you like tales of treasure hunters and ancient curses — and don’t mind the colonialist undertones — The Mummy is a fun, competently made film.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Rotten Tomatoes: 37 percent
Reviewers say: “Eye-popping driving sequences coupled with a limp story and flat performances make this Drift an adequate follow-up to the previous Fast and Furious installments. Strictly for the racing crowd and fans of the first two films.”
We say: The Fast and the Furious is one of cinema’s most inexplicably enduring franchises, with eight films already and more on the way. That is a lot, especially given the first film was a serviceable crime drama about street racing. Tokyo Drift was where the franchise really started to spread its wings, introducing a new cast and moving the action to the neon-drenched streets of Tokyo. The script is dumb, sure, but the movie captures the speed and finesse of street racing.
Rotten Tomatoes: 50 percent
Reviewers say: “It doesn’t lack for ambition, but The Secret Life of Walter Mitty fails to back up its grand designs with enough substance to anchor the spectacle.”
We say: In the early going, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty can come off a bit listless, but it builds up momentum as Walter himself transforms from a self-effacing, risk-averse bore to a shark-wrangling, mountain-climbing, bad a__. With its moody-yet-epic soundtrack and spectacular scenery, this is a solid addition to the “road film” genre and should be enough to inspire anyone touched by wanderlust.
Rotten Tomatoes: 44 percent
Reviewers say: “To Rome with Love sees Woody Allen cobbling together an Italian postcard of farce, fantasy, and comedy with only middling success.”
We say: While Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona were seen as charming love letters to romantic European locales, To Rome with Love is dismissed as a kitschy postcard. In reality, however, Woody Allen didn’t do anything all that different with this film, the critics just got tired of the formula. Is it a touch self-indulgent? Sure. But it has more than enough smart humor and hijinks to make up for it. Roberto Benigni’s turn as the suddenly and inexplicably famous Leopoldo Pisanello alone makes this one worth the watch.
Rotten Tomatoes: 44 percent
Reviewers say: “Gross-out humor overwhelms the easy chemistry between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, who bring some energy and yucks to this tale of a girl with short-term memory loss and the guy who tries to get her to love him.”
We say: In 50 First Dates, Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) has a series of flings with women on vacation in his native Hawaii, and seduces them by leveraging the romantic fairy tale of meeting someone in a far off land and falling in love. Ironically, the film itself ropes you in in much the same way. As soon as you see the palm trees and hear the ukuleles, you won’t much care that the experience is shallow, you’ll just be looking for a good time. Silly and full of plot holes though it may be, it’s also full of heart and — if you let it — it will charm your pants off.
Rotten Tomatoes: 46 percent
Reviewers say: “A trip worth taking if one’s not offended by gratuitous nudity and bad taste.”
We say: It has plenty of gratuitous nudity and bad taste, sure, but it’s also a lot of fun — and a lot smarter than you might expect. Whether it’s the over-the-top soccer hooligans that the trippers befriend or Matt Damon’s show-stealing cameo as a sex-crazed rock star, if you’re in the mood to laugh, this one will do the trick. It will also have you singing the surprisingly catchy Scotty Doesn’t Know for the next few weeks.
Rotten Tomatoes: 59 percent
Reviewers say: “Although this action-romance suffers from weak writing and one too many explosions, the chemistry generated by onscreen couple Pitt and Jolie is palpable enough to make this a thoroughly enjoyable summer action flick.”
We say: This film is acutely self-aware and pokes fun at itself constantly. Given Hollywood’s tendency to be obliviously over-the-top, it’s easy to miss the winks, but the action, sexual tension, and humor in Mr. & Mrs. Smith are all exaggerated for effect. It’s deliberate camp and it only works if you’re willing to embrace it. Still, if all else fails, this film is worth watching in a purely anthropological sense, as a document of two historically beautiful people at the height of their star power and sex appeal.
Rotten Tomatoes: 54 percent
Reviewers say: “A brawny, entertaining spectacle, but lacking emotional resonance.”
We say: Films of this size and scope are bound to have their inconsistencies and digressions and Troy doesn’t lack in either, nor is it a historically accurate account of its subject matter. All that said, the film nails the look and feel of an epic and certainly has its moments of emotional resonance: Particularly when Achilles (Brad Pitt) calls Hector (Eric Bana) to the battlefield and the latter obliges, knowing that (SPOILER ALERT!!!) he is a dead man walking. In the hierarchy of sword and sandal flicks, this ranks closer to Ben-Hur than to Alexander.
Rotten Tomatoes: 58 percent
Reviewers say: “Once you get past the anachronism, A Knight’s Tale becomes a predictable, if spirited, Rocky on horseback.”
We say: “Rocky on horseback” sounds like a pretty darn compelling elevator pitch to us, and that’s more or less how this one plays out. Elements of anachronism (modern-day rock music, vernacular, etc.) help add some unexpected flavor to a well-worn genre and the unspoken irony of the title is that this is not just another knight’s tale. It’s got wit, verve, and plenty of flaws, none of which should prevent you from suspending your disbelief and having a good time.
Rotten Tomatoes: 48 percent
Reviewers say: “While certainly ambitious — and every bit as visually dazzling as one might expect — Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby emphasizes visual splendor at the expense of its source material’s vibrant heart.”
We say: Those with a romantic attachment to Fitzgerald’s original novel will likely come away disappointed in this film’s preoccupation with opulence and excess, but those who were less attentive during 10th grade English may find themselves hypnotized by Baz Luhrmann’s potpourri of glitz and glamour. Remember, this film did take home the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design and Best Achievement in Production Design. It’s a bit on the shallow side but, if your calendar permits, it’s a soiree worth attending.
Rotten Tomatoes: 57 percent
Reviewers say: “Professionally made but artistically uninspired, Ed Zwick’s story of Jews surviving WWII in the Belarus forest lacks the emotional punch of the actual history.”
We say: This is one of those films that suffered because it sounded like an Oscar-winner on paper, but didn’t play like one on the big screen. That said, Defiance features a strong cast and is based on the fascinating and true story of Eastern European Jews who fled from the Nazis and created a self-sustaining society in the dense Belarusian forest. So long as you don’t go in looking for Schindler’s List, you won’t be disappointed when the end credits roll.
Rotten Tomatoes: 32 percent
Reviewers say: “As comedy, Wet Hot American Summer is a slapdash, fragmented affair that misses more often than hits. As parody, it fails because it attempts to satirize something ridiculous and self-parodying in itself.”
We say: If you’re not in the mood for utter stupidity, or you don’t find it funny in general, you’ll probably want to avoid this film like the plague. But if you’re a fan of Naked Gun-style silliness, then you should have a great time indulging in this wacky parody of the sleepaway camps we all know and love/hate. The film definitely strays a bit too far off the rails at times, but those looking for laughter and laughter alone shouldn’t be too bothered by the digressions. Though critics panned it after its release, this film grew on folks over time and became beloved enough that Netflix brought back most of the cast for a prequel series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp) and later a sequel series.
Update: Added The Mummy (not that one) and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift