Liam Ferguson looks into the “so bad they're good” film phenomenon
The medium of film is often used as a place to lose yourself in, becoming absorbed in compelling worlds and characters to feel something on a deep and emotional level. Although, sometimes all that’s needed is some absolute schlock to dig into and laugh at. The concept of a film being “so bad it’s good” is, admittedly, a strange one, yet it is something most people would understand. There are plenty of real merits to watching movies that are objectively garbage but can still hold a welcome place in one’s heart. Of course, some movies are just bad without any point of redemption but a special few are able to be so worthy of ridicule that they exist to be laughed at.
Firstly, films that are bad but in a funny way are infinitely more entertaining than purely mediocre and overtly boring ones. Taking two films from similar IPs for example, Batman V Superman (2016) is a miserable and drawn-out slog while Batman & Robin (1997) is hilarious for all the wrong reasons. I can appreciate George Clooney waving around a Bat-credit card and Arnold Schwarzenegger making ice puns much more than Zack Snyder trying to frame Superman as Jesus for three hours. Batman & Robin managed to single-handedly kill Batman movies for a few years and that is extremely funny and when you watch the movie in hindsight, you can see why and laugh at almost every part of it. Ultimately, I won’t be checking my phone every ten minutes if what’s on screen in front of me is making me cackle at how awful it is and that takes a special blend of bizarre choices behind the scenes to craft.
That being said, it takes a certain level of almost self-parody in order to create a movie that can fit into the moniker of being so bad it’s good. Anyone can string together a terrible and incoherent mess of a film on purpose but there’s a certain level of charm to something that clearly is as bad as it is on accident. For example, the sheer insanity of Birdemic: Shock & Terror (2010) is a poster child for something uniquely abhorrent, but in a way that makes you smile. Its sequel, however, tries too hard to be bad on purpose and replicate the feeling of the first one but cannot stick the landing as a result of it being nearly impossible to catch lightning in a bottle like that twice. In order for a film to go from just bad to so bad it’s good, there needs to be an underlying sense of irony within it. Tommy Wiseau is well known for thinking he was making a masterpiece with The Room (2003) and because of that, the dumpster fire of a movie is discussed frequently and has been seen by millions. It is basically the go-to movie that is so bad it’s good and has managed to stay relevant, even gaining an Oscar nominated adaptation on the story of how it was made and that is in large part due to how much it now feels like a parody of itself.
On top of this, there’s a very simple reason that movies that are so bad they’re good are so popular; people love to laugh. Terrible but enjoyable films make for easy viewings with friends that you can all sit around and jeer at. There’s a reason you can find a million different drinking games for The Room but you would be hard pressed to find one for, say, Good Time (2017.) These delightfully dismal pieces of cinema make for great communal viewing experiences that make for easy, laid back events.
Overall, certain films manage to transcend popular culture and become so bad they’re good because they accidentally strike a balance into being extremely close to self-awareness. It is easy to see why they are so popular and hold a distinctive place within the circle of film criticism and viewership.