10 Movies Classified as Rotten That Are Actually Good
Everybody’s a critic. And that means that everybody is a critic of critics. Stupid critics! Have a faceful of rotten tomatoes, which you probably think are fresh tomatoes, because that’s the kind of critic you are!
Ahem. As I was saying. Critics: they have opinions, and sometimes they are wrong. There are a lot of films that have been panned on Rotten Tomatoes as Rotten but are actually at least marginally Fresh (over 60%).
Below are some of the most underrated supposedly-rotten-but-actually-decent movies on RT. They are listed from the highest (but still low) Rotten Tomatoes score down to the absolute nadir of critical contempt.
Image Credit: Focus World.
1. Spaceballs (1987)
Rotten Tomatoes 56%
I’ll admit, when I first watched Spaceballs as a kid I was mostly bored and irritated. The non-joke jokes seemed schlubby and pointless. And also how can you make fun of Star Wars?! It’s Star Wars, the pinnacle of art. Cut it out with the schwartz stuff!
Now that I am older, maybe wiser, and certainly less Star Wars idolatrous, I can better appreciate the joys of slathering hyperspace in schtick (and/or plaid.) I love the gag about the villains capturing the stunt doubles, and of course “What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? CHICKEN!”
More generally, though, it’s pretty great to watch Jewish people finally get a chance to conquer all of space, especially while recognizing that (with notable Jews like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) they’d been there all the time.
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
2. The Last Dragon (1985)
Rotten Tomatoes 55%
How can you not like The Last Dragon! The film, about Leroy Green a young Black man (Taimak) who embraces his inner Chinese martial arts hero, is a joyful, pre-Wu Tang celebration of cross-cultural identification and self-actualization. The film imagines a world of African-American-owned authentic Italian pizza parlors and jive-talking Chinese-Americans, in which people are defined by what they love rather than by the niche they’re supposed to occupy. Plus it’s got martial arts battles and Vanity 6. You’d think that would be Fresh enough for anyone.
And these days it is. As with other films on this list, early reviewers were confused by the genre shuffling. In the 36 years since its release, though, The Last Dragon has become recognized as a classic. Or as Vanity says with a sultry smile, “You sure look like a Master to me.”
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.
3. Underwater (2020)
Rotten Tomatoes 47%
There’s little backstory or buildup in Underwater; 5 minutes after the credits the deep ocean station is collapsing and a shaven-headed Kristin Stewart is racing through ever-narrowing claustrophobic spaces to escape the rush of water.
If character development is your thing, critics will tell you this is vacuous and doesn’t slow down enough to give you backstory. If you tire of action movies that pretend you’re there for quips or meaningful interpersonal drama or something other than the action, though, this is the stylish geyser of adrenaline you’re looking for. Alien and Godzilla are obvious predecessors, a duo mismatched enough to be entertaining. And the metaphor of carbon
extraction coming like a giant monster to bury us all in the deep adds an ominous, crushing weight.
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.
4. Salome’s Last Dance (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes 44%
I think all of the movies on this list are at least pretty good. But Ken Russell’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome’s Last Dance is the only one I would call, without reservation, a masterpiece. The clever frame is that Wilde is watching a surprise production of his own play in a brothel (“they say sex is the theater of the poor”). Russell’s own fascination with decadence, gender-bending, morality as aesthetics, and aesthetics as morality fit perfectly with the source material. The brothel casts Bosie (Douglas Hodge), Wilde’s lover, and ruination as John the Baptist in the play within the play, a choice that couldn’t be bettered. And yet it is by the actual casting of the incandescently, sensually eerie Imogen Millais-Scott as a serving girl playing Salome.
I presume critics hated the camp, the gratuitous cheesecake, the gratuitous beefcake, and the insistent theatrical stylization. The movie is in short a complex, jewel-bedecked, leather-encrusted, scandalous garment for straining out philistines.
Image Credit: Vestron Pictures.
5. Mr. Right (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes 44%
Paco Cabezas’ Mr. Right was taken to task by many critics for mixing incompatible genres; it’s a rom-com and a Tarantino-esque hip violent hitman narrative. That’s a big part of why this film is so lovable, though.
Many romcom protagonists are fairly interchangeable: they are nice people with a few quirks who need to self-actualize through love. Martha McKay (Anna Kendrick) seems to fit the mold at first. But then it turns out that actually, she is a cat-ear-wearing feral weirdo who needs to self-actualize through discovering her inner mass-murdering assassin. Francis Munch (Sam Rockwell), the not-exactly-reformed hitman, helps her on the path. It’s one of the few romcom pairings where you really believe they could not possibly have been happy with anyone else.
Image Credit: Focus World.
6. The Descent (2007)
Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
(Note well: this is not the acclaimed 2005 cave-in film, also called The Descent.)
Rape/revenge is not a critically lauded genre, so it’s not exactly an accident that Talia Lugacy’s Descent has such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes. It is undeserved though.
Maya (Rosario Dawson) is quietly raped by her date Jared (Chad Faust), and then spirals into a long, grinding depression. Eventually, a friend, Adrian (Marcus Patrick) agrees to help her heal by raping Jared in turn. The film dwells much more on sadness than on the catharsis of revenge, though. It’s a heartbreaking movie about how sexual violence severs survivors from themselves, and how the desire for retribution is natural, but also an expression of trauma. Descent is a hard movie to watch. But that’s not because it’s a failure, no matter how uncomfortable it’s made many of its critics.
Image Credit: City Lights Pictures.
7. Venom (2018)
Rotten Tomatoes 30%
I did a whole list of underrated superhero films, but I somehow missed this one. I’d be hard-pressed to argue that Venom is a great movie. But it's oozy squoosh of superhero and horror into a single glob holds its skanky own against the less messy MCU default.
Tom Hardy as Eddie, a loser in life possessed by devouring alien glorp, gives a hilarious performance as a man who wants to do good but is falling in friendship-and-maybe-more with the growly-voiced head-devourer who has become his symbiotic life companion. When Venom reveals that it was a loser on its home planet too, the parallel/romance is complete. A mainstream movie that wants you to root for the self-actualization of a devouring fork-tongued slime maybe doesn’t even want to be Fresh. But it festers in a good way.
Image Credit: Sony.
8. Showgirls (1995)
Rotten Tomatoes 22%
Paul Verhoeven is a much-misunderstood director, and never more so than in this campy love/hate letter to show business. Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) and Cristal (Gina Gershon) engage in one of the great melodramatic soap opera catfights of all time as they claw, backstab, and sleep their way towards trashy Las Vegas showgirl success. Verhoeven isn’t sure whether he adores or despises them for their crass sexuality and crasser ambition—and it’s an open question whether he realizes he’s also adoring and despising himself for those same qualities. Either way, it’s a romp worth watching for the hyperactive, hyperbolic pool sex scene and the brilliantly gratuitous miscasting of Kyle MacLachlan alone.
Image Credit: United Artists.
9. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
Rotten Tomatoes 18%
Slashers don’t have much critical cachet, and Friday the 13th films have even less than that. But this movie was loathed even by fans of the series because it doesn’t feature hockey-masked murderer Jason Voorhees. He was killed in Friday the 13th part 4 by a young boy named Tommy Jarvis. Part 5 is devoted to the question of whether Jarvis, now an adult (John Shepherd) has become a killer himself.
The result is a slasher/whodunnit that foreshadows the much-lauded Scream. It’s the Friday the 13th film that most directly and daringly plays with the idea that Jason is not a person but a potential. Victims, viewers, passersby, mourners: everyone is punished and everyone can pick up the knife, put on the mask, and become the bloody punisher. Genre products aren't supposed to pursue their themes at the expense of their fandom in quite this way. But I think it should get more credit when it does.
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.
10. Walk of Shame (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes 15%
I have no idea why director Steven Brill’s delightful screwball-ish comedy is universally loathed. Some critics said it was unbelievable. But it’s obviously supposed to be an anxiety fever dream about the impossible Madonna/sleaze double bind women face in the workforce and in life.
Self-described “good girl” news anchor Meghan Miles (Elizabeth Banks) loses her fiancé and her dream job and after a one-night stand finds herself phoneless and penniless in the wrong neighborhood in LA wearing the wrong dress. Catastrophically stripped of privilege, she is relentlessly shamed by everyone she meets, not least the cops, who, she discovers, aren’t actually there to help anyone.
Banks is unfailingly charming and sympathetic and just genuinely nice, whether she’s heartbroken, flirting drunkenly, or trapped in a spiral of escalating frustration and panic, or delivering a perfect plastic smile while screaming inside. Everyone’s decided Meghan shouldn’t have a job or career or boyfriend because she wore a tight dress. You really want her to thwart them—and she finally does. What’s not to like?
Image Credit: Focus World.
I tried to pick only movies that I can honestly recommend. The Exorcist II, for example, is not as horrible as everyone says it is and should have a better than 10% on RT. But is it good? I can’t really say it’s good. So it’s not on the list.
Also, I must, unfortunately, report that Highlander 2: The Quickening does indeed appear to deserve its 0% rating, based on the 10 minutes of it I was able to stand before I was forced to turn it off.
Image Credit: Warner Bros.
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Image Credit: Netflix.
Featured Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.