Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Power Of Ironically Good Movies

In 1973, Toho Studios released Jun Fukuda’s fourth installment in the Godzilla franchise, “Godzilla vs. Megalon,” which was a reflection of Fukuda’s feelings on the recent underground nuclear testing in the United States, as well as the continued theme in the Godzilla franchise of the horrors that come with nuclear bombs and atomic testing.
The problem with “Godzilla vs. Megalon” though, was that Fukuda decided to show these terrors by having the people who were affected by the underground tests look like rejects from the cast of “Cats.” In retaliation, the underground people are going to unleash their giant cockroach monster that has drills for hands to destroy the world (which means just Tokyo).
“Godzilla vs. Megalon” is a classic example of a movie that attempts to take its themes seriously. However, through poor execution of those themes and head-scratching decisions, such as including the addition of a size-changing robot who looks like Jack Nicholson, the film often ends up causing more laughter than acclaim. 
These types of films are often referred to by film critics as “so bad, they’re good” or ironically good movies. They differ from good movies, like the simple yet engaging “Jaws” (1975), as well as terrible movies, like the unfulfilling and emotionless “Transformers” (2007). In a way, they fall into a third category of movies that are neither good nor bad, yet are both at the same time.
“I see so many movies that are so self-importantly serious that I tend to enjoy the diversity,” said Dan Webster, co-host of “Movies 101” and film critic. “I've had the occasion to sit through films that actually made my mouth drop open they were so ... I'm not even sure I would describe them as bad because they were so far past bad they actually existed in an alternate aesthetic.”

Ironically good movies will often have elements in common. They are badly made works which missed the filmmakers’ original intent. At the same time, or even perhaps because of these films suck-etude, the audience can’t help but laugh at how incompetent and ridiculous the film is. They are enjoying the film, despite it being complete garbage.

“The main thing that separates a “so bad, it’s good” film from a film that’s simply bad is, I think, a singular artistic vision,” said film critic Nathan Weinbender. “More often than not, there has to be some deranged captain at the helm of the operation whose sheer hubris drives him to visualize his bad idea, no matter how misguided it may be. And in order for a movie to be enjoyed ironically, there can be absolutely no irony present in its conception. We feel like we’re in on a joke that the very maker of the film is not.”

For Webster, the key example of ironically good filmmaking is Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, “Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call,” starring the champion of ridiculous acting, Nicholas Cage. Webster found scenes in the film that were so absurd in both the story line and logic that he couldn’t help but laugh out loud, such as Cage threatening to shoot two old women in a hospital, simply because they looked at him strangely.

“I laughed in enjoyment because I was pretty certain, at some point, that Herzog knew what he was doing,” said Webster. “If he didn't? Well, that works, too. In any event, the feel of the film was more important than the actual film itself. And I loved it.”

What makes films like “Godzilla vs. Megalon” and “Bad Lieutenant” ironically enjoyable is the common thread among all ironically good movies: unintentional humor.

“Great camp can’t be forced, so when you’re making a terrible film intentionally, it’s not funny,” said Weinbender. “If the people making the movie knew they were making a bad movie, where’s the fun in that?”

By luring the audience into thinking that the film will be about something else, normally something rather serious or gritty, ironically good movies end up catching the audience off guard by performing actions that the viewer wouldn’t expect, like Godzilla sliding on his tail to drop-kick a monster from more than a mile away. 

Most people would not expect to see that at any point in their lifetime, whether in film or not. A monster who once stood for the horrors of the nuclear bomb is now using his tail like a Slip-and-Slide to attack a giant cockroach, when he also had atomic fire breath at his disposal. Because these actions are often so ridiculous, it’s all but impossible to view the film which wishes to be taken seriously as anything more than a joke.

“While there are those concoctions that revel in computer graphics advancements or unlikely casting conquests, the best bad movies are the ones with purposely serious moments that are so insincere, quite accidentally, that they're hilarious,” said Mike Massie, head film critic of

It is also this distinction that separates ironically good movies from bad movies. 

“It's important to deal somehow with humor here,” said Webster. “Bad films that make you grimace are just bad. Bad films that make you laugh out loud at their badness are things that we want to share with our friends, usually over drinks.”
Yet, it is important to keep the differences between ironically good movies and regular good movies in mind. In this case, the difference is with quality filmmaking. Howard Hawks, director of films such as “Bringing Up Baby,” “Red River” and “The Big Sleep,” once said that a good film needs at least three great scenes and no bad scenes, which is something no ironically good movie can accomplish.
Almost all examples of ironically good films are inadequately written, poorly performed and often come off like the director didn’t know what he was doing or what he was trying to say.
However, ironically good movies can be enjoyed by others for many of the same reasons as a comedy. The only difference between the two types of films being the filmmakers intentions. Comedies are attempting to be amusing on purpose. Ironically good films seem to be doing it by complete accident.

“Ironically good movies are almost never made intentionally,” said Massie. Inevitably, filmmakers will continue to fail in bewitching new ways, giving birth to further hordes of terrible yet altogether amusing entities. In the world of film criticism, viewing “good” bad movies is commonly more fun than seeing accomplished, dramatic works.”

Tom Mullin, an Eastern Washington University film professor, believes that ironically good films can be enjoyed for multiple reasons. One way is how “Rocky Horror Picture Show” became a cult hit as a result of popular opinion being expressed in the media or by opinion leaders. Another reason is through nostalgia and people associating movies with certain memories. 

“If we stop and think, we know the movies are often bad in all these scenarios,” said Mullin. “It is not the movie that becomes good, it's the desire to be cool [and] to wallow in nostalgia... Down deep we know many of these films are not good. We just want to believe our enjoyment is good.”

For these reasons, there are many different kinds of ironically good movies, ranging from the cheap and old fashion “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” to the Alfred Hitchcock-tribute turned sour “Birdemic: Shock & Terror.”

“I do believe that ironically good movies will always be made and will always find an audience,” said film critic Chris Pandolfi. “I think it has already been proven that ironically good movies are a viable market. There are countless numbers of conventions held annually for movies like that, and low-grade horror and sci-fi movies have been presented by horror hosts on television for decades, either locally or nationally, like Vampira and Elvira. Furthermore, the home video industry is still in full swing, and although they’re not as common as they once were, there are still midnight movie theaters.”

The variety of ironically good movies is baffling, encompassing nearly every type of film genre, with no two movies being the same. Each one fails and succeeds on its own merits, and they all beg to be seen just to help the viewer understand how bad filmmaking can get.

“Like cultivated masterpieces, it usually takes a bit of luck to wind up with something really special,” said Massie. “When that happens, audiences will continue to recognize and appreciate those that are so bad they’re good.”

List of the Best Ironically Good Movies 

- “The Wicker Man” (2006) - The shining example of Nicholas Cage’s ridiculous acting style and how far one man will go to never be taken seriously again.
- “The Room” (2003) - If there was ever a contender for the most unintentionally hilarious actor against the Cage Rage, it would be Tommy Wiseau in his only acting role (so far). 
- “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959) - You know it’s a bad sign when someone you’ve probably never heard of directs, writes and produces the entire film on his own money.
- “Birdemic: Shock & Terror” (2008) - In an age of CG and advanced technology, even films that came out in the 1910’s look more dignified than this film.
- “Ghost Rider: The Spirit Of Vengeance” (2012) - Nic Cage returns in an unnecessary sequel with even more mugging for the camera and audience at home.
- “Showgirls” (1995) - More than ten years in the making, never has a film taken so much time and turn out so laughably bad.
- “Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky” (1991) - By the end of this film, most viewers will want to know more about how this happened, rather than why it happened.
- “”Manos”: The Hands Of Fate” (1966) - For those unaware, “Manos” is Spanish for “Hands.” Thus, the title in English is “Hands: The Hands Of Fate.” The film is already off to a great start.
- "Troll 2" (1991) - You would think the film would be about trolls...except there isn't a single troll in the film. Instead, it's about a dysfunctional family going on a vacation in the woods. Fun times are had by all.
- "Battlefield Earth" (2001) - This was suppose to be the film that would get people to take Scientology seriously and it backfired like a cannon full of chicken feathers.
- Nearly any movie featured on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” - The tag-line of the show should be “Watch us rip apart the worst movies of all time!”

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