It has been adequately covered on the site this week that Southland Tales was a big failure upon its release. But over the past few years we’ve seen different websites and critics taking another look---The Hollywood Reporter explored the history of the film’s infamous Cannes premiere, Collider says it is the perfect time to revisit the film, The Washington Post noted how the post-apocalyptic nature of the film mirrors our own society, Inverse called the film the greatest cult film of this century, and on and on. As Southland Tales continues to find a new audience and post-release fame, it joins a long list of failed films which are now considered an integral part of cinema history. These five examples, which range from surefire masterpieces to films ready for rediscovery, are all available now on streaming.
The Shining [Stanley Kubrick, 1980]
Available on Amazon Prime
Now universally considered one of the scariest horror films ever made, The Shining hasn’t always been beloved. Many critics at the time reviled the film, including Dave Kehr, who called the film “banal” with an “incredibly slack narrative” and Roger Ebert, who said the characters were difficult to identify with [though Ebert would later come around on the film, including it in his “Great Movies” reviews]. The review from Variety was especially scathing: “The crazier Nicholson gets, the more idiotic he looks. Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.” And we all know how much novelist Stephen King feels about it. Though it is one of the only Kubrick films not to garner any Academy Awards nominations, it did receive two Razzie award nominations for Worst Director and Worst Actress. The Shining isn’t the only Kubrick film to initially receive a cold embrace before becoming endorsed by cinema lovers, as films like Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange have all been reevaluated in recent years.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch [Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982]
Available for Digital Rental
Halloween and Halloween II were two of the most successful horror films ever made, essentially creating a new subgenre which engulfed the 1980s. Creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill initially had the idea of Halloween being an anthology film series before Michael Myers became such a big hit, and that was fully explored with the third issue in the franchise. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was a box office hit on the coattails of its predecessor, but roundly rejected by audiences simply for not being what they wanted. Critically, it didn’t fare any better---Roger Ebert blasted the film for being cliched and “assembled out of familiar parts from other, better movies.” As time has gone by, however, Halloween III has been rediscovered by horror fans who care less about the production baggage who realized this is a very fun, offbeat film---a number of uninteresting Halloween sequels to follow may have helped the cause.
Starship Troopers [Paul Verhoeven, 1997]
Available for Digital Rental
Provocative filmmakers are likelier to make misunderstood or misjudged films---take Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven as a prime example. Like many of his films, Starship Troopers takes a well established genre [in this case a science fiction-war hybrid] and adds a completely unique point-of-view. Yes, the film is silly at times, but its satirical view of the war complex and American exceptionalism is always sharp. Many of Verhoeven’s films being ridiculously over-the-top garner a response of “so bad it’s good” which grossly misses the fact that Verhoeven knows exactly what he is doing. Roger Ebert called the film one-dimensional, without sheer entertainment value [are we sensing a theme here?]. While the film certainly has flaws, being entertaining isn’t one of them, and I appreciate how exclusively focused, even dumbed down, it is on its anti-fascist satire. You won’t find me defending the acting stylings of Casper Van Dien, but that doesn't really matter with the film so bluntly on message. And as our society becomes more and more war hungry, Starship Troopers is as relevant as ever.
Wet Hot American Summer [David Wain, 2001]
Available on Netflix
The modern standard bearer for films that critics and audiences initially didn’t get, Wet Hot American Summer is now one of the most beloved cult comedies and has served as a direct inspiration for studio comedies ever since. The amount of young comedic talent it spawned is astonishing. Ultimately the talent won out, but it is equally astonishing that any of them [especially director Wain and writer-star Michael Showalter] got another chance. Wet Hot American Summer’s extremely weird and random humor won’t work for everyone, but if it does, you’ll be laughing for the entire 97 minutes. And with mainstream comedies looking more like Wet Hot American Summer over the past decade, if you’re watching the film for the first time today, you’re more likely to be in tune with its humor. The gulf in acceptance is made crystal clear when comparing the Rotten Tomato scores of the film [a measly 32%] and the revival Netflix series [a whopping 92%]. Oh, and if you’re curious, Roger Ebert gave the film 1 star---though his review was written as a rhyming poem, so that’s cool.
Speed Racer [Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2008]
Available for Digital Rental
Seven years isn’t a lot of time for a film to be completely reevaluated, but between the disastrous box office performance and 39% Rotten Tomatoes score, Speed Racer has its defenders. Part of the issue might be tolerance for the Wachowski’s overloaded visual style---it is either “dazzling” or “overwhelming” depending on your perspective. No doubt, Speed Racer is one of the most insane visual experiences in cinema, a wild blast of color and movement. In a world where most blockbusters are boring, lazy adaptations of popular [or not even popular] properties, we should want more films like Speed Racer. Yes, it isn’t an “original” film, but it is incredibly original, keeping the spirit of its source while being outrageously cinematic. Like other filmmakers on this list, the sheer ambition of the Wachowski’s is prone to make the kind of “interesting mess” that often see critical shifts after release---perhaps we’ll see Jupiter Ascending end up on this type of list over the next few years. For the record, Roger Ebert did not review Speed Racer.