They say hindsight is 20/20, and when it comes to movies at least, the expression couldn’t be more true. As much as critics and audiences tend to have films pegged from the start, cinema history is littered with movies that people hated at first, but which in time came to be re-evaluated as stone-cold classics.
The 80s in particular was awash with absolute slam-dunks that the press and cinema-goers just completely failed to get at first. Join us as we look back at ten of the worst offenders.
10. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
In a case that should sound familiar to all those Last Jedi fans who can’t understand why there’s now a fan campaign to remake Episode VIII, Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back was not initially embraced as the much-loved classic we know it as today. And if critics were mixed, then some of the fans – like Last Jedi’s haters, intensely divided – were positively scornful.
Criticism was reserved for the cliffhanger ending, the villain’s shock connection to the hero and a subplot for side-characters that some thought led nowhere. All of which means we’ll probably be talking about what a classic The Last Jedi is 37 years from now.
9. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick throughout his filmmaking career rarely found his work embraced on first watch. So it went for The Shining, a film which is lauded as a masterpiece of horror today, but which faced the usual criticisms that had dogged many of Kubrick’s films: namely that it was slow, cold and full of difficult-to-love characters.
The performances were also slammed, with Shelley Duvall ultimately being nominated for Worst Actress at the Razzies (she had company in Kubrick, who was himself nominated for Worst Director). Even Stephen King, who wrote the book on which the film was based, hated what Kubrick had done to his work.
8. Predator (1987)
So popular it has spawned three sequels and a pair of spin-offs, 1987’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring sci-fi Predator was at the time more or less dismissed as ‘one for the fans’ by the press.
The film was on release savaged by critics, who called it “grisly and dull” and “arguably one of the emptiest, feeblest, most derivative scripts ever made as a major studio movie”. Variety’s “slightly above-average actioner” verdict was about as good as it got for Predator back in 1987.
7. Blade Runner (1982)
It’s not just time that saved this one: in 1992, director Ridley Scott unveiled a director’s cut of his dystopian sci-fi Blade Runner, popularising the very concept of the director’s cut while helping to resurrect his film.
The response to the 1982 theatrical version was greeted with far less enthusiasm: not only was it a flop with audiences, but Blade Runner was found slow and hollow by critics, with one giving it the nickname Blade Crawler.
6. The Thing (1982)
The chilling mood, political subtext and nightmarishly realistic special effects have all served The Thing well, though John Carpenter’s Antarctic horror wasn’t always as admired as it is now. Contemporary audiences largely stayed away and reviews were overwhelmingly negative.
Descriptions ranged from “nihilistic” and “boring” to the “quintessential moron movie of the 80s”, while the film’s atmosphere and effects, rated so highly now, were respectively deemed cold and overly-gory. Cinefantastique magazine even published a cover that asked of The Thing, “Is this the most hated movie of all time?”
5. Scarface (1983)
It wasn’t just critics and concerned citizens, outraged by the portrayal of violence in the movie, who hated Brian De Palma’s gangster fable Scarface back in 1983. The film had its celebrity detractors, too.
Dustin Hoffman fell asleep during the picture, Lucille Ball decried the use of language and legendary author Kurt Vonnegut walked out half an hour into the premiere in disgust. Roger Ebert aside, critics were not kind, condemning what they saw as “excess and unpleasantness”. The film is today seen as a towering example of the gangster genre.
Toxic fandom existed long before The Last Jedi and Ghostbusters. Case in point: Tim Burton’s 1989 take on Batman, which received a positive response on release, but which saw fans piling on before the film had even seen the light of day.
People were incensed by the idea of Burton directing and in particular Michael Keaton starring, so much so that 50,000 Bat-fans mailed Warner Brothers voicing their disapproval with the “manic comedy” energy Keaton was set to bring to the role. A petition was started, fanzines mocked the upcoming film…then it made $400 million at the box office and opened to wide applause.
One of the greatest sequels of all time, one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, James Cameron’s best film… Everyone today knows that Aliens is a humdinger of a movie. Not everybody in 1986 was so sure, however.
Before Aliens super-fans came into being, there were only super-fans of Ridley Scott’s original Alien, and they weren’t entirely satisfied by what Cameron had done with ‘Scott’s franchise’. The Alien fans picking holes in Cameron’s sequel were so numerous that Cameron personally addressed them point-by-point in a 1992 edition of Starlog magazine.
2. Blue Velvet (1986)
All-American weirdo David Lynch has never been wholly accepted into the mainstream, but his oddball suburban noir Blue Velvet – coming hot on the heels of blockbuster Dune and Oscar-winning period drama The Elephant Man – baffled people more than most.
What many consider a masterpiece today proved incredibly divisive in 1986. Several critics derided Blue Velvet for its sexuality, violence and what they considered to be a kind of forced strangeness, with one critic writing that the “movie doesn’t progress or deepen, it just gets weirder, and to no good end”.
1. Scrooged (1988)
On paper, Scrooged had everything viewers in 1988 could have wanted: a popular director in The Goonies and Lethal Weapon filmmaker Richard Donner, a Christmas theme and master of sarcasm Bill Murray, hot off a string of successful comedies. And yet…
Now a cult Christmas classic, Scrooged elicited mixed responses from both critics and audiences 30 years ago. Roger Ebert called the comedy “unsettling”; others said it was “appallingly unfunny” and “tacky in the extreme”.