10 Must-See So Bad They’re Good Movies From The 1990s
6. Stuart Saves His Family (1995)
The late Harold Ramis–director of comedy classics like Caddyshack and Groundhog Day–had directed, written, and appeared in some great movies in his career. Directing Stuart Saves His Family is not one of them. This big-screen expansion of recurring Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley, a self-stylized self-help guru who’s an emotional mess and struggles with his own dysfunctional family.
While Smalley (played by Al Franken) was appropriately humorous in five-minute sketches on SNL, the character is simply not interesting or compelling enough to carry an entire film. Mining depressing psychological and relationship problems with an ineffectual protagonist for comedy, Stuart Saves His Family didn’t offer anything the general public wanted to see and the film bombed at the box office.
Its strange protagonist and story, while too odd for most audiences, still makes for a unique comedy. While self-esteem, familial dysfunction, and emotional problems may not seem prime targets for a comedy, Stuart Saves His Family is a surprisingly brave film for someone to make using these subjects for comedy, especially considering that its main character is ostensibly a loser. For fans of offbeat comedies and those who don’t mind a fair amount of negativity surrounding their humor, Stuart Saves His Family is a little-seen SNL spinoff that may appeal to your more dysfunctional side.
7. The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
You know your film has become a disaster when your director is fired and replaced three days into production. In fact, the myriad production problems The Island of Dr. Moreau faced were recounted in an entire book on its difficult creation. And H.G. Wells’ sci-fi novel about a mysterious scientist who lives in seclusion on an island attempting to make a new race of people-animal hybrids had a tortuous path to the screen.
Besides the original director being fired, the cast–including the notoriously difficult Marlon Brando, who kept the cast (many of whom were under pounds of uncomfortable makeup and prosthetics) and crew waiting for hours in the sweltering heat while he hung out in his air-conditioned trailer, and Val Kilmer, whose behavior on-set was obnoxious and soon descended into open hostilities between Brando, the new director, and much of the cast and crew.
The set fell into chaos, particularly since Kilmer and Brando refused to do scenes together and the isolated shooting location of Cairns, North Queensland, Australia began to affect the crew; near the end, fired crew members and even the original fired director ended up sneaking back onto the set as extras. A six-week shoot ballooned to six months and the budget skyrocketed to $70 million.
The movie was a complete disaster both financially and creatively. Critics savaged the film and it struggled to make its budget back. And the film is a mess–but it’s a fascinating mess, particularly when you realize how many problems there were in its making.
Brando’s performance is complete madness (and largely is just him ad-libbing what he wanted and costuming himself as he pleased); Kilmer’s character is just a secondary character, which makes you wonder why he was allowed to ruin the production for such a nothing part; and the film in general is chaotic and largely nonsensical. It’s a glorious trainwreck of a film and one film fanatics will enjoy–if only to see how a disaster of a production turns out on-screen.
8. Simply Irresistible (1999)
Romantic comedies are usually light, frothy films filled with contrived circumstances and coincidences that guarantee the protagonists will come together in the end. But how many of them feature a magical crab as both a major plot point and part of the meet-cute? 1999’s Simply Irresistible, a fantasy/romantic comedy starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, certainly does. And it’s completely nuts.
So Gellar plays a young woman who has inherited her late family’s restaurant but doesn’t know how to cook…for some reason. One day, while at the local market, she meets a mysterious man who gives her a case of crabs that has a magical…crab…in it which infuses her food with a seductive flavor that becomes a hit. She also meets a man who isn’t sure if she’s falling in love with her or her magical…food. Oh, and the crab wears a tuxedo and top hat at one point and it ends on a musical number. Have we mentioned this movie is nuts?
Made for very little money, it made even less back but remains stuck in “so bad it’s good” fans’ craws after all these years simply because it’s a corny, cheesy, and insane film made by, one can assume, an escaped mental patient that somehow got a picture deal. It’s worth a watch for romantic comedy fans who think they’ve seen anything. They certainly haven’t seen a movie like Simply Irresistable.
9. Tank Girl (1995)
The 1990’s didn’t have the best handle on adapting comic book characters: either they changed the characters until they were unrecognizable or made them goofy caricatures. Tank Girl–adapted from the comic book of the same name–took a third route, taking its visual and character inspiration directly from the book but also makes the eponymous Tank Girl a relatively obnoxious character that’s alternately naughty and heroic.
The film takes a headache-inducing approach to filmmaking, with numerous quick cuts, brief animated sequences, and loud sound effects replicating what should be excitement on-screen. Lori Petty plays Tank Girl with a hobbled mania that swings from crazy to lucid to violent to calm with very little rhythm, while the Rippers–Tank Girl’s allies–are unappealing kangaroo-human hybrids. There’s even a barely recognizable Naomi Watts as Tank Girl’s sidekick!
Much of the blame for this movie’s failures have been cast upon the post-production editing of the studio, but the filmed scenes look cheap and the characters are too cartoonish to take seriously. But there’s something appealing about its defiant approach to comic book adaptations. A mixture of being faithful to its source material and creating its own bizarre world, Tank Girl is a curiously bad comic book movie that was made a decade before Hollywood figured out how to make good comic book adaptations.
10. Idle Hands (1999)
So here’s an unpleasant premise for a movie: a lazy stoner teenager seems to have killed his parents and goes on to kill his two best friends, only to find that it’s his possessed hand that’s doing the killing. After his hand kills two police officers he cuts off his demonic hand, which doesn’t stop his hand from continuing its murder spree. Oh, and the two friends he murdered decide not to go to heaven and become the undead instead. And then a big, crazy showdown occurs at a school dance.
The teen movie genre was resurrected in the 1990s, finding purchase with a large generation of affluent moviegoing teenagers in that decade. As such, Hollywood made a lot of movies to appeal to the 14-18 crowd to mixed results, and Idle Hands was one of the darker offerings made during this time period. Gory, violent, and overall unlikable, Idle Hands tanked at the box office but found an audience on home video.
And it’s not a good movie, but it’s something to see, especially if you were a teenager in that decade. The supporting cast–particularly Seth Green as one of the undead friends and Vivica A. Fox as a high priestess (don’t ask)–are a lot of fun. It’s also indicative of a time and place where Hollywood execs just looked at demographics and trending box office returns and said to themselves, “enh, what the hell?” It’s not good, but it’s so bad it’s good.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer whose work has appeared on numerous websites and maintains a TV and film blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.
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