The 15 Biggest Guilty Pleasure Movies of The 21st Century

cage wicker man

If we were forbidden from enjoying schlock, then the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger would never have become megastars. Movies that please critics are all very well, but where would we be without our guilty pleasures?

Whether you’re watching Stallone fight Mel Gibson in a building rigged to explode or Arnie deliver dreadful puns after killing people, guilty pleasure movies pack a surprising amount of fun and should be indulged whenever possible, especially if the alternative is a literary adaptation starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Clearly, these movies weren’t made to win awards (unless they’re Razzie Awards), and every time a critic describes a film as “ridiculous” or “overblown”, it’s worth checking out to see if the movie is in fact awesome. You never know, it might feature Nicolas Cage as a bike-riding demon in a leather jacket.

Whether you call the following films schlock or cheese doesn’t matter, just as long as we understand this: the simple pleasures of B-grade escapism are not to be sneezed at.


15. The Marine (2006)

The Marine is guilty pleasure action filmmaking of the highest (or lowest) calibre: a full fat, high caffeine throwback to agreeably moronic 80s action pictures. Backed by World Wrestling Entertainment, the movie exists for no other reason than to make an action hero out of wrestler/rapper John Cena, the drinking man’s Matt Damon.

Abruptly discharged from the marines because he “disobeyed a direct order”, Cena makes the mistake of pulling into the same gas station as Robert Patrick and his crew, who’ve just heisted some diamonds. When Patrick’s comic relief henchman wastes a cop, they kidnap Cena’s wife and turn the station into a fireball with him inside, but of course he survives, steals a car and heads off in pursuit.

With this material there’s no point claiming the narrative is thin and far-fetched, that its leading man, while required to show superhuman grace onscreen, may have some limitations as a thespian or that we’ve been here often enough to guess every plot point ahead of time. It’s fast and funny (if Terminator and Deliverance gags are your thing) and stuff blows up real good. What more do you want?


14. See No Evil (2006)

All a slasher movie asks is that you get on its wavelength and enjoy it for what it is, although given alcohol’s mysterious ability to lower expectations, being good and loaded probably doesn’t hurt either. Especially if you’re watching a film directed by Greg Dark, the Michael Bay of porn, who’s won awards from the X-Rated Critics Organization and the Adult Film Association of America.

Backed by World Wrestling Entertainment as a vehicle for teacher-turned-grappler Kane (real name: Glen Jacobs), See No Evil casts the 6ft 10 Tor Johnson lookalike as Jacob Goodnight, one of those unstoppable killing machines with mom issues. He just happens to be holed up in The Blackwell Hotel when a bunch of delinquents are sent in on a cleaning assignment, but if you think this is a regular hotel without secret passageways and one-way glass, you’re sadly mistaken.

Slick in the manner of a high-end DTV release, See No Evil answers such important questions as “Would a dog eat a bimbo if his life depended on it?” Also, if you keep a kid in a cage as punishment for playing with himself, will he become a librarian or a serial killer?


13. The Tournament (2009)

Every seven years, the world’s top thirty assassins congregate in an unsuspecting locale to duke it out with each other for a $10m prize, unaware they’re being monitored by smarmy Liam Cunningham, who invites rich assholes to bet on the outcome.

The contest must be decades old, with all the romantic locations having played host to previous ventures, because this is Middlesborough’s year, meaning that, in trying to kill each other, the likes of Ving Rhames, Kelly Hu and Ian Somerhalder read tabloid newspapers, drink tea in greasy spoon cafes and complain about the bad food.

Rhames is in it not for the cash but to find whoever’s responsible for killing his old lady (the revelation comes as no surprise), even if it means stealing a tanker and mowing down some innocent people. He flips the tanker, causing a motorway conflagration that’d do James Cameron proud, and emerges with a few cuts and bruises. That’s right – it’s that kind of movie.

A trashy, ridiculous, cartoonish, silly, over-the-top, in-your-face movie, sure, but it’s also a ton of indefensible fun. Disengage brain and enjoy.


12. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2012)

Even for a franchise adapted from a videogame, the Resident Evil films are best described as “uncomplicated” and Afterlife was one of the worst reviewed movies in the series, with critics taking issue with the “hacked-out dialogue”, “drab 3D” and “rehashed plot.” All of which is true, but if you’re going to watch a film about a Ukrainian model in a tight costume who kills zombies, make it this one.

Returning to the director’s chair for the first time since the original, Paul W.S. Anderson opens the film with one of the most outrageous action scenes in the series, with the Alice clones attacking Umbrella HQ before bad guy Albert Wesker detonates a bomb that destroys everything in sight. If you wanted to recreate the effect of watching this sequence, you’d need a bag of honey glazed donuts and a six pack of Red Bull.

There’s more madness in store, including mind control devices, a reanimated Wesker (with glowing red eyes) who’s been eating test subjects and an encounter with a giant axe-wielding monster. With Anderson at the helm, the action has more snap than its predecessors and he lets nothing get in the way of giving the audience a good time.


11. Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending has a bonkers plot, an underlying campiness and nearly as many coherent ideas as there are garbled ones. It went toes up at the US box office, grossing only $47 million despite a $176 million production budget.

Mila Kunis is Jupiter Jones, a toilet cleaner who for some reason has been targeted for assassination by alien agents. When she meets Stinger (Sean Bean), Jupiter realizes she can control bees, the only insect genetically programmed to recognize royalty, which can only mean one thing: Jupiter is genetically identical to the deceased matriarch of a family that owns a string of planets, and is therefore Earth’s rightful owner (are you getting this?).

During her adventures, Jupiter encounters such colourful characters as Titus Abrasax (great porn name), who requests her hand in marriage after informing her that all humans are cattle and Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who’s supposed to be a man-dog hybrid but looks more like a gay hairdresser’s idea of an action hero.

A movie that mistakes eccentricity for originality, Jupiter Ascending is a camp classic that audiences will still be watching in twenty years’ time. It’ll take them that long to figure out the plot.


10. Assassin’s Creed (2016)

A candidate for the Best Bad Movie of 2016, Assassins Creed is your typical story of the quest for the mythical Apple of Eden, which according to the opening text crawl “contains not only the seeds of man’s first disobedience but the key to free will itself.”

Before you can speculate on what Mel Brooks would do with a line like that, Marion Cotillard saves Michael Fassbender from lethal injection and hooks him up to a gizmo that transports him back through time so he can enter an ancestor’s body and get caught up in a succession of large scale action sequences. And that’s just the first twenty minutes.

Assassin’s Creed is complete nonsense, but thanks to the efforts of its technicians it really looks the business, with pin-sharp cinematography and excitingly choreographed action scenes that just about compensate for the sequences where humourless characters sit around pontificating about apples and free will. Plus, when else are you going to see an actor of Fassbender’s stature growling out a version of Patsy Cline’s Crazy?


9. White House Down (2013)

Hissable villain James Woods has taken over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for….oh, some reason. He’s clearly never seen an action movie because he’s figured without lantern-jawed Channing Tatum, who just happens to be on a White House tour with his daughter in tow, so when Woods’ henchmen begin executing everybody in sight, including some of the most powerful people on the planet….well, you know the drill.

You don’t watch this kind of film for its intricate plotting, nuanced characters and Shakespearean dialogue but to see stuff blow up real good, which it often does. A car smashes through the wall of the Oval Office, a villain who (intentionally?) looks like the bad guy in Commando turns out to be an explosions-loving psycho (what’re the odds?) and just like President Harrison Ford in Air Force One, Jamie Foxx isn’t afraid to afraid to take on his enemies with both fists.

Oh, and there’s a car chase on the White House with helicopter gunships and rocket launchers and whatnot. That’s fun, too.