Sometimes a movie comes out and it’s just misunderstood. People are too distracted by the mindless violence or tacky jokes to pay attention to the deeper meaning. When that happens, the movie tends tends to be misunderstood. That leads to this list.
A lot of the entries on this list are actually pretty well-received, but they may not be well-received because of their smarts. That being said, they actually are pretty clever flicks. A little bit of analysis may need to be done, but there are definitely things to talk about beyond surface-level observations. With that being said, hopefully the readers of this list can look at the following films a little differently.
RoboCop’s violence became the biggest topic of discussion upon its release, which isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that it damn near received an X rating. The intense violence and fast-paced action scenes seem par for the course back in the ‘80s. After all, this is the time period that gave us Commando, First Blood, The Delta Force, and (unfortunately) Cobra. Make no mistake, RoboCop sure is a hell of a lot of fun because of the hypermasculinity and edge-of-your-seat thrills, but it’s also a movie with a lot on its mind.
There have been countless articles analyzing the various themes buried underneath RoboCop’s seemingly simplistic exterior. It would take a separate list just to discuss the various talking points. Because of this, we’ll be focusing on some of the more blatant and popular observations made by observant viewers.
Let’s start with the thing that drove Paul Verhoeven to take on such a project. RoboCop is a Frankenstein’s monster story disguised as an over-the-top action flick. The protagonist is subhuman, but the audience knows there’s something deeper underneath. From there, we’re left to ask the age old question: what makes us human?
RoboCop also explores topics like big business. Big business makes its own disasters, and from there, it tries to fix them in order to turn some kind of profit. Big business is inherently harmful because the higher-ups only think about themselves. Through RoboCop, this message is repeated often.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, through all of this, RoboCop is a freaking blast. It’s smart, sure, but it’s also nonstop entertainment. It’s the best of both worlds, which is probably why it’s considered a classic today.
2. Starship Troopers
The one-two punch of Verhoeven is no coincidence; he just might be the king of making deceptively intelligent movies. Like Robocop, Starship Troopers appears to be a relatively straightforward affair. In fact, it actually can be enjoyed as a cheesy action movie. Verhoeven knows a thing or two about providing goofy thrills, but he also knows how to sneak in some social commentary.
His approach is fascinating. While this is technically based on a militantly right-wing novel, the views expressed within the film are drastically different. The relationship to the source material is unusual because this adaptation basically acts as a counterargument. It takes the subject matter of the novel and satirizes it.
Starship Troopers plays out like a propaganda film. War is glorified in such a way that everything seems a little too perfect. The cinematography evokes a shiny coat of paint that brings to mind some kind of utopian society. Yes, their lives are at risk, but look how cool war is!
Passive viewers might try to claim that Starship Troopers is a pro-war movie, but the satirical nature allows us to understand that it’s actually the opposite. The blatant satire is accompanied by some not-so-subtle nazi imagery that’s meant to poke fun at militarism, facism, and several other isms. It’s all one big joke that you’re liable to enjoy much more if you understand its intentions.
3. Jennifer’s Body
Back in 2009, Jennifer’s Body was greeted with an unenthusiastic shrug. Diablo Cody was fresh off of Juno and her follow-up screenplay didn’t quite live up to expectations. Critics described it as a decently entertaining distraction with little to offer. That was ten years ago, but times have changed. Jennifer’s Body is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.
If you ignore all of the feminist subtext, Jennifer’s Body is still a ridiculous slasher film with mildly clever dialogue. At the same time, it would be silly to ignore the feminist subtext. This is, through and through, a movie about female empowerment. It’s a surprisingly intelligent revenge movie that also happens to be really funny.
The retrospective reviews are finally starting to appreciate the film for what it is. None of these retrospective reviews are calling it perfect, but they are correctly claiming that it’s much more than meets the eye. Folks who haven’t seen it since its release may find a very different movie now that ten years have passed.
4. Total Recall
While not as smart as the Philip K. Dick short story that serves as the source material, Total Recall is definitely brighter than it seems. It wants to start a discussion, even if it seems like a trashy sci-fi movie.
The premise itself is creative. Nobody is denying the fact that this is an interesting idea. Whether or not Total Recall uses its premise effectively is up for debate. The concept of planting false memories into a person’s brain is frankly brilliant. It’s just hard for people to tell if the film lives up to the potential.
The short length of the source material means its not bogged down by unnecessary details. That means that it can wear its intelligence on its sleeve. Total Recall can’t do that, but that’s okay. In the end, it effectively combines intelligence and fun. It uses its clever premise to create gleeful entertainment.
It’s beloved today precisely because of this natural balance. Still, it makes its way onto this list because people tend to focus on the fun first, and who can blame them? It’s a blast. It’s just worth noting that it’s more than a blast.
Prior to its screening at TIFF, Hustlers was one giant question mark. We knew that it was about a group of strippers who took advantage of Wall Street men, but that was the extent of our knowledge. Director Lorene Scafaria had a couple movies under her belt, but she wasn’t established enough for audiences to jump to any conclusions. The cast was composed of hit-or-miss actors and actresses who have been in both slam dunks and irredeemable messes. Its release was shrouded in mystery, which makes its overall quality that much more impressive.
Hustlers falls into the “surprisingly good” category of cinema. It defied expectations thanks to its excellent cast and clever writing. At least, it defied expectations according to established film critics. Things seem to be a bit more divisive in the eyes of the general public. The 6.6 IMDb rating isn’t necessarily bad, but when it’s coupled with a B- Cinemascore, things start to look pretty rough.
This particular author is siding with the critics. Hustlers is more than just a stripper movie. Perhaps the pseudo-political “girl power” message is driving angry internet users to slam it, but that’s part of the charm. Hustlers has an awful lot to say about sex work, classism, and, chauvinism. It’s actually pretty enlightening stuff.
The only downsides come from the fact that the film mostly tackles familiar territory. The story is reminiscent of Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, but the subject matter is just different enough to work. Yes, the framing of the story is conventional, but there are still topics that Hustlers addresses in a fresh and exciting way.