In the movie business, unfortunately quality doesn’t always equal commercial success. Particularly with the rise of the blockbuster, there has been a real demand from cinema goers for big action and big special effects. The appetite is seemingly endless, and with development of new technology and increased budgets standards have been steadily improving.
2018 is an example of a year where many of the top earning films have also been very well received. Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 made up the top 3 highest earning films in the US this past year, all of which were massive hits with the film experts, too. This certainly isn’t always the case though, and the 2010s in particular has seen some very poor films near the top of these box office taking lists.
Whether it’s down to strong marketing campaigns, loyalty to a brand/franchise or just simply ignoring the critics, audiences are keeping many big studios afloat regardless of quality. Luckily these sorts of successes are becoming fewer and farther between, but it is still disappointing for true cinema fans, and certainly critics to see such mediocre movies make such a commercial killing. Below are some of the biggest box office hits that critics hated.
10. Divergent (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
US Box Office: $150m
The 2010s has seen massive success with movie adaptations from young adult novels. The Hunger Games trilogy in particular set a high standard for critical and commercial achievement in the genre. Veronica Roth’s popular post-apocalyptic novel series, Divergent is the kind of YA fiction written with definite big-screen adaptation in mind. The question of quality aside, there was a real hunger for these types of films in 2014, so a decent box office was all but a sure thing.
Divergent is set in a world where human virtues split humans into distinct factions. Tris (Shailene Woodley) learns that she is Divergent, meaning she doesn’t fit into any of these groups. When this fact puts her in danger she must join forces with another outcast, Four (Theo James) to take down the leader of an evil faction.
Overly complicated plots and cliches seemed to disappoint critics. Comparisons to the much stronger, Hunger Games couldn’t be avoided in the majority of reviews. To critics Divergent felt like a much less interesting ripoff of the series. Ironically, it’s these very similarities that gave the film a solid audience, especially among the teen demographic. Divergent found itself top of the box office on opening weekend, paving the way for a couple more mediocre sequels to follow.
9. Grown Ups (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes Score : 10%
US Box Office: $162m
There’s a certain type of American comedy film we see all too often. The recipe is almost always the same; a predictable script with an overtly positive message, full to the brim with zippy sitcom-esque one-liners. All wrapped up in a lovely PG13 package for the whole family to enjoy. Throw in some big name stars and it’s almost a guaranteed box office hit. Grown Ups is essentially the perfect example of that very film.
Centred on a group of old high school Basketball teammates, Grown Ups sees this gang of middle aged men reunite over the Fourth of July weekend to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not too old to act like kids. That’s the premise, and honestly, there’s little more to it than that.
The obvious marketing draw are the ‘Grown Ups’ themselves. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, James Spade, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider have barely strung more than a few decent comedy films between them in the 2000s, but in 2010 they were still household names. Throw them all together, and that’s a lineup that box-office goers just couldn’t resist. The lowbrow humour and flat direction almost unanimously unimpressed critics, but the American public couldn’t have cared less.
8. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes Score : 25%
US Box Office: $166m
Sales of the erotic fiction series put EL James on top of Forbe’s highest-earning authors in 2013, with the first entry in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey now being one of the best-selling books of all-time. There was never any doubt that a movie adaptation was coming, with the name alone enough to turn this into a box office success. To impress critics was always going to be the more difficult mountain to climb.
The film tells the raunchy tale of college student Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) who finds herself in a masochistic relationship with businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Only, it’s not quite as raunchy as it thinks it is, or as interesting.
Critics slammed the dull dialogue and less-than-tantalizing sex scenes, as the movie adaptation ultimately didn’t deliver on what the exciting trailers and novel’s reputation promised. The book received a similar reception, so it’s no real surprise that the negative reviews didn’t stop movie-goers from queing up to get their fantasy fetish fix on the big screen. Fifty Shades made an absolute killing, especially for an R-rated picture.
7. Cars 2 (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes Score : 38%
US Box Office: $191m
Let’s be honest, in 2006, Cars was hardly top of anyone’s favourite Pixar films lists. But as with all of the studio’s previous animation projects, at the very least it was solid. Funny, charming and made with love. Everything we have come to expect from them. Disney’s darling sub-studio had a perfect hit ratio with critics and fans alike, until 2011’s Cars 2 ended the streak.
Cars 2 reunites us with the heroes from the first film, as racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and truck Mater (comedian, Larry the Cable Guy) head overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix. Lightning’s focus is on the championship, while Mater strangely finds himself caught up in a world of international espionage.
Despite its beautiful animation, critics found it difficult to see much more to enjoy about the movie, deeming the plot to be overly busy and generally subpar by the high standards Pixar had set. But even up against critical animation hits in 2011 such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, Cars 2 found itself comfortably on top of the box office in this category. Which only goes to show the untouchable draw that the Pixar name has.
6. Venom (2018)
Rotten Tomatoes Score : 29%
US Box Office: $213m
Venom was one of the few major Marvel comics character yet to get his own film. With the latest Spider-Man iteration finally joining the insanely successful MCU in 2017, it seemed like the perfect time to introduce of one Spidey’s greatest foes to the universe. Only, Sony made the strange and bold decision to distance their Venom film from MCU, opting instead for a separate universe. A decision that ultimately made the company a very happy return at the box office.
Tom Hardy’s journalist Eddie Brock ends up at the centre of a media scandal and while trying to clear his name, accidentally becomes host to alien symbiote, Venom. With his confident but violent new alter-ego, Eddie must work together with Venom to protect the world from the evil corporation Life Foundation.
It’s a silly plot, and reviews generally read that the tone of the film was uneven, jumping between drama and comedy with little reason or subtlety. Tom Hardy’s committed performance was praised, but it wasn’t enough to carry Venom to the critical heights of other recent Marvel hits. Fans had different notions entirely, managing to enjoy the film for the switch-off-your-brain blockbuster that it was. A $200m domestic box office is far from a failure, so naturally the sequel is well on its way.