42 Scathing Reviews Of Movies Loved By Audiences


With Ebert’s passing last week, a number of tributers noted the man’s penchant for going against the grain, giving a movie like Knowing a four-star review (in which Nicolas Cage discovers Jesus is an alien) and Dead Poets’ Society a bad one, a film almost everyone I know seems to love. One of my favorite things about reading film reviews is how often I disagree with my favorite critics. You didn’t read a Pauline Kael review because you agreed with her. You read it for how powerfully funny and wise her work was. You felt like you were there with her.

With Kael and Ebert in mind, I dug up 42 reviews of movies that were loved by audiences, critics, awards shows or all of the above. Some are revered classics, some are newer favorites, others have Julia Roberts in them. All of them got their share of trashing.

If you’re ever feeling down, just remember that even E.T. had haters in his day, and he’s a billionaire now.

A Beautiful Mind:

‘Beloved’ Cred: Best Picture Winner, 2002

1. “It’s not just our emotions that are being played on here, it’s not just our intelligence being insulted because of Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman’s presumption that we won’t have any interest in a character whom it’s not always possible to like. It’s John Nash’s life, being turned into an Oscar machine and an easy way to jerk tears.” – Charles Taylor, Salon

Black Swan:

Cred: Best Picture Nominee, 2011

2. ”Not just any kind of trash, it’s high-art trash, a kind of ‘When Tutu Goes Psycho’ that so prizes hysteria over sanity that it’s worth your life to tell when its characters are hallucinating and when they’re not.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

3. “Off the dance floor, however, Black Swan is trashy and incoherent. Aronofsky, for all his gifts, is a gaudy maestro, opportunistic and insecure as an artist.” – David Denby, New Yorker


Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1996

4. “Everybody knows that a non-blubbering clause is standard in all movie stars’ contracts. Too bad there isn’t one banning self-indulgence when they direct.” – Richard Schickel, Time

5. “If ‘Braveheart’ were any longer, it would have to be moved around by flatbed truck. By the time the story trudges to its hyper-climactic close (with Gibson’s appetite for historical, gory detail in major overdrive), you feel as though you marched through a couple of meaningless campaigns.” – Dennis Thomson, Washington Post


Cred: #2 on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest American Movies

6. “The climax of Casablanca concerns the efforts of Laszlo and his wife to leave Morocco. Rick has two letters of transit, which would make that easy. Reluctant to help, Mr. Bogart at last does the manly thing and Mr. Rains saves him from the consequences. Nothing short of an invasion could add much to Casablanca.” – Time

A Clockwork Orange

Cred: #46 on AFI’s lists of the 100 Greatest American Movies

7. “Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Deer Hunter

Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1979

8. “[The Deer Hunter is] a disgusting account of what the evil Vietnamese did to poor, innocent Americans stands at the center of this Oscar-laden weepie about macho buddies from a small industrial town.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

The Empire Strikes Back

Cred: Grossed $790 million in current U.S. dollars

9. “Confession: When I went to see The Empire Strikes Back I found myself glancing at my watch. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air. It’s a measure of my mixed feelings about The Empire Strikes Back that I’m not at all sure that I understand the plot. The Empire Strikes Back is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank.”- Vincent Canby, New York Times


Cred: The fourth most-successful movie of all-time in the U.S.

10. “If E.T. is indeed a higher intelligence, as Elliott insists, what does he have to teach? Evidently he is one of those autistic genius types that Hollywood adores—capable of crafting an interstellar communicator out of toys and cutlery, but completely inept at basic social skills. Despite his ability to learn English in a couple of hours, what does E.T. have to say? The boy learns about tolerance, loyalty, his capacity for love. Well, that’s all fine, but it’s nothing you can’t learn from an earth dog.” – Don McKellar, Village Voice


Cred: Siskel and Ebert’s #1 film, 1996

11. “Whether these characters are lovable or detestable, they’re lovable or detestable in a TV way — defined by a minimal set of traits that are endlessly reiterated and incapable of expansion or alteration, a fixed loop.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

12. “All attitude and low aptitude. Its function is to italicize the Coens’ giddy contempt toward people who talk and think Minnesotan.” – Richard Corliss, Time

Fast Times at Ridgemont High:

Cred: 80’s cult classic that launched Sean Penn and Cameron Crowe’s careers

13. “This movie could have been a lot more fun if it hadn’t chosen to confuse embarrassment with humor. The unnecessary detail about sexual functions isn’t funny, it’s distasteful. (Jennifer Jason) Leigh looks so young, fresh, cheerful, and innocent that we don’t laugh when she gets into unhappy scenes with men — we wince. The whole movie is a failure of taste, tone, and nerve — the waste of a good cast on erratic, offensive material that hasn’t been thought through, or maybe even thought about.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Fight Club:

Cred: #10 on IMDB Top 250

14. “Fight Club is a thrill ride masquerading as philosophy – the kind of ride where some people puke and others can’t wait to get on again.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

15. “What’s most troubling about this witless mishmash of whiny, infantile philosophizing and bone-crunching violence is the increasing realization that it actually thinks it’s saying something of significance.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

Forrest Gump:

Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1995; grossed the equivalent of $632 million

16. “It is also glib, shallow, and monotonous, a movie that spends so much time sanctifying its hero that, despite his ‘innocence,’ he ends up seeming about as vulnerable as Superman.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

17. “Judging by the the movie’s enduring popularity, the message that stupidity is redemption is clearly what a lot of Americans want to hear.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader


Cred: Best Picture Winner, 2001

18. “A foolish choice in art direction casts a pall over Ridley Scott’s Gladiator that no swordplay can cut through. The film looks muddy, fuzzy and indistinct. Its colors are mud tones at the drab end of the palette, and it seems to have been filmed on grim and overcast days…Gladiator lacks joy. It employs depression as a substitute for personality, and believe that if the characters are bitter and morose enough, we won’t notice how dull they are.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Godfather Part II:

Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1976; #3 on IMDB 250

19. “It’s a second movie made largely out of the bits and pieces of Mr. Puzo’s novel that didn’t fit into the first. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from leftover parts. It talks. It moves in fits and starts but it has no mind of its own…The only remarkable thing about Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II is the insistent manner in which it recalls how much better his original film was. Even if Part II were a lot more cohesive, revealing and exciting than it is, it probably would have run the risk of appearing to be the self-parody it now seems…Its insights are fairly lame at this point.” – Vincent Canby, New York Times

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

Cred: #5 on IMDB Top 250

20. “The third in the Clint Eastwood series of Italo westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is exactly that — a curious amalgam of the visually striking, the dramatically feeble and the offensively sadistic.” – Variety

The Graduate:

Cred: #7 on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest American Movies

21. “The film itself is very broken-backed, partly because Anne Bancroft’s performance as the mother carries so much more weight than Katharine Ross’ as the daughter, partly because Nichols couldn’t decide whether he was making a social satire or a farce.” – Derek Adams, Time Out

22. “The screenplay, which begins as genuine comedy, soon degenerates into spurious melodrama.” – Time

Ordinary People:

Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1981

23. “The film looks austere and serious, rather as if it had been shot inside a Frigidaire, and the oppressiveness of the images tends to strangle laughter, even at the most absurd excesses of Alvin Sargent’s script.” – Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Out of Africa:

Cred: Best Picture Winner, 1986

24. “The film is so preened and self-satisfied.” – Ian Nathan, Empire

25. “For all that it may come out of Africa, the film’s final destination is not many miles from Disneyland.” – Time Out

Pretty Woman:

Cred: Best Actress nominee 1991, Julia Roberts; grossed the equivalent of $339 million

26. “Proves that the Disney people can sell just about anything–including a misogynistic celebration of big business and prostitution…He pays her $3,000 and they fall in love — ain’t Hollywood grand?” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

27. “The silly script lurches from one jarring, implausible moment to another, and Marshall directs like he was wearing earplugs and boxing gloves on the set.” – TV Guide


Cred: #1 on AFI’s list of the Greatest American Thrillers

28. “There is not an abundance of subtlety or the lately familiar Hitchcock bent toward significant and colorful scenery in this obviously low-budget job…That’s the way it is with Mr. Hitchcock’s picture—slow buildups to sudden shocks that are old-fashioned melodramatics, however effective and sure, until a couple of people have been gruesomely punctured and the mystery of the haunted house has been revealed.” – Bosley Crowther, New York Times

29. “The nightmare that follows is expertly gothic, but the nausea never disappears. Little should be said of Psycho‘s plot—Hitchcock enjoins all viewers to be silent—except that Anthony Perkins, who plays an amateur taxidermist, is sickeningly involved, and that a blow is dealt to mother love from which that sentiment may not recover. Director Hitchcock bears down too heavily in this one, and the delicate illusion of reality necessary for a creak-and-shriek movie becomes, instead, a spectacle of stomach-churning horror.” – Time

Pulp Fiction:

Cred: Best Picture Nominee, 1994; should have been Best Picture Winner, 1994

30. “Meanwhile, however, what’s most bothersome about Pulp Fiction is its success. This is not to be mean-spirited about Tarantino himself; may he harvest all the available millions. But the way that this picture has been so widely ravened up and drooled over verges on the disgusting. Pulp Fiction nourishes, abets, cultural slumming.” – Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic

The Shawshank Redemption:

Cred: #1 on AFI Top 250; always playing on cable

31. “The movie seems to last about half a life sentence…becomes incarcerated in its own labyrinthine sentimentality…And leave it to pandering, first-time director Frank Darabont to ensure no audience member leaves this film unsure of the ending. Heaven forbid a movie should end with a smidgen of mystery!”- Desson Howe, Washington Post

The Shining:

Cred: #29 on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest American Thrillers; horror classic that was initially critically panned

32. “Kubrick certainly doesn’t fail small. One could fast forget The Shining as an overreaching, multi-levelled botch were it not for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson, one of the few actors capable of getting the audience to love him no matter what he does, is an ideal vehicle for Kubrick.” – Jay Scott, The Globe and Mail

33. “If you go to this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel expecting to see a horror movie, you’ll be disappointed. The setting is promising enough — an empty, isolated hotel in dead-of-winter Colorado — but Kubrick makes it warm, well-lit and devoid of threat.”- Time Out London

Silver Linings’ Playbook:

Cred: Best Picture Nominee, 2013; Best Actress Winner, 2013

34. “When one stops to consider how irksomely on the nose so much of this is, the qualities which intend to most readily ingratiate the film with us begin to appear perceptibly disingenuous and false.” – Callum Marsh, Slant

The Sixth Sense:

Cred: Best Picture Nominee, 2000; grossed the equivalent of $463 million

35. “I was not only surprised by the film’s final twist, I wasn’t even looking for one. I just thought I was watching a bad movie.” – Jack Mathews, New York Daily News

36. “Gaggingly mawkish supernatural kitsch.” – Stephen Holden, New York Times

Star Wars:

Cred: Um, it’s f*cking Star Wars

37. “Star Wars is a junkyard of cinematic gimcracks not unlike the Jawas’ heap of purloined, discarded, barely functioning droids.” – Peter Koeugh, Boston Phoenix

The Usual Suspects:

Cred: #26 on AFI Top 250

38. “Once again, my comprehension began to slip, and finally I wrote down: ‘To the degree that I do understand, I don’t care.’” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Third Man:

Cred: #57 on AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films

39. “A bleak foreign drama, filmed by the victorious Allies in the ruins of their hometown. ‘A city fearful of its present, uncertain of its future,’ declared the breathless trailer, but it wasn’t quite so thrilling if you actually had to live there.” – William Cook, The Guardian


Cred: Won 11 Oscars

40. “Cameron manhandles the real story, scavenging it for his own puny narrative purposes. It’s a film made with boorish confidence and zero sensitivity, big and dumb and hulking…Glub glub glub.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

41. “What audiences end up with word-wise is a hackneyed, completely derivative copy of old Hollywood romances, a movie that reeks of phoniness and lacks even minimal originality.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

42. “Cameron has never been known for his dialogue, but Titanic carries some stinkers that wouldn’t make the final draft of a Days of Our Lives script.” – David Edelstein, Slate

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