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Why Do We Enjoy Bad Films?


What is it about bad films that makes us sit through to the end? To revel in the poor output of those involved in the production? To understand that you’re never going to get those 90-odd minutes back? It’s a tricky proposition to consider, time is a precious commodity which we (and myself in particular) complain frequently about not having enough of. To a certain extent my enjoyment of bad films comes from them being very easy to write reviews for. Bad acting, special effects that appear to have been stolen from an early 90s video game, ridiculously out of place musical cues, even sloppy direction where the actors or action aren’t framed correctly – just one or a combination of all of these issues can make my life much easier.

It’s not just that, however. Sometimes it’s fun to watch a film purely for entertainment purposes. Sure, I enjoy the big Hollywood blockbusters and the well-crafted stories that are in Oscar territory, but sometimes you just want something that you don’t have to think about too much, that will entertain you regardless. Being entertained can fall into two categories, again split between films with a bigger budget and those that you could make with a 5p coin and a bin liner. Usually the bad films – the really bad films – are recommended to me by Netflix. Many more are available for free via YouTube, they’re so bad that the copyright holders aren’t bothered that the film’s out there in the public domain. That should surely tell you something.

In the majority of cases a bad film can cause just as much enjoyment as one that has been meticulously crafted and is at the opposite end of the production spectrum. Something like Die Hard remains entertaining every single time you see it, and its quality does not diminish after repeated viewings. On the other end of the spectrum is something like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, which is so appallingly bad that you either laugh all the way through it or get through the first ten minutes, decide your life is better spent doing something else, and switch it off. I’ve always preferred to sit through the whole film in these cases, more so obviously since starting regular work on this website. You can’t review a film honestly if you’ve only watched the first half an hour, can you?

Then there are repeat offenders in the “bad film” category. The likes of director Uwe Boll or producer Roger Corman churn out film after film of mostly poor quality, in their cases being either adaptations of video games or schlock creature features respectively. Boll has to my knowledge never made a film that could be considered “moderately good”, let alone just “good” or even “great”. He’s also that rare breed of filmmaker who is adamant that his films are good – sorry Uwe, not in the slightest. Yet somehow the man still manages to pull in big name actors to star in his films other than offering them a fun filming environment (because the payments aren’t going to be that big), I can’t understand how. Incidentally, I have no intention of fighting Uwe Boll in a boxing match – just in case he reads this and puts the offer out there. Sorry Uwe, never going to happen. I will still watch your films, however. Out of morbid curiosity, mostly.

Talking of Boll, Michael Bay is a law unto himself in terms of big budget “bad” films. As a long time fan of the Transformers franchise it’s sad to see him tarnish their good name with, to date, four overly long, explosive (not in a good way), poorly plotted adventures with the likes of Optimus Prime et al. I had good opinions of the first film at one point, but three subsequently dire sequels have tarnished my opinions of it. Again, that’s a blog topic for another time.

There was a film I watched last year called Drainiac, which I’ll review when I get chance to watch it again, where the production quality was terrible (sound quality and camera work was all over the place) and the story didn’t make sense, but it was for sale in Poundland (a chain of stores in the UK where everything is £1) and thought I’d give it a go. Ironically, Poundland have started offering better quality films lately, but that’s a blog for another week. In the case of Drainiac, it provided genuine laughs where a random fart sound is heard in one scene. I’m not sure if that was deliberately left in, or if the actor passed wind on the take and nobody noticed, or if it was just an issue with the DVD bearing in mind how cheaply produced it was, but either way it remains a highlight of the film to this day.

It’s a slightly different story with the films that are deliberately made badly, or are fully aware of their place in the quality spectrum. Troma have made a long career out of releasing films that have never been particularly good – let’s face it, The Toxic Avenger series is perhaps their best work and even those films are awful – but they are fully aware of this fact and, using their own particular style, continue to make films “the Troma way”. The same goes for the likes of the current batch of Piranha films, or anything starring Bruce Campbell – those involved know exactly what they’re getting themselves in for by playing it tongue in cheek. This is something Uwe Boll could learn from – if his films weren’t played so terribly straight and introduced a knowing sense of humour then perhaps they wouldn’t be derided quite as much as they are.

I think you need to be in the right mindset to really enjoy a bad film. Some people, quite rightly, will limit themselves to films that specifically appeal to them, films that perhaps automatically achieve a certain level of quality. Then there’s us, the cinema-obsessed film viewers who will watch anything and everything that could be classed as film. Those who don’t appreciate bad films won’t get it, but we watch those bad films because we love the art of filmmaking in whatever form it may take. And besides – what I class as a “bad film” someone else may absolutely love, and that is what I appreciate most about cinema.


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