BMD Picks: Our Favorite Big Budget Schlock
Everbody loves them some great trash.
It's true. As much time as we spend fawning over movies that are Actually Good™, there's nothing quite like a delightful slice of utter nonsense. Because movies that feel like mistakes can often be much more fascinating than their respectable counterparts, delivering plots and performances that are as dumbfounding as they are delightful. When there's a legitimate pile of money poured into their production, all the better.
Don't get it twisted - this isn't some "so bad it's good" bullshit. That line of thinking's for the birds. No, these are some recent examples of movies where the intent is pure, but the execution is sorely lacking, leading to this feeling of cognitive dissonance where someone should've stepped in at some point to deliver a smidge of much needed guidance. However, had that happened, we wouldn't be stuck with these wonderful works of big studio trash art...
London Has Fallen  (d. Babak Najafi, w. Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Christian Gudegast & Chad St. John)
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: London Has Fallen's political statements are reprehensible garbage. It might even be more racist and backwards then its predecessor, which is no small feat. But if you like your action movies mean and stupid, this thing is an exploitive feast, taking the established status quo from the first film (serial killer protagonist, hilariously stupid president, surprisingly good action set pieces) and using them to make an unexpectedly great companion piece to a movie that probably shouldn’t have existed in the first place. That long-take alley firefight near the end is a thing of amoral, ugly beauty. - Evan Saathoff
Hercules  (d. Brett Ratner, w. Ryan Condal & Evan Spiliotopoulos)
Look, I'm a forever nerd for swords and sandals shit. I am in the bag for the peplum film. I also very much enjoy The Rock and giant lions, and my favorite book in middle school was Edith Hamilton's Mythology. There was never any chance I wasn't going to love 2014's Hercules, is my point. And Hercules did not disappoint. It's so fun and colorful and amazingly goofy. I spent the rest of 2014 and most of 2015 randomly bellowing, "I AM HERCULEEEEEEEES" in The Rock's dulcet baritone. It's just a good-natured, breezy blast, a fantasy-drenched showcase for Dwayne Johnson's ineffable charm.
Wait, Brett Ratner directed this movie? I feel like that might be new information for me. Whatever, unimportant. Watch Hercules if you haven't. In the immortal words of Evan Saathoff: "The Rock throws a fucking horse." - Meredith Borders
The Happening  (d. & w. M. Night Shyamalan)
In 2006, less than half a decade after Newsweek proclaimed him "THE NEXT SPIELBERG" in a fawning cover story, M. Night Shyamalan found himself in the midst of a rough patch. 2004's The Village had divided audiences, while 2006's Lady In The Water alienated them almost entirely. And then, in 2008, Shyamalan bottomed out completely with The Happening, one of the most absurd major studio releases I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing on a movie screen.
The entire thing's a mess. Virtually every role is miscast. Moments of shocking violence - intended to read as "terrifying" - instead come across as ridiculous. Again and again, characters launch into inexplicable digressions that bring the film to a screeching halt (see also: "The Hot Dogs Guy"). The film's big bad, nature itself, is never even remotely scary. It's a breathtakingly ill-advised piece of work, the sort of thing that could only result from a very talented filmmaker finding himself in total freefall. Which is, of course, why I find myself returning to The Happening again and again: there's no denying how godawful the film is, but I submit to you that there is also no denying how fascinating it is. How did anyone involved think this would work?
Shortly after The Happening's release, Shyamalan tried to justify the film's existence (and, to be frank, its inherent badness) by claiming that he'd intentionally made a "B-Movie". Lemme tell ya - no one was buying that shit. Shyamalan went off to lick his wounds for a few years, taking the occasional stab at delivering another big-budget blockbuster, but it wasn't until 2015's The Visit that Shyamalan truly delivered another winner, a trend which continued with last year's Split.
Yes, in a twist fit for a Shyamalan screenplay, it took actually making B-Movies for Shyamalan to get his groove back. We're happy to have him back in the fold - and Lord knows we're looking forward to next year's Glass - but no matter where his career takes him in the years ahead, I'll always hold onto my copy of The Happening, Shyamalan's greatest unintentional B-Movie trashterpiece. - Scott Wampler
Wild Wild West  (d. Barry Sonnenfeld, w. S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman)
Mixing the talents of Kenneth Branagh, Selma Hayek, Will Smith, and Kevin Kline should leave you with an effortless hit. Unfortunately, sometimes people just don’t know how to be happy and will turn against a perfectly delightful mess of a movie. Wild Wild West takes the racism of the time and the ridiculousness of steampunk and mashes them both together with snarky one-liners until all you have left is amused confusion as you watch a giant mechanical tarantula crawl around the Midwest. It’s a hilarious disaster, and yeah, sometimes just a tiny bit problematic.
You can take all the shots you like at the over-the-top effects and the next to incoherent storyline. Fact of the matter is, you just can’t go wrong when the master of the mechanical stuff and the master of the stupid stuff team up to take on a mustachioed, racist, Kenneth Branagh. This outrageous, snarky, mess may not have hit any box office records, but it was worth every penny dropped into it. - Amelia Emberwing
Winter's Tale  (d. & w. Akiva Goldsman)
If a major studio wanted to make a romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay and release it on Valentine's Day weekend, few would argue that they were basically printing money. But this is an Akiva Goldsman romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay, so it's also batshit insane. Flying horses and a lengthy scene in which William Hurt lectures Farrell on grammar are among the *least* baffling choices in the film (which is based on a novel, to be fair, so we can't put all the blame on Goldsman for once), as there seems to have been a directive to make sure every audience member turned to their date and said "Wait, what?" every ten minutes.
By the time ([REDACTED] for those who haven't been spoiled yet) shows up as Lucifer, offering advice to Russell Crowe (a demon, for the record), any hope that this would get anyone in the mood for some V-Day action has been dashed, with the film more likely to destroy a budding relationship between normal people - "I cannot be with someone who thought we should see this movie!" I, however, am not a normal person, and loved every insane moment of the stupid thing; if I were single I would probably try to get any new woman I met to watch it as a sort of litmus test. Because really, how many Nicholas Sparks kind of romantic films have the following in their parents guide: "Judge Lucifer's mouth bares jagged green fangs as he screams for emphasis"? Not nearly enough of them, in my opinion. - Brian Collins
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  (d. & w. Luc Besson)
In picking out titles for this list, there was much debate as to what constituted big-budget trash. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets fails a couple of criteria, most notably in that it’s something of a passion project for director Luc Besson, but boy, this movie’s heart is made of pungent, expensive cheese. I mean that; it’s the most expensive independent film of all time, made without a cent of Hollywood money.
Peeking out from behind a fascinating sci-fi concept - a space city built from out from the International Space Station, added onto over the centuries by a thousand visiting species to form the galaxy’s greatest cultural hub - Valerian quickly reveals its true identity. This is an exceptionally silly movie, moving at a million miles an hour through countless eye-popping sci-fi ideas straight out of ‘70s pulp novel covers. The casting is borderline cursed, with Dane DeHaan playing a grizzled sex-magnet role clearly written for someone twice his age, and poor Cara Delevingne [*crosses self in reverence*] struggling to muster any romantic chemistry with him. So terrifically bad is the casting that it actually becomes a feature of the film, every bit as improbable as its weird-ass alien designs and silly dialogue. It feels like a movie made for an audience of only me, and its box office take reflects that.
Most importantly, Valerian is an utter joy, careening from bizarre setpiece to bizarre setpiece with the energy, imagination, and attention span of an eight-year-old on uppers. Besson shows no shame in his Star Wars prequel one-upmanship, and that total submission to self-indulgence is what makes Valerian infinitely better than those films. There’s no pretension here: Valerian is a rollicking, fucking insane good time with a soul of pure pulp sci-fi, and I’d follow it to a thousand cities of a thousand planets each. That’s a million planets. - Andrew Todd
Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. II  (d. Bill Condon, w. Melissa Rosenberg)
While most YA franchises were attempting to fill the Harry Potter void by getting more polished, The Twilight Saga decided to swing in the opposite direction. Coming off a penultimate entry that included Robert Pattinson ripping a baby out of Kristen Stewart with his teeth, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part II decided to embrace the monster movie lurking beneath its middling romance (a dynamic that almost made the third entry, Eclipse, a great film!), and it happened to result in some truly unprecedented cinematic shock value on a blockbuster scale. Not only does the second part of the final Twilight feel like a globetrotting superhero movie, assembling vampires with inexplicable abilities from different continents - it really does feel like the most raucous mutant movie the X-Men franchise never produced - it also deviates from the series' up-until-then obsessive fidelity to Stephanie Meyer's source material in a way that flies in the face of its fans before doubling down on itself big time.
After a whole lot of adult Taylor Lautner pining after an uncanny CGI baby (how this movie was ever greenlit is beyond me), we get to the final stand-off between classy, old school vampire cabal The Volturi (led by Michael Sheen) and an alliance of sexy rebel vamps and their werewolf friends, who are essentially all giant dogs. Meyer's book ends with an amicable agreement at this stage but the movie instead opts for an all-out vampire/werewolf brawl that begins, out of the blue, with Peter Facinelli's lovable Carlisle Cullen getting his head ripped clean off. What follows includes maulings, backflips, more decapitations, and a vampire straight-up punching a cavern into the ground so a couple of main characters can fall to their deaths, all while the book series' midnight audiences lost their damn minds at the madness and the rest of us lost ours at their riotous reaction. Not only does the film deliver one of the best and most ludicrous big battles in modern studio history, it then proceeds to reveal the whole thing to have been a premonition. Cue theatre-wide freak out #2, because the most audaciously fun third act since The Avengers doesn't even actually happen! But hey, at least we're left with closing credits that give each and every character in the series their own individual farewell, even if they only had a single line five movies ago. One of the weirdest, most enjoyable movie-going experiences of my lifetime. - Siddhant Adlakha
Jupiter Ascending  (d. & w. The Wachowski Sisters)
Technically, this pick is a cheat, as I'll go to my grave defending this beautiful, insane work of high camp for the magnificent obsession it truly is. Ever the bold, unconventional visual stylists, The Wachowski Sisters slather fairy tale/anime/steampunk influence onto a motion picture where Channing Tatum plays a protective dog elf who descends from space to rescue its one true queen, Mila Kunis, from cleaning toilets. There are intergalactic rollerblades and Eddie Redmayne channels a bizarre loud/quiet/loud Pixies song dynamic into his performance as the psychotic Captain of Galactic Industry bad man. This is the closest thing any generation has ever seen to a Flash Gordon ('80) follow-up; a breakneck work of Sontagian giddiness that's infectiously sincere in its corny, wholesome messaging regarding individuality and bravery. God bless The Wachowski Sisters. Let them make movies this gaudy and ludicrous into infinity and beyond. - Jacob Knight