What is it about movies with next-to-nothing budgets and lousy scripts we find so amusing? Quintessential “bad” movies like The Room (2003) and Showgirls (1995) have cult followings and Reddit pages dedicated to picking apart their hidden brilliance. Research even suggests camp fans are smarter than the average filmgoer!
Bugged by the mysterious success of trash films, Keyvan Sarkhosh, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, conducted a study in 2015 to learn more. His findings:
“To such viewers, trash films appear as an interesting and welcome deviation from the mainstream fare. We are dealing here with an audience with above-average education, which one could describe as ‘cultural omnivores’. Such viewers are interested in a broad spectrum of art and media across the traditional boundaries of high and popular culture.”
If you’re still not convinced of the value in watching movies with a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes… you probably (most definitely) have a point. But we triple dog dare you to give our favorites a chance anyway:
The Room (2003)
Grandfather of the so-bad-it’s-good genre is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Johnny, a successful banker, lives happily in San Francisco with his fiancée, Lisa, and plays football on green-screened rooftops with his best friend, Mark. The cult-favorite had a budget of $6 million and is rightly mocked for its impressively bad acting and low production quality. However, The Room gifted us with a screenplay to end all screenplays. Watching a best scenes compilation is guaranteed to brighten your mood.
Teeth is a comedy horror film about high-school chastity club member Dawn (Jess Weixler) who learns she’s the living manifestation of the ‘vagina dentata’ myth. While reminiscent of tongue-in-cheek shows like Goosebumps, Teeth seeks to inspire more than annual visits to the gynecologist; fans say the film’s absurdity is crucial to its message about womanhood and sexuality.
White Chicks (2004)
Two FBI agents, Marcus (Marlon Wayans) and Kevin (Shawn Wayans), accidentally ruin a drug bust. As punishment, they’re forced to escort a pair of socialites to the Hamptons. When the sisters bail, Marcus and Kevin have no choice but to replace them, transforming from a pair of tough African-American men into two high-class white women.
Remember the 2019 Met Gala theme, “Notes on Camp”? Kendall and Kylie Jenner stole the show in over-the-top feathered gowns which fans immediately recognized from a scene in White Chicks. Marlon Wayans took to Instagram with a side-by-side comparison. He wrote, “White chicks 2… it writes itself” of the sisters’ campy rendition.
Triple Dog (2010)
On the night of a sleepover, a group of teenagers challenge each other to a list of humiliating dares. Certified mean girl Chapin Wright (Britt Robertson) is every seventh grader’s worst nightmare. But her humor? Unmatched. One of my favorite lines: “What’s the bitch-uation, Cecily? Has anyone ever told you you look exactly like Kelly Ripa?” *goosebumps*
Yes, the script epitomizes cheesy 2000’s banter, but you’re guaranteed to be quoting it for days.
The Wicker Man (2006)
Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) travels to a secluded island after receiving the news of a little girl’s disappearance. Once there, he discovers sinister forces at work among the island’s mysterious residents, including strange sexual rituals, a harvest festival and possible human sacrifice. Despite the film’s efforts to capitalize on the success of The Wicker Man (1973), Cage’s deadpan acting ruined its chances in the box office. An uncut version was later released featuring this scene, reserving its spot on every best-of-the-worst list yet to come.
Showgirls is a camp classic. Directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas, the erotic drama film follows a “street-smart” drifter who travels to Las Vegas and climbs the hierarchy from stripper to showgirl. In 2003, Film Quarterly published a roundtable discussion of the film praising its overlooked artistry. Film theorist Noël Burch wrote, “it takes mass culture seriously, as a site of both fascination and struggle.”