The Formula for So-bad-it’s-good

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In the modern era of cinema, there is has been a sharp increase of the popularity of “so-bad-it’s-good” movies. This “genre”, which has of course existed at least since the days of Ed Wood, seems to have gained more and more of a following in recent years; likely due to the amount of online critics drawing attention to previously obscure movies like The Room and Birdemic.

The questions to be asked here are, just why do people like these movies, and how exactly does one create a so-bad-it’s-good movie? In other words, is there a specific formula a movie must follow to go from bad to so-bad-it’s-good?

Just for a little clarification, a so-bad-it’s-good movie is a movie that is so terribly made that rather than elicit disappointment or anger from audiences, it elicits laughter, and entertainment. Poor acting, poor writing, and especially poor SFX can make a movie almost charming in its ineptness.

So, if they’re so popular, then how does one create a so-bad-it’s-good movie? Well, I think this can be explained through a simple venn diagram

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In order to be a so-bad-it’s-good movie, you need a combination of poor quality, baffling creative choices from the writer/director, and the movie needs to be taking itself very seriously. Allow me to elaborate on each point.

1. Poor Quality

This one more or less speaks for itself. The movie needs to be a complete failure in terms of quality.

2. Baffling Creative decisions

What separates the hilariously bad and the just plain bad is quite often the fact that the hilariously bad fails in an inexplicable way, rather than a lazy, shallow or predictable way. Being bad is never enough. You need to be bad to the point where the audience is thinking “what the hell was the director thinking when they made this”.

For example, I know exactly why Adam Sandler would dress like a woman and put on a silly voice during Jack and Jill. It’s to appeal to the lowest common denominator comedy audience in the laziest way possible. But I have literally no idea why Tommy Wiseau decided to feature a scene of a bunch of men dressing up in tuxedos and throwing a football around, that has no relevance on the rest of the movie.

When a director throws all kinds of lazy yet passable overused CGI at the screen, I understand what was going through their mind. I may not approve of the laziness,but I understand it. But when I see a bunch of birds represented by GIFs that resemble a 90s screensaver, I don’t understand. I legitimately cannot understand how anyone could look at them and think, “yeah, that is believable enough to be in our movie”.

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And that’s not even mentioning the coat hangers.

3. Complete lack of awareness

The cherry on top of this wonderfully shitty sundae is, of course, the movie’s belief that it is a serious and, dare I say it, good movie. For a movie like this to truly achieve greatness, it needs to be completely lacking any self awareness and, more importantly, it needs to be taking itself seriously.

Many terrible movies out there fail because they’re just lazily attempting to entertain. So-bad-it’s-good movies are obvious failures that not only attempt to come across as high quality, but completely miss everything they do wrong.

For further proof of this, let’s look at a movie that skates the line between so-bad-it’s-good and just plain bad: Battlefield Earth. Battlefield Earth is a movie so bad that when it won the razzie for worst picture of the decade, its screenwriter showed up to collect the award.  Watching Battlefield Earth, you will notice that most of the scenes that stand out as being in the so-bad-it’s-good category are those involving John Travolta.

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While you were still learning how to SPELL YOUR NAME, I…was being trained….TO CONQUER GALAXIES

Travolta is about the most entertaining thing in the movie, and also the only actor taking the bad movie seriously. His performance is hammy and over the top, and hilarious, mostly because the fact that he’s so clueless as to how bad his movie really is. Compare this to Forest Whitaker, who is clearly aware of the fact that the movie is nothing more than a paycheck for him, thus comes across as far less memorable.

The fact that a movie needs to be taking itself seriously is often why comedies never end up being considered being so-bad-it’s-good. Comedies are, by definition, not serious movies. Even when a joke is bafflingly inept, it’s still supposed to be a joke, rather than a failed attempt at a dramatic scene. Bad drama translates into good comedy, but bad comedy is worthless.

This is effectively why the so-bad-it’s-good category has become to popular. Because it’s practically part of the comedy genre. Comedy often relies on subverted expectations, and we are used to the expectation that an actor is capable of acting, reading and understanding a script.

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Especially when said actor wrote the script themselves

So, to conclude, how does one make a so-bad-it’s-good movie? The truth is, you can’t. For a movie to truly fall into that category, it needs to be completely unaware in every way.

So-bad-it’s-good movies must always start off as an attempt at a masterpiece. Only then can their failures truly provide us with joy.

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