Film Special Features

Have We Forgotten How to Have Fun With Big Budget Movies?

There’s an odd thing about being an American sports fan: You never want the athletes to gain a sense of perspective (or at least you’re supposed to be worried once they do). The second they start saying things like, “Well, it’s just a game,” is the moment they’ve apparently lost focus. Yes, we know how silly it is to devote so much time and energy to rooting for our favorite team, but we want to believe the players are just as obsessed with winning as we are with seeing them win. When they just miss out on going to the World Series we don’t want Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers telling reporters afterward, “It’s not really tough for me. It’s over […] If you have responsibilities you shouldn’t take your work home, you know? I’ve got to still be a father and take care of my kids, so, you know, I’ve got to move on.” How dare he use that moment to set an example for his kids – who were apparently standing nearby at that moment – on the important of balancing your work and family life! If we’re hurting after a loss the athletes should be too. We want them to be just as fanatical about their job as we are about the team they play for.

It’s that type of fanaticism that so many of us on the internet bring to film and TV. It’s not so much that we have an odd love-hate relationship with the actors ala athletes. For example, it’s not like I’m going to become enraged if I wanted The Imitation Game to win Best Picture, and after it loses Benedict Cumberbatch says something like, “It’s not really tough for me. I just got married, and my main focus right now is just enjoying my new wife’s company.” What I’m getting at is more about how we as fans can sometimes lose perspective about films. For example, as a geeky movie blogger I am supposed to be singularly obsessed with the things I write about the most, like Batman, Arrow, The Flash, and comic book movies. It’s never supposed to occur to me that (picking a random example) maybe spending more than 2,000 words dissecting the 1 minute, 30 second Daredevil teaser is a bit much because what the flip do I care? I love Daredevil! I shouldn’t waste time constantly asking myself, “Is this really that important?” just as I should never ever undercut my passion with a throwaway phrase like, “Eh, it’s only a movie. It’s not that big of a deal.”

However, somewhere between hyper-obsessed nitpicking and totally blasé going with the flow is a more elusive territory of detaching yourself from it enough to remember to have fun with it while still being critical. That can be difficult if you live in a constant echo chamber of movie news, reviews, satirical videos, and social media chatter, which is the type of place where before you ever even saw Star Trek Into Darkness you’d already hammered out multiple debates about how angry to feel if Cumberbatch’s John Harrison turned out to be Khan as expected.

The poofy collar on the coat was a dead giveaway

Andrew Jupin, co-host of the WeHateMovies podcast, thinks that it’s because of these kinds of things that we as an audience have kind of forgotten how to have fun with big budget movies. It came up during his recent appearance on the How Is This Movie? Podcast when the host asked him about his thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises, one of the most nitpicked blockbusters in recent memory:

“[The reaction to that movie is] part of a larger problem with big budget moviegoing in that we have kind of forgotten how to have fun at the movies. I think that comes from the fact that everyone has a blog now. Everyone’s putting movie reviews on Tumblr, using Letterbox, Tweeting, or putting stuff out on Facebook. So, we’re in this hyper-critical age right now where everybody has something to say, and everyone is looking to tear something down. I will be the first to tell you that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a perfect movie. There are many things about it that are silly or just flat out bad. Marion Cotillard’s death shake that she has in that movie is one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen.”

Talia Death Dark Knight RisesHe’s not wrong – it is unintentionally funny. I would add that it’s not just the hyper-critical environment we live in which contributes to the need to tear down but also the ways Hollywood eventivizes all of its major releases, giving us months and months of build-up, cross-media marketing and licensing.  It’s also the unparallelled access to information we have, such as how sites like BoxOfficeMojo and Rentrak give us an additional but far more dubious criteria for judging films, i.e., box office gross. Jupin continued:

“But in the grand scheme of things that’s a totally fun movie, and I had a lot of fun watching it. I don’t feel the need to pick it apart. I feel the same way about Interstellar. There are people who argue that Nolan brings this on himself, that he claims to be this very heady filmmaker. But I think it’s kind of the opposite. He just happens to be a smart guy who makes these very adventurous movies, and it appears he’s this very pretentious suit-wearing so-and-so but when you look at the crop of stuff you to compare him to it’s kind of like that mentality where guys will say, ‘Oh yeah, college boy!’ I hope for a day when we’re okay with just kicking back at the movies again. It’s problematic because I am tired of the comic book movies and the sequels and the reboots and adaptations and the whatevers, but as long as that’s what’s coming out I’m not going to take it so seriously. I just enjoy being stupid in a big, dark air conditioned room for a while.”

Of course, if you have a deep, deep passion for Batman and see things wrong with The Dark Knight Rises I’d understand, but I am more drawn to his overall argument about our increasing inability to truly and simply have fun at the movies in this hyper-critical age. For example, I was recently on an Arnold Schwarzenegger kick, re-watching The Running Man and Total Recall, which was actually one of the most expensive films ever made at the time. The latter holds up far better than the former, but I found myself starting to nitpick certain things, thinking back to when I was a kid and wondering why I wasn’t more bothered by some of the gaping plot holes of The Running Man or confusing moments in Total Recall. Then I remembered that it’s because back then I didn’t care if The Running Man totally held together; I just cared if it was fun. For the most part, it still is, not amazing, but fun for exactly what it is – a cheesy 80s sci-fi action film with some prescient social commentary.

Running Man – Fun, but not quite the biting social commentary I had remembered

When Avengers: Age of Ultron arrives in May will I just be able to have fun with it, or will I be obsessed with the ways it both does and does not honor the most recent Iron Man/Captain America/Thor films? Will I be throwing out the standard Marvel criticisms, e.g., lazy macguffins, last act aerial battles, no one stays dead, etc.? I know that Terminator: Genisys, another summer blockbuster, is probably going to be a logical mess of confusing time travel logic, but will I let that distract me from simply having fun with it, assuming it’s not completely terrible?

Will I feel the urge to blog or live tweet while watching it?

Mark Hamill probably summed it up best for all of us when he was talking about the fan anticipation for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, telling The Hero Complex:

“The audience should ‘forget about it [and] look forward to all the summer movies. I’m telling you, it’s just a movie. These people that build it up in their minds like it’s going to be the second coming of, I don’t know what — they’re bound to be disappointed.”

Of course, he’s wrong.  To many, Star Wars ceased being “just a movie” a long time.  Yet, he’s also right.  The Force Awakens is quite literally just a movie.  Why does realizing the latter feel like betraying the former?

What do you think? Have we forgotten how to have fun with big budget movies? Or is part of the fun for you totally geeking out on all the little stuff, hashing out plot holes and other silly moments as well as your favorite moments? Or do you reject the entire notion of simply sitting back and having fun with a movie for two hours because that means you’re not critically engaging with it? To the comments!

Source: HITM podcast


  1. Great post. For my money, I think it is quite possible to do both; I simultaneously nitpick and flat out enjoy, despite those nitpicks, many movies. As far as sheer enjoyment goes there have been recent moments (Stark and Banner talking science, Colossus and Blink performing a modified fastball special) that had me literally giddy. Comic books brought to life!

    Regarding the twitter/blogging point I’d say its fair in some respects. Sure, we want to get our opinions out there and many use these platforms to snipe. But speaking from personal experience I am finding that writing reviews is forcing me to appreciate comics in a much deeper way, and that has genuinely improved my reading experience. I’m looking in far more detail at panel composition, foreshadowing, callbacks, etc. all stuff that was contributing to my enjoyment previously, but now I feel better able to understand and articulate why I’m enjoying what I’m enjoying.

    1. I understand what you mean about recent film moments which have managed to make you feel positively giddy. The last one for me was the first time Godzilla showed up and let out that signature roar in the new Godzilla movie. The film had held back on him for so long, and even with growing up on so many crappy Godzilla movies I had never seen one of them in theaters before meaning I’d never heard his roar sound like that loud. I recognize that film’s many flaws, and will be quick to joke about the super-happy-fun ending but damn did I have a lot of fun seeing it in the theater.

      I also understand what you’re getting at with blogging helping to actually help you appreciate what you write about even more. I am reminded of how I grew to appreciate film even more when I first started taking film classes which taught us how to look at films critically, not just in a Roger Ebert “thumps up/thumbs down” kind of way but in a more analytical way, looking at shot composition, etc.

  2. I think everybody is a bit right and a bit wrong. (I know, that’s a lame neutral answer.)

    Guardians of the Galaxy was fun… but it’s also true that it ends with another huge battle in the sky. How the heck does Batman recover from debilitating spinal injuries without the assistance of a doctor or hospital… etc.

    Maybe the problems of the 80 film making was strongly softened by a fun strategic pre or post-mortem one liner from Arnie? Special kudos or a best supporting actress in a comedic role should go to Rae Dawn Chong for “These guys eat too much red meat!”

    1. “I think everybody is a bit right and a bit wrong.”

      That may seem like the “lame neutral answer” but I think it’s the one I most agree with. Guardians of the Galaxy is fun…but it has some problems. The same goes for The Dark Knight Rises, and it’s insane how poorly The Avengers actually holds together (Loki’s plan, in particular, needed much more explanation) yet the fact that I riff about that while joking with friends doesn’t erase the fact that one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at the movies in recent years was seeing The Avengers for the first time.

      I can’t honestly bring myself to completely get behind Andrew Jupin’s quotes on the subject because, to me, they sound way too close to, “Just turn off your brain and have a good time,” which is the type of mindset that turns Transformers films into hits. That’s coming from a guy who hosts a podcast, We Hate Movies, where all they do is freakin’ riff endlessly on plot holes, bad acting, and terrible directing of almost objectively bad movies and some that aren’t. I actually get a kick out of that podcast (it often sounds exactly like how I talk about movies with my friends), but who is he is to criticize us for feeling a need to tear stuff down when he’s devoted more than 100 episodes to doing that very thing? However, in general, he’s also not wrong about the idea that in this hyper-critical era we can get caught in the echo-chamber of opinions and forget to enjoy what we’re watching.

      As for the 80s films, when I re-watched The Running Man pretty much every time I felt myself giving into nitpicking Arnold would spout a signature one-liner, some terrible (“Hey, Killian! Sub-Zero? Now Total Zero!”), some not so terrible (“He had to split” referring to the guy who he just cut in half with a chainsaw). Then I’d remember, “Oh, yeah. That’s what kind of film this is. Just go with it.”

      I agree with the special kudos to Rae Dawn Chong’s one-liner.

      1. I still can’t forgive Michael Bay. His action sequences are incomprehensible, partially because his characters are almost physically indistinguishable. George Lucas may have become a terrible writer and terrible director but I can understand what’s happening first time, the art direction makes it clear who are “baddies”.
        Also, I can barely remember anything from his summer blockbusters. Nothing is that memorable. I don’t remember the plot; I don’t remember any particularly funny lines or moments. However, this might be because it has been 7 years and a bit since I saw that film.

        Bringing things back to Running Man… Those one-liners in “The Running Man” aren’t as well written as those in “Commando”. If I ever need to cheer myself up, I just quote out loud “Don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired” or “What happened to Sully? / I had to let him go!”
        Even if they didn’t have the advantage of being watched multiple times, those 80s films are just more memorable. I think I’ve only seen “The Running Man” about 5 times and I remember more than 5 times the amount of stuff I remember from Transformers I. Even weird things I remember such as how Dynamo repeatedly tries to rape Maria Conchita Alonso.

        I understand why there’s so much emphasis on making a film a blockbuster at the cinema. However, I also think of box office bombs that are regarded as cult classics such as “Blade Runner” and “The Princess Bride”. They are really well-made films (but the Cliffs of Insanity matte painting does look extremely dated) and are extremely memorable and made back a lot of money on VHS. (But obviously, it’s nicer to have a huge hit in the cinema and the home market.)

      2. I, too, sometimes struggle to really remember the specifics of some of today’s big budget blockbusters mere weeks after I’ve seen them. I don’t how much of that is down to films being more disposable these days, retreads, more of the same, i.e., or how much it has to do with me seeing them as an adult and not forming nearly as much of a connection with them as I did with films when I was growing up.

        You are absolutely right about Running Man vs. Commando in the game of, “Which one has the best one-liners?” Commando, hands-down. I remember the music and one-liners in Commando more than anything else. As for Running Man, when I re-watched it that was a case of “Oh, it’s call coming back to me” although I still remembered a lot of it before re-watching, such as Dynamo’s bright light suit and as you said his repeated attempts to rape Maria Conchita Alonso. Poor Maria is given such a troubling role in that movie. Arnold treats her like absolute garbage mostly because she behaved like a rational human being, and yet she ends up falling for him. Given what we now know about Arnold’s history with women, some of the romances in his old movies take on an unwelcome new context.

      3. “Arnold treats her like absolute garbage mostly because she behaved like a rational human being, and yet she ends up falling for him. Given what we now know about Arnold’s history with women, some of the romances in his old movies take on an unwelcome new context.”

        I can’t remember where but it’s been pointed out that there are times when the hero and damsel in distress only fall in love just to prove to the audience that he’s hetereosexual.

        I would have found it much more plausible if his character didn’t have a relationship with her and that justice alone was the prize.

        This is probably a topic for another time but I’ve always been more concerned with Clint Eastwood’s history (but am well aware of Arnie’s reputation for sexual harassment). From what I can remember, in at least four of his films (starred in and directed), his then-real life defacto Sondra Locke has survived rape or been raped:
        The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – stripped fully naked and someone (not Clint) barely stops this aggravated gang rape attempt
        The Gauntlet (1977) – Clint gets tied and beaten up, Sonda distracts the thugs and almost gets gang raped but Clint breaks the cable ties and saves them both
        Bronco Billy (1980) – her character isn’t saved this time
        Sudden Impact (1983) – her character and sister are gang raped at the beginning of the film

        I’m just a little creeped out that Clint has this white knight rape fantasies.

      4. For as much as I am an Arnold aficionado I am on the opposite end of the spectrum with Clint Eastwood. I’ve never actually seen any of those movies you listed, Outlaw Josey Wales, Gauntlet, Bronco Billy, and Sudden Impact. If I had I think I too would be a little creeped out by his white knight rape fantasies just as many were creeped out post-Passion of the Christ seeing how many times Mel Gibson characters have been tortured on screen.

        “I can’t remember where but it’s been pointed out that there are times when the hero and damsel in distress only fall in love just to prove to the audience that he’s hetereosexual.”

        A pretty apt observation a lot of the time, actually.

      5. I forgot to mention “Pale Rider”. This time Clint rescues Sydney Penny (but credit should be given to the late Richard “Jaws” Kiel who looks like he’s about to intervene anyway).

        I was just thinking how films would be significantly different if the male and female romantics didn’t have any “chemistry”. “The Running Man” wouldn’t suffer at all. “Twilight” would disappear as it should (judging from what I have heard, I don’t plan to watch any of them). “The Bodyguard” too (didn’t see it).

  3. This is a great post! It’s definitely something that I always find myself struggling with when I watch movies. I want to enjoy them, but then I find I ruin them for myself when I nitpick and raise the bar too high. As a Trekkie, I’m glad that I found enjoyment in Star Trek Into Darkness while the fandom is split right down the middle in whether it’s a great film or the worst one ever made. The problem is in that Mark Hamill quote that you shared (which is perfect, by the way), in that a lot of Trekkies/Trekkers have put the canon on such a pedestal that anything new is at risk of being a cheap replication or an impostor. A lot of people called Into Darkness lazy writing when the parallels to The Wrath of Khan gave me chills and made it better for me. An original story would be nice, sure, but I think if people could step back a little bit and just take it for what it is, an action adventure, they could enjoy it a little more. Makes me sad that so many people rolled their eyes or got genuinely angry while watching it, because it was the best theatre experience I had had in years. People were cheering in my theatre. And let’s face it, if JJ Abrams followed the formula of a 1980’s movie for a 2013 film, it would have bombed. That movie (and surely a certain Cumberbatch) gained the Star Trek fandom more fans. That’s a win in my book.

    Wow, sorry, that turned into a Trek rant. As a side note, a lot of my favorite movies have camp up the wahzoo but they entertain the heck out of me, which is what I think movies should do first and foremost. All potential messages, fan services, or thought provoking elements come after if at all.

    Again, thanks for this post!

    1. Nathan Rabin, the man who coined the phrase “manic pixie dream girl,” had a pretty spot-on essay getting at a lot of the type of stuff you’re talking about with the inability to just accept Into Darkness and forget Wrath of Khan. He spoke more about the proposed new Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones movies, but it’s still the same general idea. He called it “Your childhood entertainment is not sacred”. Here’s the link:

      The overall issue I am getting at is sort of like we’ve let ourselves succumb to paralysis by analysis when it comes to big movies but it’s really more like paralysis by analysis and a crap-ton of snark. I think a lot of it has to do with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That was when big blockbuster movies announced that they could be taken seriously. It’s like there were all the popcorn movies, and then suddenly The Dark Knight was a “film,” although I admit that’s a sweeping generalization. Ever since then, we probably take a lot of these big movies too seriously. Sometimes I am able to both nitpick and enjoy. I actually published not one but two articles on this site nitpicking Iron Man 3: However, I still really liked the movie. I was also able to simply enjoy Godzilla this summer, recognizing that it had problems but I was there to see Godzilla and by the time he finally showed up I was overjoyed. If I graded it on a RottenTomatoes scale, I’d give it like a 75% approval, which isn’t great but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.

      Oh, for the record, I have to admit that I struggled with simply giving in to Into Darkness. It kept reminding me of Wrath of Khan, but I do recognize that it is a fairly entertaining action movie. It may not quite be the right Star Trek for my tastes, but I wouldn’t dare call it the worst Star Trek of all time, not in a film franchise which already has just as many lowlights as highlights.

      1. Rabin’s article definitely hit the nail on the head of what I was thinking. And I agree wholeheartedly that something can be nitpicked and enjoyed simultaneously. As for Star Trek having “just as many lowlights as highlights”… THANK YOU. I’ve spoken to many Trekkies who seem afraid to admit that there is such thing as a bad Trek movie or that-GASP!-a majority of them were not that great and never quite lived up to the series.

        Thank you for the reply, I like the way you think!

      2. There is a very good reason that so many people used to joke that all of the odd numbered star trek movies were bad while all of the even numbered ones were good. It was a pretty wide held opinion that with star trek pretty much every other film was kind of terrible. In fact, I recently re-watched star trek 5, the one Shatner directed. This is the one most often held up as being the worst, and at first I found it surprisingly adequate. Then maybe 20 minutes into it things started getting really bad and by the halfway point I just turned it off. There is a reason I had never tried to re-watch it before.

      3. I always thought Star Trek III was pretty good. Part of that might be because it forms a greater arc with II and IV.

        It was a solid character driven movie.

      4. Actually, I also re-watched Part 3. In fact, I pretty much just re-watched Parts 2-5. The thing that really jumped out at me was how much cheaper Part 3 looks than Part 4. The whole story with Part 3 is that they got to Leonard Nimoy to return as Spock by letting him actually direct the movie, and to me the film looks like someone who was still figuring out how to really direct a movie. The way the death of Kirk’s son is handled is really, really sub-par so far as the depiction of it goes, and that’s on Nimoy. Part 4 just instantly looks more cinematic as if Nimoy had figured it out or was given a better cinematographer or a bigger budget or all of those things combined. Beyond all that, Part 3 is always hamstrung because it’s the in-between movie, the thing you have to get through between Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan and the crew somehow ending up in 1980s San Francisco in Part 4. However, unlike my re-watch of Part 5 I did actually find some redeeming qualities in Part 3.

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