Great cinema is a thing of subjectivity, but there are always those films that seem to whip up the zeitgeist and create a storm of collective excitement, sometimes for an inextricable reason.
In the flurry of positivity, it can be difficult to peer past the rain of confetti and consider whether the content you’re celebrating is actually any good, and once the hype has died down, the respective movie is looked back on with rose-tinted nostalgia.
Often many of these films that capture critical and commercial excitement aren’t quite as great as their hype suggests, either failing to stand the test of time or simply crumbling in the shadow of their overinflated self-worth.
The following list of ten films follows in this aforementioned path, with each and every one being considered a ‘classic’ by either the collective populous or the legions of critics from across the world. Picking apart several films from some of the finest directors of all time, our list includes the work of such acclaimed filmmakers as James Cameron, Christopher Nolan and more.
10 ‘classic’ movies that are worse than you remember
10. Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
Whilst countless films of the prison sub-genre wonderfully explore the nuances of incarcerated life, including Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Steve McQueen’s Hunger, quite why The Shawshank Redemption is so highly revered remains a mystery.
Perhaps this golden veil that the film casts over reality makes it so appealing, condensing its potential impact into something far more cinematic. Like the audience of the prison’s theatre, who escape their bleak reality by watching the film Gilda, the audience of The Shawshank Redemption feeds off a fantasy that simply isn’t real. Sitting at the very top of IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, it’s time for a radical change.
9. The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)
Praised upon its release, The King’s Speech is undoubtedly a competently made film with some terrific lead performances. Still, it’s also the equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of the Academy, being unashamed Oscar bait. All in all, The King’s Speech is merely an average movie that tragically beat out David Fincher’s The Social Network for Best Picture in 2011.
Starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, the film is a perfectly fine drama dealing with the stammer of King George VI shortly before the start of WWII; though it appeared back in 2010, we were simply too blinded by its sheer glitz and glamour.
8. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
Winning six Academy Awards in 1995, including for Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Tom Hanks, almost 30 years after its release, it’s clear to see that the film wasn’t all that great. Illustrating a sparkly and shallow version of American history and a poor tale of young love that plays off like a pop melodrama, Forrest Gump is a strange and emotionally confused project.
As the sentimental orchestral music of the film’s trailer suggests, Forrest Gump is quite simply a wildly overinflated patriotic pat on the back, using an overly simplified lead character to navigate through historical events as an inane political mouthpiece.
7. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
With the Avatar sequel, newly titled Way of the Water, due to hit cinemas later in 2022, it will be curious to see just how well the new film performs, considering the first film was something of a fantasy tech demo. Greatly benefiting from the dawn of 3D technology, Avatar was, at best, a spectacular gimmick and, at worst, a cinematic clone of countless movies we’ve seen before.
Remaining the highest-grossing movie of all time, it’s clear that James Cameron has a knack for blockbuster commercial filmmaking, but the spine of his stories lack far too consistently.
6. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)
Donning a dated rubber suit for its titular Batman and doing little to showcase a revolutionary narrative at its centre, Batman Begins isn’t the saviour of superhero films that it was once remembered as. With only Cillian Murphy’s terrific Scarecrow to save it from total irrelevance, the first film in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is often given the benefit of the doubt for sparking the trilogy, though it actually offers very little when it comes to originality or innovation.
Particularly after the success of the latest Batman movie from Matt Reeves, Christopher Nolan’s version looks remarkably uninspired, failing to explore the character at heart or his tormented city truly.
5. Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall was as much a celebration of the past half-century as an average standalone action movie. Brimming with nostalgia and not much else, to rewatch Skyfall now is to engage with a two and a half-hour slog that retreads the path of the previous 22 films in the series that came before it.
Dull and not as intelligent as it believes itself to be, Skyfall merely capitalises on its vast legion of longtime fans with nostalgic references, rooting Bond in the past and preventing him from thriving in the future.
4. Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)
The Academy Awards turned pretentious in 2014 when Alejandro González Iñárritu’s self-important drama Birdman took home the main prize largely thanks to its stuffed Hollywood ensemble cast.
With Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis, Iñárritu created a film about the farce of the entertainment industry that wasn’t able to recognise its own imploding ego. Choosing the film in place of Wes Anderson’s modern masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel and Damien Chazelle’s rousing musical drama Whiplash, rewatching Birdman seven years after its release is a baffling bore.
3. Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982)
Though it may have captured the imagination of the 1980s zeitgeist, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist is a rather flimsy watch 40 years after its release. Though it thrives from a screenplay co-written by Steven Spielberg, the once groundbreaking special effects now seems greatly outdated in comparison to the modern special effects used in horror cinema today.
Not only this, but Poltergeist isn’t particularly original nor particularly scary, failing to be either a compelling family thriller or a terrifying horror movie.
2. The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009)
Watching The Hangover in 2022 feels like a regretful, intoxicating ride through the regrets of noughties popular comedy, with the 2009 frat-boy flick simply feeling like the obnoxious humour from the loudest voice in the room. Starring the likes of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Harris, the film was the sixth highest-grossing film of 2009 at the domestic box office, no mean feat for a comedy movie.
Though, with a brash, arrogant sense of humour that takes to mocking minorities throughout, there’s nothing enjoyable about returning to this outdated comedy.
1. The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)
It is clear that John Hughes was infatuated with the romantic ideals of 1980s culture, creating several coming of age stories that celebrate the contemporary era, whilst providing a singular point of view on the state of the times that totally blindsides reality. Regardless of the archaic cultural attitudes, Hughes’ Breakfast Club is simply a fantasy, a picturesque idea of how society wants to remember the past rather than how it should be looked back on.
Presenting a totally rose-tinted view of adolescence that is hilariously short-sighted in retrospect, it’s baffling that Hughes really believes in the vision he is projecting. Whilst The Breakfast Club is a troubled romanticisation of the 1980s, it is also an oversimplification of adolescence, as vapid as John Bender’s futile punch of triumph that bookends the reverie.