15 Popular Movies With Surprisingly Low Rotten Tomatoes Scores
They may be popular movies that we tune into whenever they're on cable or on streaming, but Rotten Tomatoes doesn't remember these 15 flicks as fondly...
We all have a list of films we’ll always sit down to watch when we see them playing on cable or available on streaming. These can be critical darlings or cult classics or twisty thrillers or simply our go-to comfort food movies. They don’t even necessarily need to be considered good but to us they’re special.
Unsurprisingly, not all of our sentimental favorites earned the positive critical recognition we feel they deserved upon release. Here are 15 popcorn classics whose Rotten Tomatoes scores are surprisingly lower than you’d expect.
It’s probably not a huge surprise to learn that this cult horror fave (and ersatz Warhammer 40K prequel movie) isn’t a critical darling. We’ve never cared. Who among us doesn’t own a raggedy DVD copy with the secondhand price tag still on the case?
But with an RT score of 32%, it earned a surprisingly harsh response from reviewers. Critics saw too-common tropes and excessive gore weighing down a thin plot. But we see Alien’s bloody little brother, complete with a dash of Lovecraftian horror mixed with a bit of Satanic Panic, and featuring a crew that’s not too keen on playing dumb while there’s space demons from some interdimensional Hell controlling the experimental Event Horizon.
We cheer every single time Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) gets an eyeful of a horrifying apocalyptic log, and bluntly says, “We’re leaving.” That’s a man who knows how to survive a horror movie. The only problem is, in space, Hell is everywhere.
April 8th is Rex Manning Day in our household, and probably yours too. The staff of Empire Records is loaded with familiar ‘90s That Guys, from Liv Tyler to Ethan Embry. In 100 years, this aggressively grunge-era flick will be regarded the way we cherish Victorian period dramas now. Including a cottage industry of Britbox-style miniseries, where some future star is running her coffee shop slash vinyl record store, waiting for her Kurt Cobain-styled Heathcliff to arrive.
Anyway, critics hated Empire Records the way we hate finding spiders on my sideview mirror. There’s no surprise, just disgust. At 31%, there was no nostalgia or charm found by the reviewers. Instead, they fixated, seemingly, on the way it didn’t replicate the ‘90s experience for them. Sometimes, guys, it’s about remembering things the way we wanted them to be. Empire Records, you’re there for all of us that ever worked an on-call shift at a Sam Goody or Suncoast.
Transformers: The Animated Movie
Time’s been kind to the OG war for Cybertron, and Rotten Tomatoes’ score is finally beginning to reflect our nostalgia for a Gen X kid’s first traumatizing theater experience. At 62%, it’s still not great, though. It certainly doesn’t honor the fact that we continue to cry so hard over Optimus Prime that, decades later, we get a little huffy whenever a new cartoon or reboot doesn’t immediately call Peter Cullen down to the recording studio.
Loaded with some of the hardest dialogue ever to be in a kid’s movie – “You’ll be held in contempt of this court!” sneers the Quintesson. Hotrod snaps back, “I have nothing but contempt for this court!” – 1986’s Transformers is a movie we always come back to. We filled up the 35th Anniversary event screenings with our T-shirted selves in 2021, remembering that, in fact, we do have The Touch.
One does not go to a Michael Bay movie for its philosophical underpinnings. You go to watch things explode in extremely expensive ways, with the action set to rock music, and starring some of the biggest performers in the industry. That makes Bay himself, for better or worse, critic-proof. The majority of his films are in the green on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences can’t get enough. That said, stupid premise aside, one would think the eternally rewatchable Armageddon would earn some kindness for its bombastic good time and great backup cast.
It has a 38% on RT. I’m actually not a big Bay fan, but that seems wildly unkind for one of the best dumb movies to ever exist. Moonfall wanted what this movie had. The animal cracker scene? Yeah, that’s a 38% scene. But Steve Buscemi losing his mind in space, while Peter Stormare plays the most Russian guy to ever put up with Americans is pure 100% mindless fun. On the whole… you know what, we’re gonna go put it on TV again.
A Night at the Roxbury
11% on RT for the crime of letting Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell be zoot-suited idiots for an hour and 20 minutes. Yeah, it’s a blisteringly stupid flick – that’s why we rewatch it. It also has one of the finest movie soundtracks of the last 20 years, and a not-so-subtle understanding of why the wannabe it-crowd is so easy to lampoon in the first place. Of course, an SNL movie about the inanity of luxe nightclubs is going to be as subtle as a harpoon to the face.
A Night at the Roxbury is no more cinematically criminal than Zoolander, a movie that inched into the red on the big tomato. Yes, Kattan and Ferrell have a somewhat amplifying effect on each other in terms of annoyance. But what club kids don’t? It’s probably on cable somewhere right now. Get your head bopping in time to Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” one more time.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Critics didn’t loathe Anchorman, but it’s still divisive at 66% fresh. That likely won’t track with anyone you know who can still quote their favorite Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) lines on demand. It’s a film that showcases Will Ferrell at the top of his game, mixing the high octane stupidity he wields like a candy cane in Elf with just enough charm to keep him from becoming the movie’s antagonist. That’s Vince Vaughn, Vaughning his best self as a rival anchor who’s willing to street fight to defend his place as an apex predator.
It’s also sneakily aware: underneath all that thankfully too stupid to offend sexism and bigotry is the truth that newsrooms were, and sometimes still are, just like that. The secret delight of Anchorman? Beating down sexism wins the day for Christina Applegate’s veteran anchor, Veronica.
In the Mouth of Madness
John Carpenter’s films finally received much-deserved critical adoration about a decade or two after their release, creating a vicious cycle that impacted the number of films we would get from the original slasher master. In the Mouth of Madness is the red-headed stepchild finale of his Apocalypse Trilogy, too slickly ‘80s to master the same camp charm as Prince of Darkness, too meta for non-devotees, and not gory enough for fans of The Thing. At 55% on RT, it’s still loaded down by people who didn’t read the same gleeful love letter to H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King as the rest of us.
There’s admiration for Sutter Cane in plain view. He’s created his world in Hell’s awful image, becoming his own king in yellow at the shores of a New England Carcosa. Sam Neill is an everyman doomed to become the story’s living ritual sacrifice. Bonus, guaranteed to make you pause the film and excitedly tell your buddies every time, Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen himself, has a blink and you’ll miss it role as a kid on a bike.
Masters of the Universe
Teenagers figuring themselves out, unite! While Labyrinth’s equally eye-opening puberty boost courtesy of David Bowie earned acclaim for its lovely visuals, the glorious train wreck that is Masters of the Universe did, um, not. Its 22% score reminds us that nobody had anything nice to say back when it came out. But that was beside the point. While it’s, yes, a terrible MOTU movie, it’s an eternally terrific watch for two fine reasons.
Dolph Lundgren was at his physical prime in 1987, and some blessed fool in the costuming department decided to slather him in oil for the entire 1 hour and 45 minute running time. On behalf of my generation, thank you. To the second point, veteran actor Frank Langella had the time of his life being Skeletor. Not only does it show, he is still happy to tell you about how much fun he had. All right, there’s a third reason this movie is still a cable great: it’s not a good adaptation, but it’s a terrific cheesy fantasy movie, in a world where we don’t have nearly enough of those.
Freddy Got Fingered
By the spring of 2001, moms had already weathered the hurricanes of The Simpsons and South Park. Jackass was still an existential threat, but it was containable. It was getting difficult for teens to find something that could still offend the crap out of their whole family, and maybe even some of their friends. Enter Tom Green. This shock comedian par excellence was already corrupting the youth courtesy of his self-titled show, and then, holy crap, somebody gave this dude enough money to make a movie.
Freddy Got Fingered is not a classy flick. It’s about a chaotic loser with a dream, and ultimately, he accomplishes… something, anyway. It’s a shitshow, a hallucination that makes Napoleon Dynamite look like a Wes Anderson movie. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is apocalyptic, naturally (11%!), and yet, this film thrives. It is glorious and proud in its out-there silliness, a triumph that feels like busting through a week-long constipation blockage. We’ll never stop rewatching it, and today, we’re not ashamed to admit that.
Fantasy fans have long been defensive of Willow, but we don’t usually look back at why we have to be. Panned hard at release for a generic plot trimmed up with some great Lucasfilm effects, it’s still clawing for respect with an updated 55% on the Big Tomato. Star Wars has a generic Hero’s Journey plot and everyone loves it, but Lucas created a fantasy version with the hottest iteration of Val Kilmer ever and critics raced to beat on this thing. Rude.
The plot isn’t exactly Game of Thrones, but God, who wants it to be? It’s a nice movie about a guy that wants to be a sorcerer more than anything in the world, and he gets there. Mostly by being a relentlessly good person and a great dad. Is it the positivity that nuked Willow’s future? Was it the brownies? The brownies are great! They’re teeny Statler and Waldorfs. It doesn’t matter. What does is that this is a movie we can watch anytime and feel a little better. It’s a kind story, told well. We’ll always love it for that.
A year after Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, kids got a second special treat brought to life by a new generation of astounding special effects: a dragon! Voiced by Sean Connery, and featuring an improbable Dennis Quaid as an Arthurian-styled knight, it’s a twist on the classic cult fantasy movie Dragonslayer for a younger set. And for some reason, critics couldn’t stand the thing. Still wallowing at a green 50%, Draco continues to be derided as children’s entertainment, with a plot that visibly cracks in places. That’s fair, but also, oh well.
Back then, kids didn’t know or care about the behind the scenes drama that corrupted what could have been a great fantasy about the limits of Arthurian morality. It’s a shame that’s not the movie we got. But Dragonheart remains a charmer, a movie we regularly rewatch, wishing we were still kids, holding onto the hope that we would one day make friends with a dragon of our own.
Cheech & Chong: Up In Smoke
The stoner genre has a specific genesis hidden behind decades of cop-attracting smoke and that time Jon Stewart gave us the eternal meme “Have you ever seen the back of a $20 bill on weed?” It should come as no surprise to the educated pothead that much of the genre’s history lies with Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, the comedy kush kings of the 1970s. Paradoxically counterculture, Cheech & Chong’s hippie antics are as foundational to red-eyed college kids as Maruchan ramen cups.
In 1978, the duo made their first movie, Up in Smoke. The critical response was an afterthought; this baked-fresh road trip flick was never made for the suits. Still at 55% today on the tomato, that score is still, like, your opinion, dude. The people it was made for, currently relaxed or looking to get relaxed, know what it’s all about. Dave’s still not here, man. But Cheech & Chong never left.
Nobody actually cares what score a Mel Brooks movie has. It’s Mel Brooks, you’re going to get a laugh or 20. A little digging shows that the “classics” are all critically acclaimed, from The Producers to Young Frankenstein. But Spaceballs is where the tomato sauce line is drawn, with a green 57%. Frankly, it’s unimportant information. What matters is that we will watch it every single time it’s on TV, even if it’s BBC America, where they cut a third of the best lines. And we’ll complain about it.
Spaceballs was sold as a Star Wars parody, and that’s where critics often ding it for failing. But it’s not all about lampooning the biggest space opera in history. The best scene nails where the real franchise money comes in – merchandising! – and the rest is plain ol’ funny stuff about sci-fi movies in general. Little of it is mean-spirited, and John Candy as Barf is as cuddly as he was in 1987.
Conan the Destroyer
Robocop 3 holds the record for making us yell “oh God, they gave up an R rating for this?” But the two-year backslide from the gloriously violent Conan the Barbarian to whatever the hell they thought they were doing to Conan the Destroyer comes close. Saddled with a PG and an understandable 27% tomato score, Schwarzenegger’s giblet-tossing ferocity is tempered with a bonkers back-up cast and oddly timed jokes. It’s no wonder that, for decades, people thought He-Man was meant to be a line of Conan toys. This movie is damn near a cartoon.
But He-Man’s not a Conan knockoff, and Conan the Destroyer is, despite itself, the sort of idiotically fun movie to thrive on weekend afternoons at home. Conan’s out-of-place band has real charm to them, from the Obligatory Laugh Track Rogue (Malak, played by Tracey Walter), to the Warrior I Am Looking At Respectfully (Zula, played by a perfectly intimidating Grace Jones). Even the effects are hilarious, including a proper rubber-suit kaiju end boss. Dagoth itself is a treat for fans; the suit is stupid, but inside is an uncredited Andre the Giant. We’d all much rather hug this Lovecraftian ugly than let Conan rip its horn clean off.
The critical and commercial failure of UHF, back in 1989, upset Weird Al Yankovic so badly that we didn’t even get another album until Nirvana conquered the airwaves in 1992. Bumped over the years to a healthier 61%, the film was murdered by words on release, giving the best non-Zucker Brothers ‘80s comedy a truncated run in theaters and a tiny VHS printing. Scarcity, and our realization of what made UHF special (it’s honest fun, with an excuse of a plot stringing together skits that still make us laugh like loons), created a cult classic, a late night TV movie we’d watch whenever possible, while passing around white noisy and commercial-filled copies at comic conventions.
Its DVD release turned UHF into the hit we all knew it was, and it still exudes the same joyful energy that permeates Daniel Radcliffe’s performance in Weird Al’s very legitimate “biography,” Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. The critics have never been more wrong than when they made Weird Al sad. But the fans always had his back, and today, UHF remains the ultimate comfort food movie. If you disagree… take it up with the star of Gandhi II.