10 Classic Movies That Were Hated In Their Time – Screen Rant

Just because a movie goes over poorly with critics and audiences doesn’t mean it can’t find acclaim years later.
One of the biggest streaming hits of 2022 is the Predator prequel Prey, and many fans are surely treating themselves by popping up the original. What they may not know is that, back in 1987, Predator was not the beloved icon of cinema it is today, but a financially successful movie that received mixed reviews, some of which were quite negative.
Combing through Rotten Tomatoes, fans might be shocked to find just how harsh critics could be on a movie that is considered a classic today. Fortunately, these films prove that reevaluation is always possible, and a movie can find new life even long after it's left theaters.
In his heyday in the 1970s and '80s, Brian De Palma was the new Alfred Hitchcock, an auteur who knew how to terrify audiences with his own unique style. Blow Out, starring John Travolta as a sound technician who picks up audio evidence of a murder, earned positive notices from critics, but audiences were turned off by its bleak ending.
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However, Blow Out became a cult classic in time, developing a devoted fan base who love it for its suspense, bleak tone, and Travolta's excellent lead performance. Prominent fans include Roger Ebert and Quentin Tarantino, the latter of whom called Blow Out De Palma's best work (via Roger Ebert).
Riding high off the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney envisioned Fantasia as a leap forward for animation, but the movie was a financial flop due to its avant-garde nature being ahead of its time, and World War II cutting off the European market. It was also derided within the classical music community, with iconic composer Igor Stravinsky calling the performance of his music "execrable" (via Forbes).
Starting with a reissue in 1969 that played up the film's more psychedelic elements, audiences began to appreciate Fantasia for its gorgeous animation and state-of-the-art use of music to tell stories on film. It's also well known for proving that Disney is not afraid to take a dark turn, as evidenced by the horrifying imagery of "Night on Bald Mountain".
A quintessential 1980s comedy combining raunchy humor with coming-of-age heart, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was popular with audiences from the start, earning over $27 million at the domestic box office on a $5 million budget. It was also detested by many critics, including Roger Ebert, who called it a "scuz-pit of a movie".
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While it definitely has some dated elements, Fast Times' stature has only grown with time, earning honors from the likes of the American Film Institute, and even a home video release from the Criterion Collection. It also launched the careers of stars like Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, and Sean Penn in one of his most memorable roles as the hilarious stoner icon Jeff Spicoli.
For modern audiences who think of 1950s cinema as safe and sanitized, The Night of the Hunter is quite the shock, being a dark, psychological story of a family that finds themselves terrorized by a serial killer masquerading as a preacher. In fact, that very darkness led to it being a critical and commercial flop at the time, as well as controversial with the religious watchdog groups, as stated in this essay by Carl Laamanen.
Nowadays, The Night of the Hunter is remembered as an engaging thriller that broke new ground for the genre, and Robert Mitchum's performance as Powell is considered one of his best. Another element singled out for praise is the cinematography, which lends the movie a sinister edge that perfectly complements the story.
A change in direction for legendary British auteur Michael Powell, Peeping Tom tells the story of Mark Lewis, a serial killer who films his victims in order to immortalize their dying moments. It could be called the British answer to Psycho, with Mark being a fascinating character who realistically captures the mental processes of a serial killer, much like Norman Bates.
Sadly, contemporary reviews of Peeping Tom were very harsh, with many critics being disgusted by its violent and sexual content, and Powell's career was badly damaged as a result. In contrast, more recent critics often call Peeping Tom one of the best horror movies of all time, as well as one of the most influential proto-slasher films.
With Prey now streaming on Hulu, it only makes sense for fans to look back at the original Predator for some classic sci-fi action. What many of the movie's fans may not know is that, back in 1987, reviews were quite mixed, with Elvis Mitchell from The New York Times calling the film "grisly and dull" (via WhatCulture), and even critics who were more positive, like Roger Ebert, praised the action and pacing but had reservations about the storytelling.
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Audiences' responses weren't uniformly positive, as evidenced by the movie's solid but not spectacular B+ Cinemascore. But as the years have passed, critics and audiences alike have grown to appreciate Predator for its excellent special effects, suspense-filled action sequences, and charming cast led by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Producers may have kick-started Mel Brooks' career as one of the great comedy directors, but given that it's one of Brooks' highest-rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes, it may be surprising to learn that it initially got a mixed reception. The famously cutting Pauline Kael called it "amateurishly crude (via The New Yorker), and took issue with what she saw as an overuse of Jewish stereotypes.
Fortunately for Brooks, the movie quickly gained in stature once it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and it is now seen by the vast majority of critics as one of Mel Brooks' best movies. Its broad humor proved to be one of the directors' greatest strengths, and The Producers' ruthless skewering of Nazism can be seen as a preview of Blazing Saddles doing the same to anti-Black racism.
John Carpenter's The Thing is a masterpiece of sci-fi horror, but in a summer dominated by E.T., it was a box office bomb and received generally negative reviews for its bleak tone and graphic body horror. According to Den of Geek, critics were so hard on the film that genre magazine Cinefantastique printed a cover asking "Is [The Thing] the most hated movie of all time?"
Like many underappreciated films of its era, The Thing found new life on the then-fledgling home video market, where audiences appreciated its claustrophobic suspense, talented ensemble cast, and top-notch special effects, which included a horrifying and ugly alien. Many have tried to figure out whythe movie initially didn't connect with the public, but Carpenter himself arguably put it best when he said it "was just too strong for that time."
A hilarious comedy about a minor league hockey team that goes all in on violent play in order to gain popularity, Slap Shot is beloved by fans of the sport today, but many critics gave it mixed or even negative reviews. But even in 1977, signs of critical evaluation could be found, with Gene Siskel regretting his mediocre review by the year's end (via WESA).
Newman is in top form in his third collaboration with director George Roy Hill, playing protagonist Reggie Dunlop with an edgy sense of humor that many would not expect from him. Slap Shot also pays tribute to hockey in a warts-and-all way, greatly helped by writer Nancy Dowd using her own brother's experience as a minor league player as inspiration for the script.
The Warriors is a cult classic today, with its story of a sympathetic street gang on the run after they're framed for murder being a fun sandbox for interesting mythology, but critics derided it for being style over substance. A typical response came from Time's Frank Rich when he called it "not lively enough to be cheap fun or thoughtful enough to be serious."
No matter what critics said, plenty of viewers even at the time were impressed by Walter Hill's pulpy, stylized filmmaking and ensured the movie had staying power. The Warriors still attracts much interest today, as evidenced by its video game adaptations and the Russo brothers' recent attempts at a TV series.
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Pierce Brenner is a freelance list writer for Screen Rant. He graduated from California State University, San Marcos in 2019 with a BA in History, with a minor in Film/Video Production. Pierce’s childhood love of Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars sent on him the path to movie fandom early, but it was The Lord of the Rings trilogy that inspired him to become a filmmaker. His love for film knows no bounds, and he’ll watch anything from prestige epics to 70s/80s exploitation. Currently writing a script for a horror-thriller feature.


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