Earmarks Of A Video That Should Not Be Rented

Or a DVD, for that matter.

Awright, put yourself in this situation:

It’s afternoon. You’re bored. You’ve got nothing to do this evening. You decide to head to the video place, have a look, see what’s available, see if anything flips your switch and demands to be taken home and seen, right?

You scan the shelves. Thousands of videos and DVDs, all screaming for your attention, your money, your love.

Over the years, there are a few things I’ve noticed… that when you see them, you should NOT RENT THAT VIDEO. I have decided to post them, partly to pass on the knowledge, and partly in the hopes that my fellow Dopers will add to the list, that I may learn from my brethren.


Well, yeah. Lots of movies have awesome special effects. In fact, these days, MOST movies have awesome special effects.

…but when they make a point of TELLING YOU HOW GREAT THEY ARE ON THE BOX, you are looking at a dog, and no mistake. Movies like Star Wars don’t say a damn thing about the special effects, unless they want to tell you about Oscar nominations.

Turds, on the other hand, grope at straws, to mix a metaphor. They must take advantage of ALL their meager selling points… and so they will crow about how fantastic their special effects are. I have never seen a decent movie that actually bragged about its SFX on the box.


Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. This is a good movie. It also assumes you know who the hell Sean Connery is, or it doesn’t care, because it knows it’s a good movie. It’s not insecure.

Critters, starring Leonardo “Titanic” DiCaprio. This is not a very good movie. It’s hoping you will rent it because it has a seven-year-old Leo DiCaprio in it for all of ten minutes, and after all, didn’t we all just love him in Titanic? THIS movie is insecure.

Big Waste Of Time, starring Wang “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” “Killer Waterbed” Ka. This is a baaaad movie. It’s hoping you’ve heard of Wang-Ka, and, ghod willing, liked his previous work, and if you haven’t, it’ll put TWO or THREE movie titles between his first name and his last, in the hope that MAYBE you saw at least ONE of these, and, ghod willing, will MAYBE associate them with this utter dog of a movie long enough for them to get your four bucks away from you…

ONE movie title between the actors’ first and last names: Marginal. Might be good, but risky.
TWO movie titles: Probably pretty bad.
THREE movie titles: Run screaming from the aisle. This movie is so bad, it may actually infect the other movies on the rack with it…


I have yet to see a movie that was any good that had a holographic decal on the box… or a little LED battery light winking off and on on the box… or any other weird cutesy little trick on the box. This is bad. This is a sign of desperation. This means the movie is SO BAD, they’re willing to spend extra money on the BOX, just to get your attention… in short, if a video box has any other gimmick than good art (and maybe embossed print), stay clear of it.

…and that’s about all I can think of, off the top of my head. Anyone else got any tips to add?

The “Special Effects” remark in particular is quite telling, since special effects are getting cheaper and cheaper. Especially these days, praising a movie for it’s special effects is like praising a book for its skillful binding. It’s a technology that’s common and cheap enough that it cannot carry a movie anymore, even for the most easily impressed.

Another sign (Which also applies to movies still in theaters.) is the quotes on the box.

Looking at review quotes on the front and back of the box (or in a tv or print ad if the flick is still in theaters.) if you have heard of none of the reviewers or the magazine/newspaper/TV Show they work for, chances are the film is bottom-of-the-barrel suck.

Also, avoid a movie at all costs if one or more of the quotes are attributed to Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine

Not 100% warning, but very close:

Notice the pictures of the “stars” on the box. If you have a name actor behind people you never heard of, especially if they’re somewhat hidden to the side or in a misty vapor or otherwise not dead center in front, they’re most likely not in the movie long enough to matter. Chances are the name actor was working off a debt or desperately in need of drug money.

With very few exceptions if there are more than four name actors on the box, none of them will have much to do with the movie.

Be sure to find the release date of the thing. I saw this otherwise spiffy looking cover of what appeared to be a jewel with Sam Elliott in prominence on the cover. The movie was made before Sam Elliott even started doing bit roles. He’s there okay; in a crowd scene.

Dirty tricks.

Oh, yeah, that Earl Dittman article reminds me:

Always avoid, if possible, any film directed by Alan Smithee.

This is the name placed on any film from which the original director demanded that HIS name be removed.

…and if the director didn’t want his name on it, how good is it likely to be?

I avoid any movie that references feces in its title. Today, whilst perusing the fare at the local BlockBuster, I had the misfortune to come across a film entitled Monsturd.

"It’s not just a movie, it’s a movement!”
-Beth Horne/Dale Posner, San Francisco Examiner

Yes it seems that Wings Hauser has made some of the worst movies in Hollywood. Here is Leonard Maltin’s assessment:

His recur ring role as a next door neighbor on TV’s “Roseanne” probably earned him a bigger audience than all his films put together.

from Roger Ebert:

“If the video box says, ‘If you are offended by scenes of graphic horror, do not rent this movie!’-- do not rent this movie.”

This quote accurately describes upwards of 75% of your video store choices. Unfortunately, not all are as considerate in telling you right there on the box that the movie is a piece of shit.


My work here is done.

Hey freido, we’re having fun here. Don’t go bringing logic into it . . .

Comparissons to other movies. My favorite is the box to Python where it states:

“It’s this year’s Lake Placid!

Now, I liked Lake Placid, but it’s not necessarily a movie you want to be bragging you’re copying. Also, references to other classic horror villains are bad. The tag for Milo is something like “Even Jason and Freddy were children at some time.” Just a bad, bad sign.

Oh, and if a movie that came out before a big name director’s big movie is re-released, be weary. I feel sorry for all those people who bought Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles because it was “From the same director as Lord of the Rings.” I love both of those films, but unless you know what you’re in for, you’re going to be VERY shocked!

I’ve seen a few boxes which play up the fact that the movie is “Unrated!!!” That means straight-to-video, not “too hot for the theaters.”

I remember renting a Jackie Chan film called “The Prisoner” once, where he had top billing and his face was dominating the cover(in fact, that’s all there was). Well, apparently it was one of his really early films, because he’s in it for maybe 10 minutes, usally just walking through a room a times.

Boy did I feel ripped off.

Having “Ernest” or “Bernie’s” is a pretty big red flag for me.

err that was to say -

Having “Ernest” or “Bernie’s” in the title is a pretty big red flag for me.


As is having the name Michael Pare in the cast list (or depicted on the cover). Especially if Tawny Kitaen is also there.

The use of a famous name in a position other than the one you normally think of that person as occupying. The ill advised directorial forays of actors and writers are legion, but something like “Starring Tom Savini”, or “Written by Keanu Reeves” should also serve as a red flag.

If it has Joe Estevez in it, drop it like a hot rock.