Is there really such a good thing as "so bad it's good"?

I hear this term bandied around more and more now, and in all honesty it just translates to me as “it was shit but we extracted whatever entertainment from it we could”. I don’t understand how a piece of literature, TV or film making can be good by virtue of being bad (this is poorly written, badly acted, no plot, poor execution, boring or just plain non-sensical). Sure, I get the MST3K thing, but watching people make fun of a bad movie is fun because I’m watching THEM, not the movie itself. Plan 9 from outer space is never going to be a good film, no matter how often the term “irony” is applied to it.

Can someone try and explain what I’m missing here?

The point is that the movie (which it usually refers to) is bad, but still entertaining on some level. It’s not the MST3K joking about it – it’s that the bad acting or plot or whatever becomes funny, like seeing someone slip on a banana peel.

So Plan 9 is bad, but the bad dialog and mistakes turn it from a serious horror film (at which it’s a utter failure) into a comedy.

Sit down sometime and watch Jack Nicholson in Pysch Out, or The Monkees’ Head (co-written by Jack Nicholson.)

At no point will you think you’re watching Orson Welles’ or Stanley Kubrick’s work, but there is a good chance you will be enthralled and entertained. These movies will live on long after the middle-of-the-road movies of the period.

There are movies that are so bad on every level that they are essentially unwatchable to me–including MSt3K movies that even the commentary can’t help. And then there are films like Shark Attack 3: Megaladon. Shitty acting? Check. Shitty special effects? Check. Shitty plot? Check. A very, very poor Jaws rip off? Absolutely. But then the big shark eats the boat, and I can’t look away. I don’t need the additional commentary track to find pleasure in the movie (though I’d die happy if there were a rifftrax or iriff for it). That movie is so bad it’s good.

To me, M. Night Shyamalan makes movies so bad they’re bad. There is absolutely no redeeming quality in his The Sixth Sense, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. I watched and laughed at all the rifftrax commentaries, but they fail in mundane, boring ways and collapse on their own tedium until they’ve formed a black hole of suck.

If there are legitimate counter-examples to this statement, I’d love to know about them: “so bad it’s good” is an after-the-fact evaluation. Nobody goes out to produce pure shit and pass it off as valid art. It turns out being “good” because of its colossal failure in at least one of these aspects:

  1. Completely blind eye to its own pretentiousness
  2. No awareness of its own overstepping of taste boundaries
  3. Deliberate failure to monitor its own faults

There must be many more criteria that allow an earnest production to be utter trash and still me so mockable and such a paragon of bad taste that its cultural value is that is something not to do.

One of my favorite de-motivational posters (I wish I could find the picture that goes with it) has the caption:

I finally located that poster among a bunch of others I really enjoy:

Scroll about halfway down to find MISTAKES.

But great dialog – at least, one line of it is. :wink:

Roadhouse is my favorite, so bad it’s good movie.

If you don’t find the juxtaposition of the director/author/actor’s earnest intent compared to the results that they actually produced amusing then you do not enjoy the “so bad its good” phenomenon.

As in the example you stated, “Plan 9” is entrancing in its earnestness.

The opposite effect, when something is intentionally cheesy and bad, over the top and absurd – as in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or, less obviously “Big Trouble in Little China”-- is called camp, and is also enjoyable to some.

Rambo III. Seen it? Released in the late eighties, when Russia was at war with Afghanistan and the Russians were the bad guys.

Watch it today. The Taliban is constantly praised as freedom fighters, and the Russians are portrayed as crazies who do not realize that Afghanistan is unbeatable.

R Kelly’s ‘Trapped In The Closet’ is absolutely A. Mazing


Roadhouse is a perfect example of this phenomenon, maybe even the epitome of so bad it’s good. I think what sets Roadhouse above other examples is that there are moments of good film making. Not many, not often, and they don’t last for long, but they’re there. Tiny little hints that whoever is responsible for this actually knows how to make movies. Roadhouse has no pretensions. It’s about a bouncer who comes to town to kick some ass, and that’s it. It’s more or less an updated western, with the reluctant gunfighter who has to fight the evil cattle baron (“JC Penny is coming here because of me!”) because nobody else can. But the characters are mostly made of cardboard, the plot makes no sense at all, the dialogue is ridiculous and even nonsensical at times, and if Dalton wasn’t such a fucking idiot, then his best buddy wouldn’t have died. In the end though, what it has going for it is a relentless sincerity. Somebody thought they were making a really great movie, and Swayze even said that it reflected more of his personal philosophy than any other film (that philosophy being “there’s no problem that some throat ripping can’t solve” or maybe "Pain don’t hurt).

Roadhouse takes the viewer beyond the need for good plot, good dialogue, and likable characters into a realm of tropes and violence that really only works if we suspend all our disbelief, but once we do that, it actually makes good on its promise to be entertaining.

Remember kids, be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

Patty Duke was on TV in Chicago yesterday and describes her movie “Valley of the Dolls” like this. She said, she was so proud when making it, and after she saw it, was so embarrassed over the way she overacted and how bad the script was and hated it, and disliked herself for making it.

But she says, after years of being a cult classic, she came to realize, what was important to her, (being a good actress) was not important to the people who loved the film. She says she know realized at least some people like it and it makes them happy. So if she had done a better job acting, it might have made a better film but she would’ve lost the audience that enjoys it now.

So yes, I think there is a “so bad it’s good,” type of thing, Chuck Barris made a living out of it.

I agree with you on The Happening (one of the worst films I have ever seen!) & most of Shyamalan’s other films but I have no clue how you can legitimately include The Sixth Sense among that list. **The Sixth Sense **(according to Rotten Tomatoes) has an 85% positive rating from professional critics, 87% positive from moviegoers, and was Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (among others.) It’s a well-liked, well-received and well-made movie. Though you may have not enjoyed it, there is no way it’s “so bad it’s bad.”

Thankyou pepperlandgirl. I was hoping someone would explain that movie with much more eloquence than I could muster.

Showgirls was a huge bomb when it opened, got scathing reviews and was a financial disaster for MGM. Then, on DVD, it became a cult favorite and people started watching it just to make fun of it. It was like watching a film from very pretentious first year film students with a huge budget. Although meant to be taken seriously (and in that sense, a really horrible film) it eventually become something to laugh at (and therein lies a good, unintentional parody film) that is most fun to watch with a group of friends at home.

I have also seen many theatrical performances on stage that were so wretched, you couldn’t take your eyes off it - think of a car wreck on stage. Those are sometimes very entertaining as you can’t believe anyone really thought it was good enough to perform in front of an audience - singers off key, entrances flubbed, lines missed, sets falling apart, costume malfunctions, lighting and sound cues off, props missing - oh the glory of watching a truly horrible stage performance. Those lucky enough to see them will guffaw for years relating what they saw.

Have you watched it recently? I mean, I hated it from the first viewing in the theater and I think it is one of the most overhyped and ridiculously misunderstood film ever created, but I forgot about it and moved on with my life. A few months ago, we watched it again and it is bad. I think with some distance from the hype and the word-of-mouth, and knowing what the big non-twist is, it’s extremely easy to see all the ways that movie fails. The problems M. Night has with his movies after The Sixth Sense didn’t come out of nowhere–he’s always had more weaknesses than strengths. He has no sense of timing, no sense of what real people sound like when they talk, no real clue when it comes to pacing, and either lacks the intelligence to tell a subtle story or believes his audience does. He got extremely lucky to release the Sixth Sense when he did. If he released that movie now at the tail-end of his string of flops rather than at the beginning, it wouldn’t be a triumphant comeback, just another nail in the coffin. Of course, if he released it now, he wouldn’t have a career to try to redeem, since nobody would still be tolerating his bullshit.

I like The Sixth Sense.

This is described perfectly in the This American Life episode “Fiasco,” which takes on a truly catastrophic local production of “Peter Pan.” Essentially, at first the audience is supportive and wants the show to be good, but then the audience turns against the players and actively glories in the badness, in fact they want it to be worse.

Listen here, Act One: Opening Night:

All of the segments are worthy, but Act One is a moment of genius.

Here’s a quote from my upcoming book on aesthetics that seems appropriate:

“We watch the actors as actors, not as characters. We savor the poor production choices as pathetic gestures toward a unattainable artistic vision. We engage with the work as the wreckage of a failed creative experience, rather than as a blueprint for a successful receptive one. The very badness of Plan 9 makes this sort of engagement possible. With a better movie we might find ourselves sucked into actually caring about the characters, or the outcome of the story. But Plan 9 denies us the normal play of narrative. If we want to have fun with it, we have to look elsewhere.”