According to Wikipedia, subversion “refers to an attempt to transform the established social order, its structures of power, authority, exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy.”
I also like to think of it as something that does not try to accomplish this transformation by being overt. In other words, the subversive message of the movie should be under the surface. Think Metropolis and not V for Vendetta.
One of my favorites is Rules of Attraction. Roger Avary, who adapted the screenplay and directed the movie, became virtually unemployable after the film. Everyone thought it would be another Van Wilder type film, but it was actually an indictment of the college-is-nothing-but-a-party movie. It brings out all the faults that characters in Van Wilder type films would really have.
Another film that did somewhat of the same thing, but didn’t ruin its director, was Punch Drunk Love. The movie is about a typical Adam Sandler character as he would actually exist in the real life.
From the 80s: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Adventures in Babysitting, The Night of the Comet.
From the 90s: North, Clifford, The Stupids.
From the 00s: Big Fat Liar, The Perfect Score.
Too much going on in these movies; overt and covert messages. Each decade seems to have its own theme, its own tone or pace. These directors are geniuses. Geniuses. I’m sure that there are other things that I missed or omitted but this here is a good idea of the comedies of the 90s that were faced paced, zany, with dysfunctional family, events growing out of proportion. The 00s, on the other hand, were toned down, cool, more laid back, but with a big “phase four”-type ending. And the 80s, the most philosophically stable decade of them all, were filled with mad cap adventures, attitude, and a style all their own.
It may be too obvious a choice, but… Fight Club. I recently re-watched it, six or seven years after I first found it and watched it several times. It was even better than I remember. So much of what Tyler Durden is saying makes sense… at the beginning (both of the movie and of when he says it), then falls apart into… well… total shit. Just like the ending of the movie, heh.
James Whale allegedly intended for Bride of Frankenstein to have a gay subtext & to poke at Christian symbols & values. Doing so, he made one of the best classic horror films ever & I would argue that it ended up with a more Christian subtext.
Also, A Clockwork Orange
Harold and Maude
PeeWee’s Big Adventure
It was an adaptation of the Brett “American Psycho” Easton Ellis novel of the same title, about as bleak and fucked-up as the movie. The James Van Der Beek character was even supposed to be John Bateman’s kid brother.
It may have been marketed wrongly afterwards, but this is not a case of a director running wild with the original source: Avary did exactly what he was being paid for.