What IS a "popcorn movie"--and what isn't?

I’ve heard this term tossed about, but what exactly makes for a “popcorn movie”?

Are we talking brainless fluff with no artistic merits–yet is fun to watch?
Something so implausible you have to squelch your inner critic?
Sophomoric humor?
Hardcore action flicks with no redeeming values?
Basically, movies you’d be embarrassed to admit enjoying, but you really did enjoy?

Please give examples of great popcorn movies of present/past.

popcorn movie = a movie tht you ren’t meant to solely enjoy it as a story told on sreen.
Not a popcorn movie = A movie that requires you to think or covers disturbing subject matter that eating during it is distasteful.

Popcorn = Superman, Pirates, CARS, etc…

Not popcorn = Hotel Rwanda, Squid and the Whale, etc.

ohh tooo early to type… the first sentence should read-
popcorn movie = a movie that you are meant to solely enjoy as a story told on sreen.

I used to have a separate category called Milk Dud movies - those that weren’t “serious” or “message” pictures but had a plot that you really had to chew over/. Say, mystery thrillers where the mystery was the thing and not a lot of cheap psychodrama. The last one I can think of was The Spanish Prisoner.

Anymore you pretty much have to have a layer of gut-wrenching violence in any picture that’s not meant to be complete fluff, so the day of the Milk Dud movie may be over.

In my mind the distinction is that a popcorn movie is one that doesn’t engross you so deeply as to distract you from eating your popcorn.

Put another way: if the act of chewing something crunchy causes you to miss some dialogue but doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the movie, it’s a popcorn flick.

Or even, if you can leave your seat in the middle of the movie, stand in line with the others doing so, and come back some time later at the start of another action scene without caring much what you missed, it’s a popcorn flick.

There are popcorn books, as well. Most - not all, certainly, but most - genre books are popcorn, and some are much more popcorn than others.

Cars? A popcorn movie?

I object, sir!

It’s not actually considered gauche to eat popcorn at a serious or tragic movie, is it? To be honest, I don’t think it’d even occur to me not to buy popcorn for something like Hotel Rwanda-- it’s just an instinctual part of my moviegoing experience.

I did find it odd when the folks sitting in front of us in An Inconvenient Truth pulled out the mega tubs o’ popcorn…

Personally I rolled up to the front in my H1 (no underpowered substitutes for me), had a meal of Chilean Sea Bass delivered to me, and spent most of the movie talking on the phone to my commodites broker about the cost of oil. I didn’t really catch much of the movie–some kind of thriller starring Orson Welles or maybe that first officer guy from Star Trek, I think, though there were a heck of a lot of PowerPoint presentations–but I sure made a killing in petrol. I’m going to bleed those suckers until they bleed pennies at the pump!

Popcorn Movie: a big budget, exuberant movie with a relatively simple plot that doesn’t inspire much in the way of post-viewing analysis, a lot of action setpieces and F/X (preferably with periodic random explosions), cartoon villians who have no real hope of accomplishing their world-dominating plans, henchmen or disposable side characters whose death has little impact upon the main characters, and almost invariably a male hero for whom women will drop trou and attempt to become impregnated within thirty seconds of meeting him. Plausibility is not a significant criteria in evaluating a popcorm movie; continuity is only a moderately critical measure. The ability for the plot to pass quickly without your noting the flaws in these things (i.e. how did Indy get off the submarine, into the pen, out of the water, and dressed without being seen and before the sub was tied up?) is crucial. In a popcorn movie you accept the screenwriter’s ellipsis without thought and move on to the next setpiece.

A critical criteria is that they have little or no overreaching social message or deep, timeless themes; a movie like Rear Window or Goodfellas can’t really qualify as a Popcorn Movie because there’s just too much thematic density. (Besides, Goodfellas only has two explosions and Rear Window doesn’t even have a single shooting.)

Popcorn movies can be bad (The Island, Moonraker), very bad (Armegeddon, Die Another Day), decent and amusing (Lethal Weapon, For Your Eyes Only), or timeless classics (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Goldfinger) though, as with all films, only a small minority fit into the last category.

And if it isn’t utterly clear, all Bond movies are Popcorn Movie icons practically by default. Only On Her Majesty’s Secret Service even seeks to elevate itself beyond that with its tragic love story.

IMHO, the tragically underseen and underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written and directed by Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black) is a great Popcorn Movie, all the moreso for deliberately confusing the plot (then having the main character explain it out for you in bite-size pieces) and for setting up powerful moments (the detective getting back at the abusive father) then showing you how he’s manipulating the audience (“See how he slapped the old guy around? That was harsh, right? Yeah, whatever, anyway…”) into getting invested into this totally fictional, button-pushing exchange. I guess it’s kind of the Meta-Popcorn Movie, where instead of just eating the popcorn you get to analyze it and figure out why it tastes so good.


You had me until putting The Island in the bad category. It wasn’t genius, and it won’t endure. But it wasn’t a waste of two hours of sitting on my ass time. It was fun implausibility, and a joy to second guess the plot and what enjoyable absurdity would happen next.

That, and Buscemi was hilarious.

I always thought the meaning was pretty well described by Albert Brooks’ big-budget movie producer character in I’ll Do Anything:

“I don’t make movies for theaters that serve cappuccino in the lobby. I make popcorn movies”

That’s funny because a lot of large multiplexes now serve cappuccino in the lobby.

Excellent analysis by Stranger that I agree with completely. The guy really knows his stuff! :slight_smile: