You’d think it would be self-evident that there’s no way to tell whether a movie is good or bad until actually seeing it, but it’s not always the case. Although it’s increasing in fervor lately, the anticipatory intensity leading up to a movie’s release has always swayed movie fans’ perception one way or the other.
Sometimes the pre-conceived notions of a movie’s quality are accurate, sometimes things thought to be sure-thing masterpieces are anything but. Sometimes, things everyone spends months dreading turn out to be terrific; the stellar reviews for The LEGO Movie indicate that it may very well be one of them, and even the Robocop remake, getting some positive early notices, might be one as well.
Here are five more movies we all covered our heads for before seeing the light.
Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond yielded one legit Bond classic (Goldeneye) and a handful of divisive but commercially successful efforts. It also meant that the search for his replacement, when he left the franchise, was extremely high profile. When Daniel Craig—then best known for his work in the cult hit Layer Cake—was selected, there was an absolute uproar among Bond fans, many convinced that a blond could never be James Bond, who had always, all the way back to Sean Connery’s toupee, been portrayed by dark-haired actors.
Then Casino Royale came out and Martin Campbell‘s nimble direction, the script’s unconventionally episodic but keenly paced structure, Eva Green, and, oh yeah, some blond guy who was awesome in the lead all carried the picture to stratospheric box office grosses and some of the best reviews of the series’ career. Turns out Craig was more than up to 007’s task.
The Social Network
The word that a movie was going to be made about Facebook (Facebook!) met with great skepticism and derision by anyone who’d spent more than five minutes on the site. Jokes abounded: who was the villain going to be, someone who wouldn’t stop “poking” all their friends (and yes, this was long enough that “poking” was still a thing on Facebook)? Was there going to be a white-knuckle, thrilling chase through several ex-romantic partners concluding with a triumphant revelation of an old high school flame now bald and doughy? Even the subsequent revelation that “the Facebook movie” would be directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin, and focus on the founding of Facebook led to head-scratching: there’s a movie in that?
Turns out, yes, there was.
Fincher’s glittering visual style and darkly cynical tone merged with Sorkin’s clever wordplay to make a movie that captured its particular moment in history more aptly than just about any other ever made. It suffered a near-shutout at the Oscars, but a sterling display at the box office and being one of the best American films of the last twenty years cushioned the blow somewhat, one imagines.
The Last Temptation of Christ
A different, and more serious, kind of dread than induced by the earlier films on this list, Martin Scorsese‘s years-in-the-making adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel was regarded, sight unseen, by Christian leaders as heresy. A group of radical French Christians even firebombed a theater in which the film was playing, certainly one of the harsher acts of film criticism on record.
For audiences less consumed by zealotry, it’s difficult to quite grasp the enormity of this revulsion. The film itself presents a very human (dare one even say “likable”?) Jesus of Nazareth, and is told in an unusual, stylized—if a bit rough around the edges—fashion by Scorsese, forswearing typical “Bible movie” conventions, seeming almost like filmed theatre in places. It’s now accepted (by those not permanently alienated by its presentation of a not-necessarily-divine Jesus) as an interesting auteur experiment, as it has by now probably not brought about the End Times.
Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman & Robin defies hyperbole, in being one of the rare all-time stinkers that really is every bit as bad as its reputation. Being as awful as it was, plans to continue the Batman film franchise were delayed, directors replaced, and ideas discarded for the better part of the next decade. When Batman Begins loomed in 2005, Christopher Nolan had still only directed two features, neither of which was a huge blockbuster, and was thus a mostly unknown entity (if you can even imagine). With memories of the Schumacher travesties still lingering, all but the most ardent Batman diehards approached the new entry with varying degrees of dread, cynicism, or indifference.
Nolan’s somber take on the character may have been excessively so at times, but he unquestionably changed the entire way comic book movies are regarded by popular audiences. Nolan’s trilogy found a balance between taking the material seriously as literature while honoring a tradition of action and superhero gadgetry that allowed its audience to have fun without feeling silly. It’s a fun blockbuster that still feels like a “real” movie. It’s just such a balance that billion dollar grosses are made from.
Its status as an all-time classic now obscures its origins as a deeply stressful, expensive project that a fledgling head of production pinned on a relatively obscure young director who proceeded to insist on a wildly uncommercial artistic process. From the moment Robert Evans bought the rights from Mario Puzo to (allegedly) bail him out of trouble with less-than-legitimate creditors through to when Francis Ford Coppola’s shadowy gangster epic starring supposed has-been Marlon Brando and supposed never-would-be Al Pacino hit the screen, it was widely considered to be a wildly ill-conceived disaster.
Suffice to say, it was not that. It’s The Godfather.