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Watch ‘The Disaster Artist,’ Then Watch These Movies

Recommendations inspired by James Franco’s biopic about Tommy Wiseau and the making of ‘The Room.’
By  · Published on December 9th, 2017

Recommendations inspired by James Franco’s biopic about Tommy Wiseau and the making of ‘The Room.’

If you see The Disaster Artist without first watching The Room, afterward you may want to catch up with Tommy Wiseau’s notoriously bad cult classic. Or you might feel you’ve seen enough (plus side-by-side scene re-creations). Personally, I don’t wish to encourage its viewing, no matter how well-intentioned the mockery and ironic enjoyment. Instead, I’ve selected 13 other movies below to watch after you’ve seen the James Franco-helmed depiction of the true Hollywood tale.

Boo (1932)

James Franco and Seth Rogen love to laugh at movies meant to be serious. Rogen became an early fan of The Room‘s raucous midnight screenings that kicked off its status as an unintentional comedy hit, howling at Wiseau’s folly. And at the 2009 Oscars, the duo appeared as their Pineapple Express characters in Judd Apatow’s montage about comedies from the previous year, and among the selections they laughed at hysterically were the heavy dramas Doubt and The Reader.

They might appreciate this short from Universal Pictures that pokes fun at a few horror movies, including the 1922 version of Nosferatu and their own titles Frankenstein and The Cat Creeps. The format involves a narrator mocking elements of the three works while talking over select clips. Of course, these movies are all actually great (well, I can’t speak for the otherwise lost The Cat Creeps), so especially today much of the humor falls flat. But it’s the earliest precursor I know of to something like Mystery Science Theater 3000, which probably would riff on The Room had it not already become a big deal on its own.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) and All About Eve (1950)

Two of the best movies about Hollywood were released only a couple months apart in 1950. First was Sunset Boulevard, which is about former silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) looking to make a comeback with a movie she’s written. The problem is, the script is terrible and the poor woman is delusional about the project and her possible return to the limelight. Tommy Wiseau is like a real-life Desmond, save for the successful past. Both characters even display jealousy at their younger collaborator having another life and love interest on the side.

Franco revealed Sunset Boulevard as an influence in a video for Alamo Drafthouse, stating:

“Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond is one of the best characters and one of the best performances ever. This is one of my favorite movies. As a movie that sort of takes on Hollywood, it both celebrates and critiques it. The way that Norma Desmond is so delusional about her status, who she is, the way the movie and her ideas of the movies and performance and who she is starts to blur the line between reality and fiction and all of that, is very pertinent to The Room and Tommy’s story and what we were trying to do.”

As for All About Eve, tension between old and young is the focus of the story. Here the plot follows a Broadway star (Bette Davis) as she mentors a fan (Anne Baxter) who aspires to have a similar career. Eventually the younger actress rises in stardom and eclipses the older woman. None of that really happens in The Disaster Artist, not exactly, but Tommy Wiseau does take the younger actor Greg Sestero under his wing and becomes jealous when Greg lands a sitcom gig, indicating he was potentially advancing past his friend and mentor.

The Producers (1967)

Another veteran entertainment icon is at the center of Mel Brooks’s directorial debut. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) is, like Norma Desmond, a once-notable has-been. But like the Bette Davis character in All About Eve, his arena is the Broadway stage. Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) come up with a plan to devise a certain flop, which will net them more money than a hit show would. The supposed sure-thing disaster is a musical about and celebrating Nazi Germany called “Springtime for Hitler.”

Similar to the fate of The Room, the terrible production actually becomes popular as a comedy. Audiences mistake the musical for a satire, and it turns out to be a smash hit. The difference in The Disaster Artist is that Wiseau didn’t mean to make a bad movie, but he did, and yet audiences also embraced it as something beyond bad — so bad it’s good — anyway. The Producers does have a playwright character who intended “Springtime for Hitler” to be taken more seriously, though, and unlike Wiseau is upset when it’s viewed incorrectly. Perhaps one day, The Disaster Artist can itself be remade as a musical, like The Producers was on both stage and screen.

Ed Wood (1994)

Before Tommy Wiseau arrived, Ed Wood was probably the most famous bad filmmaker. He was responsible for such laughable duds as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Bride of the Monster, and like Wiseau he eventually wound up being a cult favorite. I think the appreciation for Wood’s movies involve a more affectionate and historical response than the rapid sensation of The Room. They also are a more collective curiosity than Wiseau’s singular phenomenon.

That’s one of the reasons Tim Burton’s biopic on Wood is more interesting as a look at the filmmaker and his career rather than just one bad production. Johnny Depp is also a greater delight in his portrayal of the title character. Where James Franco plays Wiseau as a well-acted impersonation, Depp’s campy performance is of a character based on Wood that he makes all his own. Also, the rest of the movie’s ensemble, including Martin Landau, Bill Murray, and Patricia Arquette, is absolute perfection, unlike The Disaster Artist‘s grouping of uninteresting supporting players.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.