The Filmbuff’s Vaults: Top 10 summer blockbusters that were not that bad

By Morgan Leger

Every year, movie-goers get hyped up for the summer releases they are dying to see and they hunger for a trailer, rumors, or even a poster or two during the holiday season. However, once the wait is over, there is another element they heavily depend on right before they make the final decision to head out on a night to the big screen: the film critic.
There are those that agree with their opinion and some that think differently. Still, there happens to a huge majority of viewers go by what critics say or the popular opinion. Today, it’s rare to get a chance to form your own opinion without hearing about some film being over-exaggerated as being good or bad.
Personally, there is a vast amount of blockbusters I believe that are never given the treatment others like Star Wars deserve. They do get a positive cult following but the negative reputation they received upon release is still there. Presented here is a rough idea of some over-hyped, overlooked summer blockbusters that are not as half bad as most critics and viewers say they are.

10. Howard the Duck (1986)
Over the years, this misunderstood mallard has gained a better audience, but some still tend to label this as one of “worst movies of all time.” Besides, how can one take the idea of an alien duck being beamed to Earth by a laser too seriously? It plays as more of a B-movie with a zany plot and a cast of likable characters, with the exception of Tim Robbin’s annoying comic relief. The only gripe I have is how the character Howard distances himself from the cynical and paunchy self he was once portrayed in the Marvel comic this film is based on. The movie goes for a softer approach. Overall, it’s a film I enjoy watching that deserves a second chance, which over time it certainly got.

9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Regarded as the weakest of the Elm Street franchise, it’s a decent watch in my books. Instead of continuing the storyline from the last installment, it separates itself and tries to have a little fun. The comic book-like tone gives Freddy a more cartoony approach and the movie tends to play more as a comedy horror with the exception of the deaths being humorous (like Breckin Meyer getting killed by Freddy’s own Nintendo system). The only disappointment I had was the final act where it transitions to 3D. It plays with the “point stuff at the audience” clichés creatively, but the technique is still a cliché itself and falls short at times. Compared to today’s 3D films where we’ve seen alien worlds and toys popping out at us, it’s not that impressive. Even the death of the dream demon himself is not that spectacular, but at least Wes Craven’s New Nightmare made up for it. Overall, it’s good for laughs but a tough one to recommend to fans.

8. Armageddon (1998)
Many tend to fear the name Michael Bay these days. The director himself has a way of loading his features with paper-thin plots that are disguised by explosive special effects and well shot action scenes. Although some tend to disregard his early work as a waste of time, I find it to be more engaging than his recent work. A good example is “Armageddon,” a typical disaster movie about a massive asteroid that is going to collide with Earth and the recruits hired to prevent the collision. We get treated to big names like Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck who do some good acting, but the only downfall is the first half where we are introduced to the characters. It plays off as being comical for a while and the dramatic stuff doesn’t come until they get in space. It feels like two genres were slapped together and the result is something a little uneven. Also, the scientific information present is inaccurate and interestingly enough, Paramount had a similar film released called “Deep Impact” a few months before. The only difference between the two films is that Michael Bay’s space odyssey went on to be named the highest grossing picture of 1998, was nominated for four Oscars, and even got a Criterion DVD made. Aside from its flaws, it’s harmless compared to his later work.

7. Dinosaur (2000)
This was Disney’s first, and subsequently last, hybrid movie which combined computer generated imagery with live-action backgrounds. The result is something visually impressive and it’s also the first flaw. At times, it feels like the effort was placed into the special effects rather than storytelling and it obviously shows. The plot has some similarities to “The Land Before Time,” but instead has an orphaned iguanodon joining a dinosaur herd while migrating to a new home. His foster family full of lemurs tags along as well. That is basically the entirety of the plot in a nutshell. The characters all have dialogue in the feature, which causes the film to lose some realistic feel. They were originally going to be voiced by noises, but Michael Eisner thought it was too risky. Critics and families alike questioned the dark nature of this Disney tale which differed from the other films. In fact, I was surprised to see the level of violence they went with ranging from dinosaur corpses to bloody wounds. Despite this, I still recommend it, but to an older crowd.

6. Coneheads (1993)
After the success of Wayne’s World, Paramount decided to revive these classic SNL sketches into a full-length film. They dealt with two aliens from another planet trying to live a normal life despite the fact they have big cone-shaped heads that makes them stand out. The viewers are treated to Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain reprising their roles as Beldar and Pryaamat, two spies from the fictional planet Remulack whose plan to take over Earth backfires once they crash land in New Jersey. The remainder of the feature mostly focuses on them trying to live a normal life among the normal humans, tend to their teenage daughter, and avoid getting caught by the INS. The movie greatly relies on countless puns and jokes that are funny, but I tend to ask where the plot is in all of this. However, when they finally do get to go back to their home planet, it switches from a comedy to a science fiction parody that takes itself seriously. It goes back and forth between the genres, blends the two together and leaves one to wonder what type of a movie this was. Still, it does have some good moments with Chris Farley interacting with the alien family and David Space and Michael McKean as two INS agents that are trying to track down illegal immigrants. While it does handle the topic of immigration in the plot, it’s only meant to be taken humorously.

5. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000)
Many have regarded this movie to retain the true spirit and style of the classic cartoon, but many critics felt it wasn’t as funny or engaging as the animated series. Personally, I felt it was an interesting and fresh concept to have the cartoon clichés used in the real world and moments where it broke the fourth wall were unique. Instead of having a movie set in their world, the famed moose and squirrel are transported to our reality. The film satirizes our modern life, but it mostly deals with television. The hilarious but cruel dictator Fearless Leader (Robert DeNiro) plans to launch a 24 hour broadcasting station that not only brain washes its viewers but also controls them. The concept itself works perfectly here with non-stop puns and hilarious jabs at pop culture favorites. The casting is just top notch with Reene Russso and Jason Alexander making a great Boris and Natasha. However, this is a move is that meant to be taken for fun and not seriously. Having a computer animated Rocky and Bullwinkle seems a little bothersome from time to time. Still, it does pack some laughs and is worth a look.

4. Small Soldiers (1998)
Joe Dante’s moderate summer hit about a bunch of militant toys that go lethal is classic. It begins when a toy company emerges with a high-tech industry and decides to launch two toy lines without any hesitation. Thanks to a misunderstanding, both action figure sets contain a microchip that is highly advanced and was planned for military use. Now, we have a bunch of mini Commandos that will stop at nothing to see their programmed enemy destroyed; a group of monsters called Gorgonites. This is a good example of when a film has a perfect balance of story and special effects. It makes fun of the toy industry and shows how the industry can mishandle their products in disastrous proportions. The choice in cast is a great one ranging from Tommy Lee Jones as the voice of Chip Hazard, leader of the villainous Commandoes, to the ever hilarious Phil Hartman in his final role. Despite this, it was given a lot of criticism not only for violence, but for how such an edgy picture was targeted towards kids. I have fond memories of walking into a Burger King and seeing it littered with posters and images of the characters. My only concern is that the living toy concept is creative and fresh for kids but the edgy tone lingers to an older audience. Even the DVD I came across once was placed in the family section. My advice is to screen it before the eight years olds get home, but to be honest it tends to be fairly tame compared to today’s material.

3. Waterworld (1995)
Unfortunately, I have the courage to say that I’m one of the few that enjoys this movie. Many did not enjoy it. In a nutshell, picture “Mad Max” but instead of a wasteland the entire planet is covered in water. Kevin Costner plays a loner that reluctantly saves a girl and her caretaker who may hold the answer to where land exists. Personally, there are a few things that still make this movie enjoyable. First, Dennis Hopper makes a great villain with his portrayal of the Deacon, the leader of a group of ruthless pirates called Smokers (because the constantly use cigarettes…go figure) who will stop at nothing to seek out the last piece of dry land. His acting and delivery of dialogue make this baddie worthy of seeing. Second, there is in fact a longer cut that surpasses the choppy and empty feel of the theatrical cut. During the hampered production, about 40 minutes of scenes and important plot points were hacked from the final cut. Within these cut scenes is a great amount of character development, extra information of the apocalyptic world, and moments that made Kevin’s protagonist a more sympathetic character. It is available on DVD, though Universal decided to be cheap and use a master of the television edit rather than embark on a professional restoration project. So while viewers get to see the better version, some minor edits occur with swearing and violent shots cut to please the FCC. On a plus, this is the better version I highly recommend. “Waterworld” is a movie that is worth a second look.

2. Last Action Hero (1993)
Picture this: Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Jack Slater, the main character of a fictional action franchise that Danny (Austin O’Brien) loves. When given the chance to see the new sequel, his friend the projectionist gives him a ticket that he claims to have gotten from Houdini and is possibly magic. The ticket allows him to leap from his seat and into the movie universe of his favorite action hero. In a nutshell, it’s a creative premise with some flukes. When Danny first enters the world of Jack Slater, he tries to convince him that he is in a movie rather than go along with the feature. At times, there are moments when it can be funny, but it’s mostly annoying. Things get better near the final act when the film’s villain discovers the ticket and uses it to break out in the real world. Filled with some solid parodies of famous action clichés and a lot of great moments where the movie breaks the fourth wall, this parody tends to take itself too seriously at times. While it was creative, it wasn’t a hit in 1993 as Columbia tried all they could to make this a summer hit. From destroying the negative comment cards from test screenings to poor word of mouth advertising, it was eventually stomped by Jurassic Park, which was released a week before. “Last Action Hero” eventually went from financial disappointment to having a decent cult following. All I can say is that if you want a movie where fantasy and stuff blowing up collide, this is your type of film.

1. Godzilla (1998)
I know what you are thinking. How could this monstrosity get number one? How could something so hated get the top spot? Check back next week to find out.

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