From blockbuster sequels to bold arthouse fare, plenty of recent films have provoked strong responses from their proponents and detractors. Sometimes a film boasts objectively great craftsmanship but divisive ideas, other times something is beloved by casual fans despite not being critics’ cup of tea. In other cases, a box-office smash with a plum CinemaScore is excoriated by critics, whose credibility in the eyes of said ticket buyers, who may be skeptical of reviewers, ebbs yet again.
Last year, Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated “Elvis” drew a deep line in the sand: The rock ‘n roll epic starring Austin Butler shook up more than $288 million at the global box office and an A- CinemaScore despite wildly mixed reviews dating back to its Cannes 2022 premiere. For a 2022 awards season contrast, Todd Field’s “TÁR” starring Cate Blanchett conducted its way to $29 million worldwide despite almost universally flat-out-stunned reviews.
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The full-blown return of theaters and summer tentpoles in 2023 opened up even bigger divides between critics and moviegoers. The year’s top-grossing family film by a long shot is the animated IP cash-grab “The Super Mario Bros.,” a movie critics weren’t especially warm to despite the massive audience response. The cynically conceived film beat out more critically friendly animated features like Pixar’s Cannes debut “Elemental,” making a Nintendo Cinematic Universe all but inevitable.
Of course, the summer wasn’t a total loss for cinephiles. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” both road a wave of overwhelmingly positive reviews (and, if we’re being honest, memes) to save the summer box office. But after providing the world with concrete evidence that creatively serious movies can thrive, they might end up making the online discourse around the next lucrative critical bomb even more acrimonious.
Keep reading for 31 of the most divisive films in recent memory, from both a fan and critical perspective, and then watch them all so you can form your own opinions. Entries are listed in no particular order.
With editorial contributions by Zack Sharf and Christian Zilko.
[Editor’s note: This article was published in July 2021 and has been updated multiple times since.]
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