Critically hated movies that are actually awesome

Film critics are great. But they're just people, and every so often, they'll misinterpret a movie, write a rotten review, and pan a film that's kind of incredible. Sometimes, an ambitious movie comes along and manages to draw the ire of nearly every critic on the planet. These unfortunate films are kicked into the gutter and largely forgotten by audiences, which is a shame because they're secretly amazing. So today, we're ignoring the haters and looking at films that were wrongly roasted. From stoner romances to mythological adventures, here are some critically hated movies that are actually awesome.

Hook (1991)

It seems like everybody hates Hook. It's widely regarded as one of Steven Spielberg's worst movies, and even the director himself has disparaged the film. Film critics have savaged this Peter Pan story as bloated, messy, and sappy, but maybe that's because they've all grown up and forgotten what it's like to have an imagination.

If you lived through the '90s, then you probably know the story revolves around Peter Pan (Robin Williams) as an adult. He's changed his name, started a family, become a lawyer, and totally forgotten about his adventures in Neverland. But when his children are kidnapped by the notorious Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), Peter is forced to fly, fight, and crow if he ever wants to see his kids again.

Granted, Hook is nowhere close to being one of Spielberg's best, but for a film about childhood, it deals with some surprisingly mature themes like unrequited love, growing older, and the inevitability of death. It's a film about dysfunctional families and abandoned kids, and according to Evan Saathoff of Birth.Movies.Death., Hook was a "very personal movie for Spielberg, a reaction to his fears that his heavy workload was robbing him of time with his children…."

In addition to the deep stuff going on behind the surface, Hook is pure Spielbergian entertainment. The sets—which are quite obviously sets—are grand, ornate, and wonderfully larger-than-life, which is fitting for a story that was first a stage play. And while a lot of critics piled on Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, you can't deny that Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, and Dustin Hoffman are absolutely perfect in their parts. Plus, the John Williams score is pure magic, and it's always a treat to go back and hang out with the great Robin Williams.

Alien 3 (1992)

When first-time director David Fincher was hired for Alien 3, the movie was already majorly behind schedule, there wasn't a finished script, and the studio had lost several million dollars on the project. Worse still, Fincher was severely hampered by micro-managing producers at Fox, and when the film clocked in around three hours long, the studio forced him to cut about 30 minutes of material.

As a result, the director disavowed the film, but he wasn't the only one who hated Alien 3. Fans are still furious about the deaths of Hicks and Newt, and most critics savaged the film, saying it was style over substance. Today, it's often considered the film that sent the franchise into a tailspin, but while it's true that Alien 3 puts a lot of emphasis on atmosphere, that's what makes it one of the most fascinating movies of Fincher's storied career.

Set in a dreary wasteland that screams Mad Max, this third installment is dark, grungy, and beautifully barren, a cinematic nightmare that—as pointed out by film critic Scout Tafoya—evokes the works of painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. On top of that, Fincher's film is so nihilistic that it makes True Detective look like Parks and Recreation. And as Scott Wampler of Birth.Movies.Death. notes, this bleak tone is way more in line with Ridley Scott's original than James Cameron's sequel.

Plus, Sigourney Weaver is at the top of her game here, playing a more cynical Ripley who bravely comes to terms with her inevitable fate. True, the Dragon Xenomorph looks a little janky now and then. And yeah, the forced edits take away from the overall story (of course, you can check out the Assembly Cut to get a feel for Fincher's original vision), but despite the drawbacks, Alien 3 is a visually brilliant world of criminal monks and fiery hellscapes, a film that could've been the perfect ending for a landmark series.

The Cell (2000)

Directed by Tarsem Singh, The Cell is not a movie for everyone. In fact, it wasn't a movie for most critics when it hit theaters in 2000. According to the official blurb on Rotten Tomatoes, the film "is undermined by a weak and shallow plotline that offers nothing new." True, you can tell The Cell is borrowing from movies like The Silence of the Lambs—but man, it is it borrowing with panache.

Hailed by Roger Ebert—one of the few critics who actually liked it—as "one of the best films of the year," The Cell tells the story of Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), a child psychologist who uses some impressive tech to enter the subconscious of a comatose boy, hoping to bring him back into the real world. Thanks to her unique set of skills, she's asked by an FBI agent (Vince Vaughn) to explore the mind of an unconscious serial killer named Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio).

Before suffering from a seizure, Stargher imprisoned a girl in a bizarre death trap, and now she only has hours left to live. Deane is tasked with finding her whereabouts, but this is easier said than done. Stargher's subconscious is a nightmare world of torture devices, horned monsters, and living dolls that resemble his victims. It's an S&M fever dream where corpses are bathed in blood, horses are dissected with glass slides, and men have their intestines slowly pulled from their bodies.

Yeah, The Cell is totally depraved, but it's oh so gorgeous to look at. As pointed out by Andre Dumas of The Horror Digest, Stargher's subconscious is a horrific tribute to artists like Damien Hirst, Odd Nerdrum, and H.R. Giger. And if you're into costumes, then you're in for a grotesque treat, as designer Eiko Ishioka has created a world of muscular red jumpsuits, demonic purple wings, massive golden crowns, and sadistic sci-fi masks. Better still, the sets are practical, the performances are on point, and the result is something big, bloody, and perversely beautiful.

The Hunted (2003)

When it comes to nail-biters, William Friedkin is one of the best in the business. After all, he's the guy who made The French Connection and The Exorcist, and in The Hunted, he gives us a chase movie for the ages, with a grizzled Tommy Lee Jones tracking a psychotic Benicio Del Toro through the Oregon woods. Sure, the movie has a lousy 29 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but come on. Jones and Del Toro get into a knife fight. What more you do need to know?

As for the plot, the story follows a tired tracker named L.T. Bonham (Jones). He used to teach Special Ops soldiers how to kill, but unfortunately, his training was a little too good. After seeing some pretty horrible things overseas, his old pupil Aaron Hallam (Del Toro) has lost his mind and now spends his time picking off deer hunters. So Bonham is brought in to give his student one last lesson. And did we mention that Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro get into a knife fight?

The veteran actor is amazing as the weary survivalist, a man who knows what he has to do, but that doesn't mean he has to enjoy it. As for Del Toro, he's both scary and sympathetic as a man who's seen and spilled far too much blood. Friedkin expertly follows these two as they chase each other down, and when it comes down to the final showdown, there are no showy ninja moves here. It's painful, brutal, and in your face, which pretty much sums up the entire feel of this underrated thriller.

Man on Fire (2004)

Directed by Tony Scott, Man on Fire is a cool blue revenge story that explodes into flame whenever Denzel Washington gets angry. The two-time Oscar winner plays a washed-up, alcoholic bodyguard named Creasey who gets a shot at redemption when he's hired to protect a nine-year-old girl named Pita (Dakota Fanning) who's living in Mexico City. The two soon develop an adorable bond, but Creasey's happiness is snatched away when gangsters kidnap Pita for ransom.

That's when Creasey transforms into the ultimate badass. True, everybody in this movie—from Christopher Walken to Mickey Rourke—is fantastic, but really, this movie is all about Denzel. His character has suffered too much, felt too much pain over the years, and now he's ready to paint a masterpiece of revenge.

Quite a few critics feel the last half of the movie is too ugly and violent, but this is a movie about fathers and daughters, and what self-respecting dad wouldn't cut off a dude's finger if it meant getting justice for his kid? If you haven't seen Man on Fire, just ignore the rotten reviews. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but this is a movie best watched right now.

National Treasure (2004)

Hollywood rarely makes straight-up adventure movies these days, so it's a shame that National Treasure was ripped apart by critics. This Jerry Bruckheimer joint was described as "a fortune wasted," "a whole lot of hooey," and "rancid cinematic cheese," but that's more than a little bit harsh. Despite a few drawbacks, National Treasure is a lively popcorn flick that's equal parts Indiana Jones, Ocean's Eleven, and Hamilton (without the singing, of course).

The film follows Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage), a historian searching for a fabled lost treasure, and during his globe-trotting quest he learns there's a treasure map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, fellow treasure hunter Ian Howe (Sean Bean) decides to steal the Declaration, forcing Ben and his sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha) to break into the National Archives and get their hands on the document. With the Declaration in hand, Ben sets out across the stomping grounds of America's Founding Fathers, solving riddles and doing his best to avoid a barrage of bullets.

Granted, Nicolas Cage is miscast as the lead, and somebody should've realized there were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence (not 55), but National Treasure really shines when our heroes are puzzling over codes and trying to piece together clues. "Cleverness can be overrated," wrote Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post, "but it can be underrated too, and the best thing about National Treasure is how clever it is." There's invisible ink, hidden ciphers, and glasses invented by Benjamin Franklin, not to mention conspiracies involving the Masons and the Knights Templar. Plus, Sean Bean, Diane Kruger, and Harvey Keitel are all fun to watch as they help and hinder Cage in his quest to find the world's biggest pile of gold.

Constantine (2005)

When Constantine was released in 2005, it had a devil of a time with moviegoers. It lost money at the domestic box office, and critics did their best to exorcise the film from theaters, describing it as "confusing," "torturously slow," and "entirely beyond redemption." Of course, it's pretty clear those critics were in league with Lucifer, as Constantine is one hell of a movie.

Granted, it doesn't have much in common with Hellblazer—the comic it's super loosely based on—but nevertheless, it's an amazingly fun film noir about a chain-smoking cynic who deports demons for entirely selfish reasons. As a kid, he attempted suicide, and now he's damned for all eternity. So his plan is to exorcise his way to heaven, and he finally gets a chance at saving his soul when a cop (Rachel Weisz) asks him to investigate the death of her psychic sister (also Rachel Weisz).

Directed by Francis Lawrence, Constantine plunges our hero into a world that's just as fantastic as the John Wick universe. Otherworldly beings spend their evenings at a supernatural club, Constantine blasts demons with a crucifix shotgun, and there's a scrawny scrounger who can get his hands on screaming scarabs or dragon's breath. In this freaky film, cats can guide you to the underworld, holy water is stored in five-gallon jugs, and angels dress to the nines in killer pinstripe suits.

And honestly, John Constantine is one of Reeves' best performances. The man is playing a mash-up between Sam Spade and Neo from The Matrix, expertly blending a snarky sense of humor, detached detective cool, and secret side of antihero empathy. Then there's Tilda Swinton as an incredibly suave Gabriel and Peter Stormare as the sleaziest Satan of all time. With all that awesomeness, it's baffling the movie did so poorly, but to all the critics who've hated this film, Constantine has a little message for you.

Hot Rod (2007)

In this Lonely Island production, comedian Andy Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a wannabe stuntman who can't even clear the city pool on his moped. But despite his constant failures, Rod refuses to give up on his daredevil dreams. Unfortunately, things get complicated when Rod's stepdad Frank (Ian McShane) needs money to pay for heart surgery. Rod desperately wants to save Frank's life—so he can win his respect by finally defeating him in hand-to-hand combat—so he decides to leap over 15 buses and use the money he'll earn to save his stepdad's life so he can turn around and beat him to death.

With his dedicated group of friends—nerdy half-brother Kevin (Jorma Taccone), laidback Dave (Bill Hader), and TV-snatching Rico (Danny McBride)—Rod prepares for the stunt of his life, all while trying to impress his pretty neighbor Denise (Isla Fisher). Along the way, there's an amazing Footloose parody, a peaceful march that descends into anarchy, and perhaps the greatest falling-down-a-hill-scene in cinematic history. We also guarantee that after watching this film, you'll never hear the phrase "cool beans" the same way again, and you certainly won't ever challenge a taco to a fight.

But most importantly, the movie works so well because it's so darn sincere. As Jacob Knight of Birth.Movies.Death. put it, Hot Rod has "a natural balance of absolute absurdity and genuine warmth." It's sweet and strangely touching, portraying Rod as a real hero you want to see succeed so he can punch his stepdad through a wall. In other words, despite most critics blasting the film as "low-witted" and "just plain lazy," Hot Rod will live on in the hearts of fans because it's just too legit to quit.

Knowing (2009)

There's no denying that Nicolas Cage has had a checkered career, but faithful fans are rewarded every so often with a legitimately great movie like Joe, Adaptation, Bad Lieutenant…or Knowing.

Yep, we said it. Though almost every film critic wishes this movie would perish in an extinction-level event, Knowing is genuinely thrilling and poses some interesting philosophical questions. When it's not freaking you out, it's making you think, and that's exactly what the best science fiction films do. Granted, we're not saying it's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but we are saying that Roger Ebert—really the only major critic who championed the movie—once wrote, "Knowing is among the best science-fiction films I've seen—frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome."

The plot revolves around a rational professor named John Koestler whose son (Chandler Canterbury) discovers a 50-year-old document covered in numbers. Despite his skepticism, Koestler realizes these numbers are a code predicting the dates and death tolls of major disasters like 9/11. And as he digs deeper into the mystery, he realizes something bad is looming on the horizon, and with the unsettling appearance of some otherworldly strangers, Koestler begins questioning everything he's ever known about the universe.

With director Alex Proyas at the helm, Knowing is just brimming with dread, the same creeping kind of fear you'd find in a movie like Signs. Plus, as Ebert points out, the film grapples with concepts like free will vs. predestination, a deterministic universe vs. a random universe. You might not like where the movie eventually sides, but it's a film that takes chances and generates ideas that are well worth exploring after the credits roll.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

With a lousy 28 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, most critics thought Clash of the Titans was a mistake of mythological proportions. Even Sam Worthington—the dude who plays the protagonist—said the movie "let down some people."

But honestly, it seems these critics lost their sense of fun, because Clash of the Titans is a good, old-fashioned B-movie, a throwback to a time when Hollywood made adventure flicks that weren't exactly Oscar winners but could still charm you with crazy creatures, over-the-top set pieces, and a whole lot of imagination.

The story itself is pretty simple. Mankind is getting sick of the gods bossing them around, so they decide it's time to rebel. Of course, the gods don't approve, so they threaten to unleash the monstrous Kraken if the human king doesn't sacrifice his daughter. Desperate, the king turns to a demigod named Perseus (Worthington), asking him to find a way to kill the beast. And since Perseus has his own grudge with Mt. Olympus, our hero sets out an epic sword-and-sandals adventure, accompanied by Hannibal Lecter and Nux the War Boy.

Along the way, Perseus encounters a murderous Medusa, some oversized scorpions, and a trio of witches who wandered out of a Guillermo del Toro movie. He zips in between towers on a Pegasus, allies with a group of desert-dwelling jinn, and is forced to deal with all-powerful gods like Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). The Schindler's List bros are an absolute delight, turning the Shakespeare up to 11. Mix that in with a bunch of monsters and magic, and you can see how Clash of the Titans is the exactly kind of movie that might inspire the next George Lucas to make the next Star Wars.

Super (2010)

Before directing Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn put his stamp on the superhero genre with Super, an upbeat version of Taxi Driver where Juno and Dwight Schrute murder drug dealers with pipe bombs and Wolverine claws. Seriously, Deadpool and Logan feel like Sesame Street compared to Gunn's demented vision. But if you can stomach the gore, then you'll find yourself nervously chuckling along with one of the best—and nastiest—superhero satires.

The plot follows a schlubby cook named Frank (Rainn Wilson) whose wife (Liv Tyler, playing a recovering addict) has just left him for the world's sleaziest drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). But after receiving a vision from God—one involving razor blades and hentai tentacles—Frank believes it's his divine mission to become a superhero, fight crime, and rescue his wife from Kevin Bacon's clutches. And accompanying him on his quest is Libby (Ellen Page), a comic book nerd who has way too much fun breaking legs and bashing heads.

Disguised as the Crimson Bolt (with his kid sidekick, Boltie), Frank uses a pipe wrench to punish both child molesters and people who cut in line. The violence is shockingly hard to watch, and as a result, Super feels like we're watching a schizophrenic madman who's building towards a mass shooting. And it's that over-the-top bloodshed that angered so many critics. In fact, Roger Ebert hated the violence so much that he spoiled the ending in the first paragraph of his review.

Of course, the violence here is kind of the point. If superheroes existed in real-life, they wouldn't be the most stable people on the planet, and Wilson does an excellent job of showing Frank's pain. Page is equally good (and completely hilarious) as a cackling psychopath, and with Gunn behind the camera, Super is a savage and side-splitting response to every comic book movie to ever come out of Hollywood.

RoboCop (2014)

Remaking a classic is always an uphill battle, especially when that classic is a beloved sci-fi masterpiece like RoboCop. But while Jose Padilha's remake doesn't stand a chance against Paul Verhoeven's original, the 2014 version is definitely a film with its own style and its own ideas, taking the premise in some exciting new directions.

The film finds Joel Kinnaman as Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop who's been mortally wounded by a car bomb. With his corpse mangled beyond recognition, he's the perfect candidate for an experimental program that turns him into a sleek super cop, able to scan a crowd in a matter of seconds or take out a room full of goons with the lights off. But naturally, there's more going on with the RoboCop program than meets the eye, and soon enough, Murphy sets out to bring down the big bads, dead or alive.

Admittedly, Gary Oldman is no Miguel Ferrer, Jackie Earle Haley can't compare to Kurtwood Smith, and the PG-13 rating means no massive squibs. Still, the 2014 film has a lot of thoughts about the 21st-century world, focusing on the widespread use—and danger—of drone warfare. The satirical news sequences from the original have been swapped out with Fox News-style segments featuring an angry Samuel L. Jackson, but perhaps the most interesting update involves RoboCop's character arc.

In the 1987 film, Murphy starts off as a cold-blooded cyborg who slowly regains his humanity. But Padilha puts a nice twist on the story, with an emotional Murphy becoming more and more machine as the movie goes on, losing his ability to connect with others. The film also grapples with heady concepts like free will, and while it lags in a few places, it features an amazing in-the-dark shoot-out and a truly horrific sequence where Alex Murphy sees what's left of his body after a near-fatal explosion. And while it will never replace the original, the 2014 RoboCop takes enough bold chances that we'd totally buy it for a dollar.

American Ultra (2015)

Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, American Ultra was budgeted for $28 million but only made around $27 million…worldwide. Critics weren't wild about the film either, and did their very best to execute the stoner spy flick. One harsh review attacked the film as "a glib, juvenile exercise in violence for its own sake," while another said it was "mostly a waste of good weed and better actors."

But perhaps the haters were just too baked to fully comprehend what was happening onscreen. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh and written by Max Landis, American Ultra is one of the best relationship movies ever made, or as Amy Nicholson put it, it's "the most romantic film of the year."

Plus, a whole lot of people get killed in really cool ways. So that's an added bonus.

The film follows a slacker named Mike (Eisenberg) who's wasting his life by working in a convenience store and constantly getting high. But hey, at least the dude is in love. His girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) totally realizes Mike is a bit of a loser, but she's crazy about him anyway, despite his downsides. And that's good news for Mike, because he's going to need all the support he can get when a team of assassins shows up on his doorstep.

Unbeknownst to an amnesiac Mike, he's the only remaining member of a secret government project, and now the CIA wants to tie up loose ends. But the bad guys aren't aware that Mike has recently been activated, and now he's able to kill anybody with any object he can get his hands on, even though he's still totally confused about what's happening.

And sure, it's a blast watching Mike murder people with spoons and skillets, but the real highlight of the film is the relationship between Stewart and Eisenberg, a romance that Ignatiy Vishnevetsky described as "more credible than most onscreen relationships in recent memory." So while the Bourne-style battles are loads of fun, the glue that holds this film together is the sweet and sexy chemistry between this cannabis-loving couple.

Lost River (2015)

Lost River was Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, and critics didn't like it.

Strike that. They hated it.

According to Entertainment Weekly, when the film played at Cannes, "Boos reportedly drowned out the applause." And admittedly, Lost River has its problems, but it's bold, chancy, and ambitious—qualities we all want to see coming out of Hollywood. And if you're into beautifully surreal images, or if you just want to see an evil version of Doctor Who, then maybe this movie is right up your alley.

Starring Christina Hendricks, Ben Mendelsohn, and Saoirse Ronan, Lost River feels like a fairy tale, one that follows the plight of a small family surviving in a dystopian Detroit. But ultimately, what's so striking about the movie is the breathtaking imagery Gosling paints with his camera. We watch a flaming bicycle roll past the screen. A bloody Eva Mendes performs a macabre murder show. Matt Smith holds court atop his automobile throne. A boy sails onto a river full of half-submerged street lights.

It's pretty clear that Gosling has an eye for amazing visuals, and despite the vitriol hurled his way, Lost River is a worthy film for a first-time director, one that shows he might have a successful future if he ever steps behind the camera again.

The Bad Batch (2017)

They don't make movies like they used to…except for Ana Lily Amirpour. Her second feature film, The Bad Batch feels like George Miller, Sergio Leone, and Alejandro Jodorowsky all met up one blisteringly hot day, dropped a lot of acid, and decided to make the craziest post-apocalyptic western to ever play the midnight movie scene. It's bloody, brutal, and completely bonkers, the kind movie that'll make you lose your lunch and fall in love with cinema at the same time.

Set in the near-distant feature, The Bad Batch follows a young woman named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) who's been exiled from the US. Condemned to wander the wastelands, the tattooed girl with a fondness for short shorts ends up as the main course for a group of bodybuilding cannibals. But even though she loses a few limbs, Arlen manages to escape her captors, and after a bit of bloodshed, she picks up a little girl played by Jayda Fink.

Unfortunately, the kid's dad is Miami Man (Jason Momoa), cannibal king and artist extraordinaire who will do anything to find his missing daughter. In true Wild West fashion, Arlen and Miami Man eventually cross paths, and as they circle each other and stare—warily, lustfully, hungrily—they're forced to butt heads with The Dream (Keanu Reeves in all his mustachioed glory), a cult leader-cum-drug dealer surrounded by an army of Uzi-packing pregnant women.

Yeah, it's just as incredible as it sounds, and honestly, we have no clue how this flesh-fueled fever dream wound up with a 43 percent rating. The Bad Batch is a stark and disturbing throwback to '70s exploitation, one that's interested in ideas like who's evil, who's good, and what's in between. Plus, there's the eclectic soundtrack, a completely unrecognizable Jim Carrey, and a disgusting dinner scene that would make Leatherface gag, which means The Bad Batch is one of the craziest and coolest sci-fi films of 2017.

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Directed by Tony Scott, The Last Boy Scout had an infamously troubled production, largely thanks to the enormous number of rewrites that screenwriter Shane Black was forced to make. As a result, we're left with a movie that's messy, disjointed, and nowhere near as tight as Lethal Weapon or The Nice Guys. But even though it's a bit jumbled, The Last Boy Scout is a fascinating slice of action cinema, a movie full of insane little moments involving car bombs, helicopter blades, and foul-mouthed cat puppets.

It starts off with one of the most compelling openings you'll ever see in an action movie, with a drug-addled football player pulling a pistol in the middle of a game. From there, we're introduced to our heroes—cynical private investigator Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) and has-been quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans)—as they investigate the brutal murder of Dix's girlfriend, a stripper played by Halle Berry.

As the duo dig deeper into the case, they uncover a plot involving gambling and the NFL, but what's really important here is that Shane Black's dialogue is still clever as ever and the dynamic between Willis and Wayans is crackling with frenemy energy. True, the movie has a bit of a problem when it comes to its female characters, but on the positive side, Taylor Negron shows up as one of the very best Shane Black villains, and we're treated to a scene in which Bruce Willis murders a dude with the palm of his own hand.

Plus, if you've ever wanted to see Willis do a little jig, well, The Last Boy Scout has you covered.

Anaconda (1997)

With a 38 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Anaconda is generally considered pretty awful. For proof, just check out the reviews. Critic Mick LaSalle slammed the film by writing, "Anaconda is about a snake that eats everybody. That about says it all." Steve Newton of The Georgia Straight also piled on, writing, "Just to show, early on, how much danger [the characters] are in, we get to see the film's titular star squeeze a black panther so tight that one of its eyeballs pop out."

And this is a problem how?

Seriously, it's this kind of stuff that makes Anaconda so amazing. Sure, if you go into the movie expecting something classy, you might walk away disappointed. But if you're expecting the best B-movie ever, then you'll have the time of your life. Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it "a trashily entertaining reptilian version of Jaws," and he's right—it's the kind of movie where a guy falling from a waterfall gets snatched out of the air by a snake hanging from a tree branch.

What's better than that? Well, maybe watching a guy get swallowed alive from inside the anaconda itself. And in addition to the killer creatures, there's Jon Voight, who's gone completely crazy as Paul Sarone, a madman who wants to capture a snake and chew up all the scenery in sight. Every one of his lines is an over-the-top gem, and he strangles somebody with his own legs before dousing Jennifer Lopez with a bucket of monkey blood.

And if you're not convinced yet that Anaconda is a creature feature that's worth your time, just know that Voight gives perhaps the greatest wink in cinematic history in a scene so epic that Roger Ebert wrote it would "be remembered wherever great movie exits are treasured."

Shooter (2007)

Antoine Fuqua certainly knows how to film an action scene. For proof, look no further than Shooter, a 2007 conspiracy thriller starring Mark Wahlberg as Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bob Lee Swagger. Years ago, he was left to die while running a covert mission in Africa, and now the disillusioned sniper spends his days in the mountains, hanging out with his (doomed) dog, reading about 9/11, and remembering a fallen comrade.

But when a shady government agent (Danny Glover) frames Swagger for an assassination he didn't commit, the sergeant grabs a rifle and goes on the run, hoping to teach the bad guys a thing or two about American values. Playing like a souped-up version of Three Days of the Condor, Shooter is a bullet-riddled cornucopia of amazing action scenes. There's the opening African shootout, and then there's the wintry standoff atop a snow-covered mountain. There's a brutal black site showdown involving a terrifying suicide contraption, and of course, there's the mind-blowing (literally) farmhouse battle featuring liberal use of napalm, pipe bombs, and intense helicopter action.

In addition to the gunfights, we've got to give props to the beautiful cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr., and of course, Wahlberg is perfect as Swagger, completely inhabiting the role of a rogue American hero. In fact, the actor even went to boot camp and trained with an actual sniper to prepare for the part. So when you hear Wahlberg talking shop with a wily old gunsmith (Levon Helm) or discussing the importance of elevation, wind speed, and the Coriolis effect when making the perfect shot, it all feels incredibly authentic. It's also just a lot of fun watching Wahlberg go full MacGyver, improvising everything from his silencers to IVs.

So just ignore that 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes because, if nothing else, this movie has Michael Pena, and Michael Pena makes everything better.

Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

Directed by Jon Favreau, Cowboys & Aliens has one of the most straightforward movie titles of all time, right up there with Hot Tub Time Machine and Hobo with a Shotgun. What you see is what you get: cowboys fighting aliens (with the help of some Apache warriors). You can imagine watching something like this being made in the 1950s, and Favreau manages to take the wacky premise and turn it into a rollicking good time.

The plot involves an outlaw (Daniel Craig) who wakes up in the wilderness one day with no clue who he is, how he got there, or why there's a metal bracelet on his arm. But that bracelet comes in handy when UFOs abduct the citizens of a nearby town. As it turns out, this hunk of metal is an otherworldly weapon, giving our outlaw an edge against the alien invaders. And in true western fashion, Craig must saddle up and ride out to rescue the missing townsfolk, accompanied by an enigmatic woman (Olivia Wilde) and a rival rancher (Harrison Ford).

Quite a few critics, however, were upset the movie took its silly plot so seriously. But really, that's why Cowboys & Aliens works so well. The movie never winks at you. It's not trying to be ironic. This is a straight-up western where the bad guys just so happen to be from outer space, and because the movie treats the sci-fi sincerely, the film is far more engaging than if we were watching self-aware schlock.

As for the cast, this is a who's who of character actors, featuring the likes of Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, and Walton Goggins. We also get to watch as James Bond and Han Solo team up to kill an alien. The creature design is great, the action scenes are intense (especially that first invasion scene), and it's fun to watch how these 19th-century characters react to the sci-fi elements. The aliens are called "demons," the spaceships are "flying machines," and the look on Craig's face when his bracelet lights up is just perfect.

Plus, Paul Dano plays an incredibly whiny gunfighter, and Craig knees him hard in the crotch. Is it the greatest scene ever? Quite possibly.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman has been accused of being too dark, too long, and too boring, but while the film certainly has its flaws, it's worth watching for the visuals alone. Directed by Rupert Sanders, this dark and gritty fantasy has images on par with something you might see in a movie directed by Tarsem Singh or Guillermo del Toro. There's the moment when Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is fleeing down a misty beach and stumbles upon a beautiful white stallion, and then there's the scene when Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) bathes herself in a milky brew, right after munching on a bird's heart.

Later, Snow White ends up in a forest filled with swarming beetles and writhing snakes, only to make her way into a fairy world full of grassy tortoises and eyeball-covered mushrooms. A white stag bursts into a thousand butterflies, and after turning into a flock of ravens, Ravenna crawls from a pit of black ooze, surrounded by the flitting and fluttering of dying birds. With sequences like these, Snow White and the Huntsman is equal parts dreamland and nightmare fuel, and it doesn't hurt that Theron throws herself into playing the world's most evil witch, cranking up the volume and turning on the terror every time she walks on-screen.

While Theron is wonderfully nuts, Stewart (the most underrated actress in Hollywood) anchors the film with a much more realistic and empathetic performance. Even Chris Hemsworth steps up his acting game. Sure, his accent doesn't really work here, but in between butchering dudes with a great big axe, he cracks an occasional joke and sheds a few tears. And while it would've been preferable if they'd used actual little people, the dwarfs are played by some of the very best British character actors—e.g. Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, and Ian McShane—and they lighten things up every time they appear.

Sure, it doesn't compare to the Walt Disney classic, but then it's not really trying to. This is a Snow White movie that's more about the dark side of fairy tales—the blood, the mud, the horror, and the wonder.

The Majestic (2001)

In between Stephen King adaptations, Frank Darabont decided to make a movie in the style of Frank Capra. The result was The Majestic, a film so sweet and nostalgic that it's shocking to think the same director would later make The Mist. But while that grisly creature feature is about as pessimistic as movies get, The Majestic believes in old-fashioned ideas like right vs. wrong and freedom of speech. Roger Ebert wrote that the film "unapologetically supports the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," and while cynical critics felt it was "bloated," "manipulative," and "obnoxious in the extreme," it's actually a big-hearted throwback to movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The story follows Jim Carrey as Peter Appleton, a blacklisted screenwriter who get amnesia and winds up in a sleepy little town where he's mistaken for a long-lost World War II vet. And since he can't remember who he is or where he came from, Peter accepts the story and bonds with his new dad (Martin Landau) and a wary love interest (Laurie Holden). Eventually, Peter's memories come flooding back, threatening his new existence, and things get even more complicated when he's called upon to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. But in true Jimmy Stewart fashion, Peter rises to the occasion and delivers a rousing speech in defense of the right to say and believe whatever you want. 

Carrey is on the top of his game here, delivering a dramatic performance that's right up there with his roles in The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, backed by a supporting cast that includes Jeffrey DeMunn, Bruce Campbell, and Bob Balaban. The Majestic is an inspiring little film, the kind we hardly see anymore. It's a movie that's about patriotism, defending civil rights, and sticking up for the little man. And in these contentious times, that's an incredibly relevant message.

Vanilla Sky (2001)

The world of Vanilla Sky is a world of Monet sunsets and Bob Dylan streets, but that doesn't mean you'd want to live there. Why not? Well, it's also a world of crazy stalkers, creepy face masks, and a dreadful feeling that something awful is waiting in the dark. Based on the 1998 Spanish film Open Your Eyes, Cameron Crowe's fifth feature marks the spot where many believe he started losing his touch. For years, he'd impressed audiences with movies like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, but after Vanilla Sky took a drubbing from critics, Crowe started making films like Aloha and We Bought a Zoo.

But while it's true that Crowe's recent output can't compare to his earlier work, it's unfair to blame Vanilla Sky. Despite its reputation, this Tom Cruise film is a massive mindbender with more layers than Inception and more twists than Memento. And Cruise is really earning his paycheck here as David Ames, an ultra-rich playboy who has his life ripped apart and then starts losing his mind…maybe. The superstar really sells David's growing fear and paranoia, and his relationships with Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz are masterfully done, highlighting two very different sides of the same man.

The movie is also filled with some pretty horrific images and genuinely disturbing moments, from bizarre bedroom bodyswaps to grotesque shots of Cruise's face (just watch the movie; you'll understand later). There's also a fantastic soundtrack that critic Stephen Holden called "a rich musical stew that recalls the Beatles' White Album." Really, the music is amazing, and the film features one of the most disturbing uses of a Beach Boys song you'll ever hear. Then there's Kurt Russell, Tilda Swinton, and Noah Taylor shining in supporting performances. Plus, when you're watching that unsettling opening scene, remember that what you're seeing is real: Crowe actually shut down Times Square for this sequence, and you've got to give the director credit for having the guts to tick off a bunch of busy New Yorkers.

Reign of Fire (2002)

Ever wonder what would happen if Batman were to square off against Smaug? Well, are you in luck. Released in 2002, Reign of Fire finds Christian Bale teaming up with Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler to fight a legion of winged lizards. Doesn't that sound like the most incredible fantasy premise to ever grace the big screen? Most critics didn't see it that way, as the movie has a 40 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The bad reviews are baffling. Directed by Rob Bowman, Reign of Fire immerses viewers in a post-apocalyptic world of modern-day knights and fire-breathing dragons. A small ragtag band of survivors—led by Bale—have set up shop in a moody Northumberland castle, filled with wax candles and steampunk pipes. Forced to live in a world of fire, the survivors have created flame retardant suits and armored water trucks to extinguish beastly blazes. And when it comes to technology, it's a clever mix of the Middle Ages and World War II, complete with falconers and field telephones.

Then there's bald Matthew McConaughey as a cigar-chomping dragon-slayer, a tatted-up commando with his own private army. Straight from the U.S., these super troops hunt down monsters with giant harpoon guns, motorcycles, and 3-D mapping systems. And let's not forget the suicide parachutists with 17-second life-spans who snare dragons with badass net guns. But while the scenery is shrouded in smoke and the world is covered in ash, the movie has a quirky sense of humor that offsets all the grit and grime. And true, the CG dragons occasionally look dated (occasionally—they often look incredible), but when the alpha male shows up in the end, stalking the streets of London, we're willing to overlook any 2002 effects because we're so invested in this story of man vs. beast.

The Book of Eli (2010)

The Book of Eli starts off with Denzel Washington shooting and eating a feral housecat. Yeah, that's right: a housecat. It's a shocking opening to a film that plays like Mad Max meets A Fistful of Dollars meets the Gospel of John, and things only get crazier from here. Set in the post-apocalypse, The Book of Eli takes place in a world where moist towelettes are used as currency, people pay to charge their iPods, and the local saloons make their money selling water. It's a dusty and depressing world where those who can read hold all the power, and faith is more powerful than a loaded gun.

Directed by the Hughes brothers and written by Gary Whitta, this sci-fi western follows Washington as Eli, a holy warrior wandering across what's left of the United States. Accompanied by a machete and Mila Kunis, Eli is carrying the last remaining copy of the King James Bible, and he hopes to get the holy book to a safe place on the coast. Unfortunately, a small-town dictator (played by the inimitable Gary Oldman) wants the book for himself, knowing it can help him establish his evil empire. Only Eli isn't giving up the Good Book so easily, and instead of turning the other cheek, he's prepared to take eye for an eye to make sure the relic makes it safely across America.

In addition to some masterful action scenes—like the insane gunfight where a house is shot to pieces, or the scene when Denzel fights a gang in the shadow of a bridge—The Book of Eli is a powerful commentary on the power of religion. The movie admits that religion can be used for both good and evil, and it all depends on who's holding the Bible; it's a story that's also all about the power of the written word, and how books can shape entire civilizations. Also, it's kind of awesome to hear Denzel recite Scripture before beating a bunch of dudes to death.

Hereafter (2010)

Clint Eastwood has a strange track record when it comes to directing. On one hand, he's made amazing movies like Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. On the other, he's made, uh, less-than-stellar films such as J. Edgar and Jersey Boys. However, despite what critics say, the director's 2010 film, Hereafter, sits solidly in the middle. It doesn't reach the heights of The Outlaw Josey Wales, but it's far superior to something like Space Cowboys.

Actually, Hereafter is an incredibly thoughtful film, a beautiful exploration of spirituality that you might not expect from the Man with No Name. Described by critic Ty Burr as "The Sixth Sense for grown-ups or Crash for the credulous," the film follows three separate storylines about desperate people searching for answers. There's the French journalist (Cecile de France) obsessed with the afterlife after a near-death experience. There's a young English boy (Frankie and George McLaren) trying to contact his dead twin. And then there's an American psychic (Matt Damon) who's gone into hiding because he can't stand the pain associated with his powers.

Eventually, the three characters cross paths in their quest to discover what happens after shuffling off this mortal coil, and while Hereafter doesn't necessarily have the answers, at least it's willing to consider the question. In addition to its heavy themes, the movie features several incredible sequences involving tsunamis and psychic readings, moments that are totally devastating for completely different reasons. Hereafter might've been savaged when it hit theaters for being too sentimental, but we're certain this film will manage to find cinematic life after its critical death.