Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Brilliant Movies With Dumb Premises

While some movies' screenplays are fueled by thought-provoking, mind-bending premises that excite and electrify the mind, others never aspire to brilliance. On one side of the spectrum, there are movies like Inception, which takes us on an utterly fascinating journey of human psychology and dreams; on the other hand, there are countless movies content to stir together a few basic — or downright kooky — ingredients and let 'er rip. 

While the end result of those latter films is rarely quite as compelling as the Inceptions of the world, there are definitely a handful of thrilling exceptions — movies springing from definitively flawed basic concepts that turned out way better than they had any right to. While you might feel goofy summarizing these films' storylines out loud, they're nonetheless way better than they look on paper, and are very much worth checking out. Here's a look at some brilliant movies with dumb premises.

Immortal puppy avenger

In most action movies, there's typically a catalyzing incident that convinces the protagonist to get off their bum and change their situation. In Taken, it's the kidnapping of Bryan Mills' daughter. In Die Hard, it's the capture of Nakatomi Tower. In John Wick, it's the death of a puppy, which leads to dozens upon dozens of dead gangsters and the dismantling of an entire Russian mob. 

Wick essentially purges the criminal community all because one of the mobsters goofed and killed his dog. The premise is absolutely preposterous, especially when you couple it with the fact that Wick himself doesn't take any real damage throughout the film, revealing another tenet of the core concept's goofiness: Wick is the Superman of assassins. He's the immortal puppy avenger.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that this is a supremely cathartic action flick with some of the best fight choreography and gunplay in cinematic history. It's got intriguing characters, badass action sequences, and a general sense of "oomph" that few hard-hitting crime movies are able to achieve, which is likely why it's so beloved in spite of its dumb premise.

Latex billionaire

Once you cut away all the fat surrounding the plot of Batman Begins, its core narrative can be summed up pretty simply: a billionaire throws away his life, winds up in Bhutan, gets ninja training, then comes back to his hometown to dress in armored latex, punch street thugs, and defeat a psychologist who wears a burlap potato sack over his head. Holy screenwriting, Batman!

While other superhero flicks get a pass for indulging in science fiction and fantasy, two genres built around deliberately unrealistic premises, Batman Begins is ostensibly grounded in reality. It has minimal superhero elements and really plays up its urban action-thriller side, to the point where it's clearly designed to be taken semi-seriously — something that's quite hard to do when the hero is dressing up in a bat costume after training for months in an isolated ninja cult's monastery. It's just downright weird. 

Against all odds, however, director and writer Christopher Nolan somehow turns this pretty silly premise into an amazing screenplay and equally impressive movie. He adds so many layers of humanity, subtle self-awareness, and shameless grit to the production that it never feels like a goofy comic book story, even if that's exactly what it is. It feels like a cinematic masterpiece; a true thinking man's blockbuster. Until, that is, you reflect and analyze the plot.

Farting corpse

Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that has literally zero right to be even half decent, let alone anywhere near brilliant. Yet here we are — a movie about a farting corpse that's somehow, some way, better than quite a few of its higher-concept cinematic contemporaries. 

Swiss Army Man is a story about a man named Hank who's on the verge of committing suicide — until, that is, he discovers Manny the farting corpse. Manny's not just any farting corpse, though — he's a living one (kind of like a zombie, in a sense). Armed with a companion to help him discover that life's not so bad, Hank embarks on a grand ol' journey with Manny. It's one of the most bafflingly dumb ideas the cinematic medium's ever cooked up. Yet somehow, against all odds, writer-directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan make it work: they turn that dumb premise into a heartfelt adventure fueled by two distinct, three-dimensional characters, and finally give Daniel Radcliffe a role to be remembered for besides Harry Potter. Swiss Army Man is definitely brilliant, albeit in a fairly abstract way.

Let's, like, face-swap actors

Face/Off might just be the smartest dumb movie of all time. It's got all the ingredients for a brilliant film, and director John Woo, knew exactly how to blend them together. It's got John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, and a premise that's too crazy to fail: John Travolta and Nicolas Cage... playing each other.

To elaborate, Face/Off is a movie about Sean Archer (Travolta) attempting to take down domestic terrorist Castor Troy (Cage), a pursuit that eventually leads to both of them utilizing an experimental face-transplanting procedure to assume each other's identities. From there, it's nothing but absolute mayhem as Travolta-as-Cage hunts down Cage-as-Travolta in a sci-fi action flick absolutely no one knew they wanted. As as the premise is ("lets, like, face-swap actors"), it somehow manages to gel into an electric, cohesive movie, all thanks to Woo's hard-hitting, no-holds-barred approach to directing. It stands out in a genre saturated by highbrow concepts without looking noticeably less intelligent by comparison. Face/Off's gimmick is simple, effective, and brilliantly dumb.

Robert the homicidal tire

We've all seen a few dumb movies where soulless, emotionless characters go on killing rampages to appease bloodthirsty audiences. Usually, however, the hollowness of said murderers is the result of unpolished, two-dimensional writing. In Rubber, it's by design — the movie's central character is a car tire, and therefore has no soul, or emotions, or, y'know, any human characteristics whatsoever. 

What Robert the tire does have (we're not making this up, its name is Robert) is the ability to commit murder and roll around. It's a freakin' homicidal car tire that has psychokinetic abilities, even though it has no brain. In no way, and in no world, should this movie be as entertaining as it is. Yet here we are, with a pretty solid, absolutely bonkers, and morbidly quirky film that's brilliant for no other reason than its ability to turn its "sentient tire" premise into a killer, one-of-a-kind rampage flick.

Reptiles on an airborne object

Snakes on a Plane is, as the title might suggest, the riveting tale of what happens when snakes are unleashed aboard a plane. Not just any snakes, mind you: lethal snakes — the kind used to discreetly murder people. Thus, we have our movie, about an FBI agent who must protect a surfer bro/crime scene witness from deadly snakes, who've been placed aboard the plane by the people linked to the crime the surfer bro witnessed. As you might guess, it's not the most highbrow of movies.

Thankfully, Snakes on a Plane never pretends to be something it isn't. It's an absolutely bonkers flick with a premise that's dumber than a rock, a fact the film revels in. Seriously, there's no other film on the planet that could've pulled off the line "I have had it with these mother#^@%*&! snakes on this mother#^@%*&! plane" and turned its inherent badness into one of the most badass quotes in Samuel L. Jackson's cinematic repertoire. This no-shame approach to its dumb premise is what makes Snakes on a Plane so much fun — it's ready to sit back, relax, and crank the cheesy action dial up to eleven.

Divorce can be a drag

For all the unreliable dads out there currently at risk of losing their kids in divorce court, just give Mrs. Doubtfire a watch — it's got a foolproof plan for how to win your kids back from a court's custodial verdict. 

Mrs. Doubtfire teaches us that, in order for a dad to regain a spot in his kids' lives after losing them to their mother, he must dress up as their nanny and circumvent his ex-wife's plans to keep him and the children apart. And, in the movie, it works. Ultimately, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) gets what he wants and regains a position in the family unit, all thanks to him conning everyone by dressing up as a female nanny in order to surreptitiously defy court orders. It's as asinine a premise as a family dramedy could conceivably have, and it remains a pleasant shock that the movie's as great as it is. Carried almost exclusively by a cheeky and charming performance by Robin Williams as well as a script that knows just how dumb its premise is, Mrs. Doubtfire remains a knockout success in the family film genre to this day.

Undercover bro

As with most of Keanu Reeves' filmography, Point Break is a cult classic, thanks to its abundance of cheesiness and humorously dumb premise. To give the long and the short of it, Point Break's plot can be summed up like so: a rookie FBI agent is tasked with infiltrating a gang of surfers who just so happen to also be high-profile bank robbers. That's right, it's an action thriller about surfers tangoing with the FBI. Does that sound dumb? Yeah, a bit. Does it come off as dumb in the movie itself? More than you'd think. However, against all odds, it works, thanks to brisk pacing, an assortment of entertaining set pieces, and Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves (potentially inadvertently) chewing up the scenery with reckless abandon. It's the kind of film you can go into, turn off your brain, enjoy wholly at face value, and walk out smiling, basking in the brilliance of a movie that has no desire to be brilliant.

As the Gender Turns

Ain't no movie with a better dumb premise than Tootsie, a true Dustin Hoffman classic. It's the story of a stellar actor named Michael Dorsey who becomes unmarketable due to his very bad artistic temperament and resulting reputation (think along the lines of Russell Crowe before he cooled his jets). In order to skirt around his bad reputation, Michael literally dons a skirt and invents the alter ego of Dorothy Michaels. That's right: he crossdresses to keep his career alive, and becomes a breakout soap star in the process. 

And the premise doesn't just limit itself to crossdressing for career benefits; Michael's girly persona also gets him into multiple romantic entanglements. While the premise might not be dumb in the most obvious sense, it's definitely loaded with a whole bunch of cringeworthy ideas that should've resulted in a far less compelling film. Instead, Tootsie is somehow an amazing, uplifting, and heartfelt comedy, due to a witty script, strong performances from Hoffman, Jessica Lange, and Teri Garr, and expert direction from Sydney Pollack, who knew exactly when to play the premise for laughs and when to take things seriously. As far as movies about crossdressing actors go, Tootsie's the cream of the crop.