Ever heard about a movie and thought it sounded terrible, but then when it came out it turned out to be pretty good, or even great? Back in August, fellow GeekDad Ken Denmead listed ten geeky movies that should’ve been great, but weren’t; I thought I’d try reversing his idea to see what I could come up with. Here, then, is my list of ten geeky movies, in no particular order, that, for various reasons, would probably sound—if you knew nothing about them beforehand—like they ought to be really lousy, but that are good to great movies.
1. The Matrix – Human reality is really just a simulation run by machines so they can milk humans’ physical bodies for energy. Once you realize what this simulation is, you can control it, giving yourself super powers, but if you die in the simulation your physical body dies, too. Never mind that programming this rule into the system would be directly contrary to the machines’ desire to get everything they can out of humanity. The movie stars Keanu Reeves as a computer programmer and hacker who turns out to be a sort of cyberpunk messiah. Never mind that that sounds as reasonable as Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist.
2. Star Wars (episode IV) – This is a movie with exactly two actors who were well-known at the time: Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness. And one of them gets killed partway through the movie, yet still has a few lines afterwards. It features a huge space station that has no clear means of propulsion, yet travels long distances. Moreover, it’s supposed to be science fiction but several main characters use magic. And there’s a character who’s seven feet tall, furry, and completely unintelligible.
3. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – The Enterprise command crew, on their way back to Earth in their stolen Klingon ship, have to travel back in time to find humpback whales in order to prevent a giant alien probe from accidentally destroying the planet. They also bring a woman back from the past, without even the slightest discussion about how doing so might change history. I really wish I could’ve been there when the idea was first pitched: "Funny, I could’ve sworn you said ‘whales.’ What are they looking for, again?"
4. Ghostbusters – New York City is invaded by ghosts, culminating in an ancient Sumerian god coming to destroy the world through a portal at the top of a high-rise apartment building. Three, and later four guys travel around catching the ghosts. And it’s not a horror film, it’s a comedy. You can see how easily it could’ve just been terrible, can’t you?
5. Spider-Man – Tobey Maguire as a superhero. MJ doesn’t notice that Spider-Man has exactly the same unusual voice as her good friend Peter Parker. ‘Nuff said.
(More after the jump.)
6. Real Genius – It’s a movie about science, set at a thinly-veiled Cal Tech. And it stars Val Kilmer as the most brilliant young physicist of his time. Yes, the same guy from Top Secret! and Top Gun. Easy to see how it could’ve missed.
7. Batman (the Tim Burton one) – Michael Keaton as Batman. Need I say more?
8. Back to the Future – Alex P. Keaton (ETA: link) is a teenager who goes back in time to the fifties in a DeLorean and has to get his parents back together after accidentally preventing them from meeting. On the way, he encounters pretty much every fifties cliche. And for some reason his parents don’t notice when their son looks exactly like the guy who was chiefly responsible for them getting together.
9. Galaxy Quest – It’s a parody of the actors on the original Star Trek series, and at the same time a parody of the original Star Trek series, and at the same time an actual science fiction movie. It could so very easily have been unwatchable.
10. Blade Runner – First of all, the movie was made in the early ’80s, but is based on a Philip K. Dick story, so unsurprisingly has a dark, complex sci-fi setting, which is really hard to do well without CGI. And it depends a fair bit on the acting talents of Sean Young.
There are some more I thought of but didn’t have room for, but I’d like to know what ideas our readers have. Please feel free to leave any you have in the comments.