18 Movies You Thought Were Stupid That Are Secretly Brilliant Satires

List Rules
Vote up the secretly smart movies that deserve more credit than they get.

Starship Troopers, Road House, Robocop... it's likely these films don’t bring to mind the phrase "deadpan satire," but they should. Some of the most brilliant satirical films of the last five decades aren't the kind of pictures audiences view as intellectual think pieces, because any writer and director worth her salt knows satire is not broad comedy, like parody, but rather an act of becoming the thing you wish to critique and taking it apart from the inside. Many of these movies are couched in the language of tentpole productions, as a way to quietly communicate with the masses.

Some of these films work better than others, but that’s not to say any are bad; some were simply trying to do too much too soon. For instance, 1974’s Death Race 2000 predicted the 21st century’s preoccupation with audiences voting for the onscreen pain of contestants, but we’re just now figuring out how accurate and insightful those predictions are, from a film many dismiss as exploitative nonsense. With others, it's possible the people making them didn't even realize their brilliant meta commentaries themselves.  

The best self-aware movie satires barely even acknowledge that they're satires, instead choosing to lean into their genre and let the audience figure it out. Directors like Paul Verhoeven and Brian De Palma have made entire careers out of making films that perfectly play into their audience’s sensibilities, while also saying something about the people who paid to see the film and the world around them. Those two maestros have plenty of thoughtful contemporaries in horror, a genre full of movies that aren't about what they seem to be about on the surface.

If you're confused about what all this means, take a look at this collection of movies you thought were stupid but are secretly brilliant, films that are trying to do something more than genre trappings will allow.