The 2000s brought us some truly amazing cinematic achievements, with era-defining classics like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Children of Men, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, among countless others. The same decade also brought us films like Gigli, The Wicker Man, Garfield, and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever - irredeemable filmmaking failures that made us question whether or not we, as a society, should even keep making movies.
But what about those films that fall somewhere in between? The 2000s movies that we were all too hard on? Like the underrated, oft-maligned passion projects and overly ambitious epics that failed to connect with audiences and sharply divided critics, leaving them relegated to cinematic purgatory. Movies like The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky's metaphysical, time-spanning love story - or Richard Kelly's ahead-of-its-time sci-fi political satire Southland Tales.
Revisiting some of the most divisive, financially disappointing movies of the 2000s, it becomes clear why they tanked so hard at the time. Many were doomed from the start, with advertising campaigns that misrepresented them or casting choices that predisposed many to underestimate them. However, with some time having past, we can turn a critical eye to these films and see how many were truly underrated films that have earned their cult status - or at least deserve to have one.
When Sofia Coppola's highly stylized, quasi-modernized reimagining of the life of French Queen Marie Antoinette first hit theaters, many critics regarded it as an overly whimsical, pointless, and flashy endeavour that was more interested in its soundtrack and slick visuals than telling a real story. It was held up as an example of style over substance that failed to capture the nuance and importance of Maria Antoinette's real life and the subsequent French Revolution.
Looking back at the gorgeous, beautifully acted, deftly directed satirical biopic, it's hard to imagine how it had detractors at all. From the Oscar-winning costume design to the excellent soundtrack that propels this anachronistic period piece, Marie Antoinette works on a number of levels. It's emotionally powerful while still being funny, and it makes a story about late-1700s France so much more youthfully vibrant than you'd imagine possible. Kirsten Dunst's heartbreaking portrayal of the eponymous royal is also a masterclass in careful nuance.
Actors: Kirsten Dunst, Tom Hardy, Rose Byrne, Molly Shannon, Jason Schwartzman, + more
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
The dark comedy Death to Smoochy ultimately suffered from the public's expectations and a marketing campaign that had no idea how to sell the film as a commercial, mainstream project. The film stars Edward Norton as an affable, idealistic young children's entertainer who plays a character named Smoochy, a purple rhino clearly modeled after Barney. Meanwhile, Robin Williams stars as "Rainbow" Randolph Smiley, a bitter, washed-up children's entertainer who inadvertently loses his career when the powers that be replace his show with Smoochy's. Rainbow plots bloody revenge. Williams ended up earning a Razzie nomination for his performance, and the movie was savaged by critics and tanked at the box office.
Directed by Danny DeVito, Smoochy never got the credit it deserved. It's a dark-as-midnight comedy with an inspired tragicomic angle that set it far apart from the cineplex ecosystem in which it was competing. It makes sense that most audiences had a hard time wrapping their head around it, as it features a sweet, childlike playfulness (appropriate for a film about costumed kids' show hosts) wrapped around a hard, bitter core. Williams's Razzie nomination might be the most painful insult, as his performance is a whirlwind of insanity and deep-seated pathos that builds up into a character rarely seen on screen.
Actors: Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Jon Stewart, Danny DeVito, Catherine Keener, + more
Directed by: Danny DeVito
After the groundbreaking success of The Matrix, a sequel was inevitable. It was perhaps nearly as inevitable that it wouldn't be able to live up to the original in the minds of fans or critics, and this proved to be the case. When the Wachowskis decided to explore the complex universe and multi-leveled realities their characters inhabit, pacing and cogent storytelling took a back seat to mythologizing, world-building, and failed attempts to outdo the visual spectacle of the original film.
That being said, not being "as good" as one of the greatest sci-fi action films of all time is a truly insane bar to clear, and it's not fair that an action film with some of the most imaginative fight choreography and stunts of its era should be relegated to the trash bin of our collective memory. There's no denying that the film has flaws, including its heavy-handed dialogue and wildly convoluted plot. On the other hand, Reloaded's fight scene between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the Merovingian's bevy of henchmen is flat-out amazing, not to mention the extended highway setpiece and a host of other remarkable action sequences. Truly, The Matrix franchise didn't really fall apart until the final installment, The Matrix Revolutions, and it feels possible that people's inability to separate Reloaded from the much worse Revolutions is why Reloaded was - and largely still is - so reviled.
Actors: Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Jada Pinkett Smith, Hugo Weaving, Carrie-Anne Moss, + more
Directed by: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
It's not hard to understand how and why people went into this movie expecting it to be a mindless, insane disaster. The film stars Nicolas Cage, whose recent cinematic adventures included The Wicker Man, Next, and Bangkok Dangerous; the trailers depicted it as yet another vehicle for the often over-the-top Cage to act as hard and as loud as possible. The story also left some reviewers cold, with the movie being criticized for its plot and incredibly bleak ending.
There's no arguing the movie is bleak. Directed by Alex Proyas, who also helmed The Crow and the underrated Dark City, Knowing follows MIT professor John Koestler (Cage), who discovers a list of numbers from 50 years ago that have perfectly predicted dozens of massive disasters over the last five decades. The series of numbers also predicts a world-ending cataclysm happening in just a few days' time. What makes the film so powerful is its commitment to not pull any punches when it comes to its somber and frightening tone; it doesn't shy away from its apocalyptic course. Cage doesn't save the day, and that's what makes Knowing a smarter, more haunting project than most were willing to give it credit for at the time.
Actors: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn, Nadia Townsend, + more
Directed by: Alex Proyas