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
This sprawling, chaotic, semi-surrealistic sci-fi spectacular was director Richard Kelly's long-awaited follow-up to Donnie Darko, and it sadly fell flat on its face upon release. It featured an enormous cast that was specifically hired to play off-type roles - including Dwayne Johnson as a meek, frightened patsy, Seann William Scott in a serious role, and a whole slew of famous comedians playing deranged slayers and Marxist revolutionaries in a near-future Los Angeles. The theatrical run time was well over two hours, and critics tore it apart for its impenetrable plot and then-laughable vision of the future.
The film came out in 2006, and takes place in an alternate timeline in which America was nuked by terrorists in 2005. This alternate version of the United States has adopted an Orwellian government by the time the film takes place in 2008. The idea of a Big Brother-like monitoring system seemed outlandish, as did Sarah Michelle Gellar's role as an adult entertainer who starts her own daytime talk show and becomes a media sensation. Fast-forward to today, and almost none of the social commentary seems impossible. In fact, the film is more timely, unsettling, and downright prescient than we ever could have imagined. Combine that with an amazing cast of actors who all show true range, and an incredible fantasy dance sequence featuring Justin Timberlake as a facially scarred soldier getting wasted and dancing to The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done," and it's not hard to understand why Southland Tales has developed such a cult following.
Actors: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Poehler, Mandy Moore, + more
Directed by: Richard Kelly
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