'Horrible Bosses,' 'Bad Teacher': Why we love 'bad' – and bad – movies

Adults behaving badly in 'The Hangover' led to the runaway hit of 2009, and studios paid attention, bringing the Summer of Bad to a multiplex near you. 'Horrible Bosses' opens Friday.

John P. Johnson / Warner Bros. Pictures / AP
Thispublicity image released by Warner Bros. show Jason Bateman (l.) and Kevin Spacey in a scene from 'Horrible Bosses,' which opens Friday.

When it comes to movies, let’s just call this the summer of “bad.”

It’s not just grown-ups behaving badly – though there is plenty of that. From Jennifer Aniston as a rapacious dentist in “Horrible Bosses,” which opens Friday, to Cameron Diaz as every student’s nightmare in “Bad Teacher,” to the projectile body functions in “Bridesmaids” and “Hangover 2,” multiplexes are awash in R-rated adult comedy.

But this is also a record summer for just plain bad movies – doing very well.

Roundly panned films such as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Green Lantern,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” are breaking box office records and spawning sequels at the same time they all have miserable rankings on such popular review sites as

As box office expert Paul Dergarabedian puts it, “Fewer tomatoes, more green than ever this summer.”

If at first you do succeed, try, try again?

This tide of raunchy movies is almost a textbook case of Hollywood rushing to replicate success.

Two years ago, the first “Hangover,” starring little-known actors and made on a modest budget, was the runaway surprise hit of 2009. “It pretty much takes two years for a film to go from idea to multiplex,” notes Will Leitch, editor of The Projector, the film blog on Yahoo movies.

So now we have the summer of copycats, he says, “but without the freshness or originality of the first.”

“Hangover 2” was drubbed by critics. But in a perfect confluence of both “bad” trends, the sequel has already grossed nearly $250 million in the two months since its release – while the original has made $277 million to date.

As studios become more of a business than ever, Hollywood will rely on the tried and true, says Dave White, film critic for “If it worked once, then the industry will keep on cranking it out until it no longer makes money,” he says. That does not necessarily coincide with quality, he adds with a laugh. This year, a record 27 sequels or remakes prove the point.

But, he adds, do not underestimate the sheer pleasure of getting together to see a bad movie – and then panning it.

The social power of the Internet has expanded this particular pastime, points out Lou Manza, head of the psychology department at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. “Social media has fanned everybody’s natural inclination to being a critic,” he says.

Movies are mass entertainment, and in hard times, they provide a widely-accessible avenue to vicarious bad behavior in a bad situation – like being confronted with a tyrannical boss or teacher. And, paired with the power of social media, movies provide a perfect outlet for complaints.

“People go in knowing the movie will be bad,” Professor Manza says, “and that gives them a communal experience of being able to critique it together.”

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