Director: Stanley Kubrick
If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s novel of the same name, you know it’s one of the scariest books of all time. And director Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic take on the scary tale definitely leaves us feeling unsettled. But despite a memorable performance by Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a man who, with his family, spends the winter in an isolated, haunted hotel, film reviewers weren’t so wowed by it. ‘Stanley Kubrick’s production of The Shining, a ponderous, lacklustre distillation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel, looms as the Big Letdown of the new film season,’ said Gary Arnold in the Washington Post. “I can’t recall a more elaborately ineffective scare movie. You might say that The Shining, opening today at area theatres, has no peers: few directors achieve the treacherous luxury of spending five years (and $12 million to $15 million) on such a peerlessly wrongheaded finished product.” Ineffective? Horror fans would disagree.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Director: Frank Capra
We often assume that classic holiday films like It’s a Wonderful Life must have always inspired the feel-good emotions that make it prime for repeat viewing. But while this story of a disappointed small-town man’s visit from an angel is uplifting for many, it didn’t warm critics’ hearts when it first came out. ‘Indeed, the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer’s point of view, is the sentimentality of it – its illusory concept of life,’ read a line in the New York Times’ review. Meanwhile, in New York’s Daily News, Kate Cameron wrote, ‘The film is too sprawling in extent, too noisy as to background music and voices and much too obvious in the application of its social significance notes.’ We beg to differ: it’s one of the best Christmas movies that brings tears to our eyes every holiday season.
The Empire Strikes Back
Director: Irvin Kershner
Despite that this movie is (almost) universally considered to be the best in the Star Wars franchise, film reviewers picked at the second flick in the saga just as they did the first. In this ‘episode,’ Luke Skywalker is in Jedi training with Yoda, and the rest of the gang is still at odds with Darth Vader and Boba Fett. So what beef could critics have with The Empire Strikes Back? Oh, plenty. ‘This time out, the Star Wars enterprise isn’t anywhere as enjoyable as the original,’ wrote Joy Gould Boynum in the Wall Street Journal. “One might argue that all this represents a gain, adding to the original, sophistication, richness, depth. But truth to tell, these developments seem little more than inappropriate. To place internal struggles within one-dimensional characters who by definition have no interior is absurd.”