One man’s “Casablanca” is another man’s “Biodome.” Or something. Here’s our guide to controversial films sure to spark debates within your inner circle.
“Queen & Slim” (HBO)
Critics widely praised this 2019 film that follows Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) as they go on the run after a traffic stop that ends with Slim killing a police officer in self-defense. But many were torn on the ending. (Available to stream with an HBO subscription.)
Melina Matsoukas, known for her work on HBO’s “Insecure” and music video collaborations with Beyoncé and Rihanna, told Essence that it was a necessary conclusion to the screenplay written by Lena Waithe: “I base all my decisions directorially in authenticity, so I knew that had to happen.”
“The Last Jedi” (Disney Plus)
Rian Johnson’s 2017 film, the second in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, broke records at the box office and earned praise from critics. However, it did not impress as many fans of the franchise. Three years later, Rotten Tomatoes offers a glimpse of just how divisive the movie was: “The Last Jedi” bears a 90 percent rating among critics; the audience score is less than half of that, at 43 percent.
So why the large gulf? As The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna noted, Johnson made several bold decisions, including killing off major characters and challenging long-held beliefs about the Force and the Jedi Code, that may have been off-putting to franchise fans.
“Jurassic Park III” (Netflix)
When the third installment of “Jurassic Park” premiered in 2001, The Post’s review got straight to the point: “If you’re wondering about ‘Jurassic Park III,’ let me put it this way: It’s Jurassic Park Three, okay?” Critics and viewers alike dismissed the film’s questionable CGI effects and largely recycled premise.
Nearly two decades later, you would be hard pressed to find a “Jurassic Park” ranking that places the franchise’s third film — directed by Joe Johnston, picking up Steven Spielberg’s reins — in the lead spot. Still, the film has its defenders. We blame the talking velociraptor.
Todd Phillips’s take on the infamous Batman villain has one of the most controversial legacies of all the films on this list. Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for his tortured portrayal of Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comic who goes on a killing spree across New York City after years as an outcast.
The film was criticized for its violent approach to the comic book character’s unofficial origin story, particularly because it mirrored real-life violence at the hands of aggrieved White men. But that didn’t stop the accolades from rolling in. “Joker” won the prestigious Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and received scores of nominations at all of the major awards ceremonies.
“Marriage Story” (Netflix)
Awards season was similarly bountiful for Noah Baumbach’s intimate look at a crumbling marriage. Despite praise for leads Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, the Netflix film received mixed reviews. One prevailing criticism was that the story was more sympathetic to the husband (or at least his flaws), a theme many critics connected to the real-life drama behind the screenplay: Baumbach’s divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.
“Twilight” (Amazon Prime)
Catherine Hardwicke’s take on Stephenie Meyer’s book about an ordinary teenage girl and the sparkly vampire she falls in love with inspired passionately disparate reactions, and continues to do so more than a decade after its release. There’s a lot to love or hate: Kristen Stewart as Bella and Robert Pattinson as her fanged paramour Edward, a bloody vampire duel and oh-so-many wigs.
“(500) Days of Summer” (Starz)
The term manic pixie dream girl existed before “(500) Days of Summer,” thanks to film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term in 2007. But you might not know that if you’ve read some of the criticism around the 2009 rom-com. Despite its box office success, the film fell short for some viewers who felt it focused almost entirely on the male lead, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), while the female lead, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) seemed to be present to support Tom’s growth.
To its defenders, that was part of the point. “Yes, Summer has elements of the manic pixie dream girl — she is an immature view of a woman,” director Marc Webb told The Guardian. “She’s Tom’s view of a woman. He doesn’t see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak.”
“Mother!” (Hulu + Live TV)
Darren Aronofsky’s 2017 psychological thriller, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple, was bound to be polarizing — the director is known for weaving surreal and unsettling images into his work. But little prepared audiences for the film’s final 30 minutes, which The Post’s Stephanie Merry described as “the cinematic version of the debaucherous hellscape from ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.’”
Kasi Lemmons’s 2019 biopic was celebrated for finally bringing Harriet Tubman’s story to the big screen after decades of languished efforts. But the film — available to stream with an HBO subscription — received some criticism for focusing on the widely known aspects of the famed abolitionist’s life instead of underexplored feats such as her work as a spy for the Union Army. Others appreciated the straightforward approach.
“‘Harriet’ is the kind of instructional, no-nonsense biopic that may not take many artistic risks or sophisticated stylistic departures but manages to benefit from that lack of pretension,” Ann Hornaday wrote in a three-star review. “This is an ideal introduction — or reintroduction — not just to Tubman, but to the inhumane system that she refused to accept.”
“Ghostbusters” 2016 reboot (Hulu + Live TV)
Paul Feig’s reboot of the beloved 1984 paranormal comedy was the source of controversy from the minute the trailer was released. Did the backlash have anything to do with the film’s all-female cast? It had everything to do with the film’s all-female cast. Look no further than the movie’s prerelease IMDb rating, which was strategically tanked by Internet trolls.
“The Neon Demon” (Amazon Prime)
This 2016 psychological horror movie from Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”) was a Palme d’Or candidate at Cannes Film Festival, but that prestige did not translate into a good showing at the annual festival, where it premiered to boos, or at the box office. The film, which featured Elle Fanning as an envy-inducing aspiring model, was criticized for graphic, bloody scenes, including sequences depicting cannibalism and necrophilia. While some critics praised the film’s lush palette, most reviews noted the movie’s flimsy plot and misfired satire.
“The Assistant” (Hulu)
Julia Garner received critical praise for her performance in this drama about the assistant to a powerful Hollywood mogul clearly inspired by Harvey Weinstein. But, judging by online audience ratings, viewers were less enthralled with the film — likely because of director Kitty Green’s deliberate choice to never show the unnamed predatory boss on screen.
“I was always more interested in the machinery,” Green told The Post in February. “We know what happens when the door is closed. We’ve read those stories. … What I was more interested in was what’s on the other side of the door: what people knew, what was going on, the culture in an environment like that.”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.