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Pajiba's Most Divisive Movies Of The 21st Century

By Tori Preston and Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 9, 2017 |

By Tori Preston and Dustin Rowles | Lists | June 9, 2017 |

Last week we ran an article full of kind-hearted suggestions for things men could watch if they couldn’t get into a ladies-only Wonder Woman screening, because we are firm believers in serving our community (and knocking MRAs down a peg or two). Included in the list was a little film called Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and boy did you all have some opinions on it! Clearly this is an area where we can dig deeper.

So in that spirit, and in no particular order, here is a mildly subjective list of the most divisive films of the 21st Century:



Boyhood is a tricky one, because for those who are tired of seeing coming of age films about white boys in America, or who don’t fit that description, there’s every reason to be annoyed by Richard Linklater’s film, especially considering how many awards it received while brilliant coming-of-age films about POC (like the terrific Dope) or women (like the amazing Edge of Seventeen) were unfortunately ignored. If I weren’t a white guy, I’d probably resent Boyhood, too. However, I would argue that wanting to see more diversity in film is not mutually exclusive with absolutely adoring Boyhood, and not just as a gimmick movie. For a particular subset of people — white guys who grew up in the South, on the wrong side of the socioeconomic spectrum, with troubled home lives, who spent our entire childhoods try to escape and then feeling horribly conflicted about leaving because a piece of your beat up, mangled heart will always live there — Boyhood captured the spirit of our youths better than any other film I have ever seen. Period. So, yes: There are way too many coming of age movies about white dudes, but Boyhood? It’s the best one. — DR

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)


“Terrible” and “insufferable” were a few of the words used to describe this film in the comments of last week’s article. Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels seems to elicit powerful love-it-or-hate-it reactions. The story revolves around the titular slacker millennial, played perfectly by Michael Cera, as he navigates his life. He’s not a good roommate, he’s not a good employee, he’s not a good bandmate, and he’s not really a very good boyfriend — either to the women in his past or to those he is currently involved with (one of whom is a high school student named Knives Chau). And then he meets his literal dream girl, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and he starts trying to get his shit together while also battling her Seven Evil Exes. If you are not interested in the struggles of vaguely whiny people in their early 20s who play too many video games, then this story is not for you. On the plus side, however, Wright’s movie is one of the best, most careful and heartfelt comic book adaptations ever. It captures all of the nerdy in-jokes and magical realism of the source material in a way that is both faithful and uniquely filmic. It is a master class in how to translate something from a page onto the screen and have the experience of both feel nearly identical. Also, the cast is disgustingly good. Ramona’s exes are played by the likes of Jason Schwartzman, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Mae Whitman. Brie Larson plays Scott’s ex. Allison Pill, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza fill out the rest of Scott’s world. Basically, this is a movie that only appeals to a very narrow segment of the population — but for those to whom it does appeal, it has a passionate following. — TP

(500) Days of Summer


(500) Days of Summer either hits your feels like a fucking Mack truck, or it feels like forced quirk, mechanically designed to deliver as much whimsy as possible. You can either give into it and get wrapped up in a very genuine experience of falling in love and then watching that love unravel, or you can rail at how unlikable the characters are, or take issue with yet another precocious wise-beyond-her-years kid, or shit all over (500) Days because it doesn’t represent your experience of falling in love. Also, that IKEA date. Ugh. This scene is representative of the divisiveness of the movie: You’re either, like: Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like the morning after, and that’s the exact strut I have taken myself; or you’re like fuck this movie and its dipshit Hall & Oates song and obnoxiously quirky cartoon birds. — DR

Watchmen (2009)


We could do an entire list devoted to how divisive nearly every Zack Snyder film is, but let’s try to keep this focused on just the big takeaways. The man has made quite a career out of primarily adapting comics into films, and before he was spearheading DC’s film universe he chose to tackle the seminal Alan Moore graphic novel. Like Scott Pilgrim, a large part of your reaction to Watchmen may hinge on how well you believe it recreates the source material. If you don’t like the comic, you probably won’t like the movie. And if you LOVE the comic, you may be disappointed in the movie anyway. It’s a sprawling book, and things had to fall along the wayside to translate it to the big screen. In some ways Snyder was almost slavishly true to the source material, recreating panels nearly identically. And visually the movie is stunning. But… Snyder changed the ending. Personally, I always felt that Ozymandias’ giant squid plan from the book made no sense, and I actually gave Snyder credit for coming up with a different master plan for the film, one that felt more rooted in the plot and characters that had been developed by the story. Not everyone agrees on that point. And other changes, mostly around finer reactions and motivations from the characters, do seem to change the themes that the book was presenting. In terms of the cast, some performances (Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley) were praised, while others felt woodenly stylized (Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode). This is just a mixed bag of a film, and what you love or hate comes down to what aspects matter most to you. — TP

The Revenant


Does loving The Revenant make you a douchebag? No. Do douchebags love The Revanant? Yes. This is not a movie; it’s an ordeal. It’s a film you endure, rather than enjoy. It’s vast, sweeping vistas, beautiful cinematography, great direction, and powerful acting, but it’s also a really long, insufferable movie about men being men (grunt grunt); it’s the unironic Ron Swanson of cinema. Leo suffered for his art here and expected an Oscar (and received one), and we suffered as movie viewers watching Leo suffer. Is suffering in and of itself art, or does the suffering actually need to have artistic merit? Is Leo a great actor, or does he just give the illusion of great acting? Is there even a difference? — DR

Jupiter Ascending (2015)


Whatever you may think of the Wachowskis, it’s hard to argue that their films are anything but creative. Some, like The Matrix, capture the collective imagination. Others, like Speed Racer, only get the recognition they deserve over time. Sure, they tend toward lush stylization and wondrous FX just like Zack Snyder, but whereas he tends to fetishize violence, they seem to fetishize another human instinct: hope. With Jupiter Ascending, they made an original, world-building space opera that is also a Disney Princess riff. If you’re ok with Channing Tatum playing a dog person who skates on thin air, great. If you’re happy to see Eddie Redmayne chewing all of the scenery as a villain, fantastic. And if you’re down to watch a rags-to-riches-to-rags-but-still-secretly-rich story, meet Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones. She cleans toilets on Earth, then finds out she’s genetically identically to the rich matriarch of a space dynasty that deals in youth serum… derived by cultivating and murdering species like humans. Sure, the story is mind-boggling and borderline nonsensical. But the visuals are gorgeous, and credit where credit’s due: at least the story isn’t an adaptation but a wholly original epic. Imagine Star Wars if Leia was Luke the whole time… and nobody went to see it. So the movie isn’t perfect, and critics largely rejected it (Richard Roeper from the Chicago Sun-Times flat out said that there’s “no defending” it). But it does have some passionate defenders, and who knows how the future will view it? — TP

Man from U.N.C.L.E.


Man from U.N.C.L.E. is all the rage on film twitter right now, and it’s beloved by many people on this very site, because it is a charming, quick-paced and fashionable spy caper with a captivating cast and the stylistic flourishes of Guy Ritchie. It may be hard for some to remember, then, that Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a fairly sizable disappointment at the box office upon its release, and our original review even took issue with its inept script. Indeed, there is another side to Man from U.N.C.L.E., and some people are too ashamed to admit what they actually think about the movie: That it’s a vacuous remake of a television show, all style, no substance; a movie that lacks a coherent story; another tired Guy Ritchie film that thinks it’s clever when it’s actually treating its audience like morons. But those suits? My God, they are snazzy! — DR

Southland Tales (2006)


Where. To. Even. Begin. Look, expectations were high after Richard Kelly hit it out of the park with Donnie Darko (which, to be fair, is probably also fairly divisive), and audiences were waiting to see what his follow-up would be. And say what you want — he certainly was ambitious. The sprawling, full-to-bursting Southland Tales mostly inspired a very different sort of head-scratching than its predecessor. We can argue about what worked (the cast!) or what didn’t (the plot!), but one thing is for sure: every aspect of the movie was deliberate. It wasn’t a failure of execution so much as perhaps a failure of expectations — Kelly’s, that we as an audience could grasp this level of surreal chaos, and our own, that he would deliver something we COULD grasp. I will hold my hand up as a fan of this beautiful mess of a film, which sees an America that has devolved into anarchy after twin nuclear attacks strike Texas. Dwayne Johnson plays an amnesiac action star. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a psychic porn star-turned-guru. Seann William Scott plays twins who actually aren’t twins, because of quantum entanglement, and also a new power source in the ocean is ripping the planet apart. Mostly, however, this film had the guts to make Justin Timberlake ugly and then film an entire musical sequence where he lipsyncs to a pop song that ISN’T EVEN HIS OWN. A partial list of the supporting cast and cameos includes: Mandy Moore, Christopher Lambert, Cheri Oteri, John Larroquette, Kevin Smith, Amy Poehler, Wallace Shawn, Jon Lovitz, and Nora Dunn. The cast, like the film, is an exercise in excess. You’re either down for the ride, or you’re not. But if you are, you’re in for one batshit ride. — TP

John Carter


John Carter is a bad movie. John Carter (along with Lone Ranger) may be the biggest bomb of the 21st century. It stalled Taylor Kitsch’s career. Reviews were not good. Why would anyone defend this movie? I am not entirely sure, but mention it on this site, or on Twitter, and invariably, people will come to this movie’s defense. Passionately. It’s like the Joe Rogan of films — you never knew anyone gave a shit about him, until you talked smacked about him and then suddenly there are 1000 defenders. I’m not sure why, but here’s my guess: Most of John Carter’s defenders didn’t see it in theaters. Their expectations had been massively lowered by its poor box office performance and bad worth of mouth, so when they popped it on HBO one night to make fun of it, they were pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn’t as bad as everyone said it was. And sure, I guess? If you can excuse Taylor Kitsch’s wooden performance, and divorce the movie from its price tag (seriously, where did that $250 million go?), John Carter isn’t the worst movie ever. I don’t know why anyone would want to defend it, but it’s like Waterworld in the ’90s: A huge box-office bomb that everyone thought was horrible until they watched it and realized it was only kind of bad, and therefore felt compelled to defend it against charges that it was the worst movie of the ’90s. It’s not! But it’s not good, either. — DR

Love Actually


I really don’t think we need to go through this again. It’s the most divisive holiday film of all time. It may be the most divisive film in the history of this site. People either love it. Or hate it. Some people love to hate it. Some people love AND hate it. Some people used to love it, but now hate it. Some people hate parts of it, and love other parts of it. It’s definitely loved. And hated. And that love and hate is felt very passionately. — DR

A Look Ahead to Potentially 2017’s Most Divisive Film

It (2017)


The movie hasn’t been released yet. And based on the reactions to the footage we’ve seen, people are excited for it. It looks like a faithful and scary adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. But for fans of the original network TV movie, there is one drawback to the reboot: the recasting of Pennywise. The TV movie hasn’t aged well, but dammit, Tim Curry’s Pennywise is still the scariest villain I’ve seen on screen. He was pure nightmare fuel, scarring an entire generation of kids who stayed up late and caught his performance on TV, or rented it on VHS. And what made him scary is that most of it was conveyed through his performance alone. Not the makeup, not the laughable special effects - just the pure Curry-ness of it all. They basically dressed him up as a cheap for-hire birthday party clown and let the cameras roll. Obviously Tim Curry couldn’t reprise the part today, and maybe Bill Skarsgård will hold his own and traumatize a whole new generation. Maybe the new film isn’t actually divisive, but for me? I’m already torn and I haven’t even seen it yet. — TP