13 Movies That Film Critics Got Completely Wrong

Yeah, that "sentimental little slum movie" about an underdog Philly boxer will never be a hit.

As I was reading through old reviews and writings of Roger Ebert last week, I stumbled across an interview he did for the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. In it he talks about the importance of film criticism and his infamous disagreements with fellow critic and co-host of At the Movies, Gene Siskel. “As mad I was about him not liking Apocalypse Now, he couldn’t believe I could find fault with Full Metal Jacket by Kubrick.”

Even Ebert admitted that criticism is a very personal pursuit. The impressions or opinions of one critic will not be generalizable to other critics or to the general population. (How else can you explain the career of Julia Stiles?) And yet, as years go by and certain films become “classics” or “cult-favorites,” those critics who had negative opinions and gave negative reviews now seem ill informed and flat-out wrong.

So even as Jurassic Park one of the most influential CGI films of all time and one boasting one of John William’s best scoresreturned to the theater in 3D-format last weekend, we shouldn’t forget the 1993 review from Terrence Rafferty in The New Yorker: “Neither [the carnivorous dinos] nor the placid herbivores inspire anything close to awe, even with the aid of audience stimulants like surging symphonic music (by the shameless John Williams)… It’s just a creature feature on amphetamines.”

Um, right.

Anyway, Rafferty is hardly alone. Here, 12 more examples where time has proven critics very, very wrong. Including Ebert.

Rocky (1976), #57 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“Not since The Great Gatsby two years ago has any film come into town more absurdly oversold than Rocky, the sentimental little slum movie that opened yesterday… “ Vincent Canby, New York Times

Wizard of Oz (1939), #10 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“It has dwarfs, music, technicolor, freak characters and Judy Garland. It can’t be expected to have a sense of humor as well—and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet.” Otis Ferguson, New Republic

Pulp Fiction (1994), #94 on AFI’s 100 Movies
Its “anthology of stories about gangster fun and games in Los Angeles doesn’t merit sustained veneration.” Kenneth Turan, LA Times

Psycho (1960), #14 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“There is not an abundance of subtlety or the lately familiar Hitchcock bent toward significant and colorful scenery in this obviously low-budget job.” Bosley Crowther, New York Times

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), #15 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“In the first 30 seconds, this film gets off on the wrong foot and, although there are plenty of clever effects and some amusing spots, it never recovers. Because this is a major effort by an important director, it is a major disappointment.” Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic

Chinatown (1974), #21 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“As much as I admire the work of both [Roman] Polanski and [Jack] Nicholson, I found Chinatown tedious from beginning to just before the end. The majority of problems are to be found in Polanski’s direction of Robert Towne’s script.” Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

The Matrix (1999)
“It’s astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid.” Bob Graham, San Francisco Chronicle

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
“How could they do this to Jennifer Jason Leigh? How could they put such a fresh and cheerful person into such a scuz-pit of a movie?” Roger Ebert, Chicago Tribune

Star Wars (1977), #13 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“It’s a film that’s totally uninterested in anything that doesn’t connect with the mass audience. There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus.” Pauline Kael, New Yorker

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
“That the film doesn’t live up to our anticipation of a rollicking good time is only part of its disappointment.” Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Apocalypse Now (1979), #30 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“While much of the footage is breathtaking, Apocalypse Now is emotionally obtuse and intellectually empty. It is not so much an epic account of a grueling war as an incongruous, extravagant monument to artistic self-defeat.” Frank Rice, Time

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), #66 on AFI’s 100 Movies
“Spielberg, who directed, knows a lot about action cutting but nothing about narrative rhythm: this 1981 film travels fast and straight down a linear plot, and the ceaseless rush quickly becomes monotonous.” Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Groundhog Day (1993), selected for preservation in Library of Congress in 2006
It “will never be designated a national film treasure by the Library of Congress.” Desson Howe, Washington Post