This is a no shame zone. I’ll be honest that Jupiter Ascending is my all-time favorite film — despite what any critic might say. And luckily for all of us, science has an answer for why some movies are so bad they’re … good.
“People talk about using media as simple entertainment, which people equate with fun,” says Karen Dill-Shackleford, a media psychologist at Fielding Graduate University. “But we get a lot of personal meaning with our connection with stories, with television,” she says. This personal connection to media is what drives why we like these types of movies.
People can experience films on many different levels, Dill-Shackleford points out. You can connect with the storyline, the acting, the visual effects, or just elements of the relationships between the characters. When you like a movie deemed bad by the populace, “it doesn’t mean that you don’t have artistic taste, or you don’t understand forms of film,” says Dill-Shackleford. Instead, you are deriving pleasure on some level that isn’t calculated into the Rotten Tomatometer. “If it brings you pleasure, I think you should like that and not pretend,” says Dill-Shackleford. In her professional opinion, there is no shame in that — be proud of what you are, just like Evelyn Carnahan in that so-bad-it’s-genius movie, The Mummy.
It’s hard to define exactly what makes a movie so bad it’s good. A bad plot and bad acting aren’t enough, there has to be something about it that is delightful to watch, that irresistible “campy” factor. The best bad movies are really just a little bit weird. James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University, says, “My guess is that [it’s] something in the absurdity of the plot or the woodenness of the acting.” He also brought up that a bad movie with an element of unintentional irony in it is likely to push a movie from disdainful to outright hilarious.
For Cutting, he sees a number of low-budget horror films that fit into this category. He studies film structure, and says that these particular films have very foreseeable plot structures. “I wonder if a bad film is so formulaic and so predictable that you enjoy being able to predict it,” he says. “We just know everything that’s going on and it’s just a real kick, it’s like a sugar high, like cotton candy — it’s so bad it’s good.”
Guessing about what’s inside a character’s head is one of the main reasons people enjoy films in general, says Dill-Shackleford. And when you get a film where you can predict what’s happening for the whole movie – not only are you entertained, you are fulfilling a deeply rooted desire to understand the people in your life.
In other words: Embrace your ridiculous guilty pleasures — when a groan-worthy movie comes with Channing Tatum as a half wolf albino runt on space roller skates and Eddie Redmayne’s performance should have won an Oscar for brilliant over-acting – well that’s just the icing on the psychological cake.