Though it may have made more sense to have posted this list shortly after my film Claustrophobia was released to mostly poor reviews amongst the hardcore horror crowd, I probably would have looked whiny and defensive in doing so. And I'm not saying Claustrophobia will ever be heralded a "classic". But for a filmmaker like me just trying to make his little movies, it's inspirational to see that some of the best-loved films of all time also once had trouble convincing critics of their worth, either because they were "genre" pictures or because they were considered misfires or simply because they offended their snooty critics. But years later, new generations of fans are discovering these films, while their original detractors are entirely forgotten.
- VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). Famously dismissed by Time magazine as "another Hitchcock and bull story," Vertigo was generally ignored by the public and critics alike. Hitchcock, annoyed at its lack of success and perhaps a little embarrassed by what it revealed about his own obsessions, removed it from circulation in 1973. It was only re-released a decade later, after the director's death.
- PEEPING TOM (Michael Powell, 1960). Michael Powell was one of England's most cherished directors until he released this dark, somewhat sick horror drama (the same year that Hitchcock met with big success with Psycho). Critical hatred for his film was so great that Powell couldn't get another "serious" picture made until 1969. Today it has an enormous cult following, led by Martin Scorsese.
- SCARFACE (Brian De Palma, 1983). Repeat viewings by young males - especially in the world of hip-hop - saved this ultraviolent Al Pacino film from the scrap heap. Must be all the quotable dialogue, hammily delivered by a game cast. But back in 1983, critics thought it was junk, and it didn't appeal to audiences either.
- FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (Amy Heckerling, 1982). Long before screenwriter Cameron Crowe became a household name, he wrote this script for the funny, truthful teen movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which during its release was written off as part of the Porky's trend of stupid, sex-filled teen movies.
- HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter, 1978). Reviewers of the time condemned the movie as exploitative trash, but since then it's been championed as the godfather of horror films, achieving a sort of greatness that most other slasher flicks can only aspire to.
- THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). After Halloween laid down the new rules for the horror genre, nobody knew what to make of lauded filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's idiosyncratic take on Stephen King. Along with poor reviews from Variety, Roger Ebert (who later recanted), and King himself, The Shining was Kubrick's first film in over 20 years to be ignored by the Oscars, and was even nominated for two Razzie Awards: Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) and Worst Director!
- SOMEWHERE IN TIME (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980). This unrepentantly romantic time travel drama barely lasted a couple of weeks in the theaters before bad critical response and an indifferent public bid it a hasty exit. Later, it was one of the first films that truly found its audience through video rentals and cable TV. Next to Superman, it's what Christopher Reeve is best remembered for.
- TRON (Steven Lisberger, 1982).The script is dopey, and the video game based on the movie made more money, but there are many adults today who worship Tron. And certainly it holds an important place in film history for its groundbreaking computer effects, its sound and costume design, and its marvelously unique look. But back in 1982, most brushed it aside as a weird, failed Disney experiment.
- THE RULES OF THE GAME (Jean Renoir, 1939). Today it's considered one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Yet when it was originally released, a man tried to burn down a theater it was showing in, audiences walked out in droves, reviewers hated it because it ridiculed French society, and the French government banned it. Soon the Nazis invaded France - and banned it again. The negative was destroyed, as were most prints, until small chunks of the film were rescued and reunited in 1956, after which it was declared a masterpiece.