There have been many lists over the last week or two rounding up the best and worst films of 2017, from the universally admired warmth of something like Paddington 2 to the objective stink emanating from every frame of Transformers: The Last Knight. Alongside these more obvious reviews, though, there have been many films that have split opinion almost straight down the middle.
Some of the films on this list are major blockbusters that have appealed to fans while turning off critics, while others are strange arthouse gambles that were never going to float everyone’s boat. All of the films have sparked impassioned debate online, with many of the battles rumbling for weeks after the movies’ initial release dates.
Here are the most divisive films released in the UK in 2017…
Martin Scorsese took a risk with Silence. The film is a traditional historical epic, running to nearly three hours and focusing on a pair of Portuguese priests who travel to Japan in order to track down their mentor, who has allegedly renounced his religion. It’s a study of faith and what it will take to break that faith.
The film is a tough watch and it’s easy to see why many have dubbed it a bit of a slog. However, Scorsese’s passion for the material comes through in every frame of Silence, which is performed with real thought and contemplation by all involved in this hugely ambitious and moving piece of work.
The Good: “It’s essential filmmaking from the church of Scorsese, a modern master who lives and breathes in the images he puts on screen.” (Rolling Stone)
The Bad: “My own patience was sorely tested to the point that I might have taken a little bit of a nap.” (The Spectator)
9. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
If Silence was the result of years of passion from Scorsese, then Valerian is the equivalent for Luc Besson. The French auteur has been trying to put his sprawling sci-fi project together for years and it has finally come to fruition with the tale of two space cops in search of a MacGuffin on a space station packed with thousands of intergalactic species living together. With its 49% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the very definition of divisive.
While many praised the visual style and the sheer, unadulterated courage required to spend that much money on something so bizarre, others took aim at the rather conventional plotting and the bland absence of chemistry between the two leads. The film was a major financial disappointment and has appeared on several lists of worst films of the year. Personally, I kinda liked it.
The Good: “It’s blockbuster fun with the lights left on: slinky, energised and tirelessly inventive, with no thought in its pretty little head but to bombard you with delight.” (Telegraph)
The Bad: “A summer movie that leaves the block unbusted. In fact, it leaves the block pristine and box-fresh and, if you kept the receipt, in a fit condition to be returned to the block store.” (The Guardian)
8. The Mummy
Universal had big plans for its Dark Universe, but those plans were almost immediately torpedoed when The Mummy was met with critical bile. The film, which features involvement from Henry Jekyll and hints at other figures in the eventual shared franchise, is a horror-inflected adventure tale, with Tom Cruise running and jumping around in the central role.
Franchise fans and some reviewers, including this one, enjoyed the rollicking adventure feel of the story, as well as the darker edges. Others, though, were cynical about the fact this is yet another example of a shared universe on the big screen wanting to run before it can walk.
The Good: “Truly a brilliant popcorn blockbuster that is fun and heartfelt and thrilling – and it’s clear with each passing scene that Cruise and cast are having the time of their lives.” (Metro)
The Bad: “All it has to offer is silly ideas, impressive-in-the-trailer/meaningless-in-the-movie images and loose ends to be picked up later.” (Sight & Sound)
7. Power Rangers
It always seemed like a bizarre choice to bring Power Rangers back to the big screen. The property is not even close to as popular as it used to be and there was little appetite for a reboot. Despite this, though, the new film is an intriguing take on the idea of the Power Rangers laced with interesting discussions of teenage issues. It has Elizabeth Banks devouring the scenery as Rita Repulsa and even a nostalgic blast of the old TV theme music.
The film is certainly an odd one and it’s another movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score hovering around the 50% mark. Critics were unsure whether to laud the film for its use of zeitgeisty issues or smack it down for the fact it’s fairly light on action until the finale. Either way, its financial performance was disappointing enough that a sequel now seems very unlikely.
The Good: “The film remains true to its TV origins and pays respect to its Japanese creators. Nostalgia has never felt so morphenomenal.” (Time Out)
The Bad: “The ugly and incomprehensible big finish we get appears to have been shot by the Hunchback of Notre Dame and edited by a monkey wearing oven gloves.” (Telegraph)
6. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The first Kingsman movie, though it infuriated and baffled me, is beloved by many people as a subversive and smutty take on the spy genre. It was that anticipation that had fans thrilled in advance of sequel The Golden Circle. The resulting film is something of a mess and, though many appreciated the way it doubled down on the excesses of its predecessor, others mourned its lack of imagination and descent into silliness.
It seems pretty clear that Matthew Vaughn has specifically calibrated these films to polarise. He’s not interested in winning new fans and it doesn’t seem he’s that bothered by keeping the ones he already has.
The Good: “As ultraviolent as the first film, and as ultrasmutty, The Golden Circle will leave the Kingsfans grinning.” (Empire)
The Bad: “Where the first Kingsman was a shot in the arm, The Golden Circle is a truncheon to the skull.” (Birth.Movies.Death.)
5. La La Land
This might seem an odd choice for a list about divisive films given it came within a whisker of winning the Oscar for Best Picture at the beginning of the year. As much as La La Land is a big, Hollywood musical with emotional warmth, it was also pilloried over allegations Ryan Gosling‘s character was guilty of mansplaining showbusiness to Emma Stone and also whitesplaining jazz music.
By the time the actual Oscars ceremony came around this year, La La Land had been the favourite and presumed winner for so long that the backlash had months to percolate and grow. I have no idea what the film’s reputation will be in years to come but, for now, it’s a divisive piece of work.
The Good: “I have yet to meet someone who’s watched it and come out in a bad mood.” (Toronto Sun)
The Bad: “Damien Chazelle’s tawdry, dispiriting confection is the tale of two narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest.” (The Guardian)
4. Justice League
The disparate strands of DC’s superhero movie universe finally came together this year for Justice League. It’s a big, bloated, bombastic movie that stuffs all manner of nonsense into its running time, but just about gets by on visual flair, an undeniable sense of occasion and the star wattage of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Of course, DC’s movie universe divides just about everyone and that dynamic was certainly at play in the response to Justice League. Some critics warmed to the film, while others rubbished it in the same way that Batman v Superman was savaged a few years ago. A little of the criticism might have been unfair but, for the most part, it was based on concerns that are certainly valid.
The Good: “There’s actually some thought behind the heroic hijinx. Plus it’s a blast to behold.” (HuffPost)
The Bad: “The darn thing feels depressingly haphazard and thoughtless, and it’s guaranteed to make a ton of money anyway. Superhero fans are a ridiculously powerful market; they deserve better than this.” (Washington Post)
3. Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 had an awful lot on its shoulders when it made its way into cinemas. For the most part, the film was met with rapturous reviews from critics and it has made its way on to many lists of the best movies of 2017. It’s a slow, methodical sci-fi in which Ryan Gosling, making his second appearance on this list, delivers a taciturn, broody performance as a cop on the hunt for rogue replicants.
Critics fell over themselves to laud this as a worthy follow-up to the classic original film. At the box office, though, it really suffered. Apparently it came as something of a surprise to Warner Bros when mainstream audiences didn’t want to watch a three hour sci-fi movie that required knowledge of a cult film from the 1980s. It’s a mystery!
The Good: “Blade Runner 2049 is terrific, a worthy heir to one of the great science-fiction films of all time.” (The Atlantic)
The Bad: “This film is little more than a bauble: shiny, hollow and shatters under the slightest pressure.” (Little White Lies)
There has been nothing released this year, or indeed any year, that is as utterly bizarre and totally unique as mother! – Darren Aronofsky‘s descent into hell. The bizarre story, in which Jennifer Lawrence watches her husband and her home being destroyed by manifestations of his own newfound fame and drive to be loved by strangers, unfolds as a baffling, nightmarish puzzle.
The reaction to mother! was absolutely night and day. There were reviews celebrating it as one of the best movies Aronofsky has ever made and it was also dubbed the “worst movie of the decade” in one particularly savage write-up. While I enjoyed the myriad allegories and almost physical onslaught the film represented, many were left feeling Aronofsky was just being pretentious.
The Good: “It comes together beautifully in your head even as everything else seems to be coming apart.” (LA Times)
The Bad: “Soup is the perfect word to describe this pretentious mess of a film. It is full of vapid characters and overwrought imagery, which Aronofsky seems to think add up to allegory.” (BBC)
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The most divisive film of 2017 is also one of the most recent. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the most highly anticipated film of the year and, after the initial rush of excitement, the negative reactions started to appear online. Since then, social media has exploded with what can only be described as a raging fire of irate disagreement between franchise acolytes on both sides.
Critics are largely unified in their love for the film, but it’s the fans who have ensured The Last Jedi is the year’s most polarising movie. They have slated the movie for its twisting of Jedi lore and for presenting Force powers that haven’t been seen before, as well as inserting too much humour. This is a film in which, in a bizarre twist of fate, it’s the critics flying the flag while the fans hurl the poop. Who saw that coming?
The Good: “A thrill ride and a great good time, but it’s also about finding inspiration among the embattled and the principled, no matter how outnumbered they or we may feel. In short, it feels like a new hope.” (Boston Globe)
The Bad: “Overstuffed and incredibly disjointed; a collection of uncorrelated rah-rah scenes and little else.” (Daily Beast)
How did you feel about this list of divisive movies? Which ones are you willing to come out and defend? Let me know in the comments section and be sure to come back in the next few days for more content looking back at 2017 in film.