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10 Best Guilty Pleasure Movies of All Time

July 21, 2018
11 min read

They are films I should dislike, even loathe, yet my dark secret is, I watch them, I like them. Some of them are terribly written, yet the director overcomes that, filling the screen with awe and wonder, while others are downright terrible, but like a car wreck, you cannot look away. You watch in wonder and bewilderment, asking yourself over and over…how did this get made? ‘Howard the Duck’ is a great example; what told them this would make a good movie? We watch poor Lea Thompson act opposite a little person in a duck suit? Painful, because she must have had dreams of doing good work, most actors do. To her credit, she went on to do much better work, and had a wonderful TV sitcom in the nineties for a time, but this film is forever on her resume.

To be clear, if these films are on TV, I watch them. Every so often I will pull one of them out of my collection and watch them, just for fun. My wife taught me, not everything has to be brilliant; sometimes movies need to be fun, and we need them to be fun. So here is the list of top guilty pleasure movies ever made. You can watch some of these best guilty pleasure movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

10. King Kong (1976)

When they announced that they were remaking the classic film I was intrigued. When I saw the film on opening night, I was transfixed, not by Kong, but by the actress Jessica Lange. In the thankless role as the woman Kong falls in love with (is that even possible?), she is wonderful, whether lashing out at the ape, or being held under a waterfall to wash or finally begging him to pick her up as the choppers rain bullets on him. Kong should be the film, but he is clearly a guy in a suit sometimes, and mechanical other times. Lange is funny, erotic, sexy, interesting and fun. Peter Jackson’s remake in 2005 is a masterpiece and this work is often forgotten. If not for Lange, it would be.

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9. A Star is Born (1976)

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Critics killed Barbra Streisand for this film, which she produced and starred in, but it has some great things in it. The songs are terrific, the cinematography is superb, and Kris Kristofersson is brilliant as a burnt-out rock star who falls for Streisand, a young pop singer. Helping her with her career, she becomes a star while his career goes into a decline. Alcohol and drugs become his best friends and then the paint-by-numbers screenplay kicks in. He dies, she mourns, she sings his music and he is not gone at all. Shoot me, it works for me even though I know it is achingly ordinary.

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8. Planet of the Apes Sequels (1970, ‘71, ‘72, ‘73)

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The first film was a stunner, armed with a stinger of an ending that knocked audiences and critics out. The movie was such a hit that Fox at once lined up a sequel, and out they came, one after another, year after year for four years, bringing the story full circle. Sadly, the films were progressively weaker as the studio cut the budget, used cheap looking masks on the apes in the background, and it became evident that the films were a cash cow for the studio, nothing more. ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ (1970) starts were ‘Planet of the Apes’ left off, with Taylor encountering mutant humans who are beneath the ground and hate the apes.

‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ (1971) deals with Cornelius and Zira, the peaceful chimps who loved Taylor, somehow raising a smashed spaceship and going back in time to 1971, tracing his footsteps where they are loved by mankind until it becomes clear what they represent — the future and end of the world.  They are killed by a madman, but not before placing their child with a circus master. In ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ (1972), the baby has grown and becomes Caesar, the leader of the apes, who is intelligent, with the ability to speak. He will lead the abused and enslaved apes in revolt against man.

Finally, the cheapest and weakest of the franchise, ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ (1973), in which the apes and their allies go to war against the survivors who live beneath the city. The great director John Huston makes a cameo here as the Lawgiver, who we see at the end of the film where ape and human live as equals, side by side. The franchise got worse as the years passed, but they are addictive, and I was first in line to see each.

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7. WC Fields and Me (1976)

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I love performance, I love seeing actors take chances and have them pay off. Sometimes, though, it is interesting to see them take a chance and fail. Rod Steiger can be a great actor, or he can be an over-the-top ham-bone, making a grand fool of himself. Here as the legendary WC Fields, he is far better than the film, and though not great, he is very good, creating a very credible and believable Fields. The other actors fall under his formidable shadow, and the movie is not very good, but damned if you can take your eyes off Steiger!

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6. Howard the Duck (1986)

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This film is based on a cult comic book, about a talking duck who ends up here on earth by mistake, and lives among us. George Lucas produced the film, and no doubt had a hand in the creation and look of the picture, which is sort of shocking because it is terrible. The little duck is created by plunking a little person in a duck suit, where he walks upright like us, talks, and is more human than fowl. Where it gets creepy is when our heroine, Lea Thompson, has a love and bedroom scene with the fatherly little guy, taking a ride in the animal kingdom. Um, eww… Why do I watch it? I cannot believe anyone thought this would work, and I like seeing actors game for something they must have known was ridiculous while they were making it. Tim Robbins is in this nightmare.

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5. Cruising (1980)

Let’s be clear, Al Pacino gives one of his best and bravest performances as an undercover cop sent into the gay, sadomasochistic world to find a killer. In William Freidkin’s gritty, underground film, Pacino is the best thing in a confusing, sometimes exploitative look into one aspect of the gay underground. What is often forgotten is that heterosexuals also practice sadomasochism, bondage and rough role-playing sex, which was something that seemed forgotten when the film was released. It is bleak and very powerful, far better than it was given credit for. For me, it is a reminder of how bold and daring Pacino was so long ago.

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4. 1941 (1979)

Steven Spielberg failed mightily with this forty-million-dollar flop, his first, and it is wildly self-indulgent and for a comedy, just not funny. John Belushi is fun to watch as a drunken fighter jet pilot, his airplane careening wildly through the air and over the streets of LA. The film opens with a shot-for-shot recreation of the opening of ‘Jaws’ (1975), only instead of being pulled under by a shark, the young woman swimming (the same young woman) is lifted naked, high into the air by a periscope as the Japanese look for a target near Hollywood. Eddie Deezen is flat out wonderful as a kooky ventriloquist trapped on a Ferris wheel with a man who loathes him. Crazy, utter mayhem, screw it all, slapstick fun, that is rarely funny. But damned if I can look away from the madness!

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3. Starship Troopers (1997)

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This is a slick, well-made science fiction thriller acted like a comic book by a group of young and pretty actors, with great special effects, and a predictable plot. I like that the military is equally men and women, that women are permitted, encouraged to be kick ass warriors, I like that they go after a common enemy, a planet of bugs that can send destruction from hundreds of thousands of miles away. The effects give us wave after wave of vicious, man-eating insects, hellbent on destroying humanity, just as we are trying to kill them and understand them. Yes, it is hard to believe Denise Roberts driving a space ship, a permanent stupid smile on her face. I struggle to believe she could ride a bike with training wheels, but it is a great big, absurd popcorn movie.

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2. Showgirls (1995)

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Okay, it is a mess of a movie, stupid beyond belief, implausible, ridiculous. The lead actress Elizabeth Berkley, a beautiful, statuesque blonde, has no trouble shedding clothes, and she is spectacular; but she spits out each line of dialogue with venom, using her entire body to say the words. It is as if she is rabid and unable to speak. There is not a shred of believability in her performance or the film, but what do I like? Her game. She tries. She throws her entire being into a film she must have known was bad, exploitative and was exploiting her. But give her credit, she goes at it like she is portraying one of the greatest roles ever written.

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1. The Ten Commandments (1956)

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This is the film that forever got me addicted to movies. I was twelve when Dad packed the family into the car, making the trip to the city for a re-release of Cecil B. Demille’s ‘The Ten Commandments’ (1956). Dad was a movie junkie, he loved them, and he had often talked about this film to us. By 12 I was already cynical and sharp, and I expected a long, boring Biblical movie. The parting of the Red Sea? I expected the tide to go out. But I loved my dad, trusted him, so I was all in. I went in with hope because it was almost four hours of my life that I would never get back. The colors got me first, the beauty of the art direction, production design and costumes was remarkable. The sheer size of the film stunned me; it was, and remains massive.

At the center of it all was Charlton Heston, magnificent as Moses, creating a character we cared about, and could not take our eyes off. Even in massive crowd scenes, by his sheer presence, Heston towered over everyone, and everything. The Exodus was a startling sequence, with so many people, and the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt after being freed. With Moses leading them, they marched past the massive columns and sphinxes they built, into the desert to find their new home.

This leads directly into the film’s most famous sequence — the parting of the Red Sea. By now the movie had me, I was in, I was loving it, but if the director blew this, I was out. Trapped against the sea when Pharaoh’s chariots come storming across the desert, I remember sitting forward in my seat, quietly whispering, “show me”. And he did. The sky over the sea turned black as a pillar of fire kept the army, bent on murder, back. Behind Moses the sea churned madly, as did the black clouds above it. Standing on a rock above the waters, the wind whipping his hair and beard, Moses roars, “The Lord of hosts will do battle for us…behold his mighty hand”. The wind becomes ferocious, and two tornado-like clouds lunge into the sea, churning the water madly.

Suddenly the sea opens, and two massive walls of madly churning water open and leave a path down the middle for the Hebrews to cross safely. The director cuts to the faces of the awestruck slaves, overwhelmed by what they have seen. I remember tears in my eyes, glancing at my father who gave me a knowing nod. Maybe because movies bond us, maybe because he understands my passion for film. Yes, the writing is awful; true, some of the performances reek of melodrama, but Heston stands tall, making even the inanest dialogue work. Goofy, great fun, and it forever holds a special place in my heart.

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