Friday Feature: Why I Hate The Term "Popcorn Movie" by @destroytheearth

A term I hear a lot in circles of the geekarati is "popcorn movie"; as in, just a silly film to shovel popcorn down to. What bothers me about this is that people use this as a derogatory term: "Yeah, it was okay, a good popcorn movie".

The implication is a negative one, but surely this means the film swept you along, kept you entertained and gave you an enjoyable evening; what more could you ask from any piece of cinema? Hit the jump to find out:

Perhaps the let down with these films is that old chestnut of the intellectual experience? Well, quite a few popcorn movies have a deeper side to them. Take the film from which this blog took its name. The Day The Earth Stood Still (the original, not the woeful remake) is just another 50s flying saucer movie with aliens and clunking robots, yes? No. It is a film that analyses mankind's propensity for violence; a film where the only villain is the fact that we just can't seem to get along with one another. How much deeper do you want to go?

The same can be said of countless films. If you want some good examples check out a book called The Philosopher At The End Of The Universe by a philosophy professor of my acquaintance named Mark Rowlands. The book explains each of the major concepts of western philosophy by using examples of classic "popcorn" scifi like Star Wars, Terminator and even Hollow Man. He also hints at Predator as a possible allegory for vegetarianism and hails the Governator as the greatest philosopher of our generation.

Elsewhere amongst the intellectual popcorn flicks is the almost-portmanteau structure of Tarantino's Kill Bill; the high-kicking martial arts film Ong Bak, which takes a stand for Thai patriotism; Rambo's indictment on the treatment of war veterans; Romero's constant communist subtext in his zombie films; The Matrix' cod philosophy; I Spit On Your Grave's feminist interpretation; Armageddon's accurate portrayal of NASA technology (thankyou Black Dog); heck, Stephen Hawking is a Star Trek fan for crying out loud!

Not that films always need to rattle your noggin to be worthy. I mean, take a look at Psycho, for example. It may have a few major twists, but basically it's just an old-school slasher film. What makes the movie a classic is the stunning cinematography and the explosive performances. Do we really want to start judging films by how complicated they are? Does The Godfather have the reverse chronology of Memento? Does Lawrence of Arabia have Pi's mathematical basis?

Of course, I'm being churlish, but the thing to remember is that there is always a higher-brow fish. When you start looking down on a film, there's always someone who's then justified in looking down on your favourites. You can criticise Michael Bay or Paul WS Anderson for being shallow, but they're both geniuses at what they do. You may feel you can look down on them because you're a fan of Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi, but really they just make unrealistic films about men in silly costumes, right? You can be the world's biggest Hitchcock fan, but isn't he just a schlock schlinger compared to Orson Welles? Still, Welles isn't exactly Shakespeare is he? Then again, ultimately, Shakespeare made his plays for mass consumption; people brought their pigs along to The Globe for pity's sake! Not to mention, of course, that it is all just silly, fictional escapism and none of it is really that serious anyway.

Isn't "popcorn movie" just an excuse to allow you to get away with liking something you feel you might be mocked for enjoying? A way to pardon yourself for being swept up in something less than a wholly intellectual exercise?

Perhaps so many of us have been called geeks for so long that the only credibility we feel we have left is the pretence that we enjoy a more intellectual, artistic medium that Big Brother or America's Top Model; but by looking down on films for being just "popcorn movies", aren't we just calling fans of them geeks? Can we afford to be so dismissive?

I have no illusions that this will kill off the term in the long run; but, suffice to say, this blog won't be criticising a film for being "good, but only for a night in with beer and pizza". That's good enough for us.

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