The 32 greatest movies that critics hated (and audiences loved)

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Professional movie critics and regular moviegoers don't always see eye to eye. Sometimes, however, the disparity is so wide it feels like critics and audiences live on different planets. That's evidenced by these movies that critics hated, but audiences actually loved.

While the art and craft of professional film criticism is, at least in theory, informed by scholarly expertise (including regular exposure to films made outside Hollywood), regular moviegoers can have a different palette for what defines a "good movie." It's not simply that audiences prefer dumber movies, with simpler stories and extravagant explosions. Although that might seem to be the case, the truth is that audiences and critics can simply have different standards.

Thanks to Rotten Tomatoes and CinemaScore, it's quite easy to see what kind of movies resonate with audiences while leaving critics feeling less than thrilled. Here are 32 legitimately great movies that critics hated but audiences loved.

32. Venom (2018)


(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Critics were not taken by Venom, but audiences latched onto it like sticky goo. Starring Tom Hardy and directed by Zombieland's Reuben Fleischer, this Marvel-adjacent hit centered on Spider-Man's archenemy from the comic books. A hard-hitting TV journalist, Eddie Brock (Hardy) comes in contact with an alien entity that uses his body as a host. Together, the two fight as Venom to stop an evil tech billionaire from destroying the world. While critics panned Venom – Variety called it "a textbook case of a comic-book film that's unexciting in its ho-hum competence" – it still tongue-wagged its way to a massive $850 million gross worldwide. 

31. Harlem Nights (1989)

Harlem Nights

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

When Eddie Murphy was at the height of his superstardom, he leveraged his Hollywood clout to bring to life a passion project: Harlem Nights. An homage to 1930s crime noir, Eddie Murphy wrote, directed, and starred in this film about a nightclub owner in 1938 Harlem who struggles to keep his business running in the face of rival gangsters and corrupt cops. Despite the movie's stacked talent including Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Danny Aiello, and more, Harlem Nights failed to jazz up critics; both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert panned the movie, dubbing it one of the worst movies of 1989. However, the movie has been embraced by audiences. Today, it maintains a strong 80% approval rating by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

30. But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

But I'm a Cheerleader

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

In this satirical comedy, a high school cheerleader - played by Natasha Lyonne - is forced by her parents to attend conversion therapy camp to "cure" her of her budding lesbian sexuality. While audiences today embrace But I'm a Cheerleader as a hilarious and tender portrait of teen queerness, critics who reviewed it upon release were not as welcoming. The Los Angeles Times panned it for having "jaunty, superficial humor," while Variety wrote it off as "shallow." Despite that, But I'm a Cheerleader has its fans rooting from the benches. Retrospective praise includes Curve magazine calling it "incredible" in 2003, while AfterEllen dubbed it "one of the best lesbian movies ever made" in 2015.

29. Transformers (2007)


(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The summer of 2007 was ruled by two movies: the raunchy R-rated comedy Superbad, and the epic blockbuster Transformers from director Michael Bay. The latter movie, which became the first in a billion-dollar hit series, was dismissed outright by critics as a noisy, senseless CGI extravaganza aimed at teenage boys. (That it was also based on the nostalgic '80s franchise worried critics about the state of originality in cinema.) CNN's Tom Charity wrote Transformers would effortlessly "buzz its youthful demographic" yet "leave the rest of us wondering if Hollywood could possibly aim lower." But where critics saw a clunker, audiences saw a winner, with the movie sitting at a strong 85% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

28. The Greatest Beer Run Ever (2022)

The Greatest Beer Run Ever

(Image credit: Apple)

Based on an unbelievable true story (and adapted from a documentary), The Greatest Beer Run Ever from director Peter Farelly stars Zac Efron as real-life U.S. Marine veteran John "Chickie" Donohue, who in 1967 sailed all the way to Vietnam to deliver beer to his childhood buddies serving overseas. The Greatest Beer Run Ever didn't have critics clinking their glasses - "Commits itself to regurgitating every Vietnam cliche with the laziest possible visual diction, led by an emotionally overextended Zac Efron" wrote Guardian's Charles Bramesco - but audiences have been more than happy to crack open a cold one for Farrelly's film. It boasts a mighty 91% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

27. Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

When director Zack Snyder stepped up to reboot Superman's origin story and launch a new shared universe for the DC superheroes, his thunderous efforts were met with a mixed reception. While critics were not universally won over by Snyder's dark vision for the DC Universe - New Yorker's David Denby wrote Man of Steel suffers from "endless declamation, endless violence," and Richard Roeper wrote that "There's very little humor or joy" - Snyder amassed a devoted following who rallied behind him throughout the rest of his tenure in DC, including his 2016 sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and his 2021 version of Justice League. 

26. Hotel Transylvania (2012)

Hotel Transylvania

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Despite the reputation of animation auteur Genndy Tartakovsky, his Hotel Transylvania series - about a hotel for monsters to briefly get away from their obligations scaring humans - have not had critics checking in droves at the front desk. The first film in the series, released in 2012, amassed only a 44% rating by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. (From Empire's Helen O'Hara: "An animation that never drags itself out of mediocrity despite the best efforts of gifted animator Tartakovsky.") But audiences, many of whom likely grew up with the series, are down for Hotel Transylvania's tricks and treats. It keeps a strong 72% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

25. Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

Sweet Home Alabama

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Being a pretty paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, Sweet Home Alabama didn't imparess many critics when it hit theaters in 2002. In a scathing review, Ann Hornaday panned the film in The Washington Post, saying: "Physical charms are no match for the generic predictability of the story." But between the powerhouse that is Reese Witherspoon and endless reruns on cable TV, Sweet Home Alabama has become a true darling among audiences who are won over by its southern charms. Witherspoon plays a New York City fashion designer who returns home to Alabama to finalize her divorce, only to start realizing the one she truly wants might have been with her all along. On Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate approval score among audiences is a comfortable 78%.

24. Step Up (2006)

Step Up

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Essentially a Saturday Night Fever or Dirty Dancing for the MySpace generation, Step Up stars Channing Tatum (in his first major Hollywood leading man role) as a young man from a troubled background who, ahem, steps up to help a beautiful dance student (Jenna Dewan). Inevitably, the two fall in love. While critics weren't in sync with Step Up - it has a paltry 21% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes - the movie had audiences dancing in their seats. The film not only launched the career of director Anne Fletcher, who later directed other hit comedies like 27 Dresses, The Proposal, and The Guilt Trip, but also the career of Channing Tatum.

23. Playing With Fire (2019)

Playing With Fire

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

In this genial family comedy starring John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, and John Leguizamo, three California smokejumpers are legally tasked with watching over three rambunctious children (whom they've rescued from a burning cabin) until child services arrive. Although critics extinguished Playing With Fire - The Observer panned it as "beyond inept" and "contender for the worst movie" of 2019 - audiences have been more drawn to its flames, with a 77% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

22. Where the Crawdads Sing (2022)

Where the Crawdads Sing

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

In this adaptation of the 2018 novel by Delia Owens, Daisy Edgar-Jones plays a resourceful woman named Kya who is deemed a prime suspect in the murder of a prominent North Carolina figure. While Edgar-Jones' performance was praised by critics, the movie as a whole was unpopular among critics. IndieWire's David Ehrlich graded the movie a C+, writing it as "a lot more fun as a hothouse page-turner than it is as a soulful tale of feminine self-sufficiency." However, audiences gravitated to the movie. On CinemaScore, the movie maintains an A- rating by audiences and earned an impressive $144 million at the box office.

21. Bad Boys 2 (2003)

Bad Boys II

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

In Michael Bay's sequel to his own 1995 hit action movie, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith reunite as hotshot cops looking to take down an illegal narcotics ring in Miami. Although critics were unfavorable towards Bad Boys 2 - the late, great Roger Ebert gave the movie just one out of four stars, writing negatively of its "needless cruelty" - the movie blew up the box office with a gross of $273 million worldwide. In retrospect, the movie enjoys its appreciators as an example of Michael Bay's maximalist sensibilities getting cranked up to the highest level.

20. The 355 (2022)

The 355

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In this spy action thriller from Simon Kinberg, Jessica Chastain leads an all-star female ensemble, including Penelope Cruz, Bingbing Fan, Diane Kruger, and Lupita Nyong'o, all of whom play spies uniting to stop terrorists from igniting World War III. Although critics panned it as an uninspired girl-power action flick - The Guardian's Benjamin Lee wrote it off as "generic" and "simply replacing male action heroes with women" that "[stands] back waiting for applause" - The 355 captured audiences in its target sights. The movie enjoys an audience rating of B+ on CinemaScore.

19. Big Daddy (1999)

Big Daddy

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

A star-driven comedy that impressively splits the difference between profane for adults and appropriate for all ages, Adam Sandler plays a 32-year-old slacker who foolishly and illegally adopts a kid (the biological child of his lawyer roommate, played by Jon Stewart, who is unaware of the child's existence) to impress his girlfriend. While critics were unkind to Big Daddy during its release in 1999, including Roger Ebert's painful one-and-a-half star review, audiences love it. Among the movie's biggest fans is acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, who praised it in a 2018 interview with Slashfilm. (PTA worked with Sandler on the film Punch-Drunk Love, released in 2002.)

18. The Gray Man (2022)

The Gray Man

(Image credit: Netflix)

In this dadcore spy action thriller by Marvel directors Joe and Anthony Russo, Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans play enemy CIA agents in an adaptation of Mark Greaney's 2009 novel. With a 44% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes, The Gray Man didn't exactly change the game; Metro UK's Laurshka Ivan-Zadeh had the most succinct takedown of the movie, calling it "A $200,000,000 snooze fest." Still, Netflix touted The Gray Man as a success, being the fifth most-streamed Netflix movie (although the specificity of those metrics are intentionally vague due to Netflix's opacity about its data). The Gray Man enjoys a polarizing 45% critics' rating and a mighty 90% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

17. Underworld (2003)


(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

The first of many gothic action movies starring Kate Beckinsale in the lead role of stylish werewolf hunter Selene, Underworld didn't inspire many critics to howl at the moon. The film has just a 31% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a particularly nasty review by Roger Ebert who wrote it off as "so paltry in its characters and shallow in its story." Audiences, however, are more down for Beckinsale in black leather hunting lycanthropes. It has a B+ audience rating on CinemaScore, a 79% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a handful of sequels and spin-offs that prove how bankable it is for beautiful movie stars to kick monster butt.

16. Uncharted (2022)


(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Judging by its cool 40% score on Rotten Tomatoes, critics didn't find the treasure buried deep beneath Uncharted, directed by Ruben Fleischer. But audiences, by comparison, were more swept away by the movie's magical charms, based on their 90% RT score. Tom Holland stars as treasure hunter Nathan Drake, who teams up with grizzled adventurer Sully (Mark Wahlberg) on a quest to find Magellan's gold. While hardcore fans of the original Uncharted games on PlayStation were peeved over how much the movie strayed from the source material, the movie still struck gold at the box office to become one of the highest-grossing video game movies of all time. 

15. Argylle (2024)


(Image credit: Apple)

From Kick-Ass and Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn came Argylle, a bombastic send-up of spy thrillers that audiences seemed to love more than professional critics. In this original production for Apple TV+, a successful novelist (Bryce Dallas Howard) gets swept up in a real-life game of espionage where she learns that the stories in her books are more factual than she believes. While critics disliked the movie's length, tiresome plot twists, and meta-centric narrative - The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw panned it as "unbearably self-satisfied" - other moviegoers were more thrilled, allowing the movie to boast a more assured 72% Rotten Tomatoes audience score.

14. Black Adam (2022)

Black Adam

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

For all the bravado from Dwayne Johnson that Black Adam would upset the balance of the DC Universe, his 2022 superhero tentpole - about a slave gifted with magical powers who awakens many centuries later - didn't actually electrify the box office. Critics, too, weren't lit up by Johnson's entry into the realm of superhero franchises, with a paltry 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "Black Adam is what happens when you build a movie from the outside in — when you start with the visuals and figure everything else will just fall into place," wrote Glen Weldon for NPR. But audiences are a bit soft on The Rock. RT's audience ratings for Black Adam is at a mighty 88%.

13. Warcraft (2016)


(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Warcraft may be unloved by critics who hadn't logged endless hours traversing the virtual lands of Azeroth. But for audiences, it's a whole different game. Based on the popular Warcraft franchise (including the landmark online MMORPG, World of Warcraft), Duncan Jones' Warcraft is a solid epic fantasy that leaps to life through gorgeously-rendered VFX craftsmanship. While critics had a hard time wrapping their heads around it - "Crowded and scattershot," panned The New Yorker - audiences have spent years demanding a sequel. It boasts a B+ from CinemaScore.

12. The Lion King (2019)

The Lion King

(Image credit: Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studios)

Blurring the lines separating animation from live-action, Jon Favreau's star-studded, photorealistic remake of Disney's seminal 1994 classic The Lion King didn't get many critics roaring in reverence. "This isn't the circle of life; it's more like a creative dead end," wrote Justin Chang for NPR. "It's a lovingly envisioned, lavishly produced, and painstakingly crafted cash grab. And it's not much more than that," echoed Angie Han at Mashable. But audiences were more easily swept away by the movie's technical sophistication and targeted nostalgia, with audience scores being rated "A" at CinemaScore and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

11. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Wet Hot American Summer

(Image credit: Focus Features)

While it's celebrated now as a cult classic, Wet Hot American Summer was in fact a critical and commercial bomb. Despite its stacked cast including Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Elizabeth Banks, Christopher Meloni, Amy Poehler, and even Bradley Cooper in his film debut, Wet Hot American Summer left critics feeling dry as a bone; it was so bad in the eyes of Roger Ebert, he wrote his scathing review in song. Still, Wet Hot American Summer drew a passionate crowd to make it into a franchise. On Netflix, the movie inspired both a prequel and a sequel series, with virtually everyone in the cast playing younger and older versions of their characters.

10. Hook (1991)


(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

Yes, believe it or not, Steven Spielberg's Hook with Robin Williams was not loved among critics circa '91. On Rotten Tomatoes, only 29% of professional reviews wrote positively of the movie, which tells of an adult Peter Pan who has forgotten all about his magical childhood until he returns to Neverland. "The failure in Hook is its inability to re-imagine the material, to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth," panned Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. But audiences have loved Hook for generations, from Williams' committed performance to John Williams' score to even Dante Basco as the charismatic rascal Rufio. On CinemaScore, Hook boasts a pixie dust-coated A-.

9. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

When The Super Mario Bros. Movie warped its way into theaters, some critics were hoping to unplug their controllers. With a limp 59% critics' rating on Rotten Tomatoes, critics were divided over the movie's middling story and safe execution of a well-known video game IP. But The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a box office titan in 2023, being one of the highest-grossing movies of the year alongside Barbie and Oppenheimer. Audiences rated the movie much higher than critics too, with a Goomba-stomping 95% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

8. Twilight (2008)


(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

Even if hardcore fans of Twilight agree that it isn't a cinematic masterpiece, Catherine Hardwicke's movie adaptation of Stephanie YA best-seller - and the breakout movie for both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson - still glitters in the sun for anyone who grew up with it. While critics weren't enchanted by the movie's moody story of star-crossed teen lovers, Twilight still launched the careers of its stars and successfully spawned a franchise for Lionsgate. On Rotten Tomatoes, Twilight scored 49% among critics and 72% among audiences.

7. Jurassic World: Dominion

Jurassic World: Dominion

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Life, uh, finds a way… to ruin a classic. In 2022, the Jurassic Park/World franchise synthesized into a cross-generation extravaganza, Jurassic World: Dominion, which reunited the cast and characters of 1993's Jurassic Park with the Jurassic World era. The results were cataclysmic, at least to critics who deemed the series extinct. "With Jurassic World: Dominion, it's clear: Colin Trevorrow is the worst thing that's happened to dinosaurs since that asteroid knocked them all into the past tense," wrote Kristy Puchko for Mashable. Still, Jurassic World: Dominion got fans doing the dinosaur, with a 77% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

6. Man on Fire (2004)

Man on Fire

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

In 2004, Tony Scott helmed the second feature film version of A.J. Quinnell's 1980 novel Man on Fire. Scott's version stars Denzel Washington as a troubled ex-CIA turned bodyguard who rampages through Mexico on a mission to rescue a nine-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning). Critics weren't taken hostage by Man on Fire, which the Rotten Tomatoes consensus summary says is due to the movie's exceedingly grim story. But audiences loved Man on Fire, with a strong 89% audience approval rating and an A- grade on CinemaScore.

5. The Thing (1982)

The Thing

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Although John Carpenter's 1982 creature feature The Thing is revered now as a technical and artistic marvel, critics in '82 were ice cold. Linda Gross of the Los Angeles Times criticized the movie for being "bereft, despairing, and nihilistic" whilst Starlog's Alan Spencer called it "sterile." Critics weren't alone, as even audiences avoided The Thing at the box office. It wasn't until it hit home video that The Thing found a more devoted audience who shivered at its chilling tale about an alien parasite terrorizing scientists at an Antarctica research facility. Today, The Thing is widely regarded as a classic of 1980s filmmaking.

4. Tommy Boy (1995)

Tommy Boy

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

One of many sketches from Saturday Night Live to spin off as a feature film was Peter Segal's 1995 buddy comedy Tommy Boy. SNL castmates David Spade and Chris Farley star in this ridiculous comedy about a socially inept and physically disruptive Tommy (Farley) who desperately tries to save his late father's auto parts factory with the help of straight-laced Richard (Spade). Critics were unkind towards Tommy Boy, but endless reruns on cable TV have made Tommy Boy a cult classic. It enjoys an A- CinemaScore and 90% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes.

3. Armageddon (1998)


(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Critics saw only doom in Armageddon, Michael Bay's sci-fi blockbuster from 1998 about blue collar drillers recruited by NASA to stop an Earthbound asteroid. "I must confess that at times I found myself rooting for the meteor to hit the Earth and put us all out of our misery," wrote Andrew Sarris in his review for Observer. Still, Armageddon was an unstoppable pop culture juggernaut (Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" was EVERYWHERE) that endures even now as a relic of late '90s tentpole filmmaking. The movie maintains a strong A- CinemaScore and a 73% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (versus 43% from critics).

2. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even in an era when superheroes ruled theaters, the king of the monsters still had power. In 2019, writer/director Michael Dougherty unleashed Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a Hollywood blockbuster that expanded the MonsterVerse franchise. A direct sequel to 2014's Godzilla, Godzilla: King of the Monsters sees the rise of the horrific dragon-like monster Ghidora, as well as the other "Titans," with Godzilla the only one capable of stopping them from destroying the world. Critics were unimpressed by King of the Monsters' imposing presence, but audiences cheered it on anyway. On Rotten Tomatoes, its critics' score is just 42% versus the more muscular 83% by audiences.

1. National Treasure (2004)

National Treasure

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Critics might have rolled their eyes over Nicolas Cage vandalizing the Declaration of Independence, but in 2004, audiences couldn't get enough of it. About a historian (Cage) who teams up with other experts to locate lost treasure indicated by a map hidden on America's founding documents, National Treasure was a legitimate box office smash that further solidified Nicolas Cage's movie star status. (And to think: Once upon a time, Disney made original hit movies not based on comic books or theme park rides.) While audiences loved National Treasure so much that it's now regarded as a modern classic, critics weren't so amused. It has a paltry 46% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Roger Ebert criticizing it as a would-be Monty Python parody in his two-star review.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.