Sometimes movies that are supposed to be throwaways accidentally aren’t. Including movies like 21 Jump Street, Taken, Bring It On, She’s All That and more.
I don’t necessarily think anyone sets out intentionally to make a bad movie. There are just so many places where a movie can go wrong — from 15 rewrites of the script to bureaucratic story decisions to stunt casting to overreacting based on focus group and test screenings to dumbing things down for a target demographic to 1,000 other pitfalls.
In the end, so many movies turn out poorly or, more likely, completely disposable and forgettable. But every once in a while, a movie that looked like a throwaway defies those massive odds and is actually good. And sometimes, it feels like that happens entirely by accident.
Here are 11 movies that somehow… miraculously… inadvertently… accidentally turned out good.
11 | 21 Jump Street (2012)
What it was supposed to be: An inexpensive ($42 million budget) reboot of yet another old TV show which would make a few bucks, score a couple of easy laughs, and then dutifully join the ranks of The A-Team, George of the Jungle, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch, Inspector Gadget, The Beverly Hillbillies, Dukes of Hazzard, Miami Vice, The Mod Squad, SWAT, wiki-wiki-wild-wiki-wiki-wild-Wild Wild West and SO many more.
What it turned out to be: A laugh-out-loud funny movie with lots of big laughs and probably the best satirical look yet at the ways high school has changed over the past two decades. The shocking discovery that Channing Tatum isn’t made out of paper mache and can actually do comedy. (Seriously, look at his movie history before this.) And a movie that doesn’t just deserve a sequel… but could actually be an action-comedy franchise.
10 | White Chicks (2004)
Just hear me out. Especially if you haven’t seen it and are only judging it based on the concept. Much in the way I judge the Wayans Brothers in Little Man.
What it was supposed to be: One of the worst movies of all time.
What it turned out to be: Not one of the worst movies of all time. Not one of the best, mind you — but it was supposed to be an F- and turned out to be a D+. That’s a huge bump, and the movie gets there almost entirely on the strength of two things: (1) it recognizes how over-the-top ridiculous it is and not trying to shy away from that, going over-the-top with everything for decent returns and (2) Terry Crews. If you watch it — and don’t just assume it’s awful without ever having seen it — you might be pleasantly surprised at just how not-awful it is.
9 | School of Rock (2003)
What it was supposed to be: A vanity showcase for Jack Black to do Jack Black shtick.
What it turned out to be: The perfect venue for just the right amount of Jack Black shtick. Even three more ounces of Jack Black shtick would’ve pushed this movie into unwatchable territory, but it gets it just right. He plays perfectly off the kids in a very well done (albeit completely improbable) plot. This is absolutely one of those movies that you have to watch through to the end if you happen to stumble onto the middle of it it on FX.
8 | She’s All That (1999)
What it was supposed to be: A generic teen comedy.
What it turned out to be: The spark of an entire resurgence of the teen movie genre. It took every single cliche from ’80s teen movies and packaged them together into a surprisingly likable package. Last year, M. Night Shyamalan even claimed he ghost wrote it (it turned out that he just did an uncredited rewrite) — quite possibly because he realized if he could get credit for She’s All That it would be considered the second-best script on his resume.
7 | Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
What it was supposed to be: A long-odds, expensive gamble to see if any more money could be squeezed out of the Mission: Impossible franchise with Tom Cruise’s age and dislikability increasing.
What it turned out to be: The best of the Mission: Impossible movies in story, visuals and action. A sign that the reports of the death of Tom Cruise’s career as a movie star were premature. Unfortunately, probably the template Mel Gibson will use.
6 | The Internship (2013)
What it was supposed to be: A PG-13 Wedding Crashers — Google Crashers? — except that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are now older and way less novel. In lieu of that, a 90-minute commercial for Google.
What it turned out to be: A better-than-expected underdog story. Similar to School of Rock above, having some kids around for the leads to play off of did a world of good for the actors.
5 | Eurotrip (2004)
What it was supposed to be: A lowbrow, straight-to-DVD, t&a comedy.
What it turned out to be: A movie that exceeded all expectations. Eurotrip has better set pieces and funnier moments than Road Trip (it’s wasn’t officially a spin-off, but was marketed as being from “the producers of Road Trip). Good recurring jokes throughout the entire movie. Self-awareness (i.e. the correct amount of nudity, both gratuitous and comedic). And one of the most unexpected cameos of any movie ever.
4 | Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
What it was supposed to be: A late summer burn-off movie and the eighth or so try to recapture the magic of the original Planet of the Apes. (Or, at the very least, the Planet of the Apes musical.) Only this time… starring James Franco? Dead in the water before they even start.
What it turned out to be: A movie that, while very different than the original Planet of the Apes, actually did relaunch it as a viable franchise. A surprisingly nuanced and emotional story, strong enough to completely wipe out the memory of the Mark Wahlberg Planet of the Apes and its nonsensical twist ending.
3 | Bring It On (2000)
What it was supposed to be: Cashing in on the teen movie craze by quickly throwing together a cheerleading movie.
What it turned out to be: One of the most entertaining and THE most quotable movie from that entire teen era. Also, the movie that turned Eliza Dushku into one of the most desired women in the country for about a decade afterward. And, of course, a total co-opting of the phrase “brr, it’s cold in here” so firmly that it’s impossible to say that phrase in a crowd of 3+ people without someone commenting on the atmosphere.
2 | Iron Man (2008)
What it was supposed to be: Similar to those early 2000s X-Men movies — make nice money (especially internationally) through the movie equivalent of empty calories.
What it turned out to be: The start of a new epoch of comic book movies. It established the Marvel “tone” — not as gritty as the Batman movies but not campy either… equal parts comedy and saving the world… superheroes who are flawed but redeemable… stunning visuals that work with the story but don’t replace a story.
1 | Taken (2008)
What it was supposed to be: A movie that cost $25 million, would make $40 million, and would give Liam Neeson some action movie credibility before The A-Team.
What it turned out to be: A movie that cost $25 million, made $226 million, and inexplicably made Liam Neeson the biggest badass action movie star on the planet as he neared 60 years old. (Also, the A-Team budget was $110 million and it made $177 million.) Taken launched three different franchises. One, the Taken franchise; the third movie is coming out next January. Two, the Liam Neeson franchise, as he just did Non-Stop, essentially Taken on a plane. And three, a new type of cathartic action movie where the hero never struggles on his quest, kills EVERYBODY and barely breaks a sweat.