Top 7 Overrated Classic Films
We all have our own personal lists for a topic like this. Each and every one of us has, at one point or another, sat down to watch a critically acclaimed classic only to sit there in puzzlement afterward, wondering what all the hype was about in the first place. And while you may contemplate whether or not there’s something wrong with your cinematic tastes, differing opinions about film is what makes the ongoing discussions about the classics so enlightening. Some people actively dislike Gone with the Wind (1939) while others shrug off Citizen Kane (1941). While neither film made my list, I have no doubt that some of you would include them on yours.
For the sake of restricting this list to a manageable number, I’m considering only popular films made prior to 1965. Had I widened the time period I would have added Easy Rider (1969), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), among others — all cultural lamdmarks in American cinema that, for whatever reason, never really resonated with me. I’m fully aware that some of these picks will earn me some serious backlash but where’s the fun in generating film lists if there isn’t a little heated debate to keep us entertained and engaged?
So, here is my list of what I consider to be overrated film classics. Now, excuse me while I run and hide while you read this…
Top 7 Overrated Classic Films
Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge fan of Mary Shelley’s science-gone-wrong novel, but I’ve never loved the Boris Karloff Frankenstein. In fact, I actively dislike it. I find it a poor film adaptation of one of literature’s finest achievements. Normally, I take film adaptations as a separate entity from its source material — as we should, considering the limits of different mediums. But I think that the real meat and bones of Shelley’s story was stripped away, and the film simply devolves into your average monster flick. While I never go into films expecting straightforward adaptations, I do expect that the original source is represented in some form. However, after each viewing of Frankenstein (I’ve seen it about five times now) I still leave incredibly disappointed at a wasted opportunity to capitalize on a truly fascinating story about the ramifications of playing God.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
I didn’t like it all that much as a child, and I like it even less as an adult. I’m aware that I’ll inevitably come off sounding like an old grump when I admit that I just never got the fuss over this critically lauded musical. Yes, it was stylistically influential with its clever use of black and white and technicolour to offset the differences between Kansas and the Land of Oz. I can totally respect and appreciate it’s revered place in the history of cinema. But between the irritating songs (with the exception of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, of course) and the over-the-top acting, The Wizard of Oz is one of those iconic classics that I just can’t sit through. Not even Judy Garland’s soaring vocals and adorable blue-checkered dress can save this film for me.
The Searchers (1956)
This is the film I was the most reluctant to add to the list as I know that John Wayne fans will likely come after me for this one. I’ve never made it a secret that I’m not exactly what you’d call a John Wayne fan but, of the films of his that I have seen, I’ve gone in with an open mind. Yes, The Searchers is dated. Yes, some might even find it offensive. But those arguments aren’t even the real reasons why I’m not a fan of this film. The story of one man’s quest to rescue his young niece from a First Nations tribe lacks the emotional resonance that should be a prerequisite for a film with a plot revolving around the kidnapping of a loved one. It feels stale and wooden. I went into it expecting a true classic Western, but what I got was your average story about a cowboy who saves the day.
Besides the epic chariot race sequence, does anyone actually remember anything overly memorable about this film? It’s been on so many “best of” lists for so long that I feel it’s now just added out of a sense of obligation. While some may admit to finding enjoyment from the film, it’s likely more out of a sense of nostalgia — a recollection of the big-budget period pieces from back in the day that so many of us loved. However, in all honesty, Ben-Hur — and Charlton Heston’s acting — hasn’t aged all that well. It’s a bloated, dull, melodramatic piece of filmmaking.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
This film adaptation of Truman Capote’s story literally stripped the plot of everything that made it great in the first place. The end result is a mediocre (almost borderline awful) film that I’m convinced is only still deemed a great classic because of Audrey Hepburn’s iconic role as Holly Golightly. For all her natural charm and fashionable outfits, not even Hepburn (and the film’s costume designer) can save this disappointingly humdrum version of a Capote bestseller.
The Birds (1963)
Other than a couple of effectively suspenseful scenes — aided by some truly arresting visuals — The Birds is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s weakest ventures. I’m always surprised by how often it makes “best of” lists, both from critics and Hitch fans alike. The film is almost uncomfortably dated and, while the story is loosely based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel, the film is strangely devoid of any real suspense. The gimmick of birds attacking people wears thin fairly early on in the film, leaving viewers with nothing more than a distressed Tippi Hedren fending for herself. It was a disappointing follow-up to his influential thriller, Psycho. I’ll never understand why this is considered a Hitchcock masterpiece. If nothing else, it was a springboard for other later, greater films.
Dr. Zhivago (1965)
Tedious. Dull. Bloated. It still surprises me that anyone, myself included, managed to slog through David Lean’s adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. It comes as an especial shock knowing that this is the same director who helmed the monumental masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia (1962) only three years prior. Despite it’s glorious cast — which includes Omar Sharif, Julie Christie and Sir Alec Guinness, among many others — there’s very little redeeming qualities. Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, this love story lacks the sizzle required in order to make the plight of its characters even remotely interesting. It’s an absolute snooze.