Storytelling is a weird art.
For the most part, our favourite movies spend hours entertaining us with colourful lies. It’s the basis of the entire multi-billion dollar industry, and, honestly, it’s pretty great.
There are times, however, when these lies are just a little too far-fetched. Sure, Hollywood, give us lies, but don’t give us nonsense.
Some movies are the result of especially convoluted, nonsensical, or otherwise ridiculous premises, and usually, being based in such liberal doses of horse manure do nothing but hurt the end product.
Occasionally, something shines through the lacklustre preamble, and, against the odds, we get a great (or at least enjoyable) movie out of it.
Here are 7 of Hollywood’s dumbest movie premises, and whether or not they actually worked.
7. Face/Off (1997)
Image: © Paramount Pictures
While Face/Off might feature outstanding performances, intense action sequences and a delicate mix of action, drama and humour, it still has a truly ridiculous premise.
After six years of hunting “freelance terrorist” Castor Troy, FBI agent Sean Archer gets his man, only to learn that he’s hidden a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. When the criminal slips into a coma before giving up any further information, it’s clear what Archer must do.
No, not follow normal lines of investigation – this is Hollywood, after all. Archer undergoes an experimental face transplant procedure to take on Troy’s appearance (and also his voice, to save time in post-production).
Yes, Face/Off might have one of the flimsiest concepts of any action thriller ever, but that doesn’t stop it from being a truly incredible thrill-ride. Plus, Nicolas Cage gets to play bat-shit mental, which is always great.
Did it work? Yes, it did. Despite the wonky science behind the premise, it delivered a solid dramatic, action-packed and occasionally comedic experience.
6. Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Image: © New Line Cinema
“Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf**king snakes on this motherf**king plane! Everybody strap in! I’m about to open some windows.”
This one almost goes without saying, as it’s one of the most memorably hilarious premises in cinematic history, but how Snakes on a Plane ever got green-lit is anyone’s guess.Snakes on a Plane’s lunacy goes far beyond the simple promise of airborne reptiles, though.
After witnessing the murder of a U.S. Prosecutor, Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) is escorted to testify against a mob boss by FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson). In an attempt to silence Jones before he can testify, a time-released crate filled with venomous snakes was put on their flight.
Aside from being one of the most convoluted assassination plots ever conceived, the premise is barely coherent. After all, we all know that it would be much easier to simply put a bullet in Jones rather than gather hundreds of snakes, not to mention that the former approach would yield much more reliable results.
Snakes on a Plane’s whole gimmick was its ridiculous premise, but being deliberately dumb is actually somehow more insulting to the people who bought tickets to this cinematic mess.
Did it work? No. ‘Nuff said.
5. White Chicks (2004)
Image: © Columbia Pictures
Despite White Chicks’ status as a cult classic of sorts, its premise is exactly the sort of mindless, offensive psuedo-comedy that dominated the early ’00s.
In yet another story featuring members of the FBI (do they pay extra for all the advertising?) Shawn and Marlon Wayans star as two agents tasked with protecting the socialite Wilson sisters during a fashion event in The Hamptons.
You can boil the elevator pitch for this one down to the phrase: “What if we do a blackface movie… except it’s whiteface!” Even on the surface, this one is dumb, but when you scratch just a little to look underneath, it’s at once dumb and unfunny. Even more so, the movie’s “whiteface” technique is truly horrifying, making the two stars look more like the Leatherface twins than two socialite sisters.
Trying to wring comedy out of the movie’s imagined differences between Black and White should never have been allowed, and how this awful movie has somehow endured we’ll never know.
Did it work? No. White Chicks might force an odd laugh or quotable moment, but this movie simply should never have been made.
4. Being John Malkovich (1999)
Image: © Gramercy Films
The premise for this one is only dumb on the surface. As you go further down, it’s mostly just weird and unnecessarily confusing, but it’s still an experience so unique that it’s hard not to enjoy it.
When puppeteer Craig Schwartz takes a job as a file clerk, he stumbles across a tiny door that leads to the inside of actor John Malkovich’s mind.
Along with co-worker Maxine, Craig decides to exploit the doorway for profit, and somewhere along the way awakens the transgender identity of his wife, Lotte.
As the movie goes on, its narrative begins to wrap around itself, becoming something every bit as bizarre and mind-ending as you might expect.
That said, it’s a beautifully cerebral, darkly funny piece of film, and it’s enjoyable from start to finish, so, weird premise aside, add it to your watchlist.
Did it work? Yes. Being John Malkovich turned a bafflingly weird plot into a cinematic gem.
3. Over the Top (1987)
Image: © Warner Bros.
Taking nobody’s favourite sport, arm wrestling, and turning it into a movie made for one of the ’80s weirdest blockbusters.
Starring – who else? Well, maybe Arnie, but not this time – Sylvester Stallone as a down-on-his-luck trucker Lincoln Hawk hoping to reconnect with estranged son Michael after picking him up from military school.
There’s an appropriate amount of male-bonding, including Hawk teaching Michael to arm wrestle and drive a truck, but when the two are forced to part ways, Lincoln goes to Las Vegas to compete in the World Armwrestling Championship.
It’s a cheesy example of how to turn being overly macho into subtle homo-eroticism, but it’s an unlikely feel-good movie about a laboured father/son relationship, and it’s unpredictably relatable.
Did it work? Yes, but only just. As ridiculous as it seems, arm wrestling serves an actual purpose in the movie. It’s not high art, but it’s a good watch.
2. Wanted (2008)
Image: © Universal
Sort-of based on the comic book miniseries of the same name, Wanted stars James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman as members of the Fraternity, a secret society of assassins.
Seems as sound as any other Hollywood set-up, doesn’t it? That is, until you hear the twist.
The Fraternity use the “Loom of Fate” – an actual, literal loom – to work out their targets. The reason? Errors in the fabric are a secret code from the universe that tells the fraternity the identities of people who will create chaos and evil if allowed to live.
While Wanted’s bullet-curving action might seem an equally ridiculous inclusion, it’s actually fairly well executed (pun very much intended) as far as its action sequences are concerned.
The big final plot twist only served to make the movie’s premise seem even dumber, and the experience, while entertaining, is an insult to the average moviegoer’s intelligence.
Does it work? It tries to, but it doesn’t quite get there.
- Footloose (1984)
Image: © Paramount Pictures
A beloved ’80s classic, Footloose stars an impossibly young Kevin Bacon as he dances his way into the hearts of small town America.
To many, the ridiculousness of Footloose’s premise has long since become just a minor joke, but for a younger audience, it’s a plot device so insane that the entire experience is derailed from the off.
Shortly after moving to the town of Bomont, Ren (Bacon) discovers that the town has employed a ban on dancing.
Yes, a ban. On dancing.
‘But why a town-wide ban on dancing?’, those uninitiated in Footloose’s slapdash backstory might be asking.
Well, here’s why. After the heavily intoxicated son of Bomont’s minister died in a car crash, the man blamed a night of dancing for the accident, and had dancing banned from town entirely.
The man’s motivations sort of make sense, but the very idea that an entire town would consent to a dancing ban is both ludicrous and a really weird set-up for a movie.
Did it work? We’re on the fence here. As a premise, it serves its purpose, but it only works if you can ignore what a weird and outlandish situation the movie chronicles.
And that’s the list. If you enjoyed this, make sure to subscribe to get notified when we post! You can also follow Corner of Film on social media. Thanks for reading!