When I started the Guilty Pleasures podcast almost 3 years ago, I started with the basic question: What is a “Guilty Pleasure?” Some would say it’s a movie that’s so bad it’s good, a movie you watch with a sort of ironic detachment, laughing at something as opposed to with it. While I certainly agree with some of that, as I’ve delved further into the world of Guilty Pleasures, I find that concept to be a little incomplete. What works best for me is describing a Guilty Pleasure as a movie that by typical objective means would be considered a bad movie, and yet provides you joy in some way. As I put this list together, I thought of movies so ridiculous as to be entertaining and some movies that I found to genuinely well-done movies that transcended their absurd premise or origin story. While we all find ourselves in a constant state of irritation with the world around us, if something brings you joy – ironically or otherwise – and doesn’t hurt someone else, go ahead and embrace it. It is in that spirit that I present this list of the 10 Best Guilty Pleasures of the past Decade. While all of these films range from well-made silliness to jaw-droppingly bad, they all brought me some joy this past decade. And as we face some truly perilous times, I hope they do the same for you.
10. The A-Team
Call it revisionist history, but I often wonder if The A-Team was a bit ahead of its time (seriously). Released in 2010, this cartoonish adaptation of the 80’s TV series feels like the beginning of a sub-genre that had yet to be invented. Frenetic and completely implausible even by action movie standards, The A-Team feels like an unofficial predecessor to the revamped-Fast & Furious franchise that would take ridiculous action sequences to new heights as the decade progressed. As CGI has developed over the decade, action filmmakers seemed locked in a perpetual competition to deliver the most outlandish spectacle possible. Yet those films don’t involve Liam Neeson chewing cigars and scenery in equal measure. Or Bradley Cooper’s abs. Or the A-Team trying to fly a tank. This movie is loud, crude and dumb and I love every minute of it.
9. The Christmas Chronicles
Kurt Russell as Hot Santa. That’s it. That’s the summary. Oh, you need more? Fine. This Netflix original has the look and feel of an 80’s-style comedy, with the edges sanded down a bit for a 2018 audience (murderous CGI elves notwithstanding). But the movie walks the line between “heartwarming family film” and “bonkers Kurt Russell vanity project” enough to land it firmly on this list. Netflix indulges its star, allowing him not only to ditch the traditional fat suit and any vocal affectation (it literally is just Kurt Russell being himself in a Santa suit), but to grant him a full-fledged musical number, singing Elvis’ “Christmas Blues” while backed up by the likes of Steven Van Zandt. There’s plenty of garbage Christmas movies that pile on the schmaltz and lame comedy, but The Christmas Chronicles always works, mainly because Kurt Russell seems to be able to make anything work.
8. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
On the surface, this sequel to the megahit musical has the trappings of a soulless cash grab (even the title suggests exhaustion). Most of the original’s cast can’t be bothered to show up for the majority of the film and most of the songs are recycled from the first one, proving that ABBA’s catalogue is not as deep as one would think. So in lieu of that, the movie dials up the absurdity in a way that makes the hyper-kinetic original feel like an episode of Downton Abbey. Most surprising of all is the decision to use The Godfather: Part II as its inspiration, creating a movie that is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel! The cast all manages to show up for the finale, which involves Meryl Streep as a ghost, Cher cosplaying as Lady Gaga and a balls-out finale that feels like a wedding reception with an open bar and a karaoke machine. The cast is having a blast and it’s hard not to follow their lead.
7. The Expendables 2
While this decade saw Sylvester Stallone reinvigorate his most beloved character (Rocky Balboa) in 2 critically-acclaimed Creed films, he also managed to write and star in a trilogy of films that harken back to his heyday of action movie superstardom. All 3 Expendables movies were released this decade and which one makes this list is strictly personal preference. Do you like a more straight-faced approach? The Expendables is for you. Do you think “Gee, Harrison Ford is cool and all, but I’d really like to spend more time watching Ronda Rousey try to act?” Expendables 3 is more your speed (side note: if it is, you may want to see a doctor, as you’ve most likely sustained some sort of massive head injury). For me, give me Expendables 2. Stallone hands the director’s chair over to Con Air’s Simon West, and the results are almost as ridiculous (it admittedly loses points for never having Jean-Claude Van Damme hold up a stuffed animal at gunpoint). Having jettisoned the more grim tone of the first one, Expendables 2 is a bunch of movie icons playing the hits (everyone works in their famous catchphrases), blowin’ stuff up real good and having a blast. The film was tailor-made for a meme culture it didn’t even know existed yet. Chuck Norris literally shows up to say a bunch of “Chuck Norris facts” and leave. It’s perfect. While noted film critic Andy Dwyer might disagree, Expendables 2 only gets better the 5th, 6th, or 7th time you watch it.
Every once in a while, I get a bit pessimistic on the future of movies in America. I worry that corporatization and franchising are creating an environment where movies will be focus-tested into oblivion until we’re left with middle-of-the-road IP-driven movies that take no real chances or break new ground. Then I realize that Serenity was released in 2019 and all is right with the world. How this campy, pseudo-intellectual mishmash got greenlit in today’s landscape (starring two OSCAR-WINNERS to boot) defies logic. And yet, it exists. All of it. Anne Hathaway’s dye-job and film noir line delivery, Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln commercial persona with 50% more nudity and 100% more wetness, a mid-movie twist that negates literally everything we’ve seen about the film up to that point (and makes McConaughey’s nudity ever WEIRDER). Every single part of this Body Heat meets The Lawnmower Man debacle is so staggeringly wrongheaded, it’s downright hypnotic.
5. Jupiter Ascending
In the 1990’s, studios famously passed on The Matrix because they thought it was some sci-fi nonsense, only to see it become a billion-dollar franchise. That had to be in the back of someone’s mind when The Wachowskis were able to get $200 million to make Jupiter Ascending. Only this time, what seemed like sci-fi nonsense turned out to actually be sci-fi nonsense. But what nonsense! Channing Tatum as a dog! Mila Kunis falling in love with him! Literally EVERYTHING about Eddie Redmayne’s performance! Redmayne famously won an Oscar for The Theory of Everything the same month this fiasco was released, and one wonders if security was waiting backstage to immediately wrestle it away from him. What was clearly meant to launch a new franchise ended up as a financial disaster and camp classic. Say what you will, it’s still more watchable than the Matrix sequels.
4. Uncle Drew
Without a doubt, the best basketball film based on a commercial ever made (shots fired, Space Jam). What on paper should’ve been a complete disaster turns out to be an absolutely delightful throwback to a 90s-era sports movie. Based on the popular (?) Pepsi commercials, the film is a thinly-veiled excuse to put NBA stars in old-age makeup and watch them do silly stuff. What is unexpected is how game all of these non-actors are. Whatever cynicism one might have at the thought of a 90-minute Pepsi ad is erased by the sheer earnestness of everyone involved. Uncle Drew faithfully follows the sports-movie clichés we all know by heart, but packages it in a ridiculous premise that proves to be infectious.
3. Safe Haven
True story: when I first watched this movie, I was unaware of the MASSIVE twist at the end. When the moment happened (real ones know), I leapt up off of my couch and cheered like a Def Comedy Jam audience member. My wife thought I was watching a football game. Nope, it was a godd**n Nicholas Sparks movie. Don’t let the painfully bland posters fool you, this is a movie that starts as a Lifetime Movie, morphs into a Hallmark Movie, doubles BACK to Lifetime movie, then ends up as an M. Night Shyamalan movie! The Romance genre is an admitted blind spot for me as a movie-goer, but if more of them offer up nonsense like this, sign me the hell up.
In the ultimate “Hold My Beer” moment of the decade, Sony took the beloved Spider-Man villain, last seen in the inexplicable fiasco Spider-Man 3 and somehow found a WIERDER film to put him in. It all starts innocuously enough. A lot of pseudo-scientific gobbledygook and Tom Hardy trying an American accent and somehow sounding a lot like Gerard Butler. Then Venom takes over Tom Hardy, the movie, and my heart forever. I never thought I’d see a movie ask the question “What if All of Me was a horror movie starring Bobcat Golthwait?” but I’m forever grateful to Tom Hardy for doing so. The upcoming sequel appears destined to lean in to the absurdity, and I’m all in on Venom as the cousin of the MCU that is absolutely NOT getting invited to Thanksgiving. Once more into the lobster tank, dear friends, once more.
One of my favorite jokes from Community sees a disheveled Britta enter the study room. She assures the group she’s fine, but after a pause asks, “How long does Peyote last?” Having seen Cats, I can now say it lasts precisely 110 minutes. From the moment its bizarre trailer debuted last summer, the question was never whether this fiasco of a movie would end up on this list, but just where it would end up. But after a decade of IP-driven, CGI spectacles that spit in the face of natural law, it seems like a perfect capstone. It’s not the franchise we wanted, but it’s maybe the franchise we deserve. Make no mistake, this adaptation of the inexplicably popular Broadway musical is a debacle from the very start. But if you’re going to have a debacle, you might as well have the biggest one imaginable. Everything you’ve read about this movie is both true and somehow incomplete. The movie is jaw-dropping and exceedingly dull in almost equal parts. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s as if throwing $100 million at a musical about singing cats who are trying to go to cat heaven was a BAD idea. If there’s one indicator about how bizarre this movie is, it’s that Jason DeRulo somehow outshines everyone in a movie with Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Idris Elba, and Jennifer Hudson. It might be the straight-up worst movie on this list, and yet also the most unforgettable. I kinda hate that I saw it, but I would watch it RIGHT NOW if someone wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And in all of this, that may be the key to the reason Cats has endured as a musical for almost 40 years. No one can quite make heads-or-tails of it, but it’s a spectacle that must be experienced. So, in that way, they kinda nailed it - now and forever.