'The Big Lebowski Feels Thrown Together': Cult Films Critics Got Wrong

They may be classics now, but in their original theatrical runs, movies like Office Space, Harold and Maude, and Heathers got savaged by reviewers.
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Gramercy Pictures

Buying tip: Alex Cox's odd, cool, darkly comic, and frankly brilliant Repo Man hits Blu-ray this week via the cinematic angels over at the Criterion Collection. It's always a blast to see a movie as subversive and fun as this one getting its respect as a classic, but it's worth noting that many beloved cult movies were less than beloved at the time of their release. Don't believe me? Below, see what some critics had to say, back in the day, about Repo Man and nine more cult classics.

Repo Man

"The world of automobile repossessors is about as fascinating as a barrel of dead spiders. Somebody at Universal has been mesmerized enough, however, to flush down the drain more money than most of us will ever see in our bank statements, on a piece of trash called Repo Man... It stinks from here to Pasadena." - Rex Reed, The New York Post


The Big Lebowski

"Adds up to considerably less than the sum of its often scintillating parts, simply because the film doesn't seem to be about anything other than its own cleverness." - Todd McCarthy, Variety

"The Big Lebowski soon spins rapidly and completely out of control. Though the Coens, working as usual with master cinematographer Roger Deakins, are impressive visual stylists and clever writers, this film feels completely haphazard, thrown together without much concern for organizing intelligence... the Coens don't seem to be very interested in it." - Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times

"Scattered, overamplified and unsatisfying... The Big Lebowski is ultimately too clever for its own good. There are more ideas here, more wacko side characters and plot curlicues than the film can support, and inevitably it deflates from having to shoulder so much." - Edward Guthmann, The San Francisco Chronicle


Night of the Living Dead

"Until the Supreme Court establishes clear-cut guidelines for the pornography of violence, Night of the Living Dead will serve nicely as an outer-limit definition by example. In a mere 90 minutes this horror film (pun intended) casts serious aspersions on the integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers, the film industry as a whole and [exhibitors] who book [the picture], as well as raising doubts about the future of the regional cinema movement and about the moral health of filmgoers who cheerfully opt for this unrelieved orgy of sadism." - Variety

"A grainy little movie acted by what appear to be nonprofessional actors, who are besieged in a farm house by some other nonprofessional actors who stagger around, stiff-legged, pretending to be flesh-eating ghouls. The dialogue and background music sound hollow, as if they had been recorded in an empty swimming pool, and the wobbly camera seems to have a fetishist's interest in hands, clutched, wrung, scratched, severed, and finally—in the ultimate assumption—eaten like pizza." - Vincent Canby, The New York Times


The Rocky Horror Picture Show

"Most of the jokes that might have seemed jolly fun on stage now appear obvious and even flat. The sparkle's gone." - Variety

"The picture might have made a pretty good college show... But the wit is too weak to sustain a film, and the songs all sound the same." - Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader


Wet Hot American Summer

Presented by

Jason Bailey is the film editor at Flavorwire. He is the author of The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion.

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