Every year there are countless films produced with no money and sold as 'so bad they're good'. They are typically horror movies, or bad comedies, and most of them we will never see because they're made by independent or lone filmmakers. Though we must acknowledge films like Sharknado are produced by production companies (in this case The Asylum) with the resources and contacts to make what they want and get them seen. But The Asylum claim to produce 10-15 titles a year, and distribute over 300 through their home entertainment division.
So what makes a film so bad its good, and why does Sharknado stand out from the crowd?
Many would argue it's all in the promotion, and to some extent I agree. Unless you have the channels and the strategy in place, with the resources to execute it effectively, you cannot get your film seen, people cannot talk about it, and the publicity snowball (which zero budget films rely on) would never get rolling. But the film still needs to be worth talking about in the first place, which means in the case of Sharknado its priority was not to be good, but popular.
Popular films can be both good and bad, but where the former is measurable the latter is entirely subjective. Yet the term popular is too often associated with low-brow entertainment, so the only way we are collectively capable of recognising Sharknado's qualities is through its flaws, thus sidestepping an evaluation of the film itself by establishing a direct dialogue with the filmmaker. Because they intend it to be bad, and achieved it spectacularly, this makes it good. This mode of analysis still offers no credit to the film, but to the filmmaker in spite of the film, which then allows us to pay compliments without committing the faux-pas of mistaking a popular film as good.
But what if Sharknado actually is a good film? No double negatives, no excuses, just good?
Firstly, let's look at the intent behind the film. They wanted to produce a tongue-in-cheek TV horror movie on a pretty small budget. The Asylum is a niche company with a history of very specific genre films. Their knowledge of the genre will inform any future productions, so whether consciously or subconsciously, the filmmaker is employing thematic, aesthetic, and technical devices that are rooted in the history and development of the horror movie. Even its budget and therefore its production, promotion, and distribution will be informed by previous successes and failures within the genre. So arguably Sharknado is a layered and detailed tribute to the monster movie, but like any tribute that fails to take itself seriously it is relegated to parody status and brushed aside as just another silly movie.
Sharknado is good.
Now let's look at its popularity. Produced on a comparatively small budget, even for TV, Sharknado became the highest rated televised movie of the year for SyFy. It was given a pretty rapid theatrical release, and took $200,000 from midnight screenings. In the last hour alone 35 tweets have been composed using the word 'Sharknado'. There were no reruns on last night, and it is currently 10am GMT, so most Americans will be asleep. That's pretty impressive.
We can gush praise over the Coen Brothers and Woody Allen and whoever else we consider high calibre filmmakers, but this is a mass medium, so popularity should be considered a marker of success, and therefore a marker of quality. We must of course measure popularity in perspective - if an independent filmmaker makes something in his bedroom and gets several hundred hits in a day on YouTube: success. But if Spielberg's latest release only makes a million dollars: resounding flop.
Sharknado's success has exceeded expectations, and is rapidly asserting itself as a modern cult classic. Isn't that what we say about The Big Lebowski? So why is Sharknado still only good because it's bad?
We have developed such a specific framework of analysis that our understanding of good and bad cinema is so distorted, and we are using a mass of irrelevant criteria to decide if we are allowed to like something or not. In future, why not forget everything you have ever read or learnt or think you should think, and just ask yourself "did I enjoy this film?"
Sharknado is good.