‘The Phantom Menace’ And Why We Define The ’90s By Bad Movies

Senior Contributor
05.19.14 23 Comments


Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of The Phantom Menace instantly becoming the most overanalyzed bad movie in the history of cinema, something I’m guilty of myself. And yes, that’s cued another round of defense and overanalysis, and even overanalysis of the overanalysis.

But here’s a better question. Why do we define the ’90s by the bad movies they inflicted on us?

Think about it. The ’90s contain a ton of bad movies. There’s the ascendance of, ick, Michael Bay. The only unreservedly good Batman movie during this era was a 1989 release. Devlin and Emmerich crashed and burned with Godzilla in 1998. Alien 3 crashed into theaters followed closely by Alien: Resurrection.

It’s not that there’s a particular lack of good movies from the ’90s, and I’m well aware every movie on this list has its defenders. But why do we talk, incessantly, about the bad ones?

This is something I ask myself a lot. Fifteen years is a long time and I’ve seen a lot of movies since The Phantom Menace came out. I remember that movie better than some movies I actually like.

If I had to guess, it’s because those movies were for a lot of nerds kind of a rite of passage. We all walked in, plunked down our money, and got kicked repeatedly in the testicles by superheroes with rubber nipples and giant-chinned lizards. Hell, I saw The Phantom Menace at 12:01 am the day it came out, and I still remember, as the movie wore on, the mood in the theater turning from joyful to confused to desperate.

That kind of shared experience is rare among nerds at this point. Part of this is just that nostalgia has gotten so commodified and repackaged that it can be hard to sort out whether you actually liked something back in the day because it was good or because you were five.

Another part is that we’ve gotten angrier, as a subculture. My post on the Internet about The Phantom Menace marks the first time I’ve been told by someone that they’ll rip off my head and s**t down my neck. Notice I didn’t say “only.” We need those shared experiences if only to remind each other that sometimes the enemy isn’t our fellow nerds.

OK, so it’s not ‘Nam, but it’s a shared cultural touchstone and point of agreement in a world where we keep losing those. It’s kind of nice to be able to sit down with somebody, look them in the eye, and just know that you’re on the same page with something, at least. Nerddom is often defined by disagreement, so really, we’ll take all the rally points we can get.

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