Do you love nothing more than a post-screening roundtable with friends to debate what you’ve just seen? Are you the person in that group who picks their corner – It was terrible! I freaking loved it! – and stays there, immovable, batting away all contrary arguments with your own skillful and well thought-out counterpoints? (Or by, you know, just shouting them down?) Then chances are you’ve participated, full-throated, in one of what we’re dubbing 10 of the most divisive movie and TV debates of the last two decades.
These aren’t your regular “liked it or didn’t like it” kinda chats – these are the kind of bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred, defend-till-you’re-sweating – but always civilly! – pop-culture bouts that have made headlines, ended friendships, and in some cases, still rage on today. Marvel vs. DC? No end in sight for that particular infinite war. The virtues of Avatar? It’s round 2 come the sequels. Team Edward vs. Team Jacob? We’re still wearing the scars, if not our R-Patz tees.
Folks at Comic-Con: San Diego will get the chance to debate critics and some special celebrity guests on some of the biggest entertainment hot topics of today at Rotten Tomatoes’ own live event, Your Opinion Sucks, which happens over three days from July 19-21. And you can watch it all unfold on video at our Comic-Con Ketchup page. In the meantime, though, to get you in the mood – and your mind sharpened for battle – we’re breaking down some of the most heart-stirring and temperature-raising movie and TV debates in recent memory.
A battle so old, it has raged across decades and mediums. The quest for superiority over the other began quaintly in the 1930s on cheap comic book newsprint, then moved into video games and television shows, before coming to head on the biggest battlefield ever in 2008. That’s the year The Dark Knight and Iron Man came out (and, um, the second Hellboy movie – you always got to have the peripheral outsider in these fights), both of which set the tone for the Marvel vs. DC debate to this day. Against the odds, Marvel turned second-tier Tony Stark into a pop-culture revelation, a man whose playful, quippy redemption tale made legions of superhero fans overnight. As for The Dark Knight, DC and Christopher Nolan elevated another movie from long-in-the-tooth Batman into art, without quotations, through heavy drama against the realest backdrop. From here, you know the arguments. “Marvel: You’re too jokey!” “DC: You’re too bleak!” Even after a decade of all this unfolding on the big screen, across dozens of movies and a myriad of cinematic universes, neither side has budged, and the fight continues unabated. Bring on Captain Marvel and Aquaman.
So divisive, and sometimes toxic, has some of the discourse around Star Wars become, that we hesitate to even go there. But, if we’re considering the biggest debates of the last two decades, it’s hard to ignore the galactic-sized debate over the new trilogy. On the one hand, critics and most fans have roundly welcomed the new entries into the central Star Wars saga, with its gutsy heroine (Rey, played by Daisy Ridley) and, especially in The Last Jedi, bold new story directions. On the other hand, some fans have called out Lucasfilm, Disney, and the filmmakers for moving away from the spirit of the original series, ladling on too much discordant humor, and for…well, those bold new story directions. (And then there’s the question of spinoffs.) As for other criticisms you might see, those driven by misogyny and racism, there’s no debate: there’s no place for that in galaxies far, far away, close to home, or otherwise.
It’s amazing that a decade has already passed since Avatar became the highest-grossing movie ever, considering how long James Cameron talked about planet Pandora and how much hype was generated leading up to the movie’s theatrical release. And when the movie came out, audience reaction could be split along one distinct line: Admirers found it a dazzling, eye-popping action sci-fi/fantasy, with a sweet touch of romance and mysticism; haters dismissed Avatar with a pithy eye-roll and simple catchphrase: “Pocahontas in space!” (Or FernGully, depending on how deep you like your cuts.) The battle is set to pick up again in 2020, when Cameron releases the first of three planned sequels.
When The Simpsons debuted in 1989, with its adult humor and everyman family, it defined primetime animated entertainment for a generation. Family Guy followed almost exactly a decade later on the same network, Fox, with a similar blue-humor, blue-collar-family setup. But how do Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie hold up against Peter, Lois, Chris, Meg, diabolical baby Stewie, and sophisticated talking dog Brian? Ask around – people have their (very strong) opinions on the long-running shows: The Simpsons is going on its 30th season this fall; Family Guy, which was once cancelled by the network then revived after a strong showing on Cartoon Network and in DVD sales, will debut its 17th season. For some, The Simpsons‘ has never been as good as it was back in the day; for others, Family Guy is too one-note and mean-spirited. As much as we’d love to settle this animated beef with Tomatometer scores, Family Guy doesn’t have quite enough reviews to meet the criteria for a series score (at least half of a show’s seasons must have a score for it to get a series score) — but perhaps that fact alone decides this contest of colorful characters.
Depending on who you ask, La La Land is a modern musical masterpiece, with pitch-perfect casting, precise choreography, and innovative direction that was tragically robbed of Best Picture – or it is a shameless example of Hollywood self-congratulation chock full of bubblegum pop and mediocre singing and dancing. The 2017 Oscar ceremony will always be remembered for the envelope mix-up when Land was erroneously declared Best Picture over rightful Moonlight, but we won’t soon forget the intense backlash that then Oscar frontrunner La La Land faced towards the end of awards season. The film was technical and precise, Damien Chazelle’s skill behind the camera is undeniable, and critics and most of the audience found it all terribly swoon-worthy. However, many viewers and cultural commentators noted that a narrative that casts Ryan Gosling as the one and only hope to save jazz from John Legend (!) was ever going to pass the smell test. And then there were the musical purists who took issue with Emma Stone’s voice and Gosling’s dance form. Whose side were you dancing on?
When Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the 78th annual Academy Awards, there was certainly backlash – and we shudder to think of the reaction of that win in a world with Twitter. Crash was dismissed by many as an overly optimistic and naive view on race relations in America, while Brokeback was considered a landmark achievement and a historic moment for LGBTQ representation (though it did have to deal with an overly simplistic take propagated on late-night and in some of its marketing: The ‘Gay-Cowboy’ movie). Crash did have its defenders – at the time, Roger Ebert stated that quality, not agenda, helped him cast his vote because to him ‘[Crash] was a better film’ – but its own director and co-writer has put his stake in the ground for the other team: Paul Haggis has since come out to say that Crash should have lost to Ang Lee’s Brokeback. Case closed?
How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Who killed Biggie and Tupac? Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways? These are all important queries, to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the one debate that may well never produce a definitive answer: Who is Hollywood’s greatest Chris? Is it the brawn of Hemsworth? The rugged good looks of Pine? The goofy, boyish charm of Pratt? The take-home-to-mom charisma of Evans? We can look at box office receipts, read a thousand reviews, and rewatch every shirtless scene until we’re struck with carpal tunnel syndrome, but the heart of the debate lies in personal preference, and that’s why some of the greatest thinkers of our time, from your Vanity Fairs to your USA Todays, have had some difficulty coming to a consensus. There just isn’t any objective metric by which to determine the winner. That said, we here at RT did give it a shot a few years ago, and the one who came out on top was one hardly anyone else has considered.
The Office was a mockumentary-style sitcom focused on the day-to-day lives of the employees at a small paper company and their frequently oblivious boss, and it was one of the finest comedies to air in the past two decades. But are we talking about the U.K. original or the U.S. remake? One made a star out of Ricky Gervais, and the other did the same for Steve Carell, and while the U.S. Office initially mimicked its predecessor, it eventually found its own voice and followed it to great success. Preference is key to which version you favor. There are those who prefer the British format of limited seasons and fewer episodes, as well as the dry, self-deprecating, existential humor; while others prefer the brighter, more hopeful U.S. version, which also benefited from nine seasons of character development and wacky shenanigans. They were both fantastic shows in their own right, but there are still protective, adoring fans on both sides who will forever claim their preferred version is the superior one.
It’s hard to believe now, 10 years after the first Twilight movie debuted, that for a good few years the entire teenage world was divided between those who swung vampire, and those who swung werewolf. But divided it was, with champions of the sullen Cullen sporting their Team Edward tees with pride, and those who were under the Taylor Lautner spell plastering their Myspace profiles with Team Jacob propaganda. It was an age-old teenage debate in modern YA disguise: Do you fancy the hot goth with more than a hint of danger, or is dependability – with abs – more your thing.
TV fans sometimes bare knuckles and break heads when they start defending their favorite among these three titles, which are considered the best of the crime-drama genre. Breaking Bad, the five-season downward spiral of a New Mexico chemistry teacher and family man into the world of methamphetamine production, could have been kneecapped by its run on basic-cable network AMC, while the other two series had premium-cable protections and could up the profanity, nudity, sexual situations, and body count. The Wire, also with five seasons, told the story of Baltimore’s illegal drug trade, city bureaucracy, murder, and corruption, while The Sopranos (1999) got six seasons to tell its tale of New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his family and crime empire. There are few ways to try to find a definitive answer for which crime show is king. All three series score in the 90th-percentile on the Tomatometer: Breaking Bad at 96%, The Wire at 95%, and The Sopranos at 92%. The Sopranos has 21 Emmy wins, however, compared to Breaking Bad’s 16, while The Wire has no wins. Finally, in a 2017 Rotten Tomatoes survey of TV fans that ranked the 40 best shows of the previous 20 years, Breaking Bad took the No. 2 spot (behind Game of Thrones), while The Sopranos grabbed the No. 13 position with The Wire at No. 15. Armed with this information, we hope that settles the score: Breaking Bad is the finest in crimetime TV. Have at us!
Be sure to check out Rotten Tomatoes’ own live event during Comic-Con, Your Opinion Sucks. It’s the ultimate fans vs. critics face off, and you can watch it live in San Diego or on video at Rotten Tomatoes.