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Three Guilty Pleasure Sappy, Stupid Science Fiction Movies - Independence Day, Buckaroo Banzai, and Mars Attacks!

The movies you see here may not be for the Brainiac, but they are ultimately satisfying all the same.

The movies you see here may not be for the Brainiac, but they are ultimately satisfying all the same.

When people bring up great Science Fiction Movies, the more scholarly among them like to talk about cerebral stuff like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Matrix. While these movies are great for the tweed wearing, pipe smoking, brandy sipping crowd, the guy sitting in front of the TV in his Ninja Turtle jammies with a twelve pack of Budweiser sometimes requires something a little less challenging.

At times we secretly like movies that we are ashamed to talk about in good company. Those of us who fancy ourselves brainy try to flaunt our intellectual prowess discussing Sartre and Camus with snobby bookworms at the local teahouse, but then return to the secluded sanctuary of our homes to watch Beavis and Butthead reruns with the drapes tightly drawn. Now and again the brain just needs a break.

To provide some repose for your overtaxed gray matter, I am reviewing here three campy, hokey, utterly ridiculous, nonsensical, sappy, absurd, often befuddling movies that serious, stone faced science fiction buffs would cast a glowering scowl of disapproval upon, but I believe are ultimately satisfying in their own dumb way. Having reached my 50s as a middle aged man who has been battered, beaten down, and run through the ringer several times I am past caring what the eggheads opine about what I watch. I think I have earned the right to enjoy stupid stuff if and when I want to, and to share it with the world if it pleases me to do so. No longer will I skulk behind the shutters channel surfing in secret for something brainless to please my jiggling beer belly, which is pretty much my cognitive center these days. Instead, I'll throw the curtains open and proudly display these guilty pleasures for all the world to see, and to the devil with the reaction.

I don't know how many times Hollywood has destroyed New York, but Independence Day does it again.

I don't know how many times Hollywood has destroyed New York, but Independence Day does it again.

Independence Day

I'll start with what is probably the most socially acceptable of the three, the movie you might bring up at some socialite's dinner party, then quickly qualify it with "wasn't that cute?" as if it was definitely beneath you, but you were forced to watch it for research purposes with a roomful of preschoolers.

Here are a few quick facts to supplement my rambling, irrelevant, often incoherent anecdotes that will follow: Independence Day was released in 1996. It grossed 800 million worldwide, so it wasn't a box office flop at all, as were the other two guilty pleasure movies I will be discussing here. It scores a 60% review on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie had a rather illustrious cast, including an up and coming star in Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum of Jurassic Park and The Fly fame; an actor that will appear more than once in this article.

To summarize Independence Day's particularly pedestrian plot in a nutshell, apparently invincible aliens invade Earth, destroy a few cities as easily as squashing bugs, but are finally defeated by methods that strain the limits of credulity. Will Smith tells funny, but predictable ET jokes. The President of the United States makes a very campy, most un-Lincolnesque speech that is strangely inspirational. The most humble and unlikely character ultimately winds up being the one to save the planet, of course. It all goes down according to formula. Everybody celebrates in the end, and a few feel-good, patriotic tears leak unwillingly from my eyes. What can I say? - I only cry at the dumb movies. Somebody dies of a horrible disease - not a drop. Mother and daughter are miraculously reunited after 40 years - completely dry eyed. A thoroughly unbelievable alien invasion is extraordinarily repelled by the human race acting in inconceivable solidarity - somebody get me a hankie.

I first saw Independence Day in the theater shortly after its release, but at that time I wasn't impressed at all. I didn't see much that rose above the mundane in this film, with its over-simplistic, all too predictable story line and rather exaggerated, melodramatic acting.

But then, as I rewatched the movie via the endless loop in which it is played on movie channels like AMC, I began to discover the meaningful behind the mediocre, a kind of calculated campiness guiding the overused cinematic devices that at first glance might fail to inspire. It is almost as if Independence Day's creators had deliberately intended to pack this film with as many celluloid cliches as possible, and in so doing had created beauty out of the banal. These days, as I watch Independence Day while going about about the mundane, uninspired chores of my own life, particularly while ironing, I can't help but become mesmerized and transfixed, and usually wind up watching until the end in spite of myself.

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See the World Destroyed...Again!

John Lithgow, playing Dr. Emilio Lizardo, gives the film's most stellar performance.

John Lithgow, playing Dr. Emilio Lizardo, gives the film's most stellar performance.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

The thing I remember the most about Buckaroo Banzai - whose full title certainly is a mouthful of a movie if you're going to list it in its entirety, is that people just didn't get it. A lot of the 20 somethings I was hanging around with in those glorious youthful days of 1984 thought they were supposed to take it seriously, and missed the point. Fortunately, a buddy of mine clued me in in advance that I was supposed to laugh when I watched, so I enjoyed this film the very first time I saw it. If you, however, haven't had the good fortune or misfortune of watching Buckaroo Banzai yet, I will warn you in advance that it's a little weird.

To start with, every earth-invading alien in Buckaroo Banzai is named John. We have, for example, John Whorfin, John Smallberries, John Yaya, and John Bigbooté; whose name is always mispronounced as John Bigbooty, in spite of its owner's vehement protests to respect the snooty accent on the end. The John aliens work their mischief through a sleazy front corporation, Yoyodyne propulsion, which is contracted to build bombers for the US government. From this locale they aid and abet the evil Dr. Emilio Lazardo, who busts out of a home for the criminally insane after receiving a care package from his friends at Yoyodyne that contains, among other things, Fiddle Faddle and some kind of device to help him break out of prison. I have lost the identity of this jail-busting contraption in all the memory clutter 32 years thereafter, and couldn't find it in any online plot synopsis either. There is very little written on the subject of this misunderstood, unappreciated film, but lines like Lazardo's "laugh while you can, Monkey Boy," delivered with comedic brilliance by John Lithgow, made me rewatch it several times.

Dr. Buckaroo Banzai - physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock musician, working alongside his band of Hong Kong Cavalier "Blue Blazers," and his girlfriend Penny Priddy, set out to help rescue Planet 10 from its impending invasion by the alien Red Lectroid "Johns" working under cover at Yoyodyne. The plot is what one might expect from a brainless science fiction movie; forces of good and evil arrayed against each other to either disrupt or maintain the natural balance of the Universe. What makes Buckaroo Banzai different is its tongue in cheek humor and its colorful, weird, definitely out of the ordinary, skillfully portrayed characters.

There are a few famous actors in the film who used Buckaroo Banzai as a springboard for more commercially successful ventures. John Lithgow, who plays the role of Dr. Emilio Lazardo, would go on to more notable enterprises such as Harry and the Hendersons and 3rd Rock from the Sun. Jeff Goldblum, who would later lose body parts in The Fly and run from ravenous, rampaging velociraptors in Jurassic Park, portrays Dr. Sidney Zweibel, a neurosurgeon colleague of Buckaroo who has a taste for Western wear. Finally, the title role is played by Peter Weller, an actor who seems to excel in straight faced roles where he exhibits very little emotion. He continued to subsequent fame as RoboCop.

The "loyal cult following" tag is often applied to flicks, such as Buckaroo Banzai, that bomb at the box office but are later resurrected on DVD after a clamorous hue and cry by folks with a warped imagination, such as mine. Buckaroo Banzai's 71% Rotten Tomato score indicates its popularity with critics, but calling it a box office bomb is probably giving it too much credit. The film grossed 6.2 million in North America and went almost immediately into circulation in second run locales such as military bases, condemned leaky-ceiling nickelodeons, and the like. I saw it in a Navy base theater, running double feature with The Pirates of Penzance.


Mars Attacks!

The mother of all science fiction box office flops has to be 1996's Mars Attacks! - a movie I associated with the word "bomb" before I had even seen it. The film's negative reviews seemed to be its primary method of publicity, in fact, but that hasn't stopped me from getting a chuckle or two every time the red planet invasion lands in my living room in those stupid silver flying saucers.

Mars Attacks is the very definition of cast of thousands. The roster of famous actors that populate the film is almost too long to list - Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny Devito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Jack Black, Christina Applegate and of course my favorite; 60s singing sensation Tom Jones. I have no clue why all of these already famous performers would line up to be in this very campy, exceedingly silly movie, but perhaps the attraction was the opportunity to work with acclaimed director Tim Burton, he of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure fame, another guilty pleasure favorite of mine.

As is the case in all three movies discussed here, in Mars Attacks! aliens once again invade the world. This time, however, there is no attempt to supply them with high tech, intricately detailed, exquisitely animated spaceships. Instead, they arrive on Earth in wobbly flying saucers that appear to have no aeronautic capabilities whatsoever.

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The very appeal of Mars Attacks! to me are the things that probably garnered it such crappy reviews out of the gate - overly melodramatic acting, absolutely laughable space ships and laser guns that could have been penned by a clever five year old, and the utterly ridiculous method by which the Martian invaders are finally defeated.

The Martians' Achilles Heel proves to be a song called "Indian Love Call," a 1952 hit by yodeling cowboy Slim Whitman. Once while waxing nostalgic, a former coworker of mine who was old enough to remember the glory days of Slim Whitman professed to me her fondness for this tune. "That's what makes the Martians' heads explode in Mars Attacks," I told her. She thought this was very funny.

If you are sitting at home watching Mars Attacks! with a deadpan, disapproving scowl, shaking your head at the unbelievability of it all, then I think your imagination must have been surgically removed at some point, or was deliberately suppressed by electroshock treatments. I'm not saying you have to think it's amusing, I'm just saying don't mistake it for something it is not, which is a serious science fiction film.

Mars Attacks! grossed a respectable 101 million at the box office, but that probably wasn't enough to pay the salaries of all of the film's big name, big dollar actors. It was considered a bomb in the United States, but was better received in Europe.and elsewhere. Director Tim Burton has called it a Mad Magazine version of Independence Day, which was released the same year, without his foreknowledge. The critics have not been too kind to the film; giving it a cumulative score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Did Mars Attacks! attack your sense of dignity?

Songs to Make Your Head Explode from Mars Attacks!

A Synopsis - Science Fiction and Comedy Don't Easily Mix

I think the lesson to be learned for future filmmakers here is that Science and Fiction and Comedy are a tricky mixture and don't always seamlessly combine to produce box office magic. It could be that hard core science fiction fans are just a bit too geeky, a trifle limited in scope, and don't appreciate what they consider to be a serious genre being infused with head scratching humor. This is what Buckaroo Banzai and Mars Attacks! both attempted, and they were not immediately appreciated. On the other hand, even though Independence Day did not take itself too seriously either, it disguised its subtle parody of the genre enough to strike gold at the ticket counter.

That being said, all three films have stood the test of time. Buckaroo Banzai has achieved a cult-like adoration, Mars Attacks! gets frequent showings on cable movie channels, and Independence Day is a regularly rotated staple on AMC, with a sequel soon to be released. Sappy and Stupid do work in Science Fiction, but often require a long term investment, and depend upon the existence of fat, balding, pot bellied men like me, watching at home in our beer stained skivvies, for their continued proliferation.

Independence Day: Resurgence - Trailer


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 01, 2019:

Thank you Tim, I am glad you caught the spirit of the thing. I appreciate you reading.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on June 29, 2019:

great article. I enjoy hard sci-fi, such as Dr. Who and sometimes, Star Trek Next Gen., but well, why shouldn't we enjoy aliens getting their behinds kicked? These movies are no more predictable than comic book based movies, and perhaps, funnier. I couldn't help but think about Space Balls, that Mel Brooks movie, wasn't it viewed the same way? I like my nonsensical sci-fi when I want to feel good about nothing or everything that makes us human. Great reviews. Thanks.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 22, 2016:

Thank you Larry. I'm convinced that the writers of Independence Day made it deliberately sappy by throwing in every overused plot device they could think of - like drunken, unemployed crop duster saves the world. Check out the President's speech too - It is littered with overused cliches. We will not go quietly into the night!!! Thanks for reading.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 22, 2016:

To me the all time classic is Flash Gordon. Did you know Rocky Horror Picture Show was also an homage to the sappy scifi genre?

I love a "good" terrible movie. I don't know that Independence Day fits that genre as much as your other two examples.

Fun read!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 12, 2016:

Stella, these kind of movies usually go direct to DVD. Better to fall asleep on a movie that you found in the Wal Mart $5 bin than pay $10 dollars for a movie ticket and $10 for popcorn and then fall asleep in the theatre, like I do. Thanks for reading.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on April 12, 2016:

Hi Mel, I like these movies every so often. They help remove stress and I usually fall asleep and get well rested. Thanks, Stella

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2016:

Benny Hill has a big following here, Lawrence, so maybe the differences aren't as striking as we think. Thanks again.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 03, 2016:


There is a difference in the humor, but actors like Will Smith and Chris Rock somehow manage to bridge the difference!

Even we Brits love 'em

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 03, 2016:

We Yanks just have a goofy sense of humor I suppose, Lawrence. Glad you got a good chuckle out of the hub, at least. Thanks for reading!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 03, 2016:


I had a good chuckle at these. One SF movie I really don't like (though the book was amazing) is 2001 A space oddysey! (Guess I'm a bit of a Luddite!) It's just too slow a movie!

I always enjoy independence day even though it's a bit corny in places but Mars attacks I've never really watched all the way through, though I've always known it to be a 'spoof'

Great hub


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 03, 2016:

The problem with that idea, Deb, is that one man's best is another man's worst, and vice versa. Tastes in movies are fickle and subjective. What I call genius you call nonsense, and we are both probably right, on some level. I really appreciate you dropping in on a Sunday afternoon!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 03, 2016:

I saw two out of the three, which of course, brought to mind the very dated Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and such. Then there was The Fly. There is so much in historical movie data, it can make the head spin. Perhaps you should do a Best and Worst of?

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 31, 2016:

I too am a big fan of Tim Burton, Heidi, ever since his Pee-Wee days. I am glad there are a few out there who share my quirky tastes. Thanks for reading!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 31, 2016:

I really didn't like Independence Day the first time either LInda, but it grew on me after repeated viewings on cable. I really appreciate you dropping in!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 28, 2016:

I saw Independence Day when it first came out. I enjoyed it but wasn't hugely impressed with it. Unlike some movies that have stayed in my memory for years, I don't remember much about Independence Day. I think I should watch the other two movies that you've reviewed. I'd probably enjoy them more!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 28, 2016:

I loved Mars Attacks! So insanely silly. The bit about how the Martians are intelligent because of the size of their brains... brilliant. But I love Tim Burton's work. So there. I make no apologies for my fave in this list. :) Though I will see Independence Day, I think it takes itself too seriously. Have an out of this world week!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 27, 2016:

Robert, thank you for dropping in. I am hoping they will not make the new Independence Day too serious and will be able to capture some of that heart warming patriotic campiness, but lightning rarely strikes twice. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 27, 2016:

Mona you are making me blush. I am glad you get a kick out of the way I rearrange words. I am sure you have a lovely, elegant home over there in the Philippines and you wouldn't want to ruin the decorating motif by framing any drivel that I hacked out here on my computer. Anyhow, I thank you for your beautiful comments and I wish you a wonderful Easter, even though it might already be over over there.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 27, 2016:

Mills I thought you had seen everything on film, so it's hard to fathom you missed Mars Attacks! Buckaroo Banzai seems more obscure. I did see Flash Gordon way back in the day, but I was probably too young and immature to get it. Sometimes you have to see these movies though the experienced eyes of an adult. Thanks for reading!

Robert Sacchi on March 27, 2016:

A fun Hub about fun movies. Maybe theaters should post signs for some movies, "Check Reality at the Door". Favorite Independence Day insanity; you are qualified to fly anything if you've seen it fly. Thank you for posting.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on March 27, 2016:

Sometimes I don't know what's funnier, the movie as you tell it or the comments you make about it. There's a paragraph you wrote -- "But then, as I rewatched the movie via the endless loop in which it is played on movie channels like AMC, I began to discover the meaningful behind the mediocre, a kind of calculated campiness guiding the overused cinematic devices that at first glance might fail to inspire." -- that for some strange, inexplicable reason a part of me feels like typing it out and framing it. I am absolutely sure I will never come across another paragraph quite like this. Well done.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 26, 2016:

I may try and catch up to Mars Attacks! one day. I agree with your ratings on the other two. I may enjoy a very good serious film, as most of the 2016 Oscar Best Picture contenders and winner were, but the first ones that got my cinematic interest were comedies and goofy films like these. Another film in the vein of the pictures you mention was the 1980 Flash Gordon picture. Some of Ed Wood's films kind of fit, but in a different way. Film critics often praise films I feel don't deserve it, and vice versa. Always be happy when you can see a film that strikes a positive chord with you.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 26, 2016:

Thank you Suhail. We need some comic relief in the sinister world of science fiction at times. And you are right, we are an invasive species. We need to learn to be stewards of nature, not exploiters. I appreciate you dropping in.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 26, 2016:

Well, truth be told, I watched Independence Day and Mars Attacks. While I genuinely liked the former, I liked the latter in the lighter vein. Yes, I laughed it out.

I was able to relate to Independence Day aliens. Remember they communicated that they were an invading species, conquering new lands, using its resources and then moving on. That is what Humans are. We are that species. I personally believe, and there are many scientists and paleoanthropologists who are of the same view, that humans may be an invasive species. For what we are doing to planet earth and then researching for ultimately moving off to a new planet, reflects on this.

Mars Attacks certainly provides a comic relief from many gory movies made on the same topic, such as Spielberg's War of the Worlds, Aliens, Resident Evil, Predator, and TV series like X Files and Invaders, etc. I think this movie should be watched as a comedy movie involving aliens.

Great hub! I liked it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 26, 2016:

Nell, it is nice to have a kindred spirit who laughs at the same sort of ridiculous things that fill my simple mind with mirth. Check out Buckaroo Banzai if you can find it anywhere - if you got a kick out of Mars Attacks you might like that one too. The problem is that I have never seen it on regular TV, and a Netflix search came up empty as well. I guess one might be forced to buy it, but I think I would only do that if it was really cheap. Thanks a lot for reading!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 26, 2016:

Dana, Independence Day is a movie that grows on you with time, but in a good way. Thanks for dropping in and leaving your viewpoint.

Nell Rose from England on March 26, 2016:

I love Independence day and Mars attack made me choke with laughter the ten times I have seen it! LOL! I haven't heard of the other one, nell

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on March 26, 2016:

I only saw Independence Day. I agree with your assessment. When I first saw it, of course I waited until it came out on DVD, I wasn't impressed. When I watched it a few years later I quite enjoyed it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 26, 2016:

Thank you Devika. For me it is not so much the genre as it is the quality of the movie. There are fun Sci-Fi movies and then there are some really dull ones. I appreciate you dropping in!