Suspension of disbelief is just a fact of watching movies. We accept that movies have their own worlds and internal logic that might not match up with real-world logic. As audiences, we have to play along, and sometimes we have to be pretty forgiving.
How far a movie pushes our suspension of disbelief can sometimes make-or-break our enjoyment, and sometimes a movie comes along with a premise that should be utter garbage, but the movie is otherwise so good that it doesn’t matter. These films might not make much sense, but we love them anyway.
The rules for tending Mogwai are supposed to be simple: don’t expose them to bright lights; don’t get them wet, and absolutely do not feed them after midnight. Of course, Billy (Zach Galligan) fails to heed these rules and ends up with a batch of chaotic gremlins on his hands, but when it comes to the Big Rule of not feeding Mogwai after midnight, it’s pretty clear that we can cut him some slack. This faulty premise is commonly cited by fans because time is a cyclical construct and it’s impossible to define what “after midnight” means. Maybe the shop owner who sold Gizmo to Billy’s dad could have been more specific with something like: “don’t feed Mogwai between midnight and 5 am”.
This premise issue is lampshaded in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) when a control room worker points out that “It’s always midnight somewhere”…right before a gremlin busts in and attacks him.
J. J. Abrams’s Cloverfield was a blockbuster smash that brought found footage to a wider audience, but when you take a closer look, the entire focus of this film is that a group of pals choose to follow their friend Rob (Michael Stahl-David) through a crumbling New York City under siege as he tries to get to his ex-girlfriend (Odette Yustman), so he can pull her from the rubble of her apartment. While this sounds passably heroic, Rob spends the entire movie single-mindedly trying to get to her, often neglecting the safety of his friends, who are trying to help him.
The success of found footage often hinges on having a good reason for the person behind the camera to keep filming. Hud (T.J. Miller)’s reason for filming was simply a desire to record the event so others could see what went down, but he could have (and should have) gotten enough material without chasing after Rob. Hud deserved better.
28 Days Later (2003)
Danny Boyle’s zombie-adjacent 28 Days Later is often credited with reinvigorating the zombie horror genre. The film follows Jim (Cillian Murphy) as he navigates a post-crisis London, after he wakes up in an abandoned hospital, but here’s the thing: there’s no way Jim would have been overlooked at that hospital at the peak of the Rage virus outbreak. In zombie lore, hospitals are usually hotspots for outbreaks. Based on the state of the hospital when Jim wakes up alone, we can tell that something big went down while he was comatose. But he is untouched, despite being a living, breathing, heart-beating person for an infected person to attack. If it’s just that he avoided being killed by virtue of being really still and quiet (and unconscious), why didn’t more people in the hospital survive in this way?
Not to pick on Danny Boyle, but in the style of planetary-scale scares that came before it (2003’s The Core, and 1998’s Armageddon), Sunshine decides to solve the problem by exploding it. But in this case, a team of scientists, led by a heroic physicist played by Cillian Murphy, is trying to explode the Sun (or rather, jumpstart it by exploding a hypothetical particle that’s killing it prematurely). Science consultant Brian Cox and some of his colleagues at CERN seemed to have had a blast building the what ifs of this film, but this calls for a huge suspension of disbelief:
What if Q-Balls are real? Q-Balls, the main threat the Sun in Sunshine, are super-heavy particles theorized over 30 years ago, but they remain unproven
What if Q-Balls could behave like a cancer to the Sun? Except that our Sun’s not all that dense and a Q-Ball would theoretically pass through it like a cannonball through Jell-o.
What if the Sun was dying and the Earth was freezing over. Except that we’d be frying to death first.
What if we could revive the sun with a nuclear explosion? No.
I could go on all day with what ifs, but it doesn’t change the fact that this movie is an oft-overlooked blast, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
This movie is literally about a killer car tire. I think this speaks for itself.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Okay, sure, the thesis of Pet Sematary is that people will selfishly make bad choices with terrible consequences even when they know better (“The soil of a man’s heart is stonier; a man grows what he can and tends it.”), but Louis Creed is established as someone who seems halfway miserable with his family and yet we have to believe that he will desperately keep burying them in cursed ground again and again, just to have them back. Him burying his daughter’s cat, Church, to avoid having a tough conversation is absolutely believable. What comes after, especially when he knows what horrors come back home to him, is less easy to swallow. Even worse, his neighbour Jud Crandall knows that nothing good can happen from burying dead things near the pet cemetery, but he goes ahead and intentionally plants that idea in Louis‘s head anyway. Why? Why?
Lake Placid (1999)
Steve Minor’s Lake Placid knows that it makes zero sense for a giant freshwater crocodile from across the world to be in this land-locked lake and it is all too happy to hand-wave the issue when it comes up. Does it really matter how the croc got there? Nah. Maybe Betty White smuggled it in when it was still a manageable-sized hatchling.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep is one of those movies that’s nearly impossible to explain to your friends. Two men claiming to be Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and JFK but Black (Ossie Davis) face off against a re-animated ancient Egyptian mummy that’s terrorizing their retirement home. It’s ridiculous, it’s fantastic, and it’s garnered a well-deserved cult status.
The Ring (2002)
The premise of The Ring relies on people (namely, teenagers) being dumb enough to watch the cursed videotape even as evidence mounts that the legend has a very real bodycount. In The Ring the legend is still fresh enough that’s it’s easy to picture people daring themselves or others to watch the tape to satisfy their curiosity or to show off, but by the time we get to The Ring Two (2005) and Rings (2017), people really should know better than to keep experimenting with the curse. You can call it the folly of man, but it’s a premise that only gets weaker the more well-known the tape becomes.
Do you love a movie with a terrible premise that isn’t on this list? Tell us all about why it’s ridiculous (and why you love it) over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!