Having a counterintuitive, provocative interpretation of a mainstream film is an easy but effective way to be heard, since it allows the person who comes up with it to ride the coattails of a well-financed ad campaign or a project that connected with millions of people. Consequently there are a lot of popular opinions of movies that were arrived at without much concern for accuracy. It’s not that this causes much real harm. Still, it tends to get in the way of appreciating an intellectual property’s real aesthetic value and messages. So we’re trying to help correct the record as much for the sake of the creators as we are just because people being loudly wrong is annoying.
10. The Lion King as a Kimba Ripoff
The idea that the 1994 Disney pop culture phenomenon plagiarized the 1966 Osamu Tezuka IP Kimba the White Lion enjoyed massive, unquestioned distribution. For example, there’s this YouTube video, which got millions of views and is just a splitscreen of Kimba, 1994’s The Lion King, and the 2019 remake. Articles on sites like Cracked.com got in on the action, too, to the tune of millions of views. A passing glance will show why: Kimba sounds like the name of the Lion King protagonist Simba, after all. Lion King has dark-furred villain Scar and Kimba has dark-furred facially scarred villain Claw. Both feature a comic relief warthog, villainous hyena sidekicks, and so on.
Enter YouTube reviewer Adam Johnston to set the record straight with a very thorough video stretching more than two hours. For example, he pointed out how, in the aforementioned video, all the supposedly matching shots came from a 1997 Kimba reboot likely made to ride on the success of Lion King, not the 1966 movie which was mostly just episodes of the TV show edited together. This is especially obvious considering the massive difference in film grain, color saturation, and animation frame rate comparing a ’60s Japanese TV show to a feature film.
Further he explains that Simba is “lion” in Swahili, and cited an explanation by NBC executive Fred Ladd that the show/character got renamed Kimba (it’s Jungle Emperor Leo in Japan) because “Simba” as a generic phrase couldn’t be trademarked and thus they couldn’t protect merchandising rights. The characters that are said to parallel those in Lion King do not have similar personalities to those in the Disney film and are largely insignificant bit characters. For example, Claw is nothing like Scar in terms of his relationship to the protagonist or his importance to the series. This is just scratching the surface of his very thorough analysis. But as Johnston says in the video, the real lesson about Kimba and The Lion King: it’s that people shouldn’t have passionate opinions on matters where they haven’t consulted the primary sources because some social media account or another will be able to manipulate you very easily otherwise.
9. Joker is a Pro-Incel Movie
When Todd Phillips’s R-rated pop culture phenomenon debuted, critics and police were both spreading the message that the movie would likely inspire dangerous behavior from the sexually frustrated. Indiewire called it “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.” Even Time magazine said the lead character “could be the patron saint of incels.” Police were dispatched to theaters to guard opening screenings out of fears there’d be a repeat of the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting.
While the protagonist Arthur Fleck is not portrayed as sexually active except in his imagination, he never expresses any of the grievances associated with incels — i.e., there’s no blaming of women or PC culture, as noted in The Guardian. All the people he explicitly lashes out at (Wall Street traders, network TV host Murray Franklin, his coworker, Thomas Wayne) are Caucasian men, and mostly higher class than him. The Guardian went on to devote an entire article to how the real villain of the story is government austerity because it costs Fleck his medication and contributed to the garbage strikes that have raised tensions in the city so high that there are massive riots inspired by Fleck’s crimes. It’s why the movie was enthusiastically embraced by such left wing media figures as Michael Moore.
8. Eyes Wide Shut is a Coded Expose about Ruling Class Child Predators
In 2019, the arrest and subsequent highly suspicious death of child predator Jeffrey Epstein brought Stanley Kubrick’s final film back into cultural prominence. After all, it features a scene where Tom Cruise’s doctor character sneaks into a ruling class orgy and later has his life threatened if he lets the information out. It brings to mind suspicious aspects of Epstein’s conviction, such as the fact that his prosecutor, future secretary of labor Alexander Acosta, wrote him a “sweetheart deal” where all of his co-conspirators were automatically granted legal immunity, which is practically screaming a cover-up. Considering Kubrick’s prominence in pop culture that allowed him carte blanche with A-list talent, it feels quite plausible he knew horrifying things you and I don’t about the upper class. A theatrically distributed film would seem to be a way available to him to spread the word far and wide.
The main problem with this theory is that, as Newsweek reported, Kubrick had been wanting to adapt the 1926 Arthur Schnitzler novella “Traumnovelle” since 1968, long before Epstein had been handpicked by Donald Barr for the career that would make his fortune. He had been explicit in interviews that his intent in adapting the book was more general statements about gender and fantasies than anything to do with classism. Furthermore, if Kubrick were intending to make such veiled accusations in such a highly public manner, why would Warner Bros. allow him to go through a 400 day shoot and release the end result at all if the threat of a powerful cabal hovered over the production? This won’t be the last time a version of this question is asked in this list.
7. The Protagonist of Blade Runner is a Clone
Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner focuses on the plight of Replicants, essentially clones with artificially compressed lifespans that get forced into various forms of labor. Its protagonist is a sort-of police assassin named Deckard, who hunts down Replicants posing as humans, and who enters into a relationship with a Replicant while on a mission to take down renegade Replicants. In the course of the movie it’s revealed that a new model process of implanting memories in Replicants, pretty much the only way to ensure they don’t know they’re Replicants, is being rolled out. In 2001, Ridley Scott said in an interview that he meant for there to be a twist that wasn’t explicitly spelled out that Deckard was a Replicant himself.
If his words were taken as gospel, then he just created a number of plot holes in the movie and a number of thematic problems. For example, as Scott Ashlin pointed out in his review, Deckard is much weaker than every single one of the Replicant fugitives he contends with. If he were walking around with implanted memories in his head, why would he receive a private audience to introduce him to that idea as he gets with the business mogul Tyrell? Most significantly, it takes away the dramatic irony of the biological human needing to rediscover his humanity through his interactions with artificial people. So no wonder the film’s screenwriter Hampton Fancher and star Harrison Ford were clear in interviews that Ridley Scott had it wrong.
6. Black Panther Shows Isolationism in a Positive Light
When Black Panther was released in 2018, it was as much a pop culture event as a blockbuster film. To the surprise of many, however, white nationalists had a campaign to claim the film supported their values. The argument in brief is that the Afrofuturist utopia of Wakanda is so isolated that it surrounds itself with a dome of invisibility, and that the nation did so well by sealing it off supposedly was an endorsement of closed borders and similar policies.
This ignores the fact that Wakanda’s isolationist position is established at the beginning as being a state in need of change. Having contended with the nuanced villain Killmonger’s challenge to his authority and calls for national vengeance, T’Challa’s arc ends with him ending Wakanda’s status as a secret and that aid will be provided to the rest of the world. That’s not to say every left winger has embraced it (consider how a representative of the CIA, Agent Ross, is presented heroically is massively off considering the CIA’s history in Africa) but the isolationist interpretation didn’t hold water.
5. ET is a Christ Parable
If alternative film interpretations getting disproportionate media attention seems like a new phenomenon, let’s take a little trip back to the 1980s. In 1982, Seven Spielberg’s family alien movie was such a phenomenon that no less than the New York Times printed a lengthy editorial about it, drawing all the parallels that existed between the alien and Jesus of Nazareth. It was not a casual reading based on such obvious tropes as ET seeming to die and coming back to life or having healing powers. The author of the piece went into such lesser known aspects of the Christian religion as the Roman Catholic cult of the Sacred Heart to draw comparisons to ET’s glowing heart.
However, even within the piece, the author admitted that these concepts long predated their presence in Christianity and thus aren’t specific references. Spielberg claimed that he anticipated these sorts of interpretations during pre-production, though since he called them “sticky religious areas” apparently he thought the response would be more negative than it was. It would be understandable to assume widespread Christian denouncement of ET by those who thought he was co-opting aspects of Christ, but according to a 2002 article by Christianity Today it led to more religious people embracing the movie. Spielberg was dismissive of the idea he would want to make a Christian parable, rhetorically asking how his mother who owned a kosher shop would feel about that.
4. The Shining is About the Moon Landing
In 2010 The Atlantic published an article devoted to an independent blogger’s thesis that in 1969 Stanley Kubrick worked with NASA to fake the moon landing, no doubt inspired by the fact Kubrick was fresh off spending four years making 2001: A Space Odyssey. The interpretation tends to come from aspects of the production design over the plot of The Shining. For example, the infamous “All work and no play” is part of the confession because “All” looks like “A-1-1,” which is an abbreviation for Apollo 11.
Most significant to most viewers, because of the intuitive visual element, is the scene where Danny Torrance is wearing a sweater with “Apollo 11” on it. There’s no stated rationale for why Kubrick would feel like confessing his involvement in the alleged, presumably harmless debunked conspiracy in such an indirect manner. This hot take has been discussed on numerous websites as numerous websites and was included in the 2012 festival hit documentary Room 237.
And speaking of hot takes that were boosted by being featured in movies…
3. Top Gun is a LGBT Film
For many viewers, by far the most memorable scene in the 1994 film Sleep with Me was a bit delivered by Quentin Tarantino that had been thought up by his Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, where he explains the subtext of the 1987 blockbuster film Top Gun. The rationale, beyond the presence of a lot of all-male crowds being photographed while slick with sweat — whether in locker rooms or playing volleyball — is that Maverick’s love interest Charlie Blackwood not only has an androgynous name but during the scene where she wins him over, she has her hair back and under a hat, which supposedly makes her look way more masculine.
Yahoo Movies did an analysis of this theory in 2016. They interviewed screenwriter Jack Epps Jr. and he was clear that there was no intended gay subtext. Scenes were set in a locker room or playing volleyball because “it’s really a sports movie” and such locations would be where the characters exchange exposition. More significantly, Kelly McGillis was wearing a hat during that scene for continuity because it was a reshoot, and she had changed her hair color.
2. The Predator is an Honorable Warrior
Let’s stay in the ’80s for a little bit longer and visit this 1987 action blockbuster. Ever since the iconic alien villain Predator (later dubbed a Yautja) killed most of a squad of American soldiers and then went hand to hand against Arnold Schwarzenegger, various sequels and fan articles on sites such as Gamespot have tried to paint him as an honorable warrior. The main basis for this is that the alien will only shoot humans that themselves have weapons.
As critic Bob Chipman pointed out, the movie doesn’t support that interpretation at all. For one thing, the predator kills the soldiers without them having any way of knowing he exists, which is cold-blooded murder instead of any sort of honorable ritual. There has been no agreement, no communication, and the predator brings massively more advanced weapons, including cloaking technology. It’s less fighting duels than the widely derided practice of wildlife “hunts” where wealthy people shoot large animals that are practically chained to the ground. What’s more, when the predator is bested, he sets himself to self-destruct and laughs maliciously, which is less an honorable embrace of being bested than pure petulance.
1. The Irishman is Sexist
Responses to Martin Scorcese’s 2019 Netflix movie The Irishman were somewhat polarized due to its length, the de-aging effects, and the relatively low key storytelling compared to Goodfellas or Casino but still generally positive. Still, there was one criticism which drew a lot of attention: Anna Paquin’s character Peggy Sheeran has very little dialogue and 10 minutes of screen time despite being married to the protagonist. The charges of sexism were sufficiently heated that a rumor emerged how Scorcese had allegedly ordered her not to say anything.
For starters, Anna Paquin herself debunked the rumor that she’d been given any such insulting direction. Further, from the beginning, during the writing process Scorcese said to screenwriter Steven Zaillian that he wanted to give Peggy Sheeran more dialogue and screen time, but that during production he found it was more powerful to have her be a silent witness to the events. It also was more thematically appropriate because the movie is set during a time where ostensibly her character would have less of a voice, especially considering matters that “you don’t talk about.” To paraphrase an old proverb, sometimes the less characters talk the more they say.
Dustin Koski’s further debunkings can be found on Twitter.