10 Most Misunderstood Movies of All Time



It shouldn’t have to be said that movies are, essentially, as subjective as any work of art can be. Regardless of how unsuspecting and straightforward a film is in its message, there’s always something viewers can individually interpret, and that’s the beauty of watching movies or talking about them.

However, while there’s no universal truth about movies, some productions are widely regarded as misunderstood or misleading. This happens when audiences hesitate to look beyond the surface of a movie, sticking to the outer layers rather than making an effort to interpret the messages the artist is trying to convey. At the end of the day, these kinds of movies become famous for something other than what they aimed at.

10 Fight Club (1999)

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fight Club
20th Century Fox

Fight Club was released at the right time, just before the turn of the millennium, yet it failed to attract people’s attention to the serious societal issues it committed to exploring. For starters, the film was an absolute failure at the box office before becoming a cult classic, and when people finally started noticing it, it was for the wrong reasons.

The idea of a violent underground club where men can unleash the frustrations of their uneventful lives sounds mesmerizing for, of course, male audiences, and therefore, fans quickly began to glorify the radical ideas of the film and its call-to-action message. The problem is that these concepts are the exact opposite of the ideals that Chuck Palahniuk targeted with his book, and David Fincher’s stylish adaptation attracted an audience that would surprisingly interpret Tyler Durden as a hero, as opposed to the misogynistic reactionary he was.

Related:The Best Teenage Girl Power Movies of the 2000s

9 Death in Venice (1971)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Less than a decade after Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, Death in Venice was yet another movie based on a controversial novel, and comparisons between the two works started when Luchino Visconti’s movie came out. However, the two movies feel much more like polar opposites than similar stories.

Death in Venice tells the story of a lonely composer who becomes obsessed with a teenage boy during a trip to Venice. What some people might interpret as a scandalous case of pedophilia is actually the frustration of a dying man in search of the glow of youth. There’s no sexual tension between the two characters, only longing.

8 Licorice Pizza (2021)

The Two Leads of Licorice Pizza
Universal Pictures

Big age gaps have always been the target of controversy in the film industry, and some people still insist on making a case of it when the subject is Licorice Pizza, despite the movie being much more about the clash of generations and the passing of an era through the eyes of two individuals from different backgrounds.

Everything in the movie happens thanks to the weird, yet charming relationship that develops between Gary, a 15-year-old prodigy, and Alana, a 25-year-old woman with concerns about her future. The debate about whether Licorice Pizza is just another “male fantasy” tale or a messed-up love story will go on for ages, but the truth is that none of this matters. Changing the two protagonists’ ages would result in an entirely different film; not because of the romance and less about the problem behind it, but especially because Licorice Pizza is all about playing with what it means to be an adult, and alternatively, how to find the child within.

7 Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

Kids in Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom movie
United Artists

Whenever Salò pops up in a conversation people are quick to acknowledge it as one of the most disturbing movies ever made, but not everyone is bold enough to accept the movie is an international masterpiece of the 70s. At the end of the day, it’s a shame the movie is better known for its horrific imagery rather than the effective political message it conveys, and anyone who dismisses Pasolini’s sharp anti-fascist statement will regard Salò as just another torture porn movie.

In the film, loosely based on Marquis de Sade’s scandalous unfinished book, four depraved fascists kidnap a group of teenage boys and girls and subject them to 120 days of unspeakable acts of sadism, torture, and sexual abuse. It goes without saying that Salò isn’t for the faint of the heart, and it will disappoint both those looking only for non-stop gore and a linear story. Understanding the movie shouldn’t be so hard, though: a reminder of what Italy’s political background in the 20th Century looked like is enough.

6 The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix Resurrections
Warner Bros. Pictures

Of all the malnourished reboots, legacy sequels, and remakes coming out every year, it’s surprising that the only one of the bunch to actually rub salt into the wound was so poorly received by the fans. The Matrix Resurrections is more of a call for help than an actual movie, which becomes evident when the film completely gives in to a meta-narrative that brings the Matrix inside the Matrix.

There’s an argument to be made that The Matrix Resurrections is the sequel no one asked for, and the film isn’t remotely ashamed of being exactly that. From Lana Wachowski’s indifference towards pre-established mythology to the handpicked fan services, the movie hits all the right notes of a film that desperately wants to get rid of the shackles of the film industry. It creates a life of its own, almost as if a true anomaly in the Matrix.

5 The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Pick up the phone and start dialling
Paramount Pictures

The fact that the “Sell me this pen” clip from The Wolf of Wall Street has become a must-watch in the classes of any Business freshman proves that the target of the film’s satirical tone completely missed the point. The film recounts the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who finds himself at the center of a corruption scheme on Wall Street.

The film spends more time exploring Belfort’s lavish lifestyle prior to his downfall than the consequences of his actions, depicting his daily doses of depravity and debauchery without skimping on details. For this reason, many viewers like to think The Wolf of Wall Street backfired as a critique of the so-called “American dream”. Even Leonardo DiCaprio had to step up and reiterate that the film is not condoning Belfort’s behavior, but indicting it.

4 Rambo: First Blood (1982)

Rambo_ First Blood _ Rambo's Breakdown
Orion Pictures

There’s a reason why Rambo: First Blood is the best movie about the consequences of war, and it isn’t only due to the unstoppable force that Rambo represents against the authorities he fought to protect. The film revolves around a Green Beret veteran who comes back from Vietnam in search of a fresh start and ends up becoming a victim of authority abuse instead, pushing him to retreat to the jungle and take down his enemies one by one.

There are two movies in First Blood, and it’s totally up to the audience to choose which one they want to watch. There’s the intense action flick centered around a badass Sylvester Stallone taking it out on anyone who crosses his path; a dad-favorite and the fuel that ignited a franchise of purposeless sequels. And of course, there’s the devastating post-war tale about a man with PTSD who vents his rage on his country as he tries to accept that everything he did in Vietnam was in vain. Only one of them is truly remarkable.

Related: How Many Rambo Movies Are There?

3 Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker (2019)
Warner Bros. 

The Oscar-winner and critically acclaimed Joker is no conventional villain origin story. The iconic Batman antagonist is portrayed as a fragile man who desperately wants to be seen, pushed to his extremes by the corruption that plagues contemporary society. The controversy around Joker brought back a debate older than the movie itself: does violent content induce violent behavior?

The film clearly wants the audience to think twice before passively accepting the crumbs of an oppressive system, but that doesn’t mean Todd Phillips wants to indoctrinate his viewers into an anarchic state of mind. Many people were concerned about the extent to which Joker could inspire violent acts, which means most people seemed to have missed the punch line.

2 (500) Days of Summer (2009)

500 Days Of Summer
Dune Entertainment

(500) Days of Summer introduces the most annoying protagonist in the world in an unconventional rom-com narrative that spans across the 500 days that Tom Hansen spent with Summer Finn. There’s no room for a character like Tom in the 2020s, although he perfectly encapsulates the misogynistic idiosyncrasies of his time.

At first, Tom’s narration and seemingly mature insights on a relationship that already ended seem like a good narrative tool to get viewers close to the protagonist’s mind, but people tend to forget that any first-person story indicates the presence of an unreliable narrator. The real issue with the movie happens when viewers revisit it so many years later and still think Summer is entirely to blame, while all she wanted was to be free. A good way to see beyond the movie’s chewed-on conclusion is to try addressing the narrative from Summer’s point of view and realize Tom is far from a saint in this story.

1 American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho
Lionsgate Films

American Psycho was never intended to be a movie that took itself too seriously, and the absurdity of its final moments should’ve been enough to show audiences how easily it is to project all sorts of wicked fantasies in a similarly corrupted reality. However, there are two common misconceptions about the film, the first relying on a strange exaltation of Patrick Bateman’s meticulous lifestyle and the second being the belief in a conventional serial killer tale.

Truth is, American Psycho is much more ambitious than its tamed, yet over-the-top narrative suggests, and the non-linear approach of the film’s ending is the first hint that there’s something beyond the surface level. The dichotomy between Bateman’s descent into madness and the straight-up satire of materialism and fragile masculinity results in a misunderstood masterpiece from the 2000s.

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