Rage against the movie machine

by DGO Staff

It can be like pulling teeth to find a good, obscure film to binge while you’re stoned off your ass on a hot summer day. After all, when a studio skips the multiplex and dumps a movie into the recesses of the internet — making it available on demand — it’s pretty darn suspicious.

After all, millions of dollars go into filming blockbusters, and millions more into promoting and pushing the film into the hands of consumers. And when film is sent to the naughty corner — and by that we mean it goes straight to on demand or streaming to be ignored — we assume that the final product is dreck. In turn, we also assume that the banishment is simply an easy way for the studio to wash its hands of the mess.

While that can certainly be the case — there are plenty of films that have banished to streaming because they’re just that bad — a terrible plot line or a flat actor isn’t always the reason for a film’s unceremonious release. The truth is that some films have been sent to streaming or on demand in a bid that amounts to corporate censorship. These films have features or ideas that might challenge a status quo, and are pushed to the recesses of the internet in the hopes that no one will notice.

Well, those types of films are a great option to dig up when you’re stoned — especially if you’re sick of the films you’ve watched 405 times from the stoner canon. So, next time you’re blazed, watch one of these five buried films instead, all of which are worth a look but got pushed out of the spotlight for political or social reasons.

1. Battle Royale (2000)

Foreign films are a tough sell for US audiences, but “Battle Royale” was a case of bad timing. Set in a dystopian future where students are forced to fight to the death by the government, the film popped up on the international circuit at a time when school shootings were a big issue in the states.

Problem was that the Columbine massacre was still a fresh wound, so film and video games (especially “The Matrix”) were taking a lot of flak for
encouraging violence.

In turn, “Battle Royale” found itself an unwelcome addition to international cinema. The Japanese government raised objections over its rating, some countries denied the film a traditional release and, in some cases, the studio held back foreign distribution.

The lack of a mainstream release made “Battle Royale” infamous, but its official U.S. release only occurred 10 years after its debut and was only for home entertainment.

2. Buffalo Soldiers (2001)

“Buffalo Soldiers” was precisely what it was supposed to be: an ultracool crime story with black humor and stylized violence that had something to say about how America presents itself. In the decade since “Pulp Fiction,” sardonic crime sagas were all the rage, and “Buffalo Soldiers” was the real deal: non-derivative and well made. To top it off, it had a great cast — including Joaquin Phoenix, Anna Paquin, and Ed Harris, to name a few.

Alas, this story, about disreputable U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany and skimming Uncle Sam on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, premiered at the
Toronto Film Festival in September 2001 — shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center occurred in New York City.

Bad timing for the film, as the movie’s cynical depiction of the American military had no place in the uber-patriotic post-9/11 moviegoing climate. It would be almost two years before the film got a theatrical release during which it failed to recoup its budget.

3. Idiocracy (2006)

Mike Judge’s TV career is solid, with Beavis and Butthead and Silicon Valley as unmitigated hits, but his film career has proven to be a lot trickier. Released in 1999, Judge’s “Office Space” became a cult classic in record time — and was such a part of the cultural lexicon by the time Judge’s next film, “Idiocracy,” was ready that many Judge fans assumed it would get a publicity blitz.

That’s not exactly what happened, though. Rather than getting the Hollywood treatment, the film’s release was delayed by over a year. And when it was released, the movie was dumped into a handful of cinemas and sent off to the DVD bin.

That was due to the fact that the film was released as the Bush administration’s tide was turning. As such, the film’s satire of anti-intellectualism run amok was thought to be a turnoff for audiences.

However, “Idiocracy” co-star Terry Crews gave an interview to GQ in 2016, and suggested that the issue with the film wasn’t the satire. Rather, Crews suggested that the film’s unceremonious release was caused by the corporations featured in the film, which were unhappy with the way their brands were portrayed as the heartless, insincere gatekeepers of tomorrow.

While critics have since noted that the film had its flaws, both the critics and audiences now agree that the film deserved better than to be buried.

4. Four Lions (2010)

Not so much buried as widely shunned, this British comedy sought to do the impossible: make a comedy about Islamist suicide bombers. Featuring an incisive wit and an understanding of modern England, the film managed to charm audiences and critics at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Although it premiered in England a couple of months later, the film didn’t make a showing across the pond, as distributors wouldn’t touch the film. Audiences had stayed away from topical films, even when their side was the hero, so a comedy about aspiring suicide bombers seemed like box office poison.

Still, the lack of daring on the part of film distributors didn’t go unnoticed by the in-the-know audiences, who had heard the formidable buzz surrounding the project.

Drafthouse Films ultimately agreed to a limited release, and “Four Lions” hit U.S. theaters 11 months after it had first made its debut at Sundance.
And, while it did minimal business in cinemas, “Four Lions” has since become one of the most acclaimed comedies of the decade.

5. The Interview (2014)
“The Interview” is perhaps the highest profile film on this list — and is certainly one of the strangest cases of an ill-fated intersection of politics, commerce,
and art.

Notably, “The Interview” was supposed to be a massive hit — it had big names, lots of publicity, and an advertising budget no other film on this list had. But the film’s extremely unflattering depiction of North Korea’s despot, Kim Jong Un, caused a big uproar — and led to Sony being hacked in retaliation for the film.

Facing a deluge of threats, Sony canceled the release of “The Interview.” However, the studio was promptly called out by the filmmakers, the press, and even President Obama for folding so quickly to the pressure.

Sony then agreed to a limited release of the film — but subsequently flipflopped again and again on the release strategy until audiences and the media were too confused to keep up. Ultimately, “The Interview” ended up on streaming platforms before hitting cinemas. And, somewhat ironically, the prior controversy surrounding the plot line and the hack eventually elevated what many dismissed as a low-brow comedy film into a major international incident — which drew even more attention to the ill-fated film.

Adding to the interest was the fact that the constant changes in release strategies had made the film easy to download and pirate. This likely amplified the audience for “The Interview,” a rare case where trying to bury a movie made it more accessible.

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