Over-the-top cinema

Think this summer's blockbusters are far-fetched? Time Out remembers the films that makes them seem like documentaries

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Braindead (1992)
Braindead (1992)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Broken Arrow (1996)
Broken Arrow (1996)
Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001)
Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001)
Observe And Report (2009)
Observe And Report (2009)
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Master of disaster Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen throws in everything but a robot that turns into a kitchen sink in its pursuit of audience-bludgeoning cinematic excess (and massive box office returns). Same goes for McG’s Terminator Salvation – not content with making Demi Moore inexplicably capable of flight in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, he’s now got steel killing machines chucking Christian Bale around a factory with only a cool-looking scar on the bad tempered one’s face to show for it. In fact, summer blockbuster season is pretty much all about the silly. To celebrate, we pick out some totally OTT classics that push the boundaries of taste, decency, budget and common sense…

1 It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963): The director’s cut of Stanley Kramer’s unglued laughter marathon locks down at a cool 192 minutes, but even that’s a bit of a squeeze considering the talent involved in this, the War And Peace of ensemble madcap treasure hunts. Spencer Tracy, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Terry Thomas are just a few of the legends in wild pursuit of buried loot. As a footnote, Kramer was toying with the idea of adding another ‘Mad’ to the title only to decide that it would be a little – and you’ll like this – excessive.

2 Blazing Saddles (1974): Mel Brooks’s satirical Western still manages to shock with its close-to-the-bone depiction of the racist attitudes whipped up when black sheriff Cleavon Little is called upon to uphold the law in the frontier town of Rock Ridge. But it’s the explosive climax that wins Blazing Saddles a place on this list, as a hootin’ and hollerin’ high-plains lynch mob cause such a ruckus that they spill out of the Old West, into the adjoining set, and onto the streets of ’70s Hollywood.

3 Braindead (1992): Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy confirmed his reputation as the most wildly inventive action director around, but it all began with this manic slice of unholy slapstick splatter. The plot – in which an ancient monkey virus causes the residents of ’50s New Zealand to begin rising from the grave – is at best a rickety frame on which to hang a series of mind-melting cartoon set pieces, from a graveyard smackdown interrupted by a kung-fu fighting priest (‘I kick a*** for the Lord!’) to the climactic bloodbath in which our bespectacled hero takes on a house full of zombie flesh eaters armed only with the business end of a garden mower.

4 Natural Born Killers (1994): The unremitting gore onslaught delivered by Oliver Stone’s NBK made it the instant scourge of jumped-up right-wing types across the land. Of course, all the moments of hyper-stylised bloodshed (and there are many) come swaddled in hulking quotation marks, as Stone and writer Quentin Tarantino assure us that what we’re watching is actually a treatise on the causes and effects of violence, and if we’re getting off on the sight of two sexy serial killers with seriously itchy trigger fingers blowing all manner of innocent folk to kingdom come, then we’re, like, part of the problem, man.

5 Broken Arrow (1996): ‘Prepare to go ballistic’ read the tagline, and Woo obliged by setting off a nuclear device in the middle of this breathless potboiler. Not at the end, mind you; in the middle. Not even Woo could take the action to the next level after that, but he stuffs the last hour with so many tricked-out speedboats, choice lines (like Travolta’s famously appropriated ‘ain’t it cool?!’), unspooling helicopters and derailed trains that we’re kept too busy to care.

6 Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001): Everything plus le kitchen sink went into this hysterical historical French offering based around the mysterious Beast of Gévaudan killings of the 17th century. But director Christophe Gans’s wonderfully mounted and incredibly tense creature-feature – in which a mountainous region is terrorised by a phantasmagorical monster – proves merely a backdrop for some wily political conniving, incest, top-notch martial artistry, the French Revolution, some chocolate-box erotica and Vincent Cassel turning it up way past 11.

7 Observe And Report (2009): This is shaping up to be a banner year for cinematic excess, with widescreen epics, such as Watchmen and the new Transformers movie, competing with full-throttle comedies like this astonishing Seth Rogen vehicle. Coming on like a slapstick Taxi Driver, Observe And Report presents a deeply worrying portrait of a multicultural American mall stalked by a psychotic, drug-addled vigilante security guard. This is no-holds-barred sledgehammer satire in its most brutal and direct form.
Compiled by Adam Lee Davies, David Jenkins, Tom Huddleston.

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