Some films can be both entertaining and contain social commentary, such as District 9 (2009). Unfortunately, other films succeed too much at being entertaining or memorable, and the audience doesn’t realize the films also have a message. The following is a short list of films that have had their social commentary overlooked.
Starship Troopers (1997) was initially disregarded as a tongue-in-cheek action/horror film about gung-ho but not terribly bright soldiers fighting giant bugs. Instead, the film was intended as a satire of jingoism, fascism, and colonialism. It even wears its commentary on its sleeve, e.g., when the film makes direct allusions to Nazi propaganda films.
“Critics had missed the point. Starship Troopers is satire, a ruthlessly funny and keenly self-aware sendup of right-wing militarism. The fact that it was and continues to be taken at face value speaks to the very vapidity the movie skewers.”– Calum Marsh in Starship Troopers: One of the Most Misunderstood Movies Ever
The movie Deliverance (1972) is remembered for two things: sexual assault and banjo music, which go together like, well, consensual sex and banjo music. However, the film’s larger social commentary is often overlooked. The writer S. Tremaine Nelson points out that the sexual assault and violence entirely overshadow the novel’s themes of homoeroticism, masculinity, and naturalism in the film. Where the film comes closer to succeeding is what author Nasrullah Mambrol would say is in its commentary on the innate violence inside humans. This violence is suppressed in modern society but can be witnessed in moments of life or death/warfare.
Besides its unforgettable title, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) is most remembered for its shocking scene of animal abuse, which is unfortunate because it also has rich social commentary and a great soundtrack. However, the film’s commitment to “realism” prevented it from having its astute social commentary on colonialism, manipulation, and, as Ethan Bergman claims, superiority complexes stand out to the viewer. The emphasis on realism even got the director arrested on murder charges, which were later dropped. Much like Natural Born Killers, the film was also intended to be a commentary on media sensationalism and the fetishization of violence. However, as Steve Rose, writing in Cannibal Holocaust: ‘Keep filming! Kill more people!’ for The Guardian says, “It succeeded too well in its commentary on shock violence.”
A Serbian Film
One of the most controversial and frequently banned films of all time, A Serbian Film manages to out-shock Cannibal Holocaust. The director of A Serbian Film (2010) claimed the movie is meant as a commentary on autonomy under the corrupt rule of government, specifically, the mistreatment of Serbians by their government. However, most people will remember the horrific sex/rape scenes from the film. The film is a missed opportunity for social commentary on a worthy topic: Serbian history. Albeit its graphic to the point of did-I-just-get-put-on-a-list for watching its scenes obscure any deeper social message.