The Remarkable Success of the Worst Movie Ever

Ransom Riggs

Until recently, The Room was just another unsuccessful indie film flop -- a drama, independently financed for around $7 million by writer-director-producer-actor Tommy Wiseau and released in a few theaters with no support from studios, that was panned by the few critics who saw it and went nowhere. Except that, thanks to years of relentless midnight screenings at a Los Angeles movie theater and the film's poster (at left) plastered on a Highland Avenue billboard for nearly five years (at a cost of $5k/month), it became the movie that wouldn't die, and a cult following has grown up around it not unlike that of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Against all odds, seven years after its inauspicious release, The Room has become a kind of so-bad-it's-hilarious hit, selling out shows and bestowing upon its creator a modicum of notoriety/fame. It is, according to one professor of film studies, "the Citizen Kane of bad movies." Wiseau is now saying that the film was made to be intentionally funny, a claim disputed by his actors (and almost anyone who's seen the film). This is a kind of bad-ness you just can't fake; a kind of cinema magic that comes along maybe once a generation.

Let's start off with the trailer, and go from there. Just watch this ...

But the magic of the film can't really be captured in a cut-to-pieces trailer -- it plays out in the bizarre pacing of the scenes and the off-kilter line readings that have made it a favorite among Hollywood comedians like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. An EW article reveals how on the set of Role Models, "to Room" came into use as a verb --

'When we do a take, and it seems bad, a comment about The Room is often made,'' says Joe Lo Truglio, who played the jolly knight in Role Models, and is yet another fan of The Room. '''Dude, your heart was in the right place, but the acting wasn't. You Roomed it!'''

So let's get down to the nitty-gritty and watch some scenes. This little montage of three scenes captures one of the hallmarks of the film -- weeeiiiiird pacing.

This scene feels like the script supervisor lost a page of dialogue or something; abrupt emotional transitions are another thing that make The Room such a strange viewing experience.

The most famous line from the film, akin to Brando yelling "STELLA!"

In this scene, Wiseau gets so angry at Lisa that he goes all Bruce Banner tears apart a room (the room?), throwing a TV out the window. But his rage is so strange and slow, so awkward -- like he's just swallowed a fistful of Xanax.

In this scene, Wiseau orders a hot chocolate at a coffee shop. For some reason, the orders of all the customers in line before him are recorded in meticulous detail.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that football plays a special role in the film -- an attempt by its Austrian director to make the movie seem more "American"? -- and the characters are forever awkwardly throwing one around. Another notorious scene features a group of guys playing football in tuxes.

So why do audiences love this movie so much? I don't know, but they do -- watch these audience reactions after a screening. Some of them have seen it fifteen times!

Apparently, screenings of the film are filled with audience participation -- people laughing, shouting at the screen, reciting lines along with the characters -- and whenever a spoon shows up in the film (there are framed pictures of them that appear now and then), this is what happens: