Why Did My Family Watch the Same Awful Movies Over and Over?

On Obscure Films, Family Traditions, and the “Power of Badness”

What this movie did teach me, was the power of badness,” writes Andrew Cooper, referencing Possums (1998).

Here’s Cooper recounting how his dad bought this movie in the first place.

When I was little my dad got in the habit of renting awful movies from our local grocery store (this was going on simultaneously with his phase of purchasing genuine Butterbean knives off of QVC). He would never bring home new releases or the big blockbusters of the day, but instead he had the uncanny ability to spot a bad movie out of a sea of acceptable and entertaining options. One day this pattern of poor movie choices led to him selecting one the worst rentals of them all, the notorious 1998 sports film: Possums.

The movie is about a high school football announcer who continues broadcasting games even after the school, the Nowata Possums, cancels its football program. “But when his imaginary team starts to contend for the state title,” a clumsy IMBD summary tells us, “he must not only deal with the real state champs, but he must reckon with the hopes and dreams of the people of Nowata as well.”

Just how obscure is Possums? Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t bothered rating it.

In a recent conversation about the movie, Cooper made a great point. Thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime, he said, today’s kids have almost infinite movie options all the time. Back in the 80s and 90s, however, we were limited by the movies we owned, the ones we could convince our parents to rent from Blockbuster or, in Cooper’s case, the ones our dad would arbitrarily pick up from the grocery store without consulting us.

Like Cooper’s family, mine also boasted a collection of random, mediocre films. Sure, we had the classics: The Lion King (1994), The Little Mermaid (1989), Mary Poppins (1964). But while we owned Disney’s Mulan (1998), we also had a bootleg version, Mu Lan (also 1998), which was released by something called “Anchor Bay Entertainment” and which is virtually unsearchable on the internet.

Of course we had Disney’s Peter Pan, but my sisters and I were far more likely to watch Peter Pan (1960) a made-for-TV production of the 1954 musical, starring a middle-aged Mary Martin as Peter.

And yeah, lots of siblings probably watched Lindsay Lohan’s Parent Trap reboot (1998), but far fewer have practically memorized It Takes Two (1995), starring the Olsen Twins as identical strangers, alongside Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley.

Huge thanks to my sister Mallory Kassoy for taking these photos, especially on her winter break.

And we didn’t just own these movies; we watched them. Religiously. My sisters are in their 20s and 30s, and we’ll still text each other lines from It Takes Two or 3 Ninjas, another childhood staple we’ve all seen a hundred times. Here’s a recent text exchange on Peter Pan.

These critically un-acclaimed films have finagled their way into my parents’ basement, into our VHS player and, after dozens of home screenings, into our collective conscious. Watching — and now, quoting — them has become a family tradition, and the tapes themselves are practically heirlooms. Take the dubiously titled Happy Ending Stories (1989), which includes the cautionary tale of a puppet named Chippy Bushtail who gets his first cavity after eating too many sweets without brushing his teeth.

This movie might be old and weird, “but its themes are still relevant!” says my dad, the pediatric dentist, who still shows the movie to my four-year-old niece, his granddaughter.

Maybe every family had its own library of bizarre movies that became legendary inside the household and remained largely unknown outside of it. Until recently, I’d never even heard of Possums. Same with Rad (1986), which my brother-in-law tells me he watched on repeat as a kid. While I, the baseball fan, was devoting countless hours to Rookie of the Year (1993) about a teenager who plays for the Chicago Cubs, my friend Justin Etkin, in some soccer-filled parallel universe, was raised on Goal! (2005), about a kid who is selected to play for Newcastle United.

Thinking about these films and re-watching them today awakens a particularly warm brand of nostalgia. As my parents prepare to move out of my childhood house, maybe the familiarity of these films preserves a familiarity I’ll no longer have at home. Maybe I take comfort in the safety of their predictability, especially when my life doesn’t provide the same.

Sure, constantly watching a movie that didn’t even crack the top-10 Olsen twins pictures is a strange thing, but it least it’s our thing. These movies are part of our family history; amid all the ways we drive each other bonkers, they’re an idiosyncrasy we actually find endearing, like the way my dad flares his nostrils after he makes a joke or the way my mom is always turning off every light in every room, even if someone is in it.

So while Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t bothered reviewing Possums, it did notch an 89% approval rating among fans. Maybe that’s the power of badness.

Which movies did your family watch over and over when you were young? What role did those movies play in your childhood or household dynamic?

What family traditions or tendencies or idiosyncrasies do you value? Did you always value them?

What role do movies play in your life? How has your relationship with movies changed over the years?

This is the third installment of the Make Believe Boys series, which seeks wonder at the intersection of art, sports, and personal history. For more, read about the power of play and how we create legends.

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