10 Beautifully Filmed Movies with Terrible Stories

10 Beautifully Filmed Movies with Terrible Stories
Image credit: Legion-Media,, Scanbox Entertainment, Paramount Pictures

These ten films are stunning visually, but the narrative? Well, it's like a modern art piece titled "What?"

1. "The Tree of Life" (2011)

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Right out of the gate, we have Terrence Malick's metaphysical drama "The Tree of Life." The visuals? Stunning, like a Monet painting come to life. The narrative? Abstract, to put it mildly. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain give it their all, but the narrative spirals into a perplexing cosmic ballet of creation and destruction. Despite its unorthodox storytelling and 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, proving that sometimes, the Academy just loves to mess with us.

2. "The Neon Demon" (2016)

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Nicolas Winding Refn's "The Neon Demon" is a visually arresting horror thriller set in the cut-throat world of LA's fashion industry. The lighting and cinematography? Absolutely top-tier. The story? A disjointed exploration of vanity and narcissism that loses its footing in the third act. Elle Fanning does her best, but the narrative takes a left turn into "What in the holy cannibalism is happening?" territory. The Neon Demon ended up with the 58% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. So, at least someone liked it.

3. "Only God Forgives" (2013)

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We're not done with Nicolas Winding Refn yet. "Only God Forgives" is a stylish thriller set in Bangkok's criminal underworld, filled with gorgeous neon-lit scenes that play out like a surreal nightmare. But the story? A revenge tale that borders on incomprehensible, even with Ryan Gosling 's brooding face trying to hold it together. Its box office performance was a disappointment, and it was savaged by critics with a harsh 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, its visual spectacle and daring style gained it a cult following, proving that one man's cinematic trash is another man's treasure.

4. "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (2017)

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Luc Besson's space opera is a visual feast, with imaginative alien designs and an awe-inspiring look at a massive interstellar city. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, however, can't save the movie from its stilted dialogue and meandering plot. It bombed at the box office and scraped a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Besson himself admitted that the film didn't meet his expectations, which probably explains why we're not getting a sequel anytime soon.

5. "Mother!" (2017)

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Darren Aronofsky's psychological horror film is a striking piece of cinema, filled with frantic and unnerving imagery. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a strong performance, but the allegorical story about Mother Earth is as subtle as a wrecking ball to the face. The film divided audiences like a hot knife through butter, earning it a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It failed to recoup its budget at the box office, but it did earn Jennifer Lawrence a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress. So, there's that.

6. "A Cure for Wellness" (2016)

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Gore Verbinski's "A Cure for Wellness" offers stunningly eerie visuals with its expansive landscapes, antiquated spa, and some truly unsettling moments. However, Dane DeHaan's journey to find the truth about the mysterious wellness center becomes increasingly implausible, stretching credibility beyond its limit. With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 42%, the critics agreed. The ending in particular, veering into the inexplicably absurd, was a miss for many. Despite this, it did gain a cult following who relish the movie's Lovecraftian sensibilities and aesthetic pleasures.

7. "Southland Tales" (2006)

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"Southland Tales," directed by Richard Kelly, is a perplexing mix of science fiction, political satire, and... musical? With an ensemble cast including Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Justin Timberlake, the film is an ambitious experiment in genre-blending. Its imagery is provocative, its scope vast. Yet, the narrative is an incoherent mess, and its attempt at social commentary stumbles more than it strides. Critics were merciless, culminating in a 41% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Kelly intended it to be a part of a multimedia experience with accompanying graphic novels, but the film's failure halted any expansion of its universe.

8. "The Spirit" (2008)

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Frank Miller's "The Spirit" attempts to capture the noir-ish charm of his previous hit, "Sin City." Visually, it's stunning, a monochrome world with splashes of vibrant color. But the story? As haphazard as a cat in a yarn factory. The film received a paltry 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was seen as a miss in Miller's filmography. Even its star Gabriel Macht admitted that the film didn't work out as planned. Yet, for some, it holds a certain charm in its over-the-top camp and stylized visuals.

9. "Lucy" (2014)

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Luc Besson's "Lucy" is a feast for the eyes with stunning visual effects and some truly memorable action sequences. It's a high-concept sci-fi thriller with Scarlett Johansson portraying a woman who, due to a peculiar drug, unlocks 100% of her brain's potential. However, the narrative takes a nosedive into a maelstrom of implausibility and ends with a climax that's more perplexing than satisfying. Despite the flak it received for its dubious science, the film was a box office hit. It has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but its story falls short when held against its mesmerizing visuals.

10. "The Cell" (2000)

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Tarsem Singh's "The Cell" features Jennifer Lopez as a psychologist who ventures into the minds of her patients using a radical technology. Visually, it's a marvel, filled with surreal, dreamlike sequences that are equal parts beautiful and disturbing. However, the narrative doesn't measure up to the astounding visuals, offering a standard serial killer plot that seems mundane in contrast. It earned a 45% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising the visuals but lamenting the familiar plot.