The beauty of Sharknado — and Sharknado sequels two through four — is that even without knowing anything else about the movie, you can get a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen. There will be a tornado. It will be made of sharks. There will be lots of screaming, and gratuitous shots of blood ‘n’ guts, and a halfhearted scientific explanation of how the sharks formed a tornado in the first place. There will be a romance, possibly culminating with one person rescuing the other from all the sharks. How’d I do?
This is not a dig against Sharknado fans! (Of which, it bears noting, there are many — Sharknado 2: The Second One actually broke the record for viewers of a Syfy original movie). In fact, new research on the appeal of trashy movies actually makes you guys look pretty good: A recent study in the journal Poetics surveyed people about their moviegoing habits and preferences, and found that the ones who get the biggest kick out of cheesy, low-budget films — the ones who see “so bad, it’s good” where others just see “bad” — also tend to be the biggest film buffs in general.
It seems like kind of an unexpected fan base, but study co-author Keyvan Sarkhosh, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Germany, explains that Sharknado and its ilk are appealing largely because of their uniqueness, even if they’re uniquely bad. Many survey respondents, he says, lumped trashy movies and art-house films into the same space, with both types presenting alternatives to the more predictable mainstream fare. “One already needs to have a certain taste for and knowledge about films to cherish trash films,” he says. “Trash is not only found entertaining because it’s amusing — it’s also interesting because it’s different. Perhaps even sometimes risky. [It] can be surprising, liberating.”
“But of course we still know it’s a bad film,” he adds. In their analysis of the survey results, Sarkhosh and his co-author found that most fans of trashy movies love them differently than films they actually consider good. It’s an ironic love, rather than an earnest one — while a less educated viewer may evaluate a Sharknado purely on its own terms, a deep cinematic knowledge helps fans to also appreciate the movie for what it isn’t.
“‘So bad, it’s good’ does not dismiss or ridicule the films in question … It’s like a badge of honor,” Sarkosh explains, citing Planet 9 From Outer Space as an example. “In terms of production, it’s a failed film — it’s simply badly written, done, and acted. And still you can see it’s the work of a man who by all means wanted to make a movie. I think the trash connoisseur will probably laugh with that film, but not at it.” There’s no shame in letting yourself be swept up by the swirling mass of sharks onscreen. In fact, you can watch with something like pride.