“What this movie did teach me was the power of badness,” my friend Cooper recently wrote me, referencing Possums (1998). “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.
Cooper later pointed out a key generational difference: Thanks to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, he said, today’s kids have almost infinite movie options, whenever they want. 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 bring home 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), and 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 Anchor Bay and which is virtually unsearchable on the internet.
Photo credit to my younger sister, Mallory.
Of course, we had Disney’s Peter Pan (1953), but my sisters and I were far more likely to pop in Peter Pan (1960), a made-for-TV production of the 1954 musical, starring Mary Martin as the title character.
And yeah, lots of siblings probably watched Lindsay Lohan’s Parent Trap reboot (1998), but instead we chose It Takes Two (1995), starring the Olsen Twins as identical strangers, alongside Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley.
And we didn’t just own these movies; we watched them. Religiously. My sisters are well into adulthood, and we’ll still quote each other lines from films like 3 Ninjas, another childhood staple we’ve 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. The tapes themselves are practically heirlooms. Take the unfortunately 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 and ignoring his oral hygiene.
This movie might be old and weird, “but its themes are still relevant!” says my dad, the pediatric dentist, who regularly screens it for my five-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, and Goal! (2005), my friend Justin’s childhood favorite.
Thinking about and re-watching these films awakens a particularly warm brand of nostalgia. As my parents prepare to move out of my childhood house, maybe the familiarity of our terrible VHS tapes preserves a familiarity I’ll no longer have at home.
Sure, constantly watching It Takes Two— a movie that, according to one article, doesn’t even crack the top-10 Olsen twins pictures— is a strange thing, but at least it’s our thing. These movies are part of our family history; they’re both the stuff of rich memories and ongoing traditions.
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.