The Best (and Worst) of Morgan Spurlock

Born in 1970 in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Morgan Spurlock has become one of the most recognized documentary filmmakers in America. His methods of total immersion and societal experiments have proven to be incredibly effective by shedding a new light on the world and the people living in it. He gives viewers a first hand look at some of the most intriguing and sometimes controversial issues in our world today while maintaining a fast pace so as not to lose viewers’ interest. His intellect is nothing short of genius, always probing and questioning society and looking past the surface, and his wit is to be reckoned with.

Since his first documentary film in 2004 (Super Size Mehe has directed 11 subsequent films ranging greatly in genre and level of danger. From looking at Comic-Con and its attendees first hand to traveling to the Middle East in a seemingly impossible and slightly humorous search for Osama Bin Laden, his willingness to go the extra mile knows no bounds. He reaches outside of the box and fishes for strange yet intriguing topics, things that your Average Joe documentary filmmaker would probably never think of, and turns them into genuinely enjoyable documentaries that appease the masses.

Now before I get to the good stuff, I might as well get the bad news out of the way. While Spurlock has seen quite a bit of success with his films there have been a few that have done pretty poorly. Gasp! I know, I’m sure your Spurlockian heart is breaking as we speak. I’m not saying this in the fact that people didn’t generally enjoy the films, just that the critics didn’t think highly of it and it didn’t make nearly as much money as his other works.

His least successful film, Mansome, released in 2012 earning a whopping 25% on the Tomatometer and only brought in £18.4K ($29.8K) in the box office. The film explored the topics of male grooming routines and products and asked the ever-looming question, “What does it really mean to be a man?” It also featured big name actors such as Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Judd Apatow, Zach Galifianakis, and even a short appearance from Paul Rudd. Critics stated that they felt the film lacked a solid point and was a smattering of small, random segments (Nicholas Rapold of The New York Times) while another critic pointed out that it was funny and entertaining rather than being deep and poignant (Edward Douglas of ComingSoon). If you can look past what the critics say, you’re in for a good film with a charming and slightly intriguing premise but unfortunately it was far from award winning.

His next film, which surprisingly fell short of expectations, was his 2008 documentary, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?In this daring film, Spurlock dons a beard, thawb and keffiyeh (that’s a robe-like garment and a turban just incase you didn’t know) and journeys to the Middle East in search of Osama Bin Laden. The film received a rating of 37% on the Tomatometer and earned about £300K (almost $500K) in the box office. I have my guesses as to why this film fell so short, but one critic put it in better words than I ever could, saying that the “premise of the film (terrorism) is serious, but it’s treated with a sense of humor too broad for this sensitive subject (Mariana McConnell of Cinema Blend). Between the danger, the odd image of Spurlock galivanting across the Middle East and the purposefully distracting cartoons Spurlock’s idea of a crusade to find the biggest terrorist in the world just turned into a documentary that didn’t really know what it wanted to be.

So I’ve given you the two worst and now I’m gonna give you the two best! Well… not exactly… and I will be forthcoming when I say that for these two films (or at least one of them) and I am completely and utterly biased and I have no shame about it. I’ll start with the one I’m biased about so those who find this next topic cringe-worthy can get it over with and move on. C’mon it’s like ripping off a bandaid.

Undeniably, Spurlock’s most successful film was his 2013 documentary, One Direction: This Is Us. Now when I say successful I mean the amount of money it brought into the box office. The film in its opening weekend earned just over £9M ($15M) which is quite a lot for a documentary. Its lifetime gross totaled to just under £29M (almost $47M) making it the number 7 highest grossing documentary in history. Not to mention it made 2.5 times more money in the box office than his top rated documentary Super Size Me. Upon the release of the DVD/Bluray, 170,000 copies were sold in the UK alone which beat the previous record held by Michael Jackson’s This Is It. Now the critics gave it a 60% on the Tomatometer which isn’t horrible, but in my opinion, the film deserved a much better rating. Spurlock spent months with the 1D boys filming their journey throughout their Take Me Home tour. He really got down to the core of who they are as people and showed you that they are truly just normal, genuine lads doing what they love and having the time of their lives. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who even has an inkling of love for One Direction because it will immediately convert you to a full-on, head over heels fanatic. (My father even watched it and gave it an 8.5/10, just saying). Now before this turns into a full review of everything One Direction, let’s move on to the second best Spurlock film.

Spurlock’s second best film is most obviously his 2004 documentary Super Size Mewhich chronicles his experience as he consumes McDonald’s for every meal for 30 days. Critics gave it a 93% rating on the Tomatometer making it his highest rated film and it had a box office gross of £11M ($17.8). This film was not only extremely interesting but it was also incredibly dangerous for Spurlock. In order to prove the effect of the food on one’s body he went through regular blood tests and health screenings throughout his experience. Every test gradually showed worse and worse results, he became more susceptible to kidney stones and gout, and eventually his liver started turning to fat. While the film is funny at points there is definitely a sense of fear and “why am I doing this to myself?” in Spurlock as he progresses through the trial. It raises the topic of American obesity and proves a point that these “fast food” restaurants are slowly killing us, or rather, we are killing ourselves by doing this to our bodies. It is definitely a film everyone should see at some point in their lives, not only for its poignant message but for its wonderful directing and I mean hey, the guy ate McDonalds for a month, the least you could do is watch his movie.

So that folks, is Morgan Spurlock for you. Now I want to clarify that I do not believe that any of these films are his “worst”. I am simply stating the facts and the opinions of the critics, so please do not let this deter you from watching any of his films. I would personally recommend any of his works and I think he is a fabulous director. If you are ever in the mood for something interesting, slightly educational, and frankly pretty hilarious, grab yourself some popcorn and turn on a Spurlock documentary, you won’t be disappointed.

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