Study Guide

Crash Introduction

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Crash Introduction

Release Year: 2004

Genre: Drama

Director: Paul Haggis

Writer: Paul Haggis

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ludacris, Ryan Phillippe

The word "crash" conjures up different images. The stock market crashed in 1929 and in 2008. People playing Pokémon Go while driving crash into other vehicles or pedestrians. Film buffs might recall David Cronenberg's 1997 film of the same name, in which James Spader and Holly Hunter get turned on by car accidents.

Then there's the other Crash, a 2004 film about car accidents—and, depending on who you ask, a glorious car accident of a film. That reminds us of one more famous crash: the reputation of the movie Crash.

But we're not going to talk about that yet. We're like one of those movies that pauses right before the accident, then rewinds to show you how we got to that point. Like any good drama, we'll keep you in suspense.

Flashback to 2004. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby is a $216 million hit, earning four big Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Director. Its screenwriter, Paul Haggis, was a former TV writer, having penned scripts for Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. Then—faster than you can say, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Haggis?"—he became a Hollywood sensation.

Getting all that acclaim gave Haggis the clout to sell his passion project, a film called Crash. Based on a real-life experience in which Haggis himself was carjacked at gunpoint, the ensemble film attracted big-name stars like Sandra Bullock and Don Cheadle, who agreed to make the film on a shoestring budget of $6.5 million. The film told the story of a dozen or so people in Los Angeles whose lives crash together in a dramatic story of anger and racial tension.

Okay, now this ride is getting started.

Critics loved it. Roger Ebert gave it four stars. Ken Tucker called it "thrilling" and "provocative." And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised it for its "blistering wit" and "ambition." Driven by early Oscar buzz and word of mouth, Crash stayed in theaters for over five months and earned almost $100 million worldwide.

So far, so good, right? But you can see what's about to happen, thanks to our amazing foreshadowing skills.

The Oscar buzz held all the way until the 78th Academy Awards, where the film won Best Editing (for Hughes Winborne) and Best Original Screenplay for Haggis and his writing partner, Robert Moresco. Then, the cherry on the sundae, there was the big upset of the night: Crash beat critical darling Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture.

Now we're back to where we were, right before the crash of Crash. Hold your breath.

As soon as that upset happened, the film's critics—the ones actually critical of it—came out and said, This is bad. The critics for Slate, in particular, called the film an "abomination" and had named it one of their Worst Movies of 2005.


Like an auto accident in slow motion, the metal keeps scraping together. In 2009 Ta-Nehisi Coates named Crash his "Worst Film of the Decade." In his article, he called it "unthinking, incurious, [and] nihilistic."

Triple ouch.

Ebert passionately defended it and called LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas "cynical" and "self-congratulatory" (source). But his defense didn't stick with Crash's vocal critics. From 2006 onward, Crash's reputation continued to spiral. Many critics believe it to be one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time, with Flavorwire calling it a "boorishly schematic white-splaining of racism, with every character a trope, and every line of dialogue a position paper" (source).

Aaaand the patient is officially dead, guys. Flatlined. Time of death: March 5, 2006. We gotta pull the plug.

The death of Crash's critical reputation didn't affect Haggis or any of the film's stars. Sandra Bullock would later win an Oscar for The Blind Side. Don Cheadle would go on to star in, well, everything. And Haggis himself would become (in)famous for quitting Scientology and writing an exposé about it in the New Yorker. Oh, yeah, and he still wrote movies, too, like Daniel Craig's first Bond adventure, Casino Royale. The whole Crash debacle left him shaken, but not stirred.

So, okay, we may be left looking at a steaming wreck here, but any wreckage—whether it's a flaming car or a collapsed building or Iggy Azalea's career—once was a complete structure. It existed for a reason. So it's up to you to watch (or rewatch) it and decide if it deserves its place at the bottom of every critic's list.

We mean, really, not every movie comes with this kind of baggage. Treat yourself and see what all the fuss is about.


What is Crash About and Why Should I Care?

So, if you ask some people, Crash is "The Most Loathsome Best Picture of All Time." It is "Truly the Worst Best Picture."

If that's the case, then yeah, why should you care?

The easy answer is that you need to think for yourself and not let critics' opinions keep you from watching the movie if you've never seen it. But if we left it that simple, we'd be doing what many people say Crash does: we'd be oversimplifying a complex issue. So our other answer to why you should care is a bit more complicated.

First, once you've seen Crash, you have to decide who you agree with, and why. Do you agree with the writer for the Daily Kos who argued that those who loved the movie "congratulated themselves on 'learning' something that ought to have been perfectly […] obvious"? Or do you stand by Roger Ebert, who "believe[s] that occasionally a film comes along that can have an influence for the better, and maybe even change us a little"? (source).

Once you've decided your personal thoughts on the film, it's time to think about the movie's relevance. Crash was made over a decade after the LA race riots, four years after 9/11, and seven years before the Black Lives Matter movement began drawing attention to racial tensions between cops and Black citizens. Crash is a film often described as simplistic, but taking all of these tumultuous events into consideration, the movie has one heck of a backstory.

Even if people aren't still talking about Crash today, other than to say they hate it, we want you to ask yourself if Crash accomplished anything back in 2005. And if it did, is its contribution to our culture still worth caring about?

Now, these questions are more complicated than that questions Crash even attempts to tackle. That's why its critics hate it so much: they think it oversimplifies race, which is an insanely complicated issue. It's twisted and tangled, like the aftermath of a car crash.

But you can't go back in time. The Crash happened, and we all move on. Perhaps we should care about Crash as a starting point for a race discussion, but not the answer? These remain huge questions that we need to address. What do you think?


BuzzFeed's Kate Arthur hates Crash so much she put it at #85 on her list of all 87 Best Picture Oscar winners ranked. It barely beat out a movie about a bunch of clowns. Although, in a way, "movie about a bunch of clowns" could also describe Crash… (Source)

In 2015, the Hollywood Reporter polled hundreds of Academy members, asking that if they could have a do-over, would they overturn certain decisions made in Oscar past. For Crash, the answer is yes. Those polled would take a mulligan to name Brokeback Mountain best picture over Crash. (Source)

Crash Resources

Book or TV Adaptations

Hop to It
The Crash TV series starred Dennis Hopper, but the show itself crashed after two seasons, when Hopper died in 2010.

Articles and Interviews

Full Tilt
Ebert describes Crash as a movie in which characters collide "like pinballs," making us wish there was a Crash pinball machine with permanent multiball.

You Get a Copy of Crash! And you get a copy of Crash!
During her interview with the Crash cast, Oprah reminds us that Thandie Newton co-starred with her in Beloved and that Sandra Bullock was once married to "motorcycle guru"—which must be code for "scumbag"—Jesse James

Call the P.C. Police
Haggis says that what he really wanted to bust wasn't overt racists, but politically correct liberals who hide their racism.


A Chat with Haggis
This video proves that Paul Haggis isn't a walking, talking Scottish dish made of sheep organs.

Wake Up
Ryan Phillippe looks bored.


The Theme is Racism
David Edelstein's review: "The theme is racism. The theme is racism."

The Race Problem
Critic Elvis Mitchell sees Crash as an attempt expand the race question beyond just Black and white.

Tate and Bridges Sounds Like a Bed and Breakfast
Even without a clip from "What's Your Fantasy," the NPR interview with Ludacris is still worth listening to.

Watch Out for that NPR Interview
It's worth listening to this just to hear Brendan Fraser asked why he's in Crash and not a sequel to George of the Jungle.


Hug it Out
Why is the shot of Ryan and Christine chosen to represent the whole movie?

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