Top 35 Most Underrated Movies
I haven’t done one of these “top list” posts in a long time. So, I figured I’d do one right. Spent a couple hours assembling this one. I was inspired to do this topic by the fact that I just discovered today that later this month Joe vs The Volcano is being featured as the opening movie at the 14th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival. I instantly ordered my ticket for that, as it is one of my top 10 favorite movies. I then sat there contemplating how criminally underrated that movie is. I set about to put together a list of 25 films for this list, but ended up with a number more than that. I had trouble shaving it down to just 35, so I left it at that. Aside from starting the list with Joe vs The Volcano, I decided to not put these in any particular order. I also avoided including movies that I love but which never received proper distribution (The Fall, Ride With The Devil, Zero Effect, etc), or they were more a case of nobody seeing rather than not being liked enough by those who did (Pleasantville, The Illusionist, etc).
- Joe vs The Volcano (1990) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
“Oh, that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie.” This isn’t just one of my favorite movies, it’s in my top 10 favorite movies. It is also quite likely the best example of what this list is about. The vast majority of people, even the ones who saw the film, never seem to like the movie all too much. It has its staunch supporters, but we are few in number. I think one of the reasons this movie didn’t work for most people is that it doesn’t fit any preconceptions quite right. It’s hard to categorize, blending styles and genres rather drastically. I absolutely love this film. I’ve seen it many times (dozens, if not 100+).
- Josie & The Pussycats (2001) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This movie is wildly clever, with a perfect cast, fun production, brilliantly snarky dialog and is surprisingly subversive. I’ve always figured that this movie never hit big because it was advertised to the very audience that it undercuts. It’s a satire of pop culture and the media industry (so much so, I’m surprised a major studio would even green light the script). Not only that, but the music is honestly very well done. And the mockery of “boy bands” using the fictional music group duJour (featuring the great Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, etc) is so spot-on it’s scary.
- LA Story (1991) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
People always seem to be surprised at how much Steve Martin has written, and not just acted in. When people ask me what my favorite Steve Martin movie is, LA Story is my answer. The typical response to my answer is either, “Really? I didn’t really like that one much”, or just, “I’ve never heard of that one.” This film strikes me as being the closest to Martin’s abstract and surrealist sense of humor as a final product. He has written a number of the other films he appears in, but this one feels most like the material you would find in his short story comedic writing, or his stand-up. I’m a big Steve Martin fan, and I absolutely love this movie.
- Titan AE (2000) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Some critics did praise this film at the time it came out. It was dwarfed at the time by a certain other sci-fi action film, The Phantom Menace. I recall Roger Ebert loving this movie and (rightfully) pointing out that this is the far superior family sci-fi action movie. The unique blend of traditional Don Bluth animation style with some more modern CGI techniques turned some people off who couldn’t figure out what to make of the thing. I continue to think this is a great film. One of the best of its specific genre. There’s a great amount of fun dialog and character work – but then again, it features some great screenwriters, like Ben Edlund, John August and none-other-than the master himself, Joss Whedon. BTW, where is Titan AE on blu-ray? Come on Fox, make it happen.
- The Frighteners (1996) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is probably still my favorite Peter Jackson movie. Again, I think it’s the blend of genres at work here, and the varying tone of the movie that causes it to miss the target for many people. Like many Peter Jackson films, it featured some cutting edge visual effects work. Michael J. Fox is great in the film, but the true scene stealer is the brilliant Jeffrey Combs.
- The Peacemaker (1997) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite action movies. For whatever reason, I love it. The pacing, production and cast are all top notch. The script is pretty tight and perfectly embodies the kind of film it sets out to be. It is also one of the late ’90s action films that I’d be curious to see remade in the post-9/11 world (I’d be just as curious to see The Siege and Executive Decision made post-9/11 as well – heck, I could have easily included both of those films on this list). And, never mind that this nearly non-stop action film is directed by a female director (the great Mimi Leder), which is a definite rarity (along with Kathryn Bigelow).
- Air America (1990) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
An action comedy film that features two lead cast members that would in later years become notorious off-screen. Initially, that was Robert Downey Jr, but he miraculously pulled himself together and returned even stronger than before. Today, it’s Mel Gibson that’s the off-screen screw-up. The other funny thing about that is that both Downey & Gibson are two of my favorite actors (even well before their meltdowns). I’m a fan of either of them in just about anything. This movie is rather flippant in its comedy about a relatively sensative subject matter, which probably didn’t help its reception at the time. It also walks a fine line between farce and reality, being based on the real life Air America in many broad stroke kind of ways, but taking huge liberties with its history.
- Dark City (1998) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This one might not properly qualify for this list, because it tends to be one that not enough people have seen, rather than one that is underappreciated. I still include it on this list because I think it comes close enough to qualify, and the fact that this is one of my top favorite films, and contender for top couple favorite sci-fi films. I couldn’t really guess how many times I’ve seen the movie. And if I didn’t already love it enough, a few years back director Alex Proyas got a director’s cut released to blu-ray/DVD, which managed to make it even better. Seriously, I love this movie. It also features one of my all time favorite trailers (linked above).
- Knowing (2009) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This often-maligned film is, in my option, criminally misunderstood. Like a number of them on this list that I love, one of the few big supporters is Roger Ebert. I know I said that I put these in random order on the list, but I intentionally put this one after Dark City. Like Dark City, I consider this a sci-fi masterpiece, and it is also directed by Dark City’s director, Alex Proyas. I personally think Nic Cage did a wonderful job in this film, but I kinda wonder if the stereotype of his persona and performance style automatically made people expect the wrong kind of movie.
- Speed Racer (2008) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
I get some stares of disbelief from fans of The Matrix when I say that this is my favorite movie by the Wachowski… uh… siblings (gotta break the habit of calling them the Wachowski brothers now that Larry is Lana). Yes, I thought The Matrix was great (heck, I even liked the sequels – I don’t consider them great, but I liked them). But I loved Speed Racer. I was a casual fan of the original animated series. I grew up on it. In my opinion, the Wachowski’s managed to both re-capture what made that original animated series so fun, and they did it with massive doses of awesome style. This is, in my opion, one of the flashiest and most colorful movies ever made. The blu-ray for the film is one of my favorite home theater demo discs. I saw this movie a number of times in the theater when it came out. It blew me away on the IMAX, where I saw it a few times. This movie is pure, pedal-to-the-metal fun.
- Meet Joe Black (1998) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This might even be a better example of what this list is about than Joe vs The Volcano. Most people actively dislike this movie. Well, not me. I love it. Everyone always jokes about how bad Brad Pitt’s performance was, etc. I thought he was great. They also complain about how long it was. Well, I like movies that take their time, as long I like the movie I’m seeing. I make no apologies for loving this movie.
- In The Land Of Women (2007) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This one is another one that only kind-of qualifies to be on this list. It is more a case of being an overlooked movie, but I think it qualifies for the list because the marketing of the film gave people the wrong impression, and those people I know that have seen it give it lukewarm opinions at best. If I didn’t know better, I would almost guess this to be a Cameron Crowe movie. The trailers weren’t terrible, but they gave it a more genre generic feel. Adam Brody’s performance is spot-on, and seemingly effortless. And Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart are good in the supporting roles.
- The Descent (2005) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
“Eh, another horror movie.” That was the basic reaction from folks to the movie at the time. I understand the reaction, given the somewhat oversaturated genre. But let me counter that with this – The Descent is quite possibly my favorite horror movie. I loved it the first time I saw it, and I have every time since. I’ll confess that I have yet to watch the sequel, primarily because I don’t want it to ruin my love of the first. I don’t honestly see how they could properly do a sequel to this movie, to be honest, and everything about the sequel seems like the usual horror genre attempt to just cash a check on making of said sequel.
- Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Like Speed Racer, I think this movie is fantastic and perfectly embodies what it set out to be. I think that it also, just like Speed Racer, failed for exactly that reason. I’m not sure there were enough people out there that wanted to see a modernly produced (but retro styled) version of a vintage “buck rogers” styled sci-fi film. There may not be many people out there that wanted to see it, but I was one of the few who loved it. The cast and crew certainly seemed to be having an absolute blast making it.
- That Thing You Do (1996) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Speaking of movies where the cast and crew seemed to be enjoying themselves way too much, there is That Thing You Do – Tom Hanks’ feature film writing/directorial debut. I saw this movie a number of times in the theater when it first came out (heck, I remember seeing it in a weird double feature with Independence Day – which was surely Fox trying to push ID4′s numbers just that little bit further). This is a case of most people remembering the film as, “eh, it was OK.” But like the rest on this list, I liked it far more than most everyone else. And not just because the main character is named Guy (though hey, that’s a neato bonus). Also, like Josie & The Pussycats mentioned earlier on this list, the music was very well done.
- Radioland Murders (1994) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This one falls into the same camp as Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. I don’t think the style and tone of this movie was something that a modern audience really appreciated. It’s old school farce, in both style and setting. It attempts to recapture the later days of the mad-cap world of radio. I don’t know if the cast and crew had a blast making this one, but if they didn’t, they sure made it seem that way.
- The Matador (2005) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is as much a case of an undiscovered jem as it is underrated. Though even those who have seen it don’t seem to like it nearly as much as I did. It’s a weird little film, and again is an example of one where genres are kinda oddly mixed. It’s part indie comedy, part spy thriller, part character drama, etc.
- Quick Change (1990) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
One of a couple wildly underrated Bill Murray comedies on this list. This one is notable for sharing a co-directing credit with Bill Murray (his one and only directing credit). This one is definitely one that I love that most people never particularly loved to begin with, and have entirely forgotten about since.
- Deathtrap (1982) (IMDB | Wikipedia | TV Trailer)
One of my favorite movies. I get downright evil stares from fellow film buffs when I mention this as my favorite Sidney Lumet movie. This movie is Michael Caine at his absolute, top notch best. And Christopher Reeve is utterly marvelous as well. And Diane Cannon is, well, Diane Cannon. It’s easily described as a movie of a play about play writers writing a play containing play writers writing a play using the plot about the writing of said play, and the play that results.
- The Chase (1994) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is a wildly fun movie, and like Josie & The Pussycats, is a somewhat misunderstood movie. Or at least they aren’t appreciated for their satirical nature. In this case, said satire is aimed at the mass media. Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson do a heroes effort, given the fact that their characters spend almost the entire movie in a single car.
- Soldier (1998) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Kurt Russell takes his Snake Plisken style of acting to the ultimate extreme, uttering less than 100 words during the entire film (and he appears in nearly every scene). Actually, if I recall correctly, his word count is something like 72. At any rate, this is my favorite Paul W.S. Anderson movie. It takes his affinity of sci-fi/action movies with thin plots to just the right level. A very simple movie, yes. Yet still a wildly entertaining and fantastically stylized production. I actually have fun defending this movie.
- Swordfish (2001) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is a very odd action movie. It opens with a monologue about how bad guys in action films don’t properly do everything it takes to get away with what they are doing. They aren’t committed enough to their goal to be successful. Then it not only introduces a bad guy on a mission, but actually follows through on that monologue. It’s full of typical Joel Silver producing style, directed with inventiveness and class by Dominic Sena. The cast is great, and the music score by the odd combination of the great Christopher Young and Paul Oakenfold is wonderful. One of my favorite action movies.
- Pushing Tin (1999) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
A character dramedy about the crazy, high pressure life of air traffic controllers. Featuring a spectacular cast and a surprisingly unpredictable plot with left-of-center characters. I considered putting another oddball character dramedy featuring Billy Bob Thornton on this list as well (2001′s Bandits).
- The Thirteenth Floor (1999) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
1999 was a year for movies about characters in a virtual computer simulation world. There wasn’t just the obvious entry on the list, The Matrix. There was also David Cronenberg’s fun and (as usual) bizarre Existenz. Then there was this cool and stylized movie that was somewhat under-the-radar, and not appreciated by those who did see it (possibly due to the sudden influx of movies like it at the time). This movie could easily play as an Outer Limits episode. It’s great.
- Below (2002) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
I still don’t know why this movie didn’t do so well. Perhaps it was a horror movie of the wrong type at the wrong time. This is more of a suspense thriller, and at the time the standard horror films were of the torture-porn variety. It is directed with copious amounts of style by David Twohy and is co-written by the great Darren Aronofsky. The fantastic ensemble cast is another major plus.
- The Majestic (2001) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Along with The Truman Show, this is a contender for my favorite Jim Carrey performance (and his almost creepily spot-on portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon). The direction by Frank Darabont is marvelous and the script is a delight. Everything about this movie works very well. I was very sad at the time that it never did too well.
- The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Here’s the other wildly underrated Bill Murray movie I’m including on this list. This is him at his hapless best. It’s a bit old school in style, but I think it works perfectly. I sometimes wonder if this movie would have been much more popular had it been released 10-20 years earlier. Oh, and Christopher Young’s score is SO VERY fun.
- Home Fries (1998) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
A romantic comedy written by Vince Gilligan, somebody best known for writing for The X-Files and Breaking Bad. Sound like an odd combination? Well, it is. And it’s a combination that works. The movie featured some of the most misleading and poorly made advertising I can remember, which surely didn’t help matters any. It’s a very odd movie, and I love it.
- Fierce Creatures (1997) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
The “sequel” to A Fish Called Wanda that has nothing to do with the story or characters of A Fish Called Wanda. It’s simply a reunion of the cast, and is in a similar style. This might not be quite as great as Wanda, but I thought it was great. I’m still confounded by the lack of popularity it has.
- Deep Rising (1998) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is a wonderfully silly creature feature action/horror movie. I’ve watched it many, many times. I saw it a number of times in the theater during its brief run. I was probably responsible for 10% of its total box office profit. This is another movie that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it stops at nothing to get there. It’s full of stereotypes and unafraid to embrace them. And it is SO MUCH FUN. The supporting cast is great. Treat Williams and Famke Janssen are excellent. And then there’s Kevin J. O’Connor at his absolutely best. Did I mention how much fun this movie is?
- Defending Your Life (1991) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
This is one of the most snarky and clever comedies I’ve seen. It is pitch-perfect Albert Brooks. This is by far the funniest film about the after life. People like Meryl Streep and Rip Torn certainly help.
- Dick (1999) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
One of the greatest historical farces ever made. This movie takes the Watergate scandal and finds every possible way to make it completely insane and ridiculous, not to mention hilarious. I would find it 100% impossible to believe that the cast and crew didn’t have the time of their lives making this movie. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams have a blast in the lead roles as the ditzy masterminds. The supporting cast is filled with hilarious actors taking on many dry and serious historical figures and robbing them of every last shred of dignity. And then there is Dan Hedaya doing the funniest portrayal of Richard Nixon there will ever be.
- Conspiracy Theory (1997) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Again, another odd cross-genre movie. Featuring a great performance from Mel Gibson and wonderful direction from his Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner. Heck, even Julia Roberts is pretty good in it. And hey, how can you possibly go wrong with Patrick Stewart as the big bad?
- Big Trouble (2002) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
A goofball ensemble comedy based on a Dave Barry book, which does a great job capturing his daft sense of crazy characters and situations. Full of both stupifying and stupified characters, this non-stop crazy movie is unafraid to try almost anything. It had the honor of being delayed for release due to being scheduled for release shortly after the 9/11 attack, and the fact that the movie revolves around a plot to get a nuclear bomb through an airport and onto a plane. I’ve seen this movie many times, and I still laugh all the way through it.
- We Were Soldiers (2002) (IMDB | Wikipedia | Trailer)
Probably the most underappreciated war movie ever made. It’s actually a very historically accurate movie about the first major conflict of the Vietnam War. It perfectly captures that odd moment in history, when the new Air Cavalry approach to combat proved itself, reinventing combat tactics, yet before the entire Vietnam situation spiraled out of control in later years. The cast and production on this movie couldn’t possibly be any better. I’ve seen the movie and have read the non-fiction book it’s based on, and I don’t think they could have done a better job with the film.