The number of films produced within a year, let alone a decade, is staggering and it’s only getting bigger. There are a shit ton of films out there which, for a cinephile, is hell because it’s impossible to see them all. There’s hundreds of thousands of movies and if you don’t know where to look, you’re bound to miss some good ones. This list was a collaborative effort to help shine a light on a select few you might not have seen that we think are worth your time.
These are 50 Underrated Movies You Need to See.
10. The Cell (2000)
The Cell takes a shocking, riveting mind trip into the dark and dangerous corridors of a serial killer’s psyche. A psyche that holds the key to saving the killer’s final, trapped victim who remains alive. Making this journey into the recesses of a killer’s nightmarish fantasy world is Catherine Deane, a psychologist who has been experimenting with a radical new therapy. Through a new transcendental science, Catherine can experience what is happening in another person’s unconscious mind.
One of the most visually striking films of all time with a tremendous performance by Vincent D’Onofrio as the killer and one of the only movies I can stand Jennifer Lopez in. Tarsem Singh creates an unusual and fascinating nightmare world in the mind of a deranged killer. This movie is just missing something from being truly great but is definitely better than it is given credit for.
09. Killing Them Softly (2012)
Just a great little crime drama that is slow and deliberate in all its choices. I like Pitt as the mob enforcer called in to fix problem when three small-time crooks rob a Mob-protected illegal card game. It’s got an all round great cast and was a great follow up to the director’s previous film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Both of which I have been meaning to rewatch one of these days. Maybe all this chit-chat will finally get me to do so.
08. Body Snatchers (1993)
This an adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so we know what’s going to go down in the broad strokes – people will start acting differently, no one will listen to their loved ones, and eventually our heroes will go on the run from an alien menace that looks just like the people next door – or even the person next to you in bed. Body Snatchers doesn’t disappoint in the general outlines.
The devil is in the details, however, but the film pleasantly surprises here. There are some genius points of change. The primary action is set on a military base, for one, instead of a small town where people mostly know each other. The vast majority of people are dressed the same and encouraged to act the same as their neighbor, making it easier for the pod people to hide in plain sight. Having the primary character be a teenage girl in a mixed family is also open to some great possibilities and subtext. A teenager often feels alienated from their family, and a step-mother is already a replacement – especially in a child’s view.
Body Snatchers is the forgotten adaptation of the Jack Finney novel. It’s not the best – not even the second best – but it’s pretty damn entertaining and manages some real moments of depth and horror when it’s not looking and feeling like a lost X-Files episode. With a bunch of 90’s character actor stalwarts, including Meg Tilley, Gabrielle Anwar, R. Lee Ermey and Forest Whitaker, the film manages to punch above it’s weight class. It’s also got writing credits for Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon and is directed by Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant). It’s an enjoyable and occasionally surprisingly good adaptation that deserves to be seen.
07. Lucky (2017)
To have a career as eccentrically poignant and lasting as Harry Dean Stanton’s would be a marvel. To possess the self-awareness to make a film like Lucky your coda is a transcendent level of mastery. For as his concluding film, Stanton gave us a cerebral western rooted in tender existentialism that feels more like a solemn celebration than it does a tragic farewell. I’m hard-pressed to find a more poetically intentional ending to a storied career.
All that to say this: If Lucky hasn’t entered your orbit yet, you owe it to yourself to seek it out.
In a swift 88 minutes, we follow Lucky a 90 year old atheist, chain smoker, and lonely but hopeful grump. Living his final days in the desolate Southwest, we join him on his daily routine: Morning yoga, coffee and chatter at the diner, long walks thru town, smokes and TV game shows, and philosophical banter at the bar. What unfolds is not so much a narrative but a character study of what it means to be settled in all the right ways but still be as deeply unsure as you are certain.
Lucky is a rare tapestry of humor, sepia cinematography, heart, bold questions, and simple desires. And for those of us that enjoy methodically cerebral explorations in the great outdoors, it’s a feast of fine, unkempt dining.
06. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
I had put this flick off for a couple of years after it was released and I regret that. It’s just such a damn funny and endearing movie that you need to see. So I finally convinced my wife to watch this last week. Sam Neil and Julian Dennison are a great pair that I wish we got more of them as a tv show.
“I didn’t chose the skux life, the skux life chose me.”
05. Lake Mungo (2008)
Lake Mungo manages to insert a freshness into the found footage genre by building a narrative out of fragments that are inserted into the larger framework of an imaginary documentary. It FEELS authentic – there’s no stretching to find a reason for the camera to be always on, no narrative gymnastics to impart essential information. The clips are revelatory in the best sense in that each photo, each video clip reveals another part of the mystery and the framing structure gives it both cohesion and an emotional weight.
They really nailed the impression of the kind of documentary that you might see on a cable channel like Discovery or A&E, and that realistic feel sucks you into the story. The actors are, without exception, really good. Nobody breaks the illusion – never once was I thinking “that person is a good actor” or “that person is a bad actress.” Everyone sells the reality that the movie sets up.
The sense of dread that is apparent from the very beginning and the slow burn on the creepiness is great. There are a few real jumps, but they’re emotional as well as dramatic. Lake Mungo is one of the best found footage movies ever made, one of the best horror movies ever made, and I’m at a loss for a reason why it’s not better known. (I can’t help but wonder if it’s the name – change it to the more generic The Lake and I think more people might have checked it out.)
04. Local Hero (1983)
The word “magic” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to talk about movies, but, in my experience, it’s a rare thing when a film manages to actually convey a sense of magic—as if the film crew just happened upon something magical and managed to capture it on film. One of those movies for me is Local Hero.
Local Hero is a film about longing. Mac (Peter Riegert) is a young oil man living a fast-paced, urban life. When his boss (Burt Lancaster) sends him to Ferness, a remote Scottish fishing village, to close a land deal for the future site of the company’s North Atlantic refinery, Mac is forced to adapt to the village’s slower pace. This new perspective allows Mac to re-examine what he thought he knew about his place and purpose in life, and he undergoes a kind of spiritual rebirth.
If you watch movies long enough, you’ll eventually develop an immunity to surprise. There are only so many storylines, and a cinephile will quickly begin to see the formulas and find himself able to know well ahead of time what’s going to happen next. Local Hero isn’t like that. The plot may sound simple, but almost nothing that happens in the film is predictable or cliche. But the film doesn’t subvert expectations for the sake of subverting expectations. Local Hero is a movie about real people, about their hopes, dreams, and desires. And unlike movies made today, it not only shows us the big moments, but it takes its time showing us all the small moments in between. And it’s in those moments that so much of the magic in the film happens.
You’ve probably never seen Local Hero, but you should.
03. Cop Land (1997)
Why this movie never gets talked about is beyond me. An absolutely stellar cast including Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Robert Patrick just to name a few. They are led by Sylvester Stallone who turns in one of his best acting performances of his career as a sheriff of a suburban town where most of the cops from the city live and he has had enough of looking the other way while those cops run his city.
It’s not flashy and doesn’t have the major action set pieces that we were accustomed to during the 90s but Cop Land has a lot of heart. James Mangold does a fantastic job of mixing genres here as this feels like a mob film combined with an old-timey western. Cop Land deserves more love.
02. High Life (2018)
When I finally had the opportunity to see High Life in theaters, I was convinced that soon everyone would be talking about and watching this film, because it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen. Imagine my surprise and disappointment then when talk about the film slowly died away. This is a shame, as High Life features a story that everyone should see. It’s a sci-fi film set in the near future that raises questions about some very uncomfortable topics, like human relationships, the consequences of sex, and the burdens of parenthood. The story follows a group of convicts being sent into deep space, ostensibly to study a black hole, but the truth is much darker. By the end of the story, you’re left questioning the nature of human existence itself. What really makes the story a treat is that it’s told in non-linear fashion, with the storyline jumping forward and backward, forcing the audience to put the pieces together as the film moves along. The ending is open-ended, and you’re left to debate what exactly happened, which is rare these days and part of the reason I enjoy this film so much.
01. Tyrannosaur (2011)
Anyone familiar with Peter Mullans’ work will know that he is very accomplished at playing an angry old man. He takes that approach to the next level in Tyrannosaur. His character Joseph has a history of alcohol abuse, violence and tragedy but when he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) we start to see a glimmer of hope for a better future and some signs that redemption might be possible. Hannah is a character experiencing great difficulty in her own life and the two form an unlikely bond. That’s not to suggest this is a love story. Far from it. There are some shocking moments that won’t be for the faint of heart but also some parts that are as engrossing as cinema gets. The fact that this was Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is extremely impressive. Overall Tyrannosaur is a difficult watch but if you go along for the ride, expect an emotional roller coaster with some of the grittiest performances you’ll ever see.
20-11 | Rewatch?
What did you think of the list? What are some of your favorite underrated movies? Drop them down in the comments below!