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.
20. Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
If you’ve seen the 1953 remake starring Vincent Price then lot of the general plot of Mystery of the Wax Museum will be familiar to you – injured sculptor (here played by Lionel Atwill) makes life-like wax sculptures that turn out to use real bodies, and a women who looks just like his Marie Antoinette (a pre-King Kong Fay Wray) must be saved before she becomes his next victim. It’s the details that make Mystery worth a look – with this film being made before the Hays Code clamp down. So you’ll get drug use, sexual references and – best of all – a woman as the lead character. Glenda Farrell as Florence is just great and the direction (by Michael Curtiz nearly a decade before he made Casablanca) is top notch as well.
The film was the last one shot using the old Technicolor two-color process and a recent restoration has revealed a level of quality and detail that’s nothing short of revelatory.
Mystery of the Wax Museum is a great little horror film, and a good example of the kind of characters and plots you could get away with in pre-code Hollywood. While it might not contain the kind of grand-guignol scenes that make the 1953 remake, House of Wax, such a pleasure to watch, it’s got plenty of mood, great sets, a beautiful use of a limited color palette and a fantastic leading character in Florence, who’s almost worth the price of entry all by herself.
19. The Changeling (1980)
The Changeling is one of those movies I distinctly remember from my childhood, and while it’s one that made love scary movies, it’s also one that scared me off of them for quite some time. George C. Scott plays John Russell, a man who lost his wife and child in a car accident and subsequently rents a haunted Victorian mansion. What follows is a twisty, chilling murder mystery complete with ghosts and paranormal phenomena as John tries to uncover the truth about the mansion’s previous occupants. I don’t use the word “harrowing” very often, but I could use that to describe this movie. The scares are simple but incredibly effective. The haunting imagery alone is enough to put a chill down your spine. The Changeling an underrated gem of a horror film and one of the scariest I’ve seen. Definitely worth a watch if you’re a horror lover.
18. Hanna (2011)
Before she was Lady Bird, before she was Jo, Saiorse Ronan starred in this taught, violent action-thriller by the director of Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. This movie is kind of like if John Wick had been raised by Erik Bana and had his childhood dog killed by Cate Blanchett and was also a teen girl. And genetically modified.
Okay, it’s not really like John Wick, but it’s an odd beast of a film – part road movie, part super-hero origin, part spy thriller, part carnage-filled action move. It starts in a wintery nowhere with Bana’s Erik Heller raising Hanna to be a remorseless killer, carries through an action-packed escape from captivity, meanders into a road trip/coming of age film before finally jumping the rails into a number of violent set pieces and a bizarre mythology with genetic engineering, ex-spy assassins, and Grimm’s fairy tales.
Okay, it kinda IS a little like John Wick. The film is carried amazingly well by a teenage Ronan. She dominates every scene she’s in and even manages to match heavy-hitters Bana and Blanchett, no easy task. I remember the first time I saw it I thought “this actress is going places” and she definitely has. The story was convoluted and odd but carried just enough energy and detail that I wanted more. Luckily Amazon has obliged with a 2019 series – which is worth a watch as well.
17. Don’t Breathe (2016)
This movie seemed adequately praised at the time it was released, but since then it has been a glaring omission on recent lists of best horror movies this decade. I went into this movie not knowing exactly what to expect and it gripped me from start to finish. The films follows three thieves who break into the house of a blind veteran expecting an easy big payday. However, the man is less helpless than they think and they soon turn from predator to prey. Very few films have captured this kind of tension and been able to draw it out so flawlessly.
16. Married to the Mob (1988)
A while back I started looking for ’80s movies on Blu-ray that weren’t making any of the ‘best of’ lists you see online. Deep into my search I came across Married to the Mob and let me tell you that it is a damn fine film. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Angela de Marco, a gangster’s widow from Brooklyn, opposite a cast that includes Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, and Alec Baldwin. It’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama. If you are looking for a bit of lighter gangster fare than give Married to the Mob a try.
15. The Last Man on Earth (1964)
I read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend pretty late in my sci-fi reading history. I’d already seen and read a dozen things that were inspired by (or blatantly ripped off) the book, but it still had power, and is well worth a read if you get a chance. There have been a few direct adaptations, including Charlton Heston in the gloriously cheesy Omega Man and Will Smith in an action (and cgi) heavy version in 2015. Vincent Price’s Last Man on Earth in 1964 – despite the slow pacing, bad acting (except for Price) and the whole low-budget feel to the whole affair – is the most faithful, though. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion. I happen to think it’s the best of the bunch – with the changes from the novel being necessary (especially the ending).
The film follows a man named Morgan (Price) through the aftermath of the end of the world. This must have been one of the first post-apocalyptic movies that had all of the elements we associate with the genre – a wrecked city, a lone survivor watching films of his family, checking on the radio for survivors, slowly going mad. Vincent Price is really good in this. I mean he’s good normally, but just really understated and effective here.
I’ve always thought of the movie as a cheap, low-budget quickie. It was made in Italy on a shoestring budget and previous releases were all pretty lackluster in quality. Shout Factory released a cleaned up version in 2014 and it’s like a different movie. Without that grimy patina you can enjoy the excellent performance by Price and the black, horrific touches (that pit where Morgan goes looking for his daughter – gah) that lend a touch of realism to the end of the world.
14. For Your Consideration (2006)
Despite its departure from the mockumentary feel of Guest’s previous films, I think For Your Consideration is still one of his best. Taking on Hollywood’s penchant for building awards buzz for unreleased films and its obsession for awards in general, For Your Consideration follows three actors on the set of Home for Purim, a 1940’s drama about a Jewish family in the south, who discover their as-yet-unseen performances are already gaining traction for Academy Award recognition. The rumors take root with hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy results. As with all of Guest’s films, the cast is also outstanding with standout performances by Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey. If nothing else, this movie is absolutely worth a watch just to see two entertainment reporters (John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch) ambushing actors right after they had been snubbed on the morning of the Oscar nominations.
13. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Of all the underrated films I know of, this one hurts the most. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is the first animated Disney film I can remember seeing that isn’t a musical and it completely blew me away. The story follows ostracized linguist Milo Thatch as he seeks to prove that Atlantis is real, discovering the lost city and a lot more along the way. The story is perfection, with the lost world of Atlantis being beautifully animated and brought to stunning life. It doesn’t shy away from intense action and the climactic fight is one of my favorites. It also features a third act twist that, despite being 100% obvious in hindsight, is still shocking every time it happens. Plus, it features a Disney Princess becoming a Disney Queen over a DECADE before Elsa assumed the throne in Frozen. And yet…you don’t hear about this film anymore. The animated series was cancelled and turned into a made-for-TV sequel and the Disney World rides based on the film never happened. I don’t understand why Disney is content to let this gem of a film be buried and forgotten. I will take every opportunity to remind people that Atlantis: The Lost Empire features some of Disney’s best work and is unbelievably underrated. Just because an animated Disney film isn’t a musical, doesn’t mean it deserves to be forgotten, and I hope someday this film gets the recognition it deserves.
12. The Day of the Triffids (1962)
This movie scared the crap out of me when I was a little kid. For years after I saw it for the first time (when I was like 5 or 6) I would have nightmares about plants coming to life, uprooting themselves and coming after me while I tried to escape through fog-filled forests. I even ended up putting a scene in The Monster War with trees uprooting and coming after people specifically because of the trauma The Day of the Triffids inflicted on me.
I was actually a little disappointed when I finally got to see it as a teenager and discovered it was just a specific type of plant – and a rubbery slow-moving one at that.
I still love the movie, though. Half of that is probably nostalgia, but it’s still an effective monster movie for its time. A lot of the social commentary of the John Wyndham book gets lost in the translation (check out the excellent 1981 BBC mini-series for more of that), but that’s why I call it a monster movie, as opposed to a disaster or horror movie.Those monsters, rubbery as they are, are pretty creepy. Most lingering shots of the triffids diminish the horror somewhat, as they’re essentially big stalks of asparagus with a bizarre head, but the quick cuts or scenes where they creep around in the dark are effective. There’s a shot late in the film when the main protagonist looks up from a task and sees literally thousands of the things lined up at a wire fence. Gah.
It’s hard to take it seriously as an adaptation of the novel, but as last-gasp of the 1950’s type of monster movie it’s a lot of fun.
11. Domino (2005)
This is the movie that convinced me Keira Knightley can do anything. Stack this tour de force up against her period prestige turns or indie romantic comedies and we marvel at the sheer strength of character and raw versatility. Here, as the titular Domino Harvey, a bounty-hunter icon with baggage of her own, we see a fierce yet deeply feeling woman as much as we see an adrenaline fueled action star. Watching her command the screen merits giving this title a watch on its own.
But in true Tony Scott form, it packs the raw, frenetic tone he grew to own better than most. Indeed, Domino is as much a sharp sensory experience as it is a true story, or bounty hunter commentary, or the flaws of silver spoon families, or an overly convoluted plot. At the center of it all is the star power of Mickey Rourke and Knightley carrying a wild ride that speak to the notion of fractured family.
Sure, it’s messy and loud and so, so extra. But isn’t that why we love Scott’s work? Toss in a little Tom Waits, Delroy Lindo, Mo’Nique, Lucy Liu, and Edgar Ramirez, and you have one hell of an early 2000s gritty showing. It may not have that “prestige factor” but I’ve no shame claiming that Domino is top-tier Tony Scott.
What did you think of the list so far? What are some of your favorite underrated movies? Drop them down in the comments below!