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.
40. Silent Running (1972)
Douglas Trumbull is primarily known as a special effects artist for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Andromeda Strain, and Blade Runner. He’s also directed two underseen, but interesting, science fiction films – 1983’s Brainstorm (starring Christopher Walken) and this, 1971’s ecologically-minded character study, Silent Running. The movie is about Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), Earth’s last gardener, on the space ship USS Valley Forge. Freeman, when faced with an order to destroy the greenhouse domes containing the last of Earth’s biomes, instead chooses to kill the remaining human crew and flee into the orbit of Saturn with his three robot drones, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. (Who can be seen in some ways as prototypes of the cute-droid character exemplified by R2-D2.)
Silent Running is a deceptively simple film. Even Dern’s character is fairly straightforward. That doesn’t mean it’s shallow or preachy, though – while it can be a little ham-handed, it doesn’t beat you over the head with the message or make Freeman an unapologetically ‘good’ character. He murders people. He doesn’t understand much of the tech he uses (nor the inverse-square law, as Carl Sagan pointed out). Despite his actions, he misses people and begins to lose his mind (even more) in the absence of social interaction. It’s all handled relatively dispassionately, however, and in that distance, Dern’s performance becomes something transformational – giving weight and meaning to a film that could otherwise be cold and technical (especially with Trumbull’s excellent but stark special effects). It’s not an easy film to like, and often feels like it’s holding its emotions at arm’s length, but it’s a worthwhile and interesting entry in the field that is less bombastic and preachy than other “message” sci-fi films of the time.
39. Sliding Doors (1998)
Have you ever wondered what your life might be like today if one small thing had been different? Say, for example, you were sacked from your job, and because you missed the train to take you home, you never caught your boyfriend in bed with another woman. And then hit rewind and take it from a different angle… after being sacked from your job, you do make the train and catch your sleazeball boyfriend and the other woman in the act. That’s the scenario Gwyneth Paltrow faces in Peter Howitt’s criminally underrated romantic comedy Sliding Doors. It has a clever and witty script, a delightful supporting cast that includes John Hannah and Jeanne Tripplehorn, and while I’m not a big fan of hers, Gwyneth Paltrow does a fabulous job with making you care about her character, Helen, and what trajectory her life will ultimately take.
38. The Village (2004)
Pitched a dark, sinister thriller The Village was bound to disappoint. Why? Haunted woods” and “unspeakable creatures” and Joaquin Phoenix were all the promises we were given. Because with M. Night Shyamalan, it’s got to be a freaky flick, right?
Cue the release and everyone leaving cinemas disappointed.
Look closer in The Village and what you’ll find is a swelling drama dripping with timely, emotional social commentary. An unconventional love story thriving in the fractured truths of good natured but deeply flawed humanity. A period piece that’s also not. And a creative turn on the concept of what it means to renew oneself.
Anchored by powerhouse, nuanced performances from Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard (where was her Oscar nom?!), William Hurt, and others, The Village, when welcomed for what it is — not what it was sold to be, awakens a sense of keen discovery and tragic hope. With James Newton Howard’s lush strings scoring the journey, we are enraptured by a rich story led by flawed, relatable characters. This one deserved better, and now we have an opportunity to let it live a healthy second life.
37. Summer School (1987)
I used to work for a movie and music retailer, and my manager actually recommended this movie to me. Given that it was ’80s and had Mark Harmon (who I only really knew from Freaky Friday), I decided to give it a shot. In the process, it quickly became an annual viewing sort of movie.
Harmon stars as a physical education teacher who gets stuck teaching a remedial English class during the summer. The film also co-stars Kirstie Alley and a young Courtney Thorne-Smith. It also has a couple guys raving about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (so that should appeal to you horror nuts). It’s your sort of typical, fun eighties comedy. If that’s your sort of thing then hunt down a copy of Summer School as soon as possible.
36. The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
I was so excited for The Legend of Tarzan, as you don’t see many Tarzan films these days. How this film didn’t reach more people I have no idea, but it was a beautiful attempt to bring the story of Tarzan forward into the modern era by setting the story AFTER Tarzan’s initial adventures in the jungle. It’s so exciting to watch Tarzan rediscover who he is as the adventure in the jungle gets more and more intense. This is another film that features Margot Robbie giving an excellent performance as Tarzan’s wife Jane. But this isn’t the traditional helpless Jane that Tarzan constantly needs to rescue. No no, Margot Robbie’s take on Jane is perfectly capable of taking care of herself and that was so much fun to watch. It’s true that certain plot details were rushed, but there was plenty of story left to be told and I hate that we’ll likely never get a sequel to this film. The Legend of Tarzan is a beautiful film and a new take on the Tarzan story that everyone should see at least once.
35. Waxwork (1988)
In this horror film, an evil magician creates a wax display of famous monsters and murderers and invites a group of unsuspecting young college students to view the collection. However, when the kids are trapped in the deadly displays, one by one they soon discover that the wax models are more than they appear to be. Waxwork isn’t scary but it is a fun watch with some great set pieces and monsters. The best part of the movie is how it pulls you into the different attractions. It even had a meta feel to it years before that would become cool. Waxwork is able to walk a fine line of campy and serious with bits of comedy and horror in equal doses. Directed & Written by Anthony Hickox, Waxwork is a ’80s horror with the likes of Zach Galligan (Fright Night), a solid atmosphere and knows exactly what it is.
34. F.I.S.T. (1978)
Back in 1978 there was a time when it seemed plausible that Sylvester Stallone would forge a career more reminiscent of Marlon Brando. With titles like The Lords of Flatbush, Paradise Alley, and, of course, Rocky under his belt, Stallone was a grade-A talent. Fresh off the heels of Oscar success, he chose the arthouse route with Norman Jewison to make his next big statement.
F.I.S.T. is a sweeping rags-to-riches epic with an utterly captivating Stallone at the center. If nothing else, it’s a showcase to his raw talent, bold early career choices, and unmatched charisma. This is the story of Johnny Kovak, a Cleveland warehouse worker that works his way up to the top of the most influential labor union in the country only to fall under Mob influence.
It’s perfectly of the 1970’s and an unflinching look at the American Dream. Perhaps not to the degree of The Godfather Part II, but it’s a landmark in its own right. And somewhere along the line F.I.S.T. fell through the cracks. Now, it serves as a hidden surprise waiting to be found for true, blue Stallone fans or 70’s cinema fanatics. Either way, F.I.S.T. is herculean and a rare glimpse into what may have been for Stallone the Oscar nominated actor rather than Sly the generational action star.
33. Constantine (2005)
I’ve often lamented Constantine as a quality film that gets overlooked because of its failure to adhere to its inspiration. I can understand that – truly I can – but I do think it’s worth a view if you can set aside your expectations and just watch it on its own merits. It seems like it’s gotten a cult following over the years, and its faux-noir, supernatural-humanism world, filled with the damned, the divine and broken heroes is one I love to revisit.
I’m a fan of the original comic book character, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that I didn’t like the 2005 film, which plays fast and loose with the supporting characters, setting and even changes out the blonde-haired, sharp-witted, BRITISH main character with… Keanu Reeves. Not a man known for a good British accent (which he thankfully doesn’t have to attempt here). As an adaptation of the comic character the film is an abject failure. It captures very little what makes either the character or the comic book unique.
On the other hand, as a film about a broken occult investigator in world where God and the Devil have abandoned us to the tender mercies of half-demons/half-angels – I think it works pretty damn well.
32. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
“Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.” If you saw this ad in the classifieds, you would likely think it’s a joke, even though it tells you not to. Or maybe you would be intrigued enough to answer it. Three journalists decide to do just that, and what follows is a witty, character-driven indie flick that will appeal to rom-com and sci-fi fans. With solid performances from the entire cast, Safety Not Guaranteed also keeps the story heartfelt and funny, never swaying too far into the ridiculous, which would have been so easy to do given the premise. I’m always bummed at how many people I talk to who have never heard of this movie, and I am always quick to suggest that they give it a watch. If you haven’t heard of or seen this movie, please, go give it a watch.
31. A Goofy Movie (1995)
This is a bit of a pop culture classic for 90s kids, but it still seems like a red-headed stepchild of Disney movies. Barely anybody is talking about A Goofy Movie alongside The Lion King and Aladdin. BUT THEY SHOULD. This movie is extremely rewatchable, hilarious and heartfelt, and has one of the best soundtracks of any Disney movie. It’s also a bold departure for Disney, imprinting the story in a realistic American 90s world instead of some fantastical or exotic location. You can’t argue that this movie doesn’t stand out. If you do, we just don’t see i2i.
What did you think of the list so far? What are some of your favorite underrated movies? Drop them down in the comments below!