There is nothing more pretentious than claiming something is “overrated.” Art is subjective, which makes the act of declaring one thing less deserving of acclaim over another thing, futile and silly. People like what they like and if enough people like a certain thing, it becomes popular. Simple as that.
On the flip side of that, trying to determine what is and what isn’t “underrated”, is a tricky proposition. The entire concept is nebulous and hard to pin down because a film could be critically revered but underseen and still be considered underrated or vice versa—hugely successful but have a lukewarm reception.
The goal of this list is twofold: to knock a couple of unworthy so-called classics off of their pedestal and replace them with what we believe to be films of equal quality that aren’t as well known or as beloved.
This list is a collab between Sailor Monsoon and Vincent Kane, with Sailor handling the overrated and Kane tackling the underrated.
10. Up (2009) | Overrated
In the early days of Pixar, after the successful shorts and the release of Toy Story, five animators came together to spitball ideas for new movies. In that one meeting, they came up with the basis for every movie up to and including Wall-E. Some argue that their output has never been nor will ever be as strong as those first nine movies. Some think it’s due to the death of one of the animators and others blame Disney but I have my own theory: cocaine.
Now, I have absolutely no proof that what I’m about to say is true but just hear me out because it’s the only logical explanation I can think of to explain the absolutely terrible writing of Up and Brave. Much like the original meeting between the five animators, the current heads of Pixar would have annual meetings where everyone would pitch ideas and there was one (hypothetical but probably totally real) guy that came up with three amazing pitches. One about an old man who deals with the death of his wife by tying a shit ton of balloons to his house to finally visit the place they always talked about and another about a strong-willed princess that decides to beat all of her suitors so she doesn’t have to wed any of them.
But then, after giving them the greatest pitches the studio had seen in over a decade, he goes to the bathroom to do a profound amount of cocaine. I’m talking Scarface levels of blow. He then returns, completely forgetting what the fuck he was doing and proceeds to pitch two completely different films. One about an old man, a kid and a talking dog looking for giant bird and one about a teenager being angry at her family and accidentally makes a wish that magically turns them all into bears. Everyone in the room was confused but decided to go with it because this guy talked fast and had confidence, so they assumed everything he said was a good idea.
Hoodwinked by cocaine, they attempted to salvage the film by creating the greatest montage in film history and shoe-horning in a talking dog because people like talking dogs and y’all bought it.
Or they just ripped off the French short Above then Beyond (2006).
Cocaine or thievery. Pick one.
09. UHF (1989) | Underrated
This is a rare movie that is a pure pop culture time capsule that has some parts that seem dated but also feels like it hasn’t aged at all in the last 30 years. I know, it’s weird. It is such a wonderfully weird movie, which is fitting since it was written by and stars “Weird Al” Yankovic. The movie follows a daydreamer who becomes a manager at a local TV station. He creates a bunch of bizarre shows, and the station becomes a success, which rivals a local network. It’s still hilarious, and for some reason, Yankovic playing Rambo is still one of my favorite moments in ’80s cinema. “Today we’re teaching poodles how to fly.”
08. Donnie Darko (2001) | Overrated
It’s been nearly two decades since this film came out and I still get irrationally angry every time someone refers to it as “deep” or “profound” or tries to analyze it to reveal some deeper intellectual meaning. Donnie Darko is It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) but with a weird bunny man instead of an angel. That’s it. Just because it includes baby’s first introduction to quantum mechanics, doesn’t mean it’s smart or well written. The film introduced the world to the Gyllenhaal’s, has one of Patrick Swayze’s best performances and Gary Jules’ rendition of Mad World is an all-timer but everything around those three things is either annoyingly pretentious, unnecessarily convoluted or forgettable.
07. Cop Land (1997) | Underrated
This feels like a case of a movie just falling through the cracks and not getting talked about enough which seems insane given the cast alone. Cop Land is a movie that deserves more praise for its writing, acting and modern Western feel. Sylvester Stallone leads a star-studded cast as a sheriff who could keep looking the other way while dirty cops continue their corrupt ways or playing the hero and doing something about it. Maybe it was just people couldn’t handle Stallone actually acting and not doing his normal ultimate action machismo schtick. He also packed on the pounds by gaining 40 pounds to sport a paunch instead of his usual chiseled physique.
Sly did an admirable job up against this all-star cast of Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Robert Patrick, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Cathy Moriarty, Peter Berg, John Spencer, Frank Vincent, and Edie Falco. However, the person who stole the show was Ray Liotta who plays Sly’s friend as an out of control coke fiend and one of the most corrupt cops of them all but turns out to be the one guy with a conscience when the chips are down.
06. The Thin Red Line (1998) | Overrated
Editing can literally save a film. There are a ton of examples of films being vastly improved through new edits (Once Upon a Time in America, Kingdom of Heaven) or being nothing but footage that didn’t work until it was given shape by the director and editor (Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, The Hurt Locker). A good editor can make or break a film but they’re still bound by the footage at their disposal. Editors having to deal with a lack of coverage happens all the time but the great ones improvise with what they have. The problem with Malick isn’t that he doesn’t shoot enough material, its that he shoots five movies worth and then spends years forcing an editor to try and turn his lack of vision into something resembling art.
You don’t cast Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman, Lukas Haas, Viggo Mortensen, Martin Sheen, Jason Patric, Mickey Rourke, and Billy Bob Thorton and then cut them out of the film if you have a clear vision.
You don’t edit down the lead characters (Adrien Brody) part so drastically, that he ends up being little more than a cameo in his own film if you have a clear vision. It’s apparent in everything Malick does, that he has no vision. His films have as much coherence and emotional weight as a perfume ad and the Thin Red Line is no exception.
05. Rope (1948) | Underrated
When people discuss their favorite Hitchcock films or his best all-time, Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window are brought up regularly. Even North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train and The Birds come up before his most underrated and overlooked film is ever discussed and that is 1948’s Rope. Hitchcock showcased his mastery of direction in his first color film while shooting the whole movie in only ten takes. His elaborate set consisted of movable walls on wheels to make the whole movie look like it was one continuous shot. Being able to accomplish that in the ’40s alone deserves praise.
It’s a very simple story of two men killing a former classmate and hiding him in an antique wooden chest wanting to prove they have committed the “perfect crime. They throw a party where the chest is used as a buffet table. The two men are wanting to show their superiority in this intellectual exercise. Rope is a timeless film that has aged extremely well and relies heavily on its effective tension that is palpable throughout the entire film. The whole will or won’t they get caught has you holding your breath the whole time.
04. Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) | Overrated
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Audrey Hepburn, while good in the role, is severely miscast as Holly Golightly. It was written for Marilyn Monroe and although Hepburn is a much better actress, she could never tap into the darkness that Monroe had to fight to keep back. Having said that, it isn’t her performance that makes this film overrated, nor is it the terribly offensive Mickey Rooney in yellowface. No, it’s the love story that the film is built around. In that, it doesn’t work. For the women in the audience, they’re wondering what Holly sees in the walking talking wet blanket named Paul (George Peppard) and the men, and anyone else with functioning eyes is yelling at him to get the fuck out of dodge. Holly is a severely unlikeable character and I would go so far as to say, she’s one of the most unlikable characters ever created and if you look up to or identify with her, you might be fucking crazy.
Breakfast At Tiffany‘s is the female version of Fight Club—if you meet a woman and she has this film’s poster hanging on her wall, you immediately know everything you need to know about her. Which is to run away.
03. Thief (1981) | Underrated
Michael Mann’s debut would be an impressive foray into feature-length films for the documentarian. The film tells the story of an ex-convict trying to go straight but being roped back into one final job for the Mafia. James Caan gives a powerful performance in this supremely underrated 1981 heist flick. The film is chalked full of lavish visuals and a stellar score that is highlighted by an incredible coffee shop scene between Caan and his love interest, Tuesday Weld. Caan opens up to Weld in a several minute monologue that helps give the movie more emotional depth outside of just the typical heist film. Caan has even stated that this is one of his best performances. To make the film feel as real as possible, Mann even hired real-life safe crackers and thieves as consultants to demonstrate the proper way to do it so the actors could look as legitimate as possible.
02. Easy Rider (1969) | Overrated
A landmark of cinema. A film that defined a generation and is undeniably one of the most important films of the ’60s. Its success was instrumental in ushering in a new wave of independent film. It changed movies forever but even though it’s a significant piece of art that deserves its place in film history, it’s also a boring, unwatchable piece of shit. Every time Nicholson is on screen, the film actually works. Unlike his co-stars, who were high throughout the production, he actually showed up to work and delivered. But the problem is, he’s only in a few scenes. The rest of the film is barely a step above porn in terms of production, with half the film feeling like a self-indulgent music video that goes on longer than the 60’s themselves. And don’t get me started on that ridiculous cornball ending that’s so ham-fisted, I’m surprised this film didn’t get banned in the Middle East.
01. Zodiac (2007) | Underrated
David Fincher’s most overlooked film could arguably be his best. Zodiac showcasing three wonderful lead performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., who compliment each other perfectly. This is Fincher’s most subtle that is just a montage of slow and tense building scenes that makes for an intense thriller set in the real world. Everything here is left to breathe on its own whether it’s the sickening picnic scene to the tense basement scene where Gyllenhaal’s character finds himself in confined space with either a weird guy or a possible killer.
Seven, Fight Club, and The Social Network are the usual movies that come to mind when Fincher is talked about but it’s his film about the dangers of obsession in this true crime story that is perhaps his finest film. His direction is never better when he just allows the camera to linger on the images instead of using numerous cuts. Along with his character building and the incredible performances given, it is hard to believe that this film is as underrated as it is.
What did you think of the selection? What are some films that you think are overrated or underrated that should have shown up on the list?