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.
20. Chariots of Fire (1981) | Overrated
For those of you who have seen this movie, close your eyes and try and replay the events of this film in your mind. You don’t need to reenact the entire film, just the broad strokes. Every single one of you pictured a group of guys running on the beach in slow motion while the iconic Vangelis score plays in the background and then stopped. Congratulations, you just pictured the first five minutes of the movie. Which isn’t even necessary in the first place. The scene is completely irrelevant to the plot but because it’s set to that goddamn song, you can’t help but commit it to memory. The movie, however, not so much.
19. Frailty (2002) | Underrated
Arguably one of the most underrated horror films of all time. The late great Bill Paxton not only starred but also directed this dark and fascinating occult chiller. In his directorial debut, Paxton was able to concoct a well-paced and thought-provoking thriller that keeps you guessing up until the end.
The chilling story of an overzealous father who believes he has been chosen by God to kill demons who are disguised as people and makes his two young sons help carry out his assignments. Paxton as the “God’s Hand” serial killer delivers a stellar performance with the horrors coming from fanatical religious beliefs and the fact he carries out his mission in front of his young sons.
18. Almost Famous (2000) | Overrated
All of the greatest directors have visual flourishes and/or trademarks that separate them from everyone else. Some are mathematically obsessed with symmetry, some prefer a distinct color palette, while others have a preference for certain shots. Everyone has their “thing.” Cameron Crowe’s thing is and has always been–great soundtrack and/or cute kid. If this doesn’t apply to one of his movies, it’s not a movie anyone on planet Earth gives any amount of fucks about: Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, and Aloha. And even the ones that do follow the formula, none are better than average. Not even Almost Famous. I guarantee the majority of its fans haven’t seen it since it came out because outside of a few likable characters and an amazing soundtrack, the film is completely forgettable. It’s not at all a coincidence that the two best films in Crowe’s filmography, are the two he didn’t direct.
17. The Fisher King (1991) | Underrated
If you asked most people to list their favorite movies or roles of Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges and Terry Gilliam, it would take a while for The Fisher King to come up if at all. This overlooked dramedy showcases one of Robin Williams’ most underrated performances as he was able to combine his frenetic comedy persona that we saw in Good Morning, Vietnam with his budding serious actor of Dead Poets Society. Williams plays a homeless man who believes himself to be a knight as he connects with Jeff Bridges’ character who is basically “The Dude” but angrier and more suicidal.
Finding out about Robin’s personal struggle in the wake of his death helps make this movie and his role even more heartbreaking as he played this homeless man who tries to bring joy and healing to others around him while struggling with his own inner demons. Ultimately, this movie is about broken people and Gilliam knocked it out of the park in every aspect of his film.
16. The Pink Panther (1963) | Overrated
Peter Sellers is a comedic genius. There’s also a strong argument to be made that he’s the funniest actor to grace the silver screen. He could do physical comedy as well as the best and had a mastery over accents that few actors have come close to touching. Some of his best work is with his frequent collaborator Blake Edwards on the Pink Panther series but you would never know it based on this film. You know those two cliched comedy scenes you’ll find in many old tv shows and cartoons, where a character is hiding someone in their room from someone else and they have to keep moving them around or else they’ll get caught and the mirror gag where one person pretends to be another’s reflection? Now take those two scenes, stretch them both to 40 minutes and that’s this film. It’s mind-boggling that this film spawned a franchise, let alone a sequel.
15. Black Dynamite (2009) | Underrated
A blaxploitation action comedy in 2009? You must be crazy. Director Scott Sanders and star Michael Jai White bring this parody of ‘70s blaxploitation films to life in a way you can tell they wanted to honor the genre. It’s hilarious, salacious and action-packed with a number of colorful characters that lead by an incredible performance from White as Black Dynamite himself.
Most parody films run the risk of running their gimmick into the ground too early to deliver a solid film but that isn’t the case here. Black Dynamite gets stronger throughout the film. It’s amazing it hasn’t garnered a cult following yet.
14. Amélie (2001) | Overrated
Here’s a thought experiment, try and imagine this film but with a man in the lead. Keep everything the exact same, just change the sex of the main character. Now, do you think Amélie, as a character, is still likable and charming or do you consider her an insufferable stalker that breaks into people’s apartments whenever she wants and is clearly a psychopath? If you thought John Krasinski’s constant mugging on the show The Office was obnoxious, Amélie might drive you to suicide.
Remember the infamous boat ride in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, wherein the famous chocolateer basically kidnaps his passengers for 5 minutes while he subjects them to a candy-colored hellscape involving nightmare-inducing images, whilst singing a bizarre tune? Replace the weird-ass song with dancing and constant fourth wall breaking looks at the camera and that’s Amélie. Except it’s not 5 minutes, it’s 122.
13. The Road (2009) | Underrated
When it comes to post-apocalyptic movies, you usually get one of two things (sometimes both). The revelatory way the world became the way it is or the dramatic the world is going to be saved by the hero. That’s not what you get with John Hillcoat adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. What you do get is a stripped-down and beautiful father and son relationship story about survival. No why is this world this way and no heroic fight to find the answer or cure. Just a father and son putting one foot in front of the other trying their best to survive day to day.
Without the backstory of why the world is in this state, Hillcoat and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe drenched everything on screen in the dreariest shades of gray that screams post-apocalyptic earth without the viewer needing any exposition on the matter. Viggo Mortenson and Kodi Smit-McPhee turn in extraordinary performances as the father and son in this underrated dystopian genre film.
12. Black Panther (2018) | Overrated
As of this writing, thirty-three movies based on comic books have been nominated for Oscars and of that thirty-three, only one has ever been nominated for best picture. And it wasn’t The Dark Knight. Hell, even non-superhero fare like A History of Violence and Road to Perdition were snubbed and they were directed by critical darlings and came out in years where Crash and Chicago took home the top prize. It’s this fact, more than any other aspect, that makes Black Panther overrated. As a film, it’s a competently made blockbuster that has some issues but on the whole, it is a pretty solid popcorn flick. The design of Wakanda and its citizens, as well as the villain, are the best thing about it. Again, there are elements of it that aren’t great (the CGI is particularly egregious) but it does enough right that it shouldn’t be on this list and the only reason it is and Wonder Woman isn’t, is the best picture nom.
11. Phase IV (1974) | Underrated
Is this the greatest killer insect movie ever? Some would argue yes, but we can all agree it’s one of the best that isn’t talked about enough. After the massive giant nuclear creatures monster movies, another wave creature features arrived but this time with massive amounts of them at their normal size. 1972’s Frogs and 1975’s Bug both gave solid efforts but neither could hold a candle to the sheer mystical weirdness of Saul Bass’ treacherous ant fantasy Phase IV.
The only feature-length film from Saul Bass, who was more known for being a graphic designer and his groundbreaking credit sequences for films like The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest, and Psycho. Phase IV offers up some good old fashion eerie entertainment while providing some haunting visual intensity with how the ants were filmed.
Here’s a couple of fun nuggets. Saul Bass later in life proclaimed he directed the infamous shower scene in Psycho stating Hitchcock was nowhere to be found. His claims, of course, were never corroborated by anyone who was on set. This film was the first to depict a geometric crop circle and is cited as the inspiration for pranksters who would create crop circles in the United Kingdom two years later.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some films that you think are overrated or underrated? Maybe they will show up further on the list!