Some films hit like a comet, slamming into history and leaving an indelible mark on culture that reverberates through the ages. Others... not so much. There's nothing
wrong with these kind of films — in fact, they can be excellent. Their failures were often just a case of bad timing. Maybe they just didn't have as much hype, or worse (like with infamous flop Ishtar) got all the wrong kinds of hype. Whatever the reason, you have to see these 46 underrated movies for yourself. They're like the rom-com wallflower who's been there all along, or the comfy sweatpants you can lounge in for days (but wouldn't be caught dead wearing in public).
Ask someone to make a list of
the greatest films of all time, and these probably won't make the cut. But bring them up at a party, and someone will jump forward to wax ecstatic about them for days. History's done these films wrong, and it's about time we make it right. There's a good chance you'll find a new favorite among them; even if, say, mushy romances aren't your favorite genre, put on the lesser-loved Alan Rickman film Truly, Madly, Deeply instead of Love, Actually and you will happily break out the box of tissues. So put aside the tried and true, and dig into these underrated gems.
Featuring an all-star cast Before They Made It Big, including Brittany Murphy and Amy Adams, this faux-documentary follows a small-town pageant-turned-murder spree. It's directed by Michael Patrick Jann, who went on to star in
Reno, 911. Stream here.
James Cagney's known for his '30s gangster roles, but he shines as a wry executive selling Coca-Cola to West Germany in this lesser-known Billy Wilder (
Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot) comedy. When Cagney's put in charge of babysitting the company president's teen daughter, she falls in love with an East German political bad boy, and everything goes delightfully wrong. Click here to buy.
Christopher Guest's low-key mockumentary uses the Westminster Dog Show as backdrop and excuse for an improv A-team to go for broke. You haven't really appreciated Parker Posey until you see her screaming through braces for a Busy Bee.
Sure, everyone loves him in
Say Anything, but young John Cusack in this kitchen-sink comedy is perfection. The movie also features animated music videos, vengeful paperboys, and, since it's the '80s, a skiing contest against the prepsters. Click here to buy.
'Hunt For The Wilderpeople'
Director Taika Waititi's hitting Hollywood with the upcoming
Thor: Ragnarok, but his 2016 New Zealand film came and went too soon. Sweet but not treacly, a young boy and his unwilling foster father (played by Sam Neill) inadvertently become the focus of a manhunt and have to work together to get back without getting arrested. Stream here.
This Paul Verhoeven film suffered from people mistaking it for actually being what it was parodying. To its credit, the film never once winks, presenting as an artifact from the fascist future world it depicts.
Stream here. Atlantic Entertainment Group
Who thought an apocalypse could be so fun? After a comet causes mass extinction, teen sisters Regina and Samantha head to downtown L.A. to look for survivors, hit the mall, and avoid mutants. It's one of the rare sex- and girl-positive films of the era — heck, of today, too.
'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar'
Overshadowed by the similar (and equally amazing)
Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, this delight was slandered as ripoff, when the two movies were made simultaneously. Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes shine as drag queens taking "drag princess" Jon Leguizamo under their wing on a cross-country road trip to the Drag Queen of America competition. Stream here.
Famous for his graphic design for
Psycho, Vertigo, and numerous other iflms, this is Saul Bass' first and only feature. And what a movie. Co-starring an ant colony, this eco-terror film is gorgeously shot and perfectly '70s-trippy. Stream here.
This '80s love-conquers-all story escalates so ridiculously fast you won't know what hit you. James Spader's still in "preppy" mode but has to slum it at a (gasp) public school when his family loses their fortune and moves to a new town. He gets on the wrong side of a gang at a school with no discernible dress code, falling for the leader's girl. And it's always nice to catch young Robert Downey Jr. in his "punk sidekick" phase.
I can't believe more people haven't seen this over-the-top, candy-colored, fast-paced, dueling lesbian hitwoman martial arts film. It has everything from the Hong Kong action boom of the '90s, but somehow no one stateside's really heard of it. Now you have.
Click here to buy.
'In The Mouth Of Madness'
A constantly overlooked gem from horror master John Carpenter, this film's meta-meta commentary on the entire genre is fun, genuinely creepy trip. Sam Neill plays a reporter looking into a horror writer's disappearance... and he finds a lot more than he expected.
A shocking WWII film, but without front lines, as it focuses on a quiet English town that's infiltrated and cut off by Nazi soldiers. Everyday mundanity becomes a struggle for survival as townspeople slowly realize what's happening. Will it be too late for them to stop the invasion? Made during the war, this movie boldly predicted British victory (likely for much-needed morale).
Click here to buy.
Accused of ripping of Hitchcock, Brian DePalma doubled down, smashing together
Vertigo & Rear Window in this outré, over-the-top tale of sex and obsession. Melanie Griffith's never been more likable as body-double and porn star Holly Body (subtlety is not DePalma's wheelhouse). Bonus: the music video/premiere of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" is in this. Stream here.
Dismissed unfairly as teen fluff due to a cast of WB stars (especially
Dawson's Creek's James Van Der Beek), this take on Bret Easton Ellis' novel is dark comedy at its finest. Stream here.
'The Hellstrom Chronicle'
The '70s were a goldmine for "insect overlords take over" warnings of doom. This tale's told with an
In Search Of... documentary style, more Mondo Insect than horror. Click here to buy. Herts-Lion International Corp
A no-budget American horror take on French New Wave that inspired a generation of directors. After a near-fatal car crash, organ-player Mary is tailed by a creepy man only she can see and hear (director Herk Harvey himself, and direct inspiration for David Lynch's eerie Man Without A Name in
Lost Highway). Stream here.
A pastel-colored Miami romance between a go-go fashion reporter and an android. John Malkovich looks amazing with platinum blonde hair as both grumpy scientist creator and his robot doppelgänger.
Click here to buy.
It's a shame Martin Scorsese stopped making comedies after this slice of dark '80s perfection. NYC's SoHo plays its formerly sketchy self as hapless business drone Griffin Dunne gets stuck in increasingly bizarre situations trying to get back home.
After her boyfriend Jamie (Alan Rickman) dies, Nina (Juliet Stevenson) is beside herself with grief.... until he knocks on the door asking if he can come back in. A ghost story about loss, love, and the possibility of moving on, this is a tearjerker for the ages.
Click here to buy.
Baby-faced Dennis Hopper stars in his first feature, an eerie tale of a sideshow mermaid who's afraid she's actually a mermaid, doomed to drown her lovers. It's an atmospheric dark romance greater than the sum of its low budget origins.
Click here to buy.
'Babe II: Pig In The City'
From the director of
Mad Max: Fury Road comes this equally harrowing tale of poor Babe beset from all sides in the scary big city. A superior sequel that's all too overlooked. Stream here.
This infamous flop's main problem was its budgetary woes doomed the film before release. Scene drama aside, this is a wistful buddy comedy walking smack into a political thriller, and a lot of fun. Songwriters Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty dream of making it big, and jump at a job in Morocco no one else wants due to political unrest. A couple of mixups and misunderstandings later, the boys are part of the plot to overthrow the Emir of Ishtar.
A '90s screwball comedy with Matthew Broderick as a hapless NYU student and Marlon Brando as...
The Godfather. Well, the character who inspired Vito Corleone, but half the movie's jokes bend around Brando reprising his famous role and having a lot of fun doing so. Stream here.
'Romy And Michele's High School Reunion'
The rare film where "happily ever after" doesn't mean "ends up in a relationship/married." Confronted with a 10-year reunion, Romy and best pal Michele realize their lives might not seem cool enough, so they decide to lie, which of course leads to misunderstandings, fallout, and a delightful reconciliation set to Cyndi Lauper.
'The People Under The Stairs'
"Master of Horror" Wes Craven's most overlooked film is his most political. Starring
Twin Peaks power-couple Everett McGill and Wendy Robie as suspiciously Reagan-like landlords who threaten to kick young Fool and his family out of their apartment, the real monster is trickle-down economics and marginalization of black families. Also inbred horrors. Stream here.
So many Godzilla films, so little time. Make room in your schedule for this trippy '70s antipollution screed where Godzilla (here defender, not destroyer, of Japan) battles smog monster Hedorah (destroyer of hippie protesters).
Click here to buy.
'So I Married An Axe Murderer'
Wayne's World gets all the glory, but this box-office underperformer, brought to you by The West Wing's Thomas Schlamme, is just as goofy. Commitment-phobic beat poet Meyers begins to suspect his new love might just be mysterious husband-killer Mrs. X... or is that just an excuse to break up with her? Stream here.
From director of
Frankenstein/inventor of camp sensibility James Whale comes this outlandish, swanky mystery. After a group of ultra-wealthy party kids live it up on a boozy bender, the gang finds one of their own dead. Everyone was too drunk to remember who the killer was, so they try to solve the mystery during the mother of all hangovers.
'Attack Of The Puppet People'
While this is definitely a '50s sci-fi movie about a mad scientist, it's also an underrated portrait of the human condition. Loneliness drives people to desperate ends, including shrinking people down to doll-size so you'll never suffer alone.
This is the best Bond movie, don't @ me. Roger Moore's shrugging his shoulders as he invents snowboarding, makes out with a sexy geologist half his age, and ends the Cold War. Meanwhile, the film belongs to bad guy dream-team Grace Jones and Christopher Walken having an absolute ball.
A romance about the damaging long-term effects of government denial and terrorism... that's also full of
banging '90s dance jams? Dil Se asks whether love really can conquer all while bursting into gorgeous musical numbers about obsession and the pain of revenge. Click here to buy.
'Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte'
In the Joan Crawford/Bette Davis feud, this glorious southern gothic is overshadowed by
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. Putting this movie on is as refreshingly indulgent as sitting on the porch of your decrepit mansion sipping a cool Sazerac. Stream here.
Turnabout is fair play in this tale of a womanizing, unscrupulous executive (Eddie Murphy) whose new boss (Robin Givens) is a lady version of himself. Critics didn't care for it, but with an amazing cast (including Chris Rock, Grace Jones, Halle Berry, Eartha Kitt, and Martin Lawrence) at full tilt, it's hard not to enjoy.
Featuring teen Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, and Thandie Newman, this sweet romance avoids sappiness as two boarding school outcasts start up a rebellious romance.
Click here to buy.
'House On Haunted Hill' (1999)
It takes a lot of brass to remake a classic, but this version of the 1959 classic takes the camp and cranks it to 11. Featuring a Very '90s cast (including Famke Jansen, Taye Diggs, Chris Kattan, and Lisa Loeb) and Geoffrey Rush chewing scenery like it was his last meal, this movie is scarier and sillier than you'd expect. Schlockmeister originator William Castle would be proud.
An underrated film from an underrated director. Atom Egoyan doesn't get half the attention fellow Canadian director David Cronenberg does, but his films are just as icy and inquiring.
Adoration nests translations and interpretations of a story within each other, adding an emotional layer to the idea of "printing the legend." Stream here. American General Pictures
Released to a general shrug,
Spider Baby is slowly making its way to cult canon status, and deservedly so. This blackly absurd tale of a family doomed to mental and physical regression, and the upstart relatives who try to steal their fortune, earned its alternate title The Maddest Story Ever Told. Stream here.
'Creature With The Blue Hand'
Years before Freddy,
Creature With The Blue Hand's razor fingers were slicing up victims in this madcap '60s murder-mystery. Klaus Kinski plays both the "good" and "evil" twin, but since it's Kinski they both come off as utterly nuts. Click here to buy.
A queasy film that would've worked as the modern
Taxi Driver it was trying to be if it stuck with its bleak premise all the way through, Observe And Report is still a disturbing look at petty masculinity and power dynamics. Stream here.
Dismissed as a hokey
Alien ripoff, this film is actually an excellent ripoff of Solaris and Hellraiser, with some '90s 'tude to go along. When a missing spaceship suddenly reappears after 20 years, Laurence Fishburne leads a ragtag search and rescue group to find survivors. What they find is a lot more disturbing. Stream here.
If you squint really hard you can juuuust make out the film director Henry Selick (
Nightmare Before Christmas, James And The Giant Peach) intended it to be, before the studio took control and cut it up. The film's still full of fascinating stop motion animation, practical effects, and performances, including Chris Kattan's amazing physical work as a dead jogger with his neck broken. Stream here.
A movie about music videos by a titan of music video directing makes for a winning combination. Tim Robbins and John Cusack team up to
get their favorite band, Swanky Modes, a wider audience by hijacking a Menudo concert feed. The film features a who's-who of '80s alt-music, with Jello Biafra as an FBI agent and DEVO doing vocals for a "Swedish" pop group. Click here to buy.
'Chronicles Of Riddick'
The unloved middle child of the Pitch Black franchise,
Chronicles of Riddick was derided by critics as a bloated, confusing, pretentious mess. They are all terribly, absolutely wrong. This world-building masterpiece showcases Vin Diesel's philosophical side, without skimping on action. Karl Urban, the '90s sci-fi/fantasy workhorse, shows up as part of the H.R. Geiger cult attempting to take over the universe, and it's excellent. Stream here.
Because the world's gone bad, two girls decide to be bad too — and that's the extent of the plot in this anarchic 1966 Czechoslovakian film. Bolder, more fearless and fun than most movies today,
it got director Vera Chytilová banned from filmmaking in her home country. Not so much "underrated" as underseen here in the U.S., this is required viewing for every young lady. Click here to buy.
A western twist on vampires from Kathryn Bigelow, this gory, gorgeous film underwhelmed at the box office. Stellar performances from Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton (R.I.P.) and a moody score from
Tangerine Dream make this worth watching. Click here to buy.
This list could easily go on. For every Hollywood hit and breakout indie, there's hundreds of films each year that just don't get the same attention. Fortunately it's easier than ever to track down something you couldn't catch in theaters. Give these films a second chance; as the saying goes — even if you're late to the party, you're still gonna have fun.