After potentially ticking people off with my opinions on overrated movies, I thought I’d make it up to everyone by suggesting some perhaps unfamiliar films that deserve greater attention. I’m sure everyone out there has some obscure movies that they love and wish more people knew about. You know, the kind that you watch and then really want to talk about with others until you find out no one else has seen or even heard of it. Well, I’ve seen quite a few such films since starting this blog, and I want to give these criminally underseen films their due.
Just to clarify, these are not simply movies that got bad reviews. In fact, two of them have 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. With one exception, neither are these just movies that I like and others don’t; that kind of list would have to include Brother Bear, Spider-Man 3, and the Star Wars prequels. Rather, these are all movies that, for whatever reason, are not as widely known as they ought to be. You might also call it my Top Twelve Hidden Gems. To avoid listing my same old favorites, I’ve also chosen to exclude anything that’s in my Top 100 movies, so that leaves out the likes of Elizabethtown, Saints and Soldiers, and 84 Charing Cross Road. Their placement on that list already shows how I feel about them, but these other movies deserve mention too.
These aren’t even necessarily ranked by how much I like them, but by how much I think they deserve better recognition. Thus, here are my Top Twelve Underrated Movies:
- Wrinkles (2011)
This animated Spanish film was a pleasant surprise, tackling sensitive topics like aging and mental illness with a deft hand and compassionate attention to its characters. I’ve often mentioned that I enjoy mature animation that doesn’t wallow in mature subject matter, which is rare outside of anime, and Wrinkles fit that preference perfectly.
- Ink (2009)
Someone get Jamin Winans a bigger budget. For a clearly low-budget production, there’s a lot going on in his cult film Ink: a battle between good and evil, dreams and nightmares; a long-nosed monster trying to steal a little girl’s soul; a distant father’s nearly broken relationship with his young daughter; and a strange and profound reflection on life, death, and regret. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this under-the-radar fantasy, but it’s definitely worth seeing, as evidenced by the 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. I’ll also mention Wynan’s next film, The Frame, which is also good but a bit too existential for me. Neither one is kid-friendly, due to language, but they’re a unique brand of filmmaking.
- Harrison Bergeron (1995)
This Showtime movie from the ‘90s may not be well-known among dystopian cinema, but it should be. It stars Sean Astin as a young genius whose intellect is a source of shame in his egalitarian society where no one is allowed to be better than anyone else. At times, the extremes of this dystopia come off as laughably absurd, but it gets darker as it goes, with a hauntingly sad conclusion.
- Dominick and Eugene (1988)
We’ve all heard of Rain Man, but what about the other movie that year about a pair of brothers, one of whom is mentally handicapped? While it has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, Dominick and Eugene suffers from the sad fact that no one remembers it. I only happened to catch it on an obscure movie channel. Though it’s already distinguished by outstanding performances from Ray Liotta and Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Hulce should have earned an Oscar nomination (not just a Golden Globe nod) for his performance as a mentally impaired garbageman helping his twin brother to work through medical school.
Everyone seemed to love Your Name last year, but I knew of Makoto Shinkai’s talents before that, thanks to this gorgeously animated adventure (also known as Journey to Agartha) that is every bit as magical as a Studio Ghibli film and feels very much like a tribute to Miyazaki’s fantasies. Following a schoolgirl’s journey into the mystical underground realm of Agartha, accompanied by an obsessed member of a secret organization, it’s a subtly emotional story of learning to say goodbye, even when the grief threatens to destroy you and others. As marvelous as Your Name is, this one holds an even more special place in my heart.
- Counterpoint (1967)
The obscure nature of this Charlton Heston war film may make you think it’s a dud, but not so. In fact, I’d say Counterpoint is among Heston’s best films, casting him as the head of a touring orchestra whose entire ensemble is captured by Nazis during the close of World War II. A cultured Nazi general (Maximilian Schell) confines them to a castle and insists they play a recital for him, and what is to follow is threateningly vague. It’s a great battle of wills and egos between Heston and Schell, highlighted by an excellent collection of classical music.
- Hidden (2015)
I’m not even sure where I first heard of this horror gem, but I’m glad I discovered it. After an outbreak of some disease, a family hides in an underground bunker from whatever lurks above them. Alexander Skarsgard and Andrea Riseborough play two wonderful parents, trying to encourage their daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) and keep her spirits up in this frightening situation. The family dynamic helped me care about the characters and made the tense moments all the more potent.
- Waterworld (1995)
Don’t let Waterworld’s reputation as a notorious bomb deter you. It’s actually a surprisingly entertaining actioner, one with quite a bit in common with Mad Max: Fury Road, just with water instead of desert. I’m not really sure why it’s earned such a bad reputation. The acting may be over-the-top at times but no more than Mad Max, and the expansive maritime setting is still impressive proof of the film’s ambition.
- Surrogates (2009)
I seem to be more forgiving of sci-fi than the critics. Another piece of good science fiction that somehow suffered from bad reviews, Surrogates is about a warily plausible world where people only interact with the world through robotic lookalikes. Bruce Willis investigates a rare instance of murder and is reminded just how sheltered the people of this dystopia have become. Most critics said it squandered a great premise, but I think it succeeded as both cool action and thought-provoking fiction.
- Shuffle (2011)
Another low-budget movie that transcends its limitations with a brilliantly original story, this time-travel flick from writer/director Kurt Kuenne doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! T.J. Thyne plays a man who jumps to a different day of his life every time he falls asleep, which is often, and the threads of his life are gradually revealed with every leap in time. Some say it gets too sentimental by the end, but Shuffle didn’t disappoint me at all.
- King of Thorn (2010)
I have never seen this anime on a single list anywhere. It’s mostly unknown even in anime circles, which is a crying shame. When a collection of people awaken from stasis after a worldwide epidemic of a virus that turns people to stone, they are thrust into a fight for their lives against monsters and reality-bending dangers. This thrilling and atmospheric blend of Aliens, Inception, and Lost has loads of unguessable twists and turns to elevate its survival-horror premise. It can be violent and confusing, but it’s also awesome and vastly underrated.
- Cloud Atlas (2012)
I debated what should be #1, since any of these could have been ranked higher, but Cloud Atlas won the day. This is a movie that could have won Oscars, perhaps Best Score, Best Makeup, and maybe even Best Picture, if the Academy had been a bit more adventurous. Covering six distinct stories separated by centuries yet somehow linked by cosmic connections, Cloud Atlas is a wildly ambitious film with an incredible cast, all of whom play multiple, very different roles. It’s also a polarizing story, and I can easily see people walking away either mind-blown or just confused and exasperated. It’s long, strange in its shifts in tone, and full of New Age-y nonsense, but there’s so much to appreciate and take in that it’s an amazing ride worth taking all the same.
And here are some other films that deserve more awareness. If you haven’t seen these movies, I highly recommend widening those horizons.
About Time – Fantastic time travel romance with Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams.
Bright Star – Quietly poetic biopic of John Keats.
Cannery Row – Fun and funny Steinbeck adaptation.
Flightplan – A tense Jodie Foster thriller about a mother whose daughter disappears on a plane.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – Excellent supernatural romance with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.
In Time – Brilliant dystopian premise of the time of one’s lifespan becoming currency.
In Your Eyes – Peculiar romance between two people who see through each other’s eyes.
Labyrinth of Lies – This German film about remembering Nazi war crimes should have been a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee.
Lunopolis – Conspiracy-filled found-footage sci-fi with a great twist.
The Man Who Never Was – Historical story of how a dead man helped win World War II.
Millennium Actress – Uniquely told anime of an actress seeking the unattainable.
The One I Love – A relationship movie with a Twilight Zone twist.
The Quick and the Dead (1987) – Engaging western with Sam Elliot at his mustached best.
Regarding Henry – Harrison Ford’s most underrated performance as a mentally damaged husband.
Right at Your Door – Terrifyingly real and down-to-earth disaster movie.
Secondhand Lions – Anecdotal charmer with great support from Michael Caine and Robert Duvall.
Sophie Scholl – The Final Days – Well-acted German tribute to an anti-Nazi martyr.
Strings – Very unique fantasy told completely with marionettes.
Time of Eve – Understated anime about androids discovering their humanity.
Tomorrowland – I actually found this Disney bomb to be a surprisingly fun ride.
The Way Back – Emotional journey of escapees from a Russian gulag, who walk all the way to India.
Woman in Gold – Strong performances from Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds in this tale of reclaiming art stolen by the Nazis.
Thanks for checking out these lists to celebrate my 500 follower milestone. Many more poems, reviews, and lists will come, and I hope to discover many more underrated movies in the future. Feel free to leave any suggestions below. I’m always on the lookout for more hidden gems!