Everyone’s list of the most underrated movies of all time is probably going to look quite different. After all, the very term indicates a significant degree of subjectivity, as there are very few quantifiable ways to measure whether or not a film qualifies as being “underrated.” As such, we realize that a fair number of the films on the list below probably won’t be considered underrated by some. However, in our opinion, the following 15 films are all undervalued to some degree, whether it be from not earning enough money to turn a profit, being written off by critics, or just generally being overlooked or even forgotten about by the average movie fan.
That being said, we hope this list will spark some conversation and even if you don’t agree with these picks, let us know which movies you think people don’t give a fair shake.
15. The Rundown (2003)
If you’re heading to the multiplex to watch a new action movie these days, there’s a good chance the movie you’re seeing stars Dwayne Johnson, as the former professional wrestler has become one of the most prolific, bankable action stars in the business. However, for as much fun as Jumanji and Rampage are, it’s easy to forget that The Rock has been doing the whole action star thing for nearly two decades and one of his best films came from early on in his acting career.
Peter Berg’s 2003 action romp The Rundown sees The Rock playing a “retrieval specialist” sent to the Brazilian rain forest to bring back his boss’s insubordinate son (Seann William Scott), who’s down there looking for lost treasure. While it doesn’t revolutionize the genre in any way, The Rundown is the best kind of fun action romp in that it features incredible chemistry between its two leads (seriously, it’s a shame we haven’t seen Johnson and Scott work together again), some great action set pieces, and Christopher Walken stealing the show as a scenery-chewing villain. Anyone who’s a fan of The Rock’s more recent work owes it to themselves to check out this underappreciated early 2000s action-adventure, as The Rundown is still one of the actor’s best efforts to date.
14. A Goofy Movie (1995)
Yes that’s right, A Goofy Movie. A spinoff of the animated series Goof Troop, A Goofy Movie was released in 1995 right around the time Disney was going through an animation renaissance thanks to films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, as well as having its first foray into CGI animation with Pixar’s Toy Story that very same year.
As such, A Goofy Movie tends to get quite overshadowed – and it certainly doesn’t help that, as a character, Goofy is generally thought of as low-tier slapstick – but it’s still a great Disney film in its own right, with likable characters, beautiful animation, and a touching, honest father-son relationship between Goofy and his son Max. The film lends equal weight to both Goofy and Max’s perspectives, leading up to an emotionally honest payoff. Proof that even Disney’s “lesser” releases were gold during the mid-90s, A Goofy Movie is definitely one of the most underrated gems in the House of Mouse’s vast movie library.
13. Apocalypto (2006)
This could be a controversial pick, given how unpopular a figure Mel Gibson continues to be but if examined through the lens of separating art from the artist, Apocalypto is a criminally-underrated film. Released in 2006 not long after Gibson’s infamous anti-Semitic tirade, Apocalypto is set in early 16th Century Mexico right before the fall of the Mayan civilization, and follows a young man’s desperate escape from a sadistic group of Mayan hunters, who have captured, enslaved, and/or killed the majority of his people.
Featuring a cast wholly comprised of Native American and Indigenous Mexican actors, Apocalypto is the rare big-budget studio film that goes out of its way not to whitewash history and although Gibson’s film is only very loosely based on historical fact, it tells an emotionally thrilling human story and contains poignant reminders of the destruction of colonialism and human cruelty. Arguably Gibson’s finest directorial work to date, Apocalypto is worth a watch even if you despise the man who made it.
12. About Time (2013)
From the outside, About Time looks like just another schmaltzy romantic-comedy and to a certain degree, it is. In less capable hands, the film’s messages about loving life – especially the regular, mundane aspects of it all – could have come off as overly sentimental and pretentious. However, writer-director Richard Curtis somehow makes it all work through a combination of a fun time-travel plot device, likable, well-written characters, and a refreshing tone without a hint of cynicism. The true secret to About Time’s success lies with its amazing cast (Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams are almost two perfect as the romantic leads), but also in the fact that it was billed as a love story between Gleeson’s Tim and McAdams’ Mary, but is really more about the father-son relationship between Tim and his father, played by Bill Nighy.
Really, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone that About Time is as good as it is, as Curtis also wrote and directed the beloved 2003 rom-com Love Actually and this is very much in keeping with that earlier film’s tone and style. However, it doesn’t feel like About Time has reached anywhere near the level of cultural relevancy as Love Actually, which is a shame given that it’s arguably the superior film.
11. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2007)
There are tragically few movies that focus on suicide (it is quite the taboo subject, after all), but the 2007 indie dramedy Wristcutters: A Love Story is perhaps one of the best. Based on the short story “Kneller’s Happy Campers” by Etgar Keret, Wristcutters is essentially an afterlife road trip movie that follows a young man, having recently committed suicide, as he navigates his new after-death surroundings in search of his ex-girlfriend, who has also taken her own life. In spite of its rather depressing premise, Wristcutters is a film that is ironically full of life, employing touching matter in order to spark a conversation about not just suicide, but happiness, love, and the struggles of life in general.
It’s also surprisingly funny, which helps offset what could have been a really downcast movie, and features a well-rounded cast that includes Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, and the great Tom Waits, who is really worth the price of admission alone. Despite these qualities, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who have even heard of Wristcutters, let alone seen it (it’s a good bet that the title did the film no favors), but it’s definitely an indie darling that deserves more recognition.
10. Sunshine (2007)
Easily one of the most underrated science fiction movies of the last 20 years, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine succeeds in crafting a near-future space movie that is both environmental allegory and interesting character study. Featuring an impressive ensemble cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, and Chris Evans, Sunshine follows the Icarus II crew as they embark on a desperate mission to restart a dying sun in order to save a freezing Earth.
While the film is packed with striking visuals and some thrilling sequences, it’s more of a psychological drama than anything else and an unsettling one at that, as distrust and madness begins to set in as the crew get closer to its destination. It’s true that sci-fi is generally a tough sell at the cinema, it’s still surprising how little of an impact Sunshine made both at the box office and among critics, especially when you consider that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar managed to attract both when it was released in 2014. Both films are heady sci-fi affairs but for our money, Sunshine is the superior space adventure and should have amounted to more than a modest cult hit.
9. The Fall (2006)
Not to be confused with the crime show of the same name starring Gillian Anderson, The Fall is a fantastical 2006 film directed and co-written by Tarsem Singh starring Lee Pace (Halt and Catch Fire) as a hospitalized stuntman who befriends a fellow patient, a young Romanian girl (Catinca Untaru), and proceeds to tell her an epic story.
Featuring meticulously crafted visuals and cinematography, The Fall is a gorgeous film to look at that, while featuring an almost too simplistic plot during its fantasy sequences, is really about the interactions between its two leads. Singh spent 4 years and all of his own money to make the film, choosing to shoot in 20 different countries so as to avoid using CGI in the fantasy sequences. Though it has its flaws, The Fall is an ambitious work of art worth seeking out.
8. Lord of War (2005)
At this point in his career, Nicolas Cage has become something of a walking parody of himself, having largely starred in low-rent direct-to-DVD fare for the last decade or so that, while showcasing his unique brand of unhinged acting, aren’t generally worth watching. However, there was a time when Cage was more discerning in picking his roles, as evidenced by his turn as a successful arms dealer named Yuri Orlav in Andrew Nichol’s criminally-overlooked 2005 feature, Lord of War.
A big-budget adult drama featuring an amoral protagonist, Lord of War showcases one of Cage’s best performances to date, an early precursor to the narcissistic masculine figures who would come to dominate prestige dramas on the small screen just a few years later in award-winning shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. With a stellar supporting cast that included Jared Leto as Yuri’s younger brother, Bridget Moynahan as his suspicious wife, and Ethan Hawke as the Interpol agent hot on his tail, Lord of War should have been a surefire box office hit and critical darling, but it has since faded from memory much like Cage’s time on top of the A-list.
7. Cube (1997)
This 1997 Canadian sci-fi horror film was actually the Canadian Film Centre’s first feature film project and follows a group of characters kidnapped and held prisoner in a set of giant cube-shaped rooms. Featuring a cast of unknown actors, director Vincenzo Natali crafts a mysterious and horrifying viewing experience, in which you can never be quite sure who is going to be killed off next. In a way, the Saw series owes a debt to Cube, which introduced the room trap concept years before the first installment in the popular horror series was released.
Fortunately, Cube is much more than just a torture porn horror experience, as the film’s true quality is its Twilight Zone-like premise, with Natali delivering on the film’s delightfully eerie premise. A cult classic, Cube went onto spawn two sequels but it’s the original movie that’s actually worth seeking out.
6. The Good Girl (2002)
Although she’ll always have Friends, Jennifer Aniston hasn’t had much luck when it comes to choosing good movie roles, with her filmography largely comprised of middling rom-com fare and absolute crimes against cinema like The Bounty Hunter (2010). However, for a brief period in the early 2000s, Aniston seemed to be making a real go of becoming a serious dramatic actor, as evidenced by her stellar performance as unhappy housewife trapped in retail hell in Miguel Arteta’s largely forgotten The Good Girl (2002).
Featuring a ridiculously strong supporting cast including a young Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, John Carroll Lynch, and Zooey Deschanel, The Good Girl is depressingly relatable in its depiction of loveless marriages and lives not lived and remains one of the better films to tackle the mundane existence of small town life in the last twenty years.
5. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
While we’d argue that Will Ferrell has a much better track record, he does fit into that Adam Sandler category of comedic actors who generally make very similar movies, to the point where it comes as a true surprise when they break from tradition. Such is the case with Marc Forster’s 2006 fantasy comedy/drama Stranger Than Fiction, which follows an IRS worker (Ferrell) whose life suddenly becomes narrated by a disembodied voice that turns out to belong to an author (Emma Thompson), whose books always end with the main character dying.
Much like Sandler’s turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, Ferrell turns in a fine dramatic performance here that shows some notable restraint from an actor typically known for playing off-the-wall buffoons. However, that isn’t to say Stranger Than Fiction isn’t funny, as it is a hilariously sweet viewing experience that packs an emotional wallop. If, like us, you initially wrote Stranger Than Fiction off because of Ferrell’s involvement, just know that it is a charming, feel-good modern classic that just might become a new favorite if you give it a shot.
4. Kingdom of Heaven (2006)
Ridley Scott is a filmmaker with a surprising number of disappointing theatrical cuts under his belt that were later improved by directors’ cuts (case in point: this isn’t the only Scott film to make this list!). Kingdom of Heaven is an interesting footnote in the veteran director’s career, as it fell far short of Scott’s previous historical epic – the 2000 Best Picture winner Gladiator – both critically and commercially thanks to a noticeably chopped-up theatrical edition filled with plot holes and a poorly-written lead protagonist played by Orlando Bloom. The film was quickly forgotten about and failed to jump-start Bloom’s career as a leading man, which is a shame given just how much better the director’s cut is.
With nearly an hour of additional footage that fills in much-needed details in Bloom’s character’s backstory, as well as fleshing out a romantic subplot with Eva Green’s Sibylla that seemed to come out of nowhere in the theatrical cut, Kingdom of Heaven’s director’s cut turns Scott film into a legitimately good – possibly even great – war epic that proves that some films really need at least 3 hours to get their point across. As such, that is the version we’d most recommend watching.
3. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
A spoof of prestige music biopics like Ray and Walk the Line that rose to prominence in the mid-2000s, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story represents a rare box office misfire for Judd Apatow-produced comedies. Much of this can be attributed to it being an R-rated comedy starring John C. Reilly, a talented character actor better known for playing second fiddle to Will Ferrell, but it also probably has something to do with Walk Hard’s marketing doing little to differentiate it from the many other Apatow productions that were being released at the time. It’s unfortunate because more than a decade later, Walk Hard has achieved true cult classic status and is every bit as funny as other standout mid-2000s comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers.
Reilly commits fully to his washed-up rock star character and gets to show off his musical talents in a series of hilarious original songs (“Lets Duet” is an innuendo-laden masterpiece). The supporting cast is also universally excellent, with Tim Meadows’ drug-pushing drummer being a fan-favorite, as well as a number of famous actors and musicians turning up as various historical figures closely associated with the era (if you need any more convincing of this movie’s brilliance: Paul Rudd and Jack Black turn up as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, respectively, and trade insults before getting in a fistfight). Simply put, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the funniest films of the 21st century and one that nobody would have ever predicted would turn out to be so awesome.
2. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
Known as Innocent Moves in the UK, Searching for Bobby Fischer was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 1993, yet barely registered at the box office and was completely shutout come awards season. Featuring a star-studded cast including Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, and Joe Mantegna – all turning in career-best performances and receiving exactly zero Oscar nominations between them – Searching for Bobby Fischer follows a young chess prodigy and those who seek to nurture and exploit his gift.
In terms of plot, the film follows the typical beat of most sports movies – kid is good at thing, faces adversity, has to decide whether he even wants to keep doing the thing he’s good at – but it’s they all those pieces fit together that makes Searching for Bobby Fischer such a thoroughly enjoyable and affecting film. While certainly revered as a classic by some, Searching for Bobby Fischer simply didn’t get the widespread acclaim it deserved when it was released and is arguably the greatest film about chess ever made.
1. The Red Violin (1998)
A French-Canadian production released in 1998, The Red Violin is a multi-generational epic whose only truly recognizable star is Samuel L. Jackson. Following the titular musical instrument as it is passed down to various owners over centuries, Francois Girard’s film somehow makes you care about an inanimate object, as the red violin is the true main character (though its various owners are certainly well-drawn in their own right).
But it’s also a beautiful film, with stunning cinematography, excellent location shooting, and an anthology-like story structure that miraculously doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own ambition. The Red Violin should have been an awards darling back when it was released and while it did clean up at the Genies – the Canadian Oscars, essentially – the film was largely ignored in the wider film culture and was also a box office failure, which is a true shame given that it is arguably one of best hidden gems of the 90s.