Top 20 Most Underrated Movies of All Time
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Top 20 Most Underrated Movies of All Time

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
Hidden gems are often the shiniest! For this list, we'll be looking at movies that don't always get the credit they deserve. These films may or may not have been acclaimed in their day, but definitely need another renaissance. Our countdown includes "Dan in Real Life", "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", "Clue" and more!
Transcript
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Underrated Films of All Time. For this list, we’ll be looking at movies that don’t always get the credit they deserve. These films may or may not have been acclaimed in their day, but definitely need another renaissance. Did we forget one of your favorite films? Let us know in the comments below.

#20: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004)


“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” takes on the work of Jacques Cousteau by way of offbeat comedy. Bringing his dry humor to the mix, Bill Murray stars as the titular oceanographer in search of an elusive jaguar shark. Filmmaker Wes Anderson crafts a highly-stylized adventure full of memorable characters played by a cast of all-star actors. Murray and the gang all make this story worthwhile with a mix of light entertainment and emotional depths. There's also a wild shootout set to a song by The Stooges for good measure. Some feel like this is a lesser entry in the director's filmography, but there's enough whimsical fun here to entice any fan.

#19: “Dredd” (2012)


This adaptation of the comic series drops Sylvester Stallone for a much more brutal and gritty look into the character. Karl Urban leaves the helmet on for this version, which focuses the film instead on the world-building and fun sequences. “Dredd” features a number of chases and shootouts to rival any sci-fi story of its kind. Urban’s subtle acting is a lean interpretation of the title role, without slipping into the broader territory of his predecessor. The movie also works as a straight-up action flick for those looking for pure entertainment. As long as you’re comfortable with lots of blood and violence, “Dredd” will more than satisfy your cravings.

#18: “Dan in Real Life” (2007)


Steve Carell has proven himself to be much more than Michael from “The Office.” One of his early starring roles is one such example, blending drama and comedy into a story of a complicated father. His character struggles to accept his daughters’ changing lives, while also contemplating a relationship with his brother’s partner. Carell bridges the gap between humor and genuine sensitivity in a realistic portrayal of fatherhood. In the part of Dan, the actor proves that he has a dramatic presence that never feels forced or hammy in the slightest. Cast members like Juliette Binoche and even Dane Cook bring underrated work to this worthwhile dramedy.

#17: “Thief” (1981)


Michael Mann’s debut feature is among the coolest films of the 80s. Taking the best elements from crime cinema, the director delivers a stylish movie full of rain-drenched streets and shifty characters. He also directs star James Caan in his greatest performance. Playing the skilled robber Frank, the actor pushes beyond the typical clichés of the genre and finds the heart of a troubled man. Caan’s assertive presence drives the main plot as he contemplates settling down and leaving behind his criminal background. Next to fantastic acting and direction, Tangerine Dream’s synth soundtrack gives this piece another memorable element to experience.

#16: “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005)


Shane Black was a hotshot screenwriter long before making “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” For his directorial debut, the “Lethal Weapon” scribe takes his knack for witty dialogue and buddy films to new heights. Robert Downey Jr. plays a guy who accidentally wins an acting role, studying for his part with the help of Val Kilmer’s private eye. The dynamic pair gives the lively script the feel that all of the dialogue is completely off the cuff. Along with directing a fantastic cast, Black’s infectious energy reaches to every corner of the project at a lightning pace. The entire production works both as an intriguing noir and a whip-smart comedy.

#15: “Gattaca” (1997)


Andrew Niccol’s sci-fi tale carries with it some of the smartest and deepest philosophical ideas of its era. Ethan Hawke’s character Vincent strives for greatness in a world that doesn’t accept him, leading the character to assume another man’s identity at an aerospace corporation. His complex plan to impersonate the privileged Jerome carries with it a number of dramatic pitfalls and rich metaphors. Depicting a society that favors eugenics, “Gattaca” makes bold statements about the concept of humanity in the face of technological advances. The film blends romance and mystery into its tightly-wound narrative, all of which effectively utilize Niccol’s dense worldbuilding.

#14: “Matchstick Men” (2003)


Nicolas Cage is his usual entertaining self in Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men.” He stars as the conman Roy Waller, dealing with disorders such as OCD. Following a panic attack, his partner tries to get him some psychiatric help. This results in a circuitous plot that reunites Waller with his so-called daughter and brings into question the nature of his con artist ways. Cage and Sam Rockwell give two electric performances in this well-constructed comedy. Filled with many unexpected surprises, this clever movie tricks the audience in increasingly entertaining and unpredictable ways. Director Scott ultimately makes a case for being as competent with dark humor as he is with sci-fi.

#13: “50/50” (2011)


“50/50” manages to find humor in a topic as serious as cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, who reels from a life-changing diagnosis and receives help from a friend played by Seth Rogen. The movie charts the lead character’s journey through all the ups and downs of the disease, including his family’s reaction to the news. Rogen’s wingman helps Adam embrace his humanity while supporting him during moments like shaving his head and getting back into the dating scene. Both the main actors have a natural chemistry that provides the comedy with laughs and tears. Taking a realistic look at the effects of the illness, “50/50” expertly walks the line between genres.

#12: “Detroit” (2017)


Kathryn Bigelow’s historical drama delves into a deadly episode of the events surrounding the 1967 Detroit Riot. At the Algiers Motel, authorities respond to a gunshot without knowing that it’s a starter pistol. This leads to a tense standoff between corrupt policemen and the motel guests, resulting in the deaths of multiple people. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal craft a disturbing snapshot of racism in 60s America. With a brilliant ensemble that includes John Boyega and Will Poulter, this story deals with the fallout of an actual tragedy. “Detroit” did not receive the reception of the filmmaker’s previous work, but it carries a difficult and vital thesis about the ongoing racial divide and injustices in the US.

#11: “Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016)


If you ever wondered what it’s like to be an athlete in college, this movie attempts to scratch the surface. During the last few days before school starts, a freshman baseball player joins his housemates for a chaotic marathon of parties and practice. Director Richard Linklater harkens back to his classic “Dazed and Confused” in this spiritual sequel and all for the better. A team of lesser-known actors assembles for some hilarious conversations and a slew of hijinks. Zoey Deutch joins the fun with a welcome role as the lead character’s love interest. Not only does Linklater create an enjoyable salute to the 80s, he also introduces the world to many talented performers in the process.

#10: “The Place Beyond the Pines” (2012)


Derek Cianfrance’s three-part crime epic plays out like a finely-tuned novel. In the first section, Ryan Gosling’s biker becomes a bank robber to provide for his son. Gosling’s electric performance draws in the audience with thrilling getaways. The second part features Bradley Cooper dealing with the fallout of a high-speed chase and fending for himself against a corrupt police force. Cooper delivers his most underrated work as an honest cop who deals with the trauma of a shooting. Cianfrance brings together all of the emotions of this piece into a cathartic final third that is both moving and shocking in equal parts. Blending together the greatest elements of heist films with a believable drama, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is well worth its extended runtime.

#9: “Jennifer’s Body” (2009)


“Jennifer’s Body” combines elements of slasher films and teen comedies to crowd-pleasing effect. It also contains Megan Fox’s greatest role as the central, murderous entity. While Fox’s bombshell status in blockbusters like “Transformers” pigeon-holed her into certain parts, this movie allows her to subvert that position with a knowing wink. Her succubus character effectively woos and murders unsuspecting teenagers with her wicked charms. She and Amanda Seyfried star together in an unlikely friendship that brings a more female perspective to the genre. This horror adventure didn’t get the love it deserved upon release, but people are coming around to it as much more than an average shockfest.

#8: “Clue” (1985)


Nobody would’ve guessed that a board game could inspire such a funny and thrilling film. Taking cues from other murder mysteries, “Clue” uses the basic setting and character names from the original concept to spoof the popular genre. Tim Curry leads a cast of comedic stars with snappy dialogue and an effective plot. The twists and turns are only beaten by the sheer amount of laugh-out-loud moments. From witty asides to slapstick, this comedy never stops trying to make you chuckle. Stick around for Curry’s whirlwind monologue and a few different endings for added fun.

#7: “Blow Out” (1981)


Brian De Palma spent the 70s and 80s delivering one intense thriller after the other. One of his best films during this period is “Blow Out,” which serves as an homage to an earlier movie by Michelangelo Antonioni. John Travolta stars as a sound man that unintentionally records evidence of a political assassination. The actor gives one of his greatest performances as a man obsessed with a conspiracy. De Palma generates genuine terror through his intricate camera work, slowly ramping up the tension until a firework-filled finale. Even if the story isn’t completely original, the filmmaker and Travolta make the thriller feel as exciting as possible.

#6: “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (2007)


With a lengthy runtime and title, it’s fair to assume some people steered clear of this movie during its first release. The narrative follows the James gang during their heyday of robberies, while Robert Ford’s obsession with the outlaw grows to a violent end. Director Andrew Dominik questions the mythic figures of the Old West and the infamy that keeps them in the spotlight. Brad Pitt brings James into full view as a flawed human next to Casey Affleck’s impressive work as the treacherous Ford. The deliberately slow pace doesn’t entice all audiences, but it certainly rewards any dedicated viewers with a nuanced portrait of two 19th-century men.

#5: “Barry Lyndon” (1975)


Adapting a novel about a roguish man, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s period drama chronicles the 18th century in painstaking detail. Ryan O’Neal offers a career-best performance as a wandering anti-hero that fails to achieve success through honorable means. Working with great performers and production design, the director also employs the use of special camera lenses to capture beautiful candle-lit scenes. The staggering achievement comes together through the central vision of a master artist and his expert collaborators. It doesn’t receive the same attention as his other efforts, but “Barry Lyndon” feels as impactful as Kubrick’s most famous works.

#4: “A Simple Plan” (1998)


There’s no such thing as a clean getaway and this film perfectly encapsulates that concept. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play two opportunistic men who hope to make off with a bunch of cash. Paxton and Thornton are more than capable in their naturalistic style to bring out the tragedy of these men without overacting. Their plot goes wrong in every possible way as the incompetent criminals lose their cool. Steering the entire production, director Sam Raimi takes the crime genre by the horns and never let's go in this entertaining narrative. Like reading a page-turning novel, this story keeps the viewer engaged to the bitter end.

#3: “Prisoners” (2013)


Visionary filmmaker Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” takes a dark look at the disappearance of two children and the ensuing investigation. Hugh Jackman plays the father that will do anything to find his daughter, even going so far as to kidnap and torture a potential suspect. As Jackman’s character loses his soul, Jake Gyllenhaal’s detective struggles to fight the case from the right side of the law. Both actors deliver some of their most underrated work, questioning the concept of justice and morality in a cruel world. Villenueve and cinematographer Roger Deakins create a moody template for a psychological mystery that borders on horror in the best possible way.

#2: “Miller’s Crossing” (1990)


The Coen brothers channel the Prohibition era with a mobster film full of memorable performances. The Irish and Italian mob square off in a story that’s full of intrigue, tense dialogue, and shootouts. Trading dark humor for a dramatic narrative, the filmmaking brothers don’t break a sweat with a self-assured script. Gabriel Byrne feigns allegiance with both gangs for his own gain, while also coming up against the likes of John Turturro in a memorable forest scene. The creative duo assembles great character actors to fill out the cast, along with legends like Albert Finney in one of his best roles. Their more recent comedy “A Serious Man” is another underrated entry, but this particular choice feels even more deserving of an additional spotlight.

#1: “After Hours” (1985)


In the 80s, Martin Scorsese showed that his comedic efforts were as strong as any of his classic crime films. This comedy of errors features Griffin Dunne as office drone Paul, trying to get home with the worst luck of anyone in history. The extended nightmare tracks him around the city as he finds himself with strange characters and in sometimes dangerous situations. Dunne plays up each sequence with just the right amount of bewilderment that invites viewers to laugh along. Never predictable, “After Hours” feels like an absurd rollercoaster ride that you can’t help but love. “The King of Comedy” is another underrated choice from the filmmaker, but this one is even lesser known to audiences.
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