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Undeniable Top 10 Most Underrated Movies of All Time

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Hollywood history is riddled with instances of top-notch films that, for whatever reason, didn’t receive their full due. Whether they were too ahead of their time or if they merely failed to find the right audience, here are the top 10 underrated movies that are primed for rediscovery. Click NEXT below for our next choice

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)


While Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic of literature, one of its best cinematic adaptations is less well known by far than it deserves. The dark gothic look befits the tale in a way that would be hard to replicate in the modern era, and the final painting of Dorian Gray was specifically created for the film by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (now part of the collection at the Art Institute of Chicago). It lost money on its initial theatrical run, and consequently never fully reemerged in the popular consciousness even after horror films became increasingly prominent in the U.S. Nonetheless, an underrated early film that deserves a second look.

9) Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom deeply wounded the career of the great British director Michael Powell (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes), falling largely into obscurity like so many films do for being ahead of their time. Peeping Tom follows amateur filmmaker (and part-time pornographer)-turned-serial killer Mark Lewis. Mark films his murders in hopes of editing them into a documentary masterpiece. A complex meditation on violence in film with strong Freudian and psychosexual elements, its innovative technical achievements and thought-provoking plot were overshadowed in its day by the public unease with its sexualized violence and dark subject matter. While it has since been subject to positive critical reappraisal and has influenced the generation of directors after it (including luminaries like Scorsese and Tarantino), it is in need of serious rediscovery from the larger film-loving population.

8) A Woman Under the Influence (1974)


The world-class director (and one of the founders of independent cinema) John Cassavetes directed this drama film, following a wife struggling with the increasing onset of mental illness and her blue-collar husband attempting to keep everything together for their family. The film had critical acclaim but its focus on mental illness and gender issues in the middle of the 1970s meant funding was hard to secure (he mortgaged his house and solicited money from Hollywood friends to finance the film) and distribution was as well. Cassavetes personally called theatre owners to book the film, toured at colleges, and found an audience that way—but never as wide an audience as the film deserved. Containing themes that resonate widely with modern concerns, this is a film ripe for popular rediscovery.

7) Manhunter (1986)

When most people think ‘Hannibal Lecter’ they imagine Anthony Hopkins’ mesmerizing turn as the character in The Silence of the Lambs (dir: Jonathan Demme) or perhaps Mads Mikkelsen’s charismatic portrayal in the more recent TV adaptation (2013-15). While these adaptations of the character are excellent, an unfortunate side effect is that Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), adapting Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon and marking the first incarnation of Lecter to appear onscreen, is widely overlooked. While many hallmarks of 1980s thrillers are present (synth scores, vivid colors, etc) the film is actually a very effective thriller in the hands of a talented director that merely had the misfortune of being eclipsed by one of the greatest villain performances of cinema history. It is about time for Manhunter to become more widely acknowledged as a great film in its own right.

6) That Thing You Do! (1996)


Marking Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do! follows the rise and fall of a 1960s Beatles-esque one-hit-wonder band, the Oneders. Critically well regarded, the film turned a (very) minor profit but never achieved the widespread acclaim Hanks wanted… for most moviegoers, the most widely known part of the film was indeed its hit title track. The film is nonetheless as charming as the song, and it is vastly overdue for a fair shot with modern audiences.

5) Event Horizon (1997)


Another movie too early for its time, Event Horizon (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson) is a science-fiction epic following a crew’s investigation into a missing spaceship whose experimental drive took it on a journey through hell. A cavalcade of surreal violence, the film’s over-the-top commitment to its plot and mind-warping nightmares found little critical or commercial love in its debut. In an era more accepting of innovative and experimental horror, the film is far more likely to find appreciation today for its clever scenes and setting and its top-notch acting.

4) Timecrimes (2007)

The Spanish sci-fi-thriller Timecrimes (dir: Nacho Vigalondo) may have a cult following among indie-sci-fi fans and a positive critical reputation, but it is criminally underrated—its initial box office run netted barely over $500k on a $2.6 million budget. The film follows a middle-aged man whose attention is sparked by spotting a nude woman who suspiciously disappears. In the ensuing investigation, he finds himself attacked by a bandaged figure, leading to a complex time-travel thriller with solid performances and elaborate plotting. The film has yet to find a larger-scale rediscovery in the U.S., though it is an absolutely brilliant film.

3) Detachment (2011)


Tony Kaye’s Detachment follows Adrian Brody as a morose, lonely substitute teacher who flings between temporary jobs to avoid emotional attachment. Brody’s performance is nuanced and emotional, and thoroughly displays the challenges that face teachers in the modern era via experimental and effective camera-work and editing techniques that often blend a variety of kinds of film-making. The very elements that make the film emotionally effective and stunningly unique, however, have contributed towards its relative obscurity (and the occasional unsatisfied critic). With the challenges faced by both teachers and other kinds of temporarily employed workers so prominent today, it’s a film that speaks to our era.

2) Stoker (2013)


With South Korean cinema becoming more widely known on the world scale, the English-language debut of one of the masters of South Korean cinema, Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), perhaps should have debuted to more fanfare. Adapting his style for American audiences, however, made Stoker a hard film for American audiences to connect with on a wide level despite its Hitchcockian influences and top-notch acting. With the director’s future successes (e.g. The Handmaiden) and increasing visibility for other South Korean luminaries like Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, Okja), the time is ripe for another look at this underrated gem.

1) mother! (2017)

While many Darren Aronofsky films have proven controversial (Noah) or underappreciated (The Fountain), perhaps his most divisive was the multi-layered allegory mother!, starring Javier Bardem as an archetypal writer and Jennifer Lawrence as his wife, trying to build their home as increasing hordes of his fans descend. Its multi-layered metaphor, religious and environmental themes, and moments of extreme violence contributed towards divisiveness among critics and audiences. Nonetheless, it is an effective piece of film-making that balances a variety of complex themes, perhaps imperfectly, but still with precision and manic energy. One of the great underrated films of the decade, mother! will be reevaluated in the future as a proper classic, a reevaluation which might as well happen now.

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