Five Criminally Underrated Movies You Should See

With each passing year, knowing what to see becomes an increasingly daunting prospect. Not only are theaters flooded with mediocre offerings, but excellent films are bucking the trend and being released straight to Netflix and Cable On Demand. However it happened, the five films listed below came and went without their proper due. The late ’90s were an incredible time for movies, with a lot of soon-to-be heavyweight directors and actors cutting their chops in smaller, more eclectic films.  If you haven’t seen any or all of these titles, do yourself the favor and get on it. Also, I’d love to know what movies you’d add to my list so tell me in the comments.

5. The Beach

You’d think a collaboration between a thrice Best Actor Oscar nominee and a Best Director winner would be better known. Instead, Danny Boyle’s The Beach is in some ways as hidden as its subject matter. Based on a riveting novel by Alex Garland, the film follows Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his life with a secluded island community off the coast of Thailand.

What begins as an idyllic escape from the grind of the real world quickly devolves into something far more ominous. The Beach is a wise meditation on the cult of travel and the rise of Generation Y into adulthood. Look out for one especially amazing scene in which a somewhat delusional Richard imagines his life is a videogame.

4. Rounders

You know your one friend who’s obsessed with poker? S/he spends all their time entering online tournaments and playing five hands at once? That friend has seen Rounders. Perhaps the best poker movie of all-time, Rounders features Matt Damon as a former player compelled to return to the tables to help his f*ck-up friend Ed Norton repay a loan shark.

Norton’s turn as Worm is on par with his work in more recognized classics like American History X and Fight Club. He’s a conniving, manipulating slimeball that oozes false sincerity. The scenes of them conning backroom rich folk are classic. Throw John Malkovich and John Tuturro in the cast and let the tension start to build to its epic, Oreo cookie climax.

3. Gattaca

Shot in Frank Lloyd Wright’s timeless yet futuristic Civic Center Building (located in my hometown of Marin), Gattaca is a haunting look at the cost of achieving your dreams. Jude Law delivers a breakout performance as a crippled swimmer who permits Ethan Hawke to assume his identity so that he may realize his wish to one day go into space.

Hawke’s Vincent Freeman is the victim of a newly established caste system in which one’s DNA is analyzed at birth and the results define your future. Written and directed by Truman Show’s Andrew Nicchol, Gattaca accomplishes the rarest feat a science-fiction film can achieve: to transcend its genre and function as both a caution for the future and a timeless human interest saga.

  • Limitus

    thumbs up for rounders!
    got it once borrowed from a friend with no actual idea what film it was. peeked into it and blew me away from the first minutes… can definetly recommend this, too^^

  • Sam

    The Beach? Really? I use that as an example that Danny Boyle can in fact make a bad movie. If you want a criminally underrated Danny Boyle movie look no further than Sunshine. Now that is a great movie. Rounders is a solid choice though, but I wouldn’t really call it underrated. Another Edward Norton movie that no one seems to remember is the 25th hour, its one of only 4 it so truly great Spike Lee joints. But it is fantastic.

  • JannaPants

    Great list, man I had completely forgotten Timothy Olyphant was in GO, going to have to check that one out again soon. One little nitpick, in Gattaca, Jude Law’s character wasn’t an astronaut, he was a swimmer.

  • Nice picks.

    The Beach isn’t really that great, but it’s good enough and definitely the most underrated film on your list.

    I think The Game is not underrated and the love it’s been finding recently comes more from having the name Fincher in it, than actual quality. It wasn’t that beliveable in the 90’s and it hasn’t aged well. It’s not a movie to avoid, and it’s worth checking out because there aren’t a lot of films quite like it, but in now way it is “criminally underrated”.

  • @Litmus Thanks!

    @Sam I knew The Beach would be a controversial pick, but I think the audience it was made for wasn’t really old enough to see it when it came out. Is it a stupendous film? No. But it covered territory a lot of other films had yet to go to, and Tilda Swinton kills it.

    @Jannapants Thanks for the heads up! I’ll fix that.

    @Hallam Thanks for reading. It might be an age thing – I’m 25 and none of my friends had seen or heard of The Game until I showed it to them, which is surprising because they all watched Se7en and Fight Club countless times. It’s definitely a movie that shows its age, but I like that about it. It captures this affluent, disillusioned moment in San Francisco and throws in a mind-blow of a plot on top. But I respect that it didn’t do for you what it does for me.

  • Mr Jim

    I have some suggestions, but I think they’re more hidden gems rather than underrated. As most people I’ve talked to aren’t even aware of their existence. But then a movie being underrated and not being very well known usually goes hand in hand.

    K-Pax: the film that made me fall in love with Kevin Spacey.

    Holes: a surprisingly touching and well-made Disney film, with a spot of old-fashioned racism making it a little serious too.

    Batteries Not Included: This was the film of my childhood, when I watched it back then I loved the ‘Fix-Its’. Now when I watch it, I still love them, but now I can really see the turmoil each and every character goes through.

    Brazil: I think most people reading this will be like: Everyone loves Brazil! But you’d be surprised how few people I know, know of this movie. Same could be said of any Terry Gilliam movie (the phenomenal, Twelve Monkeys, the awesome Time Bandits and one of the most fun movies ever made The Adventures of Baron Munchausen).

    Mirror Mask: Very reminiscent of Terry Gilliam funny enough, with a patch of Labyrinth chucked in, with an Alice of wonderland feel to it.

    Second-hand Lions: I was very surprised how much I adored this film.

    Pay It Forward: I can’t believe more people haven’t seen this. Just felt like

    The Fountain: I think most people see it as muddling and pretentious, but I would say its hopeful, serene and beautiful.

    Barney’s Version: Probably the best movie I’ve seen since the Dark Knight came out. This might be a bit of a cliché but this film just takes me on a monumental roller-coaster, to cheeky highs, to depressing lows. And its all made so great by one of the greatest actors working today, Paul Giamatti, who I think is absolutely amazing (and funny enough wholly underrated) and he more than deserves an Oscar.

  • Morono

    I agree with Barney’s Version, it was an instant classic for me.

  • Langolyer

    Have seen all of these)

  • Sam
  • Zach Ruskin

    I will definitely have to see Barney’s Version! Writing this article was so fun – I’ve already got another five together to run next month. Keep the “hidden gems” coming.

  • Danelhombre

    I agree with Sam, Sunshine is definitely Danny Boyle’s most underrated film. It’s sci-fi, action, thriller, and horror all wrapped in one movie. I’m shocked more people don’t talk about Sunshine like they talk about Alien.

    This list nails some of my favorites Gattaca and The Game. Gattaca is great sci-fi for people that don’t want just aliens and spaceships, although there are spaceships.

    The Game was such a head-trip the first time I saw it. I walked out of the theater still trying to put it all together. It’s a great movie for repeat viewing.

  • Ness

    I’ll bring up some of the great stupid comedies that get overlooked often enough, its my favorite stuff.

    the two movies matt and trey did directly before team american, baseketball (just dumb fun) and orgasmo (“i don’t mean to sound like a queer or nothing…”).

    Also i need to point out Johnny Dangerously, great work with Michael Keaton in a gangster comedy. Only movie i can think of with Joe Piscapo in it. Lots of great one liners.

    The Whole nine yards, i know it got a sequal (that sucked), but its the only think matthew perry (friends) has ever been good in, and bruce willis best action comedy.

    and i liked the latest hitchhikers guide movie, i thought it did a good job of portraying the sillyness of the book.

    Not a high brow list…but who cares movies are supposed to be fun.

  • Jeremy

    Layer Cake. Awesome, smart movie. Probably what got Daniel Craig the Bond franchise

  • Sam

    Just thought of a couple more Oscar nominated hidden gems. First, LA Confidential, a lot of people thought it was robbed the year titanic won, but let’s be honest nothing was ever going to beat titanic that night, so yes I’m sure a lot if people have seen it, but you almost never hear about it anymore. Secondly, Thank You For Smoking, an absolutely hilarious movie about a tobacco lobbyist played by a pre-two-face Aaron Eckhart. Again not completely under the radar but enough so I feel the need to remind people of its existence.

  • Some other recent, underrated, somewhat well-known movies:

    – The Constant Gardener – This movie feels so complete.

    – Matchstick Men – Funny and sharp. Just the right amount of Nic Cage. The Weather Man is also underrated, but I like this one better.

    – Buffalo Soldiers – Extremely entertaining, if a little bit empty, only 6.8 on IMDB.

    – 21 Grams – The movie that best represents this 00’s trend.

    – Sallow Grave – The best Boyle film ever, just as good as Sunshine.

    – RocknRolla – While not the best Ritchie film, it has great dialogue and action.

    – Rescue Dawn – An unfairly ignored war drama with major talent involved.

    – Watchmen – I knew nothing about the novel. Loved the movie. Even with its flaws, it delivers a lot more than any normal superhero flick. Good story, good looks, decent pacing and a great ending. I think once the next generation starts watching it out of context, they’ll find it incredibly underrated.

  • Amy

    Of course, Gattica! Also agree with Pay it Forward and and Holes. I really loved Holes. I don’t know if these movies were underrated, but Gattica always reminds me of Minority Report, and for some reason I think of Frequency. Damn that’s a good movie, and I love Dennis Quad. Also, come to think of it, Dragonheart. That is one of the couple of movies to ever make me cry. Also, I’m thinking October Sky was underrated. I only watched it because I wanted to see everything Jake Gyllenhaal was in, and it turned out to be one of my favorite movies of all time.

  • Bryan

    You should try ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ with Steve Martin. A great sleeper hit with all the twists that you find in ‘The Game’ which is one of my favorites as well.

  • Jason M

    The end of the Game really ruined it for me. Everything was feasible up to that point, then….poof! My disbelief came crashing back down.

  • Magnitude

    Another GREAT detail about THE GAME — during the scene in which Penn jumps in Douglas’ car in a panic, Penn is hysterical and seems to be grimacing. Watch it a second time and you can see he’s in fact laughing.

  • prof talc

    I don’t know that this qualifies as underrated quite so much, but Out of Sight fits your criteria. Soderbergh directs George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in a really great thriller/suspense flick, with great supporting appearances by Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle, and a great, Sam Elliott-in-Up in the Air-style cameo by Samuel L. Jackson. Plus, it’s adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel. Just a really well-done movie from before Clooney was the biggest star in the world and J. Lo had only been married once.

  • bigpartymaker

    I thought “1408” was underrated

  • Charlie Ward

    I thought that I was the only person who liked “The Beach”. Thank you for showing me the truth.

  • Joshua Elliott

    Totally blame my obsession with ARGs (and the entire notion of massively-collaborative narrative gameplay) on The Game.

    Brilliant flick and one I need to watch again soon.

  • Jake T

    Seen and loved them all. Though I do need to watch The Game again, pretty sure I’ll be more of a fan after a second viewing, same as I was with Fight Club