Over the course of the last century, movies have evolved from a few seconds of moving images to massive odysseys and blockbusters. Naturally, some would be better than others but today we’re looking at a number of movies that perhaps didn’t get the proper recognition they deserved upon release. From villagers caught in a nightmare to Daft Punk in a video game, here’s a list of underrated movies that deserve a second viewing.
As a rule, this list won’t be in any particular order. Since there are too many movies to realistically mention and talk about as well, we’ve also limited it down to a mix of personal opinion and the movies that frequently appear on similar lists online.
M. Night Shyamalan’s library of work is quite divisive, ranging from undisputed masterpieces to whatever The Last Airbender was. His 2004 period piece romance/thriller The Village marks a dip in his career and audiences initially weren’t kind to the film’s bizarre twist ending or structure. Nonetheless, over the years it has gained a cult following and become more appreciated for what it is: a very well-directed, suspenseful drama with beautiful cinematography and music that has a lot to say beneath the surface.
Ghost in the Shell
I don’t envy filmmakers who have the huge task of adapting anime, especially one as acclaimed as Ghost in the Shell, into a live-action format but director Rupert Sanders did his best with this 2017 adaptation. It’s certainly not perfect and suffers from pacing issues, but it also presents the most visually faithful adaptation of an anime we’ve seen yet. Even if it deviates from the source material in strange ways, it still manages to hold your attention with its stunning action, near-immaculate visuals and fan-pleasing moments.
A lot of people expected something different from Ninja Assassin as director James McTeigue just catapulted his career with V For Vendetta. What we got was a simple yet gloriously violent ninja action romp that leans into its bloody premise with stylish action sequences that honestly deserve more praise for how insane they get. Did it need the modern-day London setting? Not really, but everything else about Ninja Assassin is unapologetically style over substance and just great fun.
Equilibrium had the misfortune of releasing in the middle of The Matrix craze which crippled its chances of standing out. Long black trench coats and physics-defying action were the styles of the day and Equilibrium has a lot of that – but it’s also a surprisingly solid sci-fi adventure that borrows all the right elements of George Orwell’s 1984, even if it becomes derivative of it at times. Before he was Batman, Christian Bale brought an intense energy to this movie that made it all the better.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
People might be celebrating HBO’s The Last of Us right now for breaking the “video game curse”, but in my mind, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu already did that four years ago. Not only do I consider it the best video game to-movie adaptation yet, but it’s also a celebration of all things Pokemon that made me smile throughout the runtime. It also has a surprising amount of heart. Granted, it hasn’t set a very high bar but it’s a bar that very few video game movies today have attempted to reach since… except Sonic. Those movies are good.
I hate to use the term “missed the point” when talking about movies, but I feel like critics might’ve entirely missed the point with Jennifer’s Body. Most wrote it off as trashy B-movie teen horror that wasn’t helped by Megan Fox’s mixed acting abilities, but underneath it, all is a movie that’s a lot smarter than it gets credit for. Diablo Cody’s sharp and witty script is largely to thank for that. It was a clever subversion of the genre that didn’t always stick the landing but certainly didn’t deserve its low scores.
A bit shocking to see another M. Night Shyamalan movie on this list, but Unbreakable, more than The Village, is supremely underrated. It came out in 2000 which was before the superhero movie extravaganza kicked off, but it has aged considerably well. If it were released today, I firmly believe it would be applauded for its mature, grounded dissection of the superhero genre. Shyamalan followed up his Oscar-nominated thriller The Sixth Sense with this, which many critics at the time very unfairly compared it to. Unbreakable was truly ahead of its time.
Filmmaker Dennis Villeneuve honestly deserves more recognition for his work over the past decade. From Prisoners to Arrival to my favourite movie of the 2010s, Blade Runner 2049, the acclaim of his filmography speaks for itself. His 2013 movie Enemy is perhaps his most divisive work to date, with some calling it an underrated gem while others called it pretentious. For me, it’s definitely the former. It’s an intense, well-acted and thought-provoking thriller with some of the most vivid imagery of spiders I’ve ever seen. It’s enough to make your skin crawl and I’m not just talking about the spiders either.
If Pokemon: Detective Pikachu broke the video game curse, then 2006’s Silent Hill took a good crack at it and almost succeeded. Christophe Gans’ adaptation of Konami’s psychological horror games might’ve been slammed by critics on release, but audiences – especially Silent Hill fans – felt it embodied the tone and nature of the games remarkably well. Some meandering side plots outside of the town hurt the pacing, but it remains to this day one of the better examples of video game movies done justice.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
I fondly remember watching A Series of Unfortunate Events and thinking “this is a lot darker than I thought it would be.” For a movie based on an excellent series of kids/teen books, it certainly has its fair share of scenes that range from darkly comical to downright disturbing. I think that’s what made this movie so special in the first place. It wasn’t afraid to take some bold leaps and ended up being all the more memorable for it. Jim Carrey is always a plus too and he kills it as Count Olaf.
Most people walked away from The Punisher with the memory of John Travolta’s over-the-top acting, but at its core, this is such a well-crafted comic book movie. It was unfortunately released in 2004 when most comic book movies were still wrestling with the idea of being anything more than disposable popcorn flicks, but along came The Punisher with its gritty, mature tone that left some divided. Today, it’s quite the unique case of a solid comic book adaptation that was simply in the right place at the wrong time. The movie’s theme song is also bloody fantastic, by the way.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a movie of two halves. The first half is a story continuation of the original game that left some fans scratching their heads since they might’ve missed vital information in Crisis Core, while the second half is a non-stop thrill ride with action that breaks every known law of physics (I guess the “fantasy” part earns its badge). That said, I can’t help but appreciate just how bonkers Advent Children is from both a story and action perspective. The plot is still a bit messy but the climactic showdown with Sephiroth more than makes up for it.
This list could’ve been populated with horror movies that are underappreciated, but I thought I’d give Scream 4 a shoutout. The entire Scream series has always been a cut above your average horror/slasher since it cleverly dissects the genre and lays it out for audiences in an easily digestible way. I don’t think any Scream sequel really measures up to the first, but Scream 4 was a great course correction after the abysmal Scream 3. With a new, younger cast and a tendency to poke fun at the idea of horror sequels/shameless franchising, it’s just self-aware and witty enough to work.
The neon-lit fever dream of Tron: Legacy remains one of my fondest movie-going experiences to date. Since director Joseph Kosinki is now getting praise for Top Gun: Maverick, many have revisited Tron‘s overdue sequel today and discovered an underrated classic. Apart from the crazy light cycles, disc wars, incredible visuals and Daft Punk’s legendary soundtrack, Tron: Legacy also tells an emotional story about a troubled son trying to (literally) reconnect with his long-lost father. Did I mention the crazy neon everywhere? What a treat for the eyes.