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20 Overlooked Movies Made By Famous Directors

12 January 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Liam Hathaway

underrated movies acclaimed directors

Here are some great films which often do not seem to get the attention they sorely deserve. They come from famous directors, or directors that have at least enjoyed some degree of success. Whether they were small-budget debuts, box-office bombs, critically panned, overshadowed by the director’s previous or future work or simply never caught on with their contemporary audiences – they are still sadly overlooked.

Some of the following titles may have since garnered small cult followings but are still arguably under the radar. Though this list is not always suggesting that the mentioned films are the respected director’s best work, these films are still definitely worth a watch.


20. Following (1998) by Christopher Nolan


What is it about? Before Nolan became one of Hollywood’s biggest directors, he started his career by shooting this tiny film on a shoestring budget in monochromatic black and white with a typically perplexing narrative. A writer follows pedestrians in order to gain inspiration for a novel – he is soon approached by a burglar who allows him to ‘follow’ his break-ins and other criminal activities.

Why is it overlooked? Considering the average box-office earning of every other Nolan film is somewhere around $500 million and Following took in around $200,000, it must give you some idea as to why. Although, his future success has shed light on this interesting little film.


19. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) by David Lynch

Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me

What is it about? A prequel to Lynch’s own celebrated cult 90s TV show, Twin Peaks concerning the brutal and mystery-shrouded murder of a prom queen and the revelations and dual-lives which surface from the small town’s populace as a result. The film gives us the harrowing last seven days of Laura Palmer (said prom queen, and a frightfully intense performance from Sheryl Lee too).

Fire Walk With Me is often an incredibly horrifying experience and goes to places where even your nightmares are not supposed to take you. The series often delved into sordid subject matter but here it is propelled it to an almost exhausting degree (see the ‘Pink Room’ scene and Killer Bob’s blood-freezing occurrences).

Why is it overlooked? Where to start? Well, the series’ focus of dreams involving backward-speaking dwarves, visions of foretelling giants and “damn fine coffee” struck a chord with contemporary audiences. But, by the time the film was released, the novelty of the show had long worn off and audiences just wanted answers – plain, un-enigmatic answers. To many, the film did not deliver and most of the show’s cast could not reprise their roles or were written out and instead replaced with jarring cameos from David Bowie and Chris Isaak! Even Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has very little screen time!

The film was a commercial failure and was lambasted by critics, many fans of the show were left frustrated by its lack of tied loose ends which remained after the TV series’ abrupt cancellation. Lynch’s response to its failure was Lost Highway a film even more alienating and cryptic, but not nearly as disturbing. Fire Walk With Me is not Lynch’s best work a long way – but severely overlooked nonetheless.


18. Spider (2002) by David Cronenberg

spider movie

What is it about? David Cleg, a constantly mumbling and clearly confused man (Ralph Fiennes) is released from a mental institution and begins to piece together his repressed childhood memories. There are many great Cronenberg films that do not feature exploding heads, corpus invading parasites or vagina-like chest slits such as M. Butterfly, Crash or Eastern Promises; Spider is one of his most accomplished yet uncelebrated ventures outside of his popular body-horror work.

Why is it overlooked? Trying to discern Fiennes mumbled delivery of lines is especially tough without subtitles and with it being a Cronenberg film, many people will be turned off to the fact that no one sprouts tentacles or implodes. But, those who stick with Spider will be gifted with a compelling and ultimately sinister piece of work.


17. Duel (1971) by Steven Spielberg

duel movie

What is it about? Duel is film that condenses the elements of a thriller into the most bare and simple of forms – a massive truck chasing a man in a small car for 90 minutes resulting in nothing but pure suspense. “Psycho on wheels” as Spielberg put it himself.

Why is it overlooked? Duel was initially a TV movie that got a small theatre release due to its overwhelming ratings response. Needless to say, it was pivotal in getting Spielberg’s career in film up and running. Though regarded as a mini-masterpiece, Duel was later overshadowed by homesick aliens, an iconoclastic archaeologist and genetically engineered dinosaurs among other high-concept cinematic endeavours. Four years after its release, Spielberg would have effectively recreated Duel on water with a shark standing in for the truck in the original blockbuster, Jaws.


16. Salvador (1985) by Oliver Stone


What is it about? The film features a down on his luck, alcoholic but veteran photo-journalist, Richard Boyle (James Woods) who ventures to El Salvador to earn a quick buck covering what he believes to be a small civil war. He eventually ends up becoming unwillingly and emotionally attached to the horrendous events which he is supposed to be covering objectively and later falls in love with a woman whom he intends to rescue from the country. The film features one exhilarating combat sequence from the perspective of the journalists who are ‘shooting’ with cameras within the actual war-zone.

If you like Platoon, watch Salvador to see how Stone got his practice of simulating war to memorable effect. James Woods’ performance is the highlight of the film as he changes from a slob to a determined freedom fighter.

Why is it overlooked? Though not Oliver Stone’s first directorial offering, Salvador pre-dated the release of his most popular and financially successful releases. The likes of his hugely successful Vietnam War movies such as Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July, his more politically charged outings such as Wall Street and JFK and even his more controversial and somewhat deranged Natural Born Killers or U-Turn left Salvador almost completely eclipsed even though it is Oliver Stone’s first official “Oliver Stone movie”.

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  • Thatcher Ford Volz

    I’m Glad ‘After Hours’ is number 1, it’s one of my favorites of all times.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    Sidney Lumet’s Failsafe was largely ignored in the shadow of Stanley Kubrick’s laugh-out-loud Dr. Strangelove.

  • nrvs

    After Hours is my all time favourite movie. Very happy to see it on this list :)