The words “underrated” and “overrated” have always caused controversy because, frankly, they’re both hard to define in a way that feels concrete. Yes, we all vaguely know the dictionary definition of these terms, but there’s so much contention regarding what makes something overrated or underrated.
Is a film underrated if it garnered glowing reviews but failed to ignite the box office? What about if you flip it? The live action Lion King grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide, so is it okay to label it underrated based on its poor reviews? Let’s be honest – trying to figure out a one-and-done definition will always be exhausting, so we’re going to keep things simple.
The films listed below are simply underappreciated. They can be considered underappreciated because of a lack of mainstream success or because of lukewarm reviews. In some cases, a film on this list might be a critical and commercial failure. It doesn’t matter because, in the end, this list just seeks to shed light on movies that deserve extra attention. Positivity is the primary goal here, and even if not every entry fits everybody’s definition of “underrated,” there’s still plenty to celebrate.
1. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
It’s hard to talk about Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes without bringing up One Cut of the Dead. They’re both ultra-low-budget one-shot Japanese movies that uniquely utilize creative camera tricks to move their inventive stories forward. They also defy genre conventions by eschewing Hollywood clichés, instead opting for more creative storytelling techniques.
That being said, they are very different movies when you move past those very obvious comparisons. Yes, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes uses some of the same tricks, but it’s still an incredibly inventive sci-fi gem that has more heart and soul than most Hollywood blockbusters. Without the lavish special effects, A-list stars, and massive setpieces, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes must rely on other things. That’s where the creative premise comes into play.
The film looks into the lives of a group of people who discover an unusual device. This device allows them to see two minutes into the future, but only from the perspective of a lone television in a cafe. When the group learns that they can create a Droste effect, they pile on screen after screen, pushing them further and further into the future.
The premise itself is creative enough, but on top of that, the movie just oozes with charm. The characters are lovable, the twists are clever, and the jokes land more often than they don’t. This isn’t as high-stakes as something like Tenant, but that doesn’t matter. It finds other ways to grab your attention.
It’s easy to see why Chazelle’s three-hour epic has garnered mixed reviews. It’s an exercise in maximalism that often struggles to justify its ridiculous runtime. Put simply, certain viewers can’t quite stomach a film that’s so brazenly in-your-face for so long. Yes, Babylon is bound to polarize, but let’s make one thing perfectly clear – in spite of its messy nature, Babylon is never boring.
The cocaine-fueled black comedy focuses on several distinct characters who try to make a name for themselves in the early days of Hollywood. There’s Jack Conrad, the stoic moviestar who bounces from one bad choice to the next. Then you have Nellie LaRoy, a desperate, brash young woman who proudly jumps through hoops to become the next Hollywood it girl. Finally, there’s Manny, the naive who sort of stumbles into the movie industry after several unusual encounters. These characters make Babylon worth watching.
See, the actual narrative isn’t anything new. In particular, we’ve seen variations of Jack Conrad’s story hundreds of times. What sets Babylon apart is the way each character is handled. While they’re not exactly good people, the central trio is undeniably entertaining. In particular, Nellie LaRoy, played by the marvelous Margot Robbie, commands the screen at every given opportunity. She finds a way to keep you hooked even when more frustrating aspects begin to pile up.
It almost feels unfair to tell viewers that they should ignore the obvious faults, but let’s be real, Babylon is an absolute treat once you stop overanalyzing it. To add to that, it’s not like it’s a complete “check-your-brain-at-the-door movie.” This isn’t Crank or Hobbs & Shaw. It’s still a reasonably intelligent look at the ups and downs of Hollywood. The execution is clumsy, but even so, it’s a joy to sit through.
3. Cha Cha Real Smooth
This Sundance hit may have impressed critics upon release, but its inability to leave a lasting impression hasn’t gone unnoticed. Although Cha Cha Real Smooth undoubtedly has loyal fans, the initial hype seemed to come and go rather quickly. This could be because it lacks the groundbreaking moments of some other noteworthy releases, but even so, this is a movie that deserves attention.
The premise is simple enough. A 22-year-old party host named Andrew quickly becomes enamored with an older woman named Domino. As Domino’s layers begin to unravel, it becomes clear that Andrew has a lot of growing up to do. The relationship between the two protagonists propels the narrative forward, but that’s because the dialogue is so witty and engaging.
In spite of its relative simplicity, Cooper Raiff delivers one hell of a script. Films like this often suffer because of a lack of authenticity. That’s not the case with this movie; the characters behave like real, authentic human beings, and more importantly, they behave like admirable (albeit flawed) human beings.
This is all strengthened by strong performances. Dakota Johnson is, no surprise, fantastic. The actual surprise is Raiff, who directs himself. Raiff delivers a confident performance throughout the entirety of the runtime. When these two are the ones bringing such a strong script to life, it’s easy to see why the final product is so good.
4. The Outfit
The Outfit brings to mind gangster thrillers from a different era. It lacks the flashy pizazz of its contemporary brethren, and it instead seeks to deliver intricate thrills without the fluff. Since people are used to more grandiose crime movies, it’s easy to see why The Outfit slipped through the cracks so quickly, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of attention.
Strong performances and a layered screenplay ensure Graham Moore’s lean little movie packs a punch. Rylance is excellent, and thankfully, he has a strong script to work with as well. It might not provide as much impact as the classics it seeks to replicate, but it still provides plenty of entertainment, especially if you know what you’re signing up for.
5. Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard’s dramatization of the Tham Luang cave rescue isn’t quite as interesting as the main story, but that’s often expected of movies like this. The historic event, which was previously covered in the documentary The Rescue, has so many fascinating elements that it’s hard to cover everything in one feature length narrative film. That being said, Thirteen Lives is still an endlessly thrilling feat with an A-list cast.
Surprising nobody, Howard has quite the knack for directing. With him behind the camera, audiences are left with a visually stunning drama that makes terrific use of strong actors. If it occasionally feels too safe, that’s because it is. Nevertheless, it’s powerful and it’s in the right hands.