20 Movies By Famous Directors That Are Criminally Underrated

10. Tape (2001) by Richard Linklater

tape movie

What is it about? A group of old high school friends hang out and reminisce in a motel room whilst they wait to go to dinner. Old secrets start to emerge and the night sours as emotions and nerves being to unravel. It takes place in real-time, in one locations and stars only three people. Tape is merely great dialogue in a room; simple but effective and gripping from start to finish.

Why is it overlooked? Tape is a very low-key film; it had a very limited release, not even making $500,000 and was quietly released amongst some of Linklater’s most successful and acclaimed films, Waking Life and School Of Rock.


9. Seconds (1966) by John Frankenheimer

A still from Joel Frankenheimer's 1966 film "Seconds."

What is it about? A successful business man who has grown tired of his own life turns to an agency which offers to give him a new identity by simulating his ‘death’ and giving him a new face and lifestyle as a young bachelor in the form of Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). The film is a disturbing delve into the answering of a timeless question, “What if I could be somebody else?” via social science-fiction. Saul Bass’s discomforting opening title sequence is initiation for James Wong Howe’s similarly distorted black and white cinematography and adds to the increasing paranoia that the film oozes. Nothing, however, prepares one for the rattling conclusion – an absolute sledgehammer of an ending.

Why is it overlooked? This film was perhaps too radical and years ahead of its time to be properly accepted back in 1966, but apart from that – the film’s biggest name (Hudson) does not even appear until near the forty minute mark. Though, making more of a name for itself nowadays with the help of a 2013 Criterion release, Seconds is still largely unknown compared to Frankenheimer’s Birdman Of Alcatraz and The Manchurian Candidate among others.


8. Fearless (1993) by Peter Weir


What is it about? Max Klein (Jeff Bridges) becomes increasingly delusional after surviving a plane crash. Having embraced death during the flight, he seeks similar thrills in order to feel ‘alive’ and cannot explain his state of mind to others who were not involved. He manages to form a bond with one of his fellow survivors (Rosie Perez) who lost a child in the crash and is suffering from survivor’s guilt. Fearless sheds light on often overlooked subject matter and the result is a disarming yet ethereal experience.

Why is it overshadowed? Fearless harnesses what could be regarded as heavy and inaccessible themes opposed to the more approachable Witness, Dead Poets Society or The Truman Show, all of which were unquestionably more successful.


7. Strange Days (1995) by Kathryn Bigelow

Strange Days

What is it about? In the then-future of 1999, on the brink of a new millennium – Los Angeles is a hostile environment, suffused with violence, crime and social disharmony (imagine an alternate timeline where the L.A. riots never actually stopped and racial-tensions are at boiling point, all worsened by pre-millennial anxiety!).

Lenny Nero, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes with a flawless American accent, is an ex-cop hustler of a new technology that enables black-market recordings of other people’s lives (sex, robbery, running on the beach, younameit!) to be experienced subjectively by others. Lenny gets embroiled in the brutal murder of a friend which, in turn, triggers events that may tip the heated city over the edge into an all-out war as the next century looms ever closer.

A new form of Steadicam was developed for the “S.Q.U.I.D.” sequences that were worn on the wearer’s head resulting in some breakneck cinematography. The overall result is something along the lines of Terminator 2: Judgment Day meets Blade Runner.

Why is it overlooked? It turns out (as Until The End Of The World has already exemplified) that films concerning the year 2000 and ‘bad things’ were somewhat unpopular. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (and written by her ex-husband, James Cameron) who was behind cult classics such as Near Dark and Point Break and was later met with Academy Award recognition for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty later in her career – Strange Days was lost somewhere in the middle.

This film’s quick death and box-office disaster could be attributed to a number of things; overly ambitious subject matter, a 144 minute run-time, an ugly rape and murder scene from the perspective of the assailant and maybe because the year 2000 has now been and gone giving the film a limited shelf-life to casual viewers. The Fatboy Slim song, Right Here, Right Now takes its title and samples those very words from this film – it is fair to say more people have probably heard that song than have seen this spectacular and thought-provoking film.


6. The Quiet Family (1998) by Kim jee-Woon


What is it about? A small family open up a B&B lodge in the countryside of Korea. Getting paying guests to visit is hard enough but when they do and promptly die, things get even more demanding. Essentially, The Quiet Family is a pitch perfect Black Comedy with constant nods to horror and humour that compliments the desired zany tone undoubtedly well. The eclectic soundtrack from The Partridge Family to Harry Nilsson just adds to its peculiarity. The film also features now Korean heavyweight actors in Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho who would later feature prominently in Park Chan-wook’s vengeance trilogy among other popular films.

Why is it overlooked? This low budget film was the debut of the now very popular Korean director, Kim jee-Woon who went on to make A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life and more recently the Arnie comeback vehicle, The Last Stand. The film was also remade by Takashi Miike and the result was the arguably more commonly known, The Happiness Of The Katakuris which added elements of surreal clay-mation, excessive farcical moments and even musical numbers to the already strong hybrid mix.


5. Wise Blood (1979) by John Huston


What is it about? Adapted from Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name – this film was perfect territory for the sometimes anti-religiously motivated John Huston. Wise Blood is an oddity of a film that focuses on a wide-eyed and flustered veteran of an unspecified war, again portrayed by the Brad Dourif in another rare lead role. He returns home to a run-down family barn and a crisis of faith, so he decides to buy a busted Sedan car to stand on top of and preach his own faith – “The Church of Truth without Jesus Christ”. Wise Blood is a bizarre mix of southern-tinged drama and Gothic-black comedy.

Why is it overlooked? Possibly, the abundantly clear criticisms towards religion, more precisely, towards the increasing commerciality of religion may have had something to do with it as televangelism was becoming a massive-money-making phenomenon by the 1980s in the U.S. Also, the fact that Huston directed bedrock classics such as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre might, just might, have had something to do with this mini-classic’s ‘cult status’ limbo.


4. Running On Empty (1988) by Sidney Lumet

Running On Empty

What is it about? A moving film about a couple who have been on the run from the F.B.I. for nearly twenty years after blowing up a napalm laboratory during the 1960s and accidentally injuring someone in the process. Their eldest son, Danny (River Phoenix) is growing tired of constantly picking up and leaving and yearns to forge himself a proper existence without fake identities or sudden departures from places he has settled into. This film is a tear-jerking affair to start with, it is also a tragic reminder of how great an actor Phoenix was becoming. The bittersweet ending will stay with you for years.

Why is it overlooked? Running On Empty is one of Lumet’s later films after making such classics as 12 Angry Men and the Al Pacino starring Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Also it was one Phoenix’s first transitions into more mature roles who was eighteen at the time of release and he earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Regardless, this film still went over people’s heads.


3. Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) by John Carpenter

Someone’s Watching Me!

What is it about? A single woman takes up residence in her new high-rise apartment only to be terrorized by a man who spies at her with a telescope and makes unsettling phone calls. Think of the concept of Rear Window reversed and you will not be far off the mark of what this unsung little film offers.

Why is it overlooked? Often discounted from Carpenter’s filmography simply because it was a movie made for television despite its feature-length run-time. In addition, Someone’s Watch Me! was made during the same year of Halloween’s release so it is easy to see how it was all but forgotten. Also, copy this film can still prove difficult to track down making it something of a ‘lost’ film.


2. Sorcerer (1977) by William Friedkin


What is it about? A group of criminals, disgraced politicians and outcasts who come from different countries are forced to lay low in South America and work with oil derricks. They are given an opportunity for freedom when they are asked to transport nitro-glycerine through a treacherous jungle with giant trucks. Essentially a remake of The Wages Of Fear, this is a white-knuckle experience from start to finish and features one of the greatest stunt sequences ever filmed that involves a very rickety rope-bridge, a swelling river and one of those aforementioned trucks…

Why is it overlooked? Sorcerer had an incredibly turbulent production due to Friedkin’s insistence on authenticity that eventually paid off, but in the end it meant that its making overshadowed the final product. As with the rest of Friedkin’s films, despite their merits they are often outshined by his one-two 70s smashes, The French Connection and The Exorcist. Also, a film called Star Wars coincided with its release which may have had something to do with Sorcerer failing to make its inflated budget back. Hopefully the mid 2014 Blu-ray release will shed some well needed light on this lost classic.


1. After Hours (1985) by Martin Scorsese


What is it about? Paul Hackett is lonely word-processor (Griffin Dunne carrying the film brilliantly) suffers a string of spectacular bad luck when he ventures to Soho, New York for what he believes will be an innocent one-night-stand with a young woman (Rosanna Arquette) he met in a café. After Hours perhaps one of the tensest “comedies” ever made – a cinematic free-for-all with a manic pace. Watching this guy repeatedly suffer is almost too much to take, but hilarious.

Why is it overlooked? For starters, the films does not star De Niro as many of Scorsese’s more iconic classics do. The film was a deliberately low-key affair in order to rekindle Scorsese’s love of filmmaking after Ronald Reagan was almost assassinated by someone obsessed with Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy bombed and the initial production of The Last Temptation Of Christ fell through. After Hours has largely been forgotten and is in ripe for rediscovery – a Blu-ray release would not go amiss either.

Author Bio: Liam Hathaway has a lifelong passion of watching and reading about any/every sort of film which has lead him to be a Film Studies student at Sheffield Hallam University. His favourite directors at the moment are John Carpenter, Ben Wheatley, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese.