There are certainly many classics that nearly every serious film fan has seen; films like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Rear Window have attained a status that makes them required viewing for anyone interested in film history. Not only are these masterpieces that have stood the test of time, but they are responsible for setting trends that would spawn countless imitators.
However, there are some films considered classics that have been lost to time. Some were considered noteworthy at the time, but have lost the favor of renowned critics or slipped into obscurity. These films are deserving of immense praise, as they introduced new cinematic voices and told breakthrough stories. Here are ten movie classics you may have missed.
10. Gods and Monsters (1998)
Bill Condon may not be among any list of the greatest directors due to the critical failure of many of his recent films, but he’s also responsible for many brilliant films, including Kinsey, Dreamgirls, and Mr. Holmes. Condon’s best film to date is one that fans of classic cinema will want to check out, as it is a biographical film centered around James Whale, the man who helmed such films as Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. Whale is played by Condon’s frequent collaborator Ian McKellen, who delivers the best performance of his career.
Condon’s film explores how the images and themes of Whale’s films continue to haunt him as he faces his own mortality; through a new muse, his groundskeeper Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser), Whale finds someone with whom he can share his real feelings about the way the film industry has gone and the intentionality of his work. Not only is it a clever window into the classical era of filmmaking, but it is also an emotionally riveting story of an artist watching their legacy emerge at the end of their life.
9. Hard Eight (1996)
Paul Thomas Anderson is renowned as one of the greatest filmmakers of his time, and films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Punch-Drunk Love have emerged as well regarded modern classics. One film that tends to get lost in the shuffle is Anderson’s debut Hard Eight, an exercise in formal brilliance that follows Sydney Brown (Phillip Baker Hall), a veteran gambler who mentors the young man John Finnegan (John C. Reilly) as the two travel to Las Vegas to score some bets.
Compared to the vast scope and visual invention of Anderson’s later work, Hard Eight is much more intimate and confined, with long sections of dialogue occuring in smaller locations. It’s as brilliantly written as anything Anderson has ever done, particularly as he builds to a twist involving Baker Hall’s character and the secrets that he holds. The central dynamic between Baker Hall and Reilly is quite touching, but watch out for some scene stealing supporting turns from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson.
8. Empire of the Sun (1987)
A recurring theme within Steven Spielberg’s films is the idea of exploring complex and dramatic events through the lense of a child’s eyes, and one of the more undervalued works within his filmography is the coming of age war epic Empire of the Sun. Christian Bale gives a brilliant child performance as Jamie Graham, a privileged British child who is thrust into a Japanese internment camp in the heights of World War II.
Spielberg is occasionally criticized for being overtly schmaltzy, but it’s this sensitive spirit that makes Empire of the Sun so magnetic; Jamie can’t come to grips with the hardship and death he is witnessing, so he attempts to explain the world in a way that would make sense to a child. As always, the beautiful score from John Williams emphasizes all the most important emotional beats.
7. The Outsiders (1983)
Francis Ford Coppola’s run of films in the 1970s is a nearly unmatched string of all-time masterpieces, and while Coppola was never able to attain the same heights again, he does have a number of underrated hits sprinkled amidst the rest of his career. One such film is The Outsiders, an adaptation of the famous novel by S. E. Hinton that explored and deconstructed youth culture, social groups, and wealth differences.
Of all things, The Outsiders is perhaps best known for launching the careers of many of the finest young actors of the 1980s; actors such as Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, and C. Thomas Howell star as a group of greasers living outside of Tulsa that experience a transformative summer of violence and change. Just as the original novel proved to be controversial and provocative, Coppola’s film proved to be an untraditional and challenging young adult film.
6. Serpico (1973)
Sidney Lumet’s 1973 masterpiece proved to be an instant neo-noir crime classic, and remains high on the list of the greatest undercover cop dramas ever made. Released between The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, the film starred Al Pacino in one of his best roles as Officer Frank Serpico, a NYPD officer who went undercover to investigate corrupt cops. On top of being a riveting and suspenseful thriller, the film opened the conversation about corruption within the police force.
Pacino would later be known as an actor who delivers eccentric, over the top performances, but Serpico saw him in a much more nuanced, subtle role, as Serpico is a character whose good morals are tested by the extremity of the situations he experiences. The film was fearless in exploring the pressures Serpico faced during the course of his mission, and ends on an ambiguous note that questions what change would actually occur.