5. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
For a film that has such a loyal fan base and has been adapted for books, comics, and video game is probably not “underrated” but only for a certain amount of people. Most people haven’t heard of the film despite it featuring a hell of a cast including Peter Weller, Ellen Barkin, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Lloyd. The whole cast is basically a nerd’s dream. The “problem” with the film was that it was too narratively complex, and sometimes hard to follow. Even if you write down the plot, it starts to sound weird in each sentence but that’s the charm of it all. Overall, it’s about a polymath who happens to be a physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock star, to save the world by defeating a band of inter-dimensional aliens called Red Lectroids from Planet 10.
Of course, it’s gonna be weird. Hard to promise that you won’t find it tiresome, some people strongly dislike it but then again, some other people absolutely love it because it’s an unusual film that combines a sci-fi adventure theme with comic book realness and parodies of traditional hero-enemy plotline. It’s hilarious in so many parts and full of subtle details also. Years later, Wes Anderson paid an homage to its ending with “Life Aquatic”. It certainly would be cool if Goldblum would randomly appear as his character from here in there.
4. Spontaneous (2020)
Admittedly this one is rather borderline sci-fi, or borderline comedy because the movie is so many things. It’s a horror film, it’s a romance film, it’s a drama. It has everything and it works surprisingly well, with nice homages to Cronenberg. The way it balances everything is pretty amazing. The students in the school begin exploding (literally), and seniors Mara and Dylan – portrayed wonderfully by Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer – struggle to survive.
Even if you take it all too literally, the movie is still compelling, touching, funny and sad. If you don’t, it’s an obvious metaphor for a school shooting and deals with such heavy themes like survivor’s guilt, confusion, lack of proper government response to gun violence, and general panic/fear of losing your life or your beloved one. Such dark themes are somehow managed to be delivered in both a fun and sad way. You laugh with these characters, you like them, you almost find the concept somewhat fun but that’s the point, all these things will bring you to eventual drama, it makes you realize what actually is going on. Not to mention, the film was released during the pandemic era, another time when people were suddenly “exploding”, dying. The film is relevant and contains a strong message.
3. The Man with Two Brains (1983)
Another mad scientist comedy on the list comes from Steve Martin. There are more similarities between Steve Martin and Woody Allen than you’d think. Both are musicians, both have written books, and both have started with straight-up comedies full of gags till moving on to more “serious” comedies or straight dramas. Just like Allen has made a brilliant sci-fi comedy called “Sleeper” in his early career, Steve Martin also delivered somewhat absurd but hilarious “The Man With Two Brains”, one of the four brilliant and amazingly creative collaborations of his with the late Carl Reiner.
Martin’s early comedy films were outrageous, with not much particular but so many hilarious gags. He liked to poke fun at some classics, as he did in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”. Here his target is genre pictures like “Donovan’s Brain” (1953) and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” (1962). Even if you’re not familiar with films of such kind, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a type of zany, almost experimental comedy that we don’t get much from these days. Sissy Spacek voices a brain who develops a sweet relationship with Martin in the film, so you can imagine how weird it gets. Now obviously there are moments where things get just a little too silly but it’s easy to forgive as there are more hits than misses.
2. Innerspace (1987)
After Steve Martin, the time comes for his buddy Martin Short in his arguably best film role. For a comedian so versatile (Just watch “SCTV”), charming and energic, it’s disappointing that he didn’t get the career he deserved in the film but he’s still relevant, and “Only Murders in the Building” seemingly brought him a new generation of fans. He plays a hapless store clerk while Dennis Quaid plays a test pilot who is miniaturized in a secret experiment, and accidentally injected into him.
This is a hell of a premise, it’s been done before in “Fantastic Voyage” but still, it’s a type of premise that could get easily messy in the wrong hands. That’s why what Joe Dante is doing here is pretty astonishing. It helps that he understands blockbuster filmmaking, he expertly adapts his sensitives for cartoon films, he grew up with all these B-movies, and has a great sense of humor. He combines them all and we get a very entertaining ride.
All these different genres come together because he understands them all really well and he knows how to make a crazy film with an actual heart. Ambitious and innovative comedies like this are always a risk. Unfortunately, the audiences didn’t appreciate it enough back in time and it flopped at the box office. That said, it’s never too late to re-discover this gem.
1. Repo Man (1984)
Where to start with this wild movie? It’s arguably not “underrated” in a way that it’s got a cult following and various directors from Paul Thomas Anderson to Adam McKay have mentioned it as an influence on their work. It’s not even possible to explain the plot ‘cause after some point, you lose where the plot has started and where it ended. It’s about a young punk lover who gets fired from his job, becomes a repo man, and gets involved in the alien conspiracy. Everything in the film revolves around cars: people live, love, eat, shoot and die in them. It’s full of many things: lots of great music by performers like Iggy Pop, superb camerawork by Robby Muller, an almost shockingly good mix of genres, UFO fanatics, fans of a TV preacher, confused old hippies.
It’s a great satire of the 80s political environment, it’s a fine punk rock musical, a road film that feels like a western at some point. There are also conspirational cold-war chase capers and sci-fi stuff. The movie is like essentially 80s, just a great portrayal of the culture, politics, society, and angst of the era. Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez are both terrific in the leading roles as well. There’s so much to enjoy, so much to discuss and everytime you watch it, you might notice something else. “Repo Man” is not a film that would appeal to every taste. It’s an Alex Cox film overall, the man who made “Sid & Nancy” and “Walker”. But if you’re in the target audience, it’ll be an experience you keep coming back to.