The Most Underrated Movies of 2017

alien has run its course

There were many great films in 2017, and while most of these movies find themselves embraced as the end of the year rolls around, a few have slipped through the cracks. The following list will attempt to give these forgotten films their due, and also shine a light on some of 2017’s most interesting, challenging films that audiences (and sometimes critics) ultimately rejected. These are the Most Underrated Movies of 2017.

While most end of the year Best Of lists have a correlation that results in the same group of films ending up on multiple lists, there are outliers. These are the films that somehow have slipped through the cracks; the films that audiences and critics have forgotten. The following list of the Most Underrated Movies of 2017 does not regard a film by its arbitrary Rotten Tomatoes rating – that’s not what we’re focusing on here. Instead, we’re focusing on the movies that have somehow been rejected by audiences as a whole, or in some cases, films that have vanished from the public’s collective consciousness. There will be no finger pointing here; no blame, or shame. Instead, this list will seek to celebrate and highlight some excellent 2017 movies that haven’t received nearly as much attention or praise as they deserve.

Wheelman underrated

13. Wheelman

Netflix apparently blew their 2017 advertising budget on the abysmal fantasy cop flick Bright. That’s the only way to explain why the streaming giant has done such a terrible job promoting their other, better films. This year alone Netflix released excellent original films WormwoodFirst they Killed My Father and Okja, but good luck finding those particular movies when you fire up the Netflix app. That said, while those three aforementioned films have managed to receive acclaim and attention, Netflix’s Wheelman received little to no buzz.

Which is a damn shame, because it’s a highly entertaining, efficiently made action flick that’s better put together than most movies that choke up the multiplex. Like the bastard love child of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Michael Mann’s Collateral (with a little Thief thrown in for good measure), Wheelman has Frank Grillo as a getaway driver who gets in way over his head.

Wheelman spans the course of one night, and takes place almost entirely within the front seat of Grillo’s car. This may not sound entirely appealing, yet Wheelman is full of surprises that keep the premise constantly afloat. Also helping matters is Grillo, who turns in an intense, quick-thinking performance that channels a young Robert De Niro. Wheelman eventually shifts one gear too many in its third act, but these few minor sins are forgivable because everything that came before them is so much damn fun. Next time you’re scrolling through Netflix, try to find this film – it’s buried on the platform somewhere.

return of xander cage underrated

12. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

We certainly didn’t need another xXx sequel. And I doubt anyone was clamoring for the return of Xander Cage, one of Vin Diesel’s least memorable characters. Yet xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so gloriously goofy and unapologetically over-the-top that you can’t help but fall for this flick. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage opens with Diesel’s super spy skiing down a (snow-free) mountain to steal a WiFi signal, and only gets more ludicrous from there.

There certainly is some semblance of plot here, but it doesn’t matter, at all. Instead, The Return of Xander Cage is just an excuse to stage one stupid-yet-entertaining action set piece after another. You want a motorcycle chase sequence where the motorcycle wheels turn into jet skis so that the chase can continue across the ocean? You’ve got it. You want a scene where a sniper is thwarted by a DJ’s sick record spinning moves? Here you go!  You want to watch Toni Collette ham it up big time while likely collecting a big paycheck? Watch this movie!

Diesel’s Xander Cage is the least-interesting element here, but that’s okay, because the film surrounds him with super-cool supporting characters played by super-cool actors, including Tony Jaa, who gets to bob his head to music at a funeral, and Ruby Rose, who doesn’t have a whole lot to do but still looks incredibly badass anyway. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is without a doubt one of the most entertaining movies of 2017.

Stronger Underrated

11. Stronger

On paper, Stronger looked like another hagiography; a film that treated a real-life person like a marble saint, void of flaws, trotted out to wave a flag and provide little to no insight. But David Gordon Green‘s biopic focusing on Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman is a surprisingly honest, warts-and-all look at a flawed individual going through a traumatic experience.

Rather than present Bauman as a straight-up hero, Green’s Stronger instead takes care to reveal how ordinary, and even flawed, the real Bauman was before the bombing. After the bombing costs Bauman his legs, he suffers from intense PTSD that he at first refuses to even acknowledge. This decision begins to play hell with his life, and his relationship with his girlfriend.

Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the best actors working right now, plays Bauman, and he’s remarkable. This is an intense, difficult part to play, and Gyllenhaal nails every single facet of it, from Bauman’s working class Bostonite life before the bombing, to his traumatic recovery in the aftermath. Gyllenhaal is matched turn for turn by Tatiana Maslany, playing Bauman’s long-suffering girlfriend. Gyllenhaal’s performance, filled with big, emotional moments recreating painful scenarios, is the more front-and-center of the two, but Maslany’s subtle, sad performance still shines through.

It would’ve been very easy to turn Stronger into a cheap, sentimental, blemish-free portrait of Jeff Bauman. Instead, Green and screenwriter John Pollono created something far more interesting, and more realistic. Their film deserves more attention because of it.

wonderstruck underrated

10. Wonderstruck

I never thought we’d have a year where Todd Haynes would make a new movie and cinephiles would regard it with a shrug, yet here we are. I guess it makes sense that the hell year that is 2017 would be the one that has apparently no real time for Haynes’ charming Wonderstruck, but maybe folks in 2018 will give it the attention it deserves.

Haynes tells the story of two children from two different eras: Rose (Millicent Simmons), a deaf girl living in 1927, and Ben (Oakes Fegley), a boy living in 1977. Both children run away from home on their own individual quests, and little by little, Haynes and the screenplay by Brian Selznick (adapting his own book) reveal the ways these stories connect. This is a charming, gorgeous movie, with an altogether lovely score from Carter Burwell.

Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman portray each individual era with stark visual styles – a black and white, silent movie feel for the ’20s, a washed-out, grainy vibe for the ’70s  – making Wonderstruck a feast for the eyes. In addition to all of this, young actress Millicent Simmonds is something of a revelation – put her in more movies. ASAP. Honestly, I’m kind of at a loss as to why Wonderstruck has been virtually ignored. Is it too simplistic? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make the movie any less special.

it comes at night underrated

9. It Comes at Night

While most critics reacted positively to Trey Edward Shults‘ haunting, disturbing end-of-the-world drama It Comes At Night, the film underperformed at the box office and earned itself a dreaded D Cinemascore. Most of the film’s failure to connect with audiences was blamed on the marketing: trailers for this A24-released indie touted it as a straight-up horror movie with supernatural themes.

While It Comes At Night is without question a horror film, its horrors are more cerebral and internalized than your standard jump-scare laden scary movie. The film is also unrelentingly bleak, with no real hope to grasp onto. In a year that already felt plenty hopeless to begin with, audiences were likely not in the mood for the misery that Shults was selling.

Now that the film’s release has come and gone, it’s time for audiences to give it a chance (it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video). Yes, It Comes At Night is bleak to the extreme, but it’s also a finely tuned instrument of anxiety – a jarring, unnerving nightmare movie that’s highly effective and full of lingering existential dread. It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you’re willing to give in to It Comes At Night‘s unpleasantness, you’ll find one of the best films of the year.

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