Most Underrated Movies of the Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

What makes a movie underrated? In a literal sense, a good movie with overwhelming poor reviews is underrated. But there’s more to it than that. There can be movies that are fairly well received, and yet, they feel unloved; ignored; overlooked. So when it came time to compile a list of the most underrated movies of the decade, I decided not to just focus on the titles I felt deserved better reviews, but also films that deserved more love; more attention. Movies that were viewed by wide audiences, and yet were misunderstood. As the 2010s end, it’s time to give these movies their due. They’re presented below alphabetically.

annihilation

Annihilation

Before Annihilation even hit the screen there was a prevailing sense that the movie was doomed. Paramount was afraid audiences wouldn’t “get” the cerebral sci-fi film, so much so that they dumped it directly to Netflix overseas. It earned a theatrical release in the U.S., where it failed to drum up much buzz. But those who bothered to see it were treated with a dense, frequently scary saga with layers upon layers. Writer-director Alex Garland loosely adapts Jeff VanderMeer into a story about grief, loss, and depression. Natalie Portman plays a biologist who joins an all-female team – Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny – on a mission into The Shimmer, a zone that’s been mutated by alien phenomena. There, the women encounter monstrous animals and the inexplicable. But they also encounter themselves – and they don’t like what they see. By the time Annihilation draws to a close, we’ve changed right along with the characters. When someone asks Portman’s character if she’s who she thinks she is right before the credits roll, the question hangs there, and we’re left haunted.

crimson peak blu-ray

Crimson Peak

Oh, Crimson Peak. You gorgeous gothic extravaganza. Guillermo del Toro‘s lush, stylistic, sexy, creepy freakshow had the misfortune of being marketed as a straight-up horror movie. To be clear: there is horror in Crimson Peak, and plenty of it. But as one character says, it’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it. But audiences wanted something more generic, and they turned on the beauty in this film, or just ignored it. No matter – Crimson Peak stands the test of time, a triumph of production design featuring a story loaded with thrills, chills, and plenty of blood. Would-be novelist Edith (Mia Wasikowska) falls for ghoulish aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and soon marries him. The marriage requires Edith to accompany Thomas back to his family’s estate, a huge, crumbling mansion that has more than few ghosts lurking about. Also lurking: Thomas’ stern, overprotective sister Lucille, played with hammy glee by Jessica Chastain. Drawing on Jane Eyre, Hitchcock’s Rebecca, the films of Mario Bava, and more, del Toro crafted a truly lovely little nightmare that deserved a much warmer reception.

A Cure For Wellness

A movie as absolutely gonzo as A Cure For Wellness was never going to find a wide audience. Still, Gore Verbinski‘s ghoulish, overlong, visually jaw-dropping medical horror story is worth celebrating. Verbinski has been able to parlay his Pirates of the Caribbean success into making some real oddities, and Cure for Wellness might be the weirdest of the bunch – a big budget, 146-minute movie full of violent tooth extractions, uncomfortable nudity, and lots and lots of eels. Does any of this make sense? No, not really! But it doesn’t matter. A Cure for Wellness is so bold and audacious that it deserves applause.

the dark knight rises

The Dark Knight Rises

Right about now you probably think I’m full of shit. “Hey, genius,” you’re saying, “The Dark Knight Rises was a box office success and received good reviews! It’s not underrated!” True. But remember: this list is also about honoring misunderstood movies as well. While The Dark Knight Rises was a hit, over the years, an general consensus has cropped-up that the film is, well, bad. That after The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan whiffed with this third and final entry in his trilogy. But that’s not true. The Dark Knight Rises is an ambitious film – perhaps the most ambitious superhero movie ever made. Rather than try to recreate what he had done with The Dark Knight, Nolan instead went in a different direction, crafting a big, sprawling film that plays out like a classic novel that just happens to have Batman in it. The movie is also eerily prophetic. At the time, Nolan was drawing on Occupy Wall Street protests. But the rise of Tom Hardy‘s Bane – a loud weirdo who promises the people of Gotham justice even though he’s a complete monster – is like a comic book-styled mirror image of our current political landscape. The Dark Knight Rises takes risks, and feels less concerned with easter eggs and fan service and more interested in creating a complex, emotional finale that signals the end of an era. Give it more credit.

nicole kidman in destroyer

Destroyer

People sure love to talk about how great an actress Nicole Kidman is, and yet, when she gives one of the best performances of her career, audiences don’t see it. Karyn Kusama‘s brutal Destroyer has Kidman giving a raw, unfiltered, aching performance as cop damaged in more than one way. Kidman is a detective with a dark past, and that past seems to be catching up with her. If that weren’t bad enough, she also has to deal with her rebellious daughter who wants nothing to do with her. Kidman is front and center for the entire film, rendered nearly unrecognizable under make-up. Kusama creates unbearably tense sequences that push the viewer to the edge and leave us shaking. The anger and hurt radiates off Kidman as we follow her through her own personal hell. I still can’t believe Destroyer didn’t find an audience.

Hard Powder - Liam Neeson

The Grey

Like Crimson PeakThe Grey was a victim of marketing. To be clear: the film did fairly well at the box office and received favorable reviews. But a large swath of the moviegoing public went into the film with the wrong idea. The Grey came at the beginning of Liam Neeson‘s newfound career as an ass-kicker, and as a result, the trailers sold the flick as a big action movie. The marketing material made this look like a movie where Liam Neeson runs around punching wolves like the ultimate bad ass. But that’s not what The Grey is. Instead, it’s a bleaker-than-bleak mediation on death. The film is wall-to-wall death, to the point where death is almost like an additional character. The story involves a group of oil workers who survive a plane crash in Alaska, only to then have to brave the elements. And some hungry wolves. Neeson plays a rugged man who knows a lot about staying alive in the wild, but not even his expertise can stave off the inevitable. One by one, the men are picked apart, and we’re forced to endure it. There’s beauty in all this darkness, accompanied with a sense of acceptance. We can’t cheat death – it eventually comes for it all. The best we can do is go down fighting, and then accept when the fight is finally lost.

the hateful eight extended version

The Hateful Eight

No Quentin Tarantino movie goes unnoticed at this point, but The Hateful Eight definitely falls into the “misunderstood” category. Tarantino’s ultra-mean Western arrived in December of 2015, and while it received praise, there were many who felt the film had gone too far. That the non-stop cruelty was too sadistic. Bu imagine what those naysayers might think if the film had come out a year later, in December of 2016, after the presidential election. In many ways, Tarantino’s Hateful Eight feels prescient, as if the filmmaker was pulling the curtain back and showing Americans an ugly truth they didn’t want to acknowledge – until they had no choice. The Hateful Eight is set post-Civil War, and racism runs through the movie like blood through veins. At the center of it all is Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), the lone black man in a sea of angry white faces. “The only time black folks are safe, is when white folks is disarmed,” he says at one point, and it’s impossible to argue with that logic. Warren is snowed-in inside a shack with seven other folks, and at least one of them is a murderer. This turns Warren into a default detective trying to crack the case – and stay alive. Underneath it all is a current of racism and misogyny that, yes, is nasty as hell. But the nastiness is essential the story. Here, Tarantino is giving us a portrait of America as it was, and as it is: thinly-veiled hatred wrapped up in an American flag.

A Most Violent Year

J. C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year feels ripped from another era. Perhaps that’s why audiences more or less gave it the cold shoulder, despite the fact that it featured talented, well-known stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, and despite the fact that it had the coveted A24 brand name attached to it. This is a character drama that recalls the work of Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J. Pakula, and more, telling the story of a good man trying his damnedest to avoid being bad – and not doing so well. It’s like a mob movie without the mob, and the two leads – with Isaac as the morally conflicted man, and Chastain as his not-so-conflicted wife – are dynamite together. In a saner world, A Most Violent Year would’ve garnered awards consideration and topped Best Of lists.

streaming horror mother

mother!

The discourse over Darren Aronofsky‘s mother! was so intense that the studio actually out out an advertisement that showed critic quotes both praising and trashing the film. I get it: mother! is out of its mind. It’s an off-the-wall trip through madness that grows increasingly crazy with each frame. But it’s so successful in what it’s trying to do, telling the story of a self-centered man who demands devotion from everyone, consequences be damned. It’s also loaded with Biblical imagery, from Cain and Abel to the Book of Revelation. How do you even begin to draw in an audience for such a thing? When mother! starts out, it looks like it’s going to be a thriller, with Jennifer Lawrence playing a loving wife who just wants to spend time with her much older husband (Javier Bardem), only to have strangers show up to get in the way. What looks like a home invasion scenario waiting to happen instead goes off the rails into pure anarchy, where all semblance of reality and logic goes out the window to make way for the inexplicable. For all it’s wild decisions, mother! is an easy film to hate – but it’s just as easy to love.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

How did we, as a society, let a movie as funny as Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bomb at the box office? I don’t quite know. Will god ever forgive us? Probably not. We probably don’t deserve to be forgiven. For now, let us all take solace in the fact that this wonderfully silly musical exists, and that it features some of the most hysterical songs you’ll ever hear. This mockumentary follows Andy Samberg as Conner4Real, a popstar who’s left his hip-hop group to start his own solo career, only to have his second album tank. Perhaps there’s something poetic about the fact that this film is a commercial failure about someone experiencing commercial failure. Or perhaps it was all an excuse to stage a scene where wolves attack the singer Seal. We may never know.

widows tv spot

Widows

Widows should’ve been big. It was helmed by Oscar winner Steve McQueen, boasted a killer cast, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson, a script from Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, and a can’t miss premise: the widows of a band of criminals team-up to pull off a job. Yet the movie failed to generate much heat. And what a damn shame. McQueen and Flynn blend an action thriller premise with real-world issues. It’s both an entertaining crime pic and also a weighty drama. There’s nothing amiss here, not for a single second. The cast is incredible across the board, with Davis turning in a powerful performance as the ringleader of the widows, and Debicki knocking it out of the park as a woman who starts off meek and abused and slowly becomes more strong and assured. It’s a truly special film, and I sure as hell wish more people had discovered it.

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