About 50,000 new movies are made every year.
With such an intimidating number of films available, many slip between the cracks. A disheartening number of films fall off the radar, doomed to languish in obscurity, and never receive the attention or recognition that they deserve. These films, through bad timing or sheer misfortune, fade from memory, becoming little more than a footnote in the annals of cinema.
In the best case scenario, we look back upon such works years later — often after a similarly themed movie is released — and afford them praise in retrospect. Such was the case of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. While Kurosawa’s film was, by no means, obscure it received a boost in popularity — especially in the West — when, around 1977, cinema aficionados noticed striking similarities between it and the recently released epic Star Wars.
In the worst case, movies are relegated to a terminal stasis, crippled by poor critical reviews or underwhelming public response. Not even the greats are immune to the industry’s capricious will. Take, for example, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie. Enamored with Hopper after the success of Easy Rider, Universal Pictures invested $1 million in The Last Movie, which told the tale of a stuntman named Kansas and his encounters with a bizarre cargo cult in Peru that reenacted scenes from western films.
When the film failed critically and financially, it disappeared into the depths of Hollywood’s vaults for years. Recently, however, critics have lauded the film, praising it as, “an act of visionary aggression that desecrates Hollywood's universal church.”
Here, we take a look at seven films that have — or are — suffering a similar fate. We list those movies that by fate or folly, failed to find the audience they so richly deserved. From a film that tests both our patience and humanity to an anachronistic comment on modern military politics, here are seven criminally underrated movies.
7 The Box
Based on the classic story “Button, Button,” by Twilight Zone regular Richard Matheson, The Box poses the classic question, “Would you doom a perfect stranger in exchange for a financial windfall?” After establishing this humble scenario, The Box veers sharply from the expected path and ventures off the rails in one of the most spectacularly beautiful ways possible.
With lush sets that perfectly capture the film’s 1976 setting, viewers find themselves immersed in a world that is meticulously crafted, based in reality but never quite real. Critics lambasted The Box’s tendency to wiggle plot threads that led nowhere. Roger Ebert, in one of the film’s few positive reviews, called it “preposterous” while wondering aloud whether its “absurdity might not be a strength.”
David Cronenberg, Canadian director and champion of the weird, created Videodrome in 1983. The film tells the story of Max Renn, president of CIVIC-TV in Toronto, and his obsession with a malevolent pirate television channel. Hallucinations, body dysmorphia, and Debbie Harry abound as Renn embarks on a one-way journey to discover the channel’s origin.
Test audiences, bless them, were not exactly receptive to Videodrome. When Criterion obtained the rights to release a deluxe edition of the film, several comment cards from the film’s screening were included. Viewers warned that they, “fail[ed] to understand what would be accomplished by releasing such a movie on the public […] what sort of person could enjoy it,” without realizing that, thirty years down the road, many of Cronenberg’s predictions about how we consume television programming would prove accurate.
Initially shelved, Society was released in America three years after it was created. Starring Baywatch hunk Billy Warlock and featuring special effects by Screaming Mad George, the film had all the makings of a success. Warlock stars as Bill Whitney, a high school student riding the crest of popularity. For the first half of the film, everything’s coming up Bill: he has a hot girlfriend, gymnastic bedroom activities, a sweet ride and a loyal best friend.
And then he walks in on his parents and sister hanging out together in lingerie. From there, the film becomes decidedly surreal. Bill discovers that his adopted family is actually an alien species who engage in an orgiastic, skin-melting ritual where they — along with their high-society friends — literally absorb the bodies of the poor.
4 Eyes Wide Shut
Easily the most polarizing of Stanley Kubrick’s films, Eyes Wide Shut, faced public scrutiny even before it made its way into theaters. With some critics claiming that it contained “nothing that can't be found in a Penthouse video” and others hailing it as “a spellbinding addition to the Kubrick canon.”
Regardless of critical reception, Eyes Wide Shut stands as as one of Kubrick’s least appreciated masterpieces. With its dreamlike visuals and subdued pacing, the film leads its audience on a meandering journey along the perimeter of its character’s desires. Kubrick, who died five days after the film was completed, is said to have considered Eyes Wide Shut his finest film.
3 Bring It On
Released in 2000 alongside a glut of similarly trite teen comedies, Bring It On stars Kirsten Dunst as Torrance Shipman, a high school cheerleader who inherits the role of team captain. Just like the countless other teen comedies released that year, Bring It On tells the story of a young protagonist thrust into an uncertain situation and surrounded by a circle of generally unhelpful teenage stereotypes. Dunst struggles, loves, loses, blah, blah, blah and learns a little something about herself along the way.
Unlike its less refined cousins, though, Bring It On is actually good.
Refusing to take itself seriously, the film offers viewers an entertaining pastiche of teen comedies. The characters in Bring It On are aware of — and celebrate — the fact that they are stereotypes. The result is a humorous send-up akin to a two-hour Saturday Night Live sketch that honors its source material by presenting viewers with a caricature of its cinematic peers.
Written by television star Wentworth Miller — Prison Break’s Michael Scofield — Stoker tells the story of India Stoker, a troubled girl who, after the death of her father, is burdened by an extraordinary heightening of her senses. Starring Nicole Kidman as India’s distant, uncaring mother, the film unfolds in a deliberate, careful manner as it paints its world with a palette soporific colors and hypnotic sounds.
Lurking just beneath the film’s beauty, however, lurks a haunting darkness. India’s unpredictable behavior comes to a dreadful head. The meek, soft-hearted girl transforms into a dangerous woman. Critics praised the film, stating that it was, “like a waking nightmare,” and though it barely recouped its $12 million budget, the film stands as one of 2013’s most ambitious movies.
A distant conceptual relative to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Coriolanus updates Shakespeare’s most violent play by setting it in modern Rome. Opening in the midst of a nerve-wracking urban battle, Coriolanus is, perhaps, the most convincing example to date of the timelessness of Shakespeare’s work.
Cycling through action movie tropes almost as quickly its characters cycle through ammo, the film — like the play — is relentless. A tale of vengeance, the movie follows exiled Roman general Caius Martius as he exacts revenge on the city that abandoned him. Much like Romeo + Juliet, the film was initially marginalized for transplanting ancient characters into a modern setting. Coriolanus, however, was praised by critics for finding, “all the contemporary parallels [and reiterating] the tragedy of the endlessly exploited patriot who hopes to earn love at the end of a barrel.”