Photo: Underrated Movies, ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘Ad Astra’
Subheading: There is not a year that passes that excellent films are released and underperform at the box office. Whether it be due to a poor marketing campaign or an unfortunate release date next to a big blockbuster, sometimes the best films of the year go mostly unnoticed by audiences even when critically they are acclaimed. These films, incredible as they may be, do not get the love they should. Therefore, giving the films credit in retrospect is important.
Filmmakers work tirelessly to have their visions shown to audiences yet even when that vision is successfully realized, it is not seen by as many people as it was intended to. Within this article are ten films from the past five years, not including 2021, that were excellent but for one reason or another flew under the radar. In no particular order, here are the ten most underrated films of the past five years.
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Underrated Movies – Undervalued But Not Forgotten
Each and every year, there are films released that do not get the love or shine that they should have. Whether it be due to a poor marketing campaign or an unfortunate release date next to a big blockbuster, sometimes the best films of the year go mostly unnoticed by audiences even when critically they are acclaimed. While I’m sure there are excellent films that went under my radar as well, I have compiled what in my opinion are the ten most underrated films of the last five years, not including 2021, in no particular order.
As the directorial debut of actor Joel Edgerton, ‘The Gift’ released in 2015 to critical praise as well as profitable numbers at the box office yet just five years later, no one talks about it. Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton, the film follows a couple who after moving back to the husband’s hometown receive unwelcomed visits by an old acquaintance. This mystery-thriller is engaging from start to finish, Edgerton knows exactly how to position his characters to maximize tension. The performances of both Edgerton and Bateman stand out as some of the best dramatic work the two have done and the controversial ending is one that I still think about to this day.
Available for rental on AppleTV+ and wherever digital films are sold.
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‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’
‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ is one of the funniest comedies of the last decade. This mockumentary follows popstar Conner4real, played by Andy Samberg, as he launches his follow-up album to his hit solo project, ‘Thriller, also’. From the minds behind ‘The Lonely Island’, Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, this mockumentary takes full advantage of its medium and will consistently have you belly laughing at its absurd moments and hilarious songs. The supporting cast in this film is incredible — stars from Simon Cowell to Justin Timberlake to Bill Hader all make appearances.
Directed by Taccone and Schaffer, who both also star in the film, ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ has heart to it — the film explores friendships and how they evolve, almost mirroring the three friends’ rise to stardom with ‘The Lonely Island’. The film was marketed as a Justin Bieber parody film, against the wishes of the three stars, and was met with lukewarm box-office reception despite performing well critically. I urge any and all comedy fans to give ‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’ a shot as I did, you will not regret it.
‘Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping’: Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video.
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‘The Nice Guys’
‘The Nice Guys’ feels like a classic 70s buddy cop film that would have supplanted its spot in cinematic history decades prior to its 2016 release. Yet unfortunately, perhaps due to its proximity in release to Marvel’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’, it underperformed at the box office.
Starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as they investigate the death of an adult-film star in smoggy 1970s Los Angeles, the film is a joy from start to finish. Writer and director Shane Black’s quick, smart dialogue keeps you engaged from scene to scene captivated by our two lead characters. This is another film that has consistent laughs and deserves more credit for being the excellent film it was than it got at the time of its release.
‘The Nice Guys’: Streamable on Hulu.
Kathryn Bigelow’s gripping drama, ‘Detroit’, depicting the cities’ 1967 riots after repeated confrontations between the black community and Detroit police released to box-office failure in 2017. This film is utterly heart-breaking and had my stomach turning throughout as the clear abuse of power and racial discrimination and violence occurs on screen. While it is by no means enjoyable in the traditional sense, ‘Detroit’ is an important watch. The subject matter of the film’s true story is unfortunately still scarily relevant to the present day and it is a shame that this film went under the radar of both audiences and the academy. With powerhouse performances from actors such as John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, and Will Poulter, ‘Detroit’ is a film that needs to be seen, so I implore you to make the time to do so.
‘Detroit’: Available for rental on the Google Play Store.
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From the mind of Aneesh Chaganty, ‘Searching’ is a mystery film starring John Cho as his character David Kim searches for his missing daughter. What makes this fairly conventional premise so interesting is its creativity in its medium. The film is a screen-life film, meaning it is all shot to look as if it is on screens such as laptops, phones, etc. ‘Searching’ is one of the most creatively told stories I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The amount of information about the plot and characters Chaganty is able to convey visually is incredible.
The opening five-minute sequence is one of the most emotional openings to a film since Pixar’s ‘Up’. The film is heartfelt and emotionally gripping, having something to say about both grief and family. ‘Searching’ is truly one of my favorite films of all time and while performing well for its budget at the box office, got no love at the Academy Awards and deserves to be seen by all movie fans.
‘Searching’: Available for rental on FandangoNow.
From writers Daveed Diggs, of ‘Hamilton’ fame, and Rafael Casal comes ‘Blindspotting’ starring the two writers. The film follows best friends Collin and Miles during Collin’s last few days of parole. This feel is incredibly intelligent having things to say about race, police brutality, life in underserved communities, the judicial system, and interracial friendships — yet with all of these dense thematic elements the film is very fun and upbeat. Diggs and Casal are both excellent in the film and play off each other extremely well.
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The way the two writers incorporate rapping in the film is also excellent and effective and had a very distinct ‘Hamilton’ feel. This is another film that I would implore film fans to see as it is both enjoyable and educational, broadening perspectives on important social issues. The film wasn’t seen by nearly enough people and it needs to be.
‘Blindspotting’: Streamable on TNT.
Originally slated to be a part of the ‘Cloverfield’ anthology series, director Julius Avery proved to producer J.J. Abrams that his zombie-war film, ‘Overlord’, was quality enough to stand on its own. Starring talents such as Wyatt Russell and Jovan Adepo as soldiers in World War II deep behind enemy lines, ‘Overlord’ mixes classic war film action with zombie horror perfectly. The opening plane sequence is one of the most intense openings to a war film since ‘Saving Private Ryan’.
The characters are endearing and the effects are visually astounding, yet the film did not blow the doors off of the box office as it could have. ‘Overlord’ was an original film that found itself overlooked by audiences and that is a shame because it is truly one of the most exciting films of the decade.
‘Overlord’: Streamable on Amazon Prime Video.
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‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, and Dakota Johnson, ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ is one of the sweetest and most inspirational films I’ve ever seen. The film follows Zak, a 22-year-old man with Down Syndrome, as he tries to travel with his new friend, Tyler, to North Carolina to meet his professional wrestling idol. This film, in my mind, is bigger than just a movie. This film is the living proof of its message, do not let anyone tell you what you cannot do.
I will not spoil any of the film’s wonderfully touching plot, but what I will say is that it carries with it some very valuable and thought-provoking lessons that I think should be heard by everyone. Gottsagen is incredible in the role of Zak and anchors the entire film with his charm as well as his chemistry with LaBeouf. The film didn’t receive nearly enough love at the Oscars but did succeed financially, but not to the degree it should have. This is an excellent, touching film and is another important watch for everyone.
‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’: Streamable on Amazon Prime Video.
‘Ad Astra’, set in the near future, stars Brad Pitt as Major Roy McBride, an astronaut, who is on the journey to Neptune to investigate a signal from his father’s space station, a station to which all aboard were believed to be dead. This film bombed at the box office despite it being visually incredible. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, who also shot ‘Interstellar’, is truly an accomplishment.
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The performances are also very impressive, Pitt is incredibly subdued in his performance which feels very real. His character goes on a significant emotional journey despite his emotionless performance — Tommy Lee Jones also appears in the film and is equally as great. While it is understandable why the film did not blow the doors off the box office, despite being aesthetically a blockbuster the film is paced like a slow-burn indie film. This slower, more nuanced pace was something I enjoyed and appreciated, and would highly recommend the film if that is up your alley.
‘Ad Astra’: Streamable on CinemaxGO.
‘Love and Monsters’
Perhaps the most unlucky film on this list, ‘Love and Monsters’ was delayed and forced to be released straight to VOD due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The film stars Dylan O’Brien as he traverses the monster apocalypse in search of his high school girlfriend Aimee. This movie has the entire package: thrills, laughs, and heart. Dylan O’Brien is excellent in the lead role and elevates the film at every turn. The world of the monster apocalypse is an exceptionally fun and interesting one and I hope to see more of it in the future. The film was dealt a bad hand due to its unfortunate release timing making its financial success underwhelming at best, yet the film still stands out amongst the crowd when reflecting on the films of 2020.
‘Love and Monsters’: Available for rental on Vudu
Happy Watching! Enjoy!
By Sean Aversa
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Sean Aversa is a writer for Hollywood Insider, writing film reviews and features. Knowing from a very early age his passion for the big screen, Sean quickly gravitated towards film writing. He is excited for the opportunity to write about films and filmmakers that share his passion for cinematic storytelling. His favorite films to watch, discuss, and write about are those that are striving to find creative and innovative ways to tell stories.