Note from Nick: This article ran in an old issue of MOVIE INSIDER in an abbreviated (translation: crappy) format,
and Dan was kind enough to send over the original text for us to run it in its
full sexiness here. Here’s the gist: These are films we feel don’t get enough
love. They’re films from our lifetime of experience, which is why you won’t see
deserving films from the pre-1970 era. That’s an article for another time. For
now, enjoy this first installment in a four-part series that will run every day
For all the attention spurted across the chests of a
handful of movies each year, there are dozens more that are shunted aside,
trampled underfoot or otherwise treated to the shitty end of the stick by the
grinding gears of the movie machine. Many of these movies deserve to languish in
obscurity, but there are plenty that are worth more than that and that’s why
we’ve rolled up our sleeves to retrieve some unloved and under-appreciated gems
from the dustbin of history. Within this countdown you’ll find hated
blockbusters and underseen cult classics, you’ll find A-list megastars, and
unsung C-list heroes. You’ll find an alarming amount of Kevin Dillon and Renny
Harlin, plus Donald Sutherland as a monk. You’ll find great movies that you were
sure only you knew about, and you’ll find movies that you’ve never heard of.
Most importantly, you’ll find that shining a light into the dark corners of
movie history almost always unearths something special!
26. Nothing to Lose (1997)
It’s not easy to include a film by Steve Oedekerk on a
list we’re proud of, because God knows he needs to have his thumbs amputated and
fed to Jason Flemyng. But, this is a funny flick and we have to be fair every
once in a while. Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence as a comic duo either sounds
like brilliance or the catalyst for Armageddon and thankfully Nothing to
Lose hits closer to the former.
The Defense: After nearly burning his
shoes to a crisp, Robbins walks into a gas station with the smoke still coming
off his heels. “You must run really fast”, the old redneck clerk says. Funny.
Robbins is dry and Lawrence is at the top of his game. A good little
27. Living in Oblivion (1995)
Indie movies about the trials of making indie movies are
usually a recipe for blatant and selfish masturbation on the part of pretentious
writer-directors in love with the auteur theory. Living in Oblivion is
not one of those movies. Razor sharp, and cunningly surreal, Tom DeCillo’s
fanged semi-biography is based on his experiences of making the Brad Pitt
starring Johnny Suede, so it’s no surprise that the character of the
self-absorbed movie star slumming it in indie productions for credibility is
played by Brad lookalike James LeGros. Anchored around a classic performance of
bug-eyed exasperation by Steve Buscemi, anybody with designs on making their own
movies should be forced by law to watch this at least a dozen
The Defense: Somewhat lost in the
post-Tarantino indie revival, this is a brutally funny and honest look at the
foibles of creative paupers.
28. Top Secret! (1984)
Everybody loves Airplane! That’s pretty much the law. Carving
its own peculiar niche in the annals of comedy history, it paved the way for
Leslie Nielsen’s retirement fund, and unfortunately inspired the Wayans brothers
to inflict the Scary Movie franchise on the world. But not many people
appreciate the role played by Top Secret! in this mini-genre. It sees the
Airplane team tackle the obvious bedfellows of Elvis and war movies with
a very young Val Kilmer starring as Nick Rivers, the American rockstar drafted
into the French resistance to foil the Nazi menace. Almost as funny as their
spoof of disaster clich’s, if never quite as immediately memorable. Any movie
that swaps Leslie Nielsen for a backwards-talking Peter Cushing is in need of a
lot more love.
The Defense: “I know a little German. He’s
sitting over there.” Come on, that’s funny.
29. Antz (1998)
Yeah, I said Antz, what’s your damn problem? Oh,
I forgot’ it’s taboo to say something that might imply there are animated films
better than Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. Well, this one is. It’s smarter, has a
better voice cast, and isn’t afraid to be smart. Plus, the idea to team Sly
Stallone and Woody Allen as animated insects is inspired. It’s actually some of
Woody’s better work of late and it’s nice to see him doing something for minors.
Um ‘let’s rephrase that.
The Defense: Dreamworks came out of the
gate swinging with this film, and it’s a mystery why people don’t love it with
all their heart. It’s probably a little too clever at times, a little too dark,
and the “Z” at the end is crap, but frankly’ Antz rocks.
30. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
After years of sticking to a successful
formula (well known story + songs + sidekicks = smash hit) Disney eventually
took the plunge and tried their hand at animated adventure stories without music
or celebrity stooges. The experiment backfired, audiences rejected the new
direction, and that’s a shame as movies like Atlantis and Treasure
Planet are among the most artistically interesting in the companies history.
With visual design from Mike Mignola, inspiration from the literary greats like
Jules Verne and a story in which people actually get killed, Atlantis is
that rare beast – a Disney movie that’s cool.
The Defense: If Disney had shown more
confidence in marketing this, it’d probably become a childhood classic for the
next generation of movie geeks. As it is, it’ll become one of their cult faves
and appear on lists like this in the year 2070.
31. Fright Night
Often mistaken for that bastard creation “comedy horror”, Fright
Night is actually something more fun. Yes, it’s a cheesy vampire story. Yes,
it features some wonderfully old-fashioned special effects. But despite its
schlocky genre roots, it’s also simply a good film. Taking the high concept
premise of what would happen if a vampire moved in next door to a kid obsessed
with vampire movies, it manages to pay witty respect to the genres past, as well
as having some fun with the conventions of the teen horror flick. The acting
from the kids isn’t great, but with Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall hamming it
up as vampire and hunter respectively, there’s more class and smarts to this
movie than you think.
The Defense: Smarter than its reputation
suggests, it probably won’t scare you any more, but it’s still an offbeat
tribute to the love of horror. It’s also one of the only Stephen Geoffreys
movies not to feature thrusting man-staffs, which is noteworthy in
32. Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
This movie is like rare steak, cheap vodka or high-tar
cigarettes. You know it’s bad for you, you know it’s crass and obscene but, by
the squibs of Jesus, it’s fun. From the pen of Shane Black, who also gave us
Last Boy Scout and Lethal Weapon, this foul-mouthed exercise in
over-the-top mayhem is one of those action movies that really shouldn’t be as
indecently entertaining as it is. The now-vanished Geena Davis does well in the
lead as an amnesiac suburban mum who discovers she used to be a lethal assassin,
but it’s the supporting turns from Samuel L. Jackson, Brian Cox and the majesty
of Craig Bierko that keeps things zipping along. Shockingly, this is the second
Renny Harlin movie on the list. The End Times are clearly upon
The Defense: Much like Last Boy Scout,
it’s hard to understand why this wasn’t a huge hit. It’s funnier, smarter and
more deliriously violent than most other 90s actioners.
33. Wanted: Dead or Alive
Rutger Hauer almost had an action franchise. Repeat
those words and let them sink in, just not three times in a row to a mirror.
Then, Rutger will appear in your house and ask where you keep your copies of
Blind Fury. You don’t want that. You should however want this little gem
which features The Hitcher as a descendant of Steve McQueen’s character from the
television series of the same name, a guy who collects bounties and battles
terrorists who sleep with Shannon Tweed. It’s a seminal 80’s action film right
down to the big hair.
The Defense: When villain Gene Simmons’ head explodes in the
film’s climax, it’s obvious that Wanted: Dead or Alive is not your ordinary
action flick and Rutger Hauer is not your ordinary action
34. Cop Land (1997)
Most of the press coverage of James Mangold’s sleazy
thriller centred around the newsworthy notion of casting Sylvester Stallone as a
partially-deaf, overweight sheriff. Thusly transformed, he tackles corruption in
his hometown when bent cops Ray Liotta and Harvey Keitel choose it as their safe
haven from big city heat, with De Niro as the Internal Affairs investigator on
their tail. Look beyond Sly’s novelty casting, and you’ll find a meaty drama
anchored by an array of top thesping talent. Sadly, Cop Land‘s demise at
the box office probably drove Stallone to sign up for the reassuring idiocy of
action clunkers like D-Tox and Get Carter.
The Defense: Not just a “Stallone acts!”
freakshow, there’s more to Cop Land than people give it credit for. Plus, it’s
fun to see Rambo with a pot belly.
35. The Edge (1997)
This film wasn’t a hit. Consider this: It was almost
called Bookworm. Then it would have made even less money! David Mamet.
Anthony Hopkins. Alec Baldwin. Bart the Bear. A legendary quartet joins forces
in a film about survival, one that’s at times intense, fun, weird, cool, and
just plain vicious. Two men face the wild after their plane goes down and are
confronted with their own lies and a very mean wild animal. It’s like those
1970s Disney nature films mixed with Glengarry Glen Ross. In other words,
The Defense: Alec and Anthony are a great
pair and somehow work perfectly together in the action/adventure setting Mamet
and director Lee Tamahori concocted. It’s a really solid film, one that made me
excited about Die Another Day when I heard Tamahori was involved. Then I saw it
and wanted to rip my eyes out and mail them to Henry Silva. Either way, this
film is so good that U2’s guitarist changed his name to honor
36. State of Grace (1990)
This film had the bad luck to come out right in the
midst of admittedly classier gangster films like Goodfellas and
Miller’s Crossing, but this little flick has some serious clout in the
form of Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris as a group of guys who grew up in
New York’s dangerous Hell’s Kitchen and meet again when Penn’s undercover cop
tries to infiltrate their Irish mob unit. It’s a solid, stylish film that will
one day get its due. Why not start now?
The Defense: That cast speaks for itself,
but the film is also directed by Phil Joanou, a guy who has a handful of
sleepers under his belt (Three O’Clock High, Heaven’s Prisoners) and features a
supporting cast all made up of familiar faces. A sorely underseen
37. Miami Blues (1990)
There’s little bad one could say about a film where Hare
Krishnas are battered, eyebrows are sewn back on, Fred Ward loses his teeth, and
a main character gets their fingers chopped off and then pops them in their
pocket and moves on with their day. George Armitage’s funny and cool film beat
Get Shorty to the Elmore Leonard vibe that’s popular to this day, but had
to do it without much attention from audiences. Now, justice can be
The Defense: Alec Baldwin is
great and ruthless. Fred Ward is hilarious. Jennifer Jason Leigh is delightfully
airheaded, and the film is a blast. Two-bit crooks have rarely been this much
fun to watch.
38. The Peacemaker (1997)
The first ever Dreamworks movie. The first
proper George Clooney star vehicle (after Return of the Killer Tomatoes,
of course). A big-budget thriller with a similar title to a Dolph Lundgren
movie. Yep, there was a lot riding on the success of The Peacemaker, and
that probably put it under a harsh spotlight that it didn’t really deserve.
Watch it again now, and you’ll see a slick and smart espionage thriller
admirably carried on the shoulders of head-bobbing George, along with a
hungry-for-the-mainstream Nicole Kidman as his romantic foil. It’s more than a
tad formulaic, but it’s still more sparky and intelligent than any recent entry
in the increasingly awful Bond franchise.
The Defense: The long shadow of 007 means
that most non-Bond spy thrillers get short shrift at the box office, and this is
no exception. Try it again.
39. Ronin (1998)
This film is almost too well regarded to make this list.
It did decent bank and it wasn’t hated by critics, but we’re of the belief that
Ronin is still a notch higher in the grand scheme than people give it
credit for. It has the best car chases of all time, a cast of amazing
international faces, and it’s a nice, analog action movie. We need more like
The Defense: John Frankenheimer’s one of
the greats, and this was a great late addition to his career. Robert DeNiro
ambushes Sean Bean with a cup of coffee. What more do you really need to
40. Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Huh? Surely Die Hard 2 was a
blockbuster success? Well, yes it was. But since then it’s fallen into
disrepute, with hilarious wags commenting on the unlikelihood of being the
“wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time” twice in a row. But then,
that’s the genius of this movie it’s as much sly spoof as sequel, as evidenced
by the knowingly ludicrous Die Harder subtitle. Ignore those who claim
that Bill Sadler’s villain is a disappointment – he may not be as memorable as
Alan Rickman’s pantomime dame, but then Hans Gruber never crashed Colm Meaney’s
airliner just to illustrate a point. So over the top it comes down the other
side as a riotous and deserving sequel.
The Defense: If every movie featured death
by icicle/eyeball interface, the world would be a better place. You know
41. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Another movie that hit big, and then fell foul of
maturing fanboy tastes. OK, so Kate Capshaw’s squawking cabaret singer is a weak
romantic foil, but anyone who criticises the presence of Short Round obviously
wasn’t ten years old and in awe at the idea of being Indy’s sidekick. Yet even
Spielberg treats this as the black sheep of the franchise, coming across as
rather dismayed at its darkly gruesome ambience on the trilogy DVD boxset. Fact
is, for an entire generation of 70s and 80s kids, this was the coolest and
scariest thing we’d ever seen – and we wouldn’t love half the movies we do now,
if Indy hadn’t led the way on our first foray into monkey brains, magma torture
and Mola Ram’s dubious open-heart surgery technique.
The Defense: Nothing could top the
near-flawless Raiders, but this sudden diversion into violent strangeness is a
more than worthy follow-up. Enough with the deliberately contrary
42. To Live and Die in LA
This movie has more balls than a Phantasm gift shop.
How many films kill off a major character whenever they feel like it? Well,
other than JFK that is. William Friedkin’s stylish 80’s cop film is
everything that was right and wrong about that era, and it still holds up. Plus,
it features the best bowlegged actor in Hollywood, William L.
The Defense: Just a really cool movie
that’s kind of a cousin to Michael Mann’s films. Gritty. Dark. Ugly. Seedy. And
people, you have not lived until you’ve heard a Wang Chung
43. James and the Giant Peach
We could just as easily include Nightmare Before
Christmas here, as that’s also a classic that needs a lot more recognition,
but if Nightmare is underrated then this freaky stop-motion Roald Dahl
musical may as well be invisible.
From the same talented hands of Henry Selick, it’s every
bit as offbeat as his Tim Burton festive feast.
The whimsically unreal world of stop motion is perfect
for Dahl’s off-centre stories, and all future adaptations should be handled with
the same imagination as displayed here. Please.
The Defense: Dahl writes classic kids
books. Selick makes classic kids movies. You work it out.
44. Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
There are many who say that Jet Li’s American film
adventure has been a waste of time and punches to the face. There are quite a
few films that provide ample evidence for such an argument. This is not one of
those films, and that’s probably because it’s a French film, not an American
one. With the help of Luc Besson, Li gets a film that allows him to do what he
does best in a film not geared towards promoting DMX’s acting career. This is a
good thing as the action is sharp as an acupuncture needle.
The Defense: Aside from an
annoying Bridget Fonda subplot, the film is lean and mean and whether Li’s
sending Tcheky Karyo into convulsive fits or battling peroxide-laden twins, it’s
45. Nighthawks (1981)
Would you pay to see a film featuring John Rambo, The
Bionic Woman, and Lando Calrissian versus Roy Batty? I would too, but this film
might be as close as we’ll ever get. Sly Stallone, Lindsay Wagner, and Billy Dee
Williams are cops and Rutger Hauer is a terrorist in this great early 80s
thriller that teaches us that the world is finally ready for a hero named Deke
The Defense: Well acted, tightly
shot, and unflinching, this little movie somehow didn’t become a sensation even
though Stallone was just entering his prime. Stallone’s bid for his own little
Dirty Harry type franchise failed, but at least he still had D-Tox to look
46. King of New York (1990)
The combination of violent maverick Abel Ferrara and slithering
quirkmaster Christopher Walken is always good for a giggle, but nowhere moreso
than this criminally underseen mobster escapade. Like a nastier, sleazier
Scorsese, Ferrara follows the fortunes of Walken’s mob boss, back from prison to
take a bite out of the Big Apple. Crackling with menace, plus a cast that
features Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi and a briefcase full
of tampons, if you love gangster movies and haven’t seen this take yourself out
back and get whacked. Then watch it.
The Defense: Serving up a twin
helping of bloody carnage and arty character study, King of New York is the warm
coppery taste of exploitation arthouse.
47. Heaven Help Us (1985)
Teen comedies are a rite of passage, and this film is one that got
completely ignored despite the presence of box office juggernaut John Heard.
80’s staple Andrew McCarthy leads the pack in a
coming-of-age comedy about the patrons of a Catholic school in 1950s New York.
Joining him are Mary Stuart Masterson, Kevin Dillon (it’s no coincidence he’s in
three of the films on this list), and Donald Sutherland as a monk.
Let me repeat that in case you missed it. Sutherland.
Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
The Defense: Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland.
Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
48. LA Story (1991)
Steve Martin. Once one of the funniest men alive, now reduced to mere
Everyone knows his classics – The Jerk, Man With Two
Brains, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – but this self-penned ode to his beloved
City of Angels could well be the last gasp of what we shall call Classic Martin.
Stuffed to the gills with celebrity chums, and
occasionally a little too cute for its own good, it’s the surreal flourishes
(talking traffic signs, slow-motion showers) that make this the Airplane
of romantic comedy.
The Defense: If Richard E. Grantï¿½s
clanging testicles don’t make you laugh, then may we recommend Bringing Down The
House? And a punch to the teeth?
49. The Specials (2000)
Everyone thinks that Mystery Men is the best
comedy about lame superheroes, but everyone is wrong. This no budget flick
features Rob Lowe, Thomas Haden Church, and Jamie Kennedy (among others) as
heroes with no powers worth having, no respect, and no real value. However,
they’ve gotten a merchandizing deal, and that’s not too bad. Kind of “a day in
the life” of a really crappy group of heroes. It’s a lot of fun, especially if
you read comics rabidly like we do.
The Defense: If Donald Sutherland showed
up as a monk, this would be a classic. It’s still a blast and actually showcases
Jamie Kennedy as a damn funny guy, something years of logic would have forced me
50. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Comedy sequels rarely work, especially when the humour
relies on the braindead escapades of well-meaning idiots. Hell, just witness the
laughter-free Waynes World 2, the entire Police Academy franchise
or, sweet mercy, Dumb & Dumberer. And that comedy-sequel-phobia is
probably why this insanely imaginative sequel to Excellent Adventure has
fallen into the dustbin of history. Shame, as it’s actually even weirder and
wittier than the first movie, sending the time-travelling rockers on a voyage
through the afterlife that’s loaded with classical and literary references and
is far smarter than the gleefully dumb jokes suggest.
The Defense: Bill Sadler as a
camp Grim Reaper. Gaining entry to heaven with Poison lyrics. It takes brains to
be this dumb.