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!
76. A Perfect World (1993)
A lot of people complained that Clint Eastwood did
nothing good between Unforgiven and this years Mystic River.
Untrue. Space Cowboys was fun and this movie is downright terrific. Kevin
Costner’s a great redneck villain and Eastwood’s almost as good as an ornery and
lazy cop. This is a solid film and one that too few people gave a fighting
The Defense: The most surprising aspect
of the film is Eastwood’s rather artful use of the camera. He’s not known for
style, but this is a truly American film and we mean that in a good way for a
77. The Rules of Attraction
Roger Avary’s contribution to the success of Pulp
Fiction will probably never be fully recognized, and so it’s to his credit
that he’s not spent the following years trying to be another Quentin T. Instead
he turned out Killing Zoe (another movie that could easily be on this
list) and – after several years as a script doctor and producer – turned to the
work of Bret Easton Ellis for this snarling, hallucinogenic swandive into the
grubby moral quagmire of selfish, horny students at a liberal arts college.
James Van Der Beek is the standout star, throwing off his Dawson niceness to
portray Sean Bateman (brother of American Psycho Patrick) as a shark-eyed
emotional monster, riding roughshod over the feelings of those around him and
dicking anything that moves.
The Defense: The American
Trainspotting is a stupid and crass simplification of this movies appeal, but –
hey – it works. Savagely exciting stuff.
78. Point Break (1991)
Long before he debated the existence of spoons, Keanu
Reeves made this quintessential surf/heist film. Patrick Swayze is deliciously
over the top, Gary Busey makes him look subtle, and Keanu is aptly vacant as
Johnny Utah in Kathryn Bigelow’s great little movie. Ripped off by The Fast
and the Furious, Point Break originally seemed like a guilty pleasure
but has actually aged really well.
The Defense: It’s always fun to see
surfers ruminate on the mysticism of their sport, but when the surfers then rob
banks with masks of U.S. Presidents it’s downright wonderful. When one of the
surfers in James LeGros of Phantasm II fame, stand back!
NN (Dan disagrees violently)
79. Jesus’ Son (1999)
Billy Crudup is Hollywood’s best kept secret. Well,
aside from the one about MechaGodzilla taking over Dreamworks. In this film he
really gets to strut his stuff in a wonderfully bent little movie about drugs,
life, and knives embedded in hospital patrons. An amazing cast including Jack
Black, Denis Leary, and Samantha Morton all add goodness.
The Defense: How many films feature a main
character named Fuck Face? We rest our case.
80. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
When we heard that Brian Helgeland was adding rock songs
to his medieval love story, our response was “Screw!” After seeing the film, we
were swept away by the film’s playful tone and wonderful execution. Heath Ledger
and Shannyn Sossamon are a wonderful pair and Paul Bettany steals every scene he
and his naked ass are in.
The Defense: Though it had no right being
good, A Knight’s Tale is downright wonderful and even managed to make Rufus
Sewell interesting. No small feat, that.
81. The Tailor of Panama (2001)
What are the two best Pierce Brosnan James Bond films?
The Thomas Crown Affair and this seedy low-tech spy film where the Irish
heart throb gets to play a shady character with very few redeeming qualities.
It’s kind of like the James Bond of the early Ian Fleming novels in that
The Defense: Jamie Lee Curtis does a
topless scene and that’s not the best thing about the film. What better praise
for this John Boorman sleeper is there?
82. Testament (1983)
How do you make a movie about nuclear holocaust with no
By showing a family die. This film gave me nightmares at
age 12 thanks to its unflinching depiction of the stages of deterioration from
radiation and how it doesn’t care if you’re a little boy or an old man.
Scary and realistic, it’ll change your take on war
As powerful today as it was twenty years
The Defense: Mako is in this
83. Home for the Holidays
Jodie Foster followed up Little Man Tate with
this dysfunctional family comedy that features a wonderful cast led by Holly
Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr, Dylan McDermott (the guy who’s not Dermot Mulroney),
and Anne Bancroft. It’s a fun film, but with a heart and Holly Hunter’s
absolutely perfect in the role as a harried single mom whose holiday with her
family causes her much hardship.
The Defense: Robert Downey’s on
fire in this film, so much so that you might wonder if he was under the
influence. Either way, he’s wonderful as Hunter’s gay brother. If you’ve ever
had one of those holidays with the family where you’d wished you were in a gulag
instead, this film will please you.
84. And The Band Played On
This is the film that shatters me more than any other.
The only film that really gets me worked up. I won’t even watch it with other
people, there’s just something about it. Originally run as an HBO movie, this
film is an all-star affair about the first few AIDS cases and the political
issues that helped elevate the disease into one of the most ruthless ever. A
very strong film.
The Defense: Anyone who covers Hollywood
has seen too many greats succumb to the disease and this film is infuriating and
harrowing in how it shows how humanity dropped the ball. Richard Gere, Matthew
Modine, Ian McKellen, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, and many more deliver amazing
85. Zero Effect (1998)
For those planning to create movies for a future
iteration of this list, one guaranteed way to ensure your movie remains
underseen and unappreciated is to make it just a little too quirky for
mainstream tastes. Case in point: Jake “Son of Lawrence” Kasdan’s leftfield
detective story about a reclusive private eye, Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), who
solves crimes via his assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller) who actually goes out
and talks to people. A fresh spin on the Holmes/Watson dynamic, the hermit
tendencies of the lead character are more than mere gimmick and are thoroughly
explored during a twisty blackmail case involving Rhino Neil. Sorry, Ryan
O’Neal. Sparky and charming.
The Defense: If this had come from the
Coens, critics and cinephiles around the world would be hailing it a work of
genius. And it is. Just not one that many people know
86. Deterrence (1999)
This film should have stunk more than a shipment of ass
on Ass Wednesday, but it’s brilliant. Kevin Pollack is the President of the
United States of America. No, we’re serious. Timothy Hutton is his main advisor.
Trapped by a blizzard in a diner during a road trip they’re faced with the
threat of nuclear war and are forced to make the joint their base of operations.
Tense? Yeah, and then some. This film kicks all sorts of ass.
The Defense: We wouldn’t trust Kevin
Pollack as the President of the International Days of Thunder Fan Club, but this
works. That’s why Rod Lurie went from being a film critic to a director of men
like Robert Redford and Jeff Bridges and why we’re cracking lesbian jokes in a
magazine [remember, this was originally written for MOVIE INSIDER] you probably
haven’t even paid for yet. Asshole!
87. Candyman (1992)
Clive Barker’s kinky visions of horror have struggled to
work on the screen and yet there is one adaptation of his work that, while
changed considerably from the source, perfectly captures the uneasy, queasy
dread that Barker has made his trademark. It’s Bernard Rose’s take on the short
story “Sweets for the Sweet”, in which a researcher into the local urban legend
of a hook-handed killer discovers that superstition always has its roots in
fact. Transplanting the tale from Liverpool to the US actually adds to the
story, deftly weaving the deprivation of the ghetto and the echoes of slavery
into the mix, and the result is a monster/slasher movie with more than a dollop
of artistry and intellect.
The Defense: Tony Todd has a voice so deep
only whales can understand him and despite some desperate sequels, this is a
genuinely chilling and unnerving horror movie for adults.
DW (Nick disagrees violently)
88. Last Boy Scout (1991)
Everything we said about Long Kiss Goodnight can
equally be applied to this utterly unappreciated action classic, also from the
pen of Shane Black (the only million-dollar screenwriter to have tussled
on-screen with a Predator). It’s a typically overblown yarn about unfortunately
named ex-quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) and fucked-up private eye Joe
Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis in his best non-Die Hard role) investigating the
murder of Jimmy’s stripper girlfriend (a fresh-faced Halle Berry). The trail
leads them into a web of illegal gambling and government corruption, and results
in a lot of explosions, quips, punches and a Top 50 CHUD approved “death by
helicopter”. Probably one of the best action movies ever.
The Defense: “This is the 90s. You can’t
just go around punching people. You have to say something cool first”. Precisely
the sort of knowing wit and quotable dialogue that Shane Black brought to the
action genre. We need more from him.
89. Gods and Monsters (1998)
Of course, everyone knows Ian McKellen now as the
velvet-voiced Magneto from the X-Men movies, and as the avuncular Gandalf
from Lord of the Rings. But if you want to see arguably his finest
big-screen moment, look no further than Bill Condon’s bitter-sweet dramatisation
of the final days in the life of James Whale, director of Frankenstein
and one of Hollywood’s most visible gay pioneers. As well as being a detail-rich
treat for fans of classic horror, it’s a painfully touching portrait of a man
held prisoner by his own successes and desires, and a probing exploration of the
emotional games we all play – gay or straight. You should also watch it to see
Brendan Fraser exercising serious dramatic skills as the hunky hetero gardener
who rekindles Whale’s lust for life (among other things).
The Defense: It earned Condon a “best
adapted screenplay” Oscar, but really deserves a much wider audience. One of
those rare films that can be described as “beautiful”.
90. The Winslow Boy (1999)
Who better than foul-mouthed Chicago playright/filmmaker
David Mamet to make a feature film version of a beloved G-rated story that’s
over fifty years old? Satan, perhaps. The thing is Mamet’s version of this
classic story is the best yet, a charming movie about a boy accused of stealing
and the efforts to clear his name.
The Defense: Jeremy Northam is on fire as
Sir Robert Morton and Mamet appendage Rebecca Pidgeon matches him note for note.
This is a great family flick with pedigree and any David Mamet film is a
91. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
What’s the best Batman movie? Tim Burton’s 1989
reworking? The camp comedy of Adam West and his fizzing bomb? The kinky S&M
panto of Batman Returns? Nope. It’s Mask of the Phantasm, a
feature length spin-off from the superb 90s animated series, in which Batman is
framed for a string of gangland murders and bombings, actually being committed
by a violent new vigilante known as the Phantasm (sadly nothing to do with the
flying-balls horror franchise). It’s dark, exciting and features Batman actually
being Batman “a detective, a fighter, a loner” unlike his subsequent live
action outings. In fact you can pick pretty much any of the full-length animated
Batman movies and be guaranteed a better time than with the live action
versions. At least, we hope, until Christian Bale slips into the
The Defense: As Warner Bros struggled to
figure out how to “do” Batman on the big screen, their animation division was
hard at work showing them how it was done. This is no more for kids than any of
the “real” movies.
92. Gremlins 2 (1990)
Joe Dante is the kind of demented geek genius who should
be preserved in clear plastic for future generations. His entire career is
underrated, but no more so than this much-maligned
sequel to his own 1984 hit.
Completely unlike the original in every respect, Gremlins 2 is a live
action cartoon, an ACME-fuelled sprint through more sight gags, name drops and
in-jokes than should safely be crammed into 106 minutes. It effectively killed
the budding franchise stone-dead before the law of diminishing returns could
render it infertile, and left us with one of the most breathlessly anarchic
movies ever to burst out of Hollywood. If you have an ounce of appreciation for
sci fi, fantasy, horror, comics, cartoons and movies then you should love this
lunacy with all your heart. In an alternate geek universe, Dante is as big as
The Defense: Proof that when you don’t
give an audience what they expect, you piss them off even if what you give
them is better than they deserve.
93. Pump Up The Volume (1990)
Teen angst movies can be as embarrassing as finding your
Mum in bed with the cast of Beyond Thunderdome, but this indie-spirited
drama manages to pull off a pretty convincing take on the trials and
tribulations of youth and “surprisingly for a movie almost fifteen years old “some of the topics tackled are actually more relevant today than they were then.
Christian Slater is at the heart of the movie as Mark, an awkward and shy kid
who finds his voice as pirate DJ “Happy Harry Hard-On”. His anarchic on-air
antics soon infect the local community and school and those Big Bad Authority
Figures go on the warpath. Some elements elicit a cringe in 2003, but a
still-cool soundtrack featuring Sonic Youth and Ice T keeps things ticking
The Defense: One of those rare teen
rebellion movies that still hits the target even when the candles on your
birthday cake start nudging thirty. Great tunes too.
94. Kissing Jessica Stein
What’s better than a sexy lesbian tinged comedy written
and starring two hot heterosexual ladies? World peace. MAYBE. This Woody
Allen-esque little film has a super sharp wit to it and some really great,
neurotic performances that keeps it entertaining even when it loses its focus. A
really solid and fresh movie that is a surprisingly solid date flick to
The Defense: Jim J. Bullock is in the
film. The only thing better than that is Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
Sutherland. Monk. Sutherland. Monk.
95. The Prophecy (1995)
When you arrive at the Pearly Gates, would it shock you
to discover that the Archangel Gabriel looks like a psychotic Christopher
Walken? It should, and that’s just one of the blasphemous wonders lurking in
Gregory “I wrote Highlander” Widen’s religious horror thriller. Elias
Koteas heads up a pretty stunning cast, as a priest whose nightmarish visions of
a war in heaven drove him away from the church and into a new life as a cop.
Unfortunately for him, the war is real, and angels aren’t the shiny happy people
from Sunday School. They’re God’s soldiers and they’re on Earth to fight for
possession of an evil human soul that will tip the balance. Also featuring Eric
Stoltz, Virginia Madsen, Amanda Plummer and future orc-smasher Viggo Mortensen
as Satan himself, this is one of those movies that you can’t believe went
straight-to-video in the UK.
The Defense: Bravely turning centuries
of Christian theology on its head, the sight of a slicked-back Walken stalking
children in the name of God is either one of the most offensive things ever, or
one of the coolest. You decide.
96. Southern Comfort (1981)
If Walter Hill’s movies could be brought to life, using
Weird Science technology, they’d come out as a huge, hairy pair of
testicles, smoking a cigar and armed with a shotgun. He makes manly movies for
manly men, and possibly the manliest of his manly movies is this swamp-horror
about arrogant (but unarmed) US Army reservists hunted through the bayou by
crazed Cajuns. A brutal collision between the backwoods unease of
Deliverance and the body-gouging panic of Predator, it tempers its
more violent excesses with a poignant reflection on the environmental impact
of “actually, that’s bullshit. It’s about people getting hurt.
The Defense: If the thought of Keith
Carradine, Fred Ward, Brion James and Peter Coyote being menaced and mangled by
sharp branches doesn’t excite you, then Walter Hill’s testicles will gun you
down like a dog.
97. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
We’ve already learned that not giving the audience what
they expect can lead to years in the movie wilderness. Releasing such a movie,
especially one in which Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz are steered into love by
divine intervention from angels Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter, in the shadow of
the box-office behemoth known as Titanic is tantamount to suicide. And so
it came to pass that Danny Boyle’s rather fine tribute to Dennis Potter
surrealism sank into critical and commercial oblivion. In retrospect, there’s
lots to enjoy here – especially the karaoke fantasy sequence which sees Ewan
belting out his first big-screen tune, something which is now almost as common
as his cock-flashing, and a parade of solid character actors (Tony Shalhoub, Dan
Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm) who keep things bubbling along when the plot
The Defense: Probably too much of a
hairpin turn from Trainspotting, but time has revealed A Life Less Ordinary to
be ahead of its time in style, tone and use of claymation.
98. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
It’s hard to believe that there’s anything in the Coen
Brothers catalogue that could fit the bill as “underrated”. Indeed, a strong
case could be made that some of their movies are actually overrated. But if
there’s one movie from the Brothers that seems to have slipped between the
cracks, it’s their 1994 screwball comedy about unscrupulous businessmen and the
invention of the hula-hoop. Still too wilfully out-of-sync for the mainstream,
Hudsucker‘s light and silly stylings were still frothy enough to alienate
Coen fans who’d come to expect the dark weirdness of Barton Fink or
Raising Arizona. With more than a few movies under the belt since then,
it’s easier to see how this fits into the Coens evolution as filmmakers and is a
very obvious companion piece to Intolerable Cruelty.
The Defense: Hindsight is a wonderful
thing, and it’s now clear that the Coens have always been about five decades out
of step with the rest of the world. This is the spirit of the 1930s filtered
through the indie mindset of the 90s. Shameless fun.
99. Breakdown (1997)
Kurt Russell misplaces his wife thanks to some
stone-faced skulduggery from the late, great J.T. Walsh, and what unfurls is one
of the most nailbiting and horribly plausible cinematic nightmares of recent
years, The Vanishing recast against the vast empty landscape of the US
badlands. Russell is, as always, an absolute powerhouse in the lead, ably
portraying an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation, while Jonathan
“T3” Mostow writes and directs his debut feature with the sort of casual
confidence that gets you bumped to the hot seat for studio
The Defense: Yet another “little” picture
that carries more weight than most blockbusters. Paranoid panic at its
100. Falling Down (1993)
Joel Schumacher proves that there’s more to his career
than destroying superhero franchises. Michael Douglas simmers in the challenging
role of William “D-Fens” Foster, a white, middle class LA guy who finally snaps
in the sweltering gridlock and cuts a swathe of mayhem through the city,
hellbent on getting back to his estranged wife and child. Shouted down with
cries of “racist” when it first opened, the movie certainly hits close to the
bone in its depiction of Foster’s dubious frustration at the various people he
encounters (latino gangbangers, Korean shopkeepers, fast food workers, rich
golfers) and a thick streak of black comedy probably confused queasy liberal
critics even more. It lacks the grime and snarl of Taxi Driver, but as a
portrait of the conflicts raging in American society, this is still an important
– and undervalued – movie.
The Defense: Finally cornered by retiring
detective Robert Duvall, a defeated D-Fens is baffled, despite his rampage of
death and destruction. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks, convinced that it’s the world
around him that’s at fault. Liberal White America shuffles