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Diamonds in the Rough: 12 of the Most Underrated Films in Hollywood History

Updated on December 21, 2019
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Heather has a Bachelor's Degree in English from Moravian College and has been freelance writing for more than 14 years.


What makes a movie a blockbuster? Violence? Comedy? Good acting? It's hard to judge what movies are going to make a mark (1994's Pulp Fiction) and what ones will be a resounding dud (1995's Judge Dredd) on opening day. With the start of the summer movie season, some movies will be raking in the box office bucks while some won't get their proper respect until they reach Netflix ques a few months later.

Some movies are just simply overlooked due to poor timing, dark subject matter and simply flawed finished products. Here are a list of twelve films that seemed to fit the bill that were hard to fit into any marketable category or just had the misfortune of opening against flashier fare. Read on and decide for yourself to see if these films are worth a first or a second look.

Near Misses

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)- Sadly, this film is Martin Scorsese's most overlooked film in his directorial arsenal, because he has become the premiere director of actor driven movies (Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed to name a few). When this film came out, audiences were largely suprised that the Director of such violent fare as Mean Streets behind it. Alice was a huge departure for him that allowed him to direct a strong woman in Ellen Burstyn as the titular Alice learned to pick up the pieces and carve out a life for her and her son. It's a shame this film didn't get its proper due at the time, but it's still fascinating to watch Scorsese give Burstyn's character the same intensity did for De Niro multiple times. If only he would do another film like this, it would be a welcome break from his usual mob related films and intense dramas, except that lightning rarely strikes twice in Hollywood. It's best to enjoy Alice and not any pale imitations.

The January Man (1989)- Could you picture Clint Eastwood cracking jokes and acting quirky as Dirty Harry? Audiences couldn't either when Man was released in the late 80s. Kevin Kline was designed to be a lighter but more of a wild card than Eastwood's seasoned cop ever was. Kline was a former cop asked to catch a dangerous serial killer with a purpose. While on the case, he clashed with his estranged brother Harvey Keitel and had to choose between his ex Susan Sarandon and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Man's biggest curse was that it tried to be too much like the Dirty Harry series that it left no room for anything else. It's a shame because the film had some hidden potential that should've been explored more than stale relationship dynamics and a half baked serial killer case.

The Man in the Moon (1991)- Moon was spun to be a family oriented film from the To Kill a Mockingbird era where innocence was still intact. It made sense because Robert Mulligan directed both films. The story involved how two sisters dealt with their first glimpse of love with neighbor boy Court (Jason London). The film's biggest transformation was younger sister Dani (Reese Witherspoon) as she blossomed from a little girl to a teenager. She loved to play until Court came along. Unfortunately, this new feeling left her in conflict with her strict father (Sam Waterston) after one dark and stormy night. Father and daughter work to repair their relationship after tragedy strikes. Audiences mostly avoided this film because the days of youthful innocence were no longer of interest to moviegoers at the time. At least Moon has an audience on television and DVD to make up for it.

Comedic Gems

Slap Shot (1977)- When Shot was released, moviegoers didn't know what to make of it. Paul Newman played a lovable coach of a losing hockey team who didn't seem to care. He lost his self respect, his wife and passion for life. In a last ditch effort to change all that, Newman's coach made a go-for-broke plan to redeem the team and himself. Some rules were broken and the Hanson brothers were revealed to the ultimate secret weapon. Hilarious indeed.

The Big Lebowski (1998)- Two words: The Dude. Enough said. Jeff Bridges' now signature role as a bowling loving stoner was hard to understand when it was first released in 1998, but now it's his most popular role to date. This Coen Brothers classic has become the ultimate quotable cult film that has almost rivaled The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Election (1999)- An uncomfortable comedy that made its character appear lovable and irritating at the same time. Reese Witherspoon's perfectionist Tracy Flick was the breakout performance in the movie, but due to the character's unlikability was mostly ignored. The film's real focus was on former teen idol's Matthew Broderick and his teacher who joined the dark side in an effort to derail Flick's rapid rise to success. It's a shame that this movie was mostly overlooked and didn't allow Witherspoon to become a bigger star until Legally Blonde came out two years later.

Dysfunction Junction

Touch of Evil (1958)- A thriller that miscast Charlton Heston as a Mexican man and forced him to go toe-to-toe with corrupt lawman Orson Welles. The battle between the two men was a local war that could've led to World War III if they allowed it to. Evil was released during the decline of Welles' career, which also partly led to why it was ignored by moviegoers at the time. It's easy to understand Welles' genius but it's also easy to see some didn't understand it.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)- This film is based on a Stephen King story that mixed horror and family relationships. Accused murderer Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) went on trial and had to confront her estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) over her father's death decades before. Will the family be able to deal with their past demons in order to get her acquited of all charges? This film was ignored due to the abuse subplot and how the wounds never properly healed. Leigh and Bates gave strong performances that almost hit too close to home for audiences, which is why audiences stayed away while it was in theatres at the time.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)- Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman gave unforgettable performances as two flawed brothers who decided to rob their parents through their jewelry store. The plan was a failure from the start that left one of them dead and the brothers scrambling to cover their tracks, which meant destroying each other in the process. Director Sidney Lumet's intense thriller was a comeback of sorts but it almost seemed like an acting exercise between the two leads than a movie itself.

Too Hard to Fathom

Damage (1992)- Jeremy Iron played an uptight politician who embarked on a risky affair with his son's fiancée (Juliette Binoche) that was only meant for disaster for everyone involved. Director Louis Malle usually tackled such uncomfortable fare as old age (Atlantic City) and child prostitution (Pretty Baby). This film tangled on the thin line between love, obsession and tragedy. Actions spoke louder than words. In the case of Damage, the consequences were pretty near deadly when the truth was revealed.

Lost and Delirious (2001)- This movie explored the bonds of friendship and romance between three boarding school girls who shared more than clothes. Mary (Mischa Barton) observed the romance between the feminine Victoria (Jessica Pare) and the tough as nails Paulie (Piper Perabo). She was the secret sharer as Victoria and Paulie confided in her about their complicated relationship. She watched as Victoria pulled herself back into the closet and Paulie struggled to earn back her love. Mary struggled to maintain her friendships with both girls, but had to choose between them for a drastic choice that led to tragic results. Lost was sadly buried during a summer release of comedies and action films. Watch it at your own risk.

The Killer Inside Me (2010)- A mild mannered sheriff (Casey Affleck) had to struggle with being a good guy in public and a sadistic killer in private. He lived two lives and had two girlfriends (Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba). As his craving for violence kicked in, he had to choose whether to be good or evil, as well as the consequences that went along with his choice. Killer was missed by audiences due to its squirm inducing subject matter and the brutality of some of the scenes. Affleck's character embraced violence when the audience wanted to embrace something more comforting like an action movie or a romantic comedy.

In the end, not every movie is meant to be celebrated as the next big thing. It's not possible. Some movies are just meant to be overshadowed by higher profile releases (Narc to name one) while others are just simply overhyped (Thor). Ultimately, it's up to moviegoers to decide what movies are worth seeing and what ones are worth forgetting at least until the DVD comes out.


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