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Hollywood's Most Nail-Biting Films: 10 of the Most Ignored Movie Thrillers of All Time
What makes a good movie thriller? According to the dictionary, it's an exciting and suspenseful story that's full of twists and turns that keeps the audience guessing until the very end. A good thriller is one that delivers on the element of surprise more times than you expected. Unfortunately, not every good thriller gets the same due as say Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct. Some films only please or irritate the critics, while audiences eventually discover the movie years after the fact.
Here are a list of ten films that range from the obscure independent films to the strange science fiction film mysteries that the audience could never understand. What these films had in common was that audiences, and sometimes the critics, never gave them their proper due during their theatrical releases. Read on to see why these ten films are worth a second or a first look for many. Decide for yourselves to discover some cinematic gems or to add some of your own.
Pitch Perfect Indies
Blood and Wine (1997)- At the time of Wine's release, Jack Nicholson was primarily known for his Oscar Winning roles in such films as Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets. With this film, he got to display a different type of acting skill: playing someone audiences don't know whether they should root for him or boo him off the screen. He played a rich businessman who had a complicated life: an alcoholic wife (Judy Davis) and a young mistress (Jennifer Lopez). He also committed what seemed to be a perfect crime in stealing a diamond necklace with his partner (Michael Caine). What he didn't take into account was that he didn't plan the perfect getaway. It's hard to explain why this film didn't get the proper respect it deserved at the time. It had mystery, suspense and Nicholson at his best. Enjoy it now in the privacy of your living room.
Brick (2006)- Joseph Gordon Levitt proved to audiences with this film that he had definitely grown up from his 3rd Rock From the Sun days. He proved that he could be the ultimate surprise in the form of a leading man. In Brick, he played an aspiring PI/teenage outsider who was searching for who murdered his ex-girlfriend. The film took Levitt and audiences into underbelly of being a teenager. The reveal of the killer also took audiences by surprise with the message that it's sometimes best to keep your friends close and your enemies within arms length. Watch Brick and be surprised at how high school can be just as deadly as the real world.
Drive (2011)- Okay, Drive is still in the midst of a theatrical run, but let's face the fact that it's destined to be overlooked by moviegoers searching for something less profound to watch onscreen. Ryan Gosling portrayer a nameless stunt driver who moonlighted as a getaway driver. He was on his way to becoming a racecar driver, until he met his married neighbor (Carey Mulligan). Gosling's character fell for her angelic demeanor and decided to help her ex-con husband in a robbery that went horribly wrong. His violent actions lead to the ultimate showdown with the shockingly violent Albert Brooks, who delivered his most disturbing performance to date. The first half of the film is the perfect atmospheric ode to fast cars, while the other is a brutal odyssey where blood would be shed. A film mostly definitely worth watching on the big screen.
High Caliber Material
Prince of the City (1981)- A story of a corrupt cop who is forced to turn in his fellow cops in order to save himself. In what could've been a limited role, Treat Williams played Daniel Ciello as a cop caught between a rock and a hard place. He wanted to save himself, but it tore him up inside to hang his friends out to dry. Director Sidney Lumet took his time to tell Ciello's story and allowed the story to flow at a natural pace, which probably drove moviegoers insane in 1981. The nearly three hour running time was necessary, but proved to make it overlooked at the time. What also made the film memorable was Jerry Orbach's performance as Ciello's unpredictable partner. The audience never had an idea what he was going to do next and led Orbach to becoming another iconic cop on Law & Order.
Traitor (2008)- Unfortunately, Traitor failed to make a mark when it hit theatres three years ago because of the terrorist subject matter and the worst release month ever (August). The plot followed a former government operative (Don Cheadle) who may or not be a terrorist. No one entirely knows, especially the FBI Agent (Guy Pearce) tasked with taking him down. both men appeared to have an agenda from the start. What they didn't realize was that their missions might not all be that different after all. Pearce and Cheadle deliver decent performances that were partially hindered by plot pacing towards the middle of the film, but it recovered towards the end. Traitor is the type of film where the art of the double cross was perfectly displayed. Watch to decide for yourself.
Talented Acting, Poor Script
The First Deadly Sin (1980)- Frank Sinatra delivered a first rate performance of a cop on the brink of retirement obsessed with catching a serial killer that no one cares about. His obsession led him around some dark corners and forced him to overlook his beloved wife's (Faye Dunaway) illness. As he gets closer to the truth, his life starts to spiral out of control. Once he comes face to face with the killer, will he do the right thing or sacrifice everything with one decision? Sadly, this film was meant to be overlooked by everyone from the start because of an anemic plot. Sinatra was the epitome of grizzled cool, but Dunaway was stuck in a throwaway role as a victim who couldn't even get out of her hospital bed. What a waste. The ending itself was a mixture of vague disappointment that left audiences feeling robbed of a more satisfying conclusion. Only meant to be watched by Sinatra fans and detective thrillers.
Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)- The primary reason to watch Apache is Paul Newman's multi-layered performance of a cop who gave up on doing his job properly and is forced to do the right thing for a change. Newman played the ultimate goofball in John Murphy who is stuck in one of the worst precincts in New York. He allowed a thief to get away and watched his girlfriend do drugs. Suddenly, he witnessed a shocking crime and has to confront everything at once. Will he do the right thing or bury himself in being blissfully ignorant once again? The story itself let too many things get tossed away, such as the serial killer plot and Newman's relationship with his partner. It was also kind of shocking to see law enforcement be portrayed as apathetic as the rest of society. The only treat was Newman's heartbreaking performance of a man unglued by his environment.
Fracture (2007)- Anthony Hopkins is at it again. Playing a villain that uses his intellect to commit heinous crimes. In Fracture, Hopkins played Ted Crawford who was a sleeker version of Hannibal Lecter. He planned the perfect crime when he tried to kill his cheating wife and left no evidence behind to link him. The wickedly smart Crawford goes head to head with straight arrow Ryan Gosling in a battle of wits as Gosling strived to put him in jail. Unfortunately, Hopkins' character was always at least three steps ahead. Even though the film was a routine thriller, it was nice to see Hopkins match wits onscreen with someone who could one day one up him for a change.
Head Scratching Plots
Dark City (1998)- What would happen if suddenly woke up one day and you were living a life that you couldn't remember? That's what happened to John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who has to search for memories of a wife (Jennifer Connelly) he doesn't know and run from sinister forces intent on using him for something dangerous. What made this City worth visiting was the stellar Matrix like effects and a twisted performance from Kiefer Sutherland as the ultimate mad scientist. Make sure to watch this with the lights off.
The Prestige (2006)- Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale played battling magicians locked in a battle to one up each other with their magic skills. Their battle forced many people to take sides, especially a lovely assistant (Scarlett Johansson) caught between her attraction to both men. Each trick forced the men to sacrifice a piece of themselves and led to the ultimate crime: murder. Was there even really a murder? Director Chris Nolan spun a web of intrigue and illusion that left audiences wondering what happened days later. It was overlooked because it never had the same fanfare as Inception or even Memento. The film also had the extra cool treat of a cameo made by David Bowie as a mysterious inventor. That alone makes it worth watching.
In the end, it's not the box office gross that makes the thriller, but the moviegoers that watch over and over again years later. Even if it's just to understand the plot better just like with Memento. Ultimately, a good thriller is one that doesn't always follow the conventional route. Sometimes it better to take a storytelling risk (Memento, The Prestige etc.) than to never take one at all (The First Deadly Sin). Another sign of a superior thriller is one that respects the source material (scripts or books that it was based on). Some creative plot changing is allowed, but not too much that it ticks off fans before they even see the movie. If that's the case, this list is likely to get much longer very soon.