Movies are a tricky business. A lot of people complain about Hollywood being out of ideas. Yet, when something original comes along to challenge perceptions, it goes unnoticed by audiences who would rather find the safe space of a franchise before investing in something new. Many of these films are exceptional works of art, and larger blockbusters in their heyday overshadowed all of them. As you can guess, most of these movies have achieved cult classic status.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Movies are, above everything else, a business. Studios keep pumping superhero films and keep franchises like Fast & Furious alive because they make money. They are unwilling to risk their limited resources on original ideas, even if they prove groundbreaking. This has led to a slower and dwindling pacing in auteur cinema. Most of these films tried to do something new and original just to crash and burn.
With this ranking, we expect to bring attention to some beloved classics that deserve the time of the day. Take some time and check out some of these gems; you won’t regret it!
20 Brazil (1985)
Brazil is a dystopian science fiction story written and directed by Terry Gilliam. It features the talents of Jonathan Pryce as Sam Lowry and Kim Greist as love interest Jill Layton. The movie presents a dark, satirical vision of bureaucracy and a society plagued by extreme surveillance and totalitarian government control. It was a box office flop in its day, making only $9.9 million out of its $15 million budget, but it was critically praised.
Brazil is a surreal experience. The complex script touches on multiple themes, such as freedom, individuality, the dangers of plastic surgery, and the power of imagination. It’s a movie that invites the audience to question the risks of the establishment and how a ruling class makes the call about societal norms. It’s a blend of dark humor, surrealism, and nostalgia. The film is notorious for having a bleak ending that is more grounded in reality, making it worth a rewatch.
19 The 13th Warrior (1999)
The 13th Warrior is an epic action-adventure directed by John McTiernan and based on the novel “Eaters of the Dead” by Michael Crichton. In the movie, Antonio Banderas leads as the Arab traveler, Ahmad ibn Fadlan. The man must join a band of Norse warriors led by Buliwyf, played by Vladimir Kulich. The film had a massive scope and a rough shooting, which ballooned the budget close to $160 million, only to crash and burn with a meager $61.7 million box office gross.
It’s a damn shame, considering the exciting premise of the movie, as it offers a thrilling blend of historical fiction, mythology, and plenty of intense battles to create a captivating tale of camaraderie and heroism. The mix of cultural elements brings tremendous grandeur to all action sequences. The cast’s compelling performances explore multiple nuances, revealing the human traits of these men, despite their differences. The 13th Warrior is a clever entertainment piece that has long been overlooked by many.
18 Reign of Fire (2002)
Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic fantasy directed by Rob Bowman and written by Matt Greenberg. The cast includes a young Matthew McConaughey as the rugged dragon slayer Denton Van Zan and Christian Bale as Quinn Abercromby, the hunters’ leader. The reason why to film bombed will always be a mystery to us since it has everything to be an absolute banger: a great story, a fantastic cast, and top-notch special effects.
With a reported budget of approximately $60 million, the film delivers breathtaking visual effects that bring the dragons to life in all their majestic and terrifying glory. The movie is worth a rewatch just for the dynamic performances of the cast. Their intensity packs the punch required to sell the story and the stakes at play. Reign of Fire feels like a mix between Mad Max and Eragon. Plus, it has dragons! Sadly, the film was overlooked by everyone in its heyday, becoming a cult classic as time passed.
17 The Tournament (2009)
Some action films go unnoticed, despite being packed to the brim with intense sequences and a gripping story. Such is the case for The Tournament. This action thriller is directed by Scott Mann and written by Jonathan Frank and Nick Rowntree. The cast includes Robert Carlyle, Kelly Hu, Scott Adkins, and Ving Rhames. The premise is simple: a group of the ultra-wealthy gather together every seven years and hijack a city where they place a group of the best assassins in the world to kill each other for a prize of $10 million.
The high-stakes premise, combined with the reliable script and the solid cast of working actors, should have been enough to make this a hit, yet it failed to make even a fraction of its budget. With reported costs of production set at $8 million, the film only managed to make $400.000 after its theatrical run. The film also had a poor marketing strategy, but rewatching this movie can help you disconnect from reality and enjoy the outstanding choreography in each battle, next to the action-packed sequences with excellent production values, given the low budget on this one.
16 Under the Skin (2013)
Scarlett Johansson is one of the most bankable movie stars in the world, which is weird to find such a solid movie with her as the lead flopping at the box office. Under the Skin is a great sci-fi drama directed by Jonathan Glazer, while the script is penned by Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel by Michel Faber. Scarjo takes the lead as a mystery woman roaming the streets of Scotland and making nonsensical choices to the audience. However, the story packs quite a punch with the midway reveal that puts a lot more sense into Scarjo’s actions during the film.
The movie is a thrilling ride, made on a small budget of $13.3 million. It only managed to make back $7.3 million. Under the Skin explores the nuances of the space visitor without resorting to the usual tropes, such as the big spaceship, death rays, and full-scale invasions. The unnamed alien seems to be exploring Earth and the human experience using a vessel to grasp what it means to be one of us. Given her lack of knowledge, she faces the natural reactions of humans as oddities until she encounters our worst nature and fear of the unknown.
15 Deepwater Horizon (2016)
It’s weird when American audiences let a film recounting national tragedies pass by their radar, as most of these stories based on actual events do pretty well box office-wise. Deepwater Horizon is directed by Peter Berg and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Mark Wahlberg takes the lead as Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician aboard the ill-fated oil rig of the same name. Kurt Russell rounds up the solid cast by playing the experienced rig supervisor, Jimmy Harrell.
Made on a budget of $156 million, Deepwater Horizon underperformed with a box office gross of $121.8 million in its theatrical run. This is a great film that truly deserves a second chance. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion is considered one of the worst disasters in the oil industry, and the skillful feature captures the tension and chaos as the disaster unfolds. Wahlberg and Russell offer some of their best performances, paying respect to the real-life heroes of the tragedy while exploring the corporate negligence that led to the disaster.
14 Underwater (2020)
Kristen Stewart could use a break after Twilight. Underwater seemed like a safe bet, yet it was a massive flop despite being a great film exploring Lovecraftian horror. The intense sci-fi thriller is directed by William Eubank and written by Brian Duffield. Stewart takes the lead as the resilient mechanical engineer Norah Price, joined by Vincent Cassel as the captain of a deep-sea drilling rig that suddenly goes under after digging too deep and unleashing an unseen creature.
Made on a budget of $80 million, this film was a hard flop with a total gross of $40.9 million worldwide, which is baffling. The claustrophobic and terrifying underwater visuals showcase Eubank’s competent direction skills and ability to build tension and keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Stewart looks committed to her performance, going far beyond the wooden blank expression she usually has in most films. The impressive visual effects are outstanding, and the mix of horror, action, and suspense warrants a second chance if you like these types of movies.
13 Legend (1985)
One of the hardest-hitting facts you’ll encounter as you learn about cinema is that Ridley Scott, one of the most accomplished filmmakers of our times, has a string of flops to match his unparalleled talent. Legend is one of those flops; even though the film became a beloved cult classic with time, this fantastical adventure film written by William Hjortsberg failed to capture audiences back in 1985. The headliners for this venture are a remarkable young Tom Cruise, starring opposite Tim Curry, who delivers a mesmerizing performance as the menacing Lord of Darkness.
Made on a budget of $24 million, the film barely managed to make its budget back. The story transports audiences to a visually stunning and magical world. However, the story has its problems, as creative interferences clashed in the makings of this film. The grand narrative unfolds with a sense of wonder and enchantment, accompanied by a beautiful and atmospheric score by Jerry Goldsmith. This was a point of contention for 20th Century Fox, who released the film in the USA with a score composed by Tangerine Dream. Scott would have the final say by releasing the film’s Director’s Cut, with the original score by Goldsmith years later.
12 Tomorrowland (2015)
Tomorrowland is the film that started the discussion about the value of creating original IPs for Hollywood. This fantastic sci-fi adventure is written and directed by Brad Bird with the help of Damon Lindelof. Starring George Clooney as the disillusioned inventor Frank Walker and Britt Robertson as Casey Newton. It’s a warming story touching upon nostalgia, the value of hard work, the dangers of overreliance on technology, and the desire for social advancement.
You’d think a film from The Bird, the man who created The Incredibles, would be a box office wonder, but that was not the case here. The production cost of $190 million barely managed to recoup $209 million worldwide, making the film an official flop. Tomorrowland deserves a second viewing mostly because it’s a film aimed at inspiring people to explore their own ideas about how to help the world. It’s also a visually stunning film that makes insightful use of CGI technology to explore a technological society in its prime.
11 The Nice Guys (2016)
Buddy cop films haven’t been a thing for a while, which is a shame, as the genre is always great for exploring unlikely pairs and giving some established actors a serious range. The Nice Guys is an example of that exercise. Directed by Shane Black, who also co-wrote the script with Anthony Bagarozzi, this film pairs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the unlikely duo of Jackson Healy, an enforcer for hire, and Holland March, a private investigator. A solid story and great performances were not enough, as the movie barely made $60 million on a budget of $50 million.
The Nice Guys is also a period piece, as the story is set in the 70s. The film is full of staples of the era, with tons of sharp wit, clever dialogue, and thrilling action sequences. Crowe and Gosling have fantastic chemistry as they bounce each other’s with quips, testing their comedic timing. The story has a well-balanced offering of mystery, humor, and suspense to entice you. You’re due for a great time if you missed this excellent little offering when it came out. If anything, this film is simply fun to watch.
10 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Guy Ritchie has a strong pedigree in cinema, with numerous classics to his name. The man is known for his urban stories. However, he’s not above dipping his toes with period dramas. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is a fantasy adventure film written by Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram. Charlie Hunnam takes on the titular role of King Arthur alongside Jude Law, who portrays the power-hungry villain Vortigern. The film is loaded with many of Ritchie’s staples, riding high on a budget of $175 million. Sadly, the movie crashed and burned with a gross of $148.7 million.
Despite being a financial disappointment, Legend of the Sword deserves a second chance. The film offers a fresh and visually stunning interpretation of the Arthurian legend. There are lots of clever dialogue and fast-paced action here, giving the period drama a bit of a modern flare. Hunnam makes for a charismatic King Arthur with a strong screen presence. Jude Law is the one that steals the show with an over-the-top portrayal. This film deserves a second chance because of its dynamic storytelling and exhilarating action sequences. It’s an ambitious project by Ritchie and one we are sad to see unappreciated by audiences.
9 Mortal Engines (2018)
We usually associate Peter Jackson with box office success, and while he didn’t direct Mortal Engines, he produced this excellent steampunk sci-fi adventure. Directed by Christian Rivers, with a script written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, the story features the talents of Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw and Robert Sheehan as Tom Natsworthy. It’s a post-apocalyptic adventure where cities have been mechanized, and society runs the principles of Darwinism or the classic “survival of the fittest.”
Despite the impressive backing of Universal Studios, a budget of $150 million, and Jackson’s involvement, this film bombed hard at the box office, recouping only $83.7 million worldwide. The film was supposed to open the doors to a new universe to explore in this setup. Still, it went unnoticed, thanks in no small part to critics blasting the changes made to the book’s original plot and erasing the social commentary contained in the message behind the mechanized cities. It’s still a thrilling adventure worth revisiting for its entertainment value.
8 The Last Duel (2021)
The second flop of Ridley Scott in this ranking, it’s a film that had no right to go unnoticed by audiences. This historical drama is the book The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager. The script was written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, who also stars in the film. The story pits Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer as Jean de Carrouges, Jacques Le Gris, and Marguerite de Thibouville, respectively. Made on a budget of $100 million, the film barely managed to collect $30.6 million.
Despite being one of the best offerings by Scott in a long time, The Last Duel infuriated the director to the point of having him blast studios on the press, criticizing the current studio system favoring blockbuster tentpoles against more elaborated offerings. The film explores a medieval grievance in three chapters, each from a different point of view. The setup of the story is evenly paced in all stances. The resolution of the conflict is masterfully handled with great attention to detail in every regard. This film is truly worth your time!
7 Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
We must wonder what exactly is happening with George Miller’s head. The man can handle action blockbusters like a pro, as seen in all Mad Max films, yet he also has the chops to provide insightful and even wholesome movies such as Happy Feet. Three Thousand Years of Longing is one of his most reflective offerings. Written and directed by Miller himself, the film features the talents of Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in the lead roles. The movie was done on a big budget of $60 million, yet it barely managed to scrap $20.3 million worldwide.
George Miller is known for offering great stories exploring the human mind beyond the limits we place on ourselves. In the film, we follow the story of Alithea Binnie, a British academic constantly plagued by demonic visions. She decides to take a trip to Istanbul, where she manages to get her hands on the fabled bottle containing a Djinn, who shall grant her three wishes. Believing the move to be a deception, Binnie opts to talk with the Djinn and hear his recounts from former masters and how he ended up in the bottle. It’s a love story unlike any other, well worth your time.
6 Lost City of Z (2017)
Biographical dramas rarely get a bad rap, especially when they have such a star-studded cast, but the Lost City of Z was dismissed by moviegoers back in 2016, likely due to poor marketing. The film is written and directed by James Gray and reunites Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, and Tom Holland in a single motion picture. It’s a story about the travels of Percy Fawcett and his loyal companion Henry Costin as they search for the unknown Lost City of Z in the Amazonian rainforest. The film was made on a budget of $30 million and barely managed to collect $19.3 million worldwide.
James Gray’s direction immerses us in the lush and treacherous landscapes of the jungle, capturing the true spirit of exploration and its difficulties. Hunnam offers a compelling performance as Fawcett and Pattinson are reliable as usual. We see the evolution of Fawcett as his obsession with the lost city overtakes his life. He loses sight of everything, including his family. Holland steps in as his grown son Jack Fawcett, to join his father for one last ride before being lost to the jungle. It’s a great movie exploring the complexities of human ambition and obsession.
5 Destroyer (2018)
Destroyer should have done for Nicole Kidman what Monster did for Charlize Theron back in 2003. This impactful gritty crime is directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. The film features Kidman in a transformative performance as LAPD detective Erin Bell, alongside Sebastian Stan in a supporting role. This film was made on a modest budget of $9 million, but it only managed to scrap $5.6 million in its theatrical run. It’s a gripping tale where we follow LAPD detective Erin Bell on a haunting journey for redemption and closure.
Kidman’s performance is nothing short of remarkable; she manages to immerse the audience in the complexities of the damaged detective as her undercover work goes sideways. Erin got personal with the target; she became pregnant with his kid and decided to rob a bank without telling her handlers. When the robbery goes wrong, she secures part of the loot and hides away her sins until they all crawl back from the dark spot she buried them to haunt her until she pays the toll of her crimes. It’s a powerful movie, and a shame it went unnoticed.
4 Tár (2022)
Tár has to be one of the most powerful performances ever offered by Cate Blanchett. Written and directed by Todd Field, most of us learned about this film’s existence thanks to its multiple nominations to the Academy Awards in 2023. It’s a powerful tale snubbed by us, the audience, and the academy. There’s no need to embellish our praise for this film: Tár showcases the directorial prowess of Todd Field and the remarkable talent of Cate Blanchett as an actress. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and didn’t land one, which is preposterous.
Tár is a story about cancel culture, but it has multiple nuances. Blanchett plays a fictional musical prodigy that leads in the most extraordinary scenes in classical music. While she’s a talented professional, she’s not above making mistakes. And she makes a lot of them. The story explores the price for being famous and influential, how to mismanage that power, and how to lose it, all while finding the strength to build ourselves back together and face different venues. It’s a tremendous story that deserves to be revisited multiple times to understand the kind of world we are living in right now.
3 Event Horizon (1997)
Paul W. S. Anderson was ready to show us the goods after his directorial debut in Mortal Kombat. After smashing the box office with the popular IP, he chose to work on a script written by Phillip Eisner. The final result was Event Horizon, one of the most underrated gems of the 90s and the best science fiction horror film right after the original Alien. Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill headline the solid cast as members of the crew from the vessel Lewis and Clark who are sent to investigate a distress signal from a ship that disappeared seven years ago.
The story blends body horror and Lovecraftian elements, exploring metaphysical concepts about the perception of reality. While never stated outright, it’s implied the ship has gone to hell and returned to claim more victims. The immersive experience plays with your perceptions, making you second-guess everything you think you know about the plot. The end of the story is far from the evergreen happy ending, and it suits the story like a dead ring. It’s a shame films like this are not made more frequently!
2 The Northman (2022)
Robert Eggers is a director destined to make great things in this industry if studios are willing to take a chance on his original ideas. The Northman was a great offering in the first half of 2022 that didn’t get any love from moviegoers. Made on a budget of $90 million, the film scored a meager $69 million worldwide, which is a damn shame. This epic historical drama is an adaptation of the northern folk tale of Amulet. The script was written by Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson and Eggers and stars Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy in the two main lead roles.
The story of Amlet is the base for Hamlet, the famous play written by William Shakespeare centuries ago. It’s a gripping story about a Nordic prince seeking vengeance for the murder of his father and the intricate web of secrets, betrayals, and survival that unfolds after his timely escape. Returning to his native village as an adult and becoming a bloodthirsty warrior, Amlet will not stop until he gets revenge. This makes the impactful revelation of the story feel like a gut punch. The Northman explores multiple themes such as justice, family, and human nature, and a film worth a rewatch anytime you feel like it.
1 Dark City (1998)
Dark City has been elevated to the status of cult classic 25 years after its release. This film is better described as a neo-noir science fiction story that plays rough with your senses and perception. Directed by Alex Proyas, the script was written by David S. Goyer and Proyas himself. The movie features the talents of Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Connelly, who both manage to convey the audience’s emotions with a thread of perception of their surroundings.
The plot follows John Murdoch after he wakes up in a bathtub with amnesia. A phone call alerts him to being pursued. John falls into the hands of the police department, but not everything is as it seems. He soon realizes he lives in a city with no name, and at 12′ o clock, everything in this location switches places without people realizing it. It’s a magnificent story, touching upon the subjects of free will, symbolism, and the actions of external forces in the lives of humans.
In conclusion, this film has captivated audiences with its mesmerizing storytelling, compelling performances, and stunning visuals. It has transported us to worlds both familiar and unknown, evoking a range of emotions that have left a lasting impact. The director’s artistic vision and the collaborative efforts of the cast and crew have brought this story to life in a truly extraordinary way. From the gripping plot twists to the heartfelt moments of connection, this film has reminded us of the power of cinema to inspire, entertain, and provoke thought.
Whether you’re a fan of the genre or simply a lover of great storytelling , this film is not to be missed. It’s a testament to the magic of filmmaking and serves as a reminder of the profound impact that movies can have on our lives. So grab your popcorn, sit back, and immerse yourself in this cinematic masterpiece.