110 Overrated/Underrated Films

“That movie was totally overrated. Now if you want to see a really worthwhile flick you should see . . . ”

Because self-serious film buffs (like me) say this type of thing all the time so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to actually list 55 of the most overrated and 55 of the most underrated films of all time (and by “all time” I mean, that I’ve seen and can remember).

For today’s argument we’ll consider an overrated film to be anything that is undeserving of the critical or popular praise they receive even if it was a good—or even great—movie (Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ is a great movie that has, in recent years, become inexplicably overrated). The underrated films should all be examples of excellent cinema that are obviously superior (or at least slightly more worthy) than the corresponding “overrated” film with which they share a category.

The categories, which range from the obvious to the just plain odd, are intended to cover a broad selection of interests. But it’s not exhaustive so feel free to add your own in the comments section. These also don’t have to be your favorite films (many of my favorites don’t make the list) or films that no one has ever heard of. Even classic movies can be considered underrated if they’ve fallen out of favor with modern audiences.

To start us off, here is my list of the 110 most overrated and underrated films  (overrated on the left, underrated on the right):

1. Most overrated/underrated: Raging Bull | Metropolitan (Raging Bull is often referred to as one of the best films of the 1980s. Such people obviously do not like either a) movies or b) humanity, for the film is all style and no substance. Metropolitan, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite of Raging Bull in every way. It is urbane, witty, and subtle. But the main difference is that Whit Stillman’s charming little film shows a depth of understanding about the human condition that is completely lacking in Scorsese’s misanthropic so-called masterpiece.)

2. Movie about fraternities: Animal House | PCU (I hesitate to include these two together simply because the criminally overhyped John Belushi shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as comic genius Jeremy Piven.)

3. Disney movie about dogs: 101 Dalmations | The Fox and the Hound

4. John Wayne movie: The Searchers | Big Jake (Don’t get me wrong: The Searchers is a great movie. But it doesn’t have quite the depth that the critics and fans claim. Both of these films are about the search for a kidnapped family member but Big Jake has two things missing from The Searchers: love and genuine humor.)

5. Harrison Ford movie: Witness | The Mosquito Coast

6. Movie about a rock band: Gimme Shelter | Some Kind of Monster (I’m not much of a fan of either the Rolling Stones or Metallica. But Gimme Shelter shows that deep down the Stones are uninteresting dullards while Monster reveals the members of Metallica to be fascinatingly neurotic.)

7. Cold war movie: Dr. Stangelove | Crimson Tide Red Dawn (As Justin Thibault pointed out, ‘Crimson Tide’ is a post-Cold War film. I’ve replaced it with my first runner-up.)

8. Mobster movie: Scarface | Miller’s Crossing

9. Audrey Hepburn movie: Breakfast At Tiffany’s | Roman Holiday (Breakfast starts off well but loses steam by the end. Holiday, though, is charming all the way through.)

10. Movie about a pig: Charlotte’s Web | Babe (As film critic critic Dann Gire once said, Babe is the Citizen Kane of talking pig movies.)

11. Sam Raimi movie: Evil Dead | Army of Darkness: Evil Dead 3

12. Western: Shane | Winchester ’73

13. Horror film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre | 28 Days Later

14. Movie about a kid who plays chess: Searching for Bobby Fischer | Fresh

15. “Best Picture” Oscar Winners (1927-1959): From Here to Eternity (1953) | It Happened One Night (1934)

16. “Best Picture” Oscar Winners (1960-2008): American Beauty (1999)| The Apartment (1960)

17. Batman movie: Batman | Batman Begins

18. Foreign film (France): Breathless | Brotherhood of the Wolf (BotW is quite possibly the best French import since French Fries.)

19. Foreign film (Germany): Aguirre, the Wrath of God | Run Lola Run

20. Foreign film (Italy): Blow-Up | Cinema Paradiso

21. Foreign film (Australia): The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert | Strictly Ballroom

22. Foreign film (China): Chungking Express | Eat Drink Man Woman

23. Foreign film (Mexico): Y Tu Mama Tambien | Like Water for Chocolate

24. Movie based on a foreign book no one reads anymore: Doctor Zhivago |Dangerous Liaisons

25. Movie about a couple on the run from the law: Badlands | The Sugarland Express

26. Sci-fi movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey | Serenity (But you have to see the entire season of Firefly on DVD before watching Serenity.)

27. Incoherent movie about a hippie: Easy Rider | The Big Lebowski

28. Sports movie: Chariots of Fire | Kingpin

29. Movie based on a comic book: Superman | Hellboy

30. Comedy: Caddyshack | Raising Arizona (The nearly plotless Caddyshack hasn’t aged well and is not as funny as you remember. Raising Arizona, on the other hand, remains as fresh and hilarious as ever.)

31. Cult classic: The Rocky Horror Picture Show | Heathers

32. Mel Gibson movie: Braveheart Gallipoli

33. Musical: A Chorus Line | Moulin Rouge

34. Martial arts movie: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon | House of Flying Daggers

35. Denzel Washington movie: Mississippi Masala | The Mighty Quinn

36. Documentary: Roger & Me | Brother’s Keeper

37. Movie about politics: All the President’s MenElection

38. Sci-Fi Sequel: Star Wars: Episode IV (The original Star Wars) | X2: X-Men United

39. John Hughes film: Planes, Trains & Automobiles | Some Kind of Wonderful

40. Biopic about a civil rights leader: Gandhi | Boycott

41. Movie about amoral businessmen: Wall Street | Boiler Room

42. Vampire movie: Interview with a Vampire | Near Dark

43. War movie: The Thin Red Line | Breaker Morant

44. Christmas film: Frosty The Snowman | Elf

45. Movie about teen angst: Rebel Without a Cause | Ghost World

46. Kevin Costner sports movie: Field of Dreams | Tin Cup

47. Chick flick: Thelma & Louise | The Truth About Cats & Dogs

48. Movie based on a cheesy TV show: The Brady Bunch Movie | Josie and the Pussycats

49. Silent Film: Intolerance | The General (The conventional wisdom is coming around to the realization that Buster Keaton was a greater actor than Charlie Chaplin. After watching The General you’ll wonder why there was ever any doubt.)

50. Woody Allen Film: Hannah and Her Sisters | Take the Money and Run

51. Alfred Hitchcock Film: The Birds | Rope

52. Stanley Kubrick Film: Lolita | Paths of Glory

53. Billy Wilder Film: The Seven Year Itch | One, Two, Three (‘One, Two, Three’ is a blisteringly paced, wildly entertaining lost gem.)

54. Martin Scorsese Film: The Last Temptation of Christ | After Hours

55 . Movie with a “Christian” theme: The Passion of the Christ | Ponette (Watch them both and you’ll see what I mean.)

Think I’m wrong? (Of course you do.) Leave your alternative choices in the comments section. (Note: My list doesn’t include anything from the past five years but don’t let that limit your selections.)

Related: 50 Memorable (But Obscure) Movie Quotes

  • http://www.twitter.com/johncfarrier John Farrier

    I agree that Animal House is overrated. After reading Jonah Goldberg praise it for years, I finally saw it and was disappointed. It’s nothing but a celebration of jackassery.

    My favorite Batman movie is the 1993 Mask of the Phantasm. It was produced by the people behind The Animated Series and is definitely worth watching. Excellent writing, directing and soundtrack.

    I liked Winchester ’73. Another excellent Jimmy Stewart western is Bend of the River.

    • Bruce Press

      Nice call on Mask of the Phantasm. Couldn’t agree more.

    • Joe Carter

      Thanks for the suggestions. Despite being a huge Batman and Jimmy Stewart fan, I hadn’t heard of either Mask of the Phantasm or Bend in the River. I’ll have to check those out.

      • Stan Brooks

        IF you have never heard of Mask of the Phantasm then you are not a huge Batman fan. Enjoy a great film.

      • Pamela Shaw

        Though I’m not a fan of the “Batman Beyond” series overall, “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” is pretty fine entertainment too.

  • Frank Viola

    Smokin’ Joe:
    “The Zero Effect” . . . one of the best movies ever made. Not only underrated, but unknown.
    Watch it and get back with me.
    fv
    Psalm 115:1

    • Joe Carter

      If I had included a category for “quirky observational detective movies” The Zero Effect would have definitely been on the underrated side. Really good movie that never found the audience it deserved.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/frankviola/ Frank Viola

        You saw this film? Well, you just moved up several notches in my fan book, Sir.

        The remarks by Zero themselves are without peer.

        “I can’t possibly overstate the importance of good research. Everyone goes through life dropping crumbs. If you can recognize the crumbs, you can trace a path all the way back from your death certificate to the dinner and a movie that resulted in you in the first place. But research is an art, not a science, because anyone who knows what they’re doing can find the crumbs, the wheres, whats, and whos. The art is in the whys: the ability to read between the crumbs, not to mix metaphors. For every event, there is a cause and effect. For every crime, a motive. And for every motive, a passion. The art of research is the ability to look at the details, and see the passion. ” ~ Daryl Zero

        And then his classic remark about “the two obs.”

        Every investigator (and police officer) should be tutored by this movie.

        fv

        Psalm 115:1

  • http://frankviola.com Frank Viola

    Correction: It’s just “Zero Effect”
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120906/
    Amazin’ flick.

  • http://saintmarkslutheran.org Mark Brown

    Two things:
    1. Dr. Zhivago is the only movie I can think of that a) inspires you by its very beauty and b) brings to the point of suicide at the sadness of it all. That is a great film. (And commies are the bad guys!)
    2. Over-rated/under-rated Keanu Reaves: Dracula/Constantine. Constantine is just one of those movies that every time it is on TV you stop and watch – even with that horrible works righteousness theology at the end. If you wanted to get really daring replace Dracula with the Matrix.

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  • David

    Personally I’d switch around the musical category: A Chorus Line has been eclipsed by others at this point, while Moulin Rouge is a self-indulgent mess that spends most of its time winking at its audience.

    Agree with John about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Until the first 2 Nolan films it was THE best Batman movie, hands down. It still might be close to Batman Begins, and slightly ahead of The Dark Knight.

  • Outraged

    Who says A Chorus line is good? (They are wrong) All that Jazz does everything it does 1000x better. Also, who says Baz Luhrman is underrated?
    The people who hate Moulin Rouge hate it for a reason, though they are wrong. Its not underrated divisive maybe.

    Sweet Charity is clearly the most underrated musical. Shirley MacLaine being adorable and sad plus Fosse dancing, how have more people not seen this? It may be my favorite musical.

    • Shawn

      I always thought ‘Kiss Me Kate’ was woefully underated. Excellent songs, and some of the finest dancing in musical cinema. I’ll say that while Baz Luhrman isn’t my favorite director, I thought Moulin Rouge was contemporary in ways I wasn’t sure could be done with musicals at that point.

      A general Huzzah to all supporters of ‘Mask Of The Phantasm’ as most under rated superhero film. The scene with Bruce asking if he could stop being Batman and live his own life at his parent’s gravesite was the most powerful scene in any superhero film I’ve witnessed.

  • TheLastOutlaw

    38. Sci-Fi Sequel: Star Wars: Episode IV (The original Star Wars) | X2: X-Men United

    This one bugs me because Star Wars “Episode IV” can’t be considered a sequel by any stretch of the imagination. It was the first movie filmed, meaning despite George Lucas retro numbering system (the “Episode IV” was not in the original theatrical title crawl and was tacked on for later re-releases) Empire Strikes back “Episode V” and Return of the Jedi “Episode VI” would be sequels while Episodes 1-3 are prequels. IMO X2 (despite being very good) doesn’t stack up against “Empire” and lauding it over Jedi (widely considered the weakest of the original trilogy) wouldn’t have the same oomph. Not sure what you’re going to do with this one, unless you want to put X2 up against Star Trek 2 but Wrath of Khan is another heavyweight.

  • Zubzub

    Star Wars: A New Hope isn’t really a sequel. It was the first, and the others are either sequels or prequels.

    • Joe Carter

      Hey, they’re Lucas’ movies. If he wants to say “A New Hope” is a sequel, who am I to argue. ; )

      • TheLastOutlaw

        I don’t think he’s ever said it was a sequel, sequentially numbering a series that’s shot out of chronological order isn’t the same, but it’s your article so who are we to argue?

  • Zubzub

    Ack, too late.

  • Scott

    How about over-rated and underrated Pixar films?

    • Dave

      Overrated: The Incredibles
      Underrate: A Bug’s Life

      • JoFro

        The Incredibles is not overrated at all – one of the best Pixar movies out there.
        For me
        Overrated: Up (ok, no doubt the love story between the main chraracter and his wife of many years is possibly the best love story I have ever viewed, but the rest of the movie just dragged after that! – first Pixar movie I actually started to yawn)
        Underrated: A Bug’s Life

        • Thomas R

          I don’t know. I heard so much hype about The Incredibles and for me it didn’t live up to it. Also, and I’m far from a Leftie, but it did seem there was a slight element about how “superior people” shouldn’t be confined to bourgeoise society that grated on me a tad.

  • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot

    Considering everyone says The General is the greatest thing ever, I have a hard time seeing how it could be “the most underrated”, especially when it’s not as good as Keaton’s other work. Watch The Navigator insead.

    Also, Run Lola Run is one of those cult german movies everyone knows about. Everyone. The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, these are underrated and far superior.

    The Big Lebowski is not about a hippie. And it’s one of the most celebrated cult films ever. How could it be “the most underrated” when everyone and his brother loves it and references it constantly? I’d change this one to “Movie about a lowlife who bowls: The Big Lebowski | Five Easy Pieces”.

  • AJG

    First off, you’re clearly a Coen Brothers fan. ;)

    17. I don’t really know anyone who thinks the Tim Burton Batman was better than Batman Begins.

    26. I love Firefly and Serenity, but 2001 is one of the greatest acheivements in film history. It influenced every sci-fi movie that came afterwards. Plus, it has a monumental feel of man confronting the universe and the unknown. It can be a bit of a snoozer though.

    51. Yes, except I would replace Rope with Notorious. Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains in a film about WWII espionage directed by the Master of Suspense? Yes!

    • AJG

      Oh yes, and Caddyshack and Animal House are the two most overrated comedies ever. I get more laughs watching an episode of The Office than those two films combined.

    • Derrick

      Thanks for pointing this out. It’s a great list, but Serenity and Firefly are for eating popcorn. 2001 is as epic as it gets for sci-fi.

    • Pamela Shaw

      Unfortunately, I know people who prefer the Burton camp to the Nolan magnificence.

  • chris

    The list is useless without a Mel Brooks category.

  • david carlson

    Shane is, in no way, overated. Quintessential film about Religion

    Winchester 73 is overacted and just a chore to sit threw

  • Eric

    You have horrible taste in movies, or are a poseur hipster. Either way, your opinion on film is clearly wrong at almost every turn.

  • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

    Okay, I felt I should point out that some of the movies Carter seems to be recommending by implication contain strong sexuality, gory violence and/or pervasive strong foul language. (This isn’t meant ironically, I’m seriously making an informative comment.)

    As for _Chariots of Fire_, it is not overrated, it is the greatest movie ever made, so Joe doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The End.

  • john m

    Movies about simpletons in the right place at the right time: Forrest Gump | Being There

    • Pamela Shaw

      WORD.

  • Cox

    Movie where Earth gets attacked by aliens: War of the Worlds | Starship Troopers (all dictatorship with Nazi imagery, plus NPH!!!)

    • Shawn

      We talking Pal or Spielberg? Pal may be a bit dated, but I could not agree that he’s over rated.

  • http://none Some guy

    I was visiting a friend who is a movie critic and I pulled this list up on his lap top.

    You ever heard a man with no lower jaw laugh? It was creepy :(

  • golem

    How could a doc. which shows a murder taking place be overrated? (Gimme Shelter)

  • Sean

    Can NOT believe that you said American Beauty was overrated.

  • Sarah M

    Thank you for the shout outs to “Babe” and “Eat Drink Man Woman”– two highly underrated movies that deal with the real stuff of humanity (death, hope, friendship) very beautifully. Also “Raising Arizona,” the only movie that was just as funny when I was 4 as it is now, though for different reasons.

  • Pamela Shaw

    #15. Hamlet | Bridge on the River Kwai. Olivier’s Hamlet is painfully overacted in parts, and everyone should see Alec Guinness’ performance in BotRK.
    #16. Shakespeare in Love | The Sting. Shakespeare in Love is a pretty little movie but it’s so overrated it makes my heart hurt. And The Sting should be part of classes on period filmmaking. I urge you to find a flaw in it.

    For most overlooked movie with a “Christian” theme? Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.” No, I’m not joking.

    And by the way, the two funniest movies of all time are “Blazing Saddles” and “A Fish Called Wanda.” :)

  • Dan Strong

    Gallipoli vs. Braveheart. Do you choose the anti-British, largely historically inaccurate, Mel Gibson war movie complete with female nudity and scenes of male buttocks or the anti-British, largely historically inaccurate, Mel Gibson war movie with female nudity and scenes of male buttocks? Tough to call except for a few factors. First, Braveheart has a plot and a pretty good one, while Gallipoli is really a one minute movie with two hours of introduction (seriously all you have to watch is the last five minutes and you’ve seen all you need to). Second, Gallipoli has one the worst 80′s synthesizer soundtracks ever, while Braveheart has one of the most stirring ones. Thirdly, Gallipoli has a lot more needless raunchiness. And fourthly Braveheart is an excellent movie and Gallipoli is . . . not. I can let the slights on Vertigo, Incredibles, and Chariots of Fire (Kingpin over Chariots of Fire! What on earth!), but Braveheart and Gallipoli have about the place they deserve among the masses.

  • James

    YES to “The Mosquito Coast,” a CRIMINALLY overlooked movie. I’ll go even farther and say that Martha Plimpton should have been nominated for an Oscar for her performance in that film.

  • Shawn

    Movies about handicapped characters
    Rain Man| If You Could See What I hear

  • Rob Schwarzwalder

    Winchester ’73 better than Shane? Come now. Shane is one of the most beautifully filmed movies of all time, and its gritty depiction of the 1870s Wyoming was a stark and brilliant departure from most Westerns of its era. Was Stewart a better actor than Ladd? Yes. But was Ladd affecting and unforgettable in Shane? Also yes. And: pick a better villain than Jack Palance (although I admit Dan Duryea comes close).

  • Dave Saha

    Category: Supposedly great film. Overrated: Citizen Kane. Underrated: Inception.
    Citizen Kane just hasn’t aged well, I think. It is still great if you haven’t seen it, or don’t know its theme. It’s theme is one-dimentional: You must not make the boy into a man too soon, else he will grow up the uncivilized little beast inside but with the power of a man to enforce his will. (You can phrase it in other ways, but that is my interpretation.)
    Inception is a study of a man’s mind. Most people seem to me to not get it: there is no objective reality in the film; it is all about what Leonardo Decaprio’s character thinks is reality. The “architect” is needed to construct the dream world because if Leonardo Decaprio’s character did the construction, then his wife would know the architecture better and sooner, and try to destroy him sooner – or so he thinks. In the end, did he reach a real ending or just a construct of his mind in which he can live? You don’t know, and are not told one way or the other by the makers of the film. That’s way the very last shot is the dredl still rotating. Will it stop and fall over? You decide for yourself.

  • tuzday

    When I got to the second entry of your list and read that you think Jeremy Piven is a genius, I quit reading right there cuz we have deep and fundamental difference of opinion on the meaning of the word genius. I think Jeremy Piven’s talent is only slightly above average.
    Also, it seems abundantly apparent that you are one of those people who think your OPINION is fact. I find that a little irritating because everyone in this world has just as much right to their opinion as you do. Anywoo…live long and prosper. (Didn’t read down far enough to see if you trashed Star Trek)

  • Yvonne

    While I agree with some of this, most of this is crap and subject to opinion. That’s why lists like this are mostly crap because everyone has different tastes. For one, Animal House is very funny. Most comedies today suck compared to it, but again, tastes… and if you think Belushi was not funny you need to watch some old SLN or catch the Blues Brothers.

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  • Aaron

    Nice list – I absolutely despise Animal House because I can only enjoy those kinds of movies if I recognize some human feeling in the characters – ie, the gang in Revenge of the Nerds may be sex maniacs but they engender sympathy. Lewis and Gilbert genuinely care for each other as friends and form human attachments with the women they are involved with, even if Lewis’ seduction uses some questionable deception. On the other hand, the Tim Matheson character in AH using the death of a fat girl as a way to get sex is jaw-droppingly inhuman, as is dropping off a 13 year old girl in a shopping cart (I’m surprised I even remember that much, I suppose it means there are at least memorable scenes).
    But I would especially like to thank you for mentioning The Mosquito Coast which is bizarrely absent from any greatest films list. I might be that its appearance in Harrison Ford’s career so soon after the Ewok-snuggling turn in Return of the Jedi seemed jarring to movie goers of the time, but between those two films I went from ages 10 to 13, perhaps the most formative and changing three years in a person’s life, and it seemed perfectly appropriate to me that a childhood hero should now be playing more mature, challenging roles. Allie Fox is simply one of the boldest characters ever put on screen, and tells of a restless side of the culture in the eighties. I would also submit Harrison’s other lost work, Frantic, is very underrated. It was the first of his “doctor” movies, and one in which he developed the “nervous” acting style he was able to play to greater commercial success in the overrated, not to say unentertaining, The Fugitive.


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