It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the great movies that come out in a single year, let alone a decade. When you add in how quickly the cultural attention span moves on, it can be increasingly hard to remember even the best films that came out in the last few years. It gets even more difficult when you’re measuring critical acclaim versus box office appeal, and there are plenty of wonderful movies that get lost in the cracks.
Luckily, we’ve been keeping a close eye on those amazing films that bombed at the box office or didn’t quite get the critical acclaim they deserved. From absurd action movies to quiet contemplations on faith and religion, we’ve dug deep to find some of the truly hidden gems that have come out in the last ten years. So if you’re looking for the most underrated movies of the last decade, well, we’ve definitely got you covered.
MacGruber was one of the funniest films of the decade
The number of genuinely good comedy films that began life as an SNL segment can pretty much be counted on one hand … and you wouldn’t need all your fingers, either. If you haven’t seen 2010’s MacGruber, you can add that to the very short list. Starring Will Forte as the titular MacGyver-esque superspy, MacGruber broadens out the minutes-long segments of the SNL shorts into a full Lethal Weapon-esque action movie parody.
How much you enjoy it is likely going to depend on how much you enjoy Will Forte’s increasingly specific brand of comedic timing. When the film is great, it’s as hilarious and whip smart as Airplane or The Last Action Hero. When it drags, you might focus in on Forte, who manages to carry it all as an increasingly unhinged, yet magnetic, presence. Lowbrow comedies don’t tend to get the sort of critical accolades that Oscar contenders do, but there’s a reason that MacGruber‘s become something of a cult classic in recent years. It’s willfully, stubbornly silly and manic, taking a joke that was never meant to last more than five minutes and making it into a full-length film.
Put your hands together for Hanna
Even though it’s a part of the grand tradition of films with titles that are the first name of the protagonist (Rocky, Aladdin, Garfield), 2011’s Hanna feels unique within a crowded landscape of other films. While it’s likely best remembered these days as a breakout role for Ladybird actress Saoirse Ronan or inspiring the Amazon original series of the same name, Hanna is a taut action thriller that’s worth a watch on its own merits. The film follows the titular Hanna, a girl raised in the wilderness by a father figure (played by former Hulk, Eric Bana) who’s taught her to be a lethal killer and survivalist. When it turns out that she’s wanted by the CIA for mysterious reasons, Hanna has to go on the run while also learning how to be human in a world filled with people she’s never known and can’t relate to.
In stark contrast to action movies of the early 2000s which focused on frenetic, highly-edited fight scenes in the style of the Bourne films, the action scenes in Hanna are almost balletic one-take affairs. Add in a killer untraditional score by the Chemical Brothers and a predictably great performance from Ronan, and you’ve got an action film that deserves to be remembered for more than just inspiring an Amazon original series.
Hobo with a Shotgun is number one with a bullet
Homages to the storytelling conventions of yesteryear can be tricky. Mock the conventions too broadly, and you end up with parody, while a straightforward riff runs the risk of alienating everyone who’s not already a fan of the genre. Somehow, Hobo with a Shotgun, a gleefully sadistic action-horror film in the grand tradition of Troma films like The Toxic Avenger, manages to ride that line perfectly. The film follows a nameless hobo (Rutger Hauer) who shows up in Scum Town, a horrific city ruled by a cackling mob boss named the Drake and his evil sons. As you might expect, the hobo gets hold of a shotgun and starts dispensing street violence on the villains of Scum Town.
One major point in the film’s favor is Hauer’s portrayal of the central character. The Blade Runner actor is certainly no stranger to injecting a surprising amount of pathos and heart into characters that were originally meant to be much more one-note, and he puts all of his considerable acting prowess into making the titular hobo feel genuinely human. A central monologue in which he warns a hospital room full of babies against the perils of short-sighted evil and the possibility of their own potential lands somewhere beyond the realm of parody and straightforward homage. It’s sublime, and that’s before the Drake hires a pair of immortal bounty hunters — whose previous targets have included Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, and the Easter Bunny — to hunt down the hobo. If you’ve got a soft spot for any low-budget action-horror films where the central appeal is right there in the title, you can’t miss with Hobo with a Shotgun.
The Guest is an underrated action-horror hybrid
If you’ve ever had to deal with a houseguest who feels entitled to your home for just a bit too long, you’re sure to feel a pang of familiarity when you watch 2014’s The Guest. Starring Dan Stevens in a very abrupt departure from his Downton Abbey days, the film follows a family whose grief over their military son’s death overseas is interrupted by David (Stevens), who claims to have served with their son. As David ingratiates himself more and more into the family, questions are raised about who exactly David is and what he’s doing there. It’s not a hugely original film. If you’re familiar with John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron (among others), you’ll likely notice some winks and nods to their films, but The Guest goes beyond simple homage.
Stevens plays David like a sinister version of Captain America. He’s traditional masculinity personified with an oily sheen. He’s your cool older brother and the guy you don’t want to pass on a dark street, and the film shines with his seedy charisma. Though it received solid reviews, The Guest wasn’t able to be the breakout hit that so many other low-budget horror thrillers managed in the 2010s, leading the film to be a bit of an undiscovered gem. Somewhat fittingly for a film clearly inspired by the movies of John Carpenter, The Guest is an underrated thriller with a great cast and a fantastic score.
Inherent Vice is inherently great
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest living American filmmakers, Thomas Pynchon is one of the greatest living American writers, and Joaquin Phoenix is one of the greatest living American actors. How did a movie that brought all three of these talents together in one film end up being a box office bomb that didn’t even make back its budget? That’s just one of the many confusing questions surrounding 2014’s Inherent Vice, a film that finally managed to adapt an author whose work was long thought to be unfilmable.
In fairness, Inherent Vice has a fairly clear narrative thread compared to the rest of the Gravity’s Rainbow author’s oeuvre. It’s pretty clearly a Phillip Marlowe riff set in the 1970s with all the secret societies, surrealist moments, and confusing conspiracies that only Pynchon can provide. Still, considering that the novel clocks in at around 400 pages, it’s a minor miracle that Anderson managed to make a faithful adaptation that’s in any way accessible for those who didn’t read the book. While Inherent Vice managed to get some Oscar buzz in the year of its release, the years since have seen the film somewhat forgotten, despite the pedigree of talent involved. That’s a shame, especially since it’s a delightfully weird film that ranks among Anderson’s best.
The Love Witch didn’t get enough love
Movies tend to be, often unfairly, attributed to the artistic prowess of one person, often the director. While there are plenty of directors that are famously fastidious when it comes to nearly every aspect of their films, there’s often tasks that they simply don’t have the ability to do themselves or that they simply aren’t interested in doing. However, The Love Witch is legitimately a film that can be nearly entirely attributed to one woman: Anna Biller. Biller wrote, directed, produced, edited, scored, and designed the sets of The Love Witch. It’s a staggering amount of work to create a film that feels so true to 1960s technicolor camp horror that you might find yourself checking the release date while you watch.
Technical details aside, The Love Witch is just fun to watch. It’s a horror film, a comedy, a camp commentary on gender roles and modern-day witchcraft, and that gestalt of tone and style eventually morphs into something entirely unique. Despite being nearly universally hailed by critics, the film didn’t even manage to crack $1 million in box office upon its release. There’s nothing else quite like watching The Love Witch, so sit back and let the film cast its strange spells on you.
The Nice Guys is one of the decade’s most underrated comedies
Shane Black movies tend to follow a consistent template. An unlikely pair of down-on-their-luck tough guys guys have to overcome their differences and team up to stop a confusing plot with the help of a precocious child, usually around Christmas. But while that might generally describe most Black movies, it doesn’t quite get at the core appeal. In essence, his movies are coming-of-age films for men who’ve already come of age. And in 2016’s The Nice Guys, Black manages to deliver possibly the purest distillation of his vision. The film follows Jackson Healy (Russel Crowe), a tough guy for hire who teams up with an alcoholic private eye named Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to investigate the disappearance of a woman who may or may not be dead.
Black’s always had a soft spot for adults unsure of how they fit in the world, and Healy and March are deeply unhappy with their respective places in it. Crowe plays Healy with a subdued melancholy that makes it clear how empty his life is when he’s not shaking down wannabe gangsters, while March has a tattoo on his hand that reads, "You will never be happy." It’s kind of grim. Still, before you go thinking that the film’s tone veers towards that of an Oscar-contender drama, we should add that The Nice Guys is absolutely hilarious. Gosling stumbles through scenes with a commitment to slapstick that few other A-list actors would ever dare. The movie’s blend of comedy and melancholy was a hit with critics, but it barely made back its budget upon release. If you were one of the many who missed out on this cult classic in the making, you should check out The Nice Guys.
Silence is deserving of some noise
Martin Scorsese is a director whose preoccupation with his Catholic upbringing is deeply ingrained in his movies. Even beyond The Last Temptation of Christ, his films are an attempt to reckon with mortality, divine retribution, and the lies that we tell ourselves in order to continue to live a comfortable life. These storytelling goals might exist in the subtext of films like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, but Silence brings it all to the foreground. Maybe that blunt engagement with spirituality and righteousness is what led Silence to barely recoup more than $20 million internationally, even while critics raved about it. Don’t let that scare you off, though. Silence is easily one of Scorsese’s best films.
The film follows a pair of Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century in order to investigate reports that their mentor committed apostasy. Father Garupe (Adam Driver) believes that their presence in Japan endangers the local Christian population, while Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) seems almost maniacally devout in his belief that this is his truest spiritual calling. Through it all, Scorsese refuses to let the film become didactic, pushing viewers to consider whether Rodrigues’ presence and his religious fervor is actually a good thing for those he tries to help.
Bomb City was the bomb
In 1997, a punk named Brian Deneke was struck in a deliberate hit-and-run by a local athlete from his high school. It was a death that shocked the town of Amarillo, Texas, bringing to the forefront the simmering hostility between the punk subculture and those in the town who hated them. Bomb City is based on that event, portraying the lives of Brian and his punk friends before his untimely death.
Much of the 2017 film is spent contrasting the punks and jocks of Amarillo as the story builds towards its unavoidable end, and director Jameson Brooks expertly pushes back on the audience’s preconceived notions about justice. Our own AJ Caulfield called the film "a reminder that the American justice system isn’t always moral, and that not everyone is as unassuming or as aggressive as their outward appearance may suggest." Despite only getting 75 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Bomb City is a harrowing, necessary watch, made by filmmakers clearly invested in telling the story right.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is one of the bloodiest films of the decade
It’s fairly common to see comedic actors turn in a dramatic role that shocks audiences that didn’t expect it. There was Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love, Bill Hader in the HBO show Barry, Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher, and the list goes on and on. A list that would be less packed would be comedic actors that turn to non-parody action movies. Whoever else lands on that undoubtedly short list will have to make room for Vince Vaughn after The Wedding Crashers star appeared as a tattooed convict in 2017’s Brawl in Cell Block 99.
Vaughn stars as Bradley Thomas, a former boxer and drug mule who’s sent to prison after a job goes wrong. In jail, Bradley is ordered to assassinate a fellow inmate located deep within the worst parts of the prison in order to save the life of his wife and unborn child. Roger Ebert‘s Simon Abrams said of the film, "Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a grade-A piece of meathead cinema, the kind of exploitation movie whose deepest thoughts are ‘Am I more animal than human?’ and ‘How far is a man willing to go to protect his loved ones?’" If that sounds up your alley, you’ll want to grab a copy of Brawl in Cell Block 99.
Disobedience is a powerful and underrated love story
The struggle to find love when your family doesn’t approve is one of the oldest themes in human narratives. Shakespeare famously wrote a play about two houses, both alike in dignity, whose children fall in love even as their respective families hate each other. It’s well-worn territory, to be sure, but Disobedience finds a unique aspect to the age-old narrative. In Disobedience, Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, a woman returning to her orthodox Jewish community for the first time in years after her father passes away. There, Ronit runs into Esti (Rachel McAdams), her childhood friend who’s now married to their other mutual friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola). To make things more complicated, Ronit and Esti had a romantic tryst years ago that originally led to Ronit leaving the tight-knit community in the first place.
As Ronit and Esti feel the familiar stirrings of romance, they’re forced to confront what their love means as adults and what choice they really have in pursuing it. Directed by Sebastián Lelio (Gloria), Disobedience is a daring, utterly unique film.
Ingrid Goes West understands technology and millennials
Despite the fact that the internet and social media have existed for decades at this point, most movies are still struggling to convincingly show how people actually use them. Movies like Unfriended or Searching take place within the confines of the computer, but few other movies are actually interested in engaging with the specific desires that using social media can meet. However, 2017’s Ingrid Goes West not only manages to comment on digital lives in the modern age, but it also manages to be one of the most accurate Los Angeles movies of all time.
Ingrid Goes West follows Ingrid as she goes, well, west, following a hospitalization in a mental institution after she stalked a woman she believed was her friend. When Ingrid’s mother dies, leaving her with plenty of disposable income, Ingrid becomes obsessed with an Instagram influencer who seems to have the ideal life. Ingrid heads to Hollywood to basically trick the woman into being her best friend, and things just become more twisted from there. If you’ve spent any time in Los Angeles, you’re sure to recognize the characters in Ingrid. Everyone from the "starving" artist that sells his paintings for at least four figures to the Batman-obsessed script writer who’s gambling it all on a career in Hollywood make an appearance. Still, Ingrid never becomes sadistic in its portrayal of the flawed characters trying to make something of themselves in the City of Angels. There’s a sympathetic eye that keeps the film a character study instead of just a mocking comedy.
The Lure lures you in
If you’ve ever despaired at how few horror musical period pieces get made about mermaids, we’ve got some great news for you. The Polish film, The Lure, is sure to scratch that particular peculiar itch. In a loose reworking of the Hans Christian Anderson story that served as the basis for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, The Lure follows two mermaids who join a rock band in the 1980s. While it might sound like a one-off episode of a Disney cartoon, The Lure is surprisingly violent and adult.
The film’s unique tone and garish musical numbers might seem like style over substance, but The Lure has more to say about femininity, immigration, and love than you might think. The AV Club‘s Katie Rife called it "a genre-defying film that blends elements of musicals, horror, romance, and fantasy into a contemporary fairy tale that celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two." If you missed this when it briefly hit American theaters in 2017, there’s no better time to head back into the water and check out The Lure.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is an amazing, underrated action movie
The last decade has been good to Vin Diesel fans, at least as far as the Fast and Furious movies have been concerned. Thanks to director James Lin reinvigorating the franchise with Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious, and Fast Five, the franchise has become genuinely popular with mainstream viewers and diehard action fans alike. However, Vin Diesel’s other early 2000s film franchise hasn’t yet undergone the same critical re-evaluation that Fast and Furious has. And no, we’re not talking about the Riddick films.
The original xXx, released in 2002, was an almost insultingly blatant riff of James Bond, with a hodgepodge of attached signifiers of coolness meant to attract teens in the early 2000s. It wasn’t exactly great, but Vin Diesel was charming enough in the role for a franchise to begin, even if the very next sequel cut him out entirely. Finally, however, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was released in 2017 and was a legitimately thrilling action film. Like the Fast and Furious franchise, the new xXx is more of an ensemble piece filled with internationally successful (and undeniably talented) actors. Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, Rory McCann (the Hound from Game of Thrones), Toni Collette, and more came together in a goofy film that’s among the better action films of the last decade. If you’ve ever wanted to see Donnie Yen and Vin Diesel battle it out on water skis that are also motorcycles, this is the movie for you.
A Vigilante shows Olivia Wilde at her best
Every year seems to bring more and more tales of superheroic vigilantes to the big screen, but one of this decade’s best vigilante movies wasn’t based on a comic book and has no superpowers on-screen. In A Vigilante, Olivia Wilde plays Sadie, a woman who spends her time beating abusive men to a meaty pulp. As it turns out, Sadie has specific reasons for why she does what she does, and the film soon expands into a sprawling narrative of revenge, violence, and reinvention. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote that A Vigilante "is one of those small but brutal films that major directorial careers are made from," and it’s hard to disagree with that. Every scene of Sarah Daggar-Nickso’s film seems to ooze with a hardboiled toughness, and Wilde has never been so intensely driven. Despite strong critical reviews, A Vigilante only premiered in a single theater in the United Kingdom, which didn’t exactly give audiences a lot of time to watch it. If you’re looking for something gritty, complicated, and pulpy, A Vigilante is worth seeking out.