The Most Underrated Movies of the '80s and '90s

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IMDb

Cinematic gems from the '80s & '90s

The 1980s and '90s were golden decades of originality in Hollywood.

The '80s brought blockbusters like "E.T." and iconic figures like Steven Spielberg. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone flexed their muscles on screen, while the horror genre saw a resurgence with classics like "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

In the '90s movie makers shifted gears: Tarantino shook things up with "Pulp Fiction"; "Jurassic Park" amazed with its special effects; and rom-coms with Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan were the talk of the town.

Amid these blockbusters, many innovative films of the '80s and '90s were overshadowed, not because they lacked brilliance, but often because they dared to tread off the beaten path, challenging viewers with unconventional narratives and bold artistic choices.

Here are some of our top picks of movies that are worth another watch or a new turn in your streaming plans...

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IMDb

'To Live and Die in L.A.' (1985)

After a remarkably strong run during the 1970s with cinematic icons like "The French Connection," and “The Exorcist,” veteran director William Friedkin hit a rough patch with films that, though not inherently bad, ended up overshadowed for various reasons. Among these was Friedkin's return to the cop genre with "To Live and Die in L.A." This gritty tale follows Secret Service agents hot on the trail of a master counterfeiter, portrayed with meticulous precision, thanks to Friedkin's collaboration with former U.S. Secret Service agent Gerald Petievich.

Despite its intense action sequences, gripping storyline, edgy visual style, and pulsating soundtrack that screams '80s L.A., the film was outpaced by other action films of the era. Its unconventional characters and morally ambiguous themes might have contributed to its under-appreciation.

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IMDb

'Brazil' (1985)

Terry Gilliam's underrated masterpiece is set in a nightmarish future where bureaucracy and technology have taken over society. The dystopian sci-fi satire — once surreal, now eerily relatable — never found broad success despite positive reviews upon its release in 1985.

Initially a tongue-in-cheek twist on Orwell's 1984, “Brazil” ages darker, sharper, and less paranoid. Watching it today, three decades after its debut, reveals that some of the bleakest visions from its surveillance-driven world have transformed into everyday realities.

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IMDb

‘Better Off Dead’ (1985)

"Better Off Dead" isn't your typical '80s teen flick. Starring John Cusack, it's less the upbeat ride of films like "One Crazy Summer" and more a deadpan dive into the darker corridors of teenage heartbreak.

When Cusack's character, Lane, finds himself grappling with life after his girlfriend, Beth, gives him the cold shoulder, the film doesn't shy away from the weight of his despair.

While it might raise eyebrows for some viewers due to its candid portrayal of a teenager with suicidal thoughts, "Better Off Dead" cleverly balances its weighty themes with genuine humor.

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IMDb

'Witness' (1985)

The '80s was quite the decade for Harrison Ford. We're talking "Indiana Jones", "Star Wars" and “Blade Runner”.. all massive hits. But sandwiched in there is a film that doesn't quite get the limelight it deserves.

Directed by Peter Weir, "Witness" plunges Ford into the role of John Book, a detective charged with the protection of a young Amish boy who becomes the sole witness to a murder.

While the movie received critical acclaim and won two Oscars, it is still overlooked due to its genre-blending nature, which might have caused it to be overshadowed by more conventional films. Ford delivers a standout performance, and the film's exploration of identity, faith, and human connections make it a must-see.

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IMDb

'After Hours' (1985)

"After Hours" is a dark comedic masterpiece directed by the prolific Martin Scorsese. Released in 1985, this quirky tale veers away from the director's usual gritty urban dramas, venturing instead into the realm of Kafkaesque nighttime misadventures.

Starring Griffin Dunne, whose character's misadventures becomes a critique of the yuppie culture of the '80s, the film garnered acclaim, notably capturing Scorsese a Best Director win at Cannes. Despite its merits and awards, "After Hours" remains one of Hollywood's under-appreciated treasures.

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IMDb

'Lucas' (1986)

Released in the same era as "War Games" and "Revenge of the Nerds," this flick also celebrates geekdom with a  heartwarming coming-of-age tale.

"Lucas," takes a different route, though.

Corey Haim delivers a touching performance as the bespectacled 14-year-old high school student, capturing the essence of a young outsider navigating unrequited love. In contrast to the bombastic narratives of its peers, "Lucas" follows the tender connection between Lucas and Maggie, the older new girl in town (played by Kerri Green).

Despite its sincerity and relatability, "Lucas" found itself overshadowed by the flashier geek-centered films of its time, yet it remains a poignant exploration of personal growth and emotions amidst a sea of louder narratives.

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IMDb

‘The Mosquito Coast’ (1986)

Based on Paul Theroux's 1981 novel, "The Mosquito Coast," directed by Peter Weir, is a compelling drama led by Harrison Ford. Despite the heavy hitters who worked on this project, the film underperformed, grossing only $14.3 million against a $25 million budget.

Ford plays Allie Fox, who moves his family to Central America's jungles seeking a simpler life. Yet, the journey reveals Allie's slipping grip on reality.

The ensemble cast, including Helen Mirren as Margot and River Phoenix as Charlie, delivers remarkable performances, solidifying the film's cinematic significance. While critics gave it a nod of appreciation, "The Mosquito Coast" remains an underrated masterpiece, overshadowed perhaps by its own introspective intensity. It's a film that challenges its viewers, delving deep into the dualities of ambition and madness, idealism and reality.

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IMDb

'Angel Heart' (1987)

Set against a noir backdrop, "Angel Heart" (1987) weaves a haunting tale of a private detective, played by Mickey Rourke, hired by a mysterious client, portrayed by Robert De Niro, to track down a popular singer. As Rourke's character delves deeper, he's pulled into a web of occult, intrigue, and a staggering plot twist that challenges his very beliefs.

Critics praised the film for its innovative premise, atmospheric visuals, and the compelling performances of its lead actors. Despite the combined star power of Rourke and De Niro, the film struggled to recoup its $18 million budget.

Regrettably, this atmospheric noir thriller remains an overlooked masterpiece to this day.

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IMDb

'Midnight Run' (1988)

The '80s were awash with buddy comedies. We all remember "Lethal Weapon" and "Beverly Hills Cop," right? But then there's "Midnight Run" which often gets sidelined in film conversations, eclipsed by its flashier contemporaries.

Starring Robert De Niro, typically hailed for his heavy-hitting crime roles, and Charles Grodin, this road-trip action-comedy offers more than just chuckles and chases. De Niro, as a bounty hunter, and Grodin, as a chatty mob informant, embark on a cross-country escapade, dodging everyone from mobsters to the FBI. Their unexpected on-screen chemistry isn't just the cherry on top — it's the whole sundae.

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IMDb

'The 'Burbs' (1989)

Compared to fellow 1980s Joe Dante films like “Gremlins” and “The Howling," this movie feels like it’s still waiting for its moment.

A quintessential suburban satire that offers a delightful, dark comedic lens into the heart of America's cookie-cutter neighborhoods “The Burbs” stars a young Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, and Bruce Dern, and dives into the world of neighborhood gossip, nosy neighbors, and the age-old idea that perhaps we don't really know who's living next door.

Set in a serene cul-de-sac, the plot thickens when a reclusive family moves in, sparking wild speculations among the residents. As the suspicions grow and outlandish theories abound, a comedic descent into suburban paranoia ensues.

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IMDb

'Q&A' (1990)

Sidney Lumet’s "Q&A" remains a hidden gem from the '90s, brimming with grit and moral ambiguity. When District Attorney Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton) investigates Detective Mike Brennan's (a magnetic Nick Nolte) actions, what unravels is a maze of corruption that’ll make you question every twist and turn. Hailed by some but overlooked by many, this film deserves its moment in the cinematic spotlight.

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films/IMDB
Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films/IMDB

'The Ref' (1994)

Richard LaGravenese, the mastermind behind films that tap deeply into the human psyche, paired up with Marie Weiss to deliver 'The Ref', a 1994 black comedy that wonderfully captures the chaos of holiday family dynamics.

With a touch of raw humor from the incomparable Denis Leary, echoing his explosive rants from 'No Cure for Cancer', this film might not be your typical Christmas tale. Yet, beneath the dark comedy, it showcases a fresh perspective on familial bonds and societal expectations. Truly an underrated gem that deserves a spot on every holiday watchlist!

 

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IMDB

'The Cable Guy' (1996)

After the triumphs of “Ace Ventura” and “Dumb & Dumber,” “The Cable Guy” was seen by many as a misstep in Jim Carrey’s trajectory. Yet, in retrospect, it was less a misstep and more a foreshadowing of the Judd Apatow comedic era.

Directed by Ben Stiller and penned by Apatow, the film chronicles the life of Steven Kovaks (Matthew Broderick) as it unravels after befriending the unhinged cable installer, Chip (Jim Carrey). Memorable antics include a medieval restaurant brawl, Carrey belting out "Somebody To Love," and an off-kilter family game night. Ben Stiller shines in dual roles, especially as a troubled former child star.

While initially its dark tone unsettled audiences, considering hits like 'The Hangover' today, it's evident 'The Cable Guy' was a pioneering comedy simply ahead of its time.

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IMDb

'Bottle Rocket' (1996)

Before Wes Anderson redefined the cinematic Pantone palette and transformed films into sumptuous visual feasts, he dipped his brush into the world of "Bottle Rocket" in 1996. Set against the quirky backdrop of Austin, this early masterpiece showcases fresh-faced Wilson brothers amid the indie fervor of the '90s, "

Bottle Rocket" stands as a tantalizing appetizer to Anderson's subsequent banquet of aesthetically lush tales.

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IMDb

'Beautiful Girls' (1996)

Released in 1996, Ted Demme’s "Beautiful Girls" emerges as a poignant reflection of its era, reminiscent of the camaraderie seen in "The Big Chill." With a stellar GenX cast, the film delves deep into the dynamics of friendship, love, and the often understated issues of toxic masculinity.

Set against the backdrop of a small-town reunion, the narrative intricately balances charm and tension, as it portrays men grappling with their relationships and personal growth.

While the movie retains its relevance and is hailed for its performances, especially from the likes of Timothy Hutton, Natalie Portman, and Uma Thurman, it hasn't been without its controversies. Still, 'Beautiful Girls' remains an iconic piece from the '90s, capturing both the essence and shadows of its time.

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IMDb

'Gattaca' (1997)

In the vast realm of science fiction, Andrew Niccol's 1997 film, 'Gattaca,' stands as an often overlooked gem. Starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law, the movie explores a future where genetic engineering dictates one's fate, leading to societal divisions.

As Vincent Freeman, a man deemed 'genetically inferior,' attempts to defy societal norms and chase his dreams, the film delves into an engrossing thriller with significant thematic depth. Notably recognized by NASA for its scientific accuracy, 'Gattaca' not only captivates with its impeccable storytelling but also cautions us about the perils of eugenics and the false allure of perfection.

Amid modern debates on genetic modification and the definition of perfection, this poignant film remains startlingly relevant, urging audiences to rewatch and recognize its undying essence.

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IMDb

‘Election' (1999)

Director Alexander Payne may be best recognized for films such as “Sideways” and Oscar decorated “Nebraska” However, his 1999 black comedy, featuring young Reese Witherspoon as an egocentric student body president hopeful and Matthew Broderick as the teacher plotting against her, is arguably his crowning achievement.

Often cited as an underrated gem, it might not have achieved monumental box office success upon its initial release, but it has since gained a dedicated following and is recognized for its sharp wit, astute commentary, and compelling performances.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Turner Entertainment Co. IMDB/Wikipedia
Turner Entertainment Co. IMDB/Wikipedia

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