Ten of the Most Underappreciated Movies of the Last Decade

Movies don’t always get the accolades they deserve. This is a look at ten films from the 2010’s which deserved more attention than they got. 

A movie flops at the box office. It fails to register any awards. Is it a bad film? More often than not, the answer is yes. But sometimes, rarely, the answer is no. Sometimes a film fails because it expresses ideas and perspectives which are ahead of their times. Blade Runner is a great example. Others may use methods which may not be popular at the time of release, but changing tastes make them more fashionable later on. Consider cult hits – smaller films which find a niche that later becomes more mainstream in pop culture. Still others are simply forgotten. They are movies that we admire for their stories and their technical achievements, but for some reason they just didn’t make a big enough mark at the time of their release to be remembered well enough later on. 

This is a list of 10 films from the 2010’s which I think are among the most overlooked. These are movies which are great for various reasons, but that greatness did not result in pop culture acknowledgment, stellar box office proceeds, or fawning movie critics. These are movies, which, at the end of the decade, I still can’t seem to forget. They have made a lasting impression on me as a viewer and film aficionado, and yet they won’t necessarily be included on anyone’s “Best of the Decade” lists. These are movies which deserve a second chance, and hopefully, as time moves on, audiences will rediscover them and properly acknowledge their genius. 

Take Shelter (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% (81% Audience Score – 25,666 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 85

Box Office (Adjusted): $5 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

Take Shelter certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of critical appreciation. It earned a 4-star Roger Ebert review, and the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics scores which were higher than some of the Oscar Best Picture nominees for that year. It was an indie film, which hurt its popular aspirations, but on the circuit it won several prestigious awards. Despite all this, it remains a side note when we look back at films of the decade. This is a movie that put Michael Shannon on the map. His performance is definitely Oscar-worthy. The entire film has this unnerving, uneasy energy. At any moment it could go full rapture, but it doesn’t. The story is tastefully restrained – it relies more on psychological distress than actual bodily dismemberment. It’s also one of the very few supernatural thrillers that doesn’t rely on special effects to get its point across. Hopefully, future viewers come to better appreciate the subtle genius of this one. 

The Master (2012)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85% (61% Audience Score – 50,405 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 86

Box Office (Adjusted): $28.3 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: 3 nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor)

I had to throw this one on the list because of Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar win. I love his performance in Joker, but let’s be honest. His performance in The Master is the best performance of his career so far. I have never watched a film and hated it and appreciated it at the same time as much as I did when watching this one for the first time. Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, is a terrible person. One of the most frustrating, dense, and self-centered protagonists we’ve ever seen in film. But it says something about the genius of both PTA and Phoenix to pull this portrayal off without a flaw. The Master is the definition of difficult movies – the audience score reflects that fact. I feel that it is more intelligent, sophisticated, and artistic than PTA’s Inherent Vice, which could also have shown up on this list. And despite being nominated for three Oscars, it should have been nominated for more (let alone, won one). This is a film I will never forget. That department store fight scene with Freddie working as a photographer is permanently etched into my mind. I hope in the future more people will come to appreciate how the film finds beauty in the disaster. 

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66% (66% Audience Score – 187,500 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 55

Box Office (Adjusted): $130.5 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

The Wachowskis’s films have always been ahead of their time, and so it is not so surprising that audiences didn’t respond to Cloud Atlas as well as they did to The Matrix. But Cloud Atlas is much more than just ahead of its time. While it may have previewed the smart visuals-driven science fiction thrillers that would come later in the decade like Arrival or Annihilation, it’s also much more than that. It is a story that takes place over centuries, with actors portraying many different characters with the help of a significant amount of prosthetics. Frankly, the mosaic approach to storytelling is a little bit overwhelming on the first watch, and for that reason you can’t quite judge it as you would any other typical film. But when you give it another chance, you will see the creativity and the daring it took to make something so different. It is one of those types of movies you thought would be impossible to bring to life, but somehow they did. Asking viewers for their patience is not exactly the way to become popular, but much like Blade Runner or Gattaca, I think audiences will eventually catch up. 

Enemy (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71% (63% Audience Score – 26,121 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 61

Box Office (Adjusted): $3.4 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins:

Denis Villiueve may be crowned the director of the decade thanks to the critical acclaim he received with his films during this period, but his first film in English is one which many casual moviegoers probably haven’t seen or even heard of. Enemy is every bit as great as Vilineueve’s other, more popular films, but presented in a smaller, more intimate package. This is a movie with evil twins, car crashes, and giant spiders. It features an incredible dual performance by Jake Gylenhaal and is at both times simple and complex. It is another one of those movies, like Take Shelter, which has an almost overwhelming ambiance. It puts pressure on the viewer, we feel uneasy in our own skin. It’s also brain teaser – something you can look at in many different ways and each time come up with a different conclusion. That is really a sign of masterful storytelling and screenwriting – something that makes us think, and use our own perspectives to interpret. Ten years from now, Enemy will be just as entertaining and thought-provoking as it is today. 

A Most Violent Year (2014)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89% (69% Audience Score – 26,347 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 79

Box Office (Adjusted): $12 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

The 2015 Oscars fielded one of the most competitive field of nominees we’ve seen in some time, and that is the only reason I can think of why this movie didn’t earn a single nomination. A Most Violent Year is the work of a filmmaker on the precipice of making it big. It has all the parts, all the pieces, all the talent, all the execution – it just doesn’t have that extra something special which pushes it over the top. Ending up as an also-ran in a strong field is an admirable achievement, but it doesn’t get you noticed. That is a shame, because this is one of the films that stood out in this decade to me the most. The special part is something that went overlooked simply because it doesn’t jump out at you. This is a crime drama, but the central character is reluctant to be involved. He’s trying to do good, but just can’t. Everything he does seems like it is the last resort. It is a Scorsese version of Uncut Gems. Just because it is not as loud and brash as we may expect from these types of films doesn’t mean it is any less entertaining, dramatic, or emotional. Over time, I hope people give this film another chance. 

Crimson Peak (2015)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72% (55% Audience Score – 35,311 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 66

Box Office (Adjusted): $74.4 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

Gothic horror doesn’t happen very often in cinema, so when it does, we should make sure we pay attention. This is one of those occasions. Guillermo del Toro is a horror movie maestro whose films have run the gambit of quirky horror B-movies to near-blockbuster comic book and Kaiju affairs. His most critically acclaimed film was 2017’s Best Picture-winning The Shape of Water, which is a pure example of gothic horror. Audiences ate it up, critics loved Guillermo’s vision. Crimson Peak has the same attributes, but has ended up as very under-appreciated in comparison. Guillermo is known for his meticulous attention to detail – which shows up on screen in impeccable costumes, make-up, and very impressive production design. Crimson Peak has all of that – in a genre and a setting we don’t get to see on the big screen often enough. It is del Toro just a hair away from achieving his critical acclaim, and perhaps audiences will come to recognize it for that fact. 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79% (65% Audience Score – 17,948 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 68

Box Office (Adjusted): $9.7 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

One of the most notorious box office flops of the decade, Popstar was both grossly misunderstood by audiences and improperly marketed. I admit, the premise of the film was a little confusing. The star of the film was Andy Samberg, known for his childish comedic antics. In the realm of music, he is known as one third of The Lonely Island, a comedy group best known for their music videos seen on Saturday Night Live. Many people thought that Popstar was just an extension of what the group had already done – make fun of popular music with silly songs. That was true, but the film was also much more than that. It is a satirical documentary of the state of the music industry. Think of it as this generation’s Spinal Tap. Well produced, well acted, expertly written. It is funny and very poignant at the same time. Once more people start to see it in that regard, rather than a spoof of Justin Beiber fronted by a comedic man-child, I hope its status will be elevated. 

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91% (74% Audience Score – 6,031 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 79

Box Office (Adjusted): $7k

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

Some movies are brutal – and then there is this one. The word ruthless comes to mind. It’s gonzo entertainment, if you are into that sort of thing. Craig Zhaler has made a career out of tough, gritty, and violent movies. When done well, those movies tend to stick in viewers’ minds because of their shock value. This one certainly stuck in mine. But it is more than just a bloody crime/prison drama. This film gets its thrills as a no-holds bar revenge flick. It is like John Wick, but without choreographed gun fights, or Raid 2, but without the physical artistry. Instead, it has ample helpings of violent fisticuffs. It’s the type of film that will still be outrageous 10 years from now. The type of film that garners a cult following over time. Right now it is just criminally underseen. 

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78% (64% Audience Score – 34,432 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 63%

Box Office (Adjusted): $100 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

For years we’ve been hearing opinions from people telling us that they should consider making the next James Bond a woman. Movies like Red Sparrow and Anna have explored those fantasies, and with the growing popularity of women-fronted action films, I’m sure we’ll see many more in a similar vein. However, I wonder if all of this effort is worth it when we already have a perfect specimen. Atomic Blond is the ultimate female-led spy film. Its grungy look at Berlin right before the fall of the wall is an interesting one, and the story is told in a way that is unique. This film isn’t just following in the footsteps of James Bond by putting a woman in his shoes. It is cold war espionage perfection. The action is hard-hitting, the sound track is among my favorites in all of cinema, and the cast is spectacular. I can’t do Charlize Theron any justice by merely describing her character as bad-ass. In a world where every action movie is a budget-busting blockbuster, it is refreshing to come along to something smaller, more focused, and expertly executed like this one. I hope future audiences agree.  

Mother! (2017)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69% (50% Audience score – 24,608 ratings)

MetaCritic Score: 75

Box Office (Adjusted): $44.5 million

Academy Awards Noms/Wins: None

Mother! Is one of those films which you aren’t sure is really good or really bad. It is a movie retelling the story of humanity from a biblical perspective. According to Darren Aranofsky, it’s also about climate change. It evolves as it goes along, as a sort of stage play representation of the passage of time. It is allegorical rather than realistic, but characterizes its topic as a person in order to be more realistic. Mother! Is a terrible nightmare that happens to also be a cliff-notes representation of events which actually took place. It is very self centered. It is the work of a singular artist, experimenting with film. As you can see, it is a film which gives you lots of reasons to dislike it. But, I think that is what makes it so great. This is a movie that really pushes the boundaries of film. It is an impressive artistic expression, and perhaps audiences found themselves a little too far outside of their comfort zone to appreciate it. For this reason, I hope future audiences will be able to get over their initial inhibitions and come to give Mother! the attention it actually deserves.