The 13 Most Underrated Movies of 2015

The 13 Most Underrated Movies of
Courtesy of SPC

Many of the best films of 2015 struggled to find audiences on the big screen. It’s not that Americans have stopped splurging at the movies: ticket sales are projected to hit a record $11 billion this year. However, audiences were more inclined to brave the multiplexes for major tentpole entertainment like “Stars Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Jurassic World” or “Avengers: Age of Ultron” over small dramas or comedies. The golden age of television might be influencing consumer habits, too. Theatergoers want their money’s worth — in the form of special effects, explosions and A-list stars — when they make a commitment to see a movie.

If the trend continues, the industry will need to brace itself for major changes in the years to come. Although Sundance 2015 was a strong year for quality pictures, most of the titles that debuted in Park City floundered at the box office. The prestige fall movie season, typically a good time for indie and adult-oriented releases, proved to be equally cold: among the casualties were “Steve Jobs,” “Our Brand Is Crisis,” “The Walk,” “Freeheld,” “99 Homes” and “Burnt.”

But despite a challenging year for indie films, there are still distributors eager to deliver material, including Netflix, Amazon, The Orchard, Broad Green, A24 and Bleecker Street. As the independent-film market tries to stay afloat, some of these players will need to discover the right formula — between VOD and theatrical releases or some combination — that can deliver smaller movies to bigger crowds. For now, here are the most 13 underrated titles of 2015 that deserve another look.

1. “The End of the Tour
Box office: $3 million
“Spotlight” may sweep awards season as Hollywood’s valentine to journalists, but this biographical drama by James Ponsoldt is among the genre’s best — in the same league as “Almost Famous” or “Shattered Glass.” Like a “Frost/Nixon” for a younger generation, this film traces the five days in 1996 that Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent profiling David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) following the publication of his magnum opus “Infinite Jest.” Eisenberg delivers his finest performance since “The Social Network,” by making the prototype of a hungry magazine-writer come alive, but Segel, who has been typecast as a comedic everyman in films like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” steals the picture in a dramatic transformation that should elevate the trajectory of his career.

2. “Truth
Box office: $2.5 million
This Sony Pictures Classics release chronicles the fall of “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) after they aired a critical story, with sourcing that later came under fire, about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard prior to the 2004 presidential election. CBS News has since declared “Truth” full of lies, which may have hurt the film’s commercial prospects, but regardless of what political party you belong to, it’s impossible not to be consumed by the dramatic retelling of Mapes’ story. “Truth” is carried by the best female performance of 2015, and while Blanchett will probably be Oscar nominated for her (also great) work in “Carol,” she deserves a third Academy Award for this harrowing portrait.

3. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”
Box office: $6.8 million
The toast of Sundance got drowned out at the summer box office, not helped by comparisons to last summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars.” But don’t judge a movie by its premise. While “Stars” was a made-for-the-screen tearjerker of the week, “Earl” is an inventive dramatic comedy by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon in the tradition of “Juno,” not Lifetime, about a cancer-stricken high-school girl’s (Olivia Cooke) friendship with the guy down the street (Thomas Mann). It will earn more champions as it’s discovered over time.

4. “Clouds of Sils Maria
Box office: $1.8 million
Kristen Stewart proved that she could be the Jodie Foster of her generation, despite all the baggage from “Twilight,” in this lush portrait of an American assistant’s relationship with an aging European movie star (Juliette Binoche). Directed by Olivier Assayas, “Sils Maria” debuted at Cannes in 2014 and Stewart later became the first U.S. actress to win the Cesar (the French Oscar), before finally making its way into the United States via IFC Films. Although it barely registered in theaters, the movie made a comeback of sorts, by landing on top 10 lists and earning Stewart a surprise win for best supporting actress by the New York Film Critics Circle.

5. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Box office: $1.5 million
Director Marielle Heller’s 1970s coming-of-age story stars Bel Powley in the best cinematic debut since Carey Mulligan in “An Education.” If Oscar voters do their homework, she’ll factor into the best actress race for her portrayal of a California teenager who falls in love with her mom’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). Like “Me and Earl,” “Teenage Girl” was a buzzy Sundance title that somehow got lost with a summer release date.

6. “Far From the Madding Crowd”
Box office: $12.3 million
Compared to the other movies on this list, this romance set in Victorian England (adapted from the Thomas Hardy novel) qualifies as a hit for Fox Searchlight. But “Far From the Madding Crowd,” which opened in May, could still have done more business. It’s easily one the year’s best films, the rare period drama that would make fans of Merchant Ivory Productions swoon, anchored by an Oscar-nomination-worthy performance from Mulligan. If the Academy didn’t have amnesia for releases that opened early in the year, this would be a contender.

7. “Miss You Already”
Box office: $1.2 million
On paper, the story about a London woman (Toni Collette) fighting cancer while her best friend (Drew Barrymore) tries to get pregnant sounds like kind of fable suited for the Hallmark Channel. But in the hands of director Catherine Hardwicke, this bookend to her debut feature “Thirteen” is a raw, stylish and surprisingly effective sobfest. If you stumble upon it on VOD next year, give it a chance.

8. “Mistress America”
Box office: $2.5 million
It makes no sense that of the two Noah Baumbach comedies released this year, the rambling age-crisis story “While We’re Young” made three times as much as the nimble crowd-pleaser about a New York 30-something (Greta Gerwig) who enlists her new stepsister (Lola Kirke) on an adventure to find her true calling in life, which naturally includes a stop at an ex-boyfriend’s house in Connecticut. “Mistress America” is the Baumbach’s most rousing film since “The Squid and the Whale,” but it also fell victim to the curse of Sundance 2015.

9. “Sleeping With Other People”
Box office: $800,000
Although it opens with a hackneyed premise of a woman (Alison Brie) reconnecting with the man (Jason Sudeikis) who took her virginity in college, it’s impossible to resist the charms of this comedy directed by Leslye Headland. Credit the sharp dialogue and inventive plotting (by a script written by Headland), which brings to mind “Sex and the City” meets Woody Allen for today’s deprived singletons.

10. “Tangerine”
Box office: $700,000
Most of the press for this Sundance comedy made a fuss over the technical aspects of director Sean Baker’s film shot on an iPhone5S. But that would be missing the point. “Tangerine” works because it’s a marvelously crafted story, reminiscent of the verve of Spike Lee’s early films, about two transgender prostitutes as they roam through the streets of Los Angeles on Christmas (played winningly by newcomers Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez).

11. “The Voices”
Box office: N/A
The latest from “Persepolis” director Marjane Satrapi caused a stir went it premiered at Sundance — in 2014. Ryan Reynolds, in one of his best screen performances, stars as a seemingly ordinary guy that’s able to speak to his cat, and as the pieces of this horror thriller fall into place, “The Voices” doesn’t hold back in its demented turns. Unfortunately, the film was sidelined with a tiny theatrical and VOD run last February, and it remained largely undiscovered.

12. “Love”
Box office: $240,000
It was hard not to snicker at stories about “Enter the Void” director Gaspar Noe’s latest endeavor. After it premiered at Cannes last May during a midnight screening, the movie was portrayed as a “3D porno” with full-frontal intercourse, oral sex, threesomes and ejaculation. But even with its racy, envelope-pushing tendencies, which made “Fifty Shades of Grey” look like “Pillow Talk,” “Love” turned out to be one of the most brutal portraits of its subject matter since “Blue Valentine.” Not to mention, it features strong performances from its cast of Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin and Aomi Muyock.

13. “Room
Box office: $4.8 million (still in release)
Another box office mystery of 2015: Why isn’t “Room,” backed by critics and awards season buzz, performing better? Since its October release, the drama based on Emma Donoghue’s best-selling novel has yet to crack $5 million, perhaps because it’s dark story about a mother (Brie Larson) and son (Jacob Tremblay) held hostage in a garden shed. Let’s hope the Academy Award nominations help this release pick up more momentum.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 71

Leave a Reply

71 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Rob says:

    Tomorrowland was completely overlooked, both by critics and audiences, but for a kids movie (that adults will also like) it was one of the best I’ve seen in long time.

  2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl!!! Amazing movie! Extremely underrated! Definitely watch whenever you get the chance!

  3. Miguel says:

    You really miss one of the best optimistic movies of 2015, and not only of this year, but a real masterpiece: Tomorrowland. A lot of people does not understand this movie, because they believed that they would see just a childish movie with roller coasters and a lot of robots, and didn’t realize that the movie is an odyssey trying to get into the heart and the will of the people.

  4. Sori says:

    So sad. More of the mindset collective that believes so long as something is edgy, alternative and chocked full of shock value it automatically IS art and to be commended. Irving Kristol nailed it back in the late 90s and no one listened. I guess to busy pushing agendas and laughing to the bank.

  5. Maybe I was still cowed from Vikander’s performance in Ex Machina, which I thought was excellent, but I also really enjoyed Testament of Youth…

  6. Greg Tellis says:

    Thanks for mentioning “Far From The Madding Crowd” and “Diary Of A Teenage Girl”…I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed those two…behind me in the theater a lady whispered to her friend, “She(Carey
    Mulligan) isn’t nearly as pretty as Julie Christie”…never trust a woman to know what men find attractive…As for Bel Powley in “Teenage Girl”, she was hilarious in “A Royal Night Out”, another film
    that could be added to the list.

    My underrated film nominee goes to “Legend”…perhaps it should have been subtitled due to heavy
    accents…the nightclub scenes were musical masterpieces, a credit to both Duffy and the legacy of
    Timi Yuro…at least Tom Hardy received honors in England for the body of his work.

    Also underrated are “Tangerine” and Columbia’s “Embrace Of The Serpent”, both wildly original…
    the foreign language film stands with “The Revenant”, and “Fury Road” in its own way.

  7. stevenkovacs says:

    ‘Room’ is a best pic contender, for sure!

  8. Jon says:

    Truth is ironically full of inaccuracies and distortions most networks wouldn’t run advertisements for it and many critics said it’s a disgrace to actual journalists. Also End of Tour sucked. Michael Cera, err I mean Jessie Eisenberg was so irritating and annoying it detracted from the really good performance from Jason Segal. Your taste in movies is lame.

  9. Melinda S. says:

    Danny Collins, a touching well written screenplay with great acting all around including Al Pacino and also Creed for not getting the award attention it deserves in all categories .

  10. Philip Berk says:

    You left out 99 Houses
    An oversight?

  11. alex downey says:

    i think room could if given a better promo push make some serious awards season money. we complain about a lack of quality movies but when given them we ignore them and pick big money dross like the shitful eight.

  12. Sophie says:

    I’d put Macbeth, it’s an amazing film but it really needs and deserves more visibility. Especially when we have a magnificent performances by Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.

  13. Jou says:

    Sleeping with Other People was filled with annoying characters that created an insufferable film.

  14. Charley says:

    I didn’t even realize Room was out until it was gone. What happened?

  15. Seal222 says:

    A lot on this list are “underrated” because they deserve to be. Sleeping with Other People was awful, Tangerine is an amateur effort and it shows, and I will never understand anyone who praises Clouds of Sils Maria, which showcased middling acting and a plot so whisper thin the movie could have been 30 minutes long.

  16. Daryle says:

    To me, “Black Mass” is a highly underrated movie, with two of the best acting performances of the year, and well done overall. I STILL cannot believe some of the films popping up on the best picture lists. Seems like this was just a weak year for movies, generally….

  17. Patrick says:

    Room had a screwed up distribution. It should been in one theater per smaller cities in October or even September. It went wide around Thanksgiving and was around for 2 weeks. I assume it will return after the Oscar nomjnations are announced. Mistress America has not shown in my city. Madding Crowd was good.

  18. Patrick says:

    I rented The End of the Tour and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. It was a mistake. Each movie had an irritating character. Eisenberg’s interviewer was an obnoxious twit. I would call both overated.

  19. stevenkovacs says:

    How can ‘Room’ not be a box office success? Brilliant & harrowing with Oscar noms coming!
    Most on the list very deserving, but, ‘Love’ really IS a porn film! Skip it.

  20. Kate says:

    By the time Room expands (if it gets a BP nomination) it will be hard to catch up with the rest of the contenders. Many contenders will be expanding and there are big studio movies being released too. This may hindered its chances making its PB back (£13 million). A24 haven’t played their cards right. Many people I know who’ve seen it say it’s overrated and barely anybody in theatre.

  21. Didi says:

    Room is devastating. It’s the best I’ve seen all years. Great acting and adapt screenplay. Lenny Abrahamson is a talented director. I loved Frank (2014) as well.

  22. Adam says:

    These are NOT underrated movies. These are art house “artsy fartsy” movies so will inherently only draw a niche audience. It would be like calling a David Lynch film “underrated” because it didn’t make 50 million at the box office.

  23. James says:

    Truth is so so great– much better than spotlight and the best performance of the year — without question– by cate blanchett. Me earl and the dying girl was also fantastic

  24. Marie says:

    D@mn, I didn’t know Sleeping With Other People bombed so badly.

  25. Bob says:

    All these films are indie films, so of course they aren’t going to any attention.Least promotion, a small percent of theaters playing them, etc.

  26. Marie says:

    Clouds of Sils Maria wasn’t underrated, it was horrible.

    • When pretty actors direct says:

      Exactly. It was so obviously shot by a first-time director who got in over his head and failed to even get proper coverage of his scenes. It should be mentioned that Kristen Stewart’s character abruptly DISAPPEARS before the final act. It’s never explained, serves no story function, probably because it wasn’t in the script, it was just the result of an editing-room hail mary when the film didn’t cut together.

      A film only critics could love.

      Nice clouds, though.

  27. Vilmos Zsigmond says:

    The acting in LOVE was atrocious.

  28. Freddie says:

    “Room” is truly great and should really be a huge block buster because it’s got what it takes to be. It’s really one of the best amazing movies to come around in a long while! The performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are some the greatest acting I have seen all year and frankly I have never seen a child actor as good as Jacob EVER!!!

  29. Larry Steven Londre says:

    See “Room” and see “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Terrific movies. Don’t see “Steve Jobs” or “Burndt.” Both mean spirted movies, but Burndt is a little better than Steve Jobs. Read the Steve Jobs book instead which did a better job of capturing the man.

  30. Black Iron says:

    I think distribution is a bigger issue than audience appeal. It’s difficult to get a foothold, and build any momentum when big action movies are in 3500 theaters but other fantastic films can barely get into 500.

  31. Joseph says:

    Gaspard noe’s love is a pure pièce of garbage with BAD actors. I was so bored. It took me three times to finish this pièce of crap.

    Far from the madding crowd was a delight. Masterpiece.

    Otherwise The revenant is the best movie of 2015 (tie Steve jobs, dope and sicario)

  32. Fifty Shades of Grey. Not the book. The film.

  33. Alex says:

    “Truth” is garbage, it’s a very bad attempt to repair Rather’ and Mapes reputations which they destroyed all by themselves. It BOMBED in limited release, even it’s target audience had no interest in this filthy propaganda. Whoever green lit this P.O.S. should be locked in a cell a forced to watch it for 10 hours everyday for a month.

    • Angel says:

      Ha. I bet you still think there were weapons of mass destruction too… they just haven’t found them yet. Go, “make America great again…” you lemming!

      • Jon says:

        See you don’t even know what the movies about. You just want to make it a Republican vs Democrat thing. That is why your a mindless drone.

      • Q22 says:

        The movie wasn’t about the Iraq war. It was about a journalist trying to influence a presidential election with forged documents and lies. It deserves to be shunned.

  34. Max Magbee says:

    ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL was one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. It was a wretched, offensive, and sophomoric pile of cinematic yak dung that also acted as a subpar commercial for The Criterion Collection.

  35. Chicago860 says:

    That you would rate Truth as anything but trash speaks volumes.

  36. Laurie Mann says:

    I agree about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (though I lived around the corner from Schenley High school nearly 40 years ago so I’m biased). I don’t think Room has even opened in our area yet. I’d add Suffragette & Grandma to the list of underrated movies.

  37. Joel says:

    P.S. You want an underrated movie? My vote goes to “Black Mass.”

    • Bill B. says:

      At last count, I think this has earned around $65,000,000 domestically. I don’t think it qualifies as an underrated movie.

  38. Joel says:

    The one very pleasant surprise is “The Voices”, further cementing Reynolds acting chops (along with “Buried”) But a movie about two TGs wandering around and shot on a phone?? Yeah, let me race right on over to Fandango to reserve my seat! Anyone in the movie biz remember the famous quote from a mogul (Mayer?) that stated “If I want to send a message, I’ll use Western Union”? Apparently not.

  39. Bill B. says:

    Room is the best movie I’ve seen this year. I can, however, understand why it wasn’t seen by more despite glowing reviews. It is one of the most harrowing films I’ve ever seen.

  40. Don’t you guys EVER get it? People go to movies to live vicariously, to get a thrill. Hollywood people, in contrast, largely make movies about cause celebres that they care about, while the majority of the audience does not. Critics largely have the same mentality, and believe they are aribters of the zeitgeist. It’s “show business” not “the business of comment.” Wake up sometime, it’s a fun world.

    • Marie says:

      Some of these are entertaining to other people. Stop thinking like a teenager with a short attention span and more like an adult.

    • gkn says:

      You are more than well-served, with air-head films that will be forgotten before you reach retirement. Go back to your popcorn and let the rest of us see something with a little intelligence now and then, or something to say. They ARE so under-distributed, they don’t even make it to most theaters.

    • Bill B. says:

      It’s all of those things and more. I never understand why so many think the world should only be seen they way they want it to be or the way they think it should be. There’s someone else who posted here who only wants to see tentpoles. So, let him see tentpoles if he wants. To me, they all began as one movie and the rest are just variations on the same movie. But that’s just me and not him and thankfully they make movies for all of us.

  41. T0rchwood says:

    Not one of the movies listed here are worth 3 hours of my time (a two hour movie plus commercials), much less spending $50 on tickets and over priced concessions. All the movies noted are direct to DVD AT BEST. Life has enough drama for anyone to waste time and money to experience someone else’s pet project these days. Tentpoles or Netflix for me, deal with it Hollywood

    • mike0376 says:

      First, you don’t have to pay $50. If you do your research, you can save money (AMC Theaters is a starting point). Second, no one forces you to eat at a movie, again, saving money. Third, the run times do not make it 3 hours, even w/trailers.

    • Billy Burgess says:

      I assume you also believe the disastrous attempt at rebooting “Fantastic Four” was better than all these as well? I’ll just keep writing and acting in films where the budget for a short wouldn’t even pay for one minute of most of your tentpoles. You go your way…I’ll go mine.

      • T0rchwood says:

        The entire FF reboot was doomed from the moment of casting. Michael Jordon as Johnny Storm was laughable, to say the least when the character has a 50 year history as a blue eyed blonde. Even the director tweeted how bad it was before release, but he was part of the problem, which resulted in him being removed from an upcoming Star Wars film. FF hardly qualified as a “tentpole”

  42. E Montague says:

    What about Woman in Gold

  43. lindsey says:

    Sleeping with Other People never stops being hackneyed, despite a great cast.

  44. just sayin' says:

    SOUTHPAW

  45. Drew Gars says:

    For me, it’s Kingsman and Goosebumps.

  46. taffy says:

    Half of those movies were atrocious. So, if by “underrated” you actually meant “overrated” you might be correct.

  47. Karolina says:

    Really sad that nobody ever talks about Kurzel’s Macbeth which, in my opinion, was magnificent.

  48. How can a movie be underrated? Do you mean by box office takings? Popular opinion? Artistic integrity? The wrong statement I think

More Film News from Variety

Loading