77 Good Movies You Might Not Have Heard About

I was discussing films with my wife’s cousin at a wedding a few weeks ago, and we promised to trade suggestions for good movies that aren’t commonly discussed. In order to compile my list, I pulled up my Netflix history and started copying and pasting titles. As the list grew longer, I decided to blog it. Friends are always asking me for movie advice anyway, so it’s nice to put a list on paper, so to speak.

This is not a list of “under the radar” movies or “indie” films that lived up to the hype. Nor is this a list of all the great movies since Hollywood went talkie. It’s merely a subjective list of films I’ve enjoyed that might not be very well known to casual movie fans in their 30s or younger. Some are new, some are old, some are blockbusters, and some are independent productions. I’ve tried to skip over the more ubiquitous titles and provide a diverse compilation for people who are running out of new releases for their Netflix queues.

Here are the movies in no particular order. All of you will have seen some of these films, but none of you will have seen all of them:

  1. The Power of One – Inspirational story about the turmoil in South Africa from WWII onward as seen through the eyes of an English-born boy surrounded by Afrikaners. If you liked Invictus, you’ll like this movie as well.
  2. Knockaround Guys – Good story about young gangsters trying to make their own score and build up their own enterprise. If you like this movie, you might also like Suicide Kings.
  3. A Murder of Crows – Murder mystery starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Berringer. If you like unfolding plots, you’ll also like The Spanish Prisoner.
  4. Equilibrium – A surprisingly good action film starring Christian Bale.  It’s set in the future where order is kept by a Samurai-like cult of pistol-wielding warriors. It sounds weird, but it works. If you want to see a weird story that doesn’t work, check out Blind Fury.
  5. Being There – One of Peter Sellers’ best comedic appearances. It’s a great critique of perception versus truth, set in Washington DC. For epic Peter Sellers, watch Dr. Strangelove. But be forewarned; dark comedy like that is an acquired taste.
  6. Wind – There should be more movies about sailing (Summer Rental and One Crazy Summer notwithstanding).  It’s a story about passion and perseverance in the face of adversity.  Matthew Modine is flawless in the starring role, striking just the right balance between silliness and seriousness.
  7. The King of Kong – Good documentary about an average guy trying to break the world record in Donkey Kong.  It’s an amusing exploration of the geeky world of top-tier arcade gaming.
  8. Gattaca – An eerily prescient sci-fi film that warns of the dangers and prejudices that will likely accompany genetic research. It has a small but very effective cast.
  9. Victory – WWII soccer movie.  It would have been better without Stallone, but it’s worth watching if only to see Pelé do a bicycle kick.
  10. Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – Entertaining documentary by Martin Scorsese. You have a great director telling the story of a legendary American artist. If you’re a really big Dylan fan, you might also like the indie film, I’m Not There. It’s a very abstract, episodic recounting of the influential periods and controversial moments in the singer/songwriter’s life. If you don’t know a lot about Dylan and his work, then you’ll hate it. (I’m a huge Dylan fan)
  11. The Heist – When I first saw the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, it reminded me of this movie. In both films you have Pierce Brosnan plotting a complex robbery, but this time his motive is revenge. If you like revenge capers, you might also like Framed.
  12. Joshua – Uplifting Christian drama that shows everyday people reacting to the unexpected benevolence of a Christ-like figure. Or if you prefer a somewhat darker second coming, check out The Seventh Sign. It features everyday people reacting to the coming retribution of a Christ-like figure.
  13. Little Big Man – Adventure biography kind of like Forrest Gump, but Starring Dustin Hoffman and set in the old West.
  14. Just Cause – Great murder mystery often overlooked when discussing courtroom dramas with twist-endings. If you like it, you’ll also like Presumed Innocent.
  15. The Great Train Robbery – Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland attempt a heist on a moving train.  Loosely based on real events during the Crimean War.
  16. Happy, Texas – A couple of escape convicts put on a beauty pageant while hiding in a small Texas town.  It’s a typical situational comedy, but good acting by Steve Zahn makes it stand out. If you like redemption comedies, you might also like Trapped in Paradise.
  17. Papillon – I have very few rules when it comes to movies, but one of the better ones is “watch anything starring Steve McQueen.” It’s based on a semi-true story of a prison escape. If you like it, you’ll also like The Great Escape and The Count of Monte Cristo. For epic Steve McQueen, see Bullitt
  18. Rear Window – Jimmy Stewart.  Alfred Hitchcock.  Intrigue.  This movie has everything. Like several Hitchcock films, it comes across more like a play than a movie (especially to young viewers), so know that going in. The recent film, Disturbia, was a terrible adaptation of this excellent original.
  19. 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag – Joe Pesci at his comedic best. David Spade is pretty good too. If you like hostage humor, you might also like The Ref.
  20. The Mosquito Coast – Watch Harrison Ford’s character be gripped by paranoia and megalomania in this classic film. If you like watching someone slowly lose his mind, then you’ll also like Michael Douglas in Falling Down and Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
  21. Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream – Two-part documentary on the meteoric rise of the influential rock legend. If you like musical history, you’ll probably like Standing in the Shadows of Motown as well.
  22. The World According to Garp – Probably the most underrated comedic drama of the 1980s and one of my all time favorite films.  You need to see it more than once to appreciate some of the more subtle humor.
  23. Touching the Void – If you like the TV show, I Shouldn’t Be Alive, then you’ll love this film.
  24. Stir Crazy – Maybe my favorite comedy of all time.  It’s even better if you didn’t watch as Richard Prior and Gene Wilder played their heavily-improvisational routine into the ground with See No Evil Hear No Evil and Another You.
  25. Shane –This is the apex Western.  Pale Rider, Open Range, and all the similar films in between are largely adaptations of Shane’s basic plot.
  26. She’s the One – Edward Burns’ film follows the troubled love lives of several men in an Irish-Catholic family.  Tom Petty did the entire soundtrack.
  27. Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip – Ken Burns’ documentary about the first trans-American car race.  You’ll love the dog.
  28. The Quiet Man – John Wayne + Ireland = Awesome. It’s a funny movie, even in this jaded age of ironic humor and sarcasm. The fight scene rivals the ending of Every Which Way But Loose.
  29. The Black Stallion – Visually stunning film about the bond between a boy and a horse.  It probably would have been a good movie even if it ended right after they were rescued from the island. The horse race at the end is just icing on the cake.
  30. The Hustler – If you don’t know that The Color of Money is a sequel, then you need to see the original. Paul Newman is great as always. For epic Paul Newman, see Cool Hand Luke.
  31. Powder – When I saw The Green Mile, it reminded me of this film. The plots are completely different, but the underlying theme is the same: Our ethically-challenged society rejects purity, and therefore doesn’t deserve it.
  32. Brian’s Song – If My Life is the male equivalent of Steel Magnolias, then Brian’s Song is the male equivalent of Beaches. It’s based on the true story of Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo.
  33. Vertigo – Once again, Jimmy Stewart teams up with Hitchcock to make a classic, although Hitchcock gave a little too much away before the end. Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety is a spoof of this classic.
  34. Mumford – A light-hearted story about a psychiatrist in small town Americana. Colorful characters and an unexpected twist make it fun.
  35. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – Try to forget Adam Sandler’s awful remake (Mr. Deeds) and enjoy the original.  Gary Cooper is ironically appropriate for the titular role because his acting style seems so out of place for his character.
  36. American Flyers – Good story about the relationship between two brothers who are competitive cyclists. What the film lacks in plot, it makes up for with character development. If you’re into cycling, then also check out Breaking Away and Quicksilver.
  37. Primer – Great indie flick.  The lesson is an old one; don’t mess with time travel.  Something always goes wrong.
  38. The Zero Effect – Detective drama starring Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller. The small cast, unfolding story and subtle humor make this film fun to watch.
  39. Miller’s Crossing – Too many movies focus on Italian mobsters.  Like Road to Perdition, this is a good Irish mob movie.
  40. Family Business – Tense film about three generations of men in a family with a criminal background. The grandfather is an old crook who lives in the past, the grandson is jealous of his grandfather’s adventures, and the man in the middle just wants to protect his son from the life he struggled to leave behind.
  41. Les Paul: Chasing Sound – Documentary about the guitar legend.  If you don’t know who he is and what impact he had on modern music, then you need to watch this film.
  42. Deep Water – Depressing, yet captivating documentary about the solo yacht race around the world in 1969.
  43. The Freshman – Light-hearted comedy that somewhat satirizes The Godfather. I still can’t believe Brando did it. But then again, you could never predict what Brando would or wouldn’t do. For epic Marlon Brando, see A Streetcar Named Desire.
  44. The Groomsmen – Edward Burns’ movie about old friends who reunite for a wedding.  It’s a home run with a good story, a good cast, and good acting.
  45. Happiness – Very dark comedy. If you’re easily shocked or offended, then this movie is not for you. It follows an interconnected group of people, some normal and others not so normal, who are struggling to find happiness. If you enjoy it, you’ll also like Little Children.
  46. The Razor’s Edge – The movie adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same name. Bill Murray starred in a remake in the 1980s (The Razor’s Edge) that’s worth watching too. The earlier version more closely follows the novel. The later version features a performance by Catherine Hicks that makes you hate her character by the end of the film.
  47. Rope – I know I sound like a broken record, but Jimmy Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock teamed up to make another good one. It’s based on play that was was inspired by the Leopold and Loeb murder that captivated the nation in the 1920s.
  48. The Mission – Powerful film about redemption starring Robert DeNiro and Jeremy Irons. Like many other epics, it takes a while for the plot to thicken. So be patient.
  49. Author! Author! – Al Pacino is great as a flaky playwright and stepfather.  One of my all time favorite comedies.
  50. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill – Surprisingly emotional documentary about, you guessed it, the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.
  51. Revolution – Story about a reluctant father drawn into conflict to protect his son. When I first watched The Patriot, it reminded me a little of this film. But don’t expect Al Pacino to go native and hack his enemies to pieces like Mel Gibson’s character did. This film has more in common with The Last of the Mohicans than The Patriot.
  52. The Red Violin – Great drama spanning centuries.  Like Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye, it’s a series of short stories strung together by a recurring character. But instead of a cat, this movie centers around a violin. What makes this movie great is the beginning-to-end story arc and provocative surprises.
  53. The Bishop’s Wife – My wife and I watch three movies every Christmas:  It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and this film.
  54. Death Sentence – Intense thriller that follows an average businessman out to avenge the murder of his son. Kevin Bacon’s physical transformation from beginning to end is amazing. If you like revenge thrillers, you might also like The Limey.
  55. The Lion in Winter – Peter O’ Toole and Katharine Hepburn as Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (and a very young Anthony Hopkins as Prince Richard).   Only two megastars could effectively deliver this dialogue.  Best line of the movie: “I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy. I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn… but the troops were dazzled.” O’Toole also played Henry II in Becket.
  56. The Ten – Paul Rudd’s collection of comedic shorts.  If you like Role Models and Anchorman, much of that troupe makes an appearance in this film.
  57. Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age – Two great biopics about the court of Queen Elizabeth I.  Kate Blanchett and the rest of the cast are great in both films, which is incredible when you consider that the original and sequel were made almost ten years apart.
  58. The Nines – Ryan Reynolds is pretty good in this indie suspense film. The premise is probably better than the acting, but it’s refreshing nonetheless. The plot is delivered through three interrelated stories and it takes a while to figure out what’s really going on.
  59. Honkytonk Man – Clint Eastwood and his son star in this depression-era, coming-of-age story centered around a fading country singer trying to cement his legacy.  You’ll be humming their song for weeks. Keep your eye out for Marty Robbins’ cameo at the end.
  60. Darkon –If you liked Trekkies, you’ll love this documentary.  You’ll even feel a little guilty when you realize your shameful capacity for ridicule and scorn. Still, you’d have to be a Saint not to laugh at these people.
  61. The Mist – Very welcome and refreshing iteration of the monster movie.  Like the classics, it focuses more on the breakdown of civility than the shock-value of the monster(s).  The ending makes it stand out among modern horror/thriller films.
  62. High Noon – Another of my favorite Westerns.  It’s a case study in rising action. The movie opens with 85 minutes until noon, and it’s 85 minutes long. So the viewer actually gets anxious as the seconds tick by in real life. The story is a powerful metaphor for honor and courage in the face of danger. If you put America in the role of the main character, Great Britain in the role of the retired sheriff, France in the role of the judge, and the UN in the role of the church congregation, then you have a metaphor for just about every major conflict America’s been involved in since WWII.
  63. Crossroads – Most people wouldn’t know it, but Ralph Macchio made movies in between The Karate Kid and My Cousin Vinny.  If you like Southern blues music and folklore, then you’ll like this film. I should confess that I used to have a thing for Jami Gertz, and she looks pretty hot in this movie
  64. New Suit – Indie comedy that satirizes social climbing and hype in the movie business.
  65. Saint Ralph – Based on a true story about a kid who tries to uphold his end of a bargain he made with God by finishing the Boston marathon.
  66. Dark City – Pulpy sci-fi movies like this aren’t for everyone, but I like them. It’s like a cross between Blade Runner and The Truman Show.
  67. Man on Wire – Very well made documentary about the Frenchman who secretly secured a tightrope between the rooftops of the World Trade Center towers and walked the wire for the better part of an hour.
  68. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – Among my favorite Westerns. How do you not love a movie with Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne? Vera Miles is pretty soft on the eyes as well. The last line of the movie is absolutely priceless.
  69. Sunshine – Pretty intense film about a spaceship crew trying to save the planet.  It’s along the lines of Armageddon, but without the forced jokes and the melodrama.  The ending could have been better, but it’s worth watching if you like sci-fi.
  70. Hideaway – A father gets psychic visions of a killer’s crimes and struggles to protect his family from harm. If you like supernatural powers mixed in with your murder scenes, then you might also like Firestarter and The Fury. If you like spiritual powers mixed in with your murder scenes, then check out The Prophecy and The Order.
  71. Eddie and the Cruisers I & II – Not great plots by any stretch, but I love the music.  If you like the Springsteenesque sound of blue collar rock, then you’ll like these movies. Think of them as hours-long music videos.
  72. Confidence – Con man mystery movie starring Edward Burns.  Kind of like a cross between The Sting and Heist but with a smaller cast (if that makes any sense).
  73. American Swing – Risqué documentary about the “free love” club scene in New York City from the 1970’s until the outbreak of AIDS.  It specifically focuses on people who used to manage and frequent the controversial nightclub, Plato’s Retreat.
  74. The Legend of 1900 – Great movie about a pianist who lives his entire life on a cruise ship and grows to love his confines and fear the outside world.
  75. Food, Inc. – Decent exposé about where your food comes from.  It would have been a lot better if it didn’t include ideological diatribes about unrealistic sustainability initiatives and “evil” corporations.  So while it is in fact eye-opening, it comes across as if it was put together by freshmen art history majors at UC Berkeley. If you’re prepared for the far-left bias going in, you can keep the eye-rolling to a minimum.
  76. Last of the Dogmen – A professor goes missing in the Oxbow and a modern cowboy finds her among a tribe of Cheyenne that have lived a secluded existence in the mountains since the 19th century. The plot sounds absurd, but Tom Beringer’s performance pulls it off.
  77. Immortal Beloved – Gary Oldman as Ludwig van Beethoven.  The whole movie is conflict after conflict with a good soundtrack. Gary Oldman might be the most under-appreciated actor of our time (along with Marcia Gay Harden). He literally transforms into new characters. Watch him in this film and then compare it to his roles in The Contender and The Fifth Element. You’ll swear it’s three different people.

That’s my list. There are plenty of other great movies out there, but you’ve probably already heard of them. There are also other great classics (and documentaries and foreign films), but they don’t always translate well to my generation. The films on this list are pretty foolproof. Some of them aren’t world-beaters, but they’re all worth watching at least once.

Note: I wanted to add several more indie/cable productions to this list, but I didn’t because they’re not listed in the Netflix database. I guess they never found a distributor?

The Theory of Flight – Powerful story about friendship, compassion and determination. Helena Bonham Carter absolutely excels in a challenging role outside of her typical persona as the madame of macabre.

Thursday – Crime thriller with a common story; an ex-gangster has left his troubled past behind, but his past doesn’t want to stay there. All of his sins come back to haunt him on one disastrous day. If you liked Reservoir Dogs and the Kill Bill saga, you’ll like this movie.

Grand Tour: Disaster in Time – It’s not a ground-breaking film by any stretch, but the plot is thought-provoking. Then again, I love time travel stories. If you like this movie, you’ll also like Millennium (these movies are in the Netflix database, but their release dates are unknown).

77 Good Movies You Might Not Have Heard About
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