[Note: Every Friday on First Thoughts we host heated, half-serious, half-cocked arguments about some aspect of pop culture. Today’s theme is overrated/underrated films.]
“That movie was totally overrated. Now if you want to see a really worthwhile flick you should see . . . ” Because self-serious film buffs (like me) say this type of thing all the time so I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to actually list 50 of the most overrated and 50 of the most underrated films of all time.
For today’s argument we’ll consider an overrated film to be anything that is undeserving of the critical or popular praise they receive (even if it was a good movie). The underrated films should all be examples of excellent cinema that are obviously superior (or at least slightly more worthy) than the corresponding “overrated” film with which they share a category. The categories, which range from the obvious to the just plain odd, are intended to cover a broad selection of interests. But it’s not exhaustive so feel free to add your own. These also don’t have to be your favorite films (many of my favorites don’t make the list) or films that no one has ever heard of. Even classic movies can be considered underrated if they’ve fallen out of favor with modern audiences.
To start us off, here is my list of the 100 most overrated and underrated films of all time (overrated on the left, underrated on the right):
1. Most overrated/underrated: Raging Bull | Metropolitan (Raging Bull is often referred to as one of the best films of the 1980s. Such people obviously do not like either a) movies or b) humanity, for the film is all style and no substance. Metropolitan, on the other hand, is nearly the opposite of Raging Bull in every way. It is urbane, witty, and subtle. But the main difference is that Whit Stillman’s charming little film shows a depth of understanding about the human condition that is completely lacking in Scorsese’s misanthropic so-called masterpiece.)
2. Movie about fraternities: Animal House | PCU (I hesitate to include these two together simply because the criminally overhyped John Belushi shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as comic genius Jeremy Piven.)
4. John Wayne movie: The Searchers | Big Jake (Don’t get me wrong: The Searchers is a great movie. But it doesn’t have quite the depth that the critics and fans claim. Both of these films are about the search for a kidnapped family member but Big Jake has two things missing from The Searchers: love and genuine humor.)
6. Movie about a rock band: Gimme Shelter | Some Kind of Monster (I’m not much of a fan of either the Rolling Stones or Metallica. But Gimme Shelter shows that deep down the Stones are uninteresting dullards while Monster reveals the members of Metallica to be fascinatingly neurotic.)
8. Mobster movie: Scarface | Miller’s Crossing (FT senior editor David Goldman disagrees: “‘Miller’s Crossing’ is one of the worst American movies ever made, at least in terms of the gap between source-material and outcome.” I always assumed it was an original screenplay; I didn’t know that the Coen’s movie was based on Dashiel Hammett’s novels, Red Harvest and The Glass Key.)
30. Comedy: Caddyshack | Raising Arizona (The nearly plotless Caddyshack hasn’t aged well and is not as funny as you remember. Raising Arizona, on the other hand, remains as fresh and hilarious as ever.)
49. Silent Film: Intolerance | The General (The conventional wisdom is coming around to the realization that Buster Keaton was a greater actor than Charlie Chaplin. After watching The General you’ll wonder why there was ever any doubt.)
Think I’m wrong? (Of course you do.) Leave your alternative choices in the comments section. (Note: My list doesn’t include anything from the past five years but don’t let that limit your selections.)