10 Underrated Films by Modern Movie Legends

Sure, you know the elite actors of our modern era and their hit films, but sometimes a certain movie of theirs flies under the radar. Perhaps their performance in a previous movie was stellar by comparison; maybe another blockbuster film eclipsed this one; or could be they just weren’t “discovered” yet. Whatever the reason, here are some stars’ “lesser” efforts well worth viewing.


Jeff Bridges – Thunderbolt And Lightfoot

WHO (else): Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy

WHAT: Years after pulling a heist where the money went missing, Eastwood and Kennedy are convinced by young turk Bridges that second time’s the charm. And it is…until a botched getaway leads to a downward spiral of tragedy.

WHY: Happy-go-lucky Bridges breathing life into the cautionary phrase “be careful what you wish for.”


Kevin Costner – A Perfect World

WHO (else): Clint Eastwood, Laura Dern

WHAT: This Eastwood-directed tale has escaped prisoner Costner kidnapping a young boy and then going on the lam, staying one step ahead of Texas Ranger Eastwood and criminologist Dern.

WHY: Costner’s convict “ain’t a good man…ain’t the worst neither.” He’s been dealt a bad hand in life but doesn’t wallow in pity. Costner shares a kinship with his young new companion/victim, and tries to impart what he’s learned from his hard-bitten life upon the boy. Damaged relationships, conflicted feelings, misguided decisions, and unanswered questions are all part of this imperfect world.

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Johnny Depp – Don Juan De Marco

WHO (else): Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway

WHAT: Psychiatrist Brando takes on suicidal Depp who believes he is the legendary Don Juan. Doctor and patient roles become blurred as they both come to realize that “crazy” is a term that’s more subjective than objective.

WHY: Johnny Depp, never looking hotter, delivering smoldering lines that make women melt. (Bastard.)


Clint Eastwood – The Beguiled

WHO (else): Geraldine Page

WHAT: A Southern girls’ school’s idyllic, if not anachronistic, existence is shattered by wounded Union soldier Eastwood, who’s been given refuge.

WHY: Released in the same year as Dirty Harry and Play Misty for Me, the film was perhaps destined to be overlooked. Even so, it confounded critics and moviegoers alike with many unsavory scenes and its ending outraged even its own studio boss. Pay no attention. This slightly surreal gothic tale keeps viewers off balance, ever questioning the characters’ motives and intentions.


Gene Hackman – The Quick And The Dead

WHO (else): Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Gary Sinise, Lance Henriksen

WHAT: Star-studded western has Hackman as the evil town ruler who sets up a quick-draw competition. However, the pot of money that awaits the winner is not the motivation for some of the combatants, each of whom has their own reasons for wanting to prevail.

WHY: Hackman foreshadowing (and outshining?) his Unforgiven role; an icy-hot Stone and a pre-stardom DiCaprio and Crowe delivering the goods.


Dustin Hoffman – Family Business

WHO (else): Sean Connery, Matthew Broderick

WHAT: Hoffman tries to steer bright, college-educated son Broderick away from his gruff, enigmatic burglar father, but when the grandfather/son tandem come up with a heist plan, he decides the best way to keep his eye on them both is to join in.

WHY: The script’s comedy, drama and thrills are brought to life by three generations of supreme acting talent.


Nicole Kidman – Dead Calm

WHO (else): Sam Neill, Billy Zane

WHAT: A doctor and his wife set sail trying to cope with the death of their son, only to find themselves in over their heads when they discover the “survivor” of an ill fated schooner they’ve taken onboard is, in fact, a deranged murderer.

WHY: The cat-and-mouse play of Kidman & Zane; an unforgettable ending.


Meryl Streep – Postcards From The Edge

WHO (else): Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman

WHAT: Carrie Fisher’s roman a clef novel translated brilliantly to the big screen by Streep (as Fisher) and MacLaine as her mother. Fresh out of a stint in rehab, Streep must deal with the issues of sex, drugs, and bad relationships that landed her in there in the first place when she is placed under the supervision of her larger-than-life mother whose shadow she has been languishing in for so many years.

WHY: Streep gives comedy another go after the abysmal She-Devil. Though the following year’s Death Becomes Her is perhaps her most well known comedic role, Meryl actually won an American Comedy Award for Funniest Lead Actress in a Motion Picture for this one.


Burt Reynolds – Breaking In

WHO (else): Casey Siemaszko

WHAT: Seasoned professional burglar Reynolds stumbles across Siemaszko during one of his “jobs” and decides to take the eager youth under his wing. Despite his continued guidance and affinity for him, Reynolds’ fastidious nature and high-minded philosophies prove both unattainable and undesired by his undisciplined charge.

WHY: After years of hamming it up in forgettable schlock, Reynolds finds a real (John Sayles-penned) script and gets back to acting.


Denzel Washington – Devil In A Blue Dress

WHO (else): Don Cheadle, Jennifer Beals

WHAT: Denzel is “Easy” Rawlins, an unemployed vet just back from WWII hired to find a missing white woman…a surefire recipe for trouble.

WHY: For starters, this is a mystery that rises well above the standard gumshoe variety, encroaching upon Chinatown-like depths and nuance. But besides another top-notch Denzel performance, giving riveting support as his volatile friend Mouse is Don Cheadle, who was criminally snubbed come Oscar time.

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  • lenny

    Interesting choices. greast surprise ending in The Beguiled, terrifiic reynolds performance in Breaking In and nice aping of Leone in The quick and the Dead.

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  • Name Kevin Reilly

    How about Burt Lancaster in “Valdez is Coming”, or Richard Burton in “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold”.

    • Gord Jackson

      Happily Burton got an Oscar nom for SPY, what I personally still consider his best screen performance.

  • Pat P

    Loved Beguiled with Clint Eastwood. Different that his Dirty Harry character but definitely brought out that “sexy side” and brought much to the era of the movie. Should never have been underrated.

  • Ross Biondo

    James Caviezel is not yet a legend,but one of the movies that I feel is underrated is Frequency. Brilliantly acted. What other move successfully combines a murder mystery , time travel ,family, and the 1969 World Series.

  • KennyA

    Since you’re talking movie legends, Does anyone else think that Marilyn Monroe gave an Oscar-worthy performance and was just great as Sheree in “Bus Stop”?

  • Bob VanDerClock

    Saw The Beguiled – very good ensemble acting in that – and Valdez Is Coming while serving in Vietnam and loved ‘em both (we had timely movies almost every three days or so, played right in the compound for all with an outdoor-theatre setup.)

  • Francis Nick

    right on KennyA Monroe’s performance in Bus Stop is deep down in-the-guts knockout.

    MM not receiving a Oscar nom for her work here, is another example of how often the Academy does not “get it right.”

    Though 1956 Best Actress category was high quality that year – Caroll Baker: Baby Doll
    K Hepburn: The Rainmaker Nacny Kelly: The Bad Seed Deborah Kerr: The King and I and the winner, Ingrid Bergman: Anastasia – I would bump Kerr (whom I love and loved the film) for Marilyn’s work in Bus Stop.
    You cannot take MM out of the picture, without her you would not have the movie.

    • Gord Jackson

      Agreed. Personally I think Deborah’s best performance was in SEPARATE TABLES, for which she was Oscar nominated, losing out to Susan Hayward for I WANT TO LIVE. I think Susan was excellent in LIVE but my vote would definitely have gone to Deborah, especially when one contrasts her performance as the simpering “yes mummy, no mummy’ plain Jane spinster in TABLES with her sophisticated women in TEA AND SYMPATHY, THE KING AND I and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. Indeed her TABLES take was a brilliantly performed sea change from the above titled trio. Outstanding!

  • Al Hooper

    You’re right, “Valdez Is Coming” is a great Western, probably Burt Lancaster’s best. And Denzel Washington’s best film was indeed “Devil In a Blue Dress.” Both of them were fully realized films…and not a single special-effect anywhere.

  • Joeyeggs

    What about Redford in “A River Runs Through It”?
    I loved the flick but never heard a lot about it.

  • fred vbuschbaum

    A lot of great films, ??why underrated??.
    One of my favorites is “Let it ride” with Richard Dryfus, Teri Garr, and a host of wellknown charactor actors. A perrinial losers magical day at the races with all the denizens of that world. A great comedy. I’ve seen it several times on TV, but, can’t find it on DVD anywhere.

  • Rita

    Beguiled is one my favorite Clint Eastwood movies, lots of twists and turns in this one. Never gets the mentions that the Dirty Harry movies do.

  • Clay Robinson

    Burt Reynolds in Starting Over with Jill Clayborne; especially the scene when he reacts wihtout saying a word– his facial expressions are classic Buster Keaton like– as Candice Bergen sings (sort of) to him accompanied by a cassette recording.
    He can do comedy with the best of them.

  • Geoff

    Does any body know the name of the [ I think ] Rob Lowe film, that has him playing a crooked playboy murderer con man. He marries into a rich family. and does away with her. He meets this woman on a yacht, [ I think Elizabeth Mcgovern] and charms her etc. It came out in the 1990′s. It’s all a bit sketchy, but I remember it as a great film. Any suggestions ?

    • Grace

      Wow, sounds good – anybody know????

      • Gord Jackson

        It is MASQUERADE.

    • Michael

      I think the film is Masquerade with Meg Tilly

  • Larry Jacox

    I always enjoy Hackman when “The Package” turns up on TV. Dennis Franz and Tommy Lee Jones.

  • Luigi From NYC

    what about —

    Viva Zapata — Brando
    Seconds — Hudson
    Something Of Value — Hudson
    Something For Everyone — Lansbury
    The Search — Clift

  • John M. Robinson

    I don’t think Gene Hackman in The Quick and the Dead could foreshadow his role in Unforgiven. Wasn’t Unforgiven made earlier?

    I’d recommend Going in Style from 1979 with George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three retirees who decide to supplement their income with a heist. Full of wonderful surprises all along the way (directed by Martin Brest).

    • Antone

      I also love Going in Style. Art Carney had another great sleeper in the senior citizen private eye film The Late Show directed by Robert Benton w/Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy, Joanna Cassidy & Howard Duff.

  • Anne

    As mentioned above: Don Cheadle in “Devil in a Blue Dress”. Mesmerizing. Chilling.

  • Victor Brown

    May I add another which, by any account was a film by a modern movie legend, albeit one who is no longer with us. Let’s add The Happening (1967), by the screen mega-legend Anthony Quinn, which also stars another who has since become a legend: Faye Dunaway. The film, which has apparently been “lost” because it is never shown and which is no longer available in any format, deserves praise as the first “counter-culture” film of the 1960s.

  • thomas j abbate

    1st actor don ameche at that i was 5 yrs old then isaw alan ladd. then yrs later alan ladd became my fav and still am.he may not be the actor that gable is. but his voice anf face surely made him one of the best looking actors ever if not the best.he was a short man but he was big too me.it,s a shame he,s never been reconize as 1 of the best money makers in his time. im gratefulgerge stevens the prducers who gave him ‘shane’.no one other actor would have made it a great western

  • Anne

    How about Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner”? He was not a megastar at the time, and as I recall, the film was not well appreciated until much later.

  • Butch Knouse

    The Quick and the Dead was a piece of dreck. Too goofy to be taken seriously and too grim to be a spoof.

  • Cara

    Great list. I didn’t think anyone but me had ever seen Don Juan De Marco!

    • jumbybird

      Nor should anyone else :)

  • Virginia

    Have to agree about Devil in a Blue Dress. Both Washington and Cheadle gave outstanding performances in that movie.

    The appearance of the actress early in the trailer (NOT Jennifer Beal–don’t recall her name) making love to Washington, reminds me of another regrettably underrated movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, Eve’s Bayou. That same actress had a similar scene with Jackson early in Eve’s Bayou, and again set much of the plot for the rest of the film.

    To my knowledge, this excellent movie (Eve’s Bayou) was completely snubbed by the Oscars even though it featured outstanding performances by Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Jurnee Smollet and Debra Morgan. I also thought some of the cinematography was chillingly beautiful.

  • Kevin

    I have to admit, of all Clint Eastwood movies, the Beguiled may have been one of my least favorites. I really liked Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (almost impossible to find on DVD) and The Quick and the Dead (outstanding cast with Crowe, DiCaprio, Hackman, and Sharon Stone).

    • Bruce Reber

      I remember first seeing “Thunderbolt And Lightfoot”. I went with my dad on one of his business trips, to Milwaukee in the summer of 1974, just after TAL was released. I was 16 at the time, and because it was rated R we both went to see it at a theater near the hotel where we were staying. Clint Eastwood (Thunderbolt) and Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot) were very good in it, and George Kennedy was also great as Thunderbolt’s former partner in crime who hooks up with him and Lightfoot for a big-time bank heist. The ending, when Thunderbolt’s cruising down the road in his new Eldorado convertible and stops to pick up hitchiking Lightfoot, who dies shortly after is one of the saddest movie endings I’ve seen. I was hoping they’d both ride off down the road and into their next enterprise, whatever it may have been. TAL was directed by Michael Cimino, spotlighted as one of the “Forgotten Directors” on a previous Movie Fanfare blog.

  • Gary

    One of my favorite movies (from ~1974, I think), was a sexy murder mystery set on a yacht in the Mediterranean: “The Last of Sheila”. It had a stellar cast that included James Coburn, James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Ian MacShane, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, and 1-2 others who I’m forgetting now. Definitely not well-remembered on any of the above actors’/actresses’ resumes, but a very engrossing movie nonetheless.

    • Grace

      One of my all time favorite!!

  • Nicolas

    One of the more interesting films not mentioned is Night Movies, a mid 70′s film with Gene Hackman and directed by Arthur Penn. A really great detective movie with some great future talent such as James Wood and Melanie Griffith.

  • evrrdy1

    How about Val Kilmer’s Doc Holiday in Tombstone? How did he not get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor? He portrayed the bucolic, tubercular, world weary character’s essence to such effect that one easily understood the reckless self destructive personality conflicted, at the same time, by his fierce loyalty to his friend, Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell), who confounded him by seeking nothing in return for his fellowship. An amazing, bravura performance in my opinion. The scene between Doc Holiday and Johnny Ringo in the barroom is worth the price of admission. If you haven’t yet seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it soon.

    • CheriLynn

      OMG, finally someone else sees a performance that is so gifted and brilliant that us fans cannot fathom why that performance was overlooked by the brain dead, self-aggrandizing, slobs in Hollyweed. Thank you, Evrrdy1. I also adore that scene with Ringo and Holiday in the bar. The directing in that film is remarkable. When the hands of the Earp brothers fly to their guns at the OK corral, the tension is so thick you can cut it with the perverbial knife. Some really good supporting acting done by the minor players, too (if you could actually call any of them minor). Tombstone is one of my personal favorites for watching repeatedly and quoting extensively. “I’m your huckleberry.”

      My favorite in Don Juan de Marco was the performance by Marlon Brando with Faye Dunaway. What a wonderful couple. I loved their banter and chemistry. They were a delight to watch. I found myself smiling everytime they were on screen together. I find Johnny Depp an alright actor, but not in the caliber of Brando and Dunaway.

      I also think that Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Elephant Man was also one of those subtle and brilliant performances ignored by the same schmucks (I might include his performances in Howard’s End and Remains of the Day). Yes, John Hurt was incredible, but the scene where Hopkins acts only with his eyes when he sees the Elephant Man in his horrible living conditions brings the tears down my face in buckets. Absolutely beautiful. And, Lynch should have won for direction. But, I don’t hold the awards in the high esteem I once had for them. Since Russell Crowe and Ron Howard didn’t win for A Beautiful Mind, I haven’t even watched the boring spectacle. Besides, since Bob Hope stopped MCing the darn thing has gone downhill. And, Tom Hanks winning Best Actor? Puleeze! Where’s their brain?

  • jumbybird

    “Journey to the 7th Planet” with John Agar.

  • Bob Riley

    “The Right Stuff”–No big names, but great musical score, equally great editing” and did I leave out, also great cinematography. Never drags even with a 3 hour plus running time.

  • No Name

    I must comment on the movie, “The Quick and the Dead”. Positively, the most hollywood drivel ever concocted by some brain dead wanna be script writer. Unbelievable and poorly written. Boring is the nicest thing I can say.

    • Caroline Dean Thornburgh

      Well, we did get to meet Russell Crowe.

  • Erik Tobiason

    My favorite unknown comedy is from 1953 “Beat the Devil” directed by John Huston, screenplay by Truman Capote and starring in her first English movie Gina Lollobrigida along with recent Academy award winners Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones (in an awesome comedic role) Robert Foley and Peter Laurie to name a few off the top of my head.

    On location in Italy and thereabouts. It is intended for a mature audience who will understand the humor that places all these adults together trying to make a lot of money after years of failure.

    • Antone

      Bogie was always great in dark comedies. In addition to J Jones, his co-stars were Robert Morley, Peter Lorre & Gina Lollobrigida. Bogie was also super in the dark Christmas comedy We’re No Angels w/ Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, Joan Bennett, Leo G Carroll & Basil Rathbone.

  • Joseph Levin

    Numbers do not indicate ranking; just there to make listings easier to tell apart.
    1) Michael Caine in The Last Valley (also Omar Sharif, Per Oscarsson, Florinda Bolkan)
    2) Alan Rickman in Judas Kiss (also Emma Thompson, Carla Gugino, Simon Baker, Hal Holbrook)
    3) George C. Scott in The Formula (also Marlon Brando, Marthe Keller, John Gielgud)
    4) George C. Scott in The List of Adrian Messenger (also Kirk Douglas, Dana Wynter, Jacques Roux)
    5) Jack Nicholson in The Pledge (also Robin Wright, Patricia Clarkson, Benicio del Toro, Aaron Eckhart, Mickey Rourke, Sam Shepherd, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Harry Dean Stanton)
    6) Marlon Brando in Morituri (also Yul Brynner, Martin Benrath, Hans Christian Blech, Janet Margolin, Wally Cox, Trevor Howard)
    7) Kirk Douglas in Lonely are the Brave (also Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy)
    8) George Segal in Where’s Poppa (also Ruth Gordon, Ron Leibman, Trish Van Devere, Rob Reiner, Barnard Hughes, Vince Gardenia)
    9) Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall (also Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty,
    10) Albert Finney in Wolfen (also Diane Venora, Gregory Hines,
    11) Warren Beatty in Lillith (also Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda, Kim Hunter, Gene Hackman (one of his earliest starts))
    12) James Cagney in One, Two, Three (also Arlene Francis, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin)
    13) Mickey Rourke in A Prayer for the Dying (also Bob Hoskins, Alan Bates, Liam Neeson)
    14) Peter O’Toole in Night of the Generals (also Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Philippe Noiret, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence, Joanna Pettet, Coral Browne)
    15) Liam Neeson in Rob Roy (also Tim Roth, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Brian Cox, Eric Stoltz)
    16) Shirley MacLaine, George C. Scott, Art Carney, Rex Harrison, Jeanne Moreau, Ingrid Bergman, Omar Sharif, Alain Delon all in The Yellow Rolls Royce
    17) Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version (also Jean Kent, Nigel Patrick, Brian Smith)
    18) Laurence Olivier in Carrie (also Jennifer Jones, Eddie Albert, Miriam Hopkins)
    19) Burt Lancaster in Twilight’s Last Gleaming (also Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Richard Widmark, Burt Young, Gerald O’Loughlin, Melvyn Douglas)
    20) Paul Newman in The Prize (also Elke Sommer, Edward G. Robinson, Diane Baker, Kevin McCarthy, Sergio Fantoni, Michele Presle, John Wengraf, sascha Pitoeff, Leo G. Carroll)

  • RUaFriend

    I’m late to this game too! Some great choices on your list and I have to agree with many of the new suggested add-ons, most notably Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone.

    I also agree about Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. It suffered from the studio insisting on releasing it with that horrible narration running through it against the objections of both Ford & Scott! I would also add Mosquito Coast to the Ford list of underrated films & performances. He was amazing as the crazy obsessed self destructive father and River Phoenix was perfect as his slowly disillusioned son.

    Without doubt the #1 current movie legend who is left of this list would have to be Hugh Jackmen! In both The Prestige and The Fountain he played 3 distinct characters magnificently. He played Root so well in The Prestige that most people didn’t believe it was him! I also love Michael Caine in this, he’s always perfect in everything! I was less thrilled with Christian Bale. I think The Prestige got lost in the shuffle because 2 magic related movies came out at nearly the same time…the other being The Illusionist. The Fountain suffered because it was a very esoteric, philosophical story and unclassifiable as a film! It was marketed in a way that made me think it was a combination of time travel & reincarnation so I was actually disappointed and totally baffled at my first viewing. I’m glad I gave it another chance because it’s brilliant. Every time I watch it I see new things in it. It’s beautiful to look at and the acting by everyone is wonderful. What more could one ask for in a movie!

  • Antone

    Jack Nicholson has taken on risky projects throughout his career. THE 60′s—Before Easy Rider he did 3 Corman films: the original Little Shop of Horrors, The Raven & The Terror. THE 70′s His career soared without many digressions. THE 80′s—Prizzi’s Honor & The Witches of Eastwick would have been blah without him. THE 90′s—A dark comedy period with Man Trouble, Wolf, Mars Attacks & As Good As It Gets. THE 00′s—He was content to play his own age in About Schmidt & The Bucket List. Notes: Who wouldn’t do The Raven for a chance to work with Karloff, Lorre & Price spoofing their horrific image. Brangelina stole the plot of Mr & Mrs Smith from Prizzi’s Honor and the title from Hitch. Would that Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis and other creaky action heroes would grow up and act their age like Jack. As a retired actuary, I realize just how difficult it was for Jack to make a retired actuary interesting & sympathetic.

  • Lorraine M.

    How about George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in 1998′s “Out of Sight”? The movie is smart, dark and funny, featuring memorable turns from costars Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, Catherine Keener, Steve Zahn and Dennis Farina among talented others. Clooney and Lopez (who has not made a better film since) have incredible chemistry together and director Steven Soderbergh gives us one of the most sexy and romantice love scenes ever filmed. “Out of Sight” should have been a huge hit for Clooney, but may have been negatively impacted by the previous year’s disastrous “Batman and Robin.”