The 13 movies below range from the very good to the great (while the 6.5 that follow are just mostly bad), but the one thing they all share is that they each failed to find an audience during their theatrical run for one reason or another. At least one of those reasons is you of course, but instead of berating you for failing to support the films while they were in theaters and needed your help, we’re hoping to point you in their direction now to atone for your sins.
But first, a few qualifications. I’ve excluded movies that played in fewer than 75 theaters since that’s the distributor’s fault, I’m not featuring films that made over $30m, and I’m not including subtitled foreign releases which the masses avoid in general. These are only films that could have had a real chance of making a lot more money than they did, so while I wish more people saw the Jared Leto-led Mr. Nobody, I’m not surprised that it only made $3,600. Finally, I’m also sharing the wealth a bit by skipping movies that will be making our Best Films of the Year list next week.
So here are 13 great movies that failed to catch on at the box office but should be sought out immediately on Blu-ray/DVD, streaming, whatever… and 6.5 relatively terrible flicks that you were right to avoid.
Short Term 12
Grace (Brie Larson) works at a center for at-risk teens where she occasionally lets herself get a bit too invested while simultaneously holding her boyfriend (John Gallagher Jr.) at arm’s length. She reaches a breaking point when a new girl arrives with baggage bearing a similarity to Grace’s past. This is a damn good film anchored by two knockout performances, and while Larson is getting most of the (well-deserved) buzz for what is the best performance by an actress this year, Gallagher deserves credit as well for turning what could have been an unassuming role into something truly special.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are co-workers at a brewery who hang out and flirt but always return to their significant others (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively), but a weekend trip introduces some disruption into the mix. This setup could have gone a hundred different ways, any one of which probably would have drawn more viewers, but instead director/writer Joe Swanberg chose to keep it honest and occasionally raw. I’ve been at least one of these characters, and odds are you have, too. Temptation, insecurity, friendship, and love all get a work out here.
India (Mia Wasikowska) is an awkward teenager whose life takes a dark turn after her father dies and a mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) arrives to help console the family. Her mother (Nicole Kidman) is no help, and India is forced to come of age and come to grips all on her own. Korean director Park Chan-wook‘s American debut isn’t quite up to snuff with his usual fare, but it remains a mesmerizing affair thanks to its seductive atmosphere, stylish visuals, and wonderfully dark humor.
Two boys come across a wanted fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out on a small island they call a playground, and they’re forced to grow up fast when he asks for their help in reuniting him with the love of his life (Reese Witherspoon). Writer/director Jeff Nichols delivers a compelling and grounded coming-of-age tale, and while only a supporting role, McConaughey’s performance as the titular Mud would be called a revelation if it weren’t for the fact that it’s his fifth outstanding performance in three years.
The Way Way Back
Duncan is having trouble dealing with his parents’ recent split, his father’s indifference, and his mother’s new boyfriend, but summer vacation brings new challenges, friends, and realizations. Thankfully, it also brings Sam Rockwell as a somewhat immature water-park manager who finds himself in the unlikely role of surrogate dad. Writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash make their directing debut here, and the result is a very funny and heartfelt little movie.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is taking a walk from Montana to Nebraska to collect on what he thinks is a winning sweepstakes ticket, and while his son David (Will Forte) knows it’s a fool’s errand he decides to take the old man on a drive instead. They may not find millions of dollars, but their journey does bring the two closer together in some ways. Alexander Payne‘s comedy/drama didn’t stand much of a chance at the box office thanks to it being B&W, but those who did give it a shot found a surprisingly funny and warm look at the highs and lows of family complete with affectionate jabs at the people and culture of the Midwest. Dern is getting the attention, but it’s June Squibb who plays his wife who is the true standout here.