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.
Tilikum is a killer whale who’s been associated, both directly and indirectly, with multiple human deaths while in captivity. This documentary examines exactly how and why Sea World is a cruel, shitty place undeserving of you dollars. Granted, this should have already been evident to you in the fact that mammals used to roaming the open oceans shouldn’t be kept in mere swimming pools for your entertainment, but hey, at least you know now.
An unlikely romance develops between a smart, curious, and otherwise atypical Southern boy and a beautiful witch, but local yokels, malevolent relatives, and fate itself threatens their love and lives. Sure, there are some issues in the third act, but until that point this fun and exciting flick is easily one of the best YA adaptations to hit screens in years. It delivers the unexpected in so many ways, from its male “normal” to its humor and intelligence, and it’s disappointing that you people chose to give your cash to Percy Jackson and The Mortal Instruments instead. Plus, Emmy Rossum!
A family gathering takes a dark turn when dinner is interrupted by a group of masked home invaders up to no good. More specifically, they’re up to murder! What they couldn’t have known though is that on of the grown sons has brought a date with a secret, and not they’re unexpectedly in for the fight of their lives, too. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett don’t pretend to reinvent the genre here, but they have taken a well-worn slasher premise and turned it into a very cool, very funny thriller. We waited two years for this one to finally hit theaters, and you folks dismissed it in two weeks.
Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced masseuse who finds a new best friend (Catherine Keener) and a new boyfriend (James Gandolfini) at the same party, but while both fill a need she didn’t even know she had, they bring some new complications to her life. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener‘s latest is a sweet film that delivers laughs and heart. It gets a bit too sitcom-happy at times, but it’s a small price to pay to see Gandolfini smiling one last time.
It’s New Years Eve 2008, and Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is looking to make amends for his past sins and get a fresh start on life. What he doesn’t know, and what we can’t forget, is that this is the last day of his life. There’s a fantastic lead performance at the heart of this film, and its core message is one that sees the value in intention and hope. It tries a bit too hard to shape the “true story” into an agenda, but that misstep doesn’t erase what it gets right.
The Spectacular Now
Sutter (Miles Teller) is a bit of a douche, but he’s the fun kind who can always make you laugh. He has yet to meet a bottle of alcohol he couldn’t empty, but his party persona takes a hit when he meets Aimee (Shailene Woodley). She’s smart, sweet, and foolishly falling in love with him, and that’s bad news for everyone involved. I’m not entirely sold on the film’s final few minutes, but until that point the movie is a rare example of a the realities inherent in young love. It’s not quite at their level, but this is probably the closest we’ve gotten to films like The Last American Virgin and Fast Times at Ridgemont High in years.
Multiple characters and story threads cross paths in this ensemble drama about how our increasing dependence on digital media and social networks has actually served to disconnect us from each other. I’m apparently the only person in America who really dug this movie, but so be it. The webcam guy/reporter segment is weak, but the film as a whole surpasses it with other strengths, an important (albeit heavy handed) message, and one hell of a shot late in the film.
And here are 6.5 movies you’re lucky you missed (especially since you might still have movies from 2012 to catch up on):
I still can’t figure out why more of you chose to see this incredibly boring and shockingly dumb YA adaptation over Beautiful Creatures. It follows the genre’s Twilight-inspired tropes to a disturbing degree, but does it without that series’ unintentional humor.
21 & Over
Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang. Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang. Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang. Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang? Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang. Jeff Chang! Jeff Chang? And scene.
Ethan Hawke has to drive a car doing whatever the man on the radio tells him to do, or Hawke’s wife will be killed! Good thing Selena Gomez is on the case. There are some laughs here to be sure, unintended as they may be, but wait until it hits Netflix to get your money’s worth.
Look, I admit to having some dumb fun with the first Machete film, but that was already a one-joke trailer stretched to its limit. Robert Rodriguez‘ follow-up decides that more is the answer, but unfortunately he only adds more of what didn’t work the first time around.
The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola‘s obsession with stale, unearned celebrity reaches new heights with this terrifically boring look at uninteresting teenagers. Behind the scenes of an E! Channel reality show is no better than the show itself.
I knew nothing but the basics about J.D. Salinger before watching this “documentary,” but I don’t know as I’m that much more informed now. Sold on the promise of new, salacious revelations the film is ultimately as empty as the vault Geraldo Rivera opened on live TV before millions of viewers.
I’m contractually obligated to do exactly half as many duds as I do winners, so that means I needed 6.5 bad movies that you missed in theaters. Luckily, the choice below is fifty percent terrible.
I love Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and I walked into Richard Linklater’s latest with excitement and joy. Sadly, I walked out disappointed in the direction our third visit with Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) had taken. The issue isn’t that I disapprove of the couple experiencing troubles. The issue is the lopsided invasion of Celine’s intimacy (she’s nothing but negative and we see her physically exposed), the decision to spend thirty minutes of the film with them arguing violently over things we’ve known already (infidelity! he likes his son! she’s a whiner!), and an ending that pretends to be something it isn’t. I’m alone in this, I know, but after watching the film three times my view hasn’t changed. That’s how I know it’s right.