18 Best Overlooked Movies Starring Big Actors

It is easy to assume that all unsuccessful movies with incredibly famous actors failed because they were bad movies. The films on this list prove that this is not always the case.

Many things can make a great movie with a-list actors go unnoticed: Bad marketing, untimely release, dull trailers and posters, or just pure luck… All of these reasons have no link whatsoever with how good the movie actually is.

If you’re looking for well-acted movies with your favourite award-winning actors, this list is for you. All of these movies are handpicked by our staff; they’re little-known, highly rated, and sometimes even better than the big blockbusters.

Our website allows you to browse movies by your mood. For a list of all our suggestions for movies with A-list actors, click here. For a list of all the other moods you can choose from, click here.

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Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder
Directed by: Gillian Armstrong

The 1868 semi-autobiographical novels of Louisa May Alcott have been adapted into film, television and theatre so many times: 6 movies, 4 TV shows, even a broadway musical. It’s a compelling story to watch as it unfolds, and it’s easy to see why many hold this one as the best adaptation of the novels. For one, the cast is top-notch and perfect for the roles: Christian Bale as Laurie, Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March, and Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes and a very young Kirsten Dunst as the four sisters.
Little Women is the story of these four girls living in post-civil war America. We watch them grow together, find love, have their little fights, and try to find their place in the world. Everything from the costumes and settings to the dialogue do an excellent job of conveying the heartwarming story and the emotional impact behind it.

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Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Rosario Dawson, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: Dito Montiel

Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, and Shia LaBeouf star in this powerful drama about growing up in 80’s Astoria, New York. It follows the memoirs of the author, director and musician Dito Montiel as he visits his ailing father after 15 years in Los Angeles, away from home. Told via flashback and present-day exposition, as well as several fourth-wall bending monologues,  A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a coming of age film that leaves a deep impact, with two Sundance awards and heaps of nominations to its credit. 

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Stars: Alan Arkin, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Christine Jeffs

Sunshine Cleaning is a great addition to that unidentified genre of grown-up comedies populated by other great entries like Your Sister’s Sister and Enough Said. It is however, less of a comedy than it is a heart-warming emotional tale. Powered by outstanding performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it ultimately evolves into a character study of failed potential and validation seeking.

Sunshine Cleaning is enjoyable, satisfying to a fault, and provides an interesting peak into the lives of its characters.

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Stars: Christian Slater, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Arquette
Directed by: Tony Scott

True Romance is a wildly entertaining and twistedly enjoyable crime film, directed by Tony Scott (Top Gun) and written by a young Quentin Tarantino. It stars Christian Slater as a young nebbish comic book store employee named Clarence who falls in love with a prostitute named Alabama (Patricia Arquette), and sets his mind to rid her of her indebtedness to a volatile pimp named Drexel (Gary Oldman). The story eventually finds them absconding to California with a suitcase full of cocaine, with the intention of selling off their illicit cache to a Hollywood bigwig in order to pursue their dreams of freedom and opportunity. Replete with a remarkable cast of famous names and familiar faces (including Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken and even Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis), True Romance is a true 90’s-era classic. It showcases Tarantino’s trademark witty dialogue throughout, enmeshed with the savage humor and jarring violence that he has become so well known for. It’s very much an homage to Hollywood classics such as Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands (including a rousing score by Hans Zimmer inspired by George Tipton’s score for Badlands), and ultimately serves as one of Tarantino’s most underrated career accomplishments.

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Stars: Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley
Directed by: Mark Romanek

A dark and sophisticated slow-burning drama, Never Let Me Go is adapted from the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. It stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield as boarding school raised teenagers eager to explore the outside world when they learn a secret that will threaten their very existence. Anything more is a spoiler, watch it.

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Stars: Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney, Owen Kline
Directed by: Noah Baumbach

Director Noah Baumbach’s autobiographical film is a strikingly realistic take on divorce and the turmoil it sets on an already-dysfunctional family. Bernard (Jeff Daniels) is a selfish decadent writer who’s splitting with his unfaithful wife Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), are taking different sides that reflect their personality. This separation only reinforces their insecurities as they quickly fall into depression and grow away from their friends. The parents, however, find unconventional lovers just as quickly, Bernard with a student of his, and Jane with her son’s tennis coach.

The Squid and the Whale is a funny, emotional, and gripping story that finds a perfect balance in tone despite dealing with bitter divorce and troubled adolescence.

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Stars: Peter Meadows, Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix
Directed by: Henry Bean

Ryan Gosling plays a Jewish Neo-Nazi in this extremely riveting window into the definition of inner conflict. It is a prime example of how character development should be done and it put Gosling on the map for me. He starts out as an exemplary student in Hebrew school until he starts questioning his teachings and exploring alternative ideologies, leading him to the neo-Nazi movement. Won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

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Stars: Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne
Directed by: Danny Boyle

Sunshine is a sci-fi thriller that details pretty much exactly what you don’t want to happen on your journey into space. It follows the struggles of a crew who know that they are humanity’s last hope to rekindle a dying sun and save their loved ones back home. Out of radio contact with Earth, relationships become strained and when things start to go horribly wrong the diverse cast give a fantastic performance as they encapsulate both the terror and humanity that arises from such an alien situation. Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later).

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Stars: Frances McDormand, Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire
Directed by: Curtis Hanson

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a craggy, lovable English professor struggling to finish the follow-up to a very successful first novel. It has taken him 7 years, and it’s an obvious metaphor for his ridiculous life. The character navigates various tragicomic dilemmas with a stellar supporting cast including Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes. His editor is Robert Downey Jr. and his nemesis is Rip Torn. Bob Dylan wrote the theme song. How do you not love this movie? It’s one of those films that feels like a warm, cozy house (despite the fact that it takes place in a Pittsburgh winter), and it’s a great blend of humor and drama.

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Stars: Garret Dillahunt, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes
Directed by: Debra Granik

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep your engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact, that at times you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter’s Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

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Stars: Lauren Bacall, Nicole Kidman, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Lars von Trier

Set in a town drawn in chalk outlines on the floor of a dark studio room. However unconventional the unrealistic stage-like set, the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman who arrives at this town seeking refuge becomes real enough to absorb you in a disturbing examination of human morals. It’s unique and features powerful performances, and will be more appreciated by anyone striving for something new. Directed by Lars von Trier.

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Stars: Brady Corbet, Elisabeth Shue, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by: Gregg Araki

When Brian was eight years old he lost five hours of his life to a black out. Now ten years later he is searching for the truth. His search leads him to Neil, a boy who was on his little league team the summer of the blackout. Brian has always believed he was abducted by aliens from the dreams he had with Neil in them. Neil however knows the truth. Neil had just left the small town life and moved to New York. When he comes home for Christmas and meets Brian will he finally tell him the answers he has been looking for? This is the story of one boy who can’t remember and a boy who can’t forget.

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Stars: Jennifer Connelly, Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson
Directed by: Todd Field

A triple Oscar-nominated drama which explores how ambiguous our roles in society can be. While categorized as “adults”, a number of us are yet to outgrow certain adolescent stages. Let’s face it – we all live in pretense of adulthood, obeying the general rules and hoping society will not detect our little bugs of immaturity. This film questions and analyzes that, by going through human nature, sexuality, morals and beyond, while remaining authentic and genuine. The characters are complex (with great performances from all actors, especially Kate Winslet) and the directing is superb. All in all, a good watch for anyone looking for non intelligence-insulting entertainment.

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Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, JJ Feild, Tom Burke
Directed by: Hattie Dalton

A comedy (!) that follows James (Benedict Cumberbatch) a man terminal cancer who knows that he doesn’t have long to live, so he goes on a journey with his closest friends, Bill (Adam Robertson), Davy (Tom Burke) and Miles (JJ Field), to Barafundle Bay in Wales. The journey itself is funny and the characters have many issues to sort out, some lighter than others, but the film is by no means completely lighthearted, so if you aren’t prepared for some tears with your laughter, maybe look elsewhere!

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Stars: Michelle Monaghan, Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer
Directed by: Shane Black

Robert Downey Jr’s triumphant return to film, this movie is a satirical take on film noir and detective movies in general. The screen chemistry between Gay Perry the private eye, played by Val Kilmer, and Downey Jr’s robber turned actor, Harry Lockhart, is hysterical, and the film’s tongue in cheek nature is witty, smart, and delivers. Directed by the man who directed Lethal Weapon, the action is top notch, the laughs are pretty much constant, and the mystery is compelling. It’s mind boggling that nobody saw this when it came out.

Stars: Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Spike Jonze

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman’s clever writing and Spike Jones’ unique style of directing, the film unfolds using “mise en abîme” as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage’s performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

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Stars: Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Robert De Niro
Directed by: Robert De Niro

This is right up your alley if you have a thing for gangster films. Actually, if you have a thing for stupendous acting and just Robert de Niro in general, then A Bronx Tale might do the job for you. The 1960’s was a tough time for Lorenzo (de Niro), father to conflicted Calogero (Lillo Brancato), who seems to have befriended Bronx’s big man, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Torn between his moral integrity and a few other factors in the mix, the young boy’s leap to the crazed world of mobsters doesn’t get any more real than this.
Tragedy and fascination take human form through the eyes of De Niro’s directorial debut and Palminteri’s work of art, leaving you with a gripping feeling long after the credits have stopped rolling.