19 Great Movies Starring A-List Actors Few People Know About

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.

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.

Directed by: Ben Lewin,

The Sessions is drama about Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a quadriplegic who is forced to live in an iron lung due to complications from childhood Polio. A poet by trade, Mark longs to experience the touch of a woman, and despite his condition, to ultimately lose his virginity at the age of 38. After consultation with his parish priest (William H. Macy), Mark begins to see a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who slowly opens his mind and his body to the pleasures of sexuality. A very frank depiction of sex and sensuality, The Sessions is unflinching yet utterly tender storytelling. Hawkes and Hunt are both wonderfully real and honest in their performances. It’s the type of film that will surprise you by the ending at how much it has moved you.

Directed by: Alexander Payne,

A true character study on an aging man who feels like he has nothing to offer the world, About Schmidt stars Jack Nicholson in an unusually restrained and somber role as the titular Warren Schmidt. As his life crumbles around him and his meagre accomplishments are taken away, Schmidt goes for a cross-country journey by himself, trying to stop his daughter from marrying the wrong man. Along the way, the film shows him wrestling with his sense of futility and trying to make a difference in the world. Highly recommended and incredibly moving!

As much as this movie is centered around Schmidt, it is around Jack Nicholson. You will watch an interesting and touching character and meanwhile you will also witness the great talent that is Jack Nicholson in its prime. About Schmidt is funny, moving and real.

Directed by: Lasse Hallström,

A light and simple feel-good movie with great performances from an impressive cast. Ewan McGregor plays the country’s best fisheries expert who is approached by a consultant (Emily Blunt) to help bring the sport of fly-fishing to a desert in the Middle-East, a place at the peak of tensions. The Prime Minister’s office, with the help of the media, try to then bring this story to the public as a show of something good happening in the region. It’s a quirky movie with a beautiful love story and a few interesting ideas on the current state of journalism. Both leads are absolutely charming together.

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.

Directed by: John Maclean,

Slow West is a modern western about a young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) trekking across America in search of Rose, the young woman he loves, while accompanied by a wayward outlaw named Silas (Michael Fassbender). Jay soon realizes that he is unwittingly leading a pack of nefarious bounty hunters toward Rose and her father as well, as a sizable reward rests on their heads for the accidental killing of a nobleman. It’s a melancholy yet clever and enjoyable film with a distinct Coen Brothers-esque sense of dark humor and quirky violence. In his debut feature, John Maclean gives the western a fresh spin and a nice creative twist, marking his territory as a promising new name in the film world.

Directed by: Aaron Schneider,

Robert Duvall…Bill Murray…need I say more? This popped up in my Netflix feed as a suggestion. Almost skipped over it, but my husband and I were up late and took a chance. WHOA! The acting is superb and what we thought would be a movie about revenge is unexpectedly about redemption. Robert Duvall is a hermit, looking forward to death. Bill Murray is a funeral home director looking for someone to bury. It’s subtle, very subtle, comical and heartbreaking. Y’all will love it.

Directed by: Ryan Fleck,

The self destructive, substance abusing history teacher Dan (Ryan Gosling) works in a Brooklyn middle-school and is constantly at odds with the curriculum, preferring to teach 13 year old kids Marxist theory in class. Meanwhile, his student Drey (Shareeka Epps) has to go through struggles of her own, her brother being in jail on drug charges and her single mother having to work long hours to make ends meet. Slowly, an unlikely and tender friendship between teacher and student evolves, in which it becomes less and less clear who of them is the adult part. Steering away from cliches, Half Neslon is not your typical social drama. Its intelligent plot twists, great cast (with outstanding performances by both Gossling and Epps) and slow, non dramatic storytelling makes this a highly underestimated movie that, although treating depressive topics without any easy relief for the viewer, will leave with an inner smile, albeit a sad one.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Directed by: Andrew Dominik,

Robert Ford is an aspiring gangster who idolizes Jesse James, leader of the notorious James gang. When that admiration reaches a level where it can transform to challenge and resentment, he starts considering the unthinkable. The cast is excellent- Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Paul Schneider, and Garret Dillahunt. Brad Pitt delivers an amazing performance which truly captures the presence that Jesse James brought to a room, one that seemed to overcome those around him. In addition the soundtrack is superb, one of the most memorable I have ever heard. This is a very unique, thrilling, and well-shot movie, it is easily one of the most underrated films of the past 10 years.

Directed by: Michael Roskam,

One of The Drop’s many strengths is its dark, clever, yet compassionate script. It will take you into the heart of the Brooklyn crime scene through the characters and their respective more or less fragile lifestyles. The extremely good performances, however, soon become the focus and attire of the film. James Gandolfini couldn’t be more at home in this context and excels with his usual menace, yet somehow relatable presence. Tom Hardy, however, surprises in unfamiliar grounds, sharply portraying a vulnerable character, whose vulnerability you will keep doubting.

The Drop is consistent from start to finish, and with jaw-dropping moments here and there, it is both an interesting and enjoyable film.

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.

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.

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.