Special Report

40 Best Movies You Have Probably Never Seen

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Films such as “Casablanca” and “The Godfather,” considered among the best movies of all time, succeeded in appealing to both critics and audiences. These well-received motion pictures have been widely viewed in theaters and praised since they were first released.

There are, however, some movies highly regarded by critics and film reviewers that are less well known. In some cases, a well-regarded motion picture may only appeal to a specific group of film aficionados or its theme might be too downbeat to excite a broader audience. Other times, the movie may have been overlooked for reasons such as poor distribution.

24/7 Tempo has identified the 40 best movies you’ve never seen. These are the top-rated films on user-based websites Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database that have comparatively few total user ratings.

Click here to see the best movies you’ve never seen

Among the talented individuals behind some of the movies on the list are Oscar-nominated directors John Huston, Sidney Lumet, and Robert Altman, among others — here is who won the Oscar for best director every year since the Oscars began.

The box-office magic of such stars as Burt Lancaster, Lana Turner, Sidney Poitier, and Jane Fonda was not enough to lure filmgoers to the movies on this list.

Many of these well-regarded films overcame unforeseen obstacles. The 1971 Australian thriller “Wake in Fright” — lauded by Martin Scorsese — was essentially lost for years until the master negative was found in a trash bin and restored in 2009. Similarly, the low budget 1978 movie “Killer of Sheep” didn’t receive theatrical distribution once it was completed because the filmmakers had not cleared the rights for the music used in it. These two movies have since obtained wider circulation and, correspondingly, admiration.

With much of the nation kept inside because of COVID-19, people have had the time to catch up on films that they might have overlooked. Some of these movies that have gotten critical acclaim but have not found an audience became available to stream during the pandemic.

Methodology

To determine the best movies you’ve never seen, 24/7 Tempo created an index based on each film’s Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating, and Internet Movie Database average user rating. To be considered, each film needed to have between 5,000 and 15,000 IMDb user ratings and 10,000 or fewer Rotten Tomatoes user ratings. Only films released since 1950 with English language dialogue were considered as a proxy for cultural relevance.

We averaged the user ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb and weighted by the number of votes for each. The combined user rating was then averaged with the Rotten Tomatoes critic rating.

40. Lenny (1974)
> Directed by: Bob Fosse
> Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Valerie Perrine, Jan Miner
> Genre: Biography, Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.0/10

Shot in black and white and nominated for six Academy Awards, the film details the life of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce, whose acerbic stand-up act challenged obscenity laws in the 1950s and 1960s. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 88% freshness score.

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39. Becket (1964)
> Directed by: Peter Glenville
> Starring: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History
> Avg. critic rating: 7.3/10

Historical drama “Becket” stars famed actors Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, both of whom were nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars for their work in the film. Following a restoration, the film was re-released in 2007 and grossed under $150,000.

38. Fat City (1972)
> Directed by: John Huston
> Starring: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell
> Genre: Drama, Sport
> Avg. critic rating: 8.5/10

“Fat City” is director John Huston’s unsparing, unsentimental look at the career fate of two boxers and their seedy world they inhabit. It was one of Huston’s later movies, and Susan Tyrell received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her work in the movie. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the gritty film a 100% freshness score, and 85% of audiences liked the movie.

37. The Breadwinner (2017)
> Directed by: Nora Twomey
> Starring: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus
> Genre: Animation, Drama, Family
> Avg. critic rating: 7.9/10

Animated drama “The Breadwinner” has a 95% freshness rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie — which was executive produced by Angelina Jolie — grossed just over $300,000 at the domestic box office.

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36. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
> Directed by: Peter Yates
> Starring: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan
> Genre: Crime, Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.4/10

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle” is a film about an aging bakery truck driver in Boston who is also a small-time gun runner and faces jail time unless he rats out his friends. The title character is played by film noir-star Robert Mitchum, and the movie also features Peter Boyle.

35. Elmer Gantry (1960)
> Directed by: Richard Brooks
> Starring: Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 7.8/10

Director Richard Brooks’ “Elmer Gantry” tells the story of an immoral salesman who teams up with a female preacher. The movie won three Academy Awards and was nominated for two others.

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34. Punishment Park (1971)
> Directed by: Peter Watkins
> Starring: Patrick Boland, Kent Foreman, Carmen Argenziano
> Genre: Drama, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 7.4/10

Shot in a fake documentary style, “Punishment Park” is a drama in which authority figures round up and abuse a group of anti-establishment types in the Vietnam War era. The filmmakers had trouble finding distribution for the provocative movie, and it was also never screened on television. Today it has a 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, however.

33. A Star Is Born (1954)
> Directed by: George Cukor
> Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson
> Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
> Avg. critic rating: 8.2/10

Before Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper shared the screen in “A Star Is Born,” there was a 1954 version featuring Judy Garland and James Mason. The movie has a 98% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 41 critic reviews, compared with the 2018 remake’s 90% rating with 515 reviews.

32. The Tale (2018)
> Directed by: Jennifer Fox
> Starring: Elizabeth Debicki, Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn
> Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 9.0/10

Rights to the 2018 film “The Tale” were acquired by HBO Films following its screening at Sundance. which prevented the movie from having a theatrical release. This didn’t stop critics from seeing it and rating it with a 99% freshness Rotten Tomatoes rating.

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31. Night and the City (1950)
> Directed by: Jules Dassin
> Starring: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers
> Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery
> Avg. critic rating: 7.3/10

Film noir “Night and the City” received mixed reviews when it was originally released in the U.S. Audiences reviewing the movie on Rotten Tomatoes have been much kinder, with 90% of the few people rating it on the site giving it a positive rating.

30. Advise & Consent (1962)
> Directed by: Otto Preminger
> Starring: Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Henry Fonda
> Genre: Drama, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 7.8/10

“Advise & Consent” is a gripping political drama based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Allen Drury that features an all-star cast. The film examines the excesses of political partisanship when a dovish candidate (Henry Fonda) is nominated as secretary of state.

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29. The Band Wagon (1953)
> Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
> Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant
> Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance
> Avg. critic rating: 8.4/10

Musical “The Band Wagon” has been certified 100% fresh by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post went as far as to say, “Sorry, the beloved ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ isn’t the finest of the legendary MGM musicals. ‘The Band Wagon’ has better music, better dances, better direction, more lavish sets and costumes and a wittier script (by the same writers).”

28. Bigger Than Life (1956)
> Directed by: Nicholas Ray
> Starring: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.2/10

Overlooked in its initial release, “Bigger Than Life” is now regarded as one of the best movies of the 1950s. The film is about a genial suburban teacher who becomes addicted to an experimental, life-saving drug that transforms him into a violent man. The strong supporting cast features Barbara Rush and Walter Matthau.

27. O Lucky Man! (1973)
> Directed by: Lindsay Anderson
> Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts
> Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
> Avg. critic rating: 7.6/10

Fantastical comedy “O Lucky Man!” stars a young Malcom McDowell as a coffee salesman. While fewer than 7,000 users have rated the film on IMDb, it’s earned an above average rating of 7.7/10, and an average 7.6/10 from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

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26. The Rider (2017)
> Directed by: Chloé Zhao
> Starring: Brady Jandreau, Mooney, Tim Jandreau
> Genre: Drama, Western
> Avg. critic rating: 8.4/10

Dramatic western “The Rider” has won numerous awards from film festivals across the world and has a 97% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite its critical success, the film was only played in 224 theaters at its widest release, according to Box Office Mojo.

25. Gun Crazy (1950)
> Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
> Starring: John Dall, Peggy Cummins, Berry Kroeger
> Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
> Avg. critic rating: 8.2/10

This film noir is about a husband and wife, both obsessed with guns, who go on a crime spree. Joseph H. Lewis’s direction is noteworthy for its shots of the unfolding events seen from the inside of the getaway car. The edgy film made a bigger impression in France than in the United States, and influenced French New Wave movie directors of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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24. Pickup on South Street (1953)
> Directed by: Samuel Fuller
> Starring: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter
> Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 7.8/10

“Pickup on South Street” combines film noir with the red-scare anxiety of the 1950s. Richard Widmark plays a petty crook who steals a pocketbook that holds a microfilm containing classified U.S. secrets. The thief is pursued by both the FBI and communist spies. The film received a 91% freshness rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

23. Seven Days in May (1964)
> Directed by: John Frankenheimer
> Starring: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March
> Genre: Drama, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 7.7/10

“Seven Days in May” is yet another underseen film starring Burt Lancaster, who appears along with Kirk Douglas as two military leaders. The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards and currently has a 91% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

22. The Gunfighter (1950)
> Directed by: Henry King
> Starring: Gregory Peck, Helen Westcott, Millard Mitchell
> Genre: Western
> Avg. critic rating: 8.2/10

“The Gunfighter,” a melancholy take on the Western genre, stars Gregory Peck in the title role as a man who is frequently challenged by younger men to gun fights. The idea for the movie arose from a dinner that screenwriter William Bowers had with one-time heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, who said everyone he met wanted to fight him.

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21. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
> Directed by: Paul Schrader
> Starring: Ken Ogata, Masayuki Shionoya, Hiroshi Mikami
> Genre: Biography, Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 7.6/10

The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus describes “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” as “Paul Schrader’s directorial masterpiece.” Despite its critical acclaim, the film about celebrated Japanese writer Yukio Mishima grossed less than $440,000 in North America against an estimated production budget of $5 million.

20. Seconds (1966)
> Directed by: John Frankenheimer
> Starring: Rock Hudson, Frank Campanella, John Randolph
> Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 8.2/10

Like “Seven Days in May,” “Seconds” was directed by the prolific John Frankenheimer. The movie originally bombed at the box office but has been critically praised in years since. In 2015, the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress

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19. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
> Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
> Starring: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon
> Genre: Drama, Romance
> Avg. critic rating: 7.9/10

Vincente Minnelli, who made some of the greatest musicals of all time (“An American in Paris” and “Gigi”), shifted genres in this cynical film about a ruthless movie producer (Kirk Douglas) who takes no prisoners on his way up the ranks in Hollywood. The supporting cast includes Barry Sullivan and Dick Powell. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 79% freshness rating.

18. Imitation of Life (1959)
> Directed by: Douglas Sirk
> Starring: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 7.7/10

This remake of 1934’s “Imitation of Life” is heavy on melodrama and racial themes. Although it was not embraced by critics upon its original release, it was added to the National Film Registry in 2015.

17. Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
> Directed by: David Miller
> Starring: Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, Walter Matthau
> Genre: Drama, Western
> Avg. critic rating: 8.4/10

“Lonely Are the Brave,” an iconoclastic Western written by the once-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, stars Kirk Douglas as a cowboy who breaks into a jail to see a friend and is pursued to the Mexican border by the authorities. The film prefigured the anti-hero film sentiment of the later 1960s and dealt with issues such as individual freedom versus authority, sanctuary for illegal immigrants, and the increasing militarization of law-enforcement agencies.

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16. The Pawnbroker (1964)
> Directed by: Sidney Lumet
> Starring: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.1/10

Director Sidney Lumet was famous for depicting characters grappling with moral and emotional torment in films such as “12 Angry Men,” and “The Pawnbroker” is one of his best. The motion picture stars Rod Steiger as a pawn shop owner in Harlem embittered by the loss of his family in the Holocaust and walls himself off from humanity.

15. The Court Jester (1955)
> Directed by: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
> Starring: Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone
> Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family
> Avg. critic rating: 7.8/10

The multi-talented Danny Kaye carried this expensive ($4 million budget) burlesque romp that was set in Medieval times. Though it failed at the box office — despite a cast that included Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, and Glynis Johns — it is fondly remembered for its alliterative skit “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice with the palace has the brew that’s true.”

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14. The Miracle Worker (1962)
> Directed by: Arthur Penn
> Starring: Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Victor Jory
> Genre: Biography, Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.0/10

A critics’ favorite, scoring 96% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Miracle Worker” is the story about Anne Sullivan’s relentless effort to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate. It was originally presented on television, then shifted to Broadway, with Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan and Patty Duke as Hellen Keller, roles they would reprise on the big screen. Both actresses won Academy Awards for those roles.

13. 3 Women (1977)
> Directed by: Robert Altman
> Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule
> Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 8.1/10

Prolific director Robert Altman is perhaps best known for films such as “MASH” (1970) and “Gosford Park” (2001). Among his lesser known works is the eerie and dreamlike “3 Women,” starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. The movie was never available on VHS and was re-released 27 years after its theatrical release.

12. Killer of Sheep (1978)
> Directed by: Charles Burnett
> Starring: Henry G. Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.8/10

“Killer of Sheep” — about the lives of black residents in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood during the 1970s — was directed by Charles Burnett and submitted as his film thesis while attending UCLA. Unfortunately for film fans, it did not receive a commercial release for 30 years due to legal complications regarding music used in the film. Despite this, it was added to the National Film Registry in 1990.

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11. Johnny Guitar (1954)
> Directed by: Nicholas Ray
> Starring: Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden, Mercedes McCambridge
> Genre: Drama, Western
> Avg. critic rating: 8.5/10

Nicholas Ray directed this Western, noteworthy for featuring a woman, Joan Crawford, as the dominant character. Crawford plays an imposing saloon owner who stands down any man who challenges her. Sterling Hayden in the titular role is Crawford’s one-time lover.

10. Matewan (1987)
> Directed by: John Sayles
> Starring: Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell
> Genre: Drama, History
> Avg. critic rating: 8.1/10

John Sayles’ “Matewan” is based on the true story of coal miners who went on strike in Matewan, West Virginia, during the 1920s. While the movie was not a huge financial success upon its release — it grossed just under $1.7 million at the domestic box office — it was nominated for an Academy Award and received positive ratings from 93% of critics and users on Rotten Tomatoes.

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9. Opening Night (1977)
> Directed by: John Cassavetes
> Starring: Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 7.8/10

“Opening Night” portrays the emotional journey of an actress following the death of a fan. Written and directed by independent film pioneer John Cassavetes, the movie has been given positive reviews by 96% of critics and 91% of audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

8. Wake in Fright (1971)
> Directed by: Ted Kotcheff
> Starring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty
> Genre: Drama, Thriller
> Avg. critic rating: 8.7/10

This film about the darker side of Australia floated in obscurity for years — the movie’s negative was lost following a successful screening at the Cannes Film Festival. The print was rediscovered years later and restored in 2009. It’s since amassed a 100% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

7. A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
> Directed by: Daniel Petrie
> Starring: Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 8.5/10

“A Raisin in the Sun,” based on a play by Lorraine Hansberry that debuted on Broadway in 1959, looks at the life of an African American family living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s and struggles with poverty and racism.

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6. Lion of the Desert (1980)
> Directed by: Moustapha Akkad
> Starring: Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger
> Genre: Biography, Drama, History
> Avg. critic rating: 7.3/10

Anthony Quinn, who played an Arab freedom fighter in “Lawrence of Arabia,” returns to the desert in this film about Libyan leader Omar Mukhtar, who led Libyan forces against invading Italian troops beginning in 1929. Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi bankrolled the film that featured Oliver Reed as an Italian general and Rod Steiger as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

5. Auntie Mame (1958)
> Directed by: Morton DaCosta
> Starring: Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne
> Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
> Avg. critic rating: 8.0/10

Rosalind Russell plays the title role in “Auntie Mame.” She was nominated for an Academy Award as the free-spirited woman who takes in her nephew after his father dies and encourages him to seek adventure and experience life.

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4. A Patch of Blue (1965)
> Directed by: Guy Green
> Starring: Sidney Poitier, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Hartman
> Genre: Drama, Romance
> Avg. critic rating: 8.3/10

“A Patch of Blue” is about a black man and a blind white teenage girl who fall in love. It has a 89% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes — with only six critic ratings — and an exceptional 8.0 out of 10 user rating on IMDb, with fewer than 7,200 users contributing.

3. A Face in the Crowd (1957)
> Directed by: Elia Kazan
> Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa
> Genre: Drama, Music
> Avg. critic rating: 7.9/10

Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” tells the story of a country music singer’s rise to fame and beyond. The film was not a financial success when it first came out, but it was added to the National Film Registry in 2008.

2. The Train (1964)
> Directed by: John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn
> Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau
> Genre: Thriller, War
> Avg. critic rating: 9.0/10

“The Train” is the third film to appear on this list directed by John Frankenheimer — the others being “Seven Days in May” and “Seconds.” The movie grossed $6.8 million at the domestic box office on a reported $5.8 million budget. It currently holds a 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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1. Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
> Directed by: Blake Edwards
> Starring: Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Charles Bickford
> Genre: Drama
> Avg. critic rating: 9.0/10

Blake Edwards, known for lighter cinematic fare such as the Pink Panther movies, dealt with a more sober subject in “Days of Wine and Roses.” Jack Lemmon plays an alcoholic who marries a woman (Lee Remick) whom he gets addicted to alcohol. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won for Best Music, Original Song. The movie received a 100% freshness score from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

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