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5 underrated Oscar-winning movies you should check out

The Oscars are the pinnacle of achievement and recognition in Hollywood. In almost two dozen categories, various crafts guilds, like art directors, makeup stylists, writers, directors, and actors, vote for excellence in their profession. Millions of people tune in every February or March to watch such pomp and circumstance take place.

As a result, audiences typically have watched, or at least know of, the movies that have won Oscars. Yet there are a few that, despite achieving the highest award possible, are still unloved, unseen, or criminally underrated. Here are a few Academy Award-winning movies that deserve to be watched and appreciated again.

Ordinary People (1980)

A mother talks to her son in Ordinary People.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s bizarre that a movie that won four Oscars including Best Picture could be considered underrated but that just accentuates the unfortunate place Ordinary People occupies in film history. The Robert Redford film had the misfortune of going up against Martin Scorsese’s seminal boxing movie Raging Bull, which many consider not only the best picture of 1980, but also one of the best films of all time. [Both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel picked it as the best film of the 1980s.] Even though Ordinary People won the battle of the movies on March 31, 1981, winning Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor, it lost the war, and has been either perceived as an inferior film that undeservedly took the top prize from a superior one or, worse, almost forgotten about.

It’s a shame because it’s a great movie that popularized and perfected the “suburbia is bad” subgenre that became popular in the 1990s. Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore play an upper-middle-class Chicago couple who lose a son in a boating accident, which caused their other son (Timothy Hutton, who deservedly won Best Supporting Actor) to attempt suicide. The movie focuses on the aftereffects of the tragedy and how it exposes the deep rifts that already exist in the family, in particular between Moore’s cold mother and Hutton’s sensitive son. It lacks Raging Bull‘s visual panache and unstoppable narrative drive, but Ordinary People is a movie that still holds up and is worthy of its Best Picture win.

Ordinary People is streaming on Paramount+.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Russell Crowe sits on a cannon in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Hollywood nowadays is looking for anything to make a franchise out of and they would be wise to give Master and Commander another shot. Based on three of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, of which 20 exist, The Far Side of the World casts Russell Crowe, then at his post-A Beautiful Mind height of fame, as the gruff but charismatic Captain Jack Aubrey, who leads his crew on the HMS Surprise through treacherous waters during the Napoleonic Wars. Now known best as The Vision in the MCU, Paul Bettany co-stars as Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon who is more interested in discovering new exotic species than engaging in sea battles.

Directed by The Truman Show‘s Peter Weir, The Far Side of the World was nominated for an impressive 10 Oscars but only won two — Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing — due to The Return of the King‘s awards sweep that year. The movie was a moderate success, but because the budget was so big, no sequels were made, and there are no remakes in active development. It’s a pity because the movie is a grand, lavish adventure. You don’t often see big-budget action movies set on the high seas unless they have Jack Sparrow in them, so The Far Side of the World is a rare blockbuster that engages the mind and the appetite for visual spectacle as well.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is streaming on Hulu.

Elizabeth (1998)

Queen Elizabeth sits with a man in Elizabeth.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Elizabeth is that rare costume drama that cares more about pleasing the audience than it does about getting its facts straight. Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 film focuses on the formative years of England’s great ruler, Queen Elizabeth I, and how she managed to keep her place on the throne despite numerous assassination attempts, untrustworthy suitors, and a society that looked down on female rulers.

Did Elizabeth actually order a Godfather-style mob hit on her many enemies? No, but that’s beside the point. Elizabeth is concerned with the drama of it all, and the possibility that she might have done something to maintain her power. Nominated for seven Oscars (including Best Picture), it won only for Best Makeup (you’ll understand why in the very last scene), but it deserved recognition for David Hirschfelder’s moody score and Cate Blanchett’s terrific performance. This is the role that catapulted the now-esteemed Australian actress to stardom and after all these years, it still remains one of her most vital performances.

Elizabeth is available to rent on all major streaming platforms including Prime Video.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

A vampire looks at a cross in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
20th Century Fox

More than just another version of the famous vampire tale, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the last great movie Francis Ford Coppola, one of the greatest filmmakers in history, has made. IIt’s a grand, Gothic romance, with Gary Oldman as the tragic Vlad the Impaler, who renounces God and turns to vampirism after he loses the love of his love in the 14th century. Later, as the 20th century is about to dawn, he believes he sees her reincarnation, Mina Harker (Winona Ryder), and tries to win her love by systematically eliminating her fiancée, friends, and almost half of Europe with his bloodlust.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘s lush visuals and bombastic soundtrack helped it win Oscars for Best Sound Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Costume. While the film is better known for Keanu Reeves’ stilted English accent and its liberal use of buckets of blood, the movie deserves recognition as a great genre piece that is expertly overseen by the masterful Coppola, who elevates the material in a way that no one had done before or since. The movie is truly horrific (recoil in horror as a trio of beautiful vampires devour a newborn baby), but also oddly very romantic (Oldman and Ryder have palpable chemistry) and, at times, comedic, and it highlights the unease of one era, the Industrial Age, slowly giving way to the Modern era, with a funky new invention called moving pictures.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available to rent on all major streaming platforms including Prime Video.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Two men sit in a diner in Ford v Ferrari.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like most of James Mangold’s work, Ford v Ferrari just gets better and better the more you think about it. The movie stars Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, a retired race car driver who is tasked by the Ford Motor Company to find a diver capable of beating automobile rival Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans car race, considered the most prestigious race in the industry. He hires Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a hot-tempered English driver who tests Shelby’s patience and risks death in his pursuit of glory.

If this seems like just another ordinary racing movie like, say, Days of Thunder, you’d be wrong. While Ford v Ferrari delivers in capturing the heat and intensity of international car competition (the film deservedly won two Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Editing), it stands out for taking the time to develop both Shelby and Miles as complex, compelling characters. As Shelby, Damon gave one of his best performances, but it’s Bale who is never better as the mercurial family man Miles. Bale wasn’t even nominated for his work, which will go down as one of the biggest slights in Oscar history. Like Miles before him, Bale should’ve won this race.

Ford v Ferrari is streaming on Hulu.

Editors' Recommendations

Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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