Are There Any Hidden Masterpiece Films Among Us?

Despite bad reviews and poor box office sales, some films rise from the ashes years later to become some of the most important films in history.

Films like Heaven's Gate, Peeping Tom, and Blade Runner were poorly received upon release, but upon re-evaluation years later were considered cinematic treasures. In hindsight, one can't imagine a film like Citizen Kane being considered to be anything but a brilliant work by a pioneering filmmaker, but in its time it, as well as countless other films before it and after, garnered poor reviews. This happens all the time, which leads one to wonder how many heavily panned films of today are actually masterpieces in waiting. This issue is discussed in length by Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society in this interesting video essay.

This is an incredibly intriguing filmmaking topic to discuss, because it touches on so many complex and nuanced issues in cinema, namely the timing and location of a film's release. As is the story for many of these late blooming masterpieces, a filmmaker's vision for and execution of a film can sometimes come too early for the tastes of audiences and critics.

Such is the case for Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, which was essentially the British version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Released a mere two months before Hitchcock's seminal horror film, Peeping Tom received hyperbolic criticism upon release and resulted in the destruction of Powell's career. However,  the film later gained a cult following and even caught the attention of Martin Scorsese in 1970 when he watched the film for the first time on a friend's 35mm color print. Eight years later, Scorsese worked with Corinth Films to re-release the film to a wider audience and now the film is considered to be one of the greatest British horror films of all time.

'Peeping Tom' (1960)
But what about today? How many "bad" films are currently wasting away in the discarded annals of cinematic history until they eventually get their well-deserved recognition for being masterpieces? I mean, we can't be so arrogant to think that we're the generation getting it right every time, that all of today's films are properly evaluated and receive their appropriate fate.

So, which films are today's steaming pile and tomorrow's shining light? Which films are languishing on the wrong side of the Tomato-meter waiting for re-evaluation? Which late bloomers are we going to be writing about twenty years from now?     

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12 Comments

I stumbled into to this one and went for the American (well known) classics, turns out there are many (albeit buried) films that are waiting to be rediscovered, reevaluated and receive their due diligence. I have been a fan of the "Deer Hunter" since day-one, but was unfamiliar with the history of "Peeping Tom" and director et al.

Thanks for all the meaningful historical research.

Salud,

A.S.

February 18, 2017 at 3:56PM

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I believe that the time it takes for a film to get rediscovered has grown shorter ever since home video became a thing.

I mean, in most cases you only get one shot at a theatrical distribution. If your advertising fails to make an impression or something, there's not much you can do in such a limited window. This could totally destroy a movie like Citizen Kane, made at a time when theatrical distribution was all there was.

But home viewing isn't a limited window. When anyone can watch your movie whenever they want, it can lead to a huge re-evaluation. The best example I can think of is Dredd; it made about $12 at the box office because many people thought it was related to the 1995 Judge Dredd movie with Sylvester Stallone. But it became very popular on home formats within a year of its initial release and now it seems to be regarded as one of the best action movies of the last decade.

February 18, 2017 at 6:27PM, Edited February 18, 6:30PM

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For 2016 at least, The Neon Demon comes to mind. Despite its near cringe-worthy script and acting (which I'll have further evaluate upon more viewings), it is a gorgeous and stylistic feat.

February 19, 2017 at 10:34AM

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Well, for a lot of people, stuff like "near cringe-worthy script and acting" pretty much prevent any film to be called a masterpiece.

March 20, 2017 at 1:26AM

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Not Me
81

The video states that Sight and Sound's first published list of top ten films of all time came out in 1952....but the list highlighted in the video has L'Avventura at # 2....it came out in 1960....wrong list or was the date of 1952 inaccurate?

February 19, 2017 at 1:39PM

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Citizen Kane did NOT garner poor reviews. The New York Times ("sensational"), New Yorker ("like fresh air"), the Nation ("brilliant"), Life Magazine ("such original technique, such exciting photography"), Newsweek ("best picture I've ever seen"), etc. all gave it very high marks. It won the Oscar for best original screenplay and was nominated in 8 other categories, including all the big ones!

February 19, 2017 at 2:10PM, Edited February 19, 2:12PM

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I think you are also seeing the inverse of this phenomena with certain modern films, if not filmmakers....it has become very fashionable in some circles to reverse criticize certain films that were once near universally acclaimed....AMERICAN BEAUTY first comes to mind...I've heard and taken part in discussions where that film is basically tossed from it's BEST PICTURE pedestal and cast down to the ranks of common film drama....CRASH is another....perhaps because it was a good film hailed as greatby far to many....SELMA is another...a good film hailed as great but not nearly as amazing as some critics would have you believe....I think MANCHESTER BY THE SEA will be another of these types of films....a critical darling now but in 5 to 10 years people will be wondering what all the fuss was about...

February 19, 2017 at 2:11PM

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Perhaps not a masterpiece but "The Wizard of Speed and Time" is hands down the best film that no one I know has ever seen. Written, directed, and starring actual visual effects artist Mike Jittlov, it's a history and how-to of film effects and a commentary on confines of the film industry and the perils of indie film making before there was such a term. It was given a a short theater run and VHS release and only fan supported distro since.

In full on youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5a_00YVVkQ

February 19, 2017 at 5:59PM

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Gordon Byrd
Owner, Byrd Pictures
402

I truly believe Brad Silbering did a fantastic job directing 2009's Land of the Lost, giving the movie a firm understanding of its own rules that guide it and give it a feeling of integrity and payoff. You may all laugh, but I absolutely believe this movie is an underrated classic that's got plenty of great comedy and character moments.

February 20, 2017 at 12:01PM, Edited February 20, 12:01PM

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Angelo Mike
Director
165

It's long had its diehard adherents, but in recent years I've sensed a coalescing around Malick's The New World (2005), which was originally received with middling reviews (62% on Rotten Tomatoes). I consider it better than anything he's made since, including the seemingly immediately canonized Tree of Life.

February 22, 2017 at 7:16AM

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That video essay has been removed by the user.

February 27, 2017 at 6:30AM, Edited February 27, 6:29AM

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Gaurav Dhwaj Khadka
Filmmaker
11051

Two words: Alejandro Amenábar. If you call yourself a film enthusiast and have not seen his film Agora well... you know what to do. Now.

March 19, 2017 at 8:04PM, Edited March 19, 8:09PM

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