What makes a movie "underrated"? That's a tricky question. Is it critically beloved, but little seen? Or is it one that some people love and others just don't get? For the purposes of this story, "underrated" simply means a movie that's worth your time but may not be on your radar. Maybe it's the big blockbuster that's disappointing at the box office; maybe it's the critically acclaimed indie or foreign film that's a little harder to find at your multiplex. Throughout the year, I'll be compiling a list of the films that may not make the biggest impression on popular culture, but are definitely worth watching.
Released: February 14 Cast: Rosa Salazar, Mahershala Ali, Christoph Watlz, Jennifer Connelly Director: Robert Rodriguez Why it's worth seeing: Hopes were low for the long-delayed anime adaptation from director Robert Rodriguez, co-written by none other than Avatar man himself, James Cameron. So imagine the surprise when Alita: Battle Angel turned out to be a goofy joy filled with truly astonishing special effects. Sure, maybe it takes a little while to get used to the titular robot's enormous eyes, but Rosa Salazar's metaphorically wide-eyed performance shines through the CGI. The plot? Incredibly complicated. Alita is found, bodiless, in a junkyard by robotic surgeon Dr. Ido (Christoph Waltz), who brings her to the Iron City, a rough-and-tumble town in the shadow of the floating city of Zalem, clearly nefarious though Iron City residents think of it as a paradise. As Alita begins to remember her previous life as a warrior, she's drawn deeper in to Iron City's brutal underbelly. She also plays Motorball, which is like roller derby on steroids -- there's a lot going on in this movie. Alita is a sensory overload, but it's often an exhilarating one. Where to watch it: In theaters
Released: February 14 Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Lena Headey Director: Stephen Merchant Why it's worth seeing: Playing like a mashup between Wrestlemania and Billy Elliot, Fighting with My Family is an imperfect, oddball gem, not unlike the brood at its center. An unconventional biopic of WWE superstar Paige -- played here by the insanely talented Florence Pugh -- Stephen Merchant's comedy draws you in with its warm depiction of the kooky Knights, who used wrestling as their way out of addiction and crime. The winking cameo by executive producer The Rock is distracting, but Pugh is such an innate star that it doesn't really matter if you feel like the WWE is merely baiting you with an expensive commercial for one of its biggest stars. Where to watch it: In theaters
Released: March 1 Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe Director: Neil Jordan Why it's worth seeing: What's not to like about French legend Isabelle Huppert playing a deranged Brooklynite who sets traps in the form of abandoned purses for naïve young women? Neil Jordan's campy thriller is uneven, but often a ridiculous hoot. Huppert is Greta, who at first seems like an lonely older matron with a penchant for losing her handbag. But as Moretz's grieving Frances soon finds out, Greta's actually a maniacal villain with a knack for stalking. At times you'd wish Jordan would lean a little harder into the craziness -- there's a reserve at work here, almost as if the filmmakers think this is actually a serious drama. Still, when Huppert is raging, it's fantastic to behold. Where to watch it: In theaters
Released: January 27 Cast: André Holland, Melvin Gregg, Zazie Beetz, Sonja Sohn Director: Steven Soderbergh Why it's worth seeing: It's hard to tell just how "underrated" a Netflix movie is considering the streaming service refuses to release any viewership data. But it's fair to say that Steven Soderbergh's latest, about labor and race in professional basketball, has not been as fanatically viewed as the other movie with "bird" in the title on the platform. That's a shame. It's not only one of the best movies Netflix has ever put out, it's one of the best of the year. Written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney and shot on an iPhone, High Flying Bird is a thrillingly paced story of one man, agent Ray (André Holland), on a mission in the midst of an NBA lockout. It's brilliantly written, spectacularly acted, and intellectually challenging. Where to watch it: Netflix