The year's end: a time for reflection, a time for catch-up, and a time for "best of" lists that clue us in to what we missed. You won't find many of the pictures below on lists of critical favorites, but that doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable viewing experiences. Ring in the new year by throwing these overlooked films onto your "to watch" queue.
Why We're So Excited for ‘What Men Want’
20th Century Fox/YouTube
Hitman: Agent 47
Rotten Tomatoes score: 9% No surprise: this $30 million reboot of a badly reviewed adaptation of a mediocre video game franchise is ridiculous. The real shock is that Hitman: Agent 47 is also ridiculously beautiful. Elegant action and exquisite visuals were mainly ignored by critics more concerned with, say, a dramatic vacuousness. But there’s something agreeable about a blockbuster unashamed to be so flamboyant.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 19% “Meandering” is the first ill word of the Rotten Tomatoes consensus. Aloha takes its time, but pleasantly so. That Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii-set rom-com seemed sketch-like or incomplete was pinned as ineptitude. It's that scrappy, fragmentary quality that's central to its strange appeal. Aloha is deeply weird, with digressive subplots, languid pacing, and motivations that don’t quite make sense. Who could hate anything so unabashedly bizarre?
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29% Jason Statham movies peaked with the manic verve of Crank, but it turns out the inverse of that style, placid and lean, pays dividends too. Why was Wild Card, a remake of the '80s Burt Reynolds vehicle, itself an adaptation of Princess Bride writer William Goldman's novel, such a disappointment among critics and audiences alike? Blame expectations. There are simple pleasures to Statham as a pugnacious Las Vegas bodyguard.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 61% Though well received on the festival circuit, under its original title, Cybernatural, Levan Gabriadze’s in-Skype slasher found the tide turning against it when it was marketed as something it’s decidedly not. Don’t let the trumped-up ad campaign fool you: this ghost story is whip-smart and so conceptually brilliant that it’s practically experimental. Unfriended is one of the best horror movies in years.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 29% Unfairly disparaged as a vanity project before anyone had occasion to see it, the haute-cuisine drama, our second Bradley Cooper entry, never stood a chance with critics. That’s unfortunate, and a bit mystifying: little in Burnt suggests disaster, while its script -- written by Steven Knight (Locke) and largely based on the life and fame of Gordon Ramsay -- gets much about the rigors of a fine-dining kitchen right.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Rotten Tomatoes score: 11% By no means a great horror film, the sixth installment in the inexhaustible Paranormal Activity franchise was nevertheless more interesting than its vitriolic pans let on. The director, Gregory Plotkin, makes deft use of the familiar found-footage camera, while the movie’s sparse effects make use of 3D in a way that’s quite novel. Those who kept up with the franchise's mythology -- yes, that's a thing -- get their payoff, too. Not bad for a series that has no business spanning two trilogies.
The Boy Next Door
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 10% The Boy Next Door is a movie with nothing to be ashamed about -- not that you’d know it from its overwhelmingly malicious reviews. It’s as if people were incapable of supposing that Jennifer Lopez's erotic thriller might intend to be full of cliches and that exaggerations are very much a function of style. Midnight movie? Cult classic to be? Bring it on.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Magic Mike XXL
Rotten Tomatoes score: 62% Magic Mike XXL improves upon its predecessor immeasurably, but not how you’d expect. Instead of replicating or even expanding upon the original, XXL, ahem, strips it down, excising extraneous plot to focus exclusively on... pleasure. The result is a refreshing, even radical movie, and one that doesn’t care remotely for the obligations of convention. Some critics saw the exploits of Channing Tatum and his six-packed crew as superficial. There’s a better word for it: pure.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 43% You’d think a comic zombie splatter picture indebted to Peter Jackson and Shaun of the Dead's Edgar Wright would have an easy time finding an audience. For some reason, Lionsgate buried this icky little thing after its long-ago Sundance premiere in January. Cooties boasts tasteless violence, clever sight gags, Rainn Wilson as a disgruntled P.E. teacher, and the most ingenious (if nauseating) title sequence of the year. What more do you people want?
Rotten Tomatoes score: 34% Thank the disciples of Michael Mann for Blackhat’s 34% rating: so many dismissed the Heat and Collateral director's latest impressionist blockbuster as hackneyed that only the true believers understood genius on display. It doesn’t quite reach the delirious heights of Mann's Miami Vice -- what does? -- but it’s a shame that a movie this dazzling and audacious isn’t heralded as a cut above the ordinary Hollywood fare.
Rotten Tomatoes score: 63% After plummeting alongside M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography for more than a decade, the Tomatometer finally bottomed out with his Will Smith-led After Earth. The reviews could only improve. They did, somewhat, when The Visit his theaters this September, just barely nudging over the threshold of Fresh -- though, frankly, not fresh enough. The Visit is Shyamalan’s long-awaited comeback, not only his strongest effort in years but also the best found-footage horror movie since... well, maybe ever.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
Calum Marsh is an essayist and critic with deplorably low standards. Follow him for more ill-advised recommendations: @calummarsh.