10 underrated and overlooked movies on the new Paramount+ streaming service

Mad Hot Ballroom
Mad Hot Ballroom

Another month, another new streaming service. In this case, it's Paramount+, which isn't entirely new: It's basically a rebranded version of CBS All Access, which now boasts a bigger television library that includes every iteration of Star Trek and classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy, Cheers and The Brady Bunch. It also has plenty of original series, and will eventually host reboots of iCarly, The Real World, Rugrats and Behind the Music.

As far as movies are concerned, Paramount+ is more of a hit or miss affair. (It also doesn't appear to have a list or queue feature, which seems like a bizarre oversight.) But in between the throwaway titles and a handful of bona fide classics (the Godfather trilogy, the Indiana Jones series) are some buried treasures, movies I admire and that more people should know about.

I scoured the library of more than 700 films and feature-length specials and unearthed some of my favorite hidden gems and underrated classics. Here are 10 of them.

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

Before he became a go-to blockbuster director, Justin Lin helmed this weird, stylish thriller about a group of Asian-American high schoolers who front as model students while running a successful crime ring on the side. Although somewhat controversial at the time of its release, it's mostly been forgotten and is worth a look as a stereotype-busting bit of genre filmmaking. Fun fact: Actor Sung-Ho Kang appears here as the character Han, a role he'd reprise in several Lin-helmed Fast & Furious movies.

Children of Heaven (1997)

In the '80s and '90s, there was an influx of vibrant films coming out of post-revolution Iran, and one of them was this charming, family-friendly film about a young boy who loses his little sister's shoes and desperately attempts to replace them before his parents find out. It's told with the simplicity and gentleness of a fable, culminating in a genuinely suspenseful foot race, and you'll be riveted despite the relatively low stakes.

Citizen Ruth (1996)

Alexander Payne's debut feature is a merciless satire that targets activists on both sides of the abortion debate, as a drug-addicted expectant mother (Laura Dern) realizes she can use her latest pregnancy to bilk pro-choice and pro-life advocates for cash. The script, by Payne and regular collaborator Jim Taylor, takes no prisoners — even its protagonist is a selfish jerk — and yet its cynicism doesn't feel totally hopeless.

eXistenZ (1999)

A truly wild ride descending through several layers of consciousness, as a video game developer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) discovers that her latest creation, a virtual reality program that plugs directly into players' spines, has made her the target of some futuristic assassins. The film marries all of director David Cronenberg's fascination with advancing technology and affinity for squishy body horror in a trenchant bit of sci-fi that's as disorienting as it is darkly funny.

Fresh (1994)

Among the boom of inner-city dramas released in the early '90s, Boaz Yakin's debut Fresh stands out. The titular character, played by Sean Nelson, is an impoverished kid who runs errands for a local drug lord (Giancarlo Esposito), and when he discovers his sister is in danger, he employs the strategies he learned from his chess champion father (Samuel L. Jackson) to outsmart the bad guys. It all builds to an entertaining and totally unexpected third act filled with double crosses and surprise reversals.

The Weather Man
The Weather Man

The Lookout (2007)

2007 was a great year for movies, and this solid heist thriller got lost in the shuffle. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a night-shift bank janitor with a troubled past, who gets roped into a plot to clear out one of the vaults. Things do not go according to plan. First-time director Scott Frank, best known for writing Out of Sight and Minority Report, doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel here, but this noir throwback is lean, riveting stuff.

Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)

In this charming documentary, filmmaker Marilyn Agrelo follows a group of fifth-graders at three different public schools in New York City, all of whom are part of a ballroom dancing program that culminates in a citywide competition. Like Spellbound, which chronicled kids participating in the National Spelling Bee, you get totally caught up in the drama. I'd love to see a "where are they now?" feature catching us up on all the film's subjects.

Seconds (1966)

There aren't too many older titles on Paramount+ worth writing about, but one is John Frankenheimer's chilling sci-fi allegory about the porous nature of identity. It's all about a shadowy organization that puts people under the knife to not only alter their appearance but give them a new name and persona, before dropping them into an isolated community of so-called "reborns." Dreamily photographed by James Wong Howe and starring a never-better Rock Hudson, Seconds is an unsung masterpiece of paranoia and purgatory.

A Simple Plan (1998)

In between his work on the Evil Dead and Spider-Man series, director Sam Raimi made this uncharacteristically poker-faced thriller in which a group of yokels come upon a downed plane in the woods and decide to keep the stockpile of cash they find inside. Adapted from Scott Smith's page-turner, this is a gripping slow-burner in the vein of Raimi's friends the Coen brothers, grounding its twisty potboiler plot in a believably grubby reality.

The Weather Man (2005)

One of Nicolas Cage's best performances is in this quirky, little-seen dramedy from Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. He plays a sad-sack TV meteorologist who seems to attract dysfunction, as everyone around him is either spinning their wheels or spinning out entirely, and a job offer in a different city forces him to reevaluate his own choices. Yes, we've seen a lot of dude-suffers-a-midlife-crisis stories, but few as singularly strange and funny as this. ♦

  • or

About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.