When it comes to movies, I’ve always been plagued with FOMO.
I remember being in awe at the sheer plethora of choices as I perused the video rental store. And the stakes were high — you could only pick one, and you had to hand over actual cash before they’d let you take it home for one precious night.
As you might imagine, today’s options for watching movies are really triggering for me. How the hell am I supposed to decide?
Hopefully, this will help to ease some small part of that tension the next time you need a movie to watch. These are movies that maybe didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time or aren’t regarded with the fondness they should be.
Disney+ is full of an insane amount of great content, and the big ones are obvious. So we’re focusing on the underrated old-school movies nerds can go watch right now.
The Black Cauldron — 1985
The Black Cauldron is a strangely dark movie for Disney, maybe one of, if not the, darkest movies it’s ever put out — certainly in terms of animated films. Despite the trailer trying to sell you on it being part of the great tradition of animated Disney movies, this mid-80s freakout is anything but traditional.
A lot of that is because of the animation itself, which is in the style of very-much-not-Disney late ‘70s and early ‘80s animated movies (stuff like 1977’s Wizards, and dare I say, strongly reminiscent of 1981’s Heavy Metal).
From the Horned King to a talking dog (why that voice?) to basically everything about this movie, it’s pretty disturbing — but now that you’re grown up, it’s disturbing in the good kind of way. Honestly, it’s metal as hell.
As a box-office bomb, there’s a good chance you actually haven’t seen this one, and it certainly hasn’t received its due as a pretty badass dark fantasy movie in general. Thanks to the magic of streaming you can now watch this one any time.
Ducktales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp — 1990
Whenever a TV series is made into a movie, you sort of temper expectations right off the bat. Today, those “movies” are usually just long episodes that are shown once on TV and then require you to cough up $2.99 if you ever want to watch them again.
But get this — the Ducktales movie was actually released in movie theaters. Rather than asking animators to basically work a few extra hours, Disney invested $20 million into this thing.
It’s everything you should get from a movie based on a TV show — better animation, bigger story, and bigger stars, with Christopher Lloyd and Rip Taylor joining the cast.
While the plot centered around an ancient genie isn’t anything you wouldn’t find in the show, it’s the overall quality that really sets Treasure of the Lost Lamp apart from both its source TV show and other made-from-TV movies.
The Rocketeer — 1991
Despite a few attempts to bring this franchise back, its initial underperformance at the box office has left The Rocketeer as little more than a whisper of a memory.
But it’s really a pretty damn good movie. Not only is it a quasi-superhero movie set in the adventure-rich time of the late 1930s (eff you Nazis!), it was directed by Industrial Light & Magic alum, Joe Johnston.
Plus Alan Arkin is in it. Alan. Arkin.
If you missed this one when it came out, you’re in for a treat.
The Cat From Outer Space — 1978
Perhaps this one isn’t exactly underrated. It might be appropriately rated. But, I mean, just look at the title!
The Cat From Outer Space is well worth a watch. I still can’t believe Disney ever produced this movie let alone put it back up for nerds to stream at their leisure.
Cat aliens that have telekinesis, gambling, government cover-ups, spies, Roddy McDowall — this movie truly has it all and is perfectly framed within a screwball feel to the whole thing.
Gods willing, if Disney were to buy the rights to ALF, this movie also sets up a potential explanation for why cats exist across the universe.
The Black Hole — 1979
I’ve already written about The Black Hole a bit, but it bears repeating — anyone who enjoys retro sci-fi movies should really give this one a look.
Seen it? Go back to it. There’s something so satisfying about those old-school practical effects under the current reign of MCU computer graphics.
This is another movie that’s kind of dark for a Disney film. Without Disney studio suits there to tamper it down, or in the hands of another director, this one could have gone full-on sci-fi horror.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire — 2001
Look, I don’t like the fact that 2001 is now considered “old school” any more than you do, but it was over 20 years ago so you’re going to have to deal with it.
Going up against Shrek turned out to be a bad idea, and although Atlantis did pretty well for itself, it is easily overshadowed when it comes to animated movies of the early aughts.
The animation style references Don Bluth, whose style of animation always had me on the border of fear and fascination as a kid. Atlantis particularly reminds me of Titan A.E., an underrated Don Bluth production from the late ‘90s. This is sort of like an underwater, old-timey version of that movie.
There’s cool but kind of science-like magic stuff going on, underwater creatures, and excellent voice acting from none other than Michael J. F***ing Fox. The Lost Empire is well worth a revisit the next time you’re crippled by too many choices.
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