These lesser-known movies might not be at the top of your watchlist, but they deliver great stories, excellent casts and plenty of kudos from your friends for telling about something great to watch.
Stream them all on Showmax.
Harriet (2019): The incredible story of one of America’s greatest heroes
Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
This powerful film is led by fast-rising star Cynthia Erivo (The Outsider) in the title role, for which she received 2020 Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
Booksmart (2019): Raunchy, smart comedy starring two great up-and-comers
Is it possible to cram four years’ worth of fun into a single night? Academic superstars Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are determined to try.
The night before their graduation from high school, the best friends decide that they’ve spent far too much time stressing and studying and not nearly enough time focusing on fun in the past four years. Now, they have just one night to rectify that.
Critics adore this fun, gutsy comedy. Times (UK) writes that it’s “…witty, raucous, perfectly played and eventually packs an emotional wallop.”
Blindspotting (2018): One of Barack Obama’s favourite movies of 2018
In Blindspotting, Grammy and Tony Award winner Daveed Diggs (The Good Lord Bird) stars as convicted felon Collin Hoskins.
He’s just three days from completing his probation, but his best friend Miles Turner isn’t making it easy to get there.
Then Collin witnesses a white police officer gun down a black civilian on the streets of his home turf in Oakland, California, and feels his carefully controlled reality begin to slide out from under him.
Blindspotting has a 94% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Entertainment Weekly calling it, “A timely meditation on what it means to be black and presumed guilty in America.”
Olivia Wilde stars as Sadie in this tense, gripping thriller about a survivor of domestic abuse who helps other victims to escape their abusers.
She spends months training in martial arts, survival skills and boxing, and returns to fulfil her life’s mission – to free women who were just like herself from danger.
The New York Post writes, “The film manages to be both hopeful and devastating – and recommended viewing for anyone who subscribes to the facile notion that abused women should ‘just leave’.”
Dis Ek, Anna (2015): The Afrikaans courtroom drama/crime thriller that feels like Scandi noir
Dis Ek, Anna is about a woman who returns home to kill her abusive stepfather.
Its gripping and heartfelt as a courtroom drama and disturbingly chilling as a crime thriller, echoing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.
The edgy and thought-provoking message at its core creates moral tension as characters buck the system.
Underwritten by a sharp cast, the mounting tension and emotional gravitas has a similar intensity to Scandinavian drama thrillers.
Wonder (2017): A touching drama for the whole family with an all-star cast
Wonder is based on the New York Times bestseller about Auggie, a boy born with facial deformities who’s finally ready to attend school.
This is a heartwarming and nostalgic coming-of-age comedy drama about a kid trying to fit in.
While Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson star as doting parents, it’s a showcase for immense young talents Jacob Tremblay and Izabela Vidovic.
Shazam! (2019): Fun, boisterous superhero movie with a twist
Shazam! is a cheesy counterpart to Superman, a superhero who is summoned by one magical word. Instead of Clark Kent, we have Billy Batson, a foster kid in search of his mother who discovers newfound super powers.
Playing into the wish fulfilment and joyful discovery at the heart of Spider-Man, Chronicle and Big, its exuberance is counterbalanced by a nemesis to rival Agent Smith.
Filling Shazam!’s golden boots is lovable Chuck star Zachary Levi, who is perfectly cast as the caped goofball.
The amusing, colourful, exciting, fun-filled and imaginative sci-fi fantasy adventure recalls The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, underlining the importance of family.
The Sisters Brothers (2018): A western starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly as assassins
The Sisters Brothers starts with a bang as a violent shootout precedes the haunting image of a runaway horse on fire.
Set against 1850s Oregon during the gold rush, ruthless assassins pursue a gold prospector and his unexpected ally across the Old West. It’s clear that writer-director Jacques Audiard is making an unconventional and plucky western with a dark comedy twist.
The Sisters Brothers enjoys great co-lead chemistry, casting unlikely partners John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. Led by a heartfelt performance from Reilly, a modern feel and ever-evolving western genre horseplay, it remains elusive, engaging, playful and wholly entertaining.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): Coming-of-age bittersweet drama starring Emma Watson
The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a nostalgic character-driven romance drama about teenage angst told from the perspective of an oddball.
Dead Poet’s Society and Donnie Darko collide as an inspirational English teacher and a teenager’s personal quest for acceptance mesh in this alienating age.
The cast includes an ever-endearing Paul Rudd, Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, and it’s all tied together by an 80s-going-on-90s mixtape soundtrack.
Juliet, Naked (2018): Based on the Nick Hornby novel about social media and celebrity
Juliet, Naked tells of a quirky love triangle between a long-suffering girlfriend, her oddball manboy and his rock idol, Tucker Crowe.
The charming, delightfully awkward music romance comedy drama stars a jaded Rose Byrne, hilarious Chris O’Dowd and burnt-out Peter Pan rock star, Ethan Hawke.
The title’s a bit racy, but Juliet, Naked is harmless nostalgic fun, landing in the same rock music and celebrity wish fulfilment world of High Fidelity and Notting Hill.
The Square (2017): Critically acclaimed Swedish arthouse comedy-drama
This bold Swedish comedy drama deals with a prestigious art curator who finds himself back-pedalling over a controversial new exhibition.
Led by a captivating performance from the offhandedly charming Claes Bang, The Square unfolds in an ambitious and unconventional way through behind-the-scenes interviews, brainstorming meetings, PR blunders and awkward social interactions.
This experimental, deep art house film scored 85% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Straight Outta Compton (2015): One of the most compelling movies you’ll ever see about rap
Straight Outta Compton is what you get if you multiply Boyz n the Hood by The Wolf of Wall Street.
This engrossing music biopic covers the rise of the influential rap group NWA as told by Dr Dre, Easy-E and Ice Cube.
Inspired casting is reinforced by sharp performances as band contracts cause rifts, and racial tensions around police brutality intensify.
F Gary Gray’s drama immerses us in a tour of the age, revelling in the excesses that often accompany money and fame.
The movie’s taut atmosphere, compelling storytelling, authentic feel and sensitive direction give it an epic swagger.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018): A gorgeous period drama starring Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, and Lily James
It may be a contender for clunkiest movie title ever, but stars the angelic Lily James so all’s forgiven.
Set in the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the members of an unconventional book club on Guernsey in the Channel Islands.
Capturing their war experiences, the make-do community spirit is strong in this heartwarming story.
It’s a quaint, jovial and entertaining romance with elements of comedy and drama, and it’s a sure-fire crowd pleaser.
This article was published in partnership with Showmax.