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10 Best Underrated, Overlooked Movies From 2023

2023 movies 'Every Body,' 'Frybread Face & Me,' and 'Polite Society.'

We’re living in a time of peak content saturation, where new films and television series are released constantly. Naturally, it’s impossible to keep up with everything coming out, and many projects fall through the cracks. Hundreds of movies come out each year, and yet only a handful get the marketing budget to stand a chance.

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Some of these are major movies that unfortunately flopped due to genre over-saturation. Others are unique, genre and representation-pushing adventures that didn’t get the attention they deserved. Due to the WGA and (paused) SAG-AFTRA strikes, many films were released with barely any publicity from the writers and actors involved. Even still, every year coming-of-age films and indie flicks don’t get full releases or get buried on streamers.

What counts as underrated or overlooked? These are films that flopped or barely broke even at the box office. Or maybe they went straight to streaming and were barely reviewed across major entertainment sites. Some of these films are available for streaming, while others are available for rental or purchase (and if they’re on this list, they’re well worth renting!). Some of these are still in theaters. So, here are some of the must-watch films of 2023!

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret and Amari Alexis Price as Janie with friends in 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.'
(Lionsgate)

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is easily one of the best films of 2023. Based on Judy Blume’s iconic coming-of-age novel, readers have waited for this essential childhood read to hit the big screen for over 50 years. The film, written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, received almost unanimous praise from critics and audiences. AYTGIMM is a celebration of girlhood and an empathetic portrayal of puberty, which is more important than ever since we live in a country where some states are trying to prevent girls from even talking about their periods.

Viewers should’ve shown up for this film, though. In a world that stigmatizes menstruation and discriminates against women, we need more films like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, that normalizes everything girls and women experience. The film captures the novel’s beauty and is funny and light while proving to audiences that girls and their periods belong on the big screen. For those of us who grew up in homes where we had to whisper about and hide our periods, it’s hard to put into words how huge and special it is to finally have an Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret movie. (Rachel Ulatowski)

Little Richard: I Am Everything

Little Richard, a Black man with a bouffant hairdo and a patterned shirt against a wooden wall.
(Max)

This long overdue documentary couldn’t have come out at a better time. Little Richard: I Am Everything follows one of the founders of rock n’ roll, Richard Penniman, a.k.a. Little Richard. I’m not just talking about the sound and fashion, but the over-the-top theatrics beloved at high-energy productions. The film isn’t just fellow legends gushing about the eccentric artist and the cultural appropriation of his style by white musicians. It also explores the complicated legacy of Little Richard as a queer icon and his own turbulent relationship with his sexuality and religion.

During the trailer, musician and scholar Jason King says, “He was very very good at liberating other people, he was not good at liberating himself.” This is a theme that is woven throughout the film as you see the ups and downs—plural—of this journey. In addition to highlighting the history of Little Richard, it also explores the pantheon of rock n’ roll founders, many of whom were LGBTQ+. When I watched the film, I distinctly remember being amazed at the mainstream variance in gender expression within the realms of music.

Little Richard: I Am Everything is now streaming on Max. (Alyssa Shotwell)

Joy Ride

Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola, Ashley Park, and Sabrina Wu in 'Joy Ride'.
(Lionsgate)

In a just world, Adele Lim’s Joy Ride would have been a breakout comedy on the level of Bridesmaids or Girls Trip. This raunchy comedy about identity and female friendship is hysterical from start to finish, and whether it was poor marketing or bad timing, this gem of a film fell through the cracks. Ashley Park (Girls5eva) and Sherry Cola (Good Trouble) star as Audrey and Lolo, two lifelong best friends who travel to China where they attempt to find Audrey’s birth mother. They’re joined by college friend-turned-actress Kat (Everything Everywhere All At Once‘s Stephanie Hsu) and Lolo’s awkward cousin Deadeye (a scene-stealing Sabrina Wu). The trip goes disastrously wrong with many hilarious detours that had us screaming in the theaters. Joy Ride features rich cultural specificity and a deeply moving throughline about identity and belonging. This movie is an absolute treat and destined to be a cult favorite. It’s currently available for rental and purchase wherever you get movies. (Chelsea Steiner)

Every Body

Sean Saifa, Alicia Weigel, and River Gallo in Every Body
(Focus Features)

Every Body is a documentary that was quietly released on June 30, 2023. Though it received overwhelmingly positive reviews, coverage of the film was sparse. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received under 100 reviews from critics and audiences combined. It’s disappointing that Every Body didn’t receive more fanfare because it explores the lives of intersex individuals, a community that doesn’t get nearly enough understanding, recognition, and representation.

The documentary follows three individuals who were born intersex—Sean Saifa Wall, Alicia Weigel, and River Gallo. They share their powerful and heartbreaking stories about being subjected to unnecessary and nonconsensual surgeries as children and being forcibly raised as one gender. Every Body highlights how the narrow view of gender as a binary has contributed significantly to the mistreatment and suffering of intersex individuals. Because Wall, Weigel, and Gallo are proof that gender isn’t binary, they all experienced attempts from doctors and parents to hide their existence. Every Body allows them to finally speak out and tell their story, which is one that the world needs to hear.

Every Body is now streaming on Peacock Premium. (Rachel Ulatowski)

Priscilla

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi as Elvis in Priscilla from A24
(A24)

This movie has garnered great reviews but is definitely not getting the love it deserves. Some people already watched the Baz Luhrmann film Elvis and didn’t want another Elvis-related movie so soon. Others don’t trust the story because of their fond memories of the cultural vulture known as The King.

Based on the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon, the film follows Priscilla’s (Cailee Spaeny) time with Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi). It begins with the rock star (24) meeting grooming Priscilla (14) through their nearly decade-long relationship. Yeah, you read that right, and the film doesn’t shy away from it. Not just the manipulation and uneven power, but the loneliness of being the partner to a star always traveling for work. I’ll admit, I had my doubts going in. Director Sofia Coppola has created similarly impactful work like Marie Antoinette, but there are still her problematic issues with The Beguiled. However, it’s probably among my favorite movies of the year. Priscilla is definitely my favorite Sofia Coppola film, period. (Alyssa Shotwell)

Polite Society

Ria boxing with Lena in Polite Society
(Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features)

Polite Society came out earlier this year and has somehow gone largely unnoticed. The over-the-top plot mixed with amazing martial arts is a winning combination in this action-comedy. Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a teenager who longs to be a stunt performer. Her older sister Lena (Ritu Arya) recently came home from art school. Ria enlists her sister’s help in making internet videos under her stunt performer name, “The Fury.” At first, Ria’s biggest worry is mastering the reverse spin kick.

However, being part of a British-Pakistani family puts different expectations on both young women for their futures. Their parents don’t see “artist” or “stunt performer” as legitimate jobs. Lena, much to the dismay of Ria, gets involved with a wealthy man who does everything his mother, Raheela (Nimra Bucha), wants. Ria sees right away that Raheela is up to something. There are a lot of intense fight scenes that are unhinged but so compelling. The movie is just wonderfully entertaining. (D.R. Medlen)

Theater Camp

ben platt and molly gordon in theater camp
(Searchlight Pictures)

The hilarious mockumentary Theater Camp takes inspiration from comedy classics like Waiting for Guffman and Camp to create a hilarious ode to theater kids. With countless quips and musical references, the film features a terrific cast led by Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) and Molly Gordon (The Bear) as co-dependent theater kids turned counselors. Directed by Gordon and Nick Lieberman, the film is a must-watch for Broadway nerds, with inspired performances from Ayo Edibiri, Noah Galvin, Patti Harrison, Jimmy Tatro, and Amy Sedaris. Funny and uplifting, this film is a delight from start to finish.

Theater Camp is currently streaming on Hulu. (Chelsea Steiner)

Frybread Face and Me

Benny (Keir Tallman) and Fry (Charley Hogan) stealing their uncles car in 'Frybread Face And Me.'
(Netflix)

Frybread Face and Me just came out, so it might be considered too soon to call it slept on. However, considering its subject matter, unknown cast, and the fact that Netflix doesn’t promote anything, I don’t expect this film to get the attention it deserves. The story follows an 11-year-old Diné boy Benny (Keir Tallman) who spends the summer at his grandmother’s sheep farm on the Navajo reservation instead of seeing Fleetwood Mac live, as he intended. What’s worse is that his grandmother doesn’t speak English and his other family members consistently chide him as being a hapless “city Indian.” This includes his slightly older cousin (Charley Hogan) who at first is only known by her rude nickname “Frybread Face.”

Much of the story is based on writer/director Billy Luther’s own experiences growing up. This includes his mixed-Indigenous background and his relationships with rez-raised family members. While unique to Luther’s childhood, the story feels intimate and true to the messiness of growing up in proximity to poverty. It reminded me of Chicano and Indigenous children’s literature like Bless Me Ultima, Esperanza Rising, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. In addition to straight-up racism, these books are often challenged for language and mentions of sex or violence—even if this is reflective of many children’s experiences.

Part of Ava DuVernay’s Array label, Frybread Face and Me is now streaming on Netflix. (Alyssa Shotwell)

The Marvels

Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau and Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in 'The Marvels.' Monica is a Black woman with shoulder length natural Black curly hair wearing a black and white uniform. Captain Marvel is a white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair wearing her blue, red, and gold uniform. They are standing facing each other in front of a window being pelted with rain.
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

For so long, Marvel movies have been hyped up to the point that audiences are frothing at the mouth to watch them. Sadly, this didn’t happen with Nia DaCosta’s The Marvels. Between the SAG-AFTRA strike keeping actors from promoting the movie, the lack of hype from Disney, and generalized superhero fatigue, mainstream audiences never got excited about this film. For many reasons, it was set to fail before it even hit theaters. It doesn’t help that misogynists are taking to the internet to bash the movie solely because it stars three female leads.

Honestly, it’s a pity not more people saw The Marvels. It is so enjoyable watching Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) become an adorable found family while kicking butt. Their chemistry and comedic timing together are a joy to experience. Out of all the Marvel movies out there, The Marvels entered my top five favorites. Is it as emotionally intense as Avengers: Endgame? No, but neither are a lot of the MCU movies. Sometimes it is just nice to have a fun comic book movie where women have amazing powers. (D.R. Medlen)

Haunted Mansion

Rosario Dawson an Chase W. Dillon in Haunted Mansion hugging each other
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Haunted Mansion arrived alongside the onset of the SAG-AFTRA strike this year, which contributed to it not getting the love it deserved. At its world premiere, Disneyland characters walked the red carpet instead of its cast. Additionally, Disney oddly chose to release the movie in July despite it being the perfect Halloween movie. Unsurprisingly, it flopped at the box office, and critics were unnecessarily harsh towards it, likely because they perceived it as a cash grab, what with it being a remake and based on a theme park ride.

However, Haunted Mansion commendably focuses on developing a new story and characters rather than just referencing the past. I preferred this premise over the original because I love the idea of these characters being lost and lonely souls coming together unexpectedly in a haunted mansion. I was also not expecting such a poignant story of grief, loss, and healing. The film is elevated from silly to powerful when it has ghosts mixing with people who aren’t so sure they want to remain part of the physical world. LaKeith Stanfield steals the show with his emotional performance, though Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, and Winona Ryder are also powerhouses, as usual. With powerful themes, an outstanding cast, nostalgia, and newness, Haunted Mansion far exceeds its ride and predecessor.

Haunted Mansion is now streaming on Disney+. (Rachel Ulatowski)

What films do you think deserved more attention or fell by the wayside in 2023? Let us know in the comments so we can add it to our Letterboxed watchlists.

(featured image: Focus Features and ARRAY)

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Author

Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.

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