The topic pretty much says it all. While some of these films might have received critical acclaim or recognition, that doesn't always mean the actors received the praise or recognition they deserved. For this list I am focusing on performances by actors that I felt were either overlooked entirely or didn't receive the amount of recognition it deserved. These aren't in any particular order, but I do have my personal favorites in the bunch. If you have any performances you think are way "underrated" or overlooked, share them in the comments!
Hayden Christensen - Life as a House (2001)
If you have never seen Life as a House I strongly suggest watching. It is a fantastic movie overall and I have loved it for years. It stars Kevin Kline as an architect named George Monroe who decides to build his dream house with his troubled teenage son, Sam, after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
I consider Hayden Christensen's performance as Sam Monroe overlooked primarily because it got overshadowed with his mediocre and below par performances in the Star Wars prequels despite the fact that they came after this film was released. This is by far the best role I have seen him in and I wish he would have gotten more recognition for it. His character Sam is tragic on his own regarding self hate, addiction, and depression, but the way Hayden brought it out was fantastic. The way he was able to portray both the hatred Sam possessed for his father as well as the repressed love for simple pleasures in life showed how versatile of an actor he was capable of being. It's a shame we only got to see it this one time.
Kristen Stewart - Welcome to the Rileys (2010)
This is another movie that I recommend in general and not just because it was very good. I tell people to watch it to prove that in some capacity, Kristen Stewart can actually act. Welcome to the Rileys follows a middle-aged man named Doug (James Gandolfini) as he travels to New Orleans for a business conference and decides to stay indefinitely after a chance meeting with a struggling 16-year old exotic dancer named Allison.
I watched this movie out of sheer curiosity and I wound up really liking it and a lot of it had to do with Stewart's performance. She was really a pleasure to watch and it really is a shame that her lackluster performances in the Twilight franchise overlooked the skills she does possess. It brings you back to what she did as a child in films like Speak and Panic Room. There were a lot of critics upset that she didn't receive awards recognition for On the Road in 2012, but I still think that if she was going to get serious recognition for anything it should have been for Welcome to the Rileys.
Stewart was able to play the character in a believable way and I think the seemingly raw energy she expresses naturally in her personality bled into this role and she was able to just let herself go. She plays tough in a way that is still vulnerable and that is an extremely difficult thing to do. Whenever the subject of Kristen Stewart comes up I always mention her performance in this film because it truly is one of her best, if not the best, in her career thus far.
Chloe Grace Moretz & Kodi Smit-McPhee - Let Me In (2010)
I say this pretty lightly because both of these kids did get recognition for their performances, but from a standpoint of award status and serious recognition... the actors, and the film in general, got stiffed big time. Let Me In was the 2010 Americanized version of the Swedish horror film, Let the Right One In. Director Matt Reeves brought the film to life and although it is considered by many to be one of the best horror films of the past decade, the standard of not getting recognized because it's horror plagued the project and the actors.
Moretz's performance as Abby was absolutely incredible and I was blown away by the fact that a 12-year old could give a performance that great. A lot of it was her great chemistry with Kodi Smit-McPhee, who also did a great job as Owen. Along with being overlooked due to its genre, I think a lot of it also had to do with the fact that both kids were so young at the time. It's not right, but not a lot of major awards go to child actors.
The chemistry between the two was dynamite and Smit-McPhee played vulnerable in a way that was very realistic and sympathetic. You are on this kid's side the entire movie and you see his self-esteem begin to build when Moretz's character comes into his life. That's a difficult thing for adult actors to portray on screen and these two children made it look easy.
Tobin Bell - The Saw Franchise (2004-2010)
Put this on the list of not getting credit where credit is due because it's a horror franchise. Tobin Bell got severely overlooked due to the fact that he was in Saw movies. Period.
Bell was seen as John Kramer, the original Jigsaw killer, in all seven Saw films and his performances in a majority of the films were essential to the franchise and produced some of the more mentally menacing aspects of the films. It's easy to kill someone on screen to shock audiences, but the way Bell delivered his character and helped mold the importance of the actual plot behind the gore was essential and it is what made the movies so meaningful and logical. The odd humanity he brought to this killer he was playing was very well done and it is a true shame that most people outside of the horror genre didn't recognize it. All I can really say is they were lucky that Tobin Bell was the man on the floor during the first installment.
Logan Lerman - The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Lerman has definitely come a long way since playing the kid version of Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect. Yes, he is also attached to the Percy Jackson franchise but his performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is easily his best performance to date and it's a true shame he wasn't recognized for it. It's actually a shame the movie wasn't recognized at all because it's absolutely fantastic.
Lerman plays Charlie, an introverted high school freshman who befriends a group of seniors and is introduced to a wide open world as they take him under their wing. The character was channeled beautifully by Lerman as he displayed a perfect combination of innocent naivety as well as dark, deep depression. You feel for Charlie and you are able to relate to him in ways you might not think possible.
As I said, the movie itself got shafted and Lerman's co-stars Ezra Miller and Emma Watson deserved recognition as well for their work, but it just never came. If it were up to me this film would have received a Best Picture nomination and I would have given Lerman a Golden Globe nomination if not an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Charlie. If Ellen Page can get nominated for Juno, this should have happened too.
Natalie Portman - Garden State (2004)
Natalie Portman has received tons of recognition and praise throughout her career thus far. She finally won her Oscar for Black Swan, was nominated for an Oscar for Closer in 2004, and has entered franchises such as Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, her performance as a quirky pathological liar named Samantha in Garden State is a role not many people think of and that is really unfortunate as it is one of her best performances.
Samantha is an interesting character on her own, but I would bet money on the fact that any other actress wouldn't have brought the character to life the way Natalie Portman did. Her seemingly bubbly nature (at least back in the day) allowed this character to be as free spirited as she needed to be, and Portman was able to tap into both joy and heartbreak in a single delivery. You love Samantha while feeling sorry for her at the same time. Her quirkiness is brought to life in a believably annoying way and you don't even feel bad about loving every second of it.
This should have been her first Oscar win, in my opinion. But similar to other films on this list, it was one that got swept under the rug despite the fact that it deserved to be recognized.
Sandra Bullock - 28 Days (2000)
I have always liked this movie in general, but not many people think of it when the name Sandra Bullock comes up. Most think of The Blind Side, Speed, or Miss Congeniality, while I have always thought of 28 Days. In this film Bullock plays a drug and alcohol addict named Gwen who is forced to enter a 28-day rehab program after destroying her sister's wedding in a drunken episode.
For what it is worth, I thought she gave a good performance and it's sad to me that not many people think of this movie. It showed that she wasn't just suitable for cute romantic comedies and did have some good skills. Those skills obviously carried her to an Oscar win in 2009.
The rest of these I don't really want to explain because you wind up saying the same things about each performance, so I will list some more honorable mentions without any explanation. If you haven't seen the movies these movies contain I would highly recommend checking them out at some point. Even ones I didn't think I would enjoy I wound up appreciating to some extent.
Miles Teller - Whiplash (2014)
Carrie Coon - Gone Girl (2014)
Ezra Miller - We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Hugo Weaving & Natalie Portman - V for Vendetta (2005)
Kristen Stewart & Dakota Fanning - The Runaways (2010)
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler (2014)
Anton Yelchin & Felicity Jones - Like Crazy (2011)
Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Paul Dano - For Ellen (2012)
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine (2010)
Michael Fassbender - Shame (2011)
Adam Sandler - Punch Drunk Love (2002)
Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained (2012)
Robert Pattinson - Water for Elephants (2010)
Tom Hardy - Inception (2010)
Michael Shannon - Take Shelter (2011)
John Krasinski - Away We Go (2009)
Clive Owen - Closer (2004)
Kevin Zegers - Transamerica (2005)
Jake Gyllenhaal - Donnie Darko (2001)
Brittany Murphy - Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena - End of Watch (2012)
Joel Courtney - Super 8 (2011)
Isabelle Fuhrman - Orphan (2009)