It’s taken them awhile to get here, with plenty of twists, turns, fits, and starts along the way. But this weekend, the DCEU finally brings its first Justice League team-up to theaters — and in honor of this momentous occasion, we’ve dedicated this feature to a look at some of the less well-known critical favorites from this star-studded ensemble’s assembled filmography. Unfortunately, not all League members have enough Fresh films to their credit to merit inclusion — get you next time, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher — but even with those omissions, we think you’ll find the results suitably super. It’s time for Total Recall!
Ms. Gadot hasn’t made a ton of movies — before being handed the keys to Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, she was best known for playing a recurring supporting character in the Fast and Furious movies — so it’s a bit of a stretch to argue that her filmography has much in the way of “hidden gems.” But fans looking for a peek of the future Amazonian in her pre-stardom days can catch her brief appearance in Date Night, the 2010 Steve Carell/Tina Fey comedy about a workaday married couple whose plans for a night on the town go hilariously (and dangerously) awry. Popping up as the new girlfriend of the couple’s pal Brad (Mark Wahlberg), Gadot gets one of the movie’s more memorable (albeit cheapest) laughs with the heavily accented line, “You two make sex with us?”
It’s a little difficult to argue for anything truly being “hidden” in Ben Affleck’s filmography at this point, but if you’re looking for an acclaimed film that audiences failed to turn up for, you could do worse than 2002’s Changing Lanes, a tension-filled drama about the war of attrition that erupts after a car accident involving a beleaguered insurance salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) and a lawyer (Affleck). Examining uncommonly thorny themes of race and privilege, wrapped up in good old-fashioned high-octane Hollywood thrills, Lanes wasn’t quite the box office smash it seemed poised to become, but in the fallow period that followed, it offered a reminder of Affleck’s gifts — and looking back, it also served as a prelude to some of the more thoughtful stuff he’d deliver in years to come.
Cavill was a surprise choice when Warner Bros. picked him as the new face of the Superman franchise, but there’s no denying he looks the part — and as evidenced by his supporting role in this acclaimed adaptation of the 1948 Dodie Smith novel I Capture the Castle, that’s been the case long before he donned the cape and tights. As the good-hearted Stephen Colley, Cavill doesn’t have a ton to do other than moon over lead character Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai), but as an early look at his screen career, it’s interesting — and solid filmmaking besides, especially if your tastes run to period romance.
Miller’s only been making movies for a decade, but he’s already put together a résumé full of under-the-radar winners, including We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. If we have to pick just one hidden gem, however, we’re going with 2015’s Stanford Prison Experiment, in which Miller joined Billy Crudup and Michael Angalono as the leads in a harrowing dramatization of the titular psychology experiment, in which students were divided into “prisoners” and “guards” in an effort to see how quickly and thoroughly their social mores would break down. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t pretty.) He’s clearly got the chops for big-budget fantasy and adventure, but if the roles in tights ever dry up, he’s clearly got nothing to worry about.
Before it was an acclaimed cult favorite on the TV dial, Friday Night Lights was a Buzz Bissinger non-fiction book about life on the Texas high school gridiron — and then it was a Peter Berg drama starring Billy Bob Thornton as a football coach with the weight of a small town’s hopes and dreams on his program’s shoulders. In hindsight, it seems awfully easy to say Lights was always destined to play out more powerfully on the small screen, but the film stands up pretty well on its own — and if you’re looking for an early glimpse of the DCEU’s future Mera, this version boasts the added bonus of having Amber Heard, making her film debut in a supporting role as Maria.
Margin Call, writer/director J.C. Chandor’s dramatized take on the financial crisis of 2007-08, managed to turn banking shenanigans into legitimately pulse-pounding drama. Mortgage securities and toxic assets might sound like awfully dry stuff for a movie, but in Chandor’s hands — and brought to life by a cast that included Irons as well as Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci — it proved not just strikingly timely, but powerfully resonant. Plus, as discerning film fans are well aware, if your movie’s cast of characters includes an unscrupulous CEO and you cast Jeremy Irons in the role, you’ve already won half the battle.
A rare leading film role for Bryan Cranston, 2015’s Trumbo found the veteran character actor (and Breaking Bad star) playing the legendary screenwriter during and after his politically motivated fall from professional grace. Although certainly a star vehicle for its leading man, Trumbo wasn’t all about the writer’s professional travails; the story also focused on the impact of the scandal — and Trumbo’s reaction to it — on his relationship with his family, including his wife Cleo (Lane). Over the last several decades, Lane has more than proven her depth and range; with a gripping fact-based story and solid support from her co-star, Trumbo offered a compelling reminder.
Subsequently remade for American audiences as a Jim Sheridan drama starring Natalie Portman as a woman torn between Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, the 2004 Danish thriller Brødre didn’t make much of an impact in U.S. theaters during its arthouse run. It marked a turning point in Connie Nielsen’s career, however, earning her the equivalent of a Danish Best Actress Oscar and proving the accolades she’d earned for her appearance in Gladiator were far from a fluke. While she’s continued to work steadily in the years since, Brødre remains a consistently thrilling example of what she’s capable of when she’s asked to carry a movie — not to mention a sobering reminder that even if it looks like your spouse has been killed in battle, you may not want to take up with their sibling.
This 2008 rom-com from director Bharat Nalluri (working from a David Magee/Simon Beaufoy screenplay adapted from Winifred Watson’s 1938 novel) follows the gently scandalous misadventures of a dowdy London governess (Frances McDormand) who copes with her sudden unemployment by stealing a former co-worker’s assignment to manage the social affairs of an American starlet (Justice League co-star Amy Adams). Every period romance needs a dashing gentleman, and Miss Pettigrew filled its quotient with Hinds’ Joe Blomfield, a lingerie designer who falls for our heroine after their paths cross at a high society fashion show.