DesignHammers Favorite Underground Movies

March 22, 2019

With the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival just weeks away, the anticipation of the festival has sparked much chatter around the office about everyone's favorite underground films! They may not be documentaries but this list is well worth the read, and the films are worth the watch! Take a look at the DesignHammer staff's favorite underground film picks, and read why each team member thinks you should give their film a try!

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Ghost Dog

Brief Synopsis of Plot:

"Ghost Dog" is a hitman who follows the Hagakure in service of an aging local mobster. When a hit goes wrong, Ghost Dog must follow his code while continuing to serve his master, who has his own code.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

Not your standard action movie, Ghost Dog hits notes of Samurai films and Mafia movies, sprinkled with urban decay and an understated hip-hop soundtrack.

Stephen Pashby

Stephen Pashby: Account Manager

Nightcrawler (2014)


Brief Synopsis of Plot:

Lou Bloom, a young man looking for work, discovers there is money in Los Angeles crime journalism. Camcorder in hand, he monitors the police scanner and drives the city at night looking to be first on the scene so he can sell his footage to local news stations. But how far will he go to make a living?

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

Jake Gyllenhaal's best performance to date. You quickly discover Lou is extremely compelling, but not a very sympathetic character. It's hard to look away, which may very well be what the film is trying to get at-- consumer culture, our thirst for violent and shocking media, and unethical journalism.

Amanda Hart

Amanda Hart: Developer

Bunraku (2010)


Brief Synopsis of Plot:

In the aftermath of a global war, guns are outlawed; now those so inclined fight with fists, swords, and bows.

Into this realm of might makes right come two wanderers; one seeks to right a wrong done to his family, while the other seeks to recover a village heirloom and return home. The two, however, end up on the same quest, to bring justice to the man who controls the gangs that run this town: Nicola the Woodcutter.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

The movie's name and much of its style comes from a 400-year-old style of Japanese puppet theater that uses 4' tall puppets controlled by several puppeteers who wear black to blend into the background.

It's a stylish take on a classic story that combines the art of bunraku, the stories of both Westerns and the mystic kung fu master, and the cast including Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, Josh Hartnett, and Ron Perlman.

I had never heard of it until I ran into randomly, years after release, on the internet; it surprised me more than any movie since the original Matrix. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it certainly resonated with me and my wife, so you really should give it a shot.

Michael Nicholson

Michael Nicholson: Project Manager

Primer (2004)

Primer Film

Brief Synopsis of Plot:

Two engineers accidentally create a machine in their garage that can travel through time. The movie follows these two friends as they explore the nature and consequences of their discovery.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

It's rare for such an incredibly a low-budget ($7,000!) film to deliver on story, acting, and effects. The complex narrative structure can be challenging on first watch but, at its core, it tells a much simpler story about trust and friendship when a whole lot of power is at stake.

Time travel is rarely treated seriously in films. This movie takes more time to ground the mechanics of its time travel which helps to pull the narrative down to an almost mundane level. This supports the documentary/cinéma vérité quality of the film.

Jay Roberts

Jay Roberts: Developer

John Dies at the End (2012)

John Dies at the End

Brief Synopsis of Plot:

Based off of a comic horror novel from 2001, this movie is as bizarre as it is awesome. The plot centers around the main character David Wong, and his story that he tells to a journalist while sitting in a Chinese restaurant. The story is a recounting of how a few years ago, his best friend John stumbled upon a mysterious rasta-shaman-like character at a high school party. The mysterious dealer convinces John and a few other people to indulge in a drug called "soy sauce", administered as a black liquid inside a syringe, which the dealer claims "will open the door to other worlds." After David gets a call from a very paranoid and hallucinating John who had recently taken the "soy sauce", David comes to his aid. David assumes John is overdosing so he confiscates the remaining soy sauce from John, and ends up accidentally dosing himself with the drug. This is the point David realizes that the drug actually does open the door to other darker, more sinister worlds. This is just the beginning of David's story, as he continues to explain to the reporter the exact nature behind how John and he became supernatural monster-hunters.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

John Dies at the End is a fantastic B-rated movie filled with smart-ass comedy and offbeat humor that takes the audience on a journey through alternate dimensions. If you are into energetic manic storytelling like I am, then this movie will certainly keep your attention.

Hunter Kenny

Hunter Kenny: Account Manager

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

Buckaroo Banzai

Brief Synopsis of Plot:

Buckaroo Banzai, internationally renowned physicist, neurosurgeon, and rock musician, leads the Banzai Institute for Biomedical Research and Strategic Information, as well as his rock band the Hong Kong Cavaliers, and as needed Blue Blazer paramilitary strike teams, in an effort to better humanity, fight crime, and even save the world. In this (the only) installment of his story, Banzai and his band of followers attempt to save the world by defeating inter-dimensional aliens, named Lectroids, from Planet 10. The film is a genre-bending cross of action/adventure, science fiction, and comedy with a bit of romance baked in for good measure. Entertainment Weekly ranked Buckaroo Banzai as No. 43 in their Top 50 Cult Movies of all time.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

Buckaroo Banzai is a quirky film featuring early screen roles by many notable stars including Peter Weller (Robocop), John Lithgow (Terms of Endearment), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption), to name but a few. The plot and action is off-the-wall, in some ways best summed up by Peter Weller, when he described the inspiration for his character, Buckaroo Banzai, as a combination of Elia Kazan, Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Adam Ant. The film definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to the audience, expecting them to just hang on for the wild ride.

Notable lines include modern renaissance man Buckaroo Banzai waxing philosophically:

“Hey, hey, hey, hey-now. Don’t be mean; we don’t have to be mean, cuz, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

Or advising the President of the United States on whether or not to start World War III:

Mission Control: Buckaroo, The White House wants to know is everything ok with the alien spacecraft from Planet 10 or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?

Buckaroo Banzai: Tell him yes on one and no on two.

Mission Control: Which one was yes, go ahead and destroy Russia… or number 2

David Minton

David Minton: Managing Partner

Nacho Libre (2006)

Nacho Libre

Brief Synopsis of Plot:

A comedy about a man (Jack Black) who works as a cook for a monastery in Mexican. But his dream is to become a luchador, a professional Mexican wrestler.

Why Should the General Public Give This Film a Chance?

Nacho Libre is one of those movies that gets funnier every time you see it. It's chock full of those one-liners you constantly find yourself repeating around your friends and family. Like "Get that corn out of my face" and "I looked like a fool last night!", or "Chancho I Need To Borrow Some Sweats". Another of my favorite scenes is when Nacho feels he has to baptize Esqueleto because, you know, he "only believes in science". Seeing the movie once may not be enough to convince most people, so please watch it again with a few of your friends. I trust it'll make you laugh more and more every time.

Frank Yonetti

Frank Yonetti: Designer

What's your favorite underground movie? Give us something new to watch..

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