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Straight To DVD Movies That Deserved A Chance At The Box Office

Home video — be it VHS, DVD, or streaming — isn't just the place where movies go to live forever after they spend a couple of months raking in millions at the cineplex. The entertainment industry prefers to call those different options "platforms" or "distribution methods," because they aren't just dumping grounds for films slightly beyond their sell-by date — they're also places where a lot of movies go first, never once (or barely) screening for a theatrical audience. 

Okay, well, maybe home video is a dumping ground. Peruse a Redbox and you'll find dozens of generic action movies starring actors you haven't thought about in decades. But direct-to-video is also a place to find movies that studios didn't know what to do with. Maybe they're difficult to market, too innovative to effectively advertise, or they're small movies that tell a small story, or they appeal to a niche audience. For all these reasons and more, a lot of really great movies worth a watch wind up skipping the theaters and go straight to DVD. Here are a few that deserved a chance at the box office.

The Maiden Heist (2009)

How could a movie that starred two of America's most emphatically beloved veteran actors not be released in theaters? Huge numbers of people would have seen this movie if only given the chance. Not only does it star Christopher Walken and Morgan Freeman (and William H. Macy of Shameless and Fargo, who's definitely no slouch), but it's a heist movie. Guys love heist movies, and this one feels like the kind of crime-laced action comedy that they'd dig so much they'd quote it for years, like Snatch or The Boondock Saints. But alas, it was not meant to be, as The Maiden Heist was quietly and unceremoniously released to video stores and rental kiosks.

The plot: Waken and Freeman play bored museum security guards both obsessed with the same painting of a timeless beauty, and they conspire to steal it when it's scheduled to be moved. (Macy helps them out — he portrays another guard who is so into a nude sculpture that he too gets nude and sits next to it during his shifts.) You can probably pretty much guess how it all ends up going down, but with a story and a cast like this, that's part of the fun — it is, as critic David Nusair wrote, "an affable little movie."

The Voices (2014)

There are probably a few reasons why The Voices never came to a theater near you. For one, it starred Ryan Reynolds during the pre-Deadpool period when he'd made enough bombs to temporarily fall off the A-list. There's also the matter of the movie's bewildering tonal juggling, which must have given the marketing team fits. At first, the film seems like it's going to be a quirky indie comedy about a regular Joe in a small town — Jerry (Reynolds) a factory worker who lives in an apartment above a bowling alley with with his dog and cat... who talk to Jerry, because Jerry won't take his schizophrenia medication. After that hint of darkness, The Voices goes rom-com with a dash of horror, exploring Jerry's ill-fated crush on a coworker. Things just don't seem like they can end well for Jerry at all when The Voices goes full-on gore (with notes of comedy) after he starts murdering people and storing their bodies in his apartment under the advisement of his pets (both of which are voiced by Reynolds). Obviously, this isn't for everyone, but Heather Wixson of Daily Dead called The Voices "a triumphant example of independent filmmaking at its very best."

Run Ronnie Run! (2002)

Mr. Show with Bob and David was a barely promoted late-night HBO sketch series from the late '90s that became a cult hit with a small but rabid fanbase, so it makes sense that any movie miraculously springing forth from such a relatively obscure property would also languish on the fringes. One of Mr. Show's few recurring characters was a guy named Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross), famous for being a drunk and disorderly degenerate who had appeared on Cops more than any other individual in history. He was a dark take on Joe Dirt before Joe Dirt was a thing, and he embodies and sends up numerous stereotypes of trailer park denizens.

Narratively, Run Ronnie Run! expands and explores Dobbs' world. With the help of a fawning British TV producer (Bob Odenkirk), he becomes an International celebrity, subject to the trappings of fame while also maintaining his rough-around-the-edges flavor. The end results were probably destined for the commercial margins, but for a direct-to-video feature, this enjoys a fairly impressive score of 71 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Bob Grimm of the Las Vegas Mercury went so far as to say that Cross and Odenkirk "deliver two of the year's funniest performances" in what he thought was one the best comedies of 2002.

The Interview (2014)

In this ambitious and envelope-pushing film, Seth Rogen (who co-wrote with Evan Goldberg) plays a TV producer and James Franco a TV talk show host recruited by the American government to travel to North Korea under the auspices of interviewing "Glorious Leader" Kim Jong-un (Randall Park)... with secret plans to assassinate him. While the (ahem) execution gets complicated when Franco's character develops a genuine friendship with the dictator — who turns out to be a complex and sensitive man — the logline was incendiary enough to trigger an international incident. Hackers who seemed to have some kind of connection to the North Korean government broke into distributor Sony's computer networks and threatened violence against any American movie theater that dared screen The Interview. Were the threats credible? The Department of Homeland Security didn't think so, but so many chains reneged on their contracts to show The Interview that Sony pulled it from release and made it available on home video platforms.

But is it a good movie? Yes, and Peter Howell of the Toronto Star says it's effective to boot: "The best satire provokes and even outrages, and Rogen, Franco, and Goldberg certainly succeed on that score."

Suburban Girl (2007)

Film adaptations of bestselling books are almost guaranteed to be box-office hits. After all, they've got a built-in audience of fans who already know the material, curious to see how Hollywood made that beloved book come alive. The title of the book-turned-movie is also free advertising, so it doubly makes no sense why the film version of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing skipped theaters for video — and also why it was burdened with the generic and boring new title Suburban Girl. 

It's the kind of light, fluffy, and charming romantic comedy that packs 'em in at movie theaters nationwide. The plot: Brett (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a book editor in New York who romantically pursues her company's dashing — although much older — publisher, Archie (Alec Baldwin). Gellar (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Baldwin (of 30 Rock) were both near the peak of their TV-star popularity when Suburban Girl came out, which makes the whole thing even harder to understand. Perhaps it wasn't released to theaters because audiences might have been mildly shocked at some of the darker turns Suburban Girl takes, but whatever the reasons for its fate, this is one direct-to-DVD movie that deserved a chance at the box office.

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

Amy Heckerling was once among Hollywood's most reliable comedy directors, helming stuff like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Look Who's Talking, and Clueless. But fortunes change fast in Hollywood, and after the 2000 Jason Biggs bomb Loser, Heckerling didn't direct another movie until 2007's I Could Never Be Your Woman, which starred another individual that had unfortunately fallen off of Hollywood's radar: Michelle Pfeiffer. It's a chatty, complicated comedy centered around a relationship with an age gap with a chunk of autobiographical Hollywood satire thrown in, so I Could Never Be Your Woman was probably too odd to be a box office smash, but it's still an interesting film. Pfeiffer plays a 40-something divorced TV writer raising a teenager (Saorise Ronan) looking for love but without any prospects until she casts a guy named Adam (the always likable Paul Rudd) on her show. They slowly fall in love, even after lying about their ages to hide their insecurities — he's 29 (not 32) and she's 40 (not 36). Tracey Ullman also co-stars as the physical embodiment of Mother Nature, who fills the archetypal rom-com "best friend" role, because why not?

Bordertown (2006)

Jennifer Lopez is best known for her roles in frivolous and forgettable romantic comedies, as well as for judging reality shows and churning out breezy dance pop hits, so perhaps the studio behind Bordertown didn't think enough filmgoers would be interested in paying $9 a ticket to see Lopez get deadly serious in a film about an underreported and horrifying tragedy. So straight to DVD went Bordertown, a challenging and unrelenting drama about an investigative reporter looking into the huge number of murders of women in Ciudad Juárez, a troubled Mexican border town with a central location in international drug smuggling and economics.

Had this departure for Lopez, which she also produced, been theatrically released, she might have received at least a Golden Globe nomination. But even if Hollywood proved less than hospitable to Bordertown, the movie found an appreciative audience: Lopez was recognized by Amnesty International for "examining the ongoing murders of hundreds of women in a Mexican border town."

Moonwalkers (2016)

Along with different ideas about who really assassinated President John F. Kennedy, the most famous American conspiracy theory alleges that NASA didn't really land astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969. What "actually" happened? They faked it on a soundstage. Some adherents take it a step farther and argue that the staged Apollo 11 mission looked so lifelike and realistic because the government recruited renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to do it. Moonwalkers is based on this premise... except it makes fun of it. Ron Perlman of Hellboy takes a rare non-prosthetics-assisted starring role as Kidman, a violent, PTSD-afflicted CIA agent tasked with getting Kubrick on board. Except that he fails, accidentally teaming up not with Kubrick and his people, but with a lowlife band promoter named Jonny (Rupert Grint of the Harry Potter films) instead. But at least he knows a thing or two about wrangling talent to make sure a show — any show — goes off without a hitch and on time. Most people missed it, but not because it isn't any good: Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times called Moonwalkers "cheerfully insane."

Stretch (2014)

Writer-director Joe Carnahan is responsible for some of the most entertaining action movies of the 2000s, including Narc, Smokin' Aces, and the big-screen adaptation of The A-Team. For some reason, that rep couldn't get Carnahan's zany 2014 action comedy Stretch into theaters — nor could its cast, which included Chris Pine, Ed Helms, Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker, and as the title character, Patrick Wilson.

Stretch is a drug-addicted failed actor who, after a nasty car accident, falls in love with the woman who hit him (Decker) and cleans up his life. Their consequent breakup sends him spiraling into gambling debts, hallucinations, and making ends meet as a limo driver... during which time an intense rivalry develops between Stretch's employer and another car service that's stealing famous clients. This sendup of Los Angeles's evidently equally scuzzy worlds of film production and daily survival absolutely delighted critics — Stretch enjoys an 86 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with Indiewire calling it "a truly enjoyable oddity, a movie that was too brash, too weird, too idiosyncratic for a major release, but one that should settle into a nice, long shelf life."