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The greatest movies nobody saw

The Greatest Movies Nobody Saw -- ''Spirit of the Beehive'' and ''Some Girls'' are films you should discover at the video store

Theatrical release is a litmus test of a film’s viability — right? Not always. Sometimes a movie that flopped at the box office or had limited theatrical distribution is really a cinematic gem, a buried movie treasure that can be dug up at the video store and appreciated at home. Here’s a guide to the best movies of the past two decades that probably never made it to a multiplex near you.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Set in post-Civil War Spain, the film features a heartbreaking Ana Torrent as a little girl who befriends a wounded fugitive, believing him to be the Frankenstein monster. Directed by Victor Erice, it’s at once a parable of life under Franco, a lament for lost innocence, and an exquisite evocation of childhood imagination. On all levels, it’s haunting. With subtitles. A+

They All Laughed (1981)
Upstaged by the murder of costar Dorothy Stratten, this Peter Bogdanovich romp was abandoned after a brief theatrical run. Ten years later, it’s a bit easier to laugh at the movie’s stylish humor. Ben Gazzara and John Ritter star as private eyes who fall in love with the married women they’re supposed to be following, Audrey Hepburn and Stratten. Sprawling but elegant and genuinely funny, the film set the tone for ’80s screwball comedy. Too bad nobody was watching. B+

Vernon, Florida (1981)
Between his pet-cemetery classic Gates of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris made this documentary about the odd inhabitants of a backwater Florida town. Among them: a proud worm farmer, an obsessed turkey hunter, and a couple with their jar of ”growing” sand. Once again, Morris shows that fact is stranger than fiction. A-

The Final Combat (1984)
This film marked a dazzling debut by Luc Besson (Subway, The Big Blue). A post-apocalypse adventure set in the ruins of Paris, the movie is distinguished by stark black-and-white visuals and a virtual absence of dialogue. The world’s few survivors wage an eerily silent battle for mere existence; it’s a striking vision of civilization starting over from scratch. A

Flesh + Blood (1985)
Set in 1501, this theatrically unreleased Paul Verhoeven epic relives the Middle Ages in all their violence and squalor. Rutger Hauer is an antiheroic warrior; Jennifer Jason Leigh is the maiden he despoils but can’t de-spirit. Verhoeven directs all the raping and pillaging with the sense of anarchy he later sharpened in RoboCop and Total Recall. Camelot, it’s not. B+

Some Girls (1989)
College boy Patrick Dempsey comes of age while spending Christmas with Jennifer Connelly and her eccentric family. Patriarch Andre Gregory has three bewitching daughters in all, but it’s their dying grandma (Lila Kedrova) who teaches our hero the true meaning of love. What starts as an offbeat comedy evolves into a lyrical look at how men romanticize women. The studio honchos evidently had no idea how to market that — so they didn’t. A-