It’s impossible to know what art will become when it’s first released into the world. Filmmakers have ideas of what audiences they are going to target and how well their films will do at the box office, but there is no telling how people will see what you’ve created in the decades to come. Cult classic movies are typically movies that do not reach the mainstream audience on initial release but instead reach/create a sub-community of people that become dedicated fans to the film. These movies tend to be unconventional and obscure. Although the definition of cult classic is still somewhat undefined, we will be using the above definition for our list of cult classic movies.
Here are the 10 best cult classic movies to watch if you are looking for something a little different.
David Lynch himself could be classified as having a cult following. All of his work is unconventional, obscure, and not exactly mainstream. Twin Peaks is the most popular of his creations. The series is about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper who is called in to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer in the strange town of Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks revolutionized television with its quirky and eccentric tone. Off the show’s success, Lynch decided to create a spinoff feature film called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. However, Fire Walk With Me was hated by audiences and especially by critics. It was so hated in fact that it got booed at a Cannes Film Festival screening. Fire Walk With Me is a prequel to Twin Peaks that chronicles the last days of Laura Palmer. It is a lot darker than the TV show which caught fans off guard. Over time, fans have come around to the movie and see it as one of Lynch’s greatest creations. If you plan on watching the movie make sure to check out the Twin Peaks series first as there are major spoilers in the movie.
Oldboy is a South Korean action thriller directed by Park Chan-wook. It was based on a manga with the same name. Oldboy is a vengeance story about a man who is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years. When he is released, he seeks out his captor for revenge. The film is not for the faint of heart. Reminiscent to John Wick, Oldboy is known for its violent one-shot action sequences. It is also known for its unexpected twist ending. The gripping story and stylish action sequences are some of what fans love about Oldboy. If you’re looking for a unique action movie to watch, Oldboy should be at the top of your list.
Oldboy is not available on any popular streaming service currently but is available through Netflix’s DVD by mail service (yes, that still exists).
Akira is one of the first Japanese anime films to gain a global audience. The film has a huge fan base in Japan but globally the film has developed a cult following. Akira is said to have paved the way for popular animes such as Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. The gore and extremely dark tone were surprising to see in an animation at the time. With adult animations like Invincible coming out today, it’s clear that Akira helped standardize the modern adult animation format. Akira is about a secret military project that endangers Tokyo when it turns a biker gang member into a raging super-powered monster. The premise may seem strange, but the beautiful animation paired with Katsuhiro Ohtomo’s creativity allows Akira to be a cult classic unlike any other.
Certain movies can strike a chord inside of you or leave you feeling nothing at all. Repo Man is one of these movies and begins our list of cult classics. Repo Man is about a young punk who is recruited by a car repossession agency and finds himself in pursuit of a car that is wanted for a $20,000 bounty. Repo Man had high critical praise when it was released, some noting it was the funniest movie of the year. At the box office, however, it barely made a splash. Over the years Repo Man gained cult status and garnered a following of dedicated fans. Repo Man is a bizarre science fiction black comedy that is not for everybody but if it is for you, it will stick with you till the day you die.
Donnie Darko is the first cult classic of the 21st century. The film left audiences bewildered by its strange script, but as Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal have gained popularity, the film has gained more relevance in the eyes of the modern audience. Donnie Darko is about a troubled teenager who is plagued by hallucinations of a manipulative man in a bunny suit. The story is as weird as it sounds. Donnie Darko gained a cult following after it ran into issues with marketing. The film was released a month after 9/11 and features a scene of a plane crashing into a house. The film also contains a scene with a teen using a gun, which was associated with a traumatic real-life event that transpired just 2 years earlier. Darko may not have had a successful box office run but its cult following would keep the film relevant for decades to come.
When The Warriors was first released, critics found the movie to be unrealistic and lacking depth. Years later, The Warriors gained a following of devoted fans who found the movie to be fun, stylish, and unique. The movie is about a street gang who is falsely accused of murder and now must fight their way home while being hunted by every gang in the city. The cult following has kept the film alive and relevant amongst modern audiences. Critics have since changed their thoughts about the movie and The Warriors now has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s considered to be one of the best cult classics.
Not all of the movies that are considered cult classics are good movies. Bad movies can also develop a cult following with rabid fans. We created an entire list of “great” bad movies that proves that and Showgirls is the best of the bad. Showgirls was released in 1995 and is the only film with an NC-17 rating to be widely released in mainstream theaters. Many believe that is what led to its initial failure. The NC-17 rating gave the impression that the film was extremely sexually explicit. Showgirls was also destroyed by critics because of its terrible acting, script, and direction. The poor quality, however, led the film to develop a following of fans who found the film to be entertaining to watch. Now, Showgirls is praised as a satire about the strange and absurd world of Las Vegas. Paul Verhoeven, the director, has embraced this newfound love for Showgirls. Whether or not that was the director’s original intention remains unclear.
Suspiria is an Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento. Released in 1977, Suspiria took viewers by surprise with its vivid imagery and unsettling atmosphere. While Suspiria had great cinematography, suspense, and score, the dialogue was awkward. Argento took a different approach to dialogue. Instead of actors speaking in one language, the actors spoke in their native language. A few spoke in Italian, in English, and in German. Then, Argento had the actors voiced over to the specific language he wanted. For example, for an American market, he dubbed the dialogue all in English. This led to the dialogue feeling awkward and out of place. Some say it even detracts from the seriousness of the movie but the awkward dialogue only bolstered Suspiria’s cult following and helped reserve its spot on our list of cult classics.
Much like many films on this list, Heathers did not do well at the box office in 1989. It was a film that did not make a lot of headlines and that critics found to be a depressing reflection of teen culture. Of course, this led to Heathers gaining a following of fans that recognized Heathers for what it was — a black comedy about high school. Heathers takes place in a quintessential high school with jocks, cliques, and popular girls who all go by the name of Heather. One of the Heathers disapproves of her lifestyle and finds an attraction to a boy who intends to kill the popular kids he doesn’t like. Heathers is about a popular girl named Veronica who disapproves of her lifestyle and finds an attraction with a boy that has hidden intentions to kill the popular kids. The subject matter is dark and Heathers probably couldn’t be made today, but the film touches on a variety of topics that resonate with teenagers even now. Heathers and their take on high school hierarchy helped create the standard teen comedy format. If you liked Mean Girls, Easy A, or Clueless, you can thank Heathers for that.
It would be a crime to have a list of cult classics without having the most iconic cult classic of them all. Rocky Horror Picture Show is in many ways the definition of a cult classic. Rocky Horror has transcended being just a movie and has become an experience. During showings of the movie at theaters, audiences regularly will interact with each other and the screen. They will dress as certain characters, sing along, bring props to throw, reenact scenes, and even perform rituals. Rocky Horror has become a cultural phenomenon and influential to many communities for its themes of sexual liberation. There are even annual conventions held in different places all throughout the world. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the ultimate cult movie and that’s why it is at the top of our list.
We have only scratched the surface when it comes to the number of films out there that have reached cult status. It seems like every day a new movie is being released with an entirely different tone of voice and as time goes on, some of those movies will develop cult followings in the future. There is no telling what films today that are overlooked now will grab the hearts of future generations but there is something inspiring about the idea that art will always evolve, even after we’re gone.
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