10 Best Cult Classic Movies
From ‘The Room’ to ‘Eraserhead’ to ‘Rocky Horror,’ these are the best movies to ever inspire deep obsession.
“Making a list of movies that seem underrated or underappreciated is one thing; accounting for the ones that generate religious fervor is another,” Adam Nayman writes in this history of the cult movie. “Cult films come in all varieties—and sometimes with vigorous debate about their status attached—but genuine, possessive devotion is the baseline.”
Let’s celebrate those movies that from humble or overlooked beginnings rose to prominence through the support of their obsessive fan bases. The movies that were too heady for mainstream audiences; the comedies that were before their time; the small indies that changed the direction of Hollywood.
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam movies are experiences, man. The former Monty Python player has a knack for making movies that go heavy on the spice, so to speak. If you blend together themes of grotesqueness, wonder, beauty, profundity, rage, and nihilism, you wouldn’t necessarily expect the resulting movie to work. But Gilliam makes it work—Fear and Loathing is probably the best example of that. Adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel of the same name, Fear and Loathing isn’t necessarily a fun watch. The diabolical drug-addled Vegas trip taken by Johnny Depp’s Raoul and Benicio Del Toro’s Dr. Gonzo takes a turn for the worse, not just once but at least three times, and each time it’s a little more sickening. But it’s the moments after these nightmarish encounters of profound clarity and truth, that are so often found in the midst of a hungover stupor, that elevates the film from being just a wild, sick, ride.
A great movie for Christian Bale and people who want to beat Jared Leto to death with an ax; kind of an awkward movie for people who unironically like Huey Lewis and the News. Some films gain cult status by reflecting niche social or artistic groups who don’t often get lionized in pop culture: goths, stoners, theater geeks, and so on. American Psycho is a bracing look at the orthodox and the aspirational, caricaturing a certain class and type of man by reducing him, like a jam, to his barest urges. It’s unsettling not only because of its graphic violence, but because Bale—in the hands of writer-director Mary Harron—is so uncanny.
The Evil Dead
If there’s a blueprint for a cult flick, this indie provided it. Combine a talented director (Sam Raimi), an unknown but quirkily charismatic star (Bruce Campbell), a producer with a golden touch (Cannes Film Festival cofounder Irvin Shapiro), and a famous fan who helped push for a studio release (Stephen King), and chances are you’ll get word-of-mouth hit.
The Big Lebowski(1998)
A Coen Brother comedy of epic proportions, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as The Dude, a stoner and bowler who finds himself in the midst of an intended hit on a millionaire.
Rule #1 of being a Fight Club fan: Talk about it all the time. The ultimate pent-up masculinity flick, Fight Club stars a group of soap salesmen determined to find an outlet for their dissatisfaction with daily life.
Like many beloved cult classics, Blade Runner was somewhat of a flop upon its initial release in 1982. However, fans of this dystopian sci-fi flick directed by Ridley Scott have since managed to earn the movie acclaim by the time 2019, the year of its plot, rolled around.
Has any movie ever sparked more dorm-room debates? Donnie Darko’s labyrinthine plot deals with the philosophy of time travel have strong religious overtones and are anchored by a Holden Caulfield–type protagonist—a horny antihero who’s smarter than the adults around him, but still has to figure things out for himself. In other words, it’s perfect for 18-to-22-year-olds who love to hear themselves think out loud. Donnie Darko rewards multiple viewings, and even though writer-director Richard Kelly has gone to great lengths to overexplain the plot in the 20 years since its release, no two fans have exactly the same theory as to what it all means, man.
Dazed and Confused
I was way too young to appreciate Dazed and Confused when it came out, and I saw it late enough that my introduction to the film was through jokes about how two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum looked a little like Mitch Kramer. In the intervening 15 or so years, David Wooderson had been elevated to near-Burgundarian levels of movie quotability and about two-thirds of its teen cast had gone on to significant careers in TV and film. Not just Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck, but Milla Jovovich, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Anthony Rapp, Adam Goldberg—by the time I was in college, Dazed and Confused was like a high school yearbook for every famous person from the early 2000s.
A Clockwork Orange(1971)
If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Some cult classics are so memorable that their fans can recite almost every word. Then, there’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, whose fans literally reenact the entire film at each show. If it’s your first trip to Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s mansion, the theatre is the best way to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Though, if you’re not one for distractions during movies (or screaming out the word ‘slut’), maybe opt for a home viewing.