With Thousands Of Movies That Qualify As Cult Movies, It’s Not Getting Any Easier To Spot New Ones. But We’ve Defied The Odds And Found 15 Of The Best.
For a movie to be considered a “cult film,” it needs a following, but not just any group of people will do. After all, films like The Avengers draw big audiences, but you could hardly group them into the camp of cult. No, by their very nature, cult films are exclusionary. They won’t often find mainstream appeal even when they beat expectations and produce profits at the box office. They are movies with the brass cojones to stand up, be subversive, and proudly proclaim, “This ain’t for everyone.” They can also inspire annual watch parties, costume contests, and are oft-quoted among a close group of friends. They’re not afraid to shock, offend, or just revel in their own quirkiness. They can be scary, violent, funny, or offensive.
The definition really is quite broad, but if we had to simplify as much as possible, we’d say they are movies that inspire fans’ reverence. The following list of cult movies may not have millions of fans. They may not have even been seen by millions of people. But they’ve got a spark that will make them just as beloved and revered decades from now.
NOTE: We wanted to do something different than Total Film, which has already picked their 34 Best Cult Films of All Time. Rather than regurgitate the same old familiar classics, we’ve decided to limit our picks to the last 15 years, and have 15 films that correspond to the timeframe. Let’s begin:
1. The Big Lebowski (1998)
“Dude” Lebowski seeks restitution for his ruined rug, enlisting a ragtag group of bowling buddies to help get it in this tale of mistaken identity.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: So many quotable lines, unhinged and hilarious performances out of its two main stars, and the Coen Brothers’ knack for quirky casting, make this one stand out. The characters and the writing are so outrageous and layered that you can watch it a dozen times and find something to laugh about every single time.
2. Donnie Darko (2001)
A troubled teen is haunted by hallucinations involving a large bunny rabbit that convinces him to commit a series of crimes after he survives a freak accident.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: The visuals and the complexity of the lead character make Donnie Darko one of those “not for everyone” spectacles that can nevertheless speak to the outcast in us all. The unique visuals and “out there” plot set this entry on our cult movies list comfortably outside the mainstream, but writer-director Richard Kelly’s handling of the story and a strong performance by young Jake Gyllenhaal won’t let you forget this one any time soon.
3. True Grit (2010)
US Marshal Rooster Cogburn and a Texas Ranger help a young girl find the man, who killed her father.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: Replace John Wayne with anyone else but Jeff Bridges, and you’d better have the Coen Brothers in charge of the film. Luckily, this remake has both. And if you don’t think it has a cult following, then you’ve never been to Fort Smith, Arkansas.
4. Ninja Assassin (2009)
A young ninja flees from the sadistic ninja cult that raised him and must use his knowledge to fight back when they come after him.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: As someone who’d rather be watching a cult movie than any other type, I find myself gravitating toward this flick more than any other. It’s got lots of gruesome goodness, bubbles over with testosterone, and actually makes you want to go sign up for karate classes immediately — before you grab another bag of chips and head back to the couch anyway.
5. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
A vengeful ex-cop wages a one-man war on the mafia. That war leaves one ruthless mob boss, Jigsaw, badly scarred and out for blood.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: Revenge epics often find themselves classified into the cult movies category, and this is no exception. The on-screen mayhem is diabolical and will have you jumping out of your seat with each new explosion, shooting, decapitation, and evisceration director Lexi Alexander throws at you.
6. Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Leslie Vernon sees himself as the next great horror movie psycho killer, and he’s allowing unprecedented access to a documentary film crew as he trains to become the new horror legend.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: Behind the Mask wouldn’t work if not for the loving homage that director Scott Glosserman pays to the campfire killers of yore. All the conventions are here — they’re supposed to be, Leslie makes sure of it — but each one is cleverly repackaged into a documentary format with a keen sense of humor in spite of the impending horror.
7. Zombieland (2009)
A quartet of survivors during a zombie holocaust find family in each other as they fight their way across America in search of safety.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: It definitely isn’t the plot. Zombies haven’t been original in quite some time. However, each one of the lead characters are completely lovable everymen (and everywomen). They know how to bring the funny and that, along with graphic tongue-in-cheek violence, always makes for instant cult classic acclaim. (And obviously, we’re talking about the movie here, not that awful Amazon Originals pilot.)
8. Mamma Mia! (2008)
A bride-to-be is looking for her real father so she can get married and have dad walk her down the aisle. Trouble is, it could be any one of three guys.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: Based on the musical, which had a rabid following of its own, the film version was a nice translation as long as Pierce Brosnan wasn’t singing. ABBA music is, unfortunately, catchy and hard to get out of your head, and here they’re meshed well with the story.
9. The Sleeper (2012)
Set in the 1980s — that glorious decade of slasher movie mayhem — a manic psychopath uses a hammer and other diabolical instruments of doom in doling out grievous bodily harm to the girls of Alpha Gamma Theta.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: Writer-director Justin Russell clearly had affection for the sandbox he was playing in. If you don’t believe us, go back and watch slasher classics like When a Stranger Calls or He Knows You’re Alone; then, try to tell us with a straight face that he doesn’t nail it. The cinematography, the music, the fashions — everything perfectly replicates the bygone era of the body count film, and nostalgia is always awesome when done right. Here, it is.
10. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
A group of Nazi killers attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: No one writes characters and dialogue like Mr. Quentin Tarantino, but this movie has a little bit more going for it than what you would expect from movies like Django and Kill Bill. It’s hilarious and vile, and a nice piece of revisionist history. The nightmarish theater fire near the end of the film is a gorgeous piece of cinematography, and the envelope for where historical films were allowed to go received a massive push with one particular aspect of the ending that we will not spoil for those of you who haven’t seen it.
11. Insidious (2010)
A couple’s young son goes in to a coma with little explanation. Shortly after doing so, nightmarish visions begin to plague everyone in the family until mom and dad realize that sometimes it isn’t the house that’s haunted.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: If you’re not breaking this shocker from director James Wan out every Halloween, then there is something wrong with you. The scares come fast and furious from beginning to end to this horror lover’s delight, and that’s in spite of the fact it’s PG-13.
12. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
An outcast teen with a quirky family (and several quirks of his own) vows to help his friend win the class presidency.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: This entry on our list of cult movies is one of those comedies that scores laughs as much on attitude as it does with the words coming out of its characters’ mouths. At the height of ND’s popularity, it was one of the most oft-quoted flicks of the year. Shot for less than $500,000, it hauled in an impressive $46.1 million at the box office.
13. Rambo (2008)
Rambo kills some really awful bad guys by the hundreds.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: By the fourth entry in the Rambo series, our expectations for Sylvester Stallone were at rock bottom, though briefly picked up by the sixth Rocky film in 2006. But since Rambo II and III were utter crapfests, a fourth film had its work cut out for it. Then, we saw it, and oh man. Not only was it the best of the series, it’s one of the best films Stallone has ever done period. But if you can’t handle brutality, you should definitely stay away from it. The violence goes well beyond the cartoon brutality of The Expendables. Nevertheless, it manages to tap in to that primal side of humanity that loves seeing bad things happen to individuals, who maliciously try and hurt others — you know, eye for an eye and all that.
14. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Two young lovers flee their small town existence and cause a search party to go looking for them.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: With film references galore, a stellar soundtrack, and characters who take themselves and their situations way too seriously, Moonrise Kingdom is a hilarious farce that packs so much into its 94 minutes that you’ll be able to watch it several times and notice something new with each viewing. Writer-director Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola have such an obvious love for childhood that shines through in the material.
15. Office Space (1999)
An IT worker at the end of his rope goes to an occupational hypnotherapist, who convinces the worker to let go of all his inhibitions. But the hypnotherapist dies before he can bring the man out of his trance. Hilarity ensues.
Why It’s A Cult Classic: There are three types of people: those who love Office Space, those who’ve never seen it, and those who’ve never worked in an office before. The stupidity of corporate America shows through with sidesplitting laughter and a positive message: “Most people hate their jobs, but you have to go out and find something that makes you happy.”
Those are our picks for the best cult movies of the last 15 years. Which ones did we leave off the list?