There are a lot of movies that are considered cult classics, but these are the ones that have truly earned their spot amongst the most beloved of all time. Whether they found their audience on the home video market or through midnight movie screenings, these films had to have an undying following in order to earn that title.
1. Escape from New York
Escape from New York is probably the most iconic of John Carpenter’s post-apocalyptic thrillers. The director of Halloween, The Fog, and Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter was already a master at creating high-concept horror films when he made Escape from New York in 1981.
It’s a near-future dystopia where Manhattan has been transformed into an entirely criminalized city, and Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent to rescue the president (Donald Pleasence) who was kidnapped by the head of New York’s prison system, Isaac Hayes.
While it may not generate the same level of excitement as Die Hard, Escape from New York is a compelling film that reflects on how New York City has become isolated. Its action scenes are impressively shot and it’s also worth noting that the movie was filmed on a very modest budget of $7 million.
2. They Live
John Carpenter’s They Live is an excellent example of how a cult movie can be both a fun action flick and a social commentator. It’s a surprisingly political piece, based on the 1963 Ray Nelson short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning.”
The film tackles issues of homelessness, wealth inequality, resource exploitation, colonialism, police states, climate change and media responsibility. It also takes aim at Reagan-era policies of unchecked corporate greed & consumerism.
They Live is a political satire that never fails to satisfy on repeat viewings. It’s also full of catchphrases, quotable one-liners and an iconic fight between Roddy Piper and Kieth David.
3. The Room
The Room is one of those rare laugh-riots that is so fantastically inept as to border on genius. There are stretches of terrible dialogue, deer-in-the-headlights performances, and positively icky sex scenes that will have you howling from start to finish.
The film follows a couple, Kate and Matt, who move into a new house and discover a mysterious room. Within this room, anything a person wishes for will become a reality.
The Room, however, is much more than a wacky comedy about a couple who can’t keep their mouths shut. It’s a psychological drama about love, friendship, and how material goods can sometimes only take us so far.
One of David Lynch’s most surreal and darkly humorous films, Eraserhead is a classic for its unsettling themes and bizarre characters. It follows eccentric loner Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) as he goes through the process of becoming a parent to a child that doesn’t appear to be entirely human.
While many horror movies rely on body gore to get the audience on board, Eraserhead bypasses this strategy. Instead it goes after the mind.
The film’s unique tone and disturbing sound design can be a bit hard to digest at times, but it still manages to create an insidious, alienating experience. That’s why Eraserhead is so great for fans of unconventional horror films. It’s the kind of movie that will keep you up at night. And you might just find yourself rewatching it over and over again.
5. A Bucket of Blood
Roger Corman, the prolific low-budget auteur behind a number of notable films including I Mobster, Machine Gun Kelly and The Wasp Woman, made this satirical dark comedy during one of his most creative periods. A Bucket of Blood, purportedly cranked out in less than a week, is hailed as a sharp social satire.
The film’s gallows humor and murder set pieces are a bit over the top, but it’s a lot of fun and offers an interesting take on the “horror as art” genre.
Walter Paisley (Dick Miller), a hapless busboy at a beatnik cafe in Greenwich Village, yearns to be as famous as the poets and musicians he serves coffee to. However, the adulation soon begins to push him into the murder business. The film is an incredibly witty parody of beatnik hipsterism, and it’s just as much a horror comedy as it is a spoof.
Labyrinth, released in 1986, is a quirky film with an incredible roster of talent including Jim Henson and Terry Jones from Muppets fame, David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. Originally a box office flop, it has since become a cult classic.
The plot is a basic fairytale story about a girl named Sarah who gets trapped in a strange, fantasy world. She must use her wits to navigate this mysterious, perilous labyrinth in order to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King before time runs out.
In addition to being a classic children’s movie, Labyrinth is also a dark fantasy that rejects princess-ism in favor of an empowered female hero. The film also highlights the tension between childhood imagination and adult responsibilities.
7. The Greasy Strangler
Jim Hosking’s debut feature is a twisted comedy that’s the closest you’ll get to a John Waters Trash Trilogy. It’s a film that takes a lot of cues from Troma and the fashionable surreal comedy sensibilities of Tim and Eric or Quentin Dupieux, but it also has its own unique weirdness.
The Greasy Strangler is a cult favorite that was one of the most talked about films at Sundance this year. It may not appeal to everyone, but it’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates unflinching oddity and twisted humor.
Father-and-son duo Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Brayden (Sky Elobar) run a disco walking tour of their small Los Angeles town, where they meet Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo). When a mysterious woman comes along and begins to fall for them both, Ronnie is drawn to lathering himself up in grease and killing people.
8. The Dark Crystal
Among Jim Henson’s many contributions to the world of puppetry, The Dark Crystal is probably his most ambitious. Billed at the time as the first live-action film to not feature a single human character, it’s an epic tale set on Thra, a planet that splits and cracks into two vying cultures: the evil Skeksis who harness a dark crystal for their power, and the patient Mystics who work in harmony with the other.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, The Dark Crystal is a true cult classic and a testament to Henson’s unique talent. Its puppetry is as beautiful and fluid as any in film history, and the sets and creatures are incredibly inventive.
9. The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Fell to Earth, a 1976 film based on Walter Tevis’ novel, is an important sci-fi work that delves deeply into human nature and our planet’s dwindling resources. It reflects on a culture of over-consumption and distraction by social media, while also examining race relations, immigration, evolution and extinction.
While The Man Who Fell to Earth is a classic, it isn’t without its flaws. The film’s edgy and experimental style isn’t always the most appealing to a general audience, especially since it was adapted into a TV series by Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman.
The new version of the show isn’t a direct adaptation, but it still centers on the titular alien Faraday (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and his relationship with Justin Falls (Naomie Harris). This is a must-watch for fans of the original, but Showtime should take care to make this adaptation a more audience-friendly affair, otherwise, it will be one more cult classic that gets relegated to a streaming service.
10. The Devil’s Rejects
If you love gore, a good story and a little violence, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects is a must-watch. The sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, it takes the same psychopathic Firefly family on a killing spree that will sicken you.
There’s a lot more to this film than what you might expect from a director like Zombie. Rather than take a more traditional slasher route, the filmmaker takes a more political approach to his characters and their stories.
The movie is shot in a similar style to many of the cheesy grindhouse movies from the ’70s, but it never feels amateurish or hackneyed. It’s a great example of Zombie’s true devotion to his genre.