Top 10 Cult Classic Movies Everyone NEEDS to See At Least Once
VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio
WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
These cult classics need to be seen to be believed! For this list, we'll be ranking impactful cult films that should be ingested at least once as part of a balanced cinematic diet. Our countdown includes "The Evil Dead”, "The Room", “Donnie Darko”, and more!
Top 10 Cult Classic Movies Everyone Needs to See at Least Once
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Cult Classic Movies Everyone Needs to See at Least Once.
For this list, we’ll be ranking impactful cult films that should be ingested at least once as part of a balanced cinematic diet. We’ll be omitting Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” since that film has long since made good on its initially disappointing run, while also tossing up a spoiler alert for good measure.
Have you seen all of these? Let us know in the comments!
#10: “The Evil Dead” (1981)
Fans of the more comedic side of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” franchise might be surprised to discover the grim, gruesome and downright nasty nature of the OG film. “The Evil Dead” from 1981 earned accolades from publications like Fangoria Magazine, who labeled it a “milestone” for the horror genre. The comedic beats are there, but they’re substantially more subdued in favor of a tone that revels in practical gore effects, heavy scares and the absolute decimation of its characters. Raimi truly went for the jugular with this one, while star Bruce Campbell would go on to play Ash Williams throughout multiple sequels and spin-offs. But there’s only ONE “Evil Dead.”
#9: “Barbarella” (1968)
Jane Fonda was a vision and a revelation in 1968’s “Barbarella,” a stunning example of swinging sixties cinema at its most free-wheeling. There’s a lightness and humor to “Barbarella” as it traipses around a galaxy of silly monsters and sexy shenanigans. Fonda embodies the free love sentiment of the era, an adventurer that plays up sixties spy tropes in outer space, as she hunts down the renegade scientist Durand Durand. The set design of “Barbarella” is wildly imaginative, and more than makes up for the threadbare plot, while Fonda’s physical presence is both captivating and compelling. This is weaponized sexuality that’s large, in charge and unapologetic.
#8: “The Room” (2003)
Are you sick of hearing about “The Room” yet? Well, buckle up, buttercup, because this cult classic is never going away! Not when there are still newcomers to director Tommy Wiseau’s own unique brand of cinematic insanity. Some cult classics earn a reputation over time due to the quality of their content, but in Wiseau’s case, it’s how “The Room” is bereft of that quality. It’s outlaw cinema via a car crash, where one man’s Tennessee Williams fantasies are brought to the screen with weird dialogue, awkward sex scenes and quotable moments that have burrowed their way into a subculture’s subconscious.
#7: “Repo Man” (1984)
Said quite simply, there’s no film quite like 1984’s “Repo Man.” This anarchic cult classic works wonderfully as a snapshot of West Coast punk rock, thanks to the participation of bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Beyond this, there’s an underlying strangeness to “Repo Man” and its tale of working stiffs, weirdos and a Chevy that may or may not belong to alien life. Director Alex Cox inserted black comedy, action and political satire about 1980s consumerism into his film, but “Repo Man” never feels heavy handed. Instead, the film works almost like a dream (or nightmare) about a Los Angeles that may or may not exist. But, hey, you’ll have a blast going along for the ride.
#6: “Heathers” (1989)
“Heathers” was remarkably ahead of its time back in 1989. This film from director Michael Lehmann and screenwriter Daniel Waters was prescient with its depictions of class, gender and violence. “Heathers” is a comedy, sure, but it’s absolutely black as pitch and presents high school as nothing short of a battleground - a human zoo of social landmines. The dark and at times shocking story beats of “Heathers” would be reused many years later in films like “Jawbreaker,” but there’s just a magic to the casting here that places “Heathers” in a class all its own. Winona Ryder? Christian Slater? We’re looking at you.
#5: “The Warriors” (1979)
Ok, first things first: if you’re gonna watch “The Warriors,” make absolutely sure that it’s the theatrical original, and not Walter Hill’s director’s cut. This is because Hill’s second version added in animated sequences and an introduction that dampened “The Warriors” visceral, somewhat controversial impact. Original screenings of the film actually saw violence erupt in theaters, skirmishes that, according to Hill, were the result of real street gangs mixing it up while watching the fictional “Warriors” up on the screen. Infamy aside, “The Warriors” remains a slice of broad, pulpy action with tons of memorable characters, a funky score and instantly quotable dialogue. Can you dig it?
#4: “Donnie Darko” (2001)
Here, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re watching the OG theatrical or 2004’s Director’s Cut, “Donnie Darko '' is a film quite unlike any other. Like many cult classics, it wasn’t a financial success during its initial run, but time has been kind to Richard Kelly’s bizarre science fiction vision. Critics applauded its mood and production design, while fans gravitated towards the disturbing character of Frank, as well as “Donnie Darko’s” surreal style of storytelling. It may actually require multiple viewings in order to truly pick up what “Donnie Darko” is putting down, but every great journey starts with a single step, and we highly recommend doing just this by making time for “Donnie Darko.”
#3: “Clerks” (1994)
What more can we say about a cult movie that was the ultimate example of putting it all on the table? Director Kevin Smith sacrificed everything getting “Clerks” made, maxing out credit cards and bankrupting himself in order to bring this story of everyday retail slobs to the screen. Obviously, it worked, because we’re here talking about it now, but “Clerks” is still hilarious and quotable. This is thanks largely to Smith’s sharp and clever script, as well as the performances of Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson as the titular clerks, while Smith and co-star Jason Mewes create magic with their “Jay and Silent Bob” characters. To quote the movie’s poster: “just because they serve you, doesn’t mean they like you.”
#2: “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986)
John Carpenter has helmed some of horror’s most celebrated classics, like “Halloween” and “The Thing,” while also combining action-packed sci-fi with biting social satire. “Big Trouble in Little China '' was something a little different, a fantasy-action picture with boundless imagination that still managed to feel like Carpenter to the core. There’s an element of the martial arts here, a level of choreography and scope that’s a ways away from the director’s independent roots. It all works, though, thanks in part to star Kurt Russell and his boundless charisma. “Big Trouble in Little China '' is tons of fun, and once again proved John Carpenter’s mettle and ingenuity behind the camera.
Before we name our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions!
“Flash Gordon” (1980)
A Sci-Fi Feast for the Eyes
“Vampire’s Kiss” (1989)
Come for the Kiss, Stay for the Cage
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)
A Big Screen Adaptation of the Hit Musical
“The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” (1984)
Everybody in the Pool for Some Genre-Hopping Strangeness!
“Black Dynamite” (2009)
The Ultimate Tribute to Classic Blaxploitation
#1: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
There are “cult classics” and then there are “midnight movies.” This “little film that could” is actually both, and it’s not out of the question to label “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as something of a cultural phenomenon. Is it a musical? Yes. A comedy? Sure. But wait, it’s also musical theater, and the ultimate audience participation trip. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has thrived for decades because of this rabid fan following, but the film is also a loving tribute to monster movies, rock ‘n roll and sexual deviancy. You know, good wholesome family fun! It’s also essential viewing for any self-respecting student of weird and wild cinema.