There's no single way to recognize a cult movie other than the simple fact that it's developed a fiercely devoted audience that watches it over and over, preferably at midnight in a theater packed with other die-hards. Few reach the level of The Big Lebowski and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where fans throw giant conventions and come dressed up like their favorite characters, but all are repeatedly watched on DVD and analyzed endlessly on the internet. In honor of the ten year anniversary of Mean Girls (an extremely unlikely candidate for a cult movie, but one nonetheless) we asked our readers to select their favorite cult movies. Click through to see the results.
The incredible success of both the original Evil Dead and its sequel meant that director Sam Raimi had a relatively large budget when it came time for a third movie in 1992. Here, Bruce Campbell is sent back in time to 1300 AD and struggles to find his way back to the present. It's the perfect fusion of comedy and horror, a very tough combination to pull off. The series was essentially rebooted in 2013, but there's still talk of Bruce Campbell returning to the franchise sometime in the near future. Here's hoping.
Right around the same time he scored a huge comeback hit with "I've Got My Mind Set on You," George Harrison produced this hysterical black comedy about two struggling actors in London in 1969. Tired of life in the city, they travel north to a country cottage and get into all sorts of misadventures. This has become a hugely beloved movie in England, though most Americans have never even heard of it.
Rob Reiner may very well be the greatest director of the 1980s, rivaled only by Steven Spielberg. That was the decade that the former All in the Family actor made This Is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, When Harry Met Sally and, in what might be his most worshipped movie not about a rock band, The Princess Bride. It's an amazing romance/adventure/fantasy/comedy film featuring Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn and, in a brilliant bit of casting, Andre the Giant. It opened to rave reviews, and its over the years its reputation has only grown.
A movie about organ transplants in a dystopian future doesn't seem like the right fit for a rock opera, but director Darren Lynn Bousman found a way to make it work. Simply put, the movie takes place in the year 2056, when organ failure has become a huge problem. A huge corporation gives transplants to those that can pay, but miss a payment and you get a visit from the repo man. You really, really don't want that to happen. Things get ugly.
Most cult movies are weirdly wonderful, but every once in a while one comes around that's weirdly terrible. That is definitely the story of The Room, an inadvertently hilarious 2003 movie by the mysterious Tommy Wiseau. Somehow or another, he put together a $6 million budget and made a movie that ranks high on the all-time worst list, complete with horrid acting, continuity flaws and even a breast cancer diagnosis that seems to have no bearing on the plot. Such a movie might seemed doomed for obscurity, but it eventually gained a cult following on the midnight circuit. As unlikely as it may seem, The Room has become the latest Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it currently screens at midnight more than any other movie in the country.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch started as musical in 1998 and has had a longer lifespan than most anyone could have imagined. The original off-broadway play quickly developed a huge following and within three years it was on the big screen, John Cameron Mitchell directing and playing the role of the East German transgender punk singer. The film didn't make much money, but it slowly earned back its budget due to DVD sales. It's back on Broadway now with Neil Patrick Harris. Fans of How I Met Your Mother had no idea what they're in for.
A black-and-white, low-budget comedy about a single day at a convenience story in New Jersey doesn't seem like an obvious candidate for this list, but writer-director infused the movie with so much humor (often rooted in pop culture) that Clerks became a cult classic almost as soon as it hit theaters. It also launched Smith's entire career, and many of his movies take place in the same universe as Clerks, rewarding hardcore fans with constant references to the other films. Smith released a sequel in 2006 and is working on a third installment that he says will complete the trilogy.
The early 1980s were basically utopia for nerds. New and exciting video games were hitting arcades every month, home computers were suddenly available and Star Trek was back in a huge way – new movies were hitting theaters and they were actually pretty good. So just imagine the excitement in the nerd community when they learned that Alien director Ridley Scott was teaming up with Harrison "Han Solo" Ford to make a movie about robots in the future. Blade Runner exceeded their expectations in every way, and over 30 years later they're still arguing about whether or not Harrison Ford's character was a replicant himself. (The general consensus is that he was.) There's been much talk of a sequel in recent years, but Harrison Ford's involvement in the new Star Wars films may make that difficult.
Nerds didn't have much to cling to in 1975. Star Trek was a long-cancelled TV show, there was no Star Wars and video games were limited to rudimentary things like Pong. Dungeons and Dragons hadn't even caught on. Thankfully, 1975 was the year that Monty Python and the Holy Grail came out. A brave generation of early nerds clung to it like a life raft, watching it again and again. They also found ways to work the quotes into daily conversation, almost forming a second language that was quite foreign to the mass culture. Nerds now rule the world, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail is pretty much their official comedy.
Fight Club has become so incredibly popular over the past few years that a few months ago someone took the trouble of going through the movie and digital removing Brad Pitt's character, so Edward Norton can been seen interacting with himself the whole time. Though the film didn't generate much buzz when it first came out, Fight Club has become one of the most beloved cult films of the 1990s. The audience is a little dude-heavy for obvious reasons, but women do occasionally show up to the midnight screenings.
Forever proving that moviae based off a Saturday Night Live skits can actually work, this 1980s classic lead Jake and Elwood Blues to go on a "mission from God" to save their former orphanage. Needless to say, it involves staging a massive concert. Everyone from Aretha Franklin to James Brown to Ray Charles appears in the film. As the 1980s went on, the movie slowly started playing at midnight screenings all across the country. A sequel was made in 1998, but the less said about that the better.
New York was a pretty fucked up place in the late 1970s, but it still wasn't quite as gnarly as director Walter Hill depicted it in his 1979 classic The Warriors. In this version of the city, rival gangs with names like the Baseball Furies and the Rogues occupy various turfs in all five boroughs. They all come together one night for a grand summit, but things quickly fall apart when their leader is assassinated. A member of the Warriors is blamed and the gang is forced to flee to their native Coney Island while fighting off armies of elaborately costumed crews. It's been parodied countless times, and phrases like "can you dig it?" and "warriors, come out and play" have become part of the cultural lexicon, sometimes recited by people that have never even seen the film.
It's May 28th, 1976 and a group of high schoolers are about to wraup up their junior year at Austin's Lee High School. Much like the kids in George Lucas' 1973 classic American Grafitti, they decide to have one last wild night on the town. Not many people caught this when it first arrived in theaters, but it found a huge life on cable and VHS afterwards. It also launched the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parkey Posey, Joey Lauren Adams and many, many others.
Emilio Estevez stumbles into a career with a car repossession agency after finding out that his parents gave his college tuition to a televangelist. The work gets extremely odd extremely quick, and he eventually finds himself wrapped up in a UFO conspiracy. The whole thing is even weirder than it sounds, and it's absolutely brilliant. The 2010 Jude Law movie Repo Men has a similar title, but that's about it.
David Lynch got his start with this surreal 1976 movie about a man who lives in a nightmarish future and has an extremely deformed child. Needless to say, people weren't lining up to fund such a project, and shooting took many years. The end result was a movie unlike anything seen before or since, and it made forever made Lynch a hero of the indie film community. The Pixies recorded their own version of the song "In Heaven" from the movie very early on in their career.
A young Jake Gyllenhaal stars in this 2001 movie about a seriously disturbed high school student who avoids death when a plane engine crushes his bedroom. A figure in a bunny costume tells him the world is going to end 28 days later, but nobody believes him. The film made just $7.7 million during its original run, but it's since developed a huge audience that watches it obsessively.
Brian De Palma directed this 1974 film, essentially a rock version of the Phantom of the Opera. It's about an evil record tycoon, a disfigured composer hellbent on revenge, a pact with Satan and a rock club called the Paradise. The cult behind this movie is small, but very loyal. They even organized the "Phantompalooza" convention in 2005.
Long before he made an unimaginable fortune as the director of the first Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi was a college student at Michigan State obsessed with the idea of making a horror movie. After making a small name for himself with a few short films, he dropped out of school to shoot his long-awaited masterpiece, The Evil Dead. It was nothing like the cheesy mainstream horror flicks of the era, and it actually found a huge audience despite its micro-budget. The flick spawned an Evil Dead franchise and eventually made Raimi a major Hollywood player.
Pink Floyd's 1979 double LP about a rock star whose childhood demons drive him insane seemed custom made for the big screen, though director Alex Parker didn't exactly make a traditional film out of it. Casting Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as the rock star Pink, he made the movie a surreal, psychedelic experience punctuated by animated sequences. Critics were impressed, but it took audiences a little while to catch on, though it soon became a favorite of stoned high school kids all across America.
This 1971 black comedy is about the unlikely romance between a death-obsessed young man and an equally morbid woman in her late seventies. The boy's family is obviously horrified by the relationship, and the woman has a secret plan that ultimately solves the problem, but not before all sorts of dark wackiness ensues. A young Elton John was considered for the lead role, but it ultimately went to Bud Cort.
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange shocked audiences in 1971 with its scenes of rape and graphic violence, and time has done little to dull it. Many filmgoers that got into Kubrick after Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey were horrified by the film, but it also won over a substantial cult very early on and many punk bands that emerged a few years later took some of their fashion sense from the movie. It's also played countless times on the midnight movie circuit and generations of college kids have put the poster on their wall.
Unlike many cult movies, Pulp Fiction was a big hit when it came out and critics absolutely loved it. It is, however, still a regular on the midnight movie circuit, and continue to quote its lines and obsess over all of its details. That means it is absolutely a cult movie, though those fans that keep hoping Quentin Tarantino will break down one day and make a Vega Brothers movie are probably out of luck.
Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap was such a convincing mockumentary that to this day many people think that Spinal Tap is an actual band. Spinal Tap, however, was in on the joke, touring when the movie came out and writing some songs in the years since. Who knows? Maybe the people who think they aren't a real band have become the foolish ones.
Like many cult classics, The Big Lebowski didn't do very well with critics when it first came out. "Kingpin was a much funnier film set in the world of bowling," said Gene Siskel before giving it a thumbs down. "The Jeff Bridges character wasn't worth my time. There's no heart to him." History has proven Gene Siskel wrong. Very, very, very wrong.
Could any other movie have possibly won this poll? This low budget 1975 film tanked when it came out, but the following year a New York theater started showing it at midnight and within months a fiercely devoted cult started seeing it over and over, dressing up like the characters and singing along to the songs. The tradition continues today, though the movement peaked in the 1980s and 1990s. Like many cult movies, there's a quasi-sequel (Shock Treatment) that fails to live up to the original, or even come close.