There is a sub-genre of films that we all must pay homage to: Cult Classics. Everyone has their own criteria for what makes a movie a cult classic, but through some vigorous internet research and my own dashing flair for making awesome top ten lists, I have come up with a list of what I consider the Crème of the Cult.
This very well could be the first Anime you ever saw. It may be the only Anime you have ever seen. If that is the case, you have done alright, this is one of the best there is. Granted, I have not seen a whole heck of a lot of Anime, but the sheer scope and size of Akira makes it easily a frontrunner in the genre. There are some awesome motorcycle chases, psychic powers, great cartoon violence, and a compelling storyline. If you have never seen any Anime, go ahead and start here.
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
There are some movies that are just hard to watch. This is the greatest of those movies. The film bombards you with a morality tale about a villainous and charismatic gang leader, his forced rehabilitation, and the consequences of those actions. The sheer violence of this film is enough to make it a difficult film to endure, but it contributes so much to the overall tone of the film, that it’s just hard to conceive a version that could be tamer and also as poignant. You will also never hear Beethoven’s ‘glorious’ 9th Symphony, Ode to Joy, the same way again.
Clerks (1994)/Office Space (1999)
I put these two together because they really are two sides of the same coin, looking at the drudgery and tedium of being a working schlub, and the only real difference is the setting. In Clerks we see the first and best work out of Kevin Smith who introduces memorable characters, shocked theatergoers with some epic profanity, and gave new meaning to the number 37. In Office Space, Mike Judge proved he was more than Beavis and Butthead with a touching story of a man who does what we all wish we could do at work and somehow manages to get away with it, PLUS he gets to hook up with Jennifer Aniston. Coincidentally, the number 37 also appears in this film as the amount of ‘flair’ worn by the annoying server. One other similarity is that both directors have roles in the films with minimal speaking parts: Smith as Silent Bob, and Judge as Aniston’s boss who calls her out for lack of ‘flair’.
Army of Darkness (1992)
Keen eyed readers will note that I don’t have any true horror films on my list, even though many such films are considered to be cult classics. I must admit that I don’t have a particular fondness for the horror genre, so a movie that includes elements of horror has to have something else for me to latch on to, such as the final chapter in the Evil Dead trilogy: Army of Darkness. This film represents the best of both director Sam Raimi, and lead actor Bruce Campbell. The shtick is fun, the gags are hilarious, the monsters are deliciously cheesy, including some great Harryhausen style skeletons, and this film will keep you laughing all the way till the credits roll.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Look up ‘cult movie’ and you’ll find Big Lebowski somewhere near the top of every list. It’s not my personal fave, but one cannot underestimate the power of the Dude…who spawned a religion. Dudeism is real…and it is chill. From the memorable moments like the rug that ties the room together, to Gutter Balls, to The Jesus, this Coen Brothers masterwork sticks with you. The cast is a big factor in that, from Sam Elliott and his epic moustache as the Stranger, to Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Tara Reid (in her first major motion picture role), Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro and even Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing a nihilist.
With this film you have to start with the cast. Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Leslie Ann Warren, Martin Mull, Michael McKean, and Colleen Camp as the voluptuous maid Yvette. There is just such a unique quality about this film, it was written with three different endings, all three were shot, and a different one was sent to each theater. The pacing of this film is just incredible, the acting is phenomenal. Little known fact: Carrie Fisher was cast in the role of Ms. Scarlet but had to drop out of the film to enter rehab, and the great line from Madeline Kahn about ‘flames…on the side of my face…’ was a total improv, and one of the only ones that made the cut to the final film. I can also watch this movie anytime.
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Yeah, I’ll go double Reiner on you! This mockumentary is performed so flawlessly that even some of the really smart people I know watched a good portion of the film before they realized it was not the recorded events of an actual band. Rockers like Ozzy Osborne, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Dee Snyder, and Glenn Danzig all spoke about how they could relate to the film, many even confessing that they too had gotten lost in the labyrinth of certain backstage areas while trying to find their way to the stage. Others use Spinal Tap to reference elements of their band, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers comparing their revolving door of guitarists that play in their band to the long list of Tap drummers, or Pearl Jam having that same issue with drummers and saying it was “Very Spinal Tap” of them.
Animal House (1978)
It’s one of the most profitable movies ever made, shot for 2.7 million with an estimated return of 141 million in video sales alone…and that’s not including merchandising. I own this movie on VHS, DVD, and even on Laserdisc…and I don’t even own a Laserdisc player. I think this movie counts as a cult classic in that it can continually be found by a new audience long after its run in theaters. On every college campus across the world, there is one dude who has a copy of this film and delights in showing it to freshmen every year to introduce them into what college life could be like. There have been many imitators over the years to try and strike that same gold again with films like Van Wilder, Accepted, Old School, or even Son in Law falling way short of the glorious charm and sheer fun of Animal House. TOGA! TOGA!
Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
This movie introduced Tim Curry to the world, so that alone makes it meritorious of my coveted number one spot. This film has been running in theaters non-stop for nearly four decades, a world record. It has loving care devoted to the B-movie roots it grows from including numerous references in the opening song to the fact that it was shot in the same mansion as many of the Hammer horror classics. This film is the penultimate cult classic because of the natural transition it made from a theatrical release to a staple of what came to be known as the Midnight release genre. From there it took a life of its own as audiences embraced it and made their own contributions to the experience by dressing up and interacting with the screen, filling the quiet spaces with lines of their own, throwing objects at the screen and making the whole show an experience that you have to go through to really understand.
Reefer Madness (1936)
Originally funded by a church group under the title Tell Your Children, this propaganda exploitation film sought to inform parents of the dangers of marihuana, and then to have those parents teach their children to avoid the herb. It was forgotten for decades until NORML founder Keith Stroup found it in the Library of Congress in 1971 and paid a whopping $297 for a copy and sent it back out into the world who was ready and eager to make fun of the over-the-top and laughable portrayals of the effects of smoking weed. Oh, and by the way, distributing Reefer Madness to the college campuses in the 70’s helped bankroll the up and coming film studio New Line Cinema. They brought you a little film trilogy called Lord of the Rings.
In 1995 I was fifteen years old. That said, this movie was horrible the first time I saw it, it was horrible the second time I saw it, it was horrible the tenth time I saw it…you get the picture. It may be a terrible film, but that doesn’t mean I can STOP watching it. I have a strange addiction to Paul Verhoven films. Him and Baz Luhrmann…I just can’t shake em.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
I agonized about whether or not to include this in my list or not, because it was both a commercial and critical success. But that said, there are the kind of people who can watch this movie once and appreciate it…then there are those that can watch this movie over and over and over trying to find new meaning and new symbolism in each cut, each frame, each camera shot. This film is Kubrick’s masterpiece, and while some may not think of this as a cult film, it is to me because there are those that watch it to see the technical accomplishments, some who watch it out of respect for the critical acclaim, but the cult followers will put it on just to put on a movie.
Well, there it is. My soul has been bared for all. Let the mockery commence. Remember before you start pointing your finger and laughing that you too have a few DVD skeletons in your collection. I can take the abuse, but why not just share in the fun and post some of yours!