A cult classic, also known as a cult film, is any film that has required a cult following or a fanbase that is passionate and dedicated to the film. As you’ll notice in some of the films listed in this article, the film’s box office success has virtually nothing to do with whether or not it becomes a cult classic. In fact, based on the list below, you’ll notice that, perhaps, the worse a film does in the box office, the more likely it is to end up a cult classic. People like these films for various reasons. In some cases, they hit the “it’s so bad, it’s good” category, for others, it’s the sheer quotability or even the creative edge (be it visual or story-based) that simply strikes a chord with some viewers. Mainstream viewers and film critics may have polarizing views on such films, but the cult fanbase will not be swayed. They will continue on with their dialogue-quoting, audience participating, costume fashioning subculture. If your goal as a filmmaker is to create the next cult classic, I would encourage you to walk into it with your eyes wide shut, so to speak. Know that poking and prodding the culture, breaking taboos, and doing film “wrong” will paint a critical bullseye on your back. Not everyone will get it. Your family and friends might not get it. But some people will. Those people are your people. Create for them. Target them with your marketing strategies. Bring them in and keep them close. And now, thanks to the internet and social media, it is even easier to find your target audience, your true cult fanbase.
Citizen Kane is a cult classic that came out in 1941 and was produced and directed by Orson Wells. Herman J Mankiewicz co-wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Wells. Many critics and experts consider Citizen Kane to be the greatest film ever made. The film follows a reporter who is sent to decipher a newspaper magnet’s last word, “Rosebud”.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a parody film that came out in 1978 and was produced by J. Stephen Peace and John DeBello and was directed by John DeBello. The film is a spoof of B movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. The story is about tomatoes somehow becoming sentient and revolting against humanity.
The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys is a supernatural, horror, vampire flick that was released by Warner Bros in July 1987 and was directed by Joel Schumacher, produced by Harvey Bernhard with a screenplay written by Jeffrey Boam. The Lost Boys is a call back to stories like Peter Pan in which the boys become vampires and never grow up, much like the lost boys of Neverland. Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Feldman, Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrmann, Billy Wirth, Brooke McCarter, Alex Winter, Jamison Newlander, and Barnard Hughes star in the film.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a musical comedy-drama that was released in 2001. The cult film was adapted for the screen and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is a musical fantasy film that was released in 1939 and was based on the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The film was primarily directed by Victor Fleming and stars Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton. The Wizard of Oz was considered a critical success and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. According to the Library of Congress, it is the most seen film in movie history.
Reservoir Dogs is a crime film that was released in 1992. Reservoir Dogs is regarded as an independent film as well as a cult classic and was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film stars Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Tarantino, and Edward Bunker. The film follows these main characters before and after their planned diamond heist. Since this was Quentin Tarantino’s first film, it was considered a modest success in the United States until after Tarantino’s next feature film, Pulp Fiction (another cult classic), was released, then Reservoir Dogs achieved higher popularity.
Blade Runner is a science fiction film that was released in 1982. Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. The film is set in Los Angeles in a dystopian future (2019).
Valley of the Dolls
Valley of the Dolls was released in 1967 as a drama film directed by Mark Robson. Valley of the Dolls was produced by Mark Robson and David Weisbart and stars Barbara Parkins, Patty Duke, Sharon Tate, Susan Hayward, Paul Burke, and Lee Grant. The film follows three women who struggle to forge careers in the entertainment industry, each falling into an addiction to "dolls" (depressant pills). Valley of the Dolls received largely negative reviews from critics but had a good box office turn-out.
The James Bond series follows the adventures of al British Secret Service agent that was created by Ian Fleming in 1953. Ian Fleming wrote twelve novels and two short story collections about his James Bond character. Also known as 007, James Bond has been adapted to comics, radio, television, video games, and feature films that were released as recently as 2021. Since Fleming’s death, a number of novelists have added to his collection of Bond stories. Ian Fleming truly created a cult classic that continued living and thriving well beyond him and was adapted into just about every entertainment medium available.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is a fantasy adventure comedy that was released in 1987. The Princess Bride was directed and co-produced by Rob Reiner and stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, and Christopher Guest. The Princess Bride tells the story of a poor farmhand named Westley who must rescue his true love, Princess Buttercup, from the terrible Prince Humperdinck. As with many cult classic films, the initial box office claimed success, but nothing particularly remarkable was showcased in the numbers, but over the years The Princess Bride has become a cult classic and was inducted into the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Twin Peaks is a mystery/horror/drama television series that premiered on ABC in 1990. The two-season series was created by Mark Forst and David Lynch. Following its cancellation, the show gained a cult following and has been referenced across media platforms ever since. The series is set in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, and follows an investigation headed up by the FBI to discover the truth about the murder of the homecoming queen. The series stars Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, and Sheryl Lee.
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Plan 9 from Outer Space is a black and white sci-fi horror film that was released in 1957. The independent cult film was produced, written, directed, and edited by Ed Wood. Plan 9 From Outer Space depicts concerned extraterrestrials who are determined to stop the human race from creating a weapon that could destroy the whole universe. The film stars Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, and "Vampira" (Maila Nurmi) and is narrated by Criswell. Dubbed as the “worst film ever made”, the film won two Golden Turkey Awards; Worst Director Ever and Worst Film Ever. This film’s cult following falls into the “it’s so bad it’s good” category.
Heavy Metal is an adult animated science fantasy film that was directed by Gerald Potterton and produced by Ivan Reitman and Leonard Mogel. Heavy Metal was released in 1981. It stars the voices of Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, and more.
This is Spinal Tap
This Is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary film written and directed by Rob Reiner in 1984. The film is predominately adlibbed and pokes fun at the behavior and musically pretentious tendencies rock bands showcase in their documentaries. It stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as members of “one of England’s loudest bands”, Spinal Tap.
Fight Club was released in 1999 and was directed by David Fincher. Eventually declared by the New York Times to be the “defining cult movie of our time”, Fight Club initially saw polarizing reviews from film critics and losses at the box office. The film follows a discontented man in a white-collar job who meets a soap salesman and the two form the infamous “fight club”. The film stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a British comedy film based around the Arthurian legend and the quest of the Holy Grail that was released in 1975. The film was written and performed by the Monty Python comedy group whose members included Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was directed by Gilliam and Jones.
Evil Dead is a supernatural horror film franchise created by Sam Raimi. The Evil Dead consists of four feature films and a television series. The original trilogy includes the films The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness.
Office Space is a black comedy film that was released in 1990 and was written and directed by Mike Judge. The film stars Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, Gary Cole, Stephen Root, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, and Diedrich Bader. Office Space is a satirical representation of the average white-collar American workplace. Initially, the box office saw losses, but after it aired on Comedy Central repeatedly, it sold well on home video and became a cult hit.
Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused is a coming-of-age comedy film that was released in1993. Dazed and Confused was written and directed by Richard Linklater and features a cast made up of Jason London, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Nicky Katt, Joey Lauren Adams, and Rory Cochrane. The film follows various groups of teenagers during the last day of school in Texas in 1976.
Pulp Fiction is a crime film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino that was released in 1994. The film stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman. Pulp Fiction was inspired by the language and graphic violence that the pulp magazine and certain crime novels that were popular during the mid-20th century possessed. The plot occurs out of chronological order and refers back to itself throughout the film. Despite the film’s initial trouble getting picked up, Miramax ended up snatching it and mainstream audiences loved it. It became a major critical and commercial success.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 musical comedy horror film that was adapted from the musical stage production The Rocky Horror Show. The film was produced by Lou Adler and Michael White and directed by Jim Sharman. This film is a comedic tribute to sci-fi B movies that were created during the 1930s and up through the 1960s. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest-running theatrical release in film history and maintains its tradition of audience participation in which live shadow-casts act out the film as it is being shown. Part of The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s success as a cult film has to do with local television stations airing low-budget genre films late at night. The midnight movie tradition began in the 1950s but made the slight adjustment to focus on “off-beat” movies in the early 1970s with the goal of creating repeat viewers and a cult film audience.
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