Not a member? Sign up now
The 50 Greatest Cult Movies of All Time
It's midnight somewhere.
By Phil Nugent and Andrew Osborne
"Cult movie" is a hard thing to pin down. For the purposes of this list — celebrating the tenth anniversary of Donnie Darko — we've put a premium on the intensity and selectiveness of a movie's appeal. We've also limited each director to one film. See
you at midnight!
1. Barbarella (1968)
The first R-rated comic-book movie stars Jane Fonda as a planet-hopping secret agent who has trouble keeping her clothes on. It was directed by Fonda's then-husband, Roger Vadim, who must have seen it as an opportunity to spend nine million dollars' of producer Dino De Laurentiis' money just to tell every ticket-buying man in the world, "Eat your heart out!" — P.N.
2. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Any movie can have fans, and just about any science fiction, fantasy, or superhero movie these days might inspire those fans to dress up as their favorite characters and attend a convention. But the cult of the Coen Brothers' stoner detective bowling phantasmagoria is even more grassroots and bizarre, with the faithful not just mimicking characters from the film, but also props and appendages (like the rug that really ties the Dude's room together and Bunny Lebowski's severed toe). — A.O.
3. Brazil (1985)
Terry Gilliam's Brazil is the arguably the best (unofficial) movie version of Orwell's 1984 ever made, and certainly beats the pants off every official version. The movie only became more legendary, and more dear to the hearts of its cultists, thanks to Universal Pictures' attempts to geld it; their "happy ending" version is hilarious precisely because it looks as if it had been re-edited by Brazil's propagandist villains. — P.N.
4. Breathless (1960)
American film brats from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino have long been devotees of the French New Wave, helping to popularize the movement's aesthetic of handheld cinematography, jump cuts, and cool-cat naturalism. Jean-Luc Godard's tale of lovers on the lam was itself inspired by film noir, and has since returned the favor by influencing the style of countless Hollywood film and TV productions, from Bonnie & Clyde to Breaking Bad. — A.O.
5. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
James Whale's sequel to his own 1931 Frankenstein is the wildest and greatest of all the classic Universal horror movies, and, with Ernest Thesiger's high-camp performance as the misanthropic mad scientist, an early Hollywood landmark of coded gay sensibilities. — P.N.
6. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Ornery genius filmmaker Sam Peckinpah effectively dynamited what was left of his Hollywood career with this movie, which was released to universal condemnation but endures as one his most personal films. Cult character god Warren Oates plays the scurvy loser whose last chance to make some bread is to perform the action alluded to in the film's cut-to-the-chase title. This might be the movie whose existence demanded that somebody coin the term "scuzzball classic." — P.N.
7. The Brood (1979)
David Cronenberg redefined the possibilities of the horror movie as a vehicle for personal filmmaking with this, his first great movie. Samantha Eggar plays a woman who becomes so successful at channeling the rage she feels towards her parents, her estranged husband, and others, that she literally births a series of monsters that brutally attack whoever she's mad at. Cronenberg, who conceived the film while going through a divorce, calls it his version of Kramer vs. Kramer. — P.N.
8. Clerks (1994)
Clerks made a big splash for its DIY aesthetic and ear for vulgarity, but its lasting appeal suggests it has a kind of universality. Dante and Randall are the patron saints of wise-ass wage slaves everywhere, while Jay & Silent Bob (and their real-life counterparts, Jason Mewes and the film's auteur, Kevin Smith) represent the freedom (and hazards) of life beyond timecard conformity. — A.O.
9. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Probably the cultiest big-name American director of his generation, Stanley Kubrick in his prime had a delightful habit of concocting large-scale outrages, presenting major studios with the bills, and making them like it. His urban sci-fi black comedy about violence and free will made Malcolm McDowell an icon and changed the way people think about movie brutality, and also how they hear "Singin' in the Rain." — P.N.
10. Death Race 2000 (1975)
Roger Corman's signature mixture of action, satire, titillation, politics, and cheap thrills reached its zenith in this sci-fi splatter comedy. Death Race 2000 (about a futuristic game show based on running over pedestrians) just about demanded that someone step up and create the video-game industry, so that its gimmick could find its true home. Holding the loose elements together is David Carradine, a natural star and a man whose whole life was a cult movie — one where too many of the best parts probably happened when no cameras were around. — P.N.