Ok, let’s get this straight! There are no set criteria based on which cult movies could be classified. In simpler terms, we don’t have a fixed definition of a cult film. Roughly though, a cult movie could be described as one that has developed a fanatical fan base over a period of time and introduced some sort of a novel cinematic tradition or theme or technique. Generally speaking, cult movies are non-mainstream and didn’t become popular overnight. However, with subsequent viewings and strong words of mouth, cinema-goers have learnt to appreciate the seemingly unique nature of such movies. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to dub cult films as integral constituents of popular cultures across the globe. In fact, there are societies and clubs that are named after renowned cult films and the fans of such movies organize conventions and repeated screenings to amplify and spread the ingrained spirits of the concerned films.
We at The Cinemaholic decided to contribute our two cents to the discourse on cult films and pay our tribute to some of the finest cult movies ever made by auteurs from across the planet. In that pursuit of ours, we have ranked the top cult movies of all time. Before getting down to the list and the rankings, it is essential to understand that we haven’t made the list based on our personal whims and random criteria. The inclusions and exclusions have been made after taking due cognizance of cinematic history, meticulous analysis of reviews by renowned critics and accepted audience perceptions. While we contend that movies like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966), ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994), ‘Casablanca’ (1942), ‘Vertigo’ (1958) and ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) would have made any other prior list and are cult classics in their own rights; it is equally important to note that cinematic tastes have significantly changed with generational shifts. Consequently, our list tries to take care of such subtleties. Now that the grounds have been cleared, let us look at the list of top cult classic movies in all right earnestness. You can watch several of these best cult movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
15. American History X (1998)
Considered to be one of the finest representations of the American society, Tony Kaye’s critically acclaimed crime drama film ‘American History X’ is a soul-searching tale of two brothers, the elder one trying to prevent the younger one from going down the same racist path that he did. A film that propelled Edward Norton to international stardom, the movie is a moving commentary on how racial clashes and neo-Nazism had been eating into the roots of the American collective consciousness. The performance by Norton earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1998. The film has since then acquired an iconic status and has been ranked as one of the best cult movies in history.
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14. Dazed and Confused (1993)
A film that got its name from a Led Zeppelin song with an identical nomenclature, Richard Linklater’s legendary comedy film ‘Dazed and Confused’ played an instrumental role in shaping the careers of a large number of future stars including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Adam Goldberg. A coming-of-age drama, the movie essentially chronicles the adventures of a group of teenagers during their last day of school in 1976. Released to critical acclaim, the film has been consistently ranked as one of the finest High School movies. In a Sight and Sound magazine poll, Quentin Tarantino ranked it as one of the ten (10) best movies of all time.
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13. The Big Lebowski (1998)
A box office bomb, Coen brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski’ turned out to be a cult classic subject to its unconventional storyline, peculiar dialogues, uncanny characterizations and surreal sequences. The film could be categorized as a dark comedy with the primary plotline centering on mistaken identity and the hoopla around a suitcase carrying ransom for releasing the medal wife of a billionaire. Starring such acting bigwigs as Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Steve Buscemi; the movie could also be considered to be a parable for casual crime and unintentional misdeeds. Psychological analysts have since described the film as being representative of commodity fetishism and misogynistic sexual derangement. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 2014 by the U.S. Library of Congress.
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12. Donnie Darko (2001)
Richard Kelly’s ‘Donnie Darko’ is a surreal take on the titular character’s visions about an impending apocalypse, the messenger being a monstrous rabbit. Deeply contemplative in nature, the movie has inspired numerous explanations of the plotline thereby establishing it as a definite cult classic. Known for having introduced Jake Gyllenhaal, who played the role of the protagonist, the film could also be considered to be a psychological detour. It deals with such neural disorders as schizophrenia, hallucinations and disturbed childhood. Although not a box office achievement, the movie was successful in garnering a lot of critical acclaim.
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11. Groundhog Day (1993)
Directed by Harold Ramis, ‘Groundhog Day’ is more of a musing than a film. A fantasy-comedy movie, it revolves around the life of a television weatherman living the same day over and over again during a visit to cover an event at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Featuring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, the film was added to the National Film Registry in 2006 by the U.S. Library of Congress. It deals with a number of concepts such as narcissism, priorities, self-centeredness, the purpose of life and love. In its deconstructed form, ‘Groundhog Day’ could be described as a man’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment. The film is still considered to be relevant with the phrase ‘Groundhog Day’ entering the English lexicon to categorize an unpleasant situation that either seems unending or ever-recurring.
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10. The Princess Bride (1987)
A film that touches the genres of romance, fantasy, comedy, adventure and drama; Rob Reiner’s ‘The Princess Bride’ is one masterpiece whose popularity refuses to wane. The movie narrates the story of a man who puts his life in line to rescue his ‘true love’ from a devilish prince. It harps on and celebrates the quintessential humane traits of love, friendship, companionship and fidelity. A film that is revered by children and adults alike, ‘The Princess Bride’ is presented in the form of a story that is narrated by a grandfather to his sick grandson. Since its release, the movie has been consistently ranked as one of the best of its kind by critics. Although it didn’t really put the box office on fire, it has grown in popularity over a period of time.
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9. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Undoubtedly the most complete piece of work from the stables of the maverick filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ could aptly be described as a tryst with mayhem. With themes ranging from existentialism to evolution, the movie has acquired a cult status over the years. Loosely inspired by a short story named ‘The Sentinel’ penned by Arthur C. Clarke; who co-scripted the screenplay along with Kubrick; the movie chronicles the journey of a crew of scientists to Jupiter along with the sentient computer HAL 9000. The film has inspired numerous interpretations over the years and only seems to go up in terms of popularity. The movie has had a significant impact on future science fiction projects. The movie landed Kubrick with the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
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8. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
It is next to impossible to describe as to what ‘Mulholland Dr.’ as a movie is! May be, there is a mystery in the film, may be there isn’t! However, one thing is for sure. Movie maniacs the world over never really ceased to discuss this seemingly enigmatic piece of work from the coffers of David Lynch, the finest postmodern filmmaker ever. Quintessentially a neo-noir movie narrated incoherently and in a nonlinear fashion, ‘Mulholland Dr.’ encapsulates the story of an amnesiac woman who befriends an aspiring actress. Dream sequences, cryptic references, dark humour, a sudden change in plotline and metaphorical representations punctuate the film that has since become one of the most discussed contemporary movies. Some critics describe the movie as an intelligent juxtaposition of the conscious, sub-conscious, semi-conscious and unconscious states of the human mind. The film earned Lynch a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Director in 2001. In a Sight and Sound magazine poll, it was voted by critics as one of the greatest films of all time.
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7. Breathless (1960)
The maiden feature-length venture by Jean-Luc Godard, the poster boy of the French New Wave, ‘Breathless’ went on to become a rather influential movie. Chiefly known for its powerful depictions, the film narrates the story of a young criminal and his beautiful girlfriend. Rather unusually made with a liberal use of jerky cuts, the movie was highly acclaimed by critics. It has since acquired a cult status amongst youngsters and has been regularly ranked as one of the finest creations of French Cinema. The Sight and Sound Directors’ Poll placed it as the 11th best film of all time in 2012.
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6. Eraserhead (1977)
Roughly categorized as a surrealist venture, David Lynch’s first critically acclaimed movie ‘Eraserhead’ narrates the story of a man who needs to take care of his severely deformed child. Essentially a body horror movie that has distinct psychological and philosophical elements, the movie was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 by the U.S. Library of Congress. Torn between disturbing visions of a woman and hallucinations representing sexual undertones, the protagonist is shown to dwell in a mechanized cityscape with dystopian settings. Cinematographed in black-and-white, the film, featuring a vivid and immaculate soundtrack, has been able to gather a significant base of admirers over the years.
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5. Fight Club (1999)
The mother of all psychological thrillers with twist endings, David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ is probably one of the most popular movies of all time. Based on a novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, the film follows an insomniac, branded as an ‘everyman’, who forms a club for recreational fighting with a soap manufacturer. Along the way, the movie deals with some pertinent contemporary issues such as consumer fetishism, homoeroticism and loneliness. Featuring stalwarts like Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter; the film was successful in inciting both love and contempt. The movie tries to fiddle around with a perceived social emasculation that eventually happens to the members of a society. Although highly controversial, the movie has since been labelled as a cinematic landmark.
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4. Blade Runner (1982)
A movie that acted as an inspiration for contemporary genius Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott’s dystopian neo-noir venture ‘Blade Runner’ could easily be categorized as a definite marker in cinematic history. It chronicles the story of a cop who has been tasked with the unpleasant job of eliminating a bunch of unruly genetically-engineered human replicants in futuristic Los Angeles. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and featuring Harrison Ford as the titular character, the film is a dark and blurry assay into the subtle intricacies of the human nature. The movie distorts the concept of right and wrong and creates ambiguity in the minds of its audience. With menacing and crooked cinematography, the film portrays the obvious implications of trying to control the nature using technology and advanced scientific knowledge. Although a box office failure, the movie has been able to generate a substantial fan base over the following years. A significant number of critics consider ‘Blade Runner’ as the best science fiction movie ever made. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1993 by the U.S. Library of Congress.
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3. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Kubrick’s unusual and experimental masterpiece ‘A Clockwork Orange’ could easily be identified as a movie that drastically changed the definition of contemporary cinema. Fundamentally a crime film that is set in futuristic and dystopian London, it is a brilliant depiction of youth delinquency and the society’s seemingly obnoxious attempts at curbing transgressions. With western classical music by Beethoven as the background score, crooked camera angles and violence interspersed with niceties; the movie at once attracted and distracted audiences. With a fabulous performance by Malcolm McDowell, who plays the part of the protagonist, the film is a vivid representation of criminal psychology backed by the authority’s penchant to establish a totalitarian regime. Based on a novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess, the movie continues to be extremely popular with moviegoers. Nominated in four (4) Academy Award categories including the Best Picture and Best Director, several critics have since rated it as one of the benchmarks in the cinematic annals.
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2. Taxi Driver (1976)
The film that marked Robert De Niro’s foray into international stardom, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ is not just a movie. It is in fact a cultural and social statement with distinct references to the Vietnam War. The film could roughly be categorized as a psychological thriller and has been consistently listed as one of the finest movies in the history of cinema. With noir and vigilante elements, the movie narrates the story of a disturbed and insomniac taxi driver who indulges in violence to rescue a teenage prostitute, driven by his contempt for societal decadence. The film, which deals with such issues as loneliness and alienation, was given the 17th place in the Empire magazine’s 2009 list of 500 best movies of all time. Nominated in four (4) different Academy Award categories including the Best Picture, it bagged the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1994 by the U.S. Library of Congress.
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1. Pulp Fiction (1994)
A robust crime drama with distinct dark comedic elements, ‘Pulp Fiction’ firmly established Quentin Tarantino as the lord of cinematic violence. A movie that marked the revival of John Travolta, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is primarily known for casual morbidity, irony, satirical references and allusions to contemporary popular culture. Narrated in a nonlinear format, the film requires multiple viewing to comprehend its basic theme. The basic plotline revolves around mobsters, petty criminals and a legendary briefcase that has been the subject of multiple debates across numerous cinematic forums. There isn’t a single dull moment in the movie and the bright world conjured by Tarantino stands in sharp contrast to the film’s general environment of disdain for human life. It clinched the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994 while getting nominated for seven (7) Academy Award categories including the Best Picture. Tarantino along with his co-scriptwriter Roger Avary eventually earned the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film was given the 9th place in the Empire magazine’s 2008 list of 500 best movies of all time. Critics consider it to be a scripting masterpiece. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2013 by the U.S. Library of Congress. Since its release, it has developed an almost fanatical fan following.
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