7 unmissable cult films, ranked
There are many films that moviegoers would consider essential, such as Citizen Kane Where 2001: A Space Odyssey. Still, “essential” could include the films that left the most impact. That doesn’t mean they have to be particularly awesome, but that they are memorable. Sometimes what makes a movie “essential” are the stories that come with the release of those movies.
The definition of a “cult movie” is also broad and open to debate; after all, Star wars and MCU movies have personality cults, so are they naturally “cult” movies? Typically, cult films start with humble beginnings and experience unexpected cultural success that has drawn communities and fandoms. These are a small handful of essential cult movies that have to be seen to be believed.
Poisonous avenger (1984)
Released by the devoutly underground studio Troma, this shady, free-to-play superhero flick is both the mascot of the Grimey B movie schlock and dirty exploitation cinema. Our hero is a mutated outcast, but he’s more lovable than scary. Movie director Lloyd kaufman, the filmmaker behind the “sexy comedies” in Troma, sought to reinvent the horror genre with Toxic Avenger. Instead, he (somewhat accidentally) created something much more charming and campy.
This film is a delight. The titular Toxic Avenger (or Melvin) is a heartwarming, charismatic leader, juxtaposed with practical effects and grotesque makeup. This movie is an undeniable classic that spawned multiple toys, comics, musical, a Poisonous avenger reboot with Peter Dinklage, and, of course, made Troma the king of cult B-movie classics. Perhaps more importantly, he acts like a parody of superhero movies and still feels relevant to this day.
Scanners (nineteen eighty one)
This now-beloved film received a mixed reception from critics upon its release, including a 2-star review from none other than Roger ebert. Creator of horror masterpieces Fly and Videodrome, David Cronenberg, is the spirit behind this 1981 sci-fi body horror extravaganza. Scanners has been praised over the years for its impressive effects, such as the iconic head explosion scene. Predating the internet, the film’s plot follows interconnected individuals who have direct access to the thoughts of others, often leading to violence and death.
Despite its modest reception, the film’s effects have been satirized and referenced in pop culture for years, including jokes about the exploding head in Saturday Night Live, Wayne’s world, and the The Big Bang Theory, giving the film the legendary status it deserves. As the world increasingly relies on technology for information and communication, it’s unsettling to think that Cronenberg seemed so far ahead of all of us in a way that remains… just breathtaking.
Some would cancel Tron like a simple Star wars clone. You’ve got the villains MCP and Sark (Palpatine and Darth Vader), a trio of heroes (Han, Luke, and Leia), and about as many exhibits as those in the original trilogy. Yet there is a certain spark of originality to Tron that made him stand tall and allowed him to garner a legacy of love and appreciation over the decades.
This does not mean Tron aged particularly well, but its special effects completely revolutionized the industry. The end result is we have a movie that looks incredibly dated with a slow story. Still, it’s as trippy and important now as it was when it was released, bridging the gap between computer-generated effects and the sci-fi genre from its sometimes awkward past to what we are today.
The crow (1994)
When the comic book series The crow was adapted for the cinema, it became a dormant success both for the box office and for the critics. Thanks to her dazzling style and frightening energy, The crow was the gothic action flick that audiences of the 1990s didn’t know they needed. But a big contributor to its cult status? Tragically, Brandon lee, son of the 70s kung fu star Bruce lee, was fatally shot by a stunt gun while on set.
Up to this point, Lee was enjoying moderate success in Hollywood as a new action star emerging from his father’s shadow. The film was released at a pivotal time for America, when it had just discovered grunge rock and emo fashion. The crow pushed this aesthetic into the mainstream, and suddenly it was cool wearing eyeliner again! His punk style adds a whole new layer when you put Brandon Lee’s death in the formula. Without his death, the themes of resurrection and rebirth that permeate the film would likely have a different context today.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween iii was a flop, both to the public and to the critics. Still, that may not be entirely the fault of the film itself. Halloween iii has an interesting story, because John carpenter 1978 horror classic Halloween was the first in a series of anthology films, with this entry, ostensibly titled Season of the witch, Following Halloween ii. The problem is, the first two films created the infamous horror slasher Michael Myers whose legacy spanned the country. So when this was published in the form of a story about the Halloween masks created by an evil society ready to kill children and there was no Michael Myers to find, it was an overwhelming disappointment. .
The film is known for its staunchly anti-capitalist stance at a time when the subject was controversial to say the least. It also explores the death of children, which has even put some horror fans out of their minds. The planned anthology was eventually canned, and Michael Myers returned for a series of sequelae. Halloween iii was castigated, but the years that followed caused people to re-evaluate the film. Many now see it as a completely original and heartfelt film that celebrates the spirit of Halloween. Nowadays, Halloween iii continues to get its harsh reviews, but new fans have crowned this film an underrated and underrated gem.
The Warriors (1979)
If this film is known for one thing, it’s the violence that has hit theaters. Gangs entering the halls and seeing their rival gangs across the aisle have resulted in vandalism and murder. As reported by the New York Times, the violence continued to the point where Paramount pulled all commercials for the film and reduced press releases to show nothing more than the film’s title, rating, and participating theaters.
In all other respects, The Warriors was criticized by critics on its initial release for its unrealism and glorification of violence. Now, many critics are returning to the film, seeing it as an exciting but cautious take on street crime. Although dated, some argue it remains a relevant touchstone of cult movies.
Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
1975 was an iconic year for cinema, but not all films now considered essential were an instant hit. At its output, Rocky Horror Picture Show came and went mostly unnoticed. It premiered in a few theaters and when it aired it was only able to attract a small audience. It probably would have been brushed aside entirely if the Fox executive Tim deegan did not convince distributors to play the film for a “secret” midnight screening at the Seattle International Film Festival. Since then, the film has spread to major cities and the audience numbers have continued to grow. Some audience members would enter for free if they dressed in costumes and before long almost every screening was presented with a live fan cast.
With the sexual liberation and the subject of the film, it developed a strong following among LGBTQ + fans and provided some visibility in a relatively oppressive time. Nowadays, Rocky Horror Picture Show is considered the longest-running release in movie history, thanks to a Fox policy that made archival films available to be shown in theaters at all times. According to Vulture, even after Disney more recently began removing archival Fox films from theaters, they made an exception for Rocky horror to bring the traditional midnight screenings to life.
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