The label “cult movie” is typically applied to any motion picture that under-performs or goes largely unnoticed upon release, but still manages to amass a cult-like fan following. Usually, it’s for an older film, but occasionally cult interest will spring up around a critically panned disaster, sometimes ironically, but oftentimes not.
Achieving cult status isn’t always easy though, since word of mouth is pretty much the only way people hear about movies that were released years ago that nobody saw in theaters. So to help inform fans of offbeat cinema that there are still a few underappreciated gems out there, we’ve put together this list of 10 movies that are on the brink of becoming cult classics.
In Slither, a small American town in South Carolina is hit by a meteorite and discovered by a man who is considering cheating on his wife. When he is attacked by something from the meteor, he becomes host to an alien creature that infects him with the overwhelming desire to eat meat and find someone he can use as an incubator for thousands of alien larvae. While the movie did poorly in theaters, it was largely attributed to the movie’s blend of comedy and horror, as many people were expecting more of a straightforward terrifying monster experience. For more open-minded moviegoers and fans of John Carpenter films, Slither was an instant hit that perfectly captured the spirit of the horror-comedy genre. Especially the over-the-top gore and grotesque human transformations. Plus, it stars Nathan Fillion, a man who’s pretty much impossible to dislike in any role.
9. Near Dark
Before Twilight and True Blood and all the other ways Hollywood has tried to reinvent vampires for every conceivable demographic, there was Near Dark—a moody, brilliant fusion of vampire folklore and American Westerns, the film presented a romantic sensibility that’s quite reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sadly, this movie never got the attention it deserved at release, since it came out so close to the another much more famous vampire movie called The Lost Boys. It wasn’t until the movie was released on home video that it received positive critical reviews from its fan base.
David Lynch’s 1977 debut film, Eraserhead, is a work of extraordinary craft and beauty. With its provocative black and white photography, expressive sound design and an unforgettably obscure performance by Jack Nance as an anxious young man coming to terms with fatherhood, this introspective, unsettling sojourn continues to haunt American cinema like no other film.
7. Barton Fink
In one of the Coen’s first movies, John Turturro plays Barton Fink, a playwright whose first Broadway show is a such a success that his agent convinces him to go to Hollywood to quickly make enough money to fund the rest of his writing career. But as soon as Fink arrives in Los Angeles, he comes down with a terrible case of writer’s block and spends his days talking to the insurance salesman who lives in the room next door. It’s dark, downbeat, rife with symbolism, and showcases one of John Goodman’s best performances as a man who may or may not be the embodiment of the devil.
Long before Transformers, G.I. Joe, and that god awful Battleship movie hit the big screen, Hasbro jumped into the movie making biz with Clue, a live-action adaptation of their popular murder mystery board game.
At the time, making a movie from a board game seemed like a laughable idea. Which is why it’s no surprise that it was met with dismal reviews and flopped at the box office. However, the movie’s initial poor performance might be one of the biggest contributors to its success, as the price tag for its VHS release was dropped from $100 (yup, that’s how much new VHS movies cost in the ’80s) to the affordable price of just $20. People were lining up to get a copy of Clue just so they could test out their new VCRs, but were soon pleasantly surprised to find that the movie is actually a delightfully kitschy comedy.
5. Death to Smoochy
Despite the bashing it received from critics, this warped comedy about a children’s entertainer whose envy gets him tangled up in wrongdoings is both wildly funny and cleverly written. Played by Robin Williams, Rainbow Randolph’s descent into madness following the loss of his kids show is thoroughly remarkable to witness, as his resulting mania pushes him to ever more frightening and hilarious extremes. Unlike some of the other titles on this list, Death to Smoochy is genuinely a good movie with a fun plot line full of twists and brilliant performances from a stellar cast including Edward Norton, John Stewart, and Danny DeVito. Dark comedies as good as this come along far too infrequently.
4. Dark Star
Originally conceived as a student film from director John Carpenter and writer Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star is a beautiful piece of 1970s art that could accurately be describe as the anti-2001: A Space Odyssey; all the conclusions the movie comes to about space travel and mankind’s place in the universe seem to be the opposite to those found in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. In the end, it makes for one hell of a funny science fiction story, as the crew of the Dark Star spaceship continue their seemingly unending mission to destroy unstable planets in order to pave the way for human colonization.
Although the film was met with positive reviews, it received relatively little audience appreciation until it was released on home video along with Carpenter’s original version, which was expressed more as a dark comedy than a full-on action sci-fi movie.
Eliminators is a very ’80s movie about an android man, or “mandroid,” who is trying to escape the mad scientist who created him. In order to break out of the lab where he’s being held, the mandroid removes his legs, replaces them with some badass tank treads, and then teams up with a sweet ninja to go on the offensive and take down the evil-doers. Many critics thought this was a piece of crap when it was released, but what a fun piece of crap it is! Eliminators has a bit of everything and is like peering into the mind of a hyper-imaginative child.
As you probably guessed, this is not a film you should take seriously. Like all the best cult movies, Eliminators doesn’t have a dull moment and all of the cheesiness is part of the fun. The action draws you in and some of the special effects are actually pretty good for 1986. Plot, character, direction all that sort of stuff might be important for an actual classic, but certainly not for a cult classic.
2. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Brilliant neurosurgeon, test pilot, and rock star Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) just made scientific history. He’s shifted his Oscillation Overthruster into warp speed and become the first man ever to travel to the eighth dimension and come back without his brain being scrambled. But when his arch nemesis, the deranged Dr. Lizardo (played by John Lithgow), devises a plot to steal the Overthruster and bring an evil army of aliens back to destroy Earth, Banzai goes head-to-head with the madman in an extra-dimensional battle that could tear apart the very fabric of existence. Yes, the plot is insane. Which is why Fox hired some big shot marketers and tasked them with the mission of selling the film to a mainstream audience. A mission that was, of course, doomed to fail, since the movie was slated to be released at the same time as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters—two of the biggest movies to come out of the ’80s. Nevertheless, the movie is a wonderfully fun adventure full of hilarious performances from Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Lloyd. Seriously, the dialogue in this movie is so quotable you’ll find yourself re-watching it just to pick out your favorite lines.
1. Nine Deaths of the Ninja
At first glance, Nine Deaths of the Ninja seems a lot like a bad James Bond spoof, but the storyline is just far too original to simply deem it a cheap knock-off. Essentially, a bus load of tourists, including a high-ranking U.S. Congressman, get kidnapped in the Philippines by a team of nefarious lesbian commandos. But, as it turns out, the leader of the lesbian commndos, Colonel Honey Hump, is actually working for a gay Islamic terrorist (gasp!).
While it might not be accurately classified as a “good movie,” what Nine Deaths of the Ninja does delivers it delivers in spades—absolute ninja mayhem. It’s chock-full of spectacularly cheesy fight scenes, people in black pyjamas running everywhere, and more random explosions than you can shake a katana at. But the best part is the title. It doesn’t even make sense. If it’s referring to the ninja hero played by Sho Kosugi, he doesn’t even die once. And if it’s referring to the hoards of inept ninjas that die by his hand, then 900 Deaths of the Ninja would be a much more accurate name. Whatever. It’s still the greatest.