Cult classics can be hard to define. A movie can be extremely popular without being defined as a cult classic. In fact, a film's popularity can exclude it from attaining "cult classic" status. These are films that die out quickly at the box office, but retain some special place in our cultural vocabulary, either because these films are ridiculous or because some small group of people remains obsessed with the film.
Here are my ten favorite cult classics, in no particular order.
A hilarious, pitch-perfect mockumentary about a group of less-than-intelligent musicians. The cast of this film has continued to make films together -- new cult classics like A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman, and Best In Show. If you haven't seen This Is Spinal Tap in a few years, watch it again. You'll be amazed how funny and (still) relevant the film is.
It is a college tradition -- dressing up as a character from this cheesy 70s musical and attending screenings of the film. Ubiquitous at Halloween parties and as a video accompaniment to LSD trips, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a true gem of Western culture. "Let's do the time-warp again . . ."
One of the oldest films on this list, Freaks is a truly creepy spectacle. Is it the Freaks themselves that scare us -- like the abusive midget or the man with no arms and no legs? Is it the creepy black and white, poorly lit film itself that makes our skin crawl? Featuring one of the scariest final scenes in any film, Freaks is a perfect cult classic for movie night.
Emilio Estevez as a repo man with a difference. This film is often called a "punk rock" film, and is even considered "science fiction" by many film critics. Repo Man has been confusing critics for twenty-five years now, and the laughs keep coming. Start the movie for its cult status, stay for the hilarious dialogue.
This film is a truly sad story. Shot with a very small budget (you'll notice repetition of parts of dialogue, recycling of clips run backwards to keep them "fresh", etc) by Ed Wood in the late 50s, this film is an example of how everything can go wrong on a film set. Cheesy network television drop-ins? Check. Wooden dialogue? Absolutely. Cult classic? You betcha.
This is just your average Bildungsroman film -- a man tries to keep his head above water in a frighteningly industrial world. Meanwhile his girlfriend is trying to kill him, and the mutant baby they had together is constantly threatening to do the same. Scary enough for you? Eraserhead has been called "One of the 25 Most Dangerous Movies Ever Made" by Premiere. Shot over the course of five years, there's not any other movie as chilling and weird as Eraserhead.
The cult film with the title that just won't quit -- Faster, Pussy-Cat! is a delightful adventure through the lives of three homicidal strippers. That should be all you need to get a hold of this cult classic immediately. Need more? This film has it all -- speed, sex, and violence. Tura Satana is about the bustiest thing I've ever seen on film. Have I convinced you yet?
Not many cult classics get turned into video games. 1979's The Warriors not only created a cult splash (this film is a must-watch every year on my birthday) but a kind of cultural phenomenon. Who among us doesn't remember the creepy line: "Warriors . . . come out to plaa-aay" ?
Yes, this is a silent film. Yes, Salvador Dali "wrote" the film. Yes, there's a scene where an eyeball gets sliced in half. Yes, you will probably have nightmares after watching this film. Yes it is a cult classic. Yes.
The 1971 version of this classic Roald Dahl story was probably not meant to be a cult classic. Between the moody environment of Charlie's hometown and the fantastic, over the top sets inside Wonka's factory, there is a certain kind of horror. Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is at times frightening ("And we show no signs of SLOWING") and at other times bizarre. If you've only ever seen the terrible Johnny Depp remake, this film will be a breath of fresh air.