Timeless Cult Classics: 15 Unforgettable Films That Still Hold Pop Culture’s Heart

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Cult classics are movies that have gained a dedicated following over time, often through word-of-mouth and unconventional means. These films may have been overlooked upon their initial release, but they have since garnered a loyal fanbase due to their unique characters, storyline, and/or style. Even today, these movies continue to captivate audiences with their enduring themes and innovative techniques.

From sci-fi epics to indie darlings, these films have influenced generations of filmmakers and audiences alike and continue inspiring new moviegoers.

1. Spaceballs (1987)

Image Credit: MGM.

Spaceballs is one of those films that exists purely to make fun of the stereotypes of Sci-Fi. However, it has garnered its only cult following because even the most sci-fi fanatics laugh alongside those who know nothing about the genre. 

2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

A Clockwork Orange has a cult following because of the infamous news attention it received. There are some very violent scenes across the film that got the film banned in theaters, which thus garnered a cult following of its own. 

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Tim Curry, Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn scary queer movies
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The cult classic film, one respondent noted that it might be obvious but required mentioning, The Rocky Horror Picture Show tells the story of a young couple who spend the night at a mad scientist’s home. It’s an over-the-top musical extravaganza that’s also a love letter to the science fiction and horror movies of the 1950s.

4. The Room (2003)

Tommy with a football
Image Credit: Wiseau-Films.

After The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Room is arguably the biggest cult classic. This beautifully incompetent movie is about a man’s best friend and “future wife” having an affair leading up to their wedding is the most iconic cult classic that fans of ridiculous movies need to see.

5. Troll 2 (1990)

Troll 2 (1990)
Image Credit: Epic Productions.

While it may seem odd to the outside observer, fans of low-budget schlock are well aware of the long tradition of films billed as sequels that have nothing to do with the original film. Troll 2, which one commenter recommended, is just such a film. It’s not even about trolls and instead follows a family on their trip to the town of Nilbog, where their youngest son begins to suspect that goblins want to eat them. 

6. Braindead (1992)

BrainDead Tony Shalhoub, Aaron Tveit
Image Credit: CBS Television Studios.

Another thing fans of low-budget films are all too familiar with is the often confusing naming conventions for these films marketed under different names in different places. The example that comes to mind is Dead Alive, aka Braindead, which received two mentions, one under each title.

The movie, an early work from The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, follows a mild-mannered young man forced to combat a zombie uprising after a potentially mystical rat monkey infects his mother.

7. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Plan 9 from Outer Space 1959 4
Swedish-born actor Tor Johnson attacks actor Mona McKinnon in the back seat of an automobile in a still from director Edward D. Wood Jr.'s film ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space.' Johnson, who has a zombie expression, holds his hands outstretched. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Before The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, there was Plan 9 From Outer Space — a film by the legendary, or infamous, director Ed Wood Jr.

Plan 9 From Outer Space centers on aliens invading Earth and raising the dead to stop humans from creating a doomsday device that could destroy the universe. If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. To make things even more ridiculous, the film lists Bela Luosi among the cast even though it only uses some old footage Wood had shot and a double rather poorly pretending to be the famed horror star.

8. Phantom of The Paradise (1974)

Phantom of the Paradise Movie (1974)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

There are many cinematic adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. While several of them would certainly be fun to watch with friends, only one received multiple mentions in the thread: Phantom of the Paradise.

Not satisfied with adapting one classic story, the film also includes elements of The Picture of Dorian Gray and Faust to create a rock opera unlike anything else. 

9. They Live (1988)

They Live
Image Credit: Alive Films.

Several of genre filmmaking master John Carpenter’s films were suggested, but his 1988 sci-fi satire They Live was one of the most widely recommended movies in the thread.

The film follows a man who discovers that aliens are living among us and that they’ve placed subliminal messages all around that only a specifically made pair of sunglasses can reveal. It’s a hilarious movie that’s also incredibly sharp and still relevant today. 

10. Hausu (1977)

House 1977 resized
Image Credit: Toho.

I was surprised that of the few non-English language movies to get a recommendation, House, also known by its original title Hausu, only received one mention.

The film’s premise about girls going to stay in a house that may be haunted is familiar enough, but the places where this movie takes the story are incredibly unique and often delightfully silly. 

11. Zardoz (1974)

Zardoz (1974) Movie
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Perhaps better known for the image of Sean Connery in a red body thong than anything else, Zardoz also features a giant stone head that can fly and speak, so it’s got a lot going for it. Given that, it’s somewhat surprising that only two people suggested this strange vision of a post-apocalyptic world in which Connery’s Zed seeks to change the established social order. 

12. The Wicker Man (2006)

the wicker man
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Most cult classics are either extremely low-budget films or movies that have aged into cult status after initially bombing at the box office, and few are remakes of beloved films, but that’s where The Wicker Man (2006) stands out as something special.

The 2006 version of The Wicker Man still centers on a policeman searching for a girl missing on an island inhabited by pagans. Instead of an atmospheric travelog of a potentially dangerous cult, the remake is a rollercoaster ride of scenes that are each more hilariously silly than the last.

13. Pink Flamingos (1972)

pink flamingos 1972
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

Hailed as one of the most outrageous films ever made, Pink Flamingos talks about sexuality, culture, and … other things. If you haven’t seen it, brace yourself before watching. However, it does speak of hope and loving yourself.

14. Flash Gordon (1980)

flash gordon
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Flash Gordon feels like it's trying to be everything all at once. But that's okay because that's why we love this movie. Flash Gordon is a football player and with his friends, they travel to the fictional planet Mongo to find a way to save Earth. The graphics are horrible but the good times are great.

15. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

hedwig angry itch
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

Popular with a lot of the LGBTQ+ community, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a punk singer from Berlin who brings her life story to the United States as she tours and follows her former lover who stole her music.

Source: Reddit

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Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.