12 Unforgettable Cult Classics That Shaped Cultural History

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 to inspire new generations of moviegoers.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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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.

2. The Room

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Image Credit: TPW 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.

3. Troll 2

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Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

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. 

4. Dead Alive AKA Braindead

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Image Credit: ORO Films.

Another thing fans of low-budget films are all too familiar with are 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, which is an early work from The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, follows a mild-mannered young man who is forced to combat a zombie uprising after a potentially mystical rat monkey infects his mother.

5. Plan 9 From Outer Space

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Image Credit: Valiant Pictures.

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 Lugosi 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.

One commenter noted that the film is “widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made.”

6. Phantom of The Paradise

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Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

There are an astounding number of 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 that’s unlike anything else. 

7. They Live

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Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

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. 

8. House AKA Hausu

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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. 

9. Zardoz

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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. 

10. The Wicker Man (2006)

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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 missing girl 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.

11. Pink Flamingos (1972)

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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.

12. Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

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Image Credit: Roadshow Entertainment Umbrella Entertainment.

“I saw it in the cinema when it came out. I remember people leaving in the first part. But the payoff in the second part was so great,” said one fan.

Which one of your favorite cult classics didn't make the list?

This thread inspired this post.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Looper, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.