7 Best Cult Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

This cult classic is the first hip-hop movie in cinema’s history — and, aptly, one of the most sampled movies in rap music. With a cast drawn exclusively from the NYC graffiti, breakdancing, and rap subcultures that it spotlights, Wild Style wisely doesn’t try too hard to construct a conventional drama. Instead, there are toe-tapping scenes in neon-lit, smoke-filled clubs that stretch far beyond usual cinematic limits because they’re following the dynamic pace and infectious rhythm of the battling emcees, not film’s rules.

In lieu of a plot, Wild Style captures the singular atmosphere of the period it was filmed in, when hip-hop culture was thriving and art curators had begun to look to graffiti artists to fill their galleries. That uneasy turning point in the culture is chronicled here through the perspective of Zoro (real graffiti “writer” Lee Quiñones), a young artist who looks on with disdain as his peers embrace the commercialization of their medium by NYC’s art world. (As he shrewdly puts it, risk is central to graffiti’s identity — made for subway cars and walls, not framed canvases.) Brilliantly capturing the freewheeling spirit of NYC’s hip-hop scene, this is a time capsule that never feels dusty thanks to the appropriately off-the-cuff filmmaking.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Busy Bee, Daze, Dondi, Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, Nathan Ingram, Patti Astor, ZEPHYR

Director: Charlie Ahearn

Rating: R

Bad Lieutenant is no misnomer: Harvey Keitel’s policeman really is one of NYPD’s worst. Already corrupt, abrasive, and abusive at the film’s outset, the movie chronicles his coked-out descent into total depravity after he’s called to investigate a heinous crime amid rapidly worsening personal circumstances. The brilliance of Bad Lieutenant is therefore a counterintuitive one: as awful as the Lieutenant is, we can’t help but feel emotionally involved because, in Keitel’s bravura performance, we can see the glint of pain — and thus of a person — within.

Always one for provocation, director Abel Ferrara pushes our empathy to — and maybe even beyond — its natural limits, only to break with the film’s hitherto unrelenting grit and dangle the glinting possibility of transcendent redemption in front of us. Anyone familiar with Catholic guilt cinema (movies like Martin Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door and Mean Streets) will instantly recognize the same undercurrent running through Bad Lieutenant — even if Ferrara takes the idea of juxtaposing the profane with the sacred to the extreme here.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Bianca Hunter, Bo Dietl, Dana Dee, Darryl Strawberry, Eddie Daniels, Frank Adonis, Frankie Thorn, Gene Canfield, Harvey Keitel, Iraida Polanco, Jaime Sánchez, John Steven Jones, Leonard L. Thomas, Minnie Gentry, Paul Calderon, Paul Hipp, Peggy Gormley, Penelope Allen, Phil Neilson, Stella Keitel, Victor Argo, Vincent Laresca, Zoë Lund

Director: Abel Ferrara

The walk-and-talk roots of the Before Trilogy are traceable to this low-budget cult movie from writer-director Richard Linklater, which came five years before our first introduction to Celine and Jesse. Rather than follow a single, winding conversation, though, Slacker hops from character to character every few minutes, and we never meet them again. In fact, we rarely even learn their names, which makes the credits a particular pleasure to watch as it identifies cast members with wry monikers like “Dostoyevsky wannabe,” “Ultimate loser,” and “Scooby Doo philosopher.”

Shot in Linklater’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, the movie captures the city’s uniquely alternative vibe — or, as one character succinctly puts it, “This town has always had its share of crazies.” Conversations range from the spaced-out to the flat-out paranoid, a fair amount of the movie’s ragtag band being partial to conspiracy theories, from the well-worn (JFK's death) or the more bizarre (the real meaning behind The Smurfs). With its freewheeling approach to narrative, Slacker shares the lovable weirdness of its characters, as attested to by its enduring status as a cult classic.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Athina Rachel Tsangari, Bob Boyd, Charles Gunning, Clark Walker, D. Montgomery, Deborah Pastor, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Richard Linklater, Robert Jacks, Tommy Pallotta

Director: Richard Linklater

When citizenship and rights can only be achieved through federal service, you have no choice but to militarize. Johnny Rico is young, impressionable, but noble; in other words, he is an archetypal hero even if he initially enlists just to be close to his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards). From then on, Starship Troopers unfolds as a high-strung high school drama, but in the middle of a space colonization. During one such mission, a highly evolved insectoid race, Arachnids, proves to be the most dangerous enemy to human supremacy and the fight is on. What's interesting about Starship Troopers is that it shows how a well-oiled propaganda machine works and for that reason, it was accused of indoctrination and army endorsement. Even more, it was dubbed fascist, instead of the fascist satire it claimed to be. But today, it's indisputably a cult film and a great introduction to the Paul Verhoeven's work in Hollywood.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aaron Stielstra, Amy Smart, Anthony Ruivivar, Betty Hankins, Blake Lindsley, Brad Kane, Brenda Strong, Brooke Morales, Bruce Gray, Bruce Holman, Casper Van Dien, Christopher Curry, Clancy Brown, Curnal Achilles Aulisio, Dale Dye, Dan Olivo, Dean Norris, Denise Dowse, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Edward Neumeier, Eric Bruskotter, Eric DaRe, Greg Travis, Hunter Bodine, Jake Busey, John Cunningham, Jon Davison, Julianna McCarthy, Julie Pinson, Kai Lennox, Lenore Kasdorf, Marshall Bell, Mary Ann Schmidt, Matt Entriken, Matt Levin, Michael Ironside, Michael Papajohn, Neil Patrick Harris, Parry Shen, Patrick Bishop, Patrick Muldoon, R. Lee Ermey, Robert David Hall, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Stephanie Erb, Steven Ford, Tami-Adrian George, Timothy McNeil, Timothy Omundson, Ungela Brockman, Zoë Poledouris

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Rating: R

Fright Night wastes no time confirming that, yes, that handsome new neighbor is a vampire, and yes, he has to be defeated. By cutting to the chase, the film refreshingly lets its heroes and villains spend a lot of time together, goading each other on in a battle of wills. But apart from that, Fright Night sticks to the reliable '80s-horror formula, full of spectacular makeup effects, cheesy thrills, and delightfully over-the-top performances. Chris Sarandon is irresistible as the evil vampire Jerry Dandrige, while Roddy McDowall's heartfelt performance as the fraud vampire hunter Peter Vincent gives us a redemption arc worth rooting for.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror

Actor: Amanda Bearse, Art Evans, Bob Corff, Chris Hendrie, Chris Sarandon, Dorothy Fielding, Ernie Holmes, Heidi Sorenson, Irina Irvine, Jonathan Stark, Nick Savage, Pamela Brown, Prince Hughes, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Stewart Stern, William Ragsdale

Director: Tom Holland

Rating: R

, 2001

Snatch is all things great. The film strings together multiple plots with a great ensemble of actors - which turns it into an excellent thriller movie. Jason Statham leads the film with Brad Pitt close behind, both turning in performances of enormous physicality. You’ll recognize many actors in the film as well, but the acting is not the only area where this movie shines. The style, quick cuts, and narration will surely keep you on your toes and engaged.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Mystery

Actor: Adam Fogerty, Ade, Alan Ford, Andrew Shield, Andy Beckwith, Arnold Montey, Austin Drage, Benicio Del Toro, Brad Pitt, Charles Cork, Dave Legeno, Dennis Farina, Dian Bachar, Elwin 'Chopper' David, Eric Meyers, Ewen Bremner, Goldie, Guy Ritchie, James Cunningham, James Warren, Jason Buckham, Jason Flemyng, Jason Ninh Cao, Jason Statham, Jimmy Roussounis, John Farnell, John Hathaway, Lennie James, Liam Donaghy, Liam McMahon, Mick Theo, Mickey Cantwell, Mike Reid, Nicola Collins, Paul O'Boyle, Peter Rnic, Peter Szakacs, Rade Serbedzija, Robbie Gee, Roy Snell, Sam Douglas, Scott Welch, Sid Hoare, Sidney Sedin, Sol Campbell, Sorcha Cusack, Stephen Graham, Teena Collins, Tim Faraday, Tom Delmar, Trevor Steedman, Velibor Topic, Vinnie Jones, William Beck, Yuri Stepanov

Director: Guy Ritchie

Rating: R

In this raw, psychedelic drama, an American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his sister is killed at a night club. His spirit continues to float above the city and past, present, and future are woven together to complete the tale of his life. Taking a page from the Tibetan book of the dead, the film aims to explore one answer to life's most epic question: What happens when we die? Definitely not for the faint of heart, there is drug use, gore, and challenging themes throughout the movie. Its unique cinematography also captures Tokyo quite well.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Cyril Roy, Ed Spear, Emiko Takeuchi, Emily Alyn Lind, Janice Béliveau-Sicotte, Jesse Kuhn, Masato Tanno, Nathaniel Brown, Nobu Imai, Olly Alexander, Paz de la Huerta, Sakiko Fukuhara, Sara Stockbridge

Director: Gaspar Noé

Rating: Not Rated