11 Overrated Cult Classic Movies That Don’t Deserve Their Praise

Drive-in Movie Screening of The Big Lebowski at the Red Rocks Amphiteatre, Morrison, Colorado

Mark Makela/Getty Images

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Drive-in Movie Screening of The Big Lebowski at the Red Rocks Amphiteatre, Morrison, Colorado
Mark Makela/Getty Images

Overrated Cult Classic Movies

Conventional wisdom holds that there are two kinds of cult classic movies. The first is “the lost gem,” a great film that failed at the box office but found a dedicated audience through rentals and streaming services, such as 1999’s “Office Space.” The second kind is the “so bad it’s good” variety, exemplified by 1995’s “Showgirls,” which is hot garbage by any rational standard yet impossible to turn off.

There is also a third category of cult classic films, and while it gets less mention than the other two, it’s just as real – the “so bad it’s bad” variety. Many movies that have received “cult classic” status are just bad, and sitting through them amounts to at least 90 minutes of unadulterated suffering. We’ve listed eleven such movies here in the hopes of saving you such an experience, and when we say these movies are not worth 90 seconds of your life, much less 90 minutes, we mean it.

Related: The 50 Worst Movies of All Time, According to Critics

The Big Lebowski, 1998

1. ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)

Joel and Ethan Coen, better known as the filmmaking duo the Coen Brothers, have tended to release one great movie followed by an absolute stinker. After 1996’s brilliant “Fargo,” they unleashed 1998’s “The Big Lebowski” on a trusting public. The movie has no story and primarily consists of Jeff Bridges wandering in his bathrobe, uttering slacker dialogue that is memed to this day. We apologize if you love it, but that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Related: Cult Classic Movies We Can’t Stop Watching

Caligula, 1979

2. ‘Caligula’ (1979)

1979’s “Caligula” had the makings of a great historical epic. It starred Malcolm McDowell in the title role, was based on a Gore Vidal screenplay, and was directed by Tinto Brass. Those names would lead viewers to expect competent filmmaking, but Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione got a hold of it and added a bunch of graphic violence and “adult footage” that turned it into the world’s bloodiest and most expensive stag film. The result is stomach-churning and seems to go on for days. McDowell supervised a version that took out all the Guccione stuff and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023. But at this point, who cares?

Dune 1984 Movie Poster

3. ‘Dune’ (1984)

Frank Herbert’s Dune was thought to be unfilmable. In 1984, David Lynch brought it to the big screen, and some hoped that he could make something special with it. He didn’t. The movie is an utterly confused jumble whose constant voiceover narrations explain nothing, and as a whole, it just doesn’t work. Fans of the book didn’t like the many liberties taken with the source material, so it pleased nobody. Lynch, who did not have final cut over the film, has wholly disowned it. We recommend seeing the recent Denis Villeneuve adaptions instead – he actually read the book! Filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to adapt it in the 1970s, to no avail, but the documentary about that effort, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” is a fascinating watch.

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El Topo 1970 Blu-Ray Cover

4. ‘El Topo’ (1970)

Speaking of Alejandro Jodorowsky, his surreal western “El Topo” has been hailed as a cult classic since its 1970 release. In reality, it’s absolutely incoherent. While it’s nice that he had the freedom to work however he wanted and was allowed to make a movie that really let his freak flag fly, “El Topo” is the greatest argument for studio interference ever made. It also makes clear that if Jodorowsky had succeeded in making the 20-hour version of “Dune” that he originally envisioned, watching it would have felt like a prison sentence.

Eraserhead, 1977

5. ‘Eraserhead’ (1977)

David Lynch made a name for himself with “Eraserhead,” a surreal film with an avant-garde style whose story is impossible to summarize, because there isn’t one. If any movie deserves the “so bad it’s bad” descriptor, this is it, and never before have 89 minutes elapsed so slowly. Its defenders will say that its detractors don’t understand it and should watch it again. However, we promise you, you are much better off being characterized as a moron who can’t understand anything more complex than an episode of “Dora the Explorer.”

Related: 13 Beloved Books That Made Terrible Films, According to Critics

I Spit on Your Grave, 1978 Movie Poster

6. ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978)

The 1970s was an excellent decade for low-budget horror movies. Indeed, filmmakers who would go on to make genre-defining films, such as Wes Craven and John Carpenter, made names for themselves during that decade with features that looked like they might have cost $500 to make. Unfortunately, a lot of complete hacks took that as their cue to get in on the act, and exploitative garbage like “I Spit on Your Grave” was the result. The story of a woman who gets sexually assaulted by a group of men and then gets her revenge, the whole thing is completely sickening. Roger Ebert described watching it as “one of the most depressing experiences of my life.”

Napoleon Dynamite, 2004

7. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ (2004)

“Napoleon Dynamite” came out in 2004, and given its $400,000 budget, its $45 million box office take makes it a real success story. This comedy film concerns a socially awkward teenager and his high school foibles, and unlike many of the movies on this list, there’s nothing offensive about it. It must also be said that it’s not funny. At all. You will not crack one smile when you watch it, and if you do embark on a viewing, be prepared to sit there, frowning and with your arms crossed, until the credits mercifully roll, signaling that you can shut it off.

Pink Flamingos, 1972, Divine

8. ‘Pink Flamingos’ (1972)

1972’s “Pink Flamingos” was director John Waters' third full-length movie, and it’s fair to say that it put him on the map. It remains his most famous movie, entirely because of the final scene, in which the main character, played by the great Divine, engages in the act of coprophagia (look it up). Most viewers will endure the entire movie, which is agonizing to sit through, to get to that scene, and we promise you, it’s not worth it. Rent “Female Trouble” instead, which is still plenty offensive but mostly engaging to watch.

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Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959

9. ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959)

The best thing you can say about director Ed Wood is that he was consistent. All of his movies were egregious acts of incompetence, and their schlocky acting, set design, costumes, you name it, were the textbook definition of “unacceptable.” While all of his movies were uniformly awful, 1959’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is the one that gets cited the most frequently, for reasons that are unclear, since it’s exactly as terrible as everything else he ever made. There is no amount of narcotics you can ingest, and no drinking game you can play that will redeem your experience of watching it.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975

10. ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975)

Yes, really. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” became the subject of a significant cult following, which saw it play for decades at midnight screenings, attended by fans who dressed like the characters, shouted back at the screen, brought their own props, and did pretty much everything you could possibly do to disrupt a movie. So how is the movie when you watch it in the privacy of your own home, with no one squirting water pistols during “Over at the Frankenstein Place”? It completely falls apart, that’s how it is. The movie is very poorly made, confusing, and has an utterly nonsensical ending, all of which will make you yearn for an audience of drunken yahoos to descend upon your living room to make the movie watchable again.

The Room, 2003

11. ‘The Room’ (2003)

We saved the worst for last. Actually, that’s not true since this is an alphabetical list. But it is nevertheless serendipitous that Tommy Wiseau's 2003 cinematic abomination should round it out. Full of miserably bad acting, every technical defect you can imagine, and a storyline that mainly inspires the question, “Why did they film this?” in most rational viewers, “The Room” has gained a cult following since its release. This is based 100% on the fact that Wiseau – who wrote, directed, and stars in the film – absolutely cannot act to save his life, and he’s surrounded by performers who would be the worst actors in any other movie but for him. The sole exception is Carolyn Minnott, who plays the mother of the lead character’s girlfriend, and while her acting is dire, she at least seems to be aware that she is not working on a great film.

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