Family watching movie
evgenyatamanenko/istockphoto
Family watching movie
evgenyatamanenko/istockphoto

Screen Gems

You can pick the movie up at any point since you know not only the storyline but also the dialogue by heart. Cult films have a post-theater release audience that likes to watch them again … and again. Read on for a sampling of beloved cinematic efforts that might not have been the biggest blockbusters when they first hit the theaters but have still managed to capture a special place in the hearts of many a movie lover.


Related: 29 Small-Budget Films That Went on to Win Oscars

The Goonies’ (1985)
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‘The Goonies’ (1985)

Simply put, this is the tale of a group of misfits in search of a treasure. But the basic story of “The Goonies” became so much more – and with a cast that included Josh Brolin, Sean Astin, Jeff Cohen, Ke Huy Quan, and Corey Feldman, it really connected with a young audience. Its appeal continues, and those seeking more details can rent or buy the documentary, “The Goonies: Making of a Cult Classic,” on Amazon.

The Big Lebowski
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‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)

The premise is basic for this box-office bomb from Joel and Ethan Coen that went on to post-theater success: Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski is mistaken for a millionaire who just happens to share his name. Because of the misunderstanding, his rug is ruined. He and his buddies seek restitution. That’s it. What follows is classic comedy, meditations on life — and so much more, all cementing this effort as a cult fave that continues decades after its release. The chemistry between stars Jeff Bridges and John Goodman is highly praised, too. 

The Parent Trap’ (1961)
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‘The Parent Trap’ (1961)

Identical twin daughters of a divorced couple grow up separately, with one raised by her father and the other by her mother (which didn’t seem horrible to audiences at the time but now raises so, so many questions). When Sharon and Susan, a dual role handled admirably by Hayley Mills, are reunited at a summer camp, they embark on a quest to reunite their family as well. The cult classic even spawned a 1998 reboot starring Lindsay Lohan.

The Princess Bride
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‘The Princess Bride’ (1987)

“Anybody want a peanut?” This film, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Robin Wright and Cary Elwes (along with Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, André the Giant, Christopher Guest, Peter Falk and Fred Savage) is presented as a book being read by a grandfather to his grandson – and viewers follow the book’s action as a farmhand tries to rescue a princess. The film, as many cult classics, was not a box-office success but would go on to become a much-quoted effort that found an audience on home video. 

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

When their car breaks down during a storm, Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick) find themselves seeking help in a castle, one presided over by that classic “sweet transvestite” Frank N. Furter. Tim Curry’s seminal star turn makes this film (a box-office bomb on opening) a perennial midnight-movie attraction. Obsessed fans not only dress up as characters but have classic moves to go along with the dialogue. As the BBC noted, “It’s the ultimate cult movie. The first. The biggest. The one cult movie to rule them all.”


Related: 50 Iconic Movie Locations Around the World

Love Actually
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‘Love Actually’ (2003)

What’s not to love about this love-themed film? It’s jam-packed with stars (think Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, and Keira Knightley — and that’s just for starters). It’s filled with Christmas scenes and songs. It’s got drama and comedy, heartbreak and joy … and even a lobster in the nativity play. The perennial charmer proved quite the surprise, a holiday release that continues to draw a devoted fanbase. 


Related: Classic Holiday Movies That Still Hold Up

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
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‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ (1983)

If you turn to a comedy troupe to find out the meaning of life, you can expect what you’ll get. The famed British comedy team takes viewers on a journey through all the stages of life, with wry commentary and outrageous vignettes filling this college-campus fave. Of the comedy/musical, The Hollywood Reporter said, “If ‘The Meaning of Life is’ undeniably tasteless, it is also imaginative and played with a soft edge that never reads as bitter, only mischievous …”

Office Space
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‘Office Space’ (1999)

A true blast from the past for these “work from home” days, this black comedy from Mike Judge takes a satiric look at the ins and outs of an unhappy staff at a typical 1990s software company. Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, and Gary Cole give memorable turns. On a feature devoted to its enduring popularity 20 years after its release, Variety noted the film, “was a bona fide box office flop when it grossed a measly $10.8 million in 1999. But once the comedy was discovered on DVD and cable, ‘Office Space’ became a cult sensation, spreading concepts like ‘flair’ and ‘assclown’ across pop culture.”

This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)
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‘This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)

Hello, Cleveland! Perhaps the original “mockumentary,” this film is framed as a documentary following “one of England’s loudest bands.” With stars galore, from director Rob Reiner (who portrayed the documentary maker Marty Di Bergi) to “band members” Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and a host of drummers, the movie failed to find an audience at first. As Mental Floss shares, “Like ‘Smell the Glove,’ the new album that the band is promoting in the film, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ didn’t immediately find its audience … It wasn’t until the film was released on home video that it truly found its audience; it has since gone on to garner loads of critical acclaim.” 

Reservoir Dogs
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‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)

The first full feature from Quentin Tarantino remains an indie favorite, a tale of a jewelry heist gone wrong. Tarantino also appears along with a powerful cast including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, and Michael Madsen. The Guardian notes, “No one should go to ‘Reservoir Dogs’ without prior thought. But what they will see is a riveting treatise on the theme of betrayal set in an urban wasteland that murders hope and makes redemption virtually impossible.”

Reefer Madness
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‘Reefer Madness’ (1936)

Partake at your own risk. That was the basic message of this bit of cinematic propaganda designed to caution against the horrors of marijuana. Rediscovered in the 1970s, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon. “One of the most absurdly earnest exercises in paranoia you'll ever have the good fortune to see,” says Time Out.


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Caddyshack’ (1980)
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‘Caddyshack’ (1980)

This sports-comedy film directed by Harold Ramis is not unknown, but it’s definitely got a cult following among golfers … and many a man in general. Starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Michael O’Keefe, the sometimes-raunchy, sometimes politically incorrect movie still finds an audience. 

Napoleon Dynamite’ (2004)
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‘Napoleon Dynamite’ (2004)

Sometimes you still can spot a random “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt or bumper sticker. Not in the loop? It’s from this Jared Hess-directed film starring Jon Heder in the title role, a painfully awkward teen we join in his daily trials and tribulations. It’s comic gold.

The Lost Boys
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‘The Lost Boys’ (1987)

Billed as a “supernatural horror vampire film,” this Joel Schumacher-directed work was an ensemble hit that earns its cult cachet for its quirky storyline, early focus on the world of vampires (a precursor to “Twilight,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and more), its paying tribute to classic literature of J.M. Barrie, and for being a favorite of film nights and sleepover parties. Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, and Corey Feldman shine in the film. The soundtrack is pretty great, too.

Zoolander’ (2001)
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‘Zoolander’ (2001)

Those pursed lips and intense stare … Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander offers quite the take on the male fashion model. This film also throws that fashion model into the middle of an international scheme to kill a world leader. It sounds like another day at the movies; however, since “Zoolander” was originally released the same month as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, quite a shadow was cast. But, despite that initial poor reception, the cult popularity of the film led to a sequel in 2016.

Weekend at Bernie's
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‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ (1989)

Put Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman and a dead boss “played” by Terry Kiser together and you have a camp classic about a corpse, a misunderstanding, and plenty of slapstick. Even Silverman reportedly told Larry King, “I’m thrilled and shocked and confused that this little movie that we made years ago has turned into a cult (hit).”

From Dusk Till Dawn
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‘From Dusk till Dawn’ (1996)

Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, this film starring Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, and Tarantino himself is an action-horror hybrid about criminal brothers who take a family hostage to cross the border into Mexico, only to end up trapped in a saloon where vampires hang out. Huh? Yeah, well, this film earned mixed reviews on release but made $10,240,805 at the box office and spawned several prequels. If you’re interested, don’t read reviews — but be prepared for a big twist during the bar fight.

Grease 2
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‘Grease 2’ (1982)

“Grease” — the 1978 musical hit starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John — is a classic, the subject of movie-night sing-alongs, and countless replays on TV. An attempt to capitalize on the film’s success, this sequel was released and starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield. Does it sound like a bad idea? Not so fast. The BBC says, “The sequel to the hit musical was a critical and commercial disaster on its release — but it’s since become a cult classic,” with fan sites, anniversary screenings, conventions and more.


Related: 35 Best Movie Musicals of the Past 70 Years

Auntie Mame 1958
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‘Auntie Mame’ (1958)

Face it, there’s a whole cult built around Mame Dennis. Whether it’s the 1955 book “Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade” by Patrick Dennis, the Broadway show(s), the regional theater interpretations – or this quintessential classic movie interpretation starring Rosalind Russell (sorry, Lucille Ball’s 1974 turn as “Mame” failed to connect), the story of the irreverent bon vivant is one for the ages. There’s a rumored remake starring Tilda Swinton, as well. “Auntie Mame” has also become a touchstone of gay culture, often featured in film festivals and given special screenings. 

Meatballs’ (1979)
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‘Meatballs’ (1979)

Bill Murray’s first starring role came as “Tripper” Harrison, the head counselor at a budget-conscious summer camp. As expected, the film offers up a wealth of practical jokes and sight gags, an air of romance, and a heartwarming plot thread, with Murray’s character taking a particularly struggling young camper under his wing. 

Blue Velvet (DVD)
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‘Blue Velvet’ (1986)

David Lynch’s mystery/thriller starred Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern – and confused many a theatergoer. A severed ear, a college student, a lounge singer … it all adds up to a film that continues to draw movie fans into its mysterious plot. Apparently fashionistas are also fans, as noted by the Hollywood-meets-the runway fashion collection “Blue Velvet” announced in January, a collaboration between MGM and Italian luxury brand Off White.

The Blob’ (1958)
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‘The Blob’ (1958)

A town threatened by a big, well, blob of something that seeps into everything it encounters? Seems like a flimsy plot for a movie — but this was the heart of “The Blob,” a drive-in staple for many years, and a film that just happened to star a young Steve McQueen.  

Road House” (1989)
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'Road House' (1989)

Patrick Swayze is the doorman at a roadside bar. Cue a bit of drama, lots of fighting and, of course, a love interest. This film might not be Swayze’s “Ghost” or “Dirty Dancing,” but it’s got a devoted following. Last year, Variety put the movie at the top of a list of 100 Movies That Saved Cable.

Pink Flamingos 27x40 Movie Poster (1972)
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‘Pink Flamingos’ (1972)

Director John Waters is a cinematic icon with a reputation for making films that repel as much as they attract — a distinction that you just know he embraces. Though he went on to film Hollywood hits (and inspire Broadway productions) such as “Cry-Baby” (1990) and “Hairspray” (1988), among Waters’ repertoire is this signature film, which follows the travails of Divine, here known as tabloid star/criminal Babs Johnson, The Filthiest Person Alive. You gotta see it to understand.

Clerks’ (1994)
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‘Clerks’ (1994)

Kevin Smith’s black-and-white buddy film found an indie audience with a straightforward story about two, um, clerks at a convenience shop. What may be most memorable is that Smith was actually able to pursue lasting fame in Hollywood and put his days as a clerk behind him. A sequel, “Clerks II,” was released in 2006 and there’s been buzz about a third having finished filming August 2021.

The Room
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‘The Room’ (2003)

This quintessential midnight movie — which had a cult following long before James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” (2017) spotlighted its backstory — is a head-scratcher. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the convoluted tale of a San Francisco banker and his love interest, a woman who tires of him … and therein the “plot” proceeds. As critic Nick Allen wrote in 2017, “Tommy Wiseau’s cult hit ‘The Room’ leaves the audience with massive questions. Not just about pictures of spoons, strange dialogue, or the star’s penchant for smashing things, but curiosities of a more baffling nature: From what mind and soul did this entirely serious production come from? How could an artistic statement like this exist?” It does — and you’ve got to see it to believe it.

Sid & Nancy
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‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986)

Captivating might best describe Gary Oldman’s performance as Sid Vicious, the bassist of the Sex Pistols, Britain’s punk pioneers. The film traces the sometimes sweet but ultimately tragic relationship between Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen, played by Chloe. For ‘90s music fans, Courtney Love (widow of Kurt Cobain and lead singer of Hole) has a small part as Nancy’s friend. 

The Amityville Horror’ (1979)
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‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

This classic horror film, which starred James Brolin and Margot Kidder as a couple who move into a home where a mass murder occurred, isn’t for the faint of heart. But poor critical reviews haven’t dulled interest in the movie as well as the real-life inspiration for it — the Lutz family bought but quickly abandoned an Amityville, Long Island house, believing spooky events were happening inside it due to Ronald DeFeo Jr. then 23, gunning down his parents and four siblings there in 1974. Due to an intrusive number of fans visiting the home, the address number has actually been changed. There have been a whopping 22 sequels and films inspired by the story, including “Amityville 3D” (1983) and “Amityville Clownhouse” (2017)


Related: This Was the Scariest Movie the Year You Were Born

The Pope of Greenwich Village
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‘The Pope of Greenwich Village’ (1984)

This story of two cousins who mistakenly rob the mob doesn’t sound like a complex storyline, but when those cousins are played by Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, the straightforward plot is anything but routine. There’s action and comedy in this crime story, one that remains a classic. 

Children of the Corn
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‘Children of the Corn’ (1984)

All I remember of this movie is Peter Horton – and being pretty freaked out. But it’s the story of a young couple who can’t escape a small town where a creepy cult of children thinks everyone over age 18 must be killed, and it’s just as unnerving as you’d expect. The movie has literary credentials, though, as it is based on a short story by Stephen King. While poorly reviewed initially, the horror film sparked a franchise that now tops 10 films. 

Showgirls
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‘Showgirls’ (1995)

Elizabeth Berkley certainly left “Saved by the Bell” behind with this no-holds-barred tale (rated NC-17) of a drifter determined to become a Las Vegas showgirl. It failed to find first-run success but, as Los Angeles Magazine reported last year, “As a select few bad movies do, ‘Showgirls’ went on to become a cult classic, screened and celebrated ad nauseum in the 25 years since it was released.”

Head 1968
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‘Head’ (1968)

Did you know the “Prefab Four”? That would be a nickname bestowed on The Monkees, negatively comparing the musical group to The Beatles, who were the stars of more than a weekly TV show. “Head” was a musical-adventure film that involved Jack Nicholson as a co-screenwriter. The plot was surreal; the reception underwhelming. But Monkees devotees today still long to see Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith in their lone cinematic effort. 

The Poseidon Adventure
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'The Poseidon Adventure' (1972)

A classic disaster film with a watery twist, this movie features an impressive cast (including Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons) who are on an aging luxury liner that’s overturned by a tsunami. It’s gripping – and overblown, to say the least. As The New York Times notes, “Alone among the all-star blow-’em-ups released during the Watergate era, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ has achieved cult status … We’re talking serious ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’-type devotion here. Die-hard ‘Poseidon’ fans have dissected the movie frame by frame, committed it to memory, satirized it in home videos, built action figures of the cast, even designed homes with ‘Poseidon’ motifs.”