'These Go to 11': Cult Classic Movies We Can’t Stop Watching

Spinal Tap

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Spinal Tap
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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 cult classic movies that might not have been the biggest blockbusters when they first hit the theaters but have managed to capture a special place in the hearts of many a movie lover.  

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

The Goonies’ (1985)

‘The Goonies’ (1985)

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. Those seeking more details can rent or buy the documentary, “The Goonies: Making of a Cult Classic,” on Amazon.

The Big Lebowski

‘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 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 classic that continues decades after it was initially released. The chemistry between stars Jeff Bridges and John Goodman is highly praised, too. 

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The Parent Trap’ (1961)

‘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 spawned a 1998 reboot starring Lindsay Lohan.

The Princess Bride

‘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 is a much-quoted effort that found an audience on home video. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

‘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 presided over by “sweet transvestite” Frank N. Furter. Tim Curry’s seminal star turn helped make this film a perennial midnight-movie attraction. Obsessed fans not only dress up as characters but reenact the dances and dialogue. As the BBC noted, “It’s the ultimate cult movie. The first. The biggest. The one cult movie to rule them all.”

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Love Actually

‘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 as well as debate and discontent over some of the narratives.

Related: Classic Holiday Movies That Still Hold Up

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

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

If you turn to a comedy troupe to find out the meaning of life, you deserve what you get. The famed British comedy team takes viewers on a journey through 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

‘Office Space’ (1999)

A black comedy from Mike Judge looking satirically at the ins and outs of 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, “grossed a measly $10.8 million in 1999. But once the comedy was discovered on DVD and cable, ‘Office Space’ became a cult classic, spreading concepts like ‘flair’ and ‘assclown’ across pop culture.”

This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)

‘This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)

Hello, Cleveland! The original “mockumentary” followed “one of England’s loudest bands” on a troubled tour. With stars galore, from director Rob Reiner (portraying 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 has since gone on to garner loads of critical acclaim.” You might even say it went to 11. 

Reservoir Dogs

‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)

The first full feature from Quentin Tarantino remains an indie favorite, a tale of a jewelry heist gone wrong. Tarantino 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

‘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 became a cultural phenomenon among mainstream audiences. “One of the most absurdly earnest exercises in paranoia you'll ever have the good fortune to see,” Time Out says.

Caddyshack’ (1980)

‘Caddyshack’ (1980)

This sports-comedy film directed by Harold Ramis has 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 is one of those that plenty of watchers seem to be able to quote in full. 

Napoleon Dynamite’ (2004)

‘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 high school teen we join in his daily trials and tribulations. It’s comic gold.

The Lost Boys

‘The Lost Boys’ (1987)

Billed as a “supernatural horror vampire film,” this Joel Schumacher-directed work was an ensemble hit that earns cachet for its quirky storyline; leading a new wave of vampire films such “Twilight,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and more; and paying tribute to the classic literature of J.M. Barrie. Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, and Corey Feldman shine. The soundtrack is pretty great, too.

Zoolander’ (2001)

‘Zoolander’ (2001)

Those pursed lips and intense stare … Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander offers quite the take on the male fashion model thrown into an international scheme to kill a world leader. “Zoolander” was released the same month as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and quite a shadow was cast over it. But cult popularity led to a sequel in 2016.

Weekend at Bernie's

‘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.”

From Dusk Till Dawn

‘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 and made $10.2 million at the box office. It became a franchise with two more films, a TV show, and video game. If you’re interested, don’t read reviews — but be prepared for a big twist during the bar fight.

Grease 2

‘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, a sequel was released with Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield. 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: Best Movie Musicals of the Past 70 Years

Auntie Mame 1958

‘Auntie Mame’ (1958)

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, but Lucille Ball’s 1974 turn as “Mame” failed to connect), the story of the irreverent bon vivant is one for the ages. “Auntie Mame” has also become a touchstone of gay culture, often featured in film festivals and given special screenings. 

Meatballs’ (1979)

‘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 struggling young camper under his wing. 

Blue Velvet (DVD)

‘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,” a collaboration between MGM and Italian luxury brand Off White.

The Blob’ (1958)

‘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 stayed a drive-in staple for years. Starring a young Steve McQueen couldn't have hurt.  

Road House” (1989)

'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 Variety put the movie at the top of a list of 100 Movies That Saved Cable.

Pink Flamingos 27x40 Movie Poster (1972)

‘Pink Flamingos’ (1972)

Director John Waters is an icon with a reputation for making films that repel as much as they attract — a distinction 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 following Divine, here known as tabloid star and criminal Babs Johnson, The Filthiest Person Alive. You gotta see it to understand.

Clerks’ (1994)

‘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, followed by "Clerks III" in 2022.

The Room

‘The Room’ (2003)

This perfect midnight movie had a cult following long before James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist” (2017) spotlighted its backstory, but remains 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. As critic Nick Allen wrote in 2017, it “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?” 

Sid & Nancy

‘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 Webb. For ’90s music fans: Courtney Love (widow of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and lead singer of Hole) has a small part as Nancy’s friend.  

The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979)

This horror film, starring 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 didn’t dulled interest in it or the real-life inspiration — a house in Amityville, Long Island, bought by the Lutz family. They believed the spooky events were tied to Ronald DeFeo Jr. then 23, gunning down his parents and four siblings within in 1974. Its address was changed to discourage fans of it and 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

‘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

‘Children of the Corn’ (1984)

A young couple can’t escape a small town where a creepy cult of children thinks everyone over age 18 must be killed. It’s as unnerving as you’d expect. The movie has literary credentials — it is based on a short story by Stephen King — and, while poorly reviewed initially, has sparked a franchise that now tops 10 films. 

Head 1968

‘Head’ (1968)

Did you know the “Prefab Four”? That would be a nickname bestowed on The Monkees, negatively comparing the musical group with 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

'The Poseidon Adventure' (1972)

A 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 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.”