50 Great Cult Films

Here is a list of what The Ringer thinks are the 50 best cult films of all time. It's a great list, but as in all such things, your mileage may vary. These are all quite mainstream.

31. Brazil

Terry Gilliam's Brazil—which does not take place in Brazil, and is instead named for the song "Aquarela do Brasil"—is like 1984 on acid. And though Orwell's most famous work inspired the movie, the comparison doesn't really do the dystopian comedy justice. It has some of the weirdest visuals ever seen on film. Take, for example, the scene in which Jim Broadbent's plastic surgeon, Dr. Jaffe, promises to make Katherine Helmond's Ida Lowry look 20 years younger. The doctor spends several minutes yanking on his patient's face like he's a salt water taffy pulling machine—while she's awake and talking to him.

According to Helmond, who died at 89 in 2019, Gilliam's sales pitch for the role was simple: "I have a part for you, and I want you to come over and do it, but you're not going to look very nice in it." —Alan Siegel

16. Repo Man

The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that its main character is a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. This car is everything. There may be lethal aliens in the trunk. It glows green. And it might be a spaceship. Also, Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton play key roles. And the soundtrack features songs by hardcore bands like Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, and Circle Jerks. But let's stop there. Sharing any more plot details might ruin the fun. The beauty of Repo Man is in its strangeness.

Alex Cox's violent and hilarious directorial debut, for which Iggy Pop provided the opening theme, is supposed to satirize the consumerism running rampant during the Reagan era. But the Los Angeles–set film—which was made for just $1.5 million—is one of the best movies of the '80s simply because it's full of endearingly weird shit. —Siegel

15. Oldboy

Oldboy isn't a movie you recommend to someone so much as one you inflict on them. At its core is a mystery: Oh Dae-su, the sort of drunk who has to slur through a call to his daughter to explain why he missed her fourth birthday, is abducted off the street and imprisoned for 15 years without explanation. Why would this happen? Who would go to such trouble to keep Dae-su captive in what looks the part of a grimy, locked-down motel room? The answers to those questions are so shocking and so artfully revealed that they compelled viewers to pass around the Oldboy DVD to whomever would take it, if only to see their own shattered viewing experience reflected back to them. It's a fitting course to cult status, considering Oldboy is ultimately a film about trauma and the tragedies we share. The noir of it all brings us in, but Choi Min-sik's leading performance—through every wailing fight and haunted smile—pulls us even to the places we'd rather not go. After watching it through, we can finally see the whole brutal mess for what it always was: the slow climb of an elevator to the penthouse floor. —Mahoney

7. Eraserhead

Before David Lynch had a sizable following for his work and could corral ascendant movie stars, he made Eraserhead. A film scraped together with funding from the American Film Institute when Lynch was a student—and after that money ran out, he took a paper route for The Wall Street JournalEraserhead is as bizarre as it is inscrutable. Taking place in some unnamed industrial hellscape, Lynch's first feature-length film concerns a meek label printer named Henry Spencer (Jack Nance), whose girlfriend gives birth to a deformed infant that looks like a cross between E.T. and a monitor lizard. Anyone hoping to find answers in Lynch's movie is fighting a losing battle; instead, Eraserhead is best appreciated as a disturbingly assured debut whose traces can be found in the rest of the auteur's oeuvre. From the ambient sound design to the uncompromising body horror to its creeping sense of dread, Eraserhead is pure, unfiltered Lynch—and the ultimate cult film. —Surrey

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Image: Screengrab from Brazil, Universal Pictures.