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10 Greatest Cult Films Everyone Needs To See

by Jonathan H. Kantor
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Cult movies are those that people come to enjoy and even watch repeatedly, although the films weren’t financially successful at first. These movies develop an audience over time, and most people never get the opportunity to view them. If you missed these 10 cult films from the 20th century, you definitely need to see them.

10 What’s Up, Tiger Lilly?

What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) Trailer

Woody Allen bought a terrible Japanese film called International Secret Police: Key of Keys and decided to redo all the audio. For those of you who don’t like Woody Allen, don’t worry. He isn’t in it (save for an introduction).

There isn’t much point in describing the plot because this film is basically a feature-length bad lipreading. Not a lot of the writing points to any of Allen’s other work, so this film does stand on its own in a lot of ways.

The most fun is had when the dialogue is changed to completely alter the subplot of a scene. This is one of the first of this sort of film, which helped to launch a new genre wherein people began to dub comedic lines into silent and foreign films.

9 Closet Land

Closet Land Trailer

Imagine watching a film that goes on for an hour and a half, has only two actors, and is set in only one room. Got it? That’s the film, and it’s brilliant!

The movie is a psychological thriller about a children’s book author who is captured by an unnamed government agency and forced into an interrogation about the nature of her book. Is it antigovernment rhetoric disguised as a children’s book, or is it just a kid’s book?

The psychological tortures provided by Alan Rickman are phenomenally subtle yet horribly realistic. The pace of this film is slow, but it’s one of those movies that really make you think. What would you do if you were in her situation? Could you ever find yourself at the mercy of your government?

8 Play It Again, Sam

Play It Again, Sam Trailer 1972

Play It Again, Sam is one of the most misquoted lines that isn’t in any film, but it does refer this movie to Casablanca quite well. The main character, played by Woody Allen, is a man obsessed with Casablanca and its star, Humphrey Bogart.

This would be a typical love story except that Allen visualizes Bogart’s character giving him advice about women throughout the film. Sometimes, Bogart tells Allen to treat women rough and keep it simple. Fans of Casablanca will either love or hate Play It Again, Sam since the central theme and plot somewhat mirror Casablanca.

At the end of Play It Again, Sam, we see the finale play out similarly to Casablanca. Allen even says, “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”

The line is perfectly placed and really brings the film to a great end.

7 The Flight Of Dragons

Flight Of Dragons Trailer

This is a great fantasy movie that actually stays grounded, so it’s great for children. The story is about a man who is brought into the past during the time of magic and dragons to help stop an evil wizard from taking over.

To do this, he must use science and reason as his weapons. But through a terrible mishap, his mind is ironically placed into a juvenile dragon which he must take to the ends of the Earth to battle with the evil mage.

The theme of the film revolves around how fantasy and reality don’t mix but can still coexist for a healthy take on life. The movie is yet another beautiful example of American animation.

6 American Pop

American Pop Trailer 1981

American Pop is an exploration into American music from the beginning of the 20th century through the early 1980s. This film follows the lives of a family of Americans, beginning with an immigrant boy from Russia and continuing with the lives of three subsequent generations as they become involved in American music.

The themes and stories are interwoven with elements of organized crime, war, poverty, and narcotics addiction, but the story comes together in a meaningful way. The music accompanying each period is well chosen and flows from one era to the next.

The final piece is a montage of several songs. It begins with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” on the piano (instead of the guitar), and it is captivating. Like other Bakshi films, the animation style is primarily rotoscoping (animating over live-action footage). It is truly one of the great American animated films.

5 The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter 1984 1080p BluRay x264

This movie is the depiction of every kid’s dream . . . at least in the 1980s. You are so good at playing the local arcade machine that some aliens come to Earth and recruit you to fight in their real war.

The arcade machine was nothing but a training simulator to find the most qualified applicants to help in their fight for interstellar peace! While the real person is in space, a duplicate is placed on Earth so that the main character isn’t missed.

But it doesn’t go as well as he might have liked, which adds an element of comedy to this otherwise adventurous sci-fi movie. The film has one of the first uses of computer-generated graphics. They may not stand the test of time, but they were cutting-edge in 1984.

4 Naked Lunch

Naked lunch – Cronenberg – trailer

If you like getting smacked in the face with surreal imagery, metaphor, and insanity, then you must be a fan of William S. Burroughs. If that’s the case, Naked Lunch is for you.

Based on the novel of the same name, Naked Lunch delves into the perils of narcotic addiction in a way that only Kafka’s The Metamorphosis could understand. The main character is a writer who hallucinates about a giant insect coming out of his typewriter. The insect instructs him to kill his wife.

Refusing to do so, the man eventually “kills” the bug by destroying his typewriter. Inadvertently, he kills his wife a bit later . . . or does he? Hallucinations and paranoia continue as he is forced to relive this encounter. What is real, and what is imagined?

3 Grave Of The Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies – Official Trailer

This is the one movie that might make Chuck Norris cry. The story follows the lives of a brother and sister who barely survive the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945. After the death of their mother, the children are left to fend for themselves.

The story is about their survival and ultimate fate. It is a sad movie but one worth watching. It shows the horrors of war from the perspective of “the other side,” at least from an American/Allied point of view, and does so through the eyes of the innocent.

The firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities was largely meant to destabilize and terrorize the populace—and it did. This film is a perfect depiction of that. Watch it and cry.

2 Dark City

Dark City (1998) Official Trailer – Jennifer Connelly, Kiefer Sutherland Sci-Fi Movie HD

Dark City is one of the greatest science fiction films of the late 1990s. The film is a neo-noir science fiction/mystery that revolves around a protagonist who is suffering from amnesia and is aptly named John.

Finding himself at a murder scene, he struggles to find out who he really is, how he got involved, and whether he is truly evil. The film explores the nature of humanity. Are we inherently evil, or are we led to do evil things?

The setting of the film is a beautiful, dark cityscape that changes throughout the film. The antagonists are an odd assortment of men and even some young boys called “The Strangers” with names like Mr. Book and Mr. Hand.

The film stars Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jennifer Connelly. The pacing is a bit slow to start. But once the movie gets rolling, it keeps going until you hit a surprise ending with some amazing special effects.

1 The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn – Trailer

Many people misidentify this movie as a children’s film, but they are missing out. The Last Unicorn is a fantasy movie that deals with adult issues such as loss, survival, loneliness, and intimidation.

The animation is beautifully rendered and amazing to watch. The story is about the world’s last unicorn as she leaves her enchanted forest to seek out the rest of her kind.

She travels through a land that has forgotten magic and enchanted creatures like herself. She meets enemies and allies along the way, eventually turning into a human girl and almost forgetting who she is.

It’s a great story and fun to watch with your kids . . . or by yourself. The Last Unicorn also has one of the best sound tracks of any animated movie. It features all original songs by the band America.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Jonathan H. Kantor

Jonathan is a graphic artist, illustrator, and writer. He is a Retired Soldier and enjoys researching and writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

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