Six cult classics everyone needs to watch

By Adia Miller

Film is an artistic medium capable of crossing language and cultural barriers that’s been prevalent since 1910 with the creation of the nickelodeon theater. With 110 years of films out there, it’s no surprise that some amazing works have fallen in the cracks over time. Luckily, with streaming platforms and online retailers, access to films has only become easier, so those forgotten or initially dismissed films get a second chance at life.

Cult classics can exist in any length, theme, or language. Most of them had limited success due to controversial topics or were just too obscure to gather a large crowd. Like in any genre, some of the films are good and some of the films are bad, so here’s a kickoff list to get you started on the journey to appreciating cult classics.

Labyrinth (1986: Fantasy/Adventure)

Labyrinth is a 1986 film created by master puppeteer Jim Henson also known for the Muppets, Dark Crystal, and Sesame Street, and then written and revised by an estimated 30 people over its development.

The story follows Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), a 16-year-old girl who spends most of her time acting out scene excerpts and generally living in her imagination. After flippantly wishing one day that the Goblin King from her story would come to take her baby brother Toby away, Jareth (David Bowie), the Goblin King himself, captures young Toby and takes him away to the Goblin city. Given thirteen hours to make her way through a labyrinth filled with puzzles and tricks set by Jareth, Sarah must rescue her brother, or he will be stuck there forever.

The movie features fascinating creatures brought to life through Henson’s puppetry, original music created by Bowie, and moments so recognizable, an annual masquerade is held in California imitating the classic dream-sequence ball.

With all of these components plus Ziggy Stardust himself, why did the film flop, only making back half of its 25-million-dollar budget? A 1986 review by Roger Ebert summarizes the movie as a story that isn’t worth the justice done by the production. Others just said they found it “silly” or “long,” not taking into account that this is a kid’s fantasy created to give the audience a good time.

In the end despite its criticism, Labyrinth for most people is just a nostalgic flick from their childhood with good music, good effects, and good ol’ David Bowie. What’s better than that?

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975: Musical/Horror/Sci-Fi)

Probably the most iconic cult classic of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a film adaptation of a Richard O’Brien musical that’s very existence created a new theater format.

The story follows newly engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) who on their way to visit an old professor get stuck in a rainstorm and have to seek shelter in a mansion far from the ordinary. There they meet a lively gang of comical, albeit disturbing, characters who live to have a good time, as well as the “transvestite from Transylvania” Dr. Frank N’ Furter (Tim Curry).

With nonsense songs, aliens, a Frankenstein monster, and no discernible plot, this is a film for those who delight in the blatantly absurd.

Its outrageous themes led to it being a box office flop, but all would change when the Waverly Theater started their late-night showings. There, actors would combine film with live theater, playing the movie on a large screen while live actors performed along. Later, fans started showing up with props and scripts to follow along.

Staples like throwing rolls of toilet paper during the “Great Scott!!” scene or spraying water guns when Janet and Brad drive through the rain have become commonplace in theaters that still perform Rocky Horror. Not to mention the crowd shows up in androgynous looks or cosplay, delighting in the gender fluidity promoted by the film and deemed safe under the cover of night surrounded by the other “weirdos.”

The watching experience is kind of like a convoluted sugar rush dream. Things jump off one another erratically, just chasing the high of entertainment. But even if you don’t find the film itself enjoyable, find a theater and experience a live performance. If nothing else, the pure mania of it all is intoxicating.

Clue (1985: Comedy/Mystery)

Inspired by the boardgame of the same name, this flick is a camp-filled break from reality that delights in wordplay and highlights the charisma of its actors with actors Tim Curry and Michael McKean standing out.

The film introduces six guests all with their board-game-accurate color-themed names, as well as a butler (Curry), chef, and maid all “invited” to an isolated mansion by the mysterious Mr. Body who lures them there with threats of blackmail. The characters are taken to the study where they are handed a weapon, the lights are turned off briefly, and by the time the lights turn back on, Mr. Body is dead. The movie continues as the characters try to find who among them is the killer while more and more bodies pile up.

A fair premise built on the back of a nostalgic board game, why is it worth a watch? Well, it did something no other movie has ever done. The film has three completely different endings aired in theaters. Thought to be a genius idea bound to make the film a huge success, it actually was a primary factor in why the movie flopped. This was largely because theater gimmicks such as the thousand-dollar insurance policy for Macabre or the fright break in Homicidal, once commonplace, were becoming obsolete.

The premise of the board game is that three cards selected at random detail how the murder took place (who, with what, and where), and each player goes around the board trying to find out each element. Thus, the director had the idea to film three completely different endings, edit them all, and send the different versions of the movie to different theaters so it was always a guess as to who had done it with each viewing.

Unfortunately, most saw this as a cash grab and the reviews of the film were deadpan. Luckily though, the three-ending switcheroo are now all featured on the film’s DVD and are seen as brilliant given the nature of the game with its ever-changing plots. If nothing else, the final sequence with Curry’s character manically going through how the murder was committed, three different times in three different ways, is definitely worth a watch.

It (1990: Horror Miniseries)

The first adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel about a shape-shifting clown that survives by feasting on children’s fear and bodies, this two-episode miniseries was the creator of many 90-kids’ worst nightmares. Arguably King’s most famous story, the thousand-page novel got another adaptation in the form of two blockbuster movies in 2017 and 2019 whose success has since overshadowed the 1990’s version, though it could never compare to the pop culture impact made by the first.

A two-part made-for-TV movie, the 1990 miniseries follows the book’s plot pretty well. Episode one features the younger characters in their journey to defeat Pennywise the clown in the 60’s while the second episode has the adults return to Derry, Maine, when they find out that Pennywise has come back again after his 27-year slumber. It’s definitely a dated film not helped by it’s made-for-tv status and the budget that goes along with that, but it is the more faithful adaptation and not without its many scares.

If nothing else, it’s cool to see the initial film interpretation and be able to compare it to the modern take. Not to mention we see how horror, one of film’s most controversial genres, has developed through the years. 

The Neverending Story (1984: Fantasy/Adventure)  

Based on the 1979 book by Michael Ende, the movie starts with Bastian (Barret Oliver) ducking into a bookstore in order to avoid a group of bullies coming his way. There he finds a book titled “The Neverending Story ” which takes place in the magical land of Fantasia that’s being overtaken by a dark force called The Nothing which destroys all it touches. After reading a description of the novel’s main character Atreyu (Noah Hathaway), a boy who must save the land from The Nothing, the audience is taken to Fantasia where we see the heroic journey play out.

This film acts as a great stepping stone into the fantasy genre. Fair warning though, the PG age rating is underestimated a bit as the film features a heartbreaking scene of Atreyu’s horse Artax dying as well as quite a bit dark imagery. Really it works best under the title of “creepy kids movies” like Coraline, Mirror Mask, and Dark Crystal. The book is much more tempered. But there is a strangely subversive feeling that comes from watching what’s supposed to be a film made for kids and realizing how messed up it is.

This movie has some really impressive visuals for its time, a fascinating plot, and a killer theme song that just screams 80’s. The film has two take-it-or-leave-it sequels, but the first is definitely worth a watch, especially if you love a good dose of fantasy.

The Court Jester (1955: Comedy/Musical)

The Court Jester has all the makings of a classic Hollywood film from the golden age only it was never afforded the attention it deserved. Starring the king of comedy Danny Kaye, who you may recognize as Phil Davis from White Christmas, the film takes on a Robin Hood-esque story sans Robin.

Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a circus performer in the medieval era who through a series of coincidences ends up infiltrating the castle of a usurper as a court jester in the attempt to return the throne to its rightful owner.

Also featuring Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, and Glynis Johns, the film has a vaudevillian tone assisted with gorgeous medieval costumes, jaunty songs such as “The Maladjusted Jester,” and Kaye’s charm filling out every scene.

It’s a sweet breath of fresh air at the end of the day, akin to that of Princess Bride or 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.  The film was never snubbed like some of the others on this list, just forgotten amongst some other great works and worthy of some reconsideration.


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