For every Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, there are twenty or thirty films set to be abysmal failures; destined to disappear into obscurity, doomed to have a two paragraph Wikipedia page. The best these films can hope for is achieving ‘cult’ status- loved not only for being tremendous films in their own right, but loved by fans for being a movie to call their own. The movie they can recommend in conversation; the movie they can quote to one or two friends and get that satisfying ‘I get ya’ nod. While a few pretentious eggs may fight to keep their favorite films obscure, generally the best features will develop a following dedicated enough to bring the film back from the depths of the bargain bin and into the eyes of a much wider audience.



A notable example of this is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which unfortunately opened to very modest returns. It only then began to gain notoriety after fans would re-see the film, calling out lines and singing along to the musical numbers. The film is still shown in theatres regularly, selling out midnight showings and has a deluge of successful stage musical seasons.



Seriously, who doesn’t know the words to ‘Time Warp’?


The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not the only film to transcend its initial cult status. I want it on the record that Reservoir Dogs and Clerks are no longer ‘cult classics’. For one thing, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith are both quite famous, but more importantly, both films have been referenced on The Simpsons.



The Simpsons: The standard to which pop culture relevance is measured.


So, while I’m not a fan of ‘list’ articles, in the interest of spreading the love for some very deserving movies, this is a quick Top Five of my favourite cult films that I recommend checking out…minus Evil Dead, because T-Squat already touched on those masterpieces here.



NUMBER 1: Withnail & I (1987)

The buddy film is a classic staple of modern cinema. Two friends who have enough chemistry to get along, but enough differences to cause drama, embark on a journey filled with strange characters, odd events and personal growth. From stoner comedies to every ironically partnered police force duo, these films resonate with the audience. I love these movies, critically and emotionally. We can all remember a time when we were over our heads with a friend, in a strange location, or in an awkward setting. We relate to the humour and the stress; that is what makes ‘buddy films’ so great.



It is the tale of two unemployed actors dealing with poverty and the upcoming end of the sixties. After deciding to go on holiday, Withnail and the eponymous ‘I’ (never named on screen) journey to the countryside, drinking more than humanly advisable and trying to survive in the cold without anything to eat but a live chicken. Approaching each problem they face with the headstrong naivety of the ignorant, privileged youth, our heroes find themselves having to deal with the reality of life for the first time. Along the way, they meet a series of delightfully eccentric characters, one of whom is basically the same actor and character as the roadie from Wayne’s World 2.

Immediately after beginning the film, it shatters the idealistic view of 1960′s England, desaturated colours and stationary camera shots frame the scenes and mirror the characters’ apathy. Richard E. Grant’s portrayal of Withnail is both over the top and earnest, unlike most comedies that stick to the standard. Withnail & I blends together hilarious quotes in seamless conversations, giving you the sense that none of these characters are aware of how truly strange they are. This is a character film in the purest form; though the locations change, the story revolves entirely around the relationship of the two leads, the eventual conclusion of which is portrayed in a poignant Shakespearian monologue.

Withnail & I is one of the most quotable movies ever made; a black comedy in every sense, but fair warning, if you try to go drink for drink with the movie; you will die about halfway through.


NUMBER 2: Old Boy (2003)


In the spirit of preserving the experience of watching this film, I’ll keep this very short. Oh Desu is one day mysteriously kidnapped and locked in a hotel room. With no idea how long he will be imprisoned, he starts to train his body to fight as his mind begins to deteriorate. Finally, after fifteen years, he is released, with a new suit, some cash and a cellphone. He receives a call and is told by the mysterious voice:



“I locked you in that room for fifteen years, you have five days to find me… go.”


The action scenes are visceral and amazingly choreographed. One particular scene is one continuous shot in a hallway, like a side scrolling video game, where Oh Desu stalks the corridor beating down thugs with a hammer. Never cutting away, the anger and madness Oh Desu has developed is on full display, never flinching. That’s not to say you won’t be flinching, as some scenes are disturbing to say the least; one scene involving a pair of scissors and a certain part of the human face will have you peeking through your hands.

This film is a hair-pulling mind fuck. Brilliant storytelling keeps you guessing until the very end, and I can one-hundred-percent promise you that you will never, ever see this ending coming.


NUMBER 3: They Live (1988)



“I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum… and I’m all out of gum.”


Duke Nukem stole all his one-liners from two movies; Army of Darkness (Evil Dead 3) and They Live. This pulp science fiction film seems like just another B-action film, but has deep thematical views about the media’s control over society. Our nameless, homeless hero (played by WWE wrestler Roddy Piper) finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the hidden messages that have been placed in all the world’s media, telling us to conform. This allows for the film to explore ideas about society and information, all while wrapping it up with a story wherein a homeless man with a mullet beats up aliens.

The film has a distinct film noir feel. Long periods are without dialogue and dramatic tones build curious tension throughout. The perspective shots from behind the sunglasses are quite an experience; shot in black and white, the view is jarring and surprisingly effective, despite the low budget effects. The first and second halves of the movie couldn’t be more different, but I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you when the exact change happened, which is credit to the pacing of the film. Director John Carpenter takes as long as he feels necessary to explore aspects of the story and the film is much better for it.

They Live is the ultimate cult film, purely because it can be enjoyed both on an intellectual level and with a bunch of stoner friends at three in the morning. It has a charm that cannot be replicated by current films, because, in the eighties, films were a lot less ironic with their weirdness.



NUMBER 4: Enter The Void (2009)

I have a difficult relationship with arthouse films; generally, they can explore characters and themes you wouldn’t dare to touch in mainstream cinema. Sometimes, though, the director’s desire to explore concepts gets in the way of narrative and the hollow feature becomes something that only the directors themselves enjoy.



If your friends say they get it, they’re lying.

Enter the Void balances perfectly on the line between an experience and film. The majority of the film is shot in perspective, as the soul of a recently deceased drug addict floats over Japan, through buildings and into people, with the camera moving in ways that no-one has even attempted before. I found myself in awe; the hallucinations are such an accurate life capture, as are the drug- fuelled conversations. You will find yourself experience the strangest kind of deja vu in the first twenty minutes when your eyes become those of the protagonist, as you look in on his life and he looks into yours.

To describe the storyline would be pointless; it is a existentialist project, not a movie. The vibrant colours and sounds need to be seen and heard to be understood- they cannot be articulated properly by words on a screen.



NUMBER 5: Battle Royale (2000)


I’m a huge nerd when it comes to Japanese media. I watch tremendous amounts of anime and no country captures horror quite like Japan. Their violence is more violent, their horror is more surreal and they definitely pull out all the punches when it comes to their cinema.



The concept of Battle Royale is a familiar one; a group of people trapped in an isolated area are forced to kill or be killed. This time, though, a class of students is chosen to participate in the barbaric game. You may expect from the title an all-out action film, with gore and violence from all angles. While there are moments of this dispersed throughout, where Battle Royale finds its strong point is exploring the psychology of the students forced to kill their friends. Realistically, many resort to suicide, others turn on their friends quickly and others form tenuous alliances. Every conceivable reaction to being placed in the game is shown, explored and then subverted, defying expectation, creating an engaging and often tragic tale.

Gore is masterfully controlled by the director; never used to explicitly shock, it is used in conjunction with already disturbing scenes to force emotional reactions from the audience. Similarly, blood and sinew is often witheld to focus on the tragedy of death rather than the horror of the violence. Even the villains- the murderous students- are shown sympathetically, a product of the environment rather than being classic evil Disney characters (despite one exception.)

If you like violence, but like your action to have some depth to it, rather than being mindless gore, I highly recommend you check out Battle Royale before it gets a terrible American remake.


Other noteworthy cult films:

-Man on Wire
-Black Dynamite
-Bad Boy Bubby
-American Movie
-The Story of Ricky
-Dark City



Words: Samuel Millar


Tags: battle royale, classics, Cult, enter the void, evil dead, harry potter, old boy, rocky horror picture show, they live, withnail

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