The following ten films are some of the greatest movies that have come out, but haven’t necessarily found a mainstream audience. When we are talking about cult films, we are discussing movies, which may not have achieved financial success initially,but were so well received by fans, they developed a so-called ‘cult following’ long after their time. With any luck, you haven’t seen some of these and will be introduced to some real gems.
#10 – What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) American International Pictures, Woody Allen
Woody Allen bought a terrible Japanese film called International Secret Police: Key of Keys, and decided to redo all of the audio. It’s hilarious! For those of you who don’t like Woody Allen, don’t worry… he isn’t in it (Save for an introduction). I would love to tell you about the plot, but there isn’t any point. It’s just really funny, creative dubbing. Basically, it’s a feature-length bad lip-reading. 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.
What it’s Like: Mystery Science Theater 3000 reviews the worst James Bond movie of all time and turns it into a comedy.
#09 – Closet Land (1991) Universal Studios, Radha Bharadwaj
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? Ok, now do it. Watch Closet Land. 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 anti-government rhetoric disguised as a children’s book, or is it just a kid’s book? The psychological tortures provided by Professor Snape… I mean 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?
What it’s Like: Senator McCarthy teams up with Severus Snape to really ruin your evening.
#8 – Play It Again, Sam (1972) Paramount Pictures, Herbert Ross
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 Allen Felix, a man obsessed with Casablanca and its star, Humphrey Bogart. This would be a typical love story only throughout it, Allen visualizes Bogart’s character giving him advice about women… sometimes telling him to treat them rough and keep it simple. Allen is his typical slapstick persona in the film, and it comes off in a really funny way. Fans of Casablanca will either love or hate this movie since the central theme and plot somewhat mirror it. By the end of the film, we see the finale of Casablanca play out similarly wherein 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… just like in Casablanca.
What it’s Like: You geek out so much about a movie you love, you act out the movie in your love life…
#07 – The Flight of Dragons (1982) ABC, Warner Brothers Studios, Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
A story about how magic and science don’t mix. 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 back into the past, during the time of magic and dragons to help stop an evil wizard from taking over. In order to do this, the man must use science and reason as his weapons, but through a terrible mishap, his mind is ironically placed into that of a juvenile dragon whom he must take to the ends of the Earth to battle with the evil mage. The themes of the film revolve around fantasy and reality, how they don’t mix, but how they can coexist for a healthy take on life. Opening with a memorable song by Don McClean (American Pie fame) and drawn by the amazing team responsible for The Last Unicorn, the movie is yet another beautiful example of American animation.
What it’s Like: The Neverending Story and the Lord of the Rings hook up and have a kid.
#6 – American Pop (1981) Columbia Pictures, Ralph Bakshi
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 first with an immigrant boy from Russia, and through the lives three subsequent generations as they become involved in American music. The story of the family is not always happy and is interwoven with elements of organized crime, war, poverty, and narcotics addiction, but the story comes together in a meaningful way. Best of all, the music accompanying each period is very well-chosen and flows from one era to the next. The final piece is a montage of several songs beginning with Bob Seger’s Night Moves opening on the piano (Instead of the guitar) and it is captivating. The song plays nicely, but it wasn’t Bakshi’s original choice. He actually hated it and preferred “Freebird” in its place. 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.
What It’s Like: The Godfather meets the Godfather of Soul, Rock and Roll, and Swing.
#05 – The Last Starfighter (1984) Universal Pictures, Nick Castle
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, 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! What kid wouldn’t want to get involved in that??? The film is one of the first uses of computer generated graphics (And it’s obvious). Regardless of the crude animations, the effects are pretty cool for the time and the story is nothing but fun. Some of the funnier parts of the film involve the duplicate the aliens leave on earth in place of the main character. Let’s just say, it isn’t a perfect copy and hijinks ensue.
What It’s Like: Playing Galaga after being sucked into Tron, but everything is real and you are the hero with an infinite amount of quarters!
#04 – Naked Lunch (1991) 20th Century Fox, David Cronenberg
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 Metamorphosis could understand. The main character, played by Peter Weller, is a writer who hallucinates a giant insect out of his typewriter who instructs him to kill his wife. Refusing to do so, he eventually ‘kills’ the bug by destroying his typewriter and inadvertently kills his wife a bit later on… or does he? Hallucinations and paranoia continue as he is forced to relive this encounter. What is real and what is imagined?
What It’s Like: Kafka’s Metamorphosis meets Blue Velvet and gets you to try Heroin while you are already high on Cocaine.
#03 – Grave of the Fireflies (1988) Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata
The one movie that might make Chuck Norris cry. Seriously. Like most films from Studio Ghibli, the animation is amazing so we don’t need to go into much detail on that. The story follows the lives of a brother and sister who barely survive the fire-bombing of Kobe in March, 1945. After the death of their mother (Their father has been deployed and they haven’t heard from him nor know his fate), 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 for an American/Allied point-of-view and does so through the eyes of the innocent. The firebombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities were largely meant to destabilize and terrorize the populace… and they did. This film is a perfect depiction of it. Watch it and cry. Why should you watch something so dreadfully sad? Because if all you do is watch comedies with fart jokes, you are missing out on real art. This is art. It’s a beautiful, yet horrible story of struggle, and it’s real.
What It’s Like: Sophie’s Choice just killed your puppy. And made you watch.
#02 – Dark City (1998) New Line Cinema, Alex Proyas
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 amongst a murder scene, he struggles to find out who he really is, how he got involved, and whether or not 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, Keifer 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.
What’s It’s Like: An episode of The Twilight Zone being hit over the head with Classic Star Trek.
#01 – The Last Unicorn (1982) Rankin/Bass ITC, Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Many people misidentify this movie as a children’s film, but they are probably missing out. The Last Unicorn is a fantasy movie that deals with some very adult issues such as loss, survival, loneliness, and intimidation. The animation is beautifully-rendered, and is amazing to watch. The story is of the world’s last unicorn who 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 it is fun to watch with your kids… or by yourself. Drink a beer or something while you watch it so you feel better about yourself if you see it alone. By far, one of the best soundtracks of any animated movie (Other than Heavy Metal of course). The entire soundtrack is done by America with all original songs.
What It’s Like: Harry Potter’s Dark Forrest goes on a holiday and meets some questionable characters.