A Small Guide to Cult Films

The word “cult” can be understood as devotion to a person or thing and it can also mean as a popular term for following a specific section of the society. The last definition being given by a dictionary is that the word “cult” means a denoting person or thing popularized in this way. In its linguistic wisdom, this is assigned to films or cult movies. 

In cinematic terms, the word is often applied to films starring killer tomatoes, fifty foot people on a mission of personal revenge or an entire Western town populated by small people. Sometimes this has been extended to being “so bad that they’re good”. The word also implies knowledge hidden from the masses. So a cult movie may be the preserve of a select few or have some points missed by the casual viewer.

The Definition of Cult Movie

Umberto Eco is the author of the cult book “The Name of the Rose” which identifies Casablanca as a cult movie. It may sound weird, because Casablanca is one of the most famous films of all time. 

However, Eco adds that the work must provide a completely furnished world. A furnished world where its fans can quote characters and episodes, and create a private fan world. This world should make up quizzes and play trivia games so that the adepts of this specific world will recognise each other with the shared experience. And by this definition, Eco believes that Casablanca is certainly a cult movie.

By adding Eco’s definition, any movie should be reviewed with the following terms: 

  • People should go around quoting each other or inspire an unreasonable amount of devotion long after the masses have forgotten its existence.
  • Be good, but underappreciated, maybe because the market is driven by stars and event movies, and these movies were just too different to have the long run at a cinema.
  • Be an undiscovered gem, perhaps because it;s foreign or went straight to video.
  • Be so bad, that it’s a hoot (has great sense of humour).
  • Be compelling for some other reason – the script may be bad, but the song is good or a stunt/scene that makes it worthwhile.
  • Be a mainstream film that has that something that is called “juice”.
  • Not to be a Police Academy sequel.

An effort has been made in adding different movies in the cult category. The category may be small, since we are all aware of the length of cult movies being made till now. Below are a few of the chosen cult films that are still good to watch.

Action Packed Cult Films

These action movies have a great plot, it has a heroic maverick and as many set-pieces stunts. Fortunately, not every action film sticks to the template.

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale is pretty young for a cult movie, however its main actor, Daniel Craig has shown to be violent, vulnerable and Fleming-friendly. It was an inspired revival of a tired franchise who is way more exhilarating and emotionally engaging than a typical 007 film. Daniel Craig has put back the acting into an action movie credited with revisiting the nihilistic tone of the original novel. 

Besides all the Craig’s swimming trunks, it was easy to forget that this hard edge might have owned something to director Martin Campbell’s training in British crime drama, with episodes of The Professionals and Minder amongst his previous credits. 

Die Hard (1988)

The director, John McTieran, has some experience with action movies. Some of that experience comes from his other movies such as the sci-fi horror movie Predator (1987), the submarine drama The Hunt for Red October (1990) and anti-action fantasy Last Action Hero (1993). Here the director gives us a straight youthful Bruce Willis with a white vest and with a big amount of bullets who rescues a building full of citizens from the clutches of determined rebels. 

District 9 (2009) & District 13 (2004)

Before “District 9” there was “District 13”, a walled-off banlieue in the near-future Paris, abandoned by the authorities. In District 9 aliens have landed on Earth. 28 years later, the “Prawns” remain confined in squalor outside Johannesburg, where Operative Wikus van der Merwe was backed up by militia has the task of evicting the “Prawns”. 

This is a premise of a surprising and shocking film, which shows a Cloverfield-like documentary framing before morphing into a body horror turbo-charged action so spectacular that it also has a tender side and a satirical subtext. 

District 13 could be seen as the first parkour film ever. The narration happens in the future, where authorities have pushed and abandoned some of the Paris citizens. This leads to a subtle commentary on the city’s present-day being socially divided and it provides with both a backdrop and a narrative style of Luc Besson’s penned and produced thriller. 

A district B13 homeboy Leito played by David Belle, the founder of Parkour, and a police bulldog Damien, played by Raffaelli, join forces to prevent the district’s destruction. The films action never lets you down, it has kung fu set pieces, big guns, car chases and explosive galore, alongside astonishing feats of synchronized free running/Parkour through a graffitied, high-rise cityscape. The District 13 also has a sequel called District 13: Ultimatum (2009), with the same protagonists continuing their struggles to apply law and order in Parisian District B13.  

Casino Packed Cult Films

A great thing about casino movies is that it can blend in with the glamour and it has an ideal setting for stories to be told. Over the years many directors have attempted to make films where the casino is featured prominently.

Casino (1995)

In the first hour of the Casino film, we will see a detail about how the mafia ran casinos in Vegas. It is so intense that its like watching a documentary. De Niro is a casino owner who marries a hustler, played by Sharon Stone,  who then has a fling with the husband’s hit man, played by Pesci. This triggers the mafia’s exit from Las Vegas.

The film has a strong cast with Stone who carries the movie with uncrossed legs, while the intriguing exercise is one of Scorsese’s favourite sports, the historical revisionism. While the rest of the world cheers for the sanitizing of Las Vegas, Scorsese shows a note of quiet regret that an outlaw’s paradise has become another Disneyland. 

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

When professional poker players gather in New Orleans for a poker game, McQueen’s ambitions goes so far that it gets a chance to challenge Robinson’s master. Despite the beautiful distractions of Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld, the most engaging part of the film is the game of wills between old icons and new icons. Not even the cardsharp variations of “The Hustler” aspired to be so captivating. The movie has plenty of cool and a great cult assembles together, including Joan Blondess, the terrific and wisecracking dealer Lady Fingers. 

The Croupier (1998)

The Croupier is one of the best movies made by Mike Hodges, since Get Carter in 1971. The film is an original, philosophical morality play/crime drama, with the script by Paul Mayersberg being tough and broody. 

The main character of the film is an edgy, glinthing Owen, who is a struggling writer. Owen is using his job as a croupier in a London casino to add explosive material in his novel. Despite his cool watchful, cynical gaze, he is lured into a heist with a sting in its tail. Alex Kingston, who was on a hiatus from “ER”, showed another face of her talent as a duplicitous South African temptress.

Sci-fi Packed Cult Films

The science-fiction films come with tales of the future, or the future that it was viewed at the time, which offers pertinent lessons about the world we live. No other genre explores strange new worlds, like sci-fi, yet alone technology that doesn’t even exist. Science fiction is quite entertaining. 

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner was a movie that I actually loved, and it gained even more popularity with the release of Blade Runner 2049 in 2017. The original “Blade Runner” became a classic cult, especially once the director’s cut was released, despite Philip K. Dick’s failure with “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which was a moral tale found even in the film. 

The movie is visually stunning, having a Ford and a weary LA cop in 2019 hunting down human replicants. The cop draws on a film noir, the femme fatale and an alienated hero. It remains for Lang’s “Metropolis” and Westerns “High Noon” to be utterly and compellingly unique. 

Planet of the Apes (1967)

Planet of the Apes is the first of three epic movies where Heston stars as the last voice of reason. He performs the same function in The Omega Man and Soylent Green. It is probably the greatest, almost perfect sci-fi movies that has spawned so many great sequels.  From TV series to a mediocre remake of a spoof musical on “The Simpsons”, from the animated series to video games. The latest film reboot trilogy being released in 2011, 2014 and 2017. The last remaining Planet of the Apes name, can be found in a video slot called Planet of the Apes, created by NetEntertainment.

The original Planet of the Apes, Heston is the official star, however McDowall never escaped the shadow of his superb, sarcastic simian Cornelius. During the filming breaks, the apes only hung out with members of the same species. With this, people can make of what they will. 

The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element is perhaps the most audacious element that belong to Besson’s point of view for science fiction. In the twenty-third century, a cynical cab drive, played by Bruce Willis will save the world. Meanwhile, he is distracted by Milla Jovovich, who literally falls into his lap. It turns out that she is the lovely key in saving the planet. 

Tipping his hat to Metropolis and Blade Runner, Besson creates in The Fifth  a lavish, yet murky world, full of eccentric characters. The ending of the film has a nifty editing and a sly humour, however it ensured that time was never dragged.