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20 Cult Classic Movies With the Most Passionate Fans

These films may have bombed at the box office, but they eventually inspired a rabid following.

It can be difficult to define exactly what a cult classic movie is. To keep it basic: Think of them as the anti-Barbenheimer. These are the movies that didn't set records at the box office or get showered with awards. If everybody—even people who aren't normally super attuned to what's happening at the multiplex—is talking about a movie, then it's not a cult film.

Instead, cult films are movies that a much smaller group of fans really, really love. Frequently, cult classics achieve that status over time. A movie—especially a smaller indie film, but occasionally an oddity from a major studio—might initially be ignored when it opens in theaters, but as the years progress a steady trickle of people will recognize its unique greatness, often to the point of watching it over and over again, going to themed screenings, or collecting memorabilia.

It would be impossible to list every cult movie, as chances are that just about every movie has some sort of niche fandom, even if it's tiny. Instead, here's a sampling of the 20 cult movies with the most passionate fans. Crucially, this is not a list of the best cult movies. Some cult movies are beloved because they're so bad that they're good, as you'll see as you read on…

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Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Still from Plan 9 From Outer Space
Valiant Pictures

Most movies become cult classics because a niche audience realizes how good an overlooked movie is. Others, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, are celebrated because they're bad. Like, truly bad. Ed Wood's earnest but deeply flawed and cheap sci-fi horror is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made, and for that, people love it. On The X-Files, Special Agent Fox Mulder said it was his favorite movie and had watched it 42 times. Count him among Plan 9's cult following.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Still from Rocky Horror Picture Show
20th Century Fox

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is perhaps the cult movie. the weird, kitschy comedy horror musical found an audience that loves it—and loves to shout back at it. Rocky Horror's cult following is so strong that rowdy midnight screenings, full of costumed moviegoers ready to hoot and holler along in a participatory manner, continue to this day. It's the longest-running theatrical release in movie history.

The Warriors (1979)

Still from The Warriors
Paramount Pictures

The Warriors, which follows a street gang as they try to make it from one end of a dystopian New York City to the other with every other colorful gang in the city trying to kill them, did OK at the box office when it came out in 1979. However, critics at the time weren't especially taken with it, but subsequent audiences—and subsequent generations of critics—have come to appreciate it as a pulp masterpiece.

Clue (1985)

Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn, and Michael McKean in Clue
Paramount Pictures

You'd think that the cinema-lovers who tend to canonize cult films would scoff at a movie adaptation of a well-known IP—especially a board game. That's not the case with 1985's Clue, because this take on the classic murder mystery game is a legitimately great comedy in an understated, uniquely charming sort of way. Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, and Madeline Kahn help make up the colorful cast of characters assembled in a mansion where people keep dying.

Clue flopped upon release, but it started to become a cult classic on VHS release, in part because viewers could see all three endings. In theaters, audiences were randomly surprised with just one of the three endings—a gimmick that sounded great in theory, but in practice, meant theatergoers were missing out on two-thirds of the kickers.

Labyrinth (1986)

David Bowie in Labyrinth
Tri-Star Pictures

Jim Henson's final directorial effort underperformed with critics and at the box office when it hit theaters in 1986, but, like many cult movies, it developed a following when it was released on home video. The movie, which stars a teenage Jennifer Connelly as a human girl and pop star David Bowie as a goblin king who is both threatening and immensely alluring, is exactly the sort of movie that many fantasy fans could get lost in—and indeed they did. Quite a fitting title, eh?

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Still from Big Trouble in Little China
20th Century Fox

You can make a credible case that pretty much every movie in John Carpenter's filmography is a cult classic. He essentially invented the slasher horror genre with Halloween and then released movie after movie that underperformed at the box office only for fans (and eventually critics) to recognize it as another Carpenter masterpiece.

Case in point? The Thing was a monumental box office bomb; it has since been widely recognized as one of the greatest movies ever made. The Thing's reputation has improved too much for it to be truly considered a cult film, but Big Trouble in Little China, which also stars Kurt Russell, certainly counts. A genre-blending action-comedy-fantasy about evil wizards, street gangs, and a blithe hulk of a hero, Big Trouble  failed financially and left Carpenter disillusioned with studio filmmaking, but home video audiences couldn't get enough of it.

UHF (1989)

Still from UHF
Orion Pictures

UHF stars "Weird Al" Yankovic as an aimless goofball who finds himself in charge of a failing local TV station and then manages to save it with some truly out-of-the-box programming choices. It's an exceptionally quirky movie that audiences didn't know what to do with, but when it came out on VHS it found its audience, and those VHS releases were treasured items for years when UHF was out of print until it finally got its due with swanky DVD and Blu-ray releases, including a new 35th anniversary edition.

Akira (1988)

Still from Akira

The 1988 anime Akira is widely considered to be one of the greatest animated films of all time. Its significance and quality are so established that it's not really a cult movie anymore, but when it first came out in America, strong home video sales and strong word of mouth created a cult following that played a huge part in making anime popular in the U.S.

RELATED: 13 Sad Anime Movies That Will Break Your Heart.

Clerks (1994)

Still from Clerks
Miramax Films

The legacy of Kevin Smith's directorial debut shows just how far a cult movie can go and how important it can be. Shot for just $27,527, Clerks, which follows a couple of slacker retail employees over the course of a workday, was a truly independent film. And yet when audiences found it, they really found it. Clerks kickstarted Smith's film career and launched a whole cinematic universe. The fans it can count among its cult include the Library of Congress, the Cannes Film Festival, and countless stoners.

Showgirls (1995)

Still from Showgirls
MGM/UA Distribution Co.

Paul Verhoeven's NC-17 film about an aspiring Las Vegas showgirl (Elizabeth Berkley) bombed on release and frequently comes up in conversation as one of the worst movies ever made. However, a new wave of criticism has made convincing arguments that Showgirls is actually a great work whose satire about sex and consumerism went totally over audiences' heads. The film enjoyed tremendous home video success, too, and while some portion of those sales must be due to voyeuristic curiosity about the many graphic (and goofy) sex scenes, it helped create the space for a reappraisal.

Event Horizon (1997)

Still from Event Horizon
Paramount Pictures

Paul W. S. Anderson's 1997 sci-fi horror Event Horizon bombed upon release, as audiences initially didn't appreciate the haunted spaceship flick. (That the movie ran into a multitude of issues during production and its release was rushed didn't help things.) However, upon being released on DVD, horror fans started to appreciate Event Horizon for what it is: a rare example of sci-fi horror actually working, as aside from Alien, there aren't too many examples of the genres blending with much success.

Office Space (1999)

Still from Office Space
20th Century Fox

Mike Judge's 1999 evisceration of the mundanity of 9-to-5 life disappointed when it came out in theaters. However, it turns out that a lot of people work in offices, and they were drawn to Office Space's relatable, sardonic humor. The comedy became enough of a cult phenomenon that TGI Fridays, the restaurant chain that inspired Jennifer Anniston's character's "pieces of flair," no longer required their waiters to have so many accessories.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

Still from Galaxy Quest
DreamWorks Pictures

A loving but thorough parody of Star Trek, 1999's Galaxy Quest has only grown in esteem as time has gone by. Part of that is because the film was perhaps a bit ahead of its time. While Trekkies largely appreciated the movie's good-natured ribbing, that sort of fandom has become more widespread, and so it's easy for fans of all sorts to see themselves in Galaxy Quest—and in doing so become fans of Galaxy Quest itself.

RELATED: 23 Movies Like Interstellar That Will Also Bend Your Brain.

Super Troopers (2002)

Still from Super Troopers
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The comedy group Broken Lizard's breakout movie about a bunch of inept Vermont state troopers is cheap, crude, and hilarious. It made $18 million at the U.S. box office in 2001—not bad, but hardly a blockbuster. It has since made more than $70 million in home video sales. How do you like them snozzberries?

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Still from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
New Line Cinema

Shortly after Hedwig and the Angry Inch's theatrical release (which was muted because the film opened the day after 9/11), there was speculation that this could be the next Rocky Horror Picture Show. And, indeed, the queer punk-rock film about a trans musician from East Berlin now living in Kansas, has become a beloved touchstone for a new generation of LGBTQ+ moviegoers.

Donnie Darko (2001)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko
Pandora Cinema/Newmarket Films

Donnie Darko is a deeply weird movie. In 2001 when it came out in theaters, audiences didn't understand it, and they didn't want it, especially right after 9/11. The film was a flop, but strong word of mouth about Jake Gyllenhaal's dalliance with a giant, frightening bunny kept the film alive, as did midnight screenings—one theater played Donnie Darko at midnight for 28 straight months. It's since become a seminal movie about American malaise.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Still from Wet Hot American Summer
Eureka Pictures

Yet another 2001 film (a big year for cult classics!), Wet Hot American Summer is a shaggy comedy about summer camp counselors on the last day of camp and has a cast full of people who would go on to become big stars. Paul Rudd! Amy Poehler! Bradley Cooper! Elizabeth Banks! The list goes on.

But, just as it took them a couple of years to become super-famous, it took Wet Hot American Summer a little bit to become a cult favorite after it opened to negative reviews. The fandom ended up being strong enough that Netflix made a prequel and a sequel series more than a decade later—and they managed to bring back almost all of those now-super-famous stars.

The Room (2003)

Still from The Room
Chloe Productions/TPW Films

Tommy Wiseau's singular film, which he wrote, directed, produced, and stars in, is a baffling movie, featuring an odd story, confounding acting, and creative choices that could very charitably be called "unconventional." It's terrible, but audiences have taken to staring at this train wreck until, like a cinematic magic eye picture, it becomes a profound work of something resembling art. It's perhaps the ultimate so-bad-it's-good movie, and fans have grown to love its many, many, many strange idiosyncrasies. The Disaster Artist, a movie adaptation of the book about the film's making, is worth checking out, too. There's really nothing else like The Room.

The Wicker Man

nicolas cage in the wicker man
Warner Bros. Pictures

The original 1973 The Wicker Man is an acclaimed, seminal piece of folk horror. It's an actual classic, not a cult classic. The 2006 remake starring Nicolas Cage, however, absolutely qualifies. The movie, which features Cage screaming, "Not the bees! They're in my eyes! Aaaaahhh!" and several other equally infamous scenes, is bafflingly bad, and for that reason it has become a semi-ironic classic.

Jennifer's Body (2009)

Still from Jennifer's Body
20th Century Fox

Despite being written by Juno scribe Diablo Cody, Jennifer's Body didn't land with critics or audiences when it came out in 2009, perhaps because the advertising made it out to be an erotic horror movie with a heavy focus on Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried kissing. In retrospect, though, it's come around to being appreciated for what it always has been: a strong, feminist satire, one whose strengths are easier to see in the post-#MeToo environment. (And, not for nothing, it's also a pretty great takedown of the War on Terror, too, something that America wasn't broadly in the mood for at the time.)

James Grebey
James has been an entertainment journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing for outlets like Vulture, Inverse, Polygon, TIME, The Daily Beast, SPIN Magazine, Fatherly, and more. Read more
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