25 Great Australian Cult Films That Are Worth Your Time
9. Dogs In Space (1986) Directed by Richard Lowenstein
NOW we’re talking an absolute cult classic! Set in a share house in Richmond, Victoria, there really isn’t anything resembling a plot to this one. Instead, you get to know the characters that float in and out of this subculture to a level where you feel like you’ve made friends. It has a loose, undisciplined and freewheeling style to it that will attract as many as it repels.
It also features singer Michael Hutchence, from the world famous band INXS, in a rare acting role. Getting a drugged out rock star to play a drugged out rock star. Genius!
In what lead to the creation of the “MA15+” rating, when released in 1986, “Dogs In Space” was violently rated “R” by the Office Of Film And Literature Classification. Lowenstein stated repeatedly that this film was for teenagers. The OFLC were incredibly vindictive in their attitude to “Dogs In Space”, basically killing it stone dead as far as the box office was concerned.
Thankfully, it has found its audience over time on DVD and Blu-Ray. One out of the box, “Dogs In Space”, despite its flaws, remains utterly beguiling and unique nearly thirty years since it was made.
8. Romper Stomper (1992) Directed by Geoffrey Wright
This was an impactful, highly volatile look at the neo-Nazi subculture that was happening in Melbourne, Australia in the early Nineties. Directed with energy and flair by Geoffrey Wright, it caused an absolute shitload of controversy upon release.
While a brilliantly made film, it was something of a massive grey area as to whether the film was damning its characters or glorifying them. This film still remains something of a sore point with prominent Australian film critic David Stratton who, after refusing to rate the film in a review, was physically attacked by the director.
Unfortunately, for such a talented director, “Romper Stomper” proved to be something of a one hit wonder for Wright. It did, however, introduce the world to Russell Crowe, utterly fearless here as a neo-Nazi named Pando. Totally psychotic in his conviction to the Nazi cause, this is someone you’d move suburbs to avoid!
“Romper Stomper” remains a flawed but at the same time compelling work.
7. Wolf Creek (2005) Directed by Greg Mclean
While having something of a slow start to it, once this kicks into gear, step back! “Wolf Creek” created one of the most iconic characters in the horror genre in the form of Mick Taylor. Brilliantly played by John Jarrat, he is the smiling, utterly polite face of outback Australia hiding complete, psychotic evil.
Preying on backpackers, there is something bone chillingly real about Taylor that sends a shiver through your bones. Love your horror? This is a must.
6. Angel Baby (1995) Directed by Michael Rymer
A love story about two schizophrenics expecting their first child together, this is a haunting and deeply, deeply moving look at love, life and what the hell it all means.
Anchored by two extraordinary performances from Australian actress Jaqueline Mackenzie and Irish actor John Lynch, this is a love story at its most raw, urgent and lacerating.
5. Bad Boy Bubby (1993) Directed by Rolf De Heer
They truly broke the mould when they made this one. A story about a man who has never left the house in which he was born, this is a truly original, bold and ballsy work.
With an astounding central performance from Nicholas Hope, we see Bubby eventually leave the house and take like in as a total blank canvas. Utilising thirty-two cinematographers to show Bubby’s constantly changing perspective of the world, this is a deeply disturbing, funny, compelling and ultimately moving work.
This is by no means light viewing. However, if you’re game, it is one of the most challenging and rewarding films you will ever see in your lifetime.
4. Chopper (2000) Directed by Andrew Domminick
This is up there with David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and Terence Malick’s “Badlands” as quite possibly one of the most borderline flawless debut films ever made.
A biopic on the life of times of Melbourne criminal, standover man and hitman Mark “Chopper” Read, this is as ballistic and utterly unapologetic as cinema can get. Again, like “Romper Stomper”, there is a moral grey area to this film as to whether it glamourises or damns its subject matter. The non-objective point of view may be an issue for some viewers. However, the sheer conviction of the filmmaker is what really makes this fly. Want to be excited about cinema again? Check this out!
It also was a major launching pad for actor Eric Bana. Stacking on the pounds De Niro-style, he inhabits this rather unique character body, mind and soul.
Domminick has since gone on to direct “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” and “Killing Them Softly”. Three for three! Cannot wait to see what this guy does next!!!
3. Animal Kingdom (2010) Directed by David Michod
A crime film set in Melbourne, it looks at a family of criminals, one that specialise in bank robberies. Subtle, penetrating and emotionally affecting like only a handful of crime films manage to be, it also features great turns from both Ben Mendolsohn and Jackie Weaver.
This was the film that made a lot of industry types in America sit up and take notice. Subsequently, we’ve seen Mendolsohn in Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond The Pines” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Jackie Weaver got an Oscar nomination for her remarkable work in this film.
2. Mad Max (1979) Directed by George Miller
This is one of the films that put Australian cinema on the map. Set ‘not too far from now’, this depicts Australia as a nation out of control, where the gangs have taken over the street and the police are the absolute last line of defence.
An almost baby faced Mel Gibson stars as Max, a cop who, through the course of the film, is pushed to the absolute edge of his being by a series of devastating events on a personal level. The vengeance and fury this releases is something that will make you take a few steps back, such is its anger and venom! Featuring some spectacular stunt work and a rich character/writing balance, this is an exceptional film.
It was followed in 1981 by an even better sequel, “Mad Max 2 (AKA The Road Warrior), and a so-so third part in 1985, “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”.
“Mad Max 2” features, in my opinion, one of the best car chases ever committed to film. It’s the twenty minute or so sequence towards the end, filmed in Broken Hill in New South Wales. One of my Top 5 film car chases of all time!
Next year, a fourth film, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, starring Tom Hardy, will be released. The legend of Max will never say die so it seems!
1. Wake In Fright (AKA Outback) (1971) Directed by Ted Kotcheff
A British schoolteacher, teaching in the middle of the Australian outback, becomes physically, financially and spiritually broken by the world around him as he tries to get a train for his six week holiday break from the past year of living and working in the middle of nowhere.
Directed by Canadian Ted Kotcheff, “Wake In Fright” holds up an all-too real mirror to the ugly, racist and misogynist elements of Australian culture and life. Featuring some great performances from Jack Thompson and, in particular, Donald Pleasance, this is as raw and unflinching as cinema can get.
Thought to be lost for many, many years, a restored print was struck a few years ago and has been shown all around the world.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.