25 Cult Fantasy Films That Are Worth Your Time

9. Barbarella (1968)


“The space age adventuress whose sex-ploits are among the most bizarre ever seen” [16]. Based upon a French comic, this is the ultimate in sexual science fiction. Set in the 41st century, Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is sent by the President of Earth to rescue Doctor Durand Durand and retrieve his Positronic Ray. She travels to the planet of Lythion, where a new sin is invented every hour.

In order to achieve her mission, she must subject herself to the sexual horrors of a neurotic city. This includes a sex organ keyboard, a fantasy dream chamber, a lesbian queen, a giant hookah that dispenses the essence of a man, creepy children of the corn kids with biting dolls, leather robots, a blind bird man, a clumsy revolutionary, and a living labyrinth; all of this while appearing in eight different scantily clad outfits.

The film is a unique mix of sex, comedy, cheesiness, “pop-art psychedelics, free-love promiscuity and free-for-all politics” [17]. If you don’t take it too serious and just enjoy the ride, this is a hilarious sexy version of Flash Gordon.

The sets design and outfits are creative and colorful, a combination of campy and kitsch. They are reminiscent of the low budget sci-fi space films from the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Jane Fonda does a good job in her performance, even though a large portion of it is looking sexy.

Despite the large amount of sex involved, Barbarella is an empowered female. She is never forced into anything; she does it all out of her own free will. This film would go on to inspire the X rated sex comedy Flesh Gordon (1974). It is also a predecessor to Demolition Man, with a future where natural sex has been eliminated.

The film was a box office flop earning around $5,000,000 versus a budget of $9,000,000. It gained more popularity and a cult status with its rerelease in 1977 [17]. It continues to be a cult film for fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and sexploitation. So if you enjoy any of those then you should give this a go. If you like this film, you may also enjoy The Fifth Element, Galaxina, Tank Girl, Resident Evil, and The 10th Victim.


10. The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

“Cowboys Battle Monsters in the Lost World of Forbidden Valley” [18]. Cowboy Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus) wants to buy his former lover’s rodeo, but she has discovered a tiny horse that may save her business. They discover that it is an Eohippus from a place in Mexico known as the Forbidden valley.

Tuck hopes to release the horse and follow it back to the valley in order to catch more prehistoric animals. They discover and catch Gwangi, a Tyrannosaurus Rex. How will Gwangi handle the spectacle of a crowd?

If it sounds similar to King Kong, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It was originally conceived by King Kong special effects man Willis O’Brien, who had been working on it since 1941 but died before he could get it filmed [19]. O’Brien was one of the main reasons that stop motion animation specialist Ray Harryhausen got involved in the business, so it should be no surprise that he would want to complete his idols project [19].

The star of the movie is meant to be Gwangi, who dominates like King Kong once it appears on the screen. The way that Gwangi was built, with some disproportional body parts makes him more of a hybrid than any actual dinosaur.

The Harryhausen effects are the main reason that people are going to want to see this film, and they are pretty special. This was the last dinosaur film that he made. The stop motion model of Gwangi could stand upwards of 14 to 16 inches, and there was only one model so “it required regular maintenance from all of the manipulation” [19].

There was also “over 300 animation cuts throughout Gwangi, a record number for a Harryhausen feature; they required nearly a year and a half to finish all its effect content” [19]. Despite some obvious dubbing at times, the acting is decent. The memorable scenes all involve the stop motion animation.

The tiny horse is just awesome and amazing. The Pterodactyl scene is good, mixing stop motion with a full size prop. The scenes with Gwangi are great, as he battles the cowboys and then a Triceratops. It ends on a somber note, as Gwangi escapes after being captured and is destroyed in a fire.

The film did poorly upon its release due to a decreased interest in these monster types of movies; it received very little promotion and ended up on a double-bill with a biker film [19]. Despite the box office failure, it has a strong cult following among monster, fantasy, and Harryhausen fans. If you like any of his other films, or the King Kong type monster films, then you should check this one out.


11. Holy Mountain (1973)

The Holy Mountain

This is a Mexican surrealist-fantasy film that was written, directed, produced, co-scored, co-edited, and also stars Alexandro Jodorowsky, who had gained notoriety for his 1970 western El Topo. It has sometimes been described as a science fiction film on acid [20].

A Christ like figure wanders through a series of bizarre scenarios that are filled with religious imagery. He comes across an alchemist, who offers to take him on as an apprentice and guide. He also takes on seven powerful people that each represents the worst of their corresponding planets. They get rid of all of their worldly goods and go on a spiritual quest.

The film is based upon several literary works, Ascent on Mount Carmel by John of the Cross, and Mounte Analogue by Rene Daumal. Both involve the pursuit of some sort of spiritual journey in the pursuit of a mystical union with Christ. Mount Analogue was highly influential along with the surrealist movement and philosophy.

It can be hard to pinpoint what surrealist cinema is because it doesn’t contain set themes or concepts, rather as an “activity with broadening horizons. Surrealists are not concerned with conjuring up some magic world that can be defined as ‘surreal’. Their interest is almost exclusively in exploring the conjunctions, the points of contact, between different realms of existence. Surrealism is always about departures rather than arrivals.” [21].

Before production of the film, the director and his wife went through some radical preparations, including going “without sleep under the direction of a Japanese Zen master” [22]. . He made the primary actors take three months of Arica training, a mixture of Zen, Sufi, and Yoga and various written doctrines [22]. After that, they were required to live communally with Jodorowsky for one month [22].

It premiered at Cannes film festival to lukewarm reviews, being bested by Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe [22]. This led to it not receiving a very large release, except for midnight screenings in New York. There it played at the Elgin Theater for six months, running six nights a week [23].

Despite the limited release, the film has gained a very strong cult following from Jodorowsky fans, and fans of the psychedelic, surrealistic, and unusual. So if any of the above interests you, then you should strap yourself down and give it a view.

One interesting not regarding Jodorowsky, he was originally selected to direct the science fiction novel Dune and had an amazing crew working on it consisting of artists Chris Foss, Moebius, and H.R. Giger, appearances by Orson Welles and Salvador Dali, and music by Pink Floyd. The project went way over budget and was scrapped; a recent documentary was made worth watching called Jodorowsky’s Dune.


12. Zardoz (1974)


“I have seen the future and it doesn’t work” [24]. In the year 2293, the world has been divided into two groups, the civilized immortal Eternals and the barely civilized mortal Brutals. A group of Brutal Exterminators maintain control and kill the other Brutals, at the orders of a huge flying head called Zardoz.

In exchange for food that is collected, Zardoz exchanges weapons for the Brutal Exterminator. One Exterminator named Zed (Sean Connery), hides on Zardoz to discover what is on the other side. There he meets two Eternals and discovers that a plague is among the Eternals, causing them to lose interest in life and fall into catatonia. While there he discovers the true origin and nature of the god called Zardoz.

This one will probably cause a divide in opinion among sci-fi fans, you’re either going to love it or hate it. It has some amazing imagery, especially the large Zardoz head and the look of the Brutals.

The overall cinematography is great; it is a pretty mesmerizing movie. There is some humor, plus you’ll either love or laugh at the way Sean Connery looks in the film. The downside is the plot can get confusing and slow at times, plus the big reveal moment may not be as exciting as people had hoped for.

This was written, produced, and directed by John Boorman, who had previous success with Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, and most notable Deliverance. It was his commercial success with Deliverance that gave him free reign on this film. In his career, he has been noted for being a bit pretentious and for going on ego-trips [25].

He should be commended for trying to push the boundaries in the hopes of making something that was on the level of a Stanley Kubrick and 2001 [25]. The movie did not do very well at the box office, but has cult following among sci-fi fans, “playing at revival houses, on college campuses, and on the midnight movie circuit for several years” [25].

If you like cult sci-fi, then you have to see this at least once. And if you like this movie, then you may enjoy Children of Men, Escape from New York, Logan’s Run, and THX 1138.


13. The Noah (1975)

The Noah (1975)

“And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him at his heart…And the Lord said I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth…And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face and the ground, both man and cattle, creeping things, and the fowl of the heavens; and they were destroyed from earth…

And Noah only remained alive: Genesis 6” [26]. Noah (Robert Strauss) is the sole survivor on earth after a post apocalyptic nuclear catastrophe. Unable to cope with his situation and loneliness, he creates an imaginary friend. This continues to build and build until he has created a whole new imaginary civilization.

The fantasy that is created in this movie is all about what we create inside of our mind in order to cope with stress. The only actual person you see during the film is Noah; all of the other characters are just voices that Noah has created. It is an examination of the descent into madness that can occur when someone is left in isolation for an extended amount of time.

This is a very well shot and acted performance, produced on a budget of $200,000 [27]. This was a very strong final performance for Strauss, who had to carry the load as the single person on camera. Straus was a character actor mostly known for his comic appeal, and had appeared in Stalag 17, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, and The Man With the Golden Arm.

The film was shot in Puerto Rico in 1968, but was never released theatrically [28]. It had remained virtually unseen until it was broadcast on a film classics show on CUNY TV in New York. This led to an article about the film in Film Threat in 2005 and a DVD release in 2006.

It has gained a cult following since it has been able to finally be seen, among fans of post apocalyptic and war films. If you’re a fan of those or of drama, then this may interest you. If you like this movie, then you may enjoy Silent Running, The Omega Man, Five, No Blade of Grass, and The Road.


14. Wizards (1977)


“An epic fantasy of peace and magic” [29]. Two million years after a nuclear war has devastated the earth, only several humans survived along with a bunch of mutants. The true ancestors of the earth, fairies, elves, dwarves end up returning back to earth. The queen of the fairies gives birth to twin wizards, one that is good and the other is evil.

Three thousand years later, the queen dies and the evil wizard, Blackwolf, looks to take control of the land he believes is his. The good wizard named Avatar must save the earth from his evil brother and his dream machine, with the help of a fairy princess, a warrior elf, and a former robot of Blackwood’s.

This was written, directed, and produced by Ralph Bakshi. He is an animator mostly known for his use of combining animation and live-action sequences, from the 1970’s through early 1990’s. Most of his films were independently produced and contained adult themes.

He is known for the films Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, Wizards, The Lord of the Rings, American Pop, Fire and Ice, and Cool World. On a side note, Fire and Ice is a great Frank Frazetta Conan comic book inspired film that was left out of this list.

This is sort of the futuristic version of Lord of the Rings, if it would have fast forwarded in time and included mutated Nazi soldiers and images of Hitler. The theme of the story is magic versus technology and how technology destroyed the world and is inherently evil. There is a lot of Nazi imagery that is used to portray the evil side as more evil.

Blackwood has found their old technology and is recreating tanks and weapons. He sits on top of a throne that has a big swastika underneath of it. The dream machine that he uses to confuse his enemies is an old film projector with images of the Nazis and Hitler.

The animation is great, especially if you’re a Bakshi fan. There are exquisite background paintings that combine watercolor and detailed line drawings. Then that is mixed in with the cartoon animation and its unique style. On top of that, there is that added element of live action scenes spliced in with it.

The combination is something that Bakshi became known for and would later be copied in films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There is a mix of serious and humor, with most of the comedic elements coming from the human soldiers in gas masks that work for Blackwood.

The film ended up doing pretty well, grossing somewhere around $9,000,000. It has gained a strong cult following among sci-fi and fantasy fans, and fans of Bakshi’s work. If you haven’t seen and you like any of his other films or underground comics from the 1970’s, then you should check this out.


15. Forbidden Zone (1980)

Forbidden Zone (1980)

“A chaotic musical fantasy” [30]. The Hercules family purchases a house that contains a door that leads to the Sixth Dimension through a large set of intestines. The daughter, Frenchy Hercules decides to take a look through the door and ends up trapped in the Sixth Dimension. Midget King Fausto has fallen in love with her and this angers the Queen, and she has her frog servant lock her up. Now the Hercules family and their friend Squeezit Henderson must go to the Sixth dimension to rescue her.

There is no really good way to describe this movie than utter insanity and total awesomeness, or maybe John Waters on speed. One attempt was made by authors Hoberman and Rosenbaum in their book Midnight Movies, saying that it is “a black and white freak musical that manages to synthesize ingredients of virtually every midnight hit into the cheerful consistency of bad-taste vaudeville.

Inspired by TV reruns like Betty Boop and Flash Gordon, and abetted by such counterculture standbys as the dwarf Herve Villechaize, Susan Tyrell, and Viva, this bargain-basement Hellzapoppin’-one-third animated and the rest shot in a studio combines the expressionism of [The Cabinet of] Dr. Caligari with the flakiness of R. Crumb – revels in the hyperbolic racial, cultural and musical stereotypes, converging in the giddy Cab Calloway-style numbers performed by the Oingo Boingo band” [31].

The band Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo were changing their musical style from cabaret to new-wave and wanted a way to capture what they were doing on stage, plus Danny and Richard Elfman were trying to transition to filmmaking [31].

It is as low budget as you can get, they tried to include as much as they could, shot whenever they had money, the sets were mostly made of paper, and the costumes were mostly underwear consisting of boxers and bathrobes [31]. Despite the low budget, they still created a great look with the black and white. The colorized version that has been released just isn’t the same; it loses something that was special about it.

It took several years for it to eventually be released on the midnight circuit, and it had mixed reviews. There were many critics and viewers who “attacked [it] for being racist, tasteless, profane, and incredibly cheap’” [31]. It’s for a lot of those reasons that it ended up becoming a cult classic, similar to John Waters, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

So if you love cheap weird films similar to John Waters, then you have to see this at least once.


16. Heavy Metal (1981)

Heavy Metal

“Columbia Pictures takes you beyond the future into a universe you’ve never seen before…… A universe of mystery. A universe of magic. A universe of sexual fantasies. A universe of awesome good. A universe of terrifying evil” [32].

An astronaut arrives at home with a case for his daughter, when he opens it a glowing green orb rises out of it and melts him. It tells the girl that it is called Loc-Nar and it is the sum of all evils. It then shows the girl how it has influenced time and society through a series of seven anthology based short stories.

This is an animated masterpiece that is based loosely on comics that appeared in the Heavy Metal magazine, and the original French version called Metal Hurlant. It is notable for the mix of different stories and animation in the film, a mix of gratuitous violence and nudity, as well as the large collection of heavy metal music that was used in it.

If you are a comic book fan then you’ll be familiar with stories that were created by the likes of Richard Corban, Bernie Wrightson, and Moebius. The music groups included in the soundtrack are Sammy Hagar, Devo, Blue Oyster Cult, Nazareth, Journey, Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, Stevie Nicks, among others.

Each individual story can be memorable depending on your tastes. The most notable one involves a warrior maiden named Taarna that battles a group of barbarians, in order to save her city. Another involves Den, a teenage boy who has his mind transformed into a warrior and gets into battles and rescues naked women. Another is a futuristic film noir story about a taxi driver named Harry, which is an obvious inspiration for The Fifth Element.

The film did well in theaters but was only released on to video for a short period of time, due to copyright disputes over the music [33]. Because of its difficulty to obtain, it gained a strong cult following with bootleg copies of the movie selling for upwards of $300 [33]. It took almost 15 years for the legal issues to be resolved and a Blu-ray disc was finally released in 2011 [34]. A sort of sequel was made titled Heavy Metal 2000, but it is nowhere near as good as the original.

If you are a fan of underground comics, adult animation, or sci-fi and fantasy, then you should watch this. If you like this, then you may also enjoy any of Ralph Bakshi’s films, Gandahar, Fantastic Planet, or Rock & Rule.


17. Clash of the Titans (1981)


“An Epic Entertainment Spectacular!” [35]. In a complex soap opera between the Greek gods, Zeus (Lawrence Olivier) impregnates King Acrisius’s daughter, who then condemns his daughter and child Perseus to death at sea. Zeus orders Poseidon to destroy Acrisius and the city of Argos with the Kraken, and to save Persius and his mother.

Once Perseus (Harry Hamlin) is older, he unwittingly gets involved in a dispute between Zeus and the sea Goddess Thetis. Zeus has punished her son, and in return she sends Perseus to an abandoned Theater in Joppa. Thetis has cursed Princess Andromeda to never marry. Perseus goes on a quest to free the curse, in the process battling Medusa and the Kraken.

This is pretty well produced film with lush scenery, decent acting, and some great special effects. It was filmed in parts of Spain, Malta, and the United Kingdom. Burgess Meredith has an excellent performance as Ammon; he is best known for his performances in the Rocky series and as the Riddler on the Batman TV series.

This was the last film done by stop motion special effects artist Ray Harryhausen, who also did special effects on some other films on this list. The one that stands out most is the mechanical owl Bubo, which was rumored to capitalize of the popularity of R2-D2 [35].

The film performed well in the box office, earning $41,092,328 versus a budget of $15,000,000 [36]. It still has a cult following among fans of fantasy, sword and sorcery, and Harryhausen fans.