Any diehard movie fan will tell you that cult films are alive and well in the new century, two decades now which have seen a wealth of memorable midnight movies, eccentric oddities, sleeper stoner comedies, and other “out there” genre films.
The following list looks at “rewatchable” cult films from the 21st century––and by “rewatchable” improve with age, that holdup and often enrich their audiences with repeat viewings––these are movies that foster unhealthy obsession, stylish strangeness, and offer feelings of connection and deep appreciation for the bravest or most eccentric viewers amongst us.
10. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Cult comedies often hold up well with repeat viewings; running gags are more apparent, some jokes land better with a deeper understanding of where it’s all going, and the necessary acquired taste, once established, is easier accrued the second time around, as is certainly the case with this absurdist comic goldmine from 2001. It’s the last day at Camp Firewood for the sticky hot summer season of 1981 in director David Wain’s charming, cheeky, and delightfully dirty-minded Wet Hot American Summer.
Written by Wain and co-star Michael Showalter, this crass comedy pays loving tribute to the American teen exploitation films of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and more specifically the sub-genre of summer camp films (think 1979’s Meatballs, 1980’s Little Darlings, and 1982’s Porky’s). And in keeping with these adolescent, hormones-raging comedies, the cast of teen camp counselors are deliberately played by actors in their 30s (amongst the gifted comic actors in the cast are Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, and Amy Poehler).
A cult film phenomenon that rewards repeated viewings, Wet Hot Summer possesses that je ne sais quoi that mark many a niche picture; like Airplane! (1980), it’s self-aware, breaking the fourth wall to get a good laugh, and it romps with an absurdist angle, often visiting the trashy nabe you’d expect from a John Waters film.
In recent years the Wet Hot American Summer clique has been well rewarded with comedicaly brilliant prequel and sequel series on Netflix, reuniting Wain and his game cast, as well as introducing many new characters, and outlandish scenarios. But it all started with this multi-episodic comedic home run, highlighted by sensational non sequiturs, ample slapstick, gratuitous makeout sessions, funny, and endearing characters, and not to mention one honey of a talent show. Spend some time at Camp Nowhere and you’ll be a happy camper, too.
9. Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
As with the vast majority of cult classics, it took awhile for horror fans to flock around this first-rate anthology film from writer-director Michael Dougherty (Krampus ), though that is largely owing to the lack of a proper theatrical release for this deftly crafted Halloween tribute, Trick ‘r Treat.
The film is custom made to be a perennial October classic, alongside films like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which horror fans trot out every autumn to embrace the blood-flecked and pumpkin-scented spirit of the season.
A genre film for genre fans, Trick ‘r Treat energetically embraces the best time of year with old fashion fun and freaked-out uncertainty as it weaves together overlapping tales of terror unfolding on the same Halloween night.
All of these sinister tales, which include a strong cast with the likes of Dylan Baker, Leslie Bibb, Brian Cox, and Anna Paquin amongst them, are loosely tied via a now iconic new character to the horror canon; Sam (short for “Samhain”). Portrayed by Quinn Lord, Sam is a mysterious and macabre child trick-or-treater, cloaked in a burlap sack over footie pjs, he unleashes a cruel authority over all of those who break with established Halloween traditions (such as snuffing out the candle of a Jack-o-Lantern before the stroke of midnight).
Creepy, funny, suspenseful, and well-executed, Trick ‘r Treat is that rarest of anthology films that doesn’t have a stinker in the bunch, and so few films really capture the look, feel, and frightening atmosphere that Halloween can provide. This is a film you really should seek out every autumn, as the leaves change, the nights grow chill, and a few good scares accumulate and exciten.
8. Idiocracy (2006)
In the years since Mike Judge’s magnificently undervalued sci-fi satire Idiocracy was released, many have noted that Trump’s America is far too familiar after having seen this unknowingly prophetic dystopian glance at an idiotic future United States.
Idiocracy opens in the year 2005 where we meet the extremely average US Army librarian, Corporal Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson). Joe is chosen to participate in a hush hush military experiment that places him in hibernation for a year, along with another subject, a woman named Rita (Maya Rudolph).
After a series of snafus that has both Joe and Rita’s project mothballed and forgotten, they are mistakenly left in suspended animation until 2505, when they are accidentally revived. It is here that the two discover a future world of moronic imbeciles, the human stock having dwindled ginormously, leaving a race of idiots wherein our very average Joe is suddenly considered a brainiac, and quite possibly the smartest man in the world.
Without giving too many of the gags away, one of Idiocracy’s great pleasures derives from Terry Crews’ hilarious performance as the imbecilic but personable President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, who desperately needs Joe as an advisor to overcome the country’s numerous and many difficulties, all spurned by stupid self-interest and debilitating incompetence.
Idiocracy may just be the smartest stupid comedy around, and if you can watch it without wincing too badly, you might be able to navigate POTUS Trump’s toxic term with the ability to roll with the punches, or at least laugh a little bit in self-defense.
7. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Cult king Don Coscarelli, the mastermind behind the Phantasm series (1979 – 2016), and The Beastmaster (1982) had a blast with Bubba Ho-Tep, a film custom built to amass adoration from midnight movie audiences. Set in an East Texas nursing home, the Shady Rest, and starring Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis Presley, recently revived from a coma following a hip gyrating-related fluke accident and now befriended with an aging African-American eccentric (Ossie Davis), who claims to be former POTUS, John F. Kennedy (“They dyed my skin black!), things get even weirder.
Playfully adapted from the 1994 novella by Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-Tep gets its strange sobriquet from the eponymous evil Ancient Egyptian mummy (Bob Ivy), who seems to delight in terrorizing the retirement home where Elvis and JFK do dwell, and they’ll put a stop to it, you betcha!
A clever, cheeky, and even occasionally poignant picture, with a long gestating sequel apparently in the works, Bubba Ho-Tep is silly, sensational, and sneakily awesome little film, and one that also manages to make, amid the toilet humor and gore, a profound statement about growing old, and the fool notions of fame and celebrity.
6. Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko may well be writer-director Richard Kelly’s Citizen Kane, and is that really such a bad thing? Filled with emotion, humor, and mind-bending undertakings in the suburbs of America (Middlesex, Virginia, to be more exact) in the late 1980s, titular teenager Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) has somehow survived a freak accident. Now occasionally giving audience to a supremely sinister rabbit named Frank (James Duval) –– who really wants him to try out time travelling –– Donnie also navel gazes at existence, falls in love, and flirts with secret knowledge of enticing potential to affect not only time, but fate as well.
The 80s-era soundtrack adds to the appeal, as do the then comeback turns from cast members Katharine Ross and Patrick Swayze (RIP). Also excellent in their supporting roles are Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Jena Malone and some quick cameos by producer Drew Barrymore, Seth Rogen, and Noah Wyle.
Unjustly ignored on its initial release –– it came out shortly after the 9/11 tragedy and features an alarming plane crash that was too fluky and unintentionally upsetting at the time –– a cult following soon embraced this eerie, intelligent, and exciting psychological sci-fi fable. And as much of the plot is askew due to time-looped logic, repeat views are a must to clarify some of the intriguing puzzles that Kelly leaves out for us to assemble.