It is often hard to predict what films will end up growing a cult following, as cult films emerge for different reasons. Some cult films, such as Clerks or Reservoir Dogs, emerged first among niche audiences before growing into mainstream successes, and some films, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, have developed a cultural impact through years of unique traditions. Quality isn’t even a determining factor; many of the most famous cult films are in the tradition of Plan 9 From Outer Space or The Room, in that they are so bad that they’re good.
While some films grow an immediate cult following, others take a longer time to emerge, growing new fans through word of mouth. In today’s age of social media and the advent of streaming services, films have a greater chance of being seen and recognized for their cult potential. Here are ten recent films that could become cult classics.
10. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The work of author Seth Grahame-Smith had mainstream success, so it was only a matter of time before his two most famous novels, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, were adapted for the big screen. While Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an outright failure, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was a surprisingly entertaining twist on the Victorian romantic tale. It’s a film that aims to please both zombie movie fans and those familiar with the original novel, and the fact that it only somewhat succeeds at both makes it a fascinating experiment.
What’s notable is the film never descends into an all-out parody of either genre; the central romance between Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) is surprisingly well-developed, and despite the PG-13 rating, the film is able to produce some outrageous zombie gore that is clearly inspired by The Evil Dead and the work of Sam Raimi. It’s a strange bit of revisionist fiction with a larger budget than most cult horror films, but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has such a specific niche that it could end up being an object of cult appreciation.
9. The Art of Self-Defense
After its debut last year at the SXSW Film Festival, The Art of Self-Defense drew many comparisons with Fight Club, one of the most famous cult films of all-time. Not only do both movies use a darkly humorous premise centering around a violent, ritualized activity to explore how a reserved person can be indoctrinated by a charismatic leader, but both are able to satire group thinking, toxic masculinity, and the fascination with violence. However, The Art of Self-Defense isn’t just a Fight Club imitator, but an original and surprisingly thrilling dark comedy.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Casey Davies, an awkward, quiet accountant who looks for a way to deal with his anxiety after he is attacked in the street. Casey decides to learn karate, and comes under the influence of the charismatic Sensei (Alessandro Nirvola), who encourages his students to embrace their inherent masculinity and bring their aggressive behavior into all aspects of their lives. The idiosyncratic ways in which Casey brings Sensei’s teachings into his life are often humorous, and the off-kilter humor is sure to make The Art of Self-Defense a hit among cult movie enthusiasts.
8. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was intended to be a breakthrough film thanks to its groundbreaking technological advances, which utilized 120 fps 4K 3D to craft an unprecedented immersive experience, but the film’s unique visual look drew polarizing responses and led it to become one of the more notorious box office failures of the past decade. Time will only tell whether Lee’s interest in high frames per second will pay off, as he used a similarly high frame rate on his follow up film Gemini Man.
Beyond the unique visual design, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a very unusual film, one that satirizes the nature of heroism within the eyes of popular media and entertainment. The titular character, as played brilliantly by Joe Alwyn, is a young veteran of the Iraq War who unexpectedly becomes a media sensation thanks to a viral video of him saving a comrade in battle. Lee offers some uneasy truths about the nature of Lynn’s naive thinking, and the frequently bizarre dialogue mixed with hyper realistic visuals make the film a strange moment in film history that could attract further attention as the years go on.
7. Come to Daddy
Few films in recent memory seem designed to be a cult favorite as much as Come to Daddy; while the film has many elements in common with cult horror films, such as the cabin in the woods setting, it works as an effective combination of bizarre familial bonding, narcissistic characters, and shocking moments of macabre violence. It’s hard to pin Come to Daddy as one genre because it encapsulates the essence of so many.
Elijah Wood stars as Norval Greenwood, a self-centered music executive who arrives at a mysterious cabin after hearing from his reclusive father (Stephen McHattie). What starts as an awkward family reunion turns into a much more violent affair after a shocking turn of events forces Norval to remain isolated in this solitary environment. Thanks to the peculiar performance by Wood and the dark sense of humor, Come to Daddy is perfectly suited for genre fans.
6. The Belko Experiment
An outrageous horror-thriller, The Belko Experiment combines the satire of corporate culture within Office Space with the outrageous conflict of Battle Royale. The subversive screenplay, penned by James Gunn, follows the employees of Belko Industries as they are locked within a building and commanded to kill their employees by a mysterious figure. Chaos follows as these casual co-workers begin to splinter into groups and turn on each other.
The dialogue is often fresh and clever, and while the cast features no A-list stars, it has a wonderful collection of character actors, including Michael Rooker, Tony Goldwyn, Sean Gunn, Josh Brener, John C. McGinley, and Brent Sexton just to name a few. In particular, John Gallagher Jr. is truly phenomenal as the film’s lead Mike Milch, a reserved and respected staffer who finds himself unable to contain the violence surrounding him. Featuring inventive death scenes, odd bits of physical comedy, and memorable characters, The Belko Experiment is a thoroughly abrasive and enjoyable experience.