6. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
It could be said that Christopher Guest films walked so What We Do in the Shadows could run. However, the mockumentary trend was all but completely over when Shadows helped comedy fans fall in love with it again. The fictional documentary follows a group of vampire roommates as they search for victims, string their familiars along, and adjust to a trouble-causing new friend. The episodic nature and pacing of the film also has the characters trying to get into nightclubs and parties, learning the internet, and encountering clean-mouthed werewolves.
The small budget of just 1.6 million adds to the realistic, almost claustrophobic documentary feeling. It enhances both the comedy and the thrill of the occasional gore and effects. If tasked with describing the style to someone, you could say it’s an interesting cross between The Office and Paranormal Activity. Viewers can relate to the guys while also believing they are still fully deadly vampires. In only six short years since its release, an entire franchise – including TV series and a proposed spin-off sequel – has sprung from the film’s success.
7. Mean Girls (2004)
Combining the power of cult predecessors Heathers and Clueless, Mean Girls was just one of many early-2000s teen movies but became one of the most quoted/memed films on the internet. Based on concepts from the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, it is the tale of a girl raised in Africa who attends high school in the U.S. and is lured into a toxic group of popular girls.
Tina Fey’s biting screenplay, whose thesis is that all cliques of girls are needlessly mean to each other – not just the popular ones, has become like a bible for women of a certain age. The film’s dialogue is picked apart and quoted like a modern-day equivalent of Caddyshack. Offhand lines as indistinct as “It’s October 3rd” and “Four for you, Glen Coco” are staples of the millennial lexicon. While “fetch” did not catch on in the movie, it definitely is ironically used in real life.
In the last decade, you could see Mean Girls screened countlessly at revival theaters, quoted on not necessarily licensed merchandise at almost any store, and even in the form of a Fey-written musical on Broadway.
8. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
It had all the markings of a low-budget cult oddity but was actually a sleeper hit whose style was imitated but could never be duplicated, not even by director Jared Hess. Napoleon Dynamite still stands as one of the most singular successes of the 2000s. The slice-of-life comedy about an awkward braggart teen, his equally stunted relatives, and sweet but low-energy classmates captured the public’s imagination. People liked a film where a mouth-breathing geek fed a llama and later performed an elaborate dance routine to Jamiroquai. Then they had to reckon with why they liked it so much.
An often dry and cold yet wholesome look at small-town life, Napoleon Dynamite stood out from the pack in an almost sci-fi way, seeming to exist in another world and time. Much of the laughs, as in most modern cult comedies, come from the lack of self-awareness on the characters part. This is not to say viewers didn’t also feel affection for Napoleon and his path toward understanding friendship. On its surface, the innocent but delusional characters seem inaccessible, yet even your suburban high school English teacher had a Vote for Pedro t-shirt. The mass appeal of cringe comedy as we now know it was born.
9. Idiocracy (2006)
Mike Judge’s Idiocracy occupies a special and nail-biting place in the canon of cult film. With a cult success under his belt already, the powerhouse Office Space, Judge goes beyond the cubicle to skewer culture under massive corporate influence in a broader sense. It only grows more relevant as anti-capitalist sentiments in mainstream culture grow in the wake of widening inequality and political upheaval. It’s also an extremely goofy flick full of sex jokes and over-the-top characters.
The story begins with an average military library clerk (so average he is named Joe) and an escort participating in a secret experiment where they are frozen in suspended animation. With the project abandoned, they wake up in 2505 where they are easily the most intelligent individuals around. Soon the leader taps Joe to help solve a crop shortage that requires an impossibly simple remedy: water.
All but completely buried by its distributor, the barely released film snuck its way into cult discussions through slow word-of-mouth. Despite valid criticisms of its classist (maybe even eugenics-supporting) message, Idiocracy is an indisputably remarkable artifact to consider for its prescience.
10. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
An unhappily directionless man, Cassius Green (get it? Cash is green?), is led through the ranks of a telemarketing company in the dystopian black comedy Sorry to Bother You. His success is built upon his ability to use a “white voice” despite being black and ignoring his co-workers moves to unionize.
Though culturally updated and darker, Boots Riley’s directorial debut hits similar satirical notes as Idiocracy. It emphasizes the dehumanizing nature of late-stage capitalism and a pacified public. With the third act guaranteed to spark conversation, the film flirts with cult potential by never playing it safe.
Both conceptually and visually, the film swings for the fences. Transitions between scenes are particularly beautiful and the social commentary never feels out of place or forced. Of course, there are also moments of pure comedy. Riley makes painful ideas about labor and critiques of implicit racism palatable through slight exaggeration. The scene in which Cassius is forced to rap in front of a large group of rich partygoers is one of the more original examples of cringe comedy in recent film history.
Because it was only released in 2018 and cult status is rarely earned instantly, it will be interesting to observe how its impact on viewers grows and changes. As acclaimed as it has been, it still feels like it could be just a little before its time. As a potentially classic cult comedy in the future, Sorry to Bother You is one to watch.