Cult film is alive and well in the new century, which has so far seen a wealth of memorable midnight movies, eccentric oddities, sleeper stoner comedies, and other “out there” genre films.
Part of the attraction with movies designated with cult status is that they are so very different and much more provocative than mainstream populist fare. The cult film experience differs from conventional cinema by appealing to unique sensibilities, be it the counterculture, genre films, or niche audiences that joyfully indulge in taboo content and proscribed subject matter that deliriously upends convention with razor-sharp satire, exploitation, and/or legitimate ideological dangers or controversial content.
The following list looks at films from the 21st century that foster unhealthy obsession, stylish strangeness, and offer feelings of connection for the bravest or most eccentric viewers amongst us. Enjoy!
25. Slither (2006)
This homage to oozing, splatter-infused B-movies is a surprisingly breezy, high body count comedy-horror from writer-director James Gunn (in his directorial debut). Genre fans instantly jumped on board this picture, which was bestowed by Rue Morgue with 2006’s coveted “Best Feature Film of the Year,” and if zombie-themed, extraterrestrial parasites running amok amongst hayseeds in small town America is your cup of tea, than Slither is the finest cup of Rooibos you’ve swilled in a long time.
Out in the sticks of South Carolina, in the small hamlet of Wheelsy, evil is on the loose, sent from outer space via a meteorite that has crash landed and immediately taken control of local car dealer, Grant (Michael Rooker). As Grant goes through various disgusting phases of transformation and mutilates more than his share of livestock and unfortunate humans, local lawman Sheriff Bill PArdy (Nathan Fillion) is hot on his heels. To say much more would ruin the fun, suffice it to say Slither is tongue-in-cheek fun for the joyfully demented film fan.
Keep an eye out for a cameo for Troma Films legend Lloyd Kaufman as the town drunk (there’s also a brief snippet of the Kaufman cult classic The Toxic Avenger tossed in there, too), and if that sounds appealing, you’ll eat up Slither with relish. Bon appétit!
24. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
With a title like “Hobo with a Shotgun” you’d better expect a crass, off-color, gloriously off-kilter, and utterly over-the-top exploitation experience, because that’s exactly what you get. This deranged black comedy/horror-thriller doesn’t just leave good taste at the door, it gouges out its eyes and defiles it’s still kicking corpse as director Jason Eisener and writer John Davies go hardcore, with shotguns ablazin’. Inspired by the mean-spirited trailer of the same name featured in the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez omnibus film Grindhouse (2007), and the South by Southwest Grindhouse contest that coincided with it, this is a gory spectacle for exploitation fans.
Rutger Hauer is the eponymous homeless avenger who takes on the Drake (Brian Downey), a sadistic crime boss––sadistic being an understatement––and his cruel sons (Nick Bateman and Robb Wells), who rule over Hope Town with an iron fist.
The antithesis of cinematic subtlety, this gloriously gruesome homage to low-budget horror is actually pretty damn enjoyable if you can get past the deliberately vile content (mistreated hookers, horrible pimps, a pedophile dressed as Santa), blood-splattered gore, colorful dialogue, and guiltily enjoy the revenge-fuelled awfulness of it all.
23. Ichi the Killer (2001)
The incredibly prolific and forever controversial Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike is perhaps best known for his brilliant and terrifying genre mashup from 1999, Audition, but his one film that really divides and delights audiences has got to be his incredibly violent and relentlessly nasty adaptation of the Hideo Yamamoto manga series, Ichi the Killer.
Surely some of the acclaim (and outcry) for this ferocious revenge film is owed to screenwriter Sakichi Sato, but truly it’s Miike’s distinct cinematic sensibilities (or lack thereof, for the film’s detractors) that make this such an unflinching and unforgettable film freakout.
The film focuses on feuding yakuza gangs as the bloodthirsty Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) commences a string of nasty reprisals after his boss is seemingly taken out by the mysterious assassin Ichi (‘One’), played with menace by the mighty Nao Ômori. Manipulated into massacring rival yakuza members, the film morphs into a dizzying nightmare that is at once absurd and serious, and the very pinnacle of cult Asian cinema.
22. Hot Rod (2007)
“Um, I was gonna ask you who you think would win in a fight between… a grilled cheese sandwich and a taco?”
Unceremoniously ignored on its cinematic release, the hilarious Hot Rod, co-written, directed by, and starring California comedy trio The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone), has steadily amassed a devoted army of adoring, forgiving, and fiercely loyal fans (and the same can be said for their side-splitting musical parody Popstar from 2016, included in the Honorable Mentions section following this list).
Rod Kimball (Samberg), the titular “Hot Rod,” is an amicable, accident-prone, wannabe stunt man who, more than anything, just wants to gain the respect of his stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane). After Frank is suddenly stricken seriously ill and in urgent need of a costly heart transplant, Rod devises a half-baked and utterly outrageous stunt––to use his unreliable Tomos moped to jump fifteen school buses––in order to raise the funds for the operation and up his status as a legitimate stunt man.
Aided by a motley crew consisting of his half-brother Kevin (Taccone), his trusted childhood chums Rico (Danny McBride), and Dave (Bill Hader) and his unattainable crush Denise (Isla Fisher), all sorts of hilarity and hijinks ensue, including a hilarious riot sequence set to John Farnham’s unintentionally hilarious 1986 power ballad “You’re the Voice.”
If you haven’t seen Hot Rod, you’re missing one of the best American comedies of the 2000s, so don’t get left in the dust. Cool beans? Cool beans.
21. Brick (2005)
Writer/director Rian Johnson made his energetic debut with the pastiche-heavy teen-centric thriller, Brick. Equal parts The Big Sleep and The Breakfast Club, Johnson’s film moves the Raymond Chandleresque narrative from the sun-soaked streets of crime-addled Los Angeles to the modern California suburbs and, more specifically, into the high school halls.
Truthfully, it isn’t just the Chandler milieu that Johnson dips his toes into here, the whole gritty gumshoe genre gets revisited and reworked—Dashiell Hammett is given a lot of love, too—and the results are glorious.
In the Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade mold, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays “detective” Brandon Frye, a high school student snooping around after the mysterious death of his ex-girlfriend.
One of Johnson’s biggest coups lays in his transferral of high school stereotypes into the hard-boiled detective world of dames, thugs, and stoolies, the end result is a shadowy, surreal visage of the suburban landscape, one eerily absent of adults, overrun with rhythmic, gutter poetry (his dialogue bristles with nuance and style in the two-fisted tradition) and hard-edged aplomb.
20. The Descent (2005)
Some real serious shit goes down in The Descent. That wasn’t even just an excuse for a bad pun. Uneasily dactylic and startling from the get-go, writer/director Neil Marshall weaves the lives of six friends together in an increasingly tight-knit underground cave system through the Appalachian Mountains. For Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza), their bittersweet past surfaces as the women discover, most grotesquely, that they are not alone in the crumbling, unmapped, dripping, awful, nasty-ass caves.
This is what happens when a thoroughly solid drama also happens to be a horror: stirring character development, palpable tension submerging into madness, unforgettably frightening creatures, and it’s just so awesome that it’s an all-woman cast. Even while bloodily contending with predatory subhuman mutants these dames get catty retribution on each other––so no, not even stabbing gruesome monsters in the face together will smooth things over regarding that time someone maybe slept with someone’s hubby.
19. Attack the Block (2011)
A near perfect distillation of horror, humor, science fiction and class polemic, writer/director Joe Cornish’s feature length debut, Attack the Block, is a monster movie with bite.
Set in the inner city of South London, the film artfully and carefully follows a teen gang caught up in an alien invasion. Now, as the at risk youths find themselves defending their besieged residential block from extraterrestrial forces Cornish captures the zeitgeist of contemporary England, a country in the midst of urban renewal and retrograde, where, apart from the alien invaders, alienation thrives in the stark and stalwart disconnect between age, class, and race.
The creatures themselves have a unique and distinct look; razor-sharp teeth that glow amidst jet black fur in a posture and stance close to a dog but also with a gorilla’s gait and size. They’re original and unforgettable creations that, combined with a breakout performance from John Boyega as teenage hoodlum Moses, Attack the Block is a modern cult classic and an astonishing directorial debut to boot.
18. Pineapple Express (2008)
One of the best stoner comedies ever made, and a quotable cache of smart and droll dialogue all works to elevate director David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express into a sportive trifecta of action, comedy, and intoxication.
Starting with the ambitious and joyfully inebriated script from Evan Goldberg and star Seth Rogen, the film unfolds as process server and unapologetic stoner Dale Denton (Rogen) takes delight in the titular marijuana strain Pineapple Express, happily supplied by his dealer, Saul (James Franco, hilarious). While on a thankless assignment shortly after leaving Saul’s with a supply of Pineapple Express, Dale witnesses a murder involving a badass drug lord (Gary Cole), and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez), that soon has the inept duo of Dale and Saul on the run.
Danny McBride all but steals the show as Saul’s unreliable drug supplier, Red, and funny performances from the likes of Ed Begley Jr., Craig Robinson, and Joe Lo Truglio, amongst others, populate this incredibly stylish, and endlessly exciting genre mashup. At times extremely violent, Pineapple Express is a foul-mouthed laugh riot that you don’t need to be baked to enjoy, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
“Man, fuck Jeff Goldblum!”