For a movie to become a cult movie is out of the hands of the filmmakers, although many have tried to crack the formula. Achieving cult status just happens, more often than not long after the film first releases. One of the reasons it’s so hard to predict if a movie will one day be classified as a cult movie is the fact that the definition of cult cinema is a much discussed one. Because of this it’s not easy to break it down into a checklist, but there are some universally shared traits, which could clear things up just a little bit.
First and foremost, a cult movie wouldn’t be one without a cult following; a small group of dedicated fans who wouldn’t shy away from a midnight screening. Often the cult movie is an oddball, different than the norm, filled with stand-out quotes and distinct iconography.
While back in the day, the cult movie would be hard to find in the local Blockbuster, today there are easier ways to come across them. Netflix is filled with recent releases, but once in a while a hidden gem from the darkest corner of said Blockbuster finds its way into the library. Without further ado, here are 10 great cult movies on Netflix.
1. Red Dawn (1984)
Starting off the list with a powerhouse: Red Dawn is a tremendous piece of American propaganda playing off the Cold War. During the beginning of World War 3, a group of teenagers fight to defend their country from the invading Soviet Union. With the most acts of violence recorded ever in a movie at the time of release, it deservingly received the honor of being the first movie released with a PG-13 rating. Because of this alone it’s remarkable that Red Dawn didn’t do better at its release.
Besides the above reason comes that John Milius, known for directing Conan the Barbarian and co-writing another war epic – Apocalypse Now, had a great cast to work with. From the debut film of Charlie Sheen, to Patrick Swayze leading and even a role for Harley Dean Stanton, it had enough star power to deliver the cheesy one-liners.
Thanks to the cheesy dialogue and politic-heavy writing, accompanied with lots of violence and the always practical explosions, Red Dawn was bound to be loved by at least a select group of film fans. It being on Netflix lends for the perfect opportunity to revisit its madness.
2. The Five Venoms (1978)
The Five Venoms is considered as one of the greatest martial arts movies to ever come out of Hong Kong. It inspired pop culture everywhere, from Tarantino’s Kill Bill, to the popular hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, but still it’s heavily underseen.
Directed by Cheh Chang and again portrayed by a great cast, The Five Venoms follows the story of a martial arts student that has to locate the five previous students of his master in order to defeat the possible evil ones amongst them. These five old students are all taught a unique fighting style all named after another animal; the snake, the scorpion, the centipede, the toad, and the lizard. The protagonist however, learned all of these styles, making him a hybrid worthy to face them all. These different fighting styles are what makes this movie unique and such a blast to watch. Besides the excellent choreography, Cheh Chang succeeded in portraying it beautifully thanks to the production design and costumes that are a blast to look at.
This martial arts classic is praised by its cult-following, mostly consisting out of martial arts fans, but it’s arguably an essential watch for every action fan.
3. Police Academy (1984)
Opening in the number one spot at the box office on release, and spawning six sequels, Police Academy is one of the more seen movies on this list. With that said, it does appear to have faded away from a lot of people’s minds since then, maybe due to its mixed reception. None of the six sequels ended up doing better than its maker, maybe because of the fact that the first Police Academy was the only R-rated one.
In Police Academy a new recruitment policy hits the police force, which allows people of any shape or form to be recruited. The movie is about a diverse group of recruits trying to pass the test. Except for Mahony, played by Steve Guttenberg, who was forced to sign up and now tries his best to get kicked out.
The comedy is somewhat outdated, but the punchlines still land a good amount of the times. This is a cult movie of which the cult-status is a little harder to trace, raising the question again of what really defines as cult. Nonetheless, being a light-hearted comedy, with some memorable gags and not much else going on is enough to make up for a fun watch.
4. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Even more popular than Police Academy is the second martial arts entry on this list. Although popular and even raking up decent box office numbers in the US, it’s arguably still underseen.
Kung Fu Hustle is the Hong Kong based director Stephen Chow’s follow up movie to the equally goofy fun Shaolin Soccer, which sadly is not available on Netflix. Stephen Chow also is the starring role in the movie, accompanied by a bunch of prolific Hong Kong 70s action stars. Stephen Chow stars as an amateur gangster whom wants to join the Axe Gang, which rules his town. By coincidental circumstances he ends up in the middle of a great battle between the Axe Gang and a seemingly regular neighborhood block, filled with residents that surprisingly own great Kung Fu powers.
By way of over the top visual effects and a striking score, the fights are a refreshing picture to look at. Combine this with great comedy and you’ve got one of the better Hong Kong martial arts films of the 21st century.
5. Popeye (1980)
The character Popeye first saw the light of day in a series of comics, before turning into a cartoon show and eventually turning into this cult film. Popeye (Robin Williams) is a strong sailor in a love triangle with his love Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) and the brute captain Bluto (Paul L. Smith) who Olive’s parents gave her hand to for engagement. To win over Olive, Popeye must first deal with the bully Bluto.
Robert Altman is a prolific director and pioneer from the new Hollywood era, known for Nashville, M*A*S*H, The Player, and many more movies from a wide range of genres. His movies are often subversive and have a comedic touch, so somewhere it does make sense for him to make an odd-ball movie like Popeye. With Disney and Paramount producing, Robert Altman helming the project and Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall starring, it should be a straight way to success, but both audiences and critics alike received the movie with mixed feelings and it even received an award of worst 1980 movie.
Despite its backlash Popeye was bound to end up a cult classic. Altman, known for going his own direction with his movies, didn’t shy away from doing so with Popeye. His weird vision made it the extravagant comedy it is, perfectly accompanied by Harry Nilsson’s drug-fueled musical score.