We’re all familiar with the idea of a ‘cult’ movie – one of those releases that doesn’t top the box office but, nevertheless, makes a significant impact on audiences. Although these movies seem to fly under the radar of Hollywood, they can have a lasting and formative effect on the film industry as a whole. Just take a look at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example; when it was first released in 1975, it was “ignored by pretty much everyone”. Since then, it has become a global phenomenon with constant reruns happening at hundreds of cinemas, regular sing-along and dress-up screenings, and a thoroughly dedicated fanbase who scream every word of the script at the screen with perfect timing. It is frequently referenced in other films and you’d be hard-pressed to find movie fanatic who didn’t love it.
Whilst the movies on this list may not have made it to the heady heights of Rocky Horror just yet, they are certainly contenders for some of the most interesting and watchable cult classics of the 21st century.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
The trio of actor/writer/director/producer comedians that make up The Lonely Island might be best known for their hilarious pastiches of music videos and other skits that originated on Saturday Night Live. However, they also have a couple of feature length movies under their belt. 2016’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping might have passed most people by, but since its cinema release it’s gone on to reach at-home audiences via DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming services like Netflix. This hilarious mockumentary centres on Andy Samberg’s character of Connor Friel, a failing popstar, as his life and career start to fall apart. It’s full of slapstick comedy, juvenile humour, spot-on satire and the uniquely surreal viewpoint we’ve come to associate with The Lonely Island team. It’s great for a light-hearted laugh; though it’s not necessarily re-watch material, it’s certainly very quotable and full of iconic one liners.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Despite an all-star cast including Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, and a whole host of awards nominations, Molly’s Game was not what you’d call a box office smash. In fact, the majority of people still haven’t heard of it. Although back in the real world most modern table games have migrated online now, there is still a keen audience out there for anything to do with the glitz and glamour of live poker games. Particularly those underground ones run by a gorgeous Olympic-class skier who’s in trouble with the FBI. An intriguing storyline, complex female lead character and excellent script make this a must-watch movie for any film fan, but it’s the actors’ sterling performances that really make it into something special. Chastain even won a Golden Globe nom for her portrayal of the titular Molly Bloom. The fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the more interesting and adds an extra touch of zing to proceedings, but at the heart of it, this is just a well-written, well-acted movie. What more can you ask for?
The Love Witch (2016)
A bizarre yet entertaining romp through the comedy horror genre, The Love Witch is highly stylised and slightly ridiculous yet deliciously watchable. The brainchild of writer/director Anna Biller, this movie is a sumptuous feast for the eyes as it pays perfect homage to 60s Technicolor and classic Hollywood, whilst exploring the problematic norms of a bygone era. Although it didn’t make big money upon release, it was immediately beloved by almost everyone from film critics to film fans, make-up artists to costumiers, set designers to cinematographers. Shot on 35mm film and with careful attention paid to recreating the stylised 1960s aesthetic, it is as much a standalone piece of art as it is a movie. The plot follows the very beautiful, rather deadly Elaine, a modern witch who seems endlessly unlucky in love. As we follow her failed love affairs and dabbling in the dark arts, we see that she may have more of a hand in her fate than we first thought.
Whilst the three movies mentioned above are from three distinct and very different genres, they are all representative of a movement in modern cinema towards originality and away from mainstream carbon copies. There have always been trendsetters in the world of movie making, but modern Hollywood seems particularly focused on churning out prequels and sequels on a production line of staid similarity. The cult following of the films mentioned here, and many other smaller productions, is proof that film buffs are still championing innovation and fresh concepts, despite what the box office numbers might say.
Next time you host a movie night, why not swap out your usual mainstream flick and, instead, venture into the unknown. You never know, you might find a hidden gem there.