The Best Cult Movies on Netflix

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The Best Cult Movies on Netflix

Movie marketers and writers alike are quick to throw around the phrase “cult classic” in reference to a favorite low-budget, off-beat, under-appreciated and often twisted film. For the Netflix genre “Cult Movies” can mean a quirky art-house film, a stoner comedy, a campy horror movie, a kung-fu classic or the 2012 Tom Hanks/Halle Berry flick Cloud Atlas. Rather than trying to decide for ourselves what qualifies as a “Cult Movie,” we’ve just left the heavy lifting to Netflix algorithms and added out some favorites.

Here are the 15 best cult movies on Netflix:

1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

monty-python-holy-grail-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Connie Booth
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler

2. Airplane!

airplane_netflix_poster.jpg Year: 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams
Stars: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 88 minutes

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The writing trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) defined a genre with their disaster-movie spoof in 1980. The jokes fly fast and furious, from the “Who’s on First” confusion of a crew that includes Roger and Captain Oveur (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”) to Oveur (Peter Graves) asking a kid in the cockpit, “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?” to an old lady translating jive (“Jive-ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit!”) to “stop calling me Shirley!” Ridiculous and ridiculously quotable, it’s the funniest spoof film of all time. —Josh Jackson

3. The Evil Dead

evil-dead.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker
Genre: Horror
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 85 minutes

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Infamously pieced together from $350,000 and an exceptional amount of goodwill, The Evil Dead, when looking back at it, seems to have created a kind of horror unto itself. Sam Raimi’s debut, of course, is notable for so much more than that: like how it was edited by Joel Coen; or how Stephen King’s rabid interest caught the attention of a major studio, giving Raimi and close bud Bruce Campbell the chance to pour everything they knew about slashers, slapstick, camp, pulp and fantasy into Evil Dead II, a kind of sequel/reboot hybrid. But the real gauge of The Evil Dead’s tenor is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that its 2013 remake was something of a sickening feast for gore-hounds. For those familiar with Evil Dead II and the even sillier Army of Darkness, the fact that the original film was more of a straightforward genre affair feels somehow off; behold cognitive dissonance in full effect. And yet, somehow this rudimentary story of five Michigan State students who unwittingly unleash ancient demons in a cabin in the woods is still surprisingly, mercilessly skin-crawling. Leave it to Sam Raimi to stretch a dollar so far the sound of it snapping has the same effect on our stomachs as a classic bump in the night. —Dom Sinacola

4. Being John Malkovich

being_john_malkovich_poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

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The feature film debut from director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman is a long, absurd joke whose punchline is its final shot: the view of a man who whimpers as he’s forced to watch his loved ones forget he’s ever existed. Being John Malkovich admits, with sad clarity, that our lives are totally out of our control. In the film, we follow street puppeteer Craig (John Cusack, looking like a small, humming pile of hair) as he confronts the economic viability of his chosen occupation by getting an admin job on the 7 ½ floor of building that also happens to hide a tiny door which leads, if one crawls through cobwebs and puddles, to the inside of John Malkovich’s head, wherein for 15 minutes the brain tourist can vicariously live through famous actor John Malkovich’s eyes before getting spit up into a ditch off the New Jersey Turnpike. Having had his way with marionettes for years, Craig slowly understands how to control Malkovich while inside his head, crouching in the man’s sewer of an unconscious to hide away from the requisite 15-minute limit, but not before falling in love with a coworker (Catherine Keener) who seems to be falling in love with Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), but only via various liaisons through John Malkovich’s manipulable corpus. Throughout, Jonze and Kaufman only afford as much logic as is needed to movie the story from one weird scenario to another, but never letting the bleak heart of the film’s happenings overtake how goofily the plot unfolds. Visual detritus litters Jonze’s shots: A chucked can from a speeding car bounces off Malkovich’s head, the culprit recognizing Malkovich in time enough to call him out by name, though why John Malkovich poorly disguised in a ball cap and covered in ectoplasm would be on the side of the road in Jersey is anyone’s guess; a documentary features Brad Pitt briefly only to ignore him; an alternate universe Charlie Sheen embraces his receding hairline. Ideas pile atop more ideas, until the whole thing collapses in on itself, the film’s centerpiece basically John Malkovich singing his own name to himself over and over, attempting to seduce John Malkovich into accepting what we don’t really understand. —Dom Sinacola

5. Monty Python’s Life of Brian

life-of-brian-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Pretty much made on George Harrison’s dime and considered, even if apocryphally, by the legendary comedy troupe to be their best film (probably because it’s the closest they’ve come to a three-act narrative with obvious “thematic concerns”), Life of Brian got banned by a lot of countries at the butt-end of the ’70s. As a Christ story, the telling of how squealy mama’s boy Brian (Graham Chapman) mistakenly finds himself as one of many messiah figures rising in Judea under the shadow of Roman occupation (around 33 AD, on a Saturday afternoon-ish), Monty Python’s follow-up to Holy Grail may be the most political film of its ilk. As such, the British group stripped all romanticism and nobility from the story’s bones, lampooning everything from radical revolutionaries to religious institutions to government bureaucracy while never stooping to pick on the figure of Jesus or his empathetic teachings. Of course, Life of Brian isn’t the first film about Jesus (or: Jesus adjacent) to focus on the human side of the so-called savior—Martin Scorsese’s take popularly did so less than a decade later—but it feels like the first to leverage human weakness against the absurdity of the Divine’s expectations. Steeped in satire fixing on everything from Spartacus to Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and buttressed by as many iconic lines as there are crucifixes holding up the film’s frames (as Brian’s equally squealy mother hollers to the swarming masses, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”), the film explores Jesus’s life by obsessing over the context around it. Maybe a “virgin birth” was really just called that to cover up a Roman centurion’s sexual crimes. Maybe coincidence (and also class struggle) is reality’s only guiding force. Maybe the standard of what makes a miracle should be a little higher. And maybe the one true through line of history is that stupid people will always follow stupid people, whistling all the way to our meaningless, futile deaths. —Dom Sinacola

6. The Five Venoms

five-venoms-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1978
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Chang Cheh, Chien Sun, Pai Wei, Sheng Chiang, Philip Kwok, Kuo Chue
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes

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This is what vintage kung fu—and martial arts cinema—is all about. The mythology alone is exquisite: The Five Venoms (aka Five Deadly Venoms) is the first Venom Mob film, and gave each of them a name for the rest of their careers. There’s the blinding speed of the Centipede (Lu Feng), the trickery and guile of the Snake (Wei Pei), the stinging kicks of the Scorpion (Sun Chien), the wall-climbing and gravity-defying acrobatics of the Lizard Kuo Chui), and the nigh-invincibility of the Toad (Lo Mang), along with the so-called “hybrid venom” protagonist, Yang Tieh (Chiang Sheng), who is a novice in all of the styles. It’s a film typical of both Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers: high budget, great costumes, beautiful sets and stylish action. Is it on the cheesy side? Sure, but how many great martial arts films are completely dour? It’s emblematic of an entire era of Hong Kong cinema and the joy taken in delivering beautiful choreography and timeless stories of good vs. evil. —Jim Vorel

7. Spaceballs

spaceballs.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Joan Rivers, Mel Brooks, Daphne Zuniga
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Originally perceived as one of writer/director Mel Brooks’ lesser works, this loving send-up of the sci-fi/fantasy genre (specifically, Star Wars) has, over the years, wormed its way into the hearts of a new generation of fans catching it for the first time at home. “May the Schwartz be with you,” “Ludicrous Speed,” “Mawg”—if these are all terms that mean nothing to you then it’s high-time you checked this movie out and see what all the fuss is about. —Mark Rozeman

8. Starship Troopers

starship-troopers.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%
Rating: R
Runtime: 129 minutes

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Glistening agitprop after-school special and gross-ass bacchanalia, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers delights in the ultraviolence it doles out in heavy spurts—but then chastises itself for having so much fun with something so wrong. Telling the story of a cadre of extremely attractive upper-middle-class white teens (played by shiny adults Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Nina Meyers, Jake Busey and Neil Patrick Harris) who get their cherries popped and then ground into hamburger inside the abattoir of interstellar war, Verhoeven cruises through the many tones of bellicose filmmaking: hawkish propaganda, gritty action setpieces and thrilling adventure sequences, all of it accompanied by plenty of gut-churning CGI, giant space bugs and human heads alike exploding without shame or recourse or respect for basic physics and human empathy. As much a bloodletting of Verhoeven’s childhood trauma, forged in the fascist mill of World War II Europe, as a critique of Hollywood’s cavalier attitude toward violence and uniformly heroic depictions of the military, the sci-fi spectacle can’t help but arrive at the same place no matter which angle one takes: geeked out on some hardcore cinematic mayhem. —Dom Sinacola

9. Kung Fu Hustle

KungFuHustleHKposter.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Stephen Chow, Wah Yuen, Shengyi Huang, Kwok-Kwan Chan
Genre: Action & Adventure, Martial Arts
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Stephen Chow is probably the biggest name in martial arts comedy since the days of Sammo Hung, and Kung Fu Hustle will likely remain one of his most well-regarded films—both as director and performer. Gleefully kooky, the film combines occasional song and dance with expectedly extremely exaggerated kung fu parody in telling the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing a large criminal organization, the “Deadly Axe Gang.” This is nothing complex—rather, Kung Fu Hustle is unadulterated absurdity: The action has no basis in reality, reveling in Looney Tunes physics, while characters are broad pastiches and/or references to famous actors from the genre’s history. With gags teetering decidedly on the juvenile (or inscrutable, for Americans at least) side, the film is a testament to Chow’s style—entertain first, make sense later. That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else. —Jim Vorel

10. Snowpiercer

snowpiercer.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman

11. Clash of the Titans

clash-of-the-titans.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Desmond Davis
Stars: Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Burgess Meredith, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andrews
Genre: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 68%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 118 minutes

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The original Clash of the Titans represented the swan song of legendary special-effects guru Ray Harryhausen, and in many ways his methods. Audiences and critics now acclimated to the technological leaps of Star Wars were beginning to find the dynamation creatures hokey and old-fashioned, ending plans for a sequel before they really got off the ground. Looking back on the film now, however, Desmond Davis’s Clash of the Titans stands as yet another classical adventure that owed what success it had to the tireless work of Harryhausen. It may be seen as a camp classic of sorts today, but in the most loving way possible. Certainly, it’s more fun to see at a screening than the 2010 remake. —Jim Vorel

12. Swiss Army Man

swiss-army-man.jpg Year: 2016
Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Dan Kwan
Stars: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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Known for the “Turn Down for What” music video, and for the short film (“Interesting Ball”) in which one director is sucked up into the butt of the other director (among other anomalies), and now for the farting boner-corpse movie, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert are filmmakers in complete mastery of the absurdity at the heart of everything they do. Swiss Army Man, their feature length debut about a man (Paul Dano) who, while stranded on a deserted island, discovers a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) with extraordinary physical abilities (involving farts and boners), is both a testament to their childish imaginations and a relentlessly creative exploration of mental illness, nostalgia and the ways in which movies define (usually to our detriment) our expectations for love and happiness. Swiss Army Man is cobbled together from Spielbergian hope and Cronenbergian body horror, from the white people romance of Nancy Meyers and the white people fantasy of John Williams’ Jurassic Park score or the melody of “Cotton Eye Joe,” cherished cultural touchstone and so much more mysterious than anyone would ever give it credit for and whatever else the heart desires. It haunts the subconscious; it ends on a note so antithetical to the plot machinations of a rom-com that it both is and isn’t one; it draws logic like ethereal cobwebs from the minds of every viewer to assemble somehow a magnificent tessellation of pop culture and poop joke as emotionally wrenching as it is ridiculous. Assembling somehow the many multilayered voices and neuroses of so many different people with so many different loves. It’s beautiful, and I love it. —Dom Sinacola

13. Up in Smoke

hulu poster up ins moke.jpg
Year: 1978
Director: Lou Adler
Stars: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 47%
Rating: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Between Adler’s inexperience, the influence of Robert Altman’s intentionally shambolic aesthetic, and Cheech & Chong’s trademark pot humor, Up in Smoke is a comedy that’s exceptionally loose and shaggy. It’s essentially a series of vignettes based around the duo’s love of drugs and music, largely adapted from their series of hit stand-up albums. Like a lot of first-time movies by popular comedians, it’s less interested in creating a unified film than in capturing the essence of what made Cheech & Chong popular in the first place. That’s made it both an artifact of a very specific time and place, but also a comedy that has transcended its era and remained relevant for decades.—Garrett Martin

14. Killer Klowns From Outer Space

killer klowns poster (Custom).jpg Year: 1988
Director: The Chiodo Brothers
Stars: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Vernon
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Stephen, Charles and Edward Chiodo are a trio of siblings who have spent most of their careers working in practical movie effects, on everything from Critters to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but to horror fans they’ll always be known as those guys responsible for Killer Klowns From Outer Space. The titular monsters are actually aliens—it appears to be a series of incredible coincidences that everything about them is related to clowns. As in, their spaceship is a giant circus tent. Or the fact that they turn people into cotton candy before eating them. Or the fact that they’re all wearing floppy shoes and red ball noses. Coincidences, beautiful coincidences. The movie is a darkly comic story that never legitimately attempts to frighten—it’s saccharine faux-horror fun as silly and colorful as the clowns themselves. Today, it’s mostly worth seeing for the impressive makeup and FX work that the Chiodos managed to pull off on a small budget. Particularly memorable is the “shadow puppets” sequence, wherein one of the clowns uses what can only be described as Clown Magic to create a shadow T-Rex that first entertains, then devours, a crowd of onlookers. —Jim Vorel

15. To Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar!

to-wong-foo.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Beeban Kidron
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 39%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes

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In films that feature drag, like Beeban Kidron’s To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, aspiration is authenticity. Loosely based on The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, drag’s open volley with the politics of gender gives way to raucous fun: The pageant at the beginning of the film is set to Chaka Kahn’s “Free Yourself,” and a line of fabulous queens of various aesthetics serve face. Across the stage they werk, and when they look into the camera, it’s like they’re saying, “I’m giving you all the realness.” Even in the film’s most sensitive moments, such as when Veda (Patrick Swayze), Noxeema (Wesley Snipes) and Chi Chi (John Leguizamo) watch as a small town girl and boy dance the night away, the characters throw their arms toward the air and sway in the breeze to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” by Mel Carter, swept up by the romance. —Kyle Turner

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