Top 20 cult films: Must-watch movies and best cult classics ever made

Handpicked for a global audience, these are some of the best cult films ever made by local and foreign film makers.
Handpicked for a global audience, these are some of the best cult films ever made by local and foreign film makers.

Each movie on this list of top 20 cult films has been chosen for many reasons including racy storylines, pioneering film making techniques and portrayal of intricate plots involving sensuality, love, violence, political conspiracy, poverty, fantasy and crime amongst others.


Handpicked for a global audience, these are some of the best cult films ever made by local and foreign film makers. Read on and find out more about movies that have become cult classics and have become notoriously famous.


Chunking Express (1994) Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong
Chunking Express (1994) Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong

1) Chunking Express (1994)

Directed by: Wong Kar-Wai

Starring: Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong


Chunking Express is a Hong Kong film by Wong Kar-Wai and has become a cult classic mainly because of its filmmaking technique. It is a simple story about two cops who are obsessed with their girlfriends, dealing with heartbreak and learning to cope in bizarre ways. Interestingly the film does not employ techniques of inter connectedness in the storyline. Instead it treats them as two simple separate stories with a striking similarity in the way they are shot.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Chunking Express particularly caught the fancy of many film critics, film connoisseurs and discerning movie fans because of its excessive use of the hand held camera, jerky editing and color palette. Many critics have compared the feel and look of the film to an impressionistic painting with bold and edgy strokes.


Pulp Fiction (1994) Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Starring: John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Uma Thurman
Pulp Fiction (1994) Directed by: Quentin Tarantino Starring: John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Uma Thurman

2) Pulp Fiction (1994)

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Uma Thurman


This famous film is about small time LA gangsters and criminals and how they are chasing a briefcase which remains a central motif in the film. The stories of several characters are interconnected as they chase redemption and life though violence and bizarre spontaneous events. Pulp Fiction is most famous for its unabashed style similar to pulpy crime thriller stories appearing in magazines.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Violence, sex, crime, monologues, inane humor, non linearity, witty dialogue, petty criminals and references to pop culture amongst many other elements come together to create the core theme of Pulp Fiction. The film had a revolutionary cutting style which glamorized violence and kitsch. Generations of other filmmakers have adopted Tarantino's use of film techniques like pastiche, postmodern non linearity and homage.


Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Directed by: Alain Resnais Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) Directed by: Alain Resnais Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud

3) Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

Directed by: Alain Resnais

Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas, Pierre Barbaud


Hiroshima Mon Amour is a French classic. It is a story about a French woman who visits Japan to shoot an anti war film. During the shoot she has an affair with a Japanese man and the movie's plot unravels the stark differences in their opinions about war. It also draws a constant parallel to the personal loss in their lives with the destruction in Hiroshima. The cult film's narrative is structured like one long conversation between two lovers that takes place over 24 hours.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Hiroshima Mon Amour has a massive cult following and is most remembered in the history of cinema because it pioneered and propelled the French New Wave. Through the use of flashbacks, the narrative effectively juxtaposed memory against its lapse and the complexities arising therein. The use of excessive dialogue to create monologue-ish conversation too, was path breaking in its time.


Run Lola Run (1998) Directed by: Tom Tykwer Starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu
Run Lola Run (1998) Directed by: Tom Tykwer Starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu

4) Run Lola Run (1998)

Directed by: Tom Tykwer

Starring: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu


Run Lola Run is like the perfect antidote for audiences who want to satiate their adrenaline hungry cinematic passion. The storyline of the film is extremely simple but offers a twist with three potential endings. Lola's boyfriend looses a big sum of money which belongs to a gang member. To get the money back, he plans to rob a supermarket. Lola only has a few minutes on hand to raise the money somehow and give it to her boyfriend before he starts the robbery.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

On the surface, this classic German cult film has sumptuous portions of Lola running from one end of the town to the other. But the pace and brevity with which the film proceeds is far from the seeming simplicity of the film's story. The film strikes a universal chord with audiences because it innovatively depicts the intense role that destiny and chance plays in people's lives without sounding didactic. Audiences are kept on their seat's edge as the film seamlessly traverses between its three potential endings. To know what really happens in the end, watch the film!


Amores Perros (2000) Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu Starring: Guillermo Arriaga, Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo
Amores Perros (2000) Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu Starring: Guillermo Arriaga, Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo

5) Amores Perros (2000)

Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring: Guillermo Arriaga, Emilio Echevarría, Gael García Bernal, Goya Toledo


Often referred to as Mexican pulp fiction, Amores Perros is a Spanish film which was one of the first movies to employ the technique of merging multiple storylines. The film showcases stories of three couples whose lives are interconnected with each other in the most absurd of ways. The beauty of the narrative lies in how the event of an accident and the character of the dog is the common point for all stories.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Non linearity and incoherence in storytelling have always been Iñárritu's forte, as audiences later witnessed in his two other masterpieces 21 grams and Babel. This movie commonly appears in many lists of 'must watch cult films' because it does not purely call attention to its frenzied and spliced storytelling. The movie also has intriguing characters and their emotions are beautifully portrayed.


Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind (2004) Directed by: Michel Gondry Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind (2004) Directed by: Michel Gondry Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst

6) Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed by: Michel Gondry

Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst


Besides being a commercial success, Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind also garnered an equally huge cult following, especially in America. The central characters of the film played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet get their memories medically erased so that they can survive the pain of their break up. Incidentally they meet again on a train with no memory of knowing each other and hit it off instantly.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The film successfully combines the complexities of many genres into its narrative. By using the trope of memory erasure, characters oscillate in time and the narrative keeps alternating between dream and reality. From science fiction to romantic fantasy to a dark and brooding tale of loss, love and reconciliation, Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind has managed to remain intact in the memories of audiences worldwide.


Trainspotting (1996) Directed by: Danny Boyle Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller
Trainspotting (1996) Directed by: Danny Boyle Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller

6) Trainspotting (1996)

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller


Trainspotting captures the levels of drug consumption and abuse in Edinburgh in UK, during the late eighties. The central characters of the film are embroiled in the city's drug scene and are constantly battling out their need and want for withdrawal. The theme of the film weaves together the troubles of an economically depressed locality in Edinburgh which is smothered with the pungent powders of Heroin.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Trainspotting became a cult classic because of its editing style and racy storyline. The edgy narrative throws one scene of drug abuse after the other right at the viewers' face, literally. Many memorable scenes lace this movie, the most famous one being the scene in which the central character of the film dunks his head into a toilet pot and later goes inside for a swim.


Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Directed by: Guillermo del Toro Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López
Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Directed by: Guillermo del Toro Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López

8) Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López


Pan's Labyrinth is a Mexican film which is deeply rooted in the genre of part thriller part fantasy, with more elements of the latter. The movie is set in Spain post Civil War during the reign of King Franco. A young girl is introduced to magical yet sepulchral looking fawn like creatures which only she sees and interacts with. In the backdrop of violence perpetrated by the girl's father and an ailing pregnant mother the young girl uninhibitedly walks deeper into the magical labyrinth. This is where the fawns teach her about life, love and death.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Although the film's central character is a young girl and the misc en scene is set around phantasmagorical creatures, the appeal of the film reaches straight to adults owing to its complex themes. The film is highly regarded for its use of animation and computer generated effects along with its deep influence from fairy tale styled storytelling.


Taxi Driver (1976) Directed by: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks
Taxi Driver (1976) Directed by: Martin Scorsese Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks

9) Taxi Driver (1976)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks


This film has become an iconic work by Scorsese in the history of American cinema. It centers around the famous character of Travis who is an ex war veteran and drives a cab for a night job. He is slightly mentally deranged because of the after effects of war and finds the lifestyle of New York City extremely worthless and decadent. The story further unfolds to reveal how he attempts to rescue a young prostitute, and a political assassination.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The background score of the film was well received and acted as a backdrop for the movie. This cult classic is also remembered for its controversial, gory climax and an ambiguous end. Through the use of a psychologically instable central character, the film effortlessly points out the cesspool that society had become at that time.


Psycho (1960) Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin
Psycho (1960) Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin

10) Psycho (1960)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin


Psycho has all the characteristics of a classic thriller – money embezzlement, a chilling murder scene, sexual undertones between the protagonists and a character with an Oedipal complex. Psycho is about two lovers trying to steal money to make their life and how they get embroiled in murder when one of them checks into a motel owned by someone shady.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

All of Alfred Hitchcock's films can be regarded as all time cult classics. But Psycho holds a special place in this auteur's repertoire because of its ability to shock. The famous shower scene has become a classic representation in the genre of suspense in world cinema.


Mulholland Dr. (2001)  Directed By: David Lynch Starring: Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, Laura Harring
Mulholland Dr. (2001) Directed By: David Lynch Starring: Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, Laura Harring

11) Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Directed By: David Lynch

Starring: Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, Laura Harring


Mulholland Dr. is a film about an aspiring actress who comes to LA and moves into her aunt's apartment. Another woman who has just rescued herself from an accident runs into the aspiring actress at the apartment and assumes a different name. Similarly many other storylines run parallel to each other, being inter connected at the most absurd of junctures in the narrative.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Mulholland Dr. has been categorized in multiple genres – from neo noir to thriller to surreal. Lynch's masterpiece is well known for calling attention to bizarre technique which is loaded with symbolism. Very famously, Lynch chose to never interpret the film in public, leaving it open for unending discussion and critical commentary. Characters appear for no specific reason, there is no linearity in the storyline and it is difficult to segregate dream from reality in this cult classic.


Delicatessen (1991)  Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Marc Caro, Dominique Pinon, Karin Viard
Delicatessen (1991) Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet Starring: Marc Caro, Dominique Pinon, Karin Viard

12) Delicatessen (1991)

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring: Marc Caro, Dominique Pinon, Karin Viard


The beauty of this French film lies in its characters and their eccentricities. The story is set in post war period of an unnamed place. The terrible shortage of grains makes them as precious as currency. In this context, many characters are shown occupying a building as tenants. They constantly conspire against each other to give rise to utter chaos and enjoyable clutter that characterizes most of the misc en scene of the film.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Delicatessen is held in high regard because it successfully showcases absurdities that arise because of the dynamics of using grains being used as currency. The background score of the film by Carlos D'Alessio beautifully compliments the dark humor that runs through the film.


Roshomon (1950) Directed by: Akira Kurosawa Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyō, Takashi Shimura
Roshomon (1950) Directed by: Akira Kurosawa Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyō, Takashi Shimura

13) Roshomon (1950)

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Machiko Kyō, Takashi Shimura


Roshomon is a classic Japanese whodunit film with the tropes of a typical Kurosawa narrative. Three characters are supposedly the only witnesses to a murder and rape case but everyone testifies through the own point of view. Who is right and who isn't? The tale unfolds with this gripping central theme.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Roshomon is a cult film because of Kurosawa's radical filmmaking techniques. Whether it is the sequence of the chase in the forest or the path breaking scene in which the camera directly captures the glare of the sunlight streaming through the woods - Roshomon has managed to capture the fancy of film critics, students and common audiences alike. Roshomon is also remembered across the globe to date because it is considered to have 'opened' Japan to the West.


Departures (2008) Directed by: Yojiro Takita Starring: Ryōko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Masahiro Motoki
Departures (2008) Directed by: Yojiro Takita Starring: Ryōko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Masahiro Motoki

14) Departures (2008)

Directed by: Yojiro Takita

Starring: Ryōko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Masahiro Motoki


This Japanese film is essentially about the beauty and sanctity associated with preparing the dead before they are buried and bidding them a pleasant departure. The central character of this film is unemployed and reluctantly takes up the job of assisting departures. He has no idea about what the job entails. As the film unfolds, viewers are exposed to the beauty of the rituals and how characters introspect about death of their loved ones in their own lives.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The conductors of such ceremonies are usually frowned upon by society but this film brings out the peace and satisfaction that the central character of the film realizes by reluctantly taking up the job. This movie has become a cult film because it touched a subject that had been unheard of until its release.


Borat (2006)  Directed by: Larry Charles Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell
Borat (2006) Directed by: Larry Charles Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell

15) Borat (2006)

Directed by: Larry Charles

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell


Borat is a movie about a character by the same name who is a journalist from Kazakhstan. He travels around America and speaks to commoners without having any idea of American customs and social etiquette. The situational humor is juxtaposed with Borat's life in Kazakhstan. Borat was very controversial when it released because it is claimed to be a mockumentary which makes fun of everything – American capitalism, large breasts, homophobia, life in third world countries, etc.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

On one hand while Borat has won multiple awards, it has also been banned in many Middle Eastern countries because of its portrayal of outrageous ideas and sarcastic mockery of their customs. But commercially, this film was heavily popular and successfully because of its use of sarcasm and humor as a tool of critique.


The Manchurian Candidate (2004)  Directed By: Jonathan Demme  Starring: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep
The Manchurian Candidate (2004) Directed By: Jonathan Demme Starring: Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Meryl Streep

16) The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Directed By: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Denzel Washington, Live Schreiber, Meryl Streep


This American political thriller is a complex story about how a soldier in an army unit is made out to be a war veteran so that he can be nominated for a political position. The film shows how other soldiers from the same army unit gradually begin to recollect how they were brainwashed through a nano technological experiment by the corporate organization Manchurian Global. They recollect that implants were made in their bodies so that they could be brainwashed into what political figures wanted them to believe.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The Manchurian Candidate received critical claim because of its brilliant narrative and poignant performances. It is still remembered for the way in which it portrayed a dystopic society which did not bode too well for the future to come.


A Clockwork Orange (1971) Directed by: Stanley Kubrick  Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates
A Clockwork Orange (1971) Directed by: Stanley Kubrick Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates

17) A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates


Adapted from the famous novel of the same name by Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange is heralded as a path breaking film. It is about the dystopic future of the West owing to its decadent lifestyle and gradually diminishing freedom of choice. The film shows violent sprees that Alex and his drug induced gang enter into each night and how they are attempted to be tamed by society.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The sequence of a Beethoven symphony playing against the background of gory violence was made famous in cinematic history by this iconic film. The story of this film touches upon all the aspects that are typically related with a dystopic setting – youth rebellion, the loss of free will, the romanticization of violence, psychological degeneration and social purging. This cult film has given the world many memorable Slavic slang words, the famous Korova milk bar and a host of other chilling yet silent images induced with inherent violence.


Edward Scissorhands (1990) Directed By: Tim Burton Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Vincent Price
Edward Scissorhands (1990) Directed By: Tim Burton Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Vincent Price

18) Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Vincent Price


Edward Scissorhands is a part romantic part fantasy film which revolves around a man who has hands made of scissors. He is discovered and brought home by a local woman. Gradually, the town comes to know about the absurdity of his hands and is fascinated by him. In turn, he falls in love with the daughter of the woman who brings him home. Although locals are very excited by Scissorhands initially things start deteriorating in a few days when they get to know more about him and his origin.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Makeup, prosthetics, Depp's character building, phantasmagorical imaginative narrative - Edward Scissorhands can be lauded for just about every element of filmmaking it employs. The theme of the film also digs deep and introspects on what civilization, isolation, normalcy really mean.


Old Boy (2003)  Directed by: Chan-wook Park Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang
Old Boy (2003) Directed by: Chan-wook Park Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang

19) Old Boy (2003)

Directed by: Chan-wook Park

Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang


Old Boy is a cutting edge South Korean film which follows an ordinary businessman who is kidnapped and imprisoned in a cell with inhuman hygiene. When he is released, he finds out that he has been given a series of missions to accomplish and he is a part of a bigger conspiracy. The film unravels the character's search for perpetrator of the crime who helms the entire operation and how the motives of his personal life get embroiled into this treacherous journey.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

The success of Old Boy put Korea on the global map of filmmaking because it received worldwide acclaim for its continuous non edited shots and cut throat action sequences. Many critics have referred to this film as a revenge fantasy in which violence is romanticized and the literal ugliness of the setting does not upset the viewer.


Baraka (1992) Directed By: Ron Fricke Starring: NIL
Baraka (1992) Directed By: Ron Fricke Starring: NIL

20) Baraka (1992)

Directed By: Ron Fricke

Starring: NIL


Baraka is a revolutionary movie because it has no central characters, actors or dialogues. It shows a series of short clips of various nations, people, circumstances and natural landscapes. Shot across 24 countries, Baraka is a mesmerizing visual journey from one end of the world to the other.


Why is the movie a cult classic?

Baraka became a cult classic not only because of its unique format but also because it subtly touched on many global issues. Through careful selection of images Fricke constructs an argument regarding world religion, cultural differences, environmentalism, peace, urbanization and habitat conservation. Photography, color and vastness of the canvas pose as the main characters of the film.


Disclaimer: The above images are scaled down versions of the original movie posters and qualify as fair use in order to provide critical commentary on the films themselves.

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Comments 7 comments

Steve Orion profile image

Steve Orion 4 years ago from Tampa, Florida

Great Hub! Some really fantastic recommendations, here. I'm only unfamiliar with 4 of them, so I have a few more additions for my to-watch list. Of what I have seen, Pulp Fiction and Old Boy are my top two picks.

Well done!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

An excellent selection of movies. My favourite from this lot would have to be Hitchcock's Psycho.

The odd one out here in my opinion would be the remake of The Manchurian Candidate which just doesn't compare to the classic B/W original of 1962 starring Laurence Harvey and directed by John Frankenheimer.

Voted Up and Interesting


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

Interesting list. I've seen Psycho and that's about it. I know Cult Classics are big for some people, but I usually have a hard time watching something unless I'm interested in it. These films have a lot of interesting aspects to them, so maybe I'll give them a try.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Very interesting article. I like your choice of films. Some of them I have seen - mostly the American ones. I will have to search out the foreign films, as I do like foreign films, sometimes better than American ones. Each of these seems edgy in an artsy type of way. Thanks for your suggestions.


nanderson500 profile image

nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

Lots of good movies on this list. I really like Pulp Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Taxi Driver, and Mulholland Drive.


Cultfilms 4 years ago

Nice list.

My favourite in this list would be Oldboy. But overall most asian movies in this genre are pretty great and twisted.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

Kubrik's A clockwork orange along with some no most of his other artistic talents must rate cult status. I was particularly intrigued by the role actress Miriam Karlin portrayed as victim in a particularly mindless act of depraved violence. The censorship board had to think long and hard over whether to release this for public entertainment.

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