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The Beginner's Guide to Cult Cinema

Updated on May 8, 2008

Cult movies are characterized as having a small but devoted following of fans. The term cult film really took hold in the early 1980s when art films became popular with the intellectual crowd, and younger viewers were looking for movies with a strange twist. Following are the cult movies that have endured as favorites. Note the mixture of American and European talents in many of the films.

Andalusian Dog (1928)

Only 20 minutes long, this short film was a collaboration between director Luis Bunuel and the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. It's more a series of scenes than a story and a little grotesque, but very cool, especially considering when it was made. One of a kind.

Harold and Maude (1971)

Boy meets old lady at a funeral, boy stops faking suicide attempts, and old lady gets herself a little taboo nooky. Actually, this black comedy is a very sweet movie full of heart with a lively performance by Ruth Gordon and a killer soundtrack by Cat Stevens. Directed by Hal Ashby.

Last Tango in Paris (1974)

Marlon Brando flexes his French muscle in this international affair filmed in both English and French by the marvelous Italian director, Bernardo Bertolucci. Brando is tormented by the suicide of his wife and tries to deaden the pain with a sweaty fling. You may have to choose between the subtitled R-rated version and the dubbed NC-17 version.

Pink Flamingos (1974)

Not for the squeamish! John Waters is a major cult director who began making low-budget films in Baltimore during the 1970s. Pink Flamingos stars cross-dressing Divine as a woman obsessed with being known as the most disgusting person alive. Luckily, her chief rivals live in the same city, and they progressively try to one-up each other with gross acts. The movie is funny, but also disturbing at times. If you want to sample John Water movies that have the same flavor, but are not quite as harsh, try Desperate Living (1977) or Polyester (1981).

Man who fell to Earth (1976)

In his best acting performance, David Bowie stars as an alien who has come to Earth in hopes of finding water to bring back to his dying planet. A very quiet movie artfully directed by Nicholas Roeg.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Drink a cup of coffee before watching this film, because it consists only of a long, thought-provoking conversation over dinner between the quirky Wallace Shawn and the adventurous Andre Gregory, who also co-wrote the script. Directed by the skillful Louis Malle from France.

Bagdad Cafe (1988)

After a fight with her husband while on vacation in Southwestern U.S, a German woman (Marianne Saegebrecht) inserts herself into the life a desert café owner (CCH Pounder) and her band of misfits. The light-hearted film is directed by another German, Percy Adlon, and features Jack Palance as the local painter.

Other recommended films:

Diva (1982)

Repo Man (1984)

Delicatessen(1991)

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