Although the definition of a “cult film” can vary widely depending on which critic you ask, many would agree that cult films are typically movies that feature strange or dark content and often come from genres such as horror, fantasy, or science fiction. These films tend to inspire devoted followings from audiences that appreciate their offbeat qualities.
Although cult movies have been around since the birth of the film industry, some critics consider the 1970s a particularly fruitful era for the production of cult movies. Here are the top 10 cult movies from the 1970s, per to critics’ ratings collected by Rotten Tomatoes.
10. A Boy and His Dog
Based on a novella of the same name by speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison, A Boy and His Dog is a dark comedy that features Don Johnson as Vic, a young boy scavenging for food in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Vic is aided in his daily struggle to survive by a dog that is able to telepathically communicate with him. The film was a commercial failure when it was released in 1975 but has since gained a substantial following. A Boy and His Dog currently has a 75 percent ”Tomatometer” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
No list of ’70s cult movies would be complete without The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Considered by many critics as the seminal cult movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a bizarre horror-musical-comedy hybrid that features Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, and ’70s rock star Meat Loaf. Originally released in 1975, the film is still shown in many theaters around the world, where fans gather to watch and participate by shouting back responses to the characters on screen. The Rocky Horror Picture Show currently has a 77 percent Tomatometer rating.
8. Dark Star
Although it’s a comedy that parodies Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dark Star was the 1974 directorial debut of renowned horror director John Carpenter. Carpenter later became well-known for his work in the horror genre with films like Halloween and The Thing. Like Kubrick’s classic film, Dark Star features a small space crew on a long-range mission into space. However, unlike 2001, Dark Star also includes an inflatable “beach ball” alien and a highly intelligent bomb. While its low production values reflect its shoestring budget, devoted fans of this surreal science fiction comedy have elevated this film to cult movie status. Dark Star currently has a 79 percent Tomatometer rating.
7. The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Starring B-movie veteran Vincent Price as a vengeful and deformed doctor, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a dark-yet- campy horror flick. After being hideously disfigured in a car accident, Dr. Phibes methodically plans the Biblically based murders of the people he holds responsible for his wife’s death. Dr. Phibes’ penchant for creepy organ music and his electronically enabled voice give this film the extra dose of weirdness that pushes it into cult movie territory. The Abominable Dr. Phibes currently has an 80 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
6. The Kentucky Fried Movie
Directed by John Landis and written by veteran comedy writers David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams, The Kentucky Fried Movie is a slap-dash collection of gag-filled skits that poke fun at clichés found in various film genres including martial arts, blaxploitation, and mafia films. Although many of the parodies in this 1977 release may seem dated today, this cult comedy film heralded later classics from the Zuckers and Abrahams, such as Airplane! and The Naked Gun. The Kentucky Fried Movie has an 80 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
5. The Deer Hunter
The inclusion of The Deer Hunter shows that a film doesn’t have to be a critical failure in order to gain cult status. This acclaimed drama directed by Michael Cimino portrays the Vietnam War’s effect on a group of three veterans. The film stars several Hollywood heavyweights, including Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Cazale.
Although The Deer Hunter went on to win five Oscars at the 1979 Academy Awards, it remains controversial for how it depicts the Vietcong, with the film featuring a historically inaccurate but powerful scene featuring a game of Russian roulette. Although The Deer Hunter is in many ways a conventional Hollywood film, the dark subject matter and devotion of its fans have elevated this war film to cult movie status. The Deer Hunter currently has a 92 percent Tomatometer rating.
4. The Warriors
Released in 1979, The Warriors immediately became a cult favorite due to its over-the-top violence and one-liners. The film depicts a bleak future in which violent gangs roam a crumbling New York City landscape. “The Warriors,” gang members, are the protagonists of the film, though their violent and amoral behavior qualify them as antiheroes, at best. After being falsely accused of assassinating the gang leader of New York City, the group must battle its way through various hostile territories in order to reach the members’ home on Coney Island.
Although widely panned by critics upon its release and controversially linked to several real incidents of violence at some showings, the film’s reputation has improved in recent years, as cult film aficionados have come to appreciate The Warriors’ special blend of cheesy dialogue and campy violence. The Warriors currently has a 94 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Mad Max
Before becoming a mainstream Hollywood star, Mel Gibson was introduced to cult movie fans as the title character in the Australian post-apocalyptic thriller Mad Max. This dystopian fable stars Gibson as a policeman who seeks revenge on a marauding gang of bikers who murdered his family. In true cult film fashion, Mad Max manages to rise above its shoestring budget to deliver a compelling story and exciting road stunts. The film eventually spawned three sequels, including the as-yet-unreleased Mad Max: Fury Road. Mad Max currently has a 95 percent Tomatometer rating.
Directed by the legendary Joseph L. Manciewicz and featuring acclaimed actors Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in the lead roles, Sleuth appears to have been created to win awards. Unfortunately, the film faced insurmountable competition from a film called The Godfather at the 1973 Academy Awards. Although they eventually lost to Marlon Brando, both Olivier and Caine garnered Best Actor nominations for their roles in this film about elaborate mind games between a wealthy married man and his wife’s lover. The mesmerizing performances by two of the industry’s most talented actors have made this thriller a cult favorite among film enthusiasts. Sleuth currently has a 96 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Although hailed by critics for its poetic visuals and dreamy pacing, Badlands failed to achieve much box office success when it was released in 1973. However, the low-budget directorial debut of Terrence Malick has since gained cult film status for its restrained yet unnerving portrayal of a young couple embarking on a crime spree in the American Midwest during the 1950s. Sissy Spacek — who later gained fame for her portrayal of a telekinetic teenager in Carrie — stars as Holly, the clueless girlfriend of the psychotic killer Kit, played by Martin Sheen. Badlands currently has a 98 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- 10 Must-Miss (Read: Worst) Films of 2013
- 5 Disappointing Film Heroines of 2013
- 8 Biggest Film Box Office Disasters
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