10 of the Worst Cult Movies of All Time

Tommy Wiseau in The Room

Screenshot of Tommy Wiseau in The Room (2003) | Wiseau-Films

Movies have more than one chance to make an impression. Even films that bomb at the box office can enjoy a second life on home video as a cult classic, where they’re cherished by niche markets who appreciate movies too idiosyncratic or odd for mainstream audiences.

There are many kinds of cult movies, but some of the most entertaining are ones whose appeal actually comes from their lack of quality. These unusual favorites manage to be both hilarious and occasionally endearing in their obvious ineptitude, making them worth watching for the right kind of viewer — even if they are, objectively, bad.

1. The Room

Heavily-accented human enigma Tommy Wiseau directs, writes, produces, and stars in this 2003 drama that plays more like a comedy given its inimitable combination of bad acting, bad cinematography, bad music, bad sex scenes, and bad writing. The plot may be simple, but most viewers will be pausing the film constantly anyway to try and understand the many WTF moments contained herein.

2. Troll 2

There are no trolls in Troll 2 — only goblins, who live in the isolated town of Nilbog and only eat humans that have been transformed into plants to suit their vegetarian diet. Maybe the weirdest part of this spectacularly ugly cult classic is its tone, which is somewhere between body horror and a Spielberg-esque family film. The result is a bizarre, dated movie that seems to have been made for no one — except the people who enjoy laughing at it.

3. Plan 9 from Outer Space

Plan 9 from Outer Space is the original bad cult film, the crowning achievement of notoriously bad director Ed Wood. The 1956 film is famous for its wooden acting and laughable special effects, despite the earnest anti-nuclear message shoved into a plot about aliens raising the dead to stop humans from creating a doomsday weapon that may destroy the universe.

4. Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Imagine a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds directed on a nonexistent budget by someone who speaks English only as a third or fourth language, and you’ll have some idea of how bad Birdemic: Shock and Terror is. The bird effects are laughable, the plot is almost non-existent, the environmental message is painfully shoehorned in, and the lead actor is perhaps the blandest person ever put to film. But that only scratches the surface of this uniquely terrible, uniquely entertaining cult film.

5. Reefer Madness

The melodramatic Reefer Madness is an alarmist product of the United States’ fervent propaganda campaign against marijuana use. The film was rediscovered in the 1970s by advocates of the drug, who viewed the film as an unintentional comedy for the ages. The plot depicts a pair of well-behaved teenagers seduced into trying marijuana, a drug so dangerous it drives them to manslaughter, attempted rape, theft, hallucinations, suicide, and eventually, madness. Just like real life.

6. Labyrinth

There are two good reasons for Labyrinth‘s enduring popularity: the creative puppetry designs of director Jim Henson, and David Bowie, whose performance as the sinister (often singing) Goblin King almost makes up for the rest of the film. The plot is a messy collection of scenes without clear consequences, but thankfully the film is just weird enough in its creepy musical atmosphere to warrant its ongoing status as a cult classic.

7. Death Race 2000

Death Race 2000 is one of the 1970s’ greatest violence-charged cult films, but that doesn’t make it a great film in general. In a world where a murderous car race is billed as national entertainment, a group of racers including Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine must struggle to survive the latest incarnation. It’s goofy and overly-masculine and riotously entertaining at all times, unlike the inferior 2008 remake.

8. The Warriors

The Warriors gave us memorable line readings like, “Can you DIG IT?” and “Come out to PLAY-AYY!” It also gave us one of the silliest dystopian worlds imaginable, where gangs dressed like themed theater troupes roam the streets spouting wooden, boring dialogue that only seems all the more humorous when you consider the over-the-top violence of the world they inhabit.

9. The Boondock Saints

The Boondock Saints is a bad impression of Quentin Tarantino’s films that is beloved by frat boys and teenage bros around the nation. There’s a lot of excessive cursing, violence, casual sexism, and attempts to make quoting the Old Testament seem badass, but for my money, the film’s only real redeeming factor is Willem Dafoe’s hilarious performance as a gay-but-macho FBI agent hunting the titular vigilantes. He’s as ridiculous as the rest of the movie, but at least Dafoe seems to realize it.

10. Pink Flamingos

Pink Flamingos is less a movie than a dare — one that most film fans have to sit through at some point just to say they did. The film, directed by cult hero John Waters, celebrates its star, the infamous drag queen Divine and her status as the “filthiest person alive” with a series of stomach-churning set pieces, the most famous of which sees Divine eating actual dog excrement. Waters’ film is undoubtedly unique and even influential for its celebration of kitschy ’50s styles, but it’s not exactly pleasant to sit through.

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