Cult films have been alive and well in the 2010s, a decade that saw a wealth of memorable midnight movies, eccentric oddities, sleeper stoner comedies, and other “out there” genre films.
Movies designated with cult status attract special audiences because they’re so very different and much more provocative than mainstream populist fare. The cult film experience differs from conventional cinema by appealing to unique sensibilities, be it the counterculture, genre films, or niche audiences that joyfully indulge in taboo content and proscribed subject matter that deliriously upends convention with razor-sharp satire, exploitation, and/or legitimate ideological dangers or controversial content.
The following list looks at the decade’s best cult films––these are movies that foster unhealthy obsession, stylish strangeness, and offer feelings of connection for the bravest or most eccentric viewers out there. Enjoy!
20. Turbo Kid (2015)
Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of an alternate 1997, Munro Chambers plays an orphaned teen who must do battle with a ruthless warlord named Zeus (Michael Ironside) to save Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), this dream girl.
After the film’s SXSW premiere, Matt Donato of We Got This Covered, raved that “[Turbo Kid] is a magical can’t-miss experience that’s like a Saturday morning cartoon turned into an apocalyptic 80s fever-dream […] A stunning visual masterpiece that redefines the phrase ‘low-budget filmmaking’.” Other genre-appreciative blogs son chimed in, with Dread Central calling it, “Funny, gory, hugely enjoyable and – most importantly – shining with spirit […] Everyone involved should be thoroughly proud of themselves.”
Written and directed by the pastiche-loving triumvirate of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, Turbo Kid is a goofy, gory, and fist-pumping cult film offering, and finger’s crossed the rumored sequel will materialize before too long.
19. Deathgasm (2015)
New Zealand writer/director Jason Lei Howden hilariously resurrects the splatter comedy with Deathgasm. If combining the crude fanboy nobility of Bill and Ted with the stomach-churning carnage of The Evil Dead sounds delectable, then this indelicate and scatological midnight movie masterpiece is a sweet course.
Brodie (Milo Cawthorne), a serious heavy metal fan, along with bad-boy bff Zakk (James Blake) front a band, the titular Deathgasm, who up their street cred and Satanic celebrity by incorporating demonic lyrics from an ancient text into their music. It turns out that doing so summons an assortment of teeth-gnashing nasties that only they can stand up to.
Deathgasm’s hyperbolic, fluid-spewing violence is a morbid revelry––what other film offers up a slo mo assault on demons with an ebony dildo and a string of anal beads?––and with rapid-fire quotable quips and put-downs that are laugh-out-loud funny, this is a film meant for repeat group viewings.
18. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
With a title like “Hobo with a Shotgun” you’d best expect a crass, off-color, gloriously off-kilter, and utterly over-the-top exploitation experience, because that’s exactly what you get. This deranged black comedy/horror-thriller doesn’t just leave good taste at the door, it gouges out its eyes and defiles it’s still kicking corpse as director Jason Eisener and writer John Davies go hardcore, with shotguns ablazin’.
Inspired by the mean-spirited trailer of the same name featured in the Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez 2007 omnibus film Grindhouse, and the South by Southwest Grindhouse contest that coincided with it, this is a gory spectacle for exploitation fans.
Rutger Hauer is the eponymous homeless avenger who takes on the Drake (Brian Downey), a sadistic crime boss––sadistic being an understatement––and his cruel sons (Nick Bateman and Robb Wells), who rule over Hope Town with an iron fist.
The antithesis of cinematic subtlety, this gloriously gruesome homage to low-budget horror is actually pretty damn enjoyable if you can get past the deliberately vile content (mistreated hookers, horrible pimps, a pedophile dressed as Santa), blood-splattered gore, colorful dialogue, and guiltily enjoy the revenge-fuelled awfulness of it all.
17. The Raid (2011)
Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans made quite a name for himself with the adrenaline-pumping Indonesian martial arts-fuelled, siege-driven mini-epic, The Raid. A first-rate midnight movie that spawned a sequel (2014’s The Raid 2), a graphic novel, a spin-off comic book series, and a still gestating American remake from Joe Carnahan, The Raid detonates the screen as Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie and possible weak link in an elite police team, is charged with the task of taking down the fearsome crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). But lo and behold, the team’s cover is blown as they infiltrate the imposing high-rise apartment block Tama runs, leaving Rama on the outside as Tama has the team trapped and at his mercy in the massive fortress-like lodgings.
Faster than you can say “Assault on Precinct 13 meets Escape from New York” the shit is hitting the proverbial fan, ultraviolence is erupting all around, and whomever is left of Rama’s team on the inside most compete with a garrison of criminals Tama’s protecting to bring in their heads.
The simple premise is second fiddle to The Raid’s nonstop action sequences, which dazzlingly showcase the traditional Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, with gob-smacking fight choreography led by star Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (who plays Tama’s badass sidekick Mad Dog). The Raid is a riot.
16. Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
Beyond the Black Rainbow is an artful, experimental, and inspired visual feast that pastiches the seditious leanings of Mario Bava, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and just a dash of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Rarely are small-scale sci-fi films this adventurous and smartly surreal.
Set in the distant year 1983, writer-director Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) offers up a feverish, chimerical miracle of strange cinema, like an artifact from another era. Stylish to a fault, fantastic to the hilt, the story of a heavily sedated Eva Allan, cursed with ESP, desperate to escape the enigmatic institution that keeps her captive.
The synth-driven score from Sinoia Caves adds immeasurably to the film’s appeal and helps make Cosmatos’ idiosyncratic, strange, and onerous emotional environment all the more arresting. This isn’t a film for everyone, but those that it will resonate with will cherish this dark, impending jewel.
15. Climax (2018)
Argentinian enfant terrible filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void) may now at long last finally have his masterpiece with Climax, an unimaginably beautiful nightmare mixture of ecstatic dance and horror most extreme. An absolutely mindblowing, and occasionally frustrating experience, Climax is as detailed and delirious as an Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.
After a hasty, though engaging introduction to our cast of characters, members of a hip-hop dance troupe in 1996, we witness a whirlingly choreographed dance sequence in their rehearsal space, set to pulsating era-appropriate EDM and shot in a single, staggering, trance-inducing take. To say that it’s riveting feels too basic, it’s an all-consuming feat of strength, and probably the most engrossing dance number you’ve ever borne witness to. So many different dancing styles coalesce; krumpers, voguers, and wackers, and all with an astounding fluidity, energy, and grace, it’s druggy just to take it all in. Wow.
But before long the film moves from Saturday Night Fever-style dance drama to full-on drug horror as the troupe comes to realize someone has spiked their celebratory sangria with some obscenely high-dose LSD. For the very brave or perhaps the youthfully naïve, Climax is a shocking and sinister pièce de résistance.
14. Tangerine (2015)
Director Sean Baker (The Florida Project) co-wrote Tangerine with Chris Bergoch, and their small-scale success is an utter joy. Perhaps best known as being “that indie film that was shot on iPhones”––slightly modified, of course––Baker’s neo-screwball transgender comedy is a surprising, startling, color-saturated sliver of chimeric cinema.
Radium Cheung’s cinematography is dreamlike in the best sense, bringing a hyperreality to the rough hewn guerilla aesthetic that may well be lost on mainstream audiences but deeply appreciated and applauded by the more analytical eye. Tangerine is gritty, as you might expect, but it’s also riotously entertaining, emotionally honest, and precious to look at, like dime store jewellery that somehow manages to beautifully reflect a gorgeous and unusual light.
13. The Duke of Burgundy (2015)
Peter Strickland (In Fabric, also on this list) makes a pastiche of erotic exploitation cinema from the 70s––Jesús Franco and Jean Rollin float to mind with soap bubble inertia––with no deficit of idiosyncrasy, imagination, or veiled decorum, either. Existing in a pocket universe inhabited wholly by women, The Duke of Burgundy offers tactile pleasures at every turn, Euro-smut has never looked so lovely, salacious, or finely detailed.
Nic Knowland’s overripe lensing, Pater Sparrow’s effete yet plush production design, and Mátyás Fekete nostalgic and almost gimmicky editing––featuring, for instance, freeze-frames that relax into fleshy pink ambiguity––makes for an artificial world that moans with titillation and mystery at every inviting wheeze. This is a film of mystery, lucid dreaming, closed door transgressions, and artful fetish from an exciting cinematic pariah.
12. Enemy (2013)
Enemy is Denis Villeneuve’s inscrutable adaptation of José Saramago’s 2002 novel “The Double” and it’s a chilling, indulgent, yet always audacious affair.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives an understated yet riveting dual performance, is Adam, a history professor in a passionless relationship with Mary (Mélanie Laurent) who soon discovers, after renting a DVD, that an actor in a small role appears to be his doppelgänger. After a little legwork, Adam finds the actor’s talent agency, intercepts some mail and learns his name, Anthony Clair.
As the puzzle-like film unravels, the viewer is treated, amongst other existential horror high-jinx, to troubling imagery of spiders, gossamer (a web-like appearance of a cracked windshield is especially chilling), stifled femininity, a tough, washed-out looking Toronto landscape, and increasing dreamlike delusions building to an arresting conclusion and a final shot that is totally terrifying.
Enemy is a resonating work that presents itself as seductive cinema, sensational at times, and quick, guaranteed to pervade the viewer while offering up nightmare fuel, dark fantasy, and more than a few interpretations.
11. Attack the Block (2011)
A near perfect distillation of horror, humor, science fiction and class polemic, writer/director Joe Cornish’s feature length debut, Attack the Block, is a monster movie with bite.
Set in the inner city of South London, the film artfully and carefully follows a teen gang caught up in an alien invasion. Now, as the at risk youths find themselves defending their besieged residential block from extraterrestrial forces Cornish captures the zeitgeist of contemporary England, a country in the midst of urban renewal and retrograde, where, apart from the alien invaders, alienation thrives in the stark and stalwart disconnect between age, class, and race.
The creatures themselves have a unique and distinct look; razor-sharp teeth that glow amidst jet black fur in a posture and stance close to a dog but also with a gorilla’s gait and size. They’re original and unforgettable creations that, combined with a breakout performance from John Boyega as teenage hoodlum Moses, Attack the Block is a modern cult classic and an astonishing directorial debut to boot.