25 Essential Cult Movies
25. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION II: THE METAL YEARS (1988)
Most of the headbangers in Penelope Spheeris' doc never made it, but Metal Years showcases their big-bucks dreams in a way that's far more memorable than their songs.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I'm the happiest sonofabitch motherf---er there ever was.''
24. WALKING AND TALKING (1996)
Nicole Holofcener's lovely and amazing directorial debut became the thinking woman's cult chick flick: Stars Catherine Keener and Anne Heche don't bemoan their luck with men or fret over their thighs. Thanks to snappy dialogue and tart, true performances, they're just damn funny. How refreshing.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Do we really have to listen to this vagina music all the way there?'' (Answer: Yes.)
23. SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY (1987)
Hard to imagine that a dissertation on everything from anorexia to the Vietnam War in the guise of a biopic performed by Barbie-like dolls could be so moving. Todd Haynes' short has never been commercially available, so how can you see it? EW would never steer you to a site like illegal-art.org. Never.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I will not wear that hip-hugger thing, Mother. It makes me look really fat.''
22. LOVE STREAMS (1984)
Just brutal. Rarely did John Cassavetes' raw talk and tense hysterics produce such a softhearted wonder. The director stars as a drunken, oversexed pulp novelist whose just-divorced sister is no less a crack-up. They wail; you wince; it's the emotional equivalent of a slasher film.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Life is a series of suicides, divorces, promises broken, children smashed, whatever.''
21. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI (1984)
The hero was a scientist/surgeon/rock star. The villain was named Dr. Lizardo. Cultdom was the only way this flick could go.
SIGNATURE LINE ''No matter where you go, there you are.''
20. RUSHMORE (1998)
An oddball love triangle between a freakishly precocious 15-year-old, a widowed teacher, and a depressed tycoon, Rushmore is a movie that defies its eccentricities. The production is stagey, the dialogue stilted, and the performances gleefully deadpan, yet it is as tender and life-affirming a movie as the irony-drenched '90s produced.
SIGNATURE LINE ''She's my Rushmore, Max.''
19. HEATHERS (1989)
Lethally black, hilariously nasty, and brutally honest about how much high school sucks, this anti-teen teen movie blew up the genre and provided the eternally useful retort, ''What is your damage?'' Winona Ryder and Christian Slater Bonnie-and-Clyde-ing their way through the in-crowd endures as giddy fun for anyone who has ever dreamed of offing that meathead in a varsity jacket.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?''
18. THEY LIVE (1988)
With this goofy bit of sci-fi, John Carpenter reached the height of subversive absurdity. ''Rowdy'' Roddy Piper plays a hard hat whose shades allow him to see that aliens have infiltrated society...until he suplexes their intergalactic butts into oblivion! Yeah!!
SIGNATURE LINE ''I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass....I'm all out of bubble gum.''
17. SHOWGIRLS (1995)
Whether grinding out a lap dance or devouring a hamburger, Nomi Malone has a naked drive to be the best topless showgirl in all of Vegas. But when she meets her nudie nemesis, the G-string divas are bound to destroy each other or, since Joe Eszterhas wrote the script, start some hot girl-on-girl action. Winner of seven Golden Raspberrys (including Worst Actress), it's a so-horrendous-it's-hilarious classic.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I'm not a whore, I'm a dancer!''
16. WITHNAIL AND I (1987)
Fringe films often go to pot for inspiration, but pub-lovin' Brits made a cult hit out of one that honors alcohol. The bleakness of Bruce Robinson's stout-black comedy, set in 1969 London, makes the first swallow somewhat bitter. However, deft performances from Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann leave quote-ready followers (Steve Martin among them) thirsty for another round.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I demand to have some booze!''
15. THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)
To a casual viewer, it might come across as a tangle of slapstick metaphysics and ad hoc wackiness. Fair enough. But for the Coen Bros. faithful, The Big Lebowski is a masterpiece of anti-storytelling. Jeff Bridges' Dude is a cinematic curio, the hero as placeholder: a detective who doesn't detect, an agent without agency. Plus, Tara Reid's near-cameo as the kidnapped Bunny ''Logjammin'' Lebowski may prove to be the highlight of her career.
SIGNATURE LINE ''The Dude abides.''
14. RE-ANIMATOR (1985)
It sure as heck ain't your run-of-the-mill slasher-horror flick — a point that becomes painfully obvious sometime after the titular mad scientist resuscitates a pissed-off dead feline that's missing half its body, and long before some dude's frothing, severed head starts to molest a naked blond chick. With outrageous and wildly over-the-top performances, Re-Animator resides high in the pantheon of zombie films, thanks in part to the fact that the whole schlocky — though, we have to admit, unusually well-crafted — enterprise makes a strange kind of sense.
SIGNATURE LINE ''You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubbleheaded coed!''
13. CLERKS (1994)
Kevin Smith's debut, about a day in the life of two service-industry suburbanites, was made for $27,575. It's hard to tell where all that money went, but the cruddy lensing and muddy sound actually enhance the experience. This spitball of nonstop scatology and pop-cult obsessiveness — what are the ethical implications of killing independent contractors aboard the Death Star? — feels like a bootleg copy of an adolescent mind.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I'm not even supposed to be here today.''
12. STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984)
With Harvey Weinstein hoarding Oscars and Steven Soderbergh directing blockbusters, it's nice that at least one contemporary indie pioneer still has underground cred. Jim Jarmusch owes much of it to the incorruptible coolness of his breakout film, a dictionary-definition deadpan road comedy featuring a grifter, his Hungarian cousin, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins' ''I Put a Spell on You.'' Paradise's offbeat economy is inspiring; it's composed of only 67 single gorgeous black-and-white shots. (Like any true cultist, we counted.)
SIGNATURE LINE ''It's Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and he's a wild man, so bug off!''
11. THE TOXIC AVENGER (1985)
Taunted by the muscle-headed elite who surround him at his job, mild-mannered health-club mop boy Melvin flees through a window into bubbling green radioactive waste and turns into a mangled, tutu-wearing crime fighter hell-bent on revenge. Low-budget exploitation pioneers Troma Films hit big with their superhero gorefest in the video-store market. Pushing (better make that shredding) the envelope of taste, Avenger cracks jokes about the blind, elder abuse, and aiming shotguns at children.
SIGNATURE LINE ''They're going to nuke the monster!''
SHE'S IN IT? Especially pause-worthy: An uncredited Marisa Tomei flees Toxie in a towel.
10. AKIRA (1988)
This Japanese animated movie has no beauties, but plenty of beasts. It takes place in a post-World War III Tokyo overrun by vicious motorcycle gangs, corrupt police, and an all-powerful mutant teenager named Tetsuo. Before the vibrant pen-and-ink Akira, cartoons never had bite like this.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Tetsuoooooo!'' (Yell at top volume. Repeat liberally.)
SENSELESS ACT OF VIOLENCE Motorcycle gangster Kaneda, wielding a metal pipe like a jousting knight, takes the head off of an oncoming punk.
9. PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985)
Amid the vendetta-fueled Stallone stories and the teen-makeover movies of the '80s came the surreal world of Pee-wee, a weird boy-person with an extensive lawn-ornament collection and a dark side (''I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.''). Tim Burton's directorial debut is genuinely winsome, never ironic, and always gloriously juvenile.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I know you are, but what am I? Infinity!''
RANDOM POP-CULTURE REFERENCE Pee-wee pours Mr. T cereal on his flapjacks.
8. EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)
Gore just doesn't get any giddier than Sam Raimi's sequel-slash-remake (emphasis on slash), which finds average-guy Ash Williams facing off against the undead, armed with a chain saw and one-liners like ''Let's head down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch.'' This time the slapstick is upped, lending the film a manic Three Stooges-meets-four horsemen vibe.
SIGNATURE LINE ''I'll swallow your soul!''
SENSELESS ACT OF VIOLENCE An errant eyeball flies into the mouth of a doomed girl.
7. HARD-BOILED (1992)
A detective and a deep-cover operative unite to depose a crime lord. Simple, right? But in John Woo's hands, Hard-Boiled is an action dream that takes the cop thriller and gives it bloody new life. The guns-and-guts set pieces — the opening teahouse, the warehouse, and the climactic hospital — alone serve as virtual blueprints for how to blow things up with grace.
SIGNATURE LINE ''There's no room for failure now. The innocent must die!''
BLAME IT FOR Every movie gunfighter with a blazing pistol in each hand.
6. DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)
There's a nostalgic ode to Me Decade teendom to be found somewhere amid Richard Linklater's primer on freshman paddling, trashcan tipping, parent duping, spliff toking, mustard dousing, Foghat grooving, mailbox smashing, goon baiting, class ditching, beer funneling, up hooking, and foosball (no wonder Dazed posters paper dorms across America). But while we're enraptured by the wistful undertone and fantastic ensemble cast — which included fledgling actors Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey — what we're really jonesing for is some Aerosmith tickets, dude.
SIGNATURE LINE ''That's what I love about these high school girls, man: I get older, they stay the same age.''
ANOTHER SIGNATURE LINE ''If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.''
OKAY, ONE MORE ''Fry like bacon, you little freshman piggies! Fry!''
5. BRAZIL (1985)
Terry Gilliam's twisted epic about a flesh-cog fighting to escape brain-numbing bureaucracy is a metaphor for his own filmmaking frustrations. But even without that info, you can be dazzled by the serpentine story, surrealist shifts, and bleak, retrofitted futurism that makes Alien look like The Jetsons.
SIGNATURE LINE ''That is your receipt for your husband...and this is my receipt for your receipt.''
4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)
Years ago, we sat next to a middle-aged couple at a screening of Rob Reiner's faux documentary. As the has-been band of the title launched into ''Big Bottom'' (''The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand/Or so I have read''), wife turned to hubby in disgust. ''This is dork humor,'' she said. ''I'm leaving.'' She left. Look, lady, the movie may revel in the juvenile (herpes-sore sight gags, resoundingly stoopid lyrics, steady evidence that the band treads water ''in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry''), but stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer play fools as only wise men can. As antic as the Marx Brothers, more endearingly boneheaded than Homer Simpson, the men of Tap offer the ne plus ultra of the ultraridiculous — and a mother lode of quotable silliness, too. If Spinal Tap constitutes dork humor, then America harbors a not-so-secret society of dweebs. We like our parodies turned up to eleven.
SIGNATURE LINE ''It's such a fine line between stupid...and clever.''
3. REPO MAN (1984)
Beer-swigging suburban punks and blue-collar repo men collide as they track down a 1964 Chevy Malibu — which, by the way, just might be from outer space. Exec-produced by an ex-Monkee (Michael Nesmith) and directed by onetime Oxford law student Alex Cox, Repo Man was destined for weirdness. But the movie found its audience in rebellious high schoolers and alienated Reagan-era hipsters, who grooved to its surf-punk soundtrack and memorized its riffs on society, space aliens, and, of course, shrimp.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Let's go get sushi and not pay!''
2. SCARFACE (1983)
We suppose the saga of penniless Cuban refugee-cum-wealthy drug kingpin Tony Montana's rise and fall has a moral, if you want to look for it. But frankly, it's a lot more fun to simply enjoy this amazing Al Pacino vehicle for the bloody, politically incorrect, relentlessly macho potboiler that it is. Bodies are chainsawed, lines are snorted, boots are knocked, guns are fired; no wonder it's the fave flick of 9 out of 10 gangsta rappers.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Shay 'jello to my wittle vrend!''
1. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
A Best Picture nominee, TNT ''New Classic,'' and cult flick? We crawled through 500 yards of unimaginable sewer foulness to deliver it to this list, so you'd better believe it. C'mon, it flopped only to explode on video, culminating in a long-standing No. 1 rating on IMDb's best-movies ranking. And Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne lends subversive appeal that offsets Morgan Freeman's Oscar-bait narration; solitary and stoic, Andy fits neatly alongside Willy Wonka and Bud Cort's Harold in the pantheon of cult-movie heroes.
SIGNATURE LINE ''Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'.''