Lists – Top 5 Movies That Nobody Talks About…Unless They’re Always Talking About Them
Though cinema is generally experienced in a communal setting, it has a very personal effect on its viewers. Everyone has their favorite movies, and in the wake of the Tarantino generation—led by the Pied Piper of niche film excavation and exaltation—many people are constantly on the lookout for new buried treasures or undiscovered classics. Soon they discover that in this post-modern world the pickings are slim, which leads some to cling to the scraps that nobody else is fighting for.
Cult films are born of this phenomenon: a person finds a film that they haven’t heard of, because it didn’t do well in the box office, because it was released independently, or it was a foreign export that was given a limited released. Once that person finds a group of like-minded followers, not only does a cult film become something much larger in appreciation, but, inevitably, the group becomes somewhat defined by the aesthetic of those pictures. Films like Fight Club, Blade Runner, Office Space, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show began their legacy with a small following of fervent devotees. Years later, in part because of their DVD or home video life, these movies have become as mainstream as anything else released in their decade. This is usually the common cult film life cycle. People barely consider The Big Lebowski to be a cult film anymore. It’s now quoted and regarded just as well as if it had broke even in the first weekend of its release.
But these are not the films that I will be talking about with this article. The movies in this list are a different kind of cult. These are the “members only” films – the movies that are enjoyed by a very small, very isolated, but very loyal fanbase that speak about these films as if everyone should know how great they are supposed to be. How is this any different than the aforementioned regular cult films? Well, for one, some of these films did very well in theaters but their relevance have faded from the mainstream. Secondly, this list represents the kind of pop culture second chances that never quiet happened. The comet has already passed for these movies and a few select have drunk the Kool-Aid, but outsiders looking in will never quite comprehend the zealous appeal of their fans. In other cases, some of these films are in the early germination period of their cult-film life, and with some care and close attention, they may sprout into a larger cult phenomenon, enjoying their overexposure at Hot Topics around the world.
This isn’t a list of cult favorites, or even a list of so-bad-they’re-good classics, and many of them are not particularly obscure. This is a list that is comprised of the films that nobody talks about…unless they are ALWAYS talking about them. I am ranking them five to one simply because that is how these things usually go, but it should be noted that I’m not ranking them based on artistic or popular merit or even on a scale of my personal taste. I am aggregating these five films based on how much they are adored by their advocates, divided by how strange and random that adoration seems to me. So let us begin!
5. The Crowd (1928)
It should first be stated that nobody thinks this is a bad movie. It should also be stated that nobody’s seen this movie, or at least very few people have, especially those under 25 who don’t watch a lot of TCM. This is a film that’s specific cult belongs to silent film enthusiasts, film scholars, and the Italians. In fact, one of the reasons American scholars decided to go back and look at this movie is because Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica praised it as the key inspiration for his much more popular film, Bicycle Thieves (1948).
Directed by King Vidor, The Crowd is a frank and realistic observation of the failure of the American Dream, curiously released only a few years before America’s Great Depression. The performances are fairly understated for silent film acting and the cinematography is assured and somewhat epic in scope. With striking visuals like the endless rows of identical office desks, the scrambled papers strewn about, and upward facing shots of art-deco skyscrapers, it’s easy to see how Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) or the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) might have been inspired by Vidor’s stark aesthetic.
However, despite its influence and despite its historical significance, it is still a film that very few people of our generation can watch. Unlike Citizen Kane (1941), which slowly built a following over the last few decades and has since been reevaluated as the masterpiece that it is, The Crowd hasn’t had a proper DVD or Blu-ray release and is only now starting to be discussed in a serious way by scholars and historians. Unlike the rest of this list, my befuddlement isn’t in how this film got to be so highly praised by those who care about it, it’s in how this film is not as widely praised as it should be.
4. V For Vendetta (2005)
Okay, I caught this back when it came out, and I’ve never really shared the same kind of enthusiasm for it as the few who seem to praise the movie as if it were their generation’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). It’s certainly not an outright bad film, and it’s slight subversive socialist message is one that I can appreciate in a mainstream blockbuster, but when considered alongside all of the other alternative comic book adaptations from this period (Sin City, Hellboy, A History of Violence), it has significantly faded. I will concede that this might be in part because I had previously read and adored the graphic novel on which it was based, and while this movie is closer in tone to Alan Moore’s source than anything else adapted from his material, it still feels too commercial and too sanitized to really support its grim intentions.
Despite what I think, there’s a small and passionate group of millennials who eat this thing up without reservation. Look no further than when the Occupy Wall Street guys took to the streets wearing Hugo Weaving’s mysterious Guy Fawkes mask during their protests. Written and produced by the Wachowski’s and directed (quite blandly) by James McTeigue, it’s not a film that I think anyone would call a modern masterpiece, and it didn’t do poorly enough in the box office to call a cult classic, but it fits perfectly into the peculiar camp of “you either get it, or you don’t.”
3. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is THE cult film that never happened. It looks like a cult film, it feels like a cult film, and it’s absolutely absurd, anachronistic, and campy in the ways we love from other paracinematic gems, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Part Gothic horror and part glam-rock-opera, this is, in some ways, the ultimate ’70s cocaine movie—albeit outrageously under-watched. Combining story elements from Faust, The Phantom of the Opera, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, all wrapped up in a Studio-54-meets-Alice-Cooper-in-a-trashy-Hollywood-greenroom-aesthetic, it’s unbelievable that this strange brew hasn’t somehow been able to find its appropriate cult audience.
2. Nacho Libre (2006)
Everyone has seen Jared Hess’s debut Napoleon Dynamite (2004), and many of those people have also watched his somewhat ineffectual sophomore effort Nacho Libre, but did anyone really think much about it? The answer to that is yes. Believe it or not, there’s a small group of fans that can’t get enough of this dorky Jack Black vehicle about Mexican Luchador wrestling.
Being from southeast Idaho, where Dynamite was filmed and where Hess originally hails, it was my observation that a sizable group of young Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) seemed much more inclined towards Nacho Libre than Hess’s more Idaho-centric predecessor. I can’t really say why. Maybe it’s because Dynamite became a national hit, and outsiders quickly co-opted the regional inside jokes as their own. It certainly can’t be because Nacho Libre is a better movie, because it just isn’t, but try telling that to Nacho defenders.
1. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
It’s a shame, what happened to this ill-fated non-sequel. As legend has it, the producers of the Halloween franchise wanted to make a different kind of Halloween horror movie every year. They started with a serial-killer/baby-sitter stalker movie, and to everyone’s surprise, John Carpenter’s original was a huge hit that spawned a host of slasher copycats. Well, not letting a good thing go, these producers decided to postpone their original plan for the franchise and brough killer Michael Myers back for the first sequel. For the third time around, they went back to their original vision with this non-canonical flick about haunted Halloween masks made by an evil scientist working in an Irish manufacturing company. People were not happy.
I suppose a lot of people saw this when it originally came out, but it was generally considered the worst film in the franchise, and, in some cases, as one of the worst films ever made—two claims that I feel are totally unfair. Yes, this film has nothing to do with Michael Myers, and it’s not as scary as many of the other Halloween sequels, but it sure has a lot of personality and it’s just strange enough to keep my interest–something I can’t always say about those other Myers movies.
However, despite the undeserved vitriol from its backlash, Halloween III is starting to find a new audience. This could be, in part, because of the (somewhat recently) surfacing information about how this series was originally envisioned. It could also be because younger audiences discovering the film for the first time can appreciate its eccentricities without feeling like the franchise as a whole has been compromised, especially as there are four more white-masked Halloween movies to follow and two joyless reboots directed by Rob Zombie. With a new snazzy Blu-ray by Shout Factory and a word of mouth about this film’s underrated qualities beginning to buzz on the internet, it might graduate to full cult status within the next decade.
[Edit: Phantom of the Paradise has since been re-released on blu ray by Scream Factory and will soon be featured in a documentary directed by Kevin Smith alum, Malcolm Ingram. Welcome to the cult-film club!.]