5 Cult Classics on Netflix to Watch with Your Kool-Aid

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Sorry, Netflix, but Wayne's World and Mean Girls aren't Cult Movies. I'm afraid in the new age of instant digital gratification and the Hollywood blockbuster machine, the definition of a Cult Film has been lost in the mix. Cult movies can be loosely defined as "films with a small and devoted following." That's obviously the Netflix definition, but you can throw just about every movie in that category. Crossroads probably has its fans, but that doesn't make it Cult Film.

True Cult Classics have nutty followings. Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show, think Eraserhead or The Room. These are movies that people love despite critics' or audiences' reactions. They're usually big time movies that bomb at the box office or little known movies that gain an underground following. 

Of course, in the digital age, so many films are at our fingertips, it's pretty easy to see why Cult Movies have gone the way of the dodo (at least, the definition has). That's why Netflix is so loose with their categorization. So with that in mind, here are five real Cult Classics you can find in Netflix's (Browse>Cult Movies) menu. You likely didn't see them in your local multiplex. 


Directed by Michael Mann

Starring: William Petersen, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, Brian Cox, Joan Allen

Anyone familiar with Thomas Harris' iconic villain Hannibal Lecter should already know Manhunter. The movie was adapted from Harris' novel Red Dragon and it marked the first onscreen portrayal of Dr. Lecter (by Brian Cox). Hannibal has a small role, but an essential one as retired FBI profiler Will Graham (Petersen) is called back to service by his former boss Jack Crawford (Farina). Graham enlists Lecter's help in tracking down a new killer, dubbed "The Tooth Fairy." As Graham digs deeper, he must confront the evil he thought he left far behind. Fans of NBC's Hannibal need to see Manhunter to get an idea of how much the character of Will Graham has evolved. Plus, this was Michael Mann's third film, but you can already see some of his future signatures (a blue color palette, a distinct pop soundtrack). It's one of his most underrated films, a true '80s thriller.

The People Under the Stairs

Directed by Wes Craven

Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A. J. Langer, Ving Rhames

The People Under the Stairs was a modest success financially. It's scary, but it's so freaking weird and funny, it's attracted a cult following for being a great bad movie as well. It begins ordinarily. A ghetto kid named Fool is being evicted, so he enlists the help of a local criminal to break in his landlord's house and steal the money he needs. But the house is anything but normal and, a few dead bodies later, Fool discovers a basement dungeon where the disobedient "children" of the owners, "Mommy" and "Daddy," are imprisoned. Fool's mission becomes "stay alive" and save the one daughter who still has a chance. Craven's movie is full of his usual thrills and he uses the camera to up the ante, but the real fun of The People Under the Stairs are the performances of Mommy and Daddy dearest. Robie and McGill are gangbusters - screaming, threatening, and pleading way over-the-top as the two wicked villains.

Silent Running

Directed by Douglas Trumbull

Starring:  Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint

Trumbull, who worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick, directed this weird little dystopic film in 1972. It's a cautionary environmental tale that takes place in a future where the Earth is uninhabitable. The last remaining plants and animals live in greenhouse-type biodomes attached to huge space freighters. Their caretaker, Freeman Lowell (Dern), is an eccentric who loves his plants more than his fellow shipmates. When an order comes down to explode the greenhouses so the ships can be used for commercial purposes, Lowell goes rogue. He kills the other crew members and heads off into space with his precious endangered species. Campy with fantastic production design, Silent Running is best known for the three drones who accompany Lowell on his mission: Huey, Duey, and Louie. They're little people in robot suits and surefire reference points for R2D2 a few years later in Star Wars. Sci-fi fans who haven't seen it should get onboard.

Death Race 2000

Directed by Paul Bartel

Starring: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove

There was a paltry Jason Statham remake of this movie in 2008 that zapped all the fun and camp appeal from the 1975 Bartel original. The story is inspired craziness: In the year 2000, America has collapsed into a totalitarian state and the greatest entertainment of the age is a cross country auto race where the drivers aren't simply judged on speed alone. They're judged on how many people they can kill along the way. Carradine plays Frankenstein, the most famous racer in the country who drives a custom whip made to look like an alligator. Every driver is a specific character with a specific type of car. Stallone is a gangster racer whose car is outfitted with machine guns and a giant knife on the front. Death Race 2000 is an early reference point for films like The Running Man and Battle Royale, not to mention The Hunger Games.

Full Tilt Boogie

Directed by Sarah Kelly

Documentaries are the best kind of Cult Films. Full Tilt Boogie follows the production of Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk till Dawn. It pieces together tons of interviews, on-set shenanigans, and rehearsed bits (like the opening strut of actors George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino) to paint a intriguing portrait of a big budget ($20 million) independent movie being made. Highlights include Tarantino telling stories about the making of Pulp Fiction (which was released a year earlier), the on-set "best ass" contest, rumors about sexual relationships between crew members, Juliette Lewis telling the camera that "acting is lying," and an interview with actor Fred Williamson in full mutant vampire makeup. If you love the movies, horror, or Tarantino (in any order), you need to see this one.

Managing Editor, Zimbio — entertainment writer, critic, and reporter since 2011. Bay Area. Origin: Shark City.