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An Introduction to Cult Classic Movies

Ellen Zacarias

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in PULP FICTION (1994)

What better way to develop one’s (pop) cultural literacy than to watch some movies that are widely referenced? It makes for a fun and easy summer project. If you’re already a movie guru or just someone who’s seen a lot of flicks, you’ll probably recognize all five of these. But if you’re relatively new to the movie scene and feel like checking out some of the most famous films that show up in memes and quotes, here are some suggestions to get you started. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

You don’t even have to like musicals to enjoy this one. Tim Curry belting out “Sweet Transvestite” in his sultry voice while rocking his bare hips has mesmerized many females and males over the past few decades. Slightly raunchy, totally campy, with catchy songs…this is the horror movie parody of the ‘70s that broke tons of taboos. 

Clerks (1994)

One of the oldest Kevin Smith flicks about these two pals who work in a convenience store. The script is witty and hilarious, and really makes me miss the ‘90s even though I barely caught a glimpse of it before being ushered into the Britney-clad 2000s. The adventures are funny but there’s also a sort of poignant, existential exploration as Randal and Dante figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. I think anyone who has worked in a seemingly dead-end job can relate to this search for direction and meaning.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Seems like 1994 was a good year for movies. I think Quentin Tarantino has reached the point in which most of his works have become their own cult classics if you just give them enough time to ripen. Pulp Fiction…John Travolta and Uma Therman. Pop culture references. Weird but intriguing dialogue. Ridiculous action scenes. REALLY funky but amazing actors. It’s a mish-mash of all things awesome. I recommend it.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

A group of kids showing up for Saturday detention. All of them from different cliques, with clashing personalities and outlooks on life. I came into this one with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by how intriguing it was in terms of humanizing each character. Some of the classic tropes of the 80s teen flicks show up, but the script was good and the actors were even better. There were tons of teen movies from the 80s, but this would be the flick that outshines its siblings in being THE high school movie that defined the decade.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klown aliens land in small-town America and proceed to hunt and feed on the local folk by encasing them in cotton candy sacks to suck their blood later. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t exactly a cult classic. But I’m pretty sure that there’s some sort of creepy clown cult hiding around the Internet somewhere, and they surface around Halloween every year. To the clown cult…this cheesy horror flick, with its hideous clowns, would be a gem. I had the misfortune of seeing this one when I was seven, and nightmares of being trapped in an underground hell of killer clowns plagued me for years afterward. Of course, I was a kid and didn’t get the “comedy” aspect of the whole thing. Cheesy special effects that look like they came from the ‘50s. Cheesy script with mediocre acting.  Punk soundtrack. The only outstanding thing here are the super-ugly, cringe-inducing clown makeup/costumes. And to my deep dismay…a sequel is now in the works.

Thanks for checking this out! I kept it down to five this time but there are so many other cult classics. Any recommendations for other classic flicks to introduce to a friend?

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