Cult movies inspire strange phenomena. Films might bomb or fall into obscurity upon release, but over time, build up a loyal, even fanatical fanbase that sees a certain brilliance in a movie. Those cult followings can help earn a movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Blade Runner a critical reappraisal, or can have influence on newer films that strive to channel their unique energies.
And yet… and yet cult movies also have a certain notoriety for their flaws. To reference Blade Runner again, that movie had horrible continuity and effects problems that stood out like a rash on the story. Only after Ridley Scott completed his “Final Cut,” did the movie take on lionized status. So what about other cult films? Some would require more than a few CGI effects and edits to fix their problems, so why not just remake the films?
The 15 movies listed here all have devoted cult followings, shades of brilliance, and budget, production or storytelling flaws that keep them from reaching beyond their fanbase. Remakes, however, could fix those issues and allow a greater audience a chance to experience their creative visions. Have a look at 15 Cult Movies That Deserve Remakes!
15. Flash Gordon
The movie that helped inspire Star Wars and countless other space operas deserves another chance! The Flash Gordon comic books and serials delighted fans for decades before Star Wars stole its hyperdrive. Beginning in 1934, former football player Flash, his girlfriend Dale and mentor Dr. Hans Zarkov traversed the galaxy to protect the universe from countless foes, including his nemesis Ming the Merciless.
So many of the sci-fi/space opera tropes audiences have come to expect today originated with Flash Gordon, though today, the comic and serials remain largely forgotten. Flash had an attempt at Star Wars-style glory in 1980 with a film of the same name. Despite a cast that included Timothy Dalton, Brian Blessed, Zero Mostel, and Max von Sydow, and a soundtrack by the pop band Queen, the movie never found an audience beyond a loyal cult. That might have something to do with the campy tone the film adopted. Hollywood should consider a Flash Gordon remake that plays the material seriously. After all, audiences don’t like seeing their favorite property condescended to.
14. The Last Unicorn
Author Peter Beagle personally scripted and oversaw production of this little-seen animated classic, based on his novel of the same name. The Last Unicorn chronicles the adventures of a unicorn (yes, the last one) in search of the rest of her species. Beagle wrote the story as a sort of metaphor for womanhood, which helped elevate the tale above a simple fantasy romp. A cast that included Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, and Christopher Lee helped the movie maintain a cult status since its release in 1982.
Hollywood and Beagle have long toyed with a live-action remake, and at one point, Lansbury and Lee both signed on to reprise their roles. That film never materialized, though a live action version could still find an audience. With the recent leaps forward in special effects, as seen in The Jungle Book, the right director could assemble a movie with a photorealistic, talking unicorn. Given Hollywood’s recent fascination with heroines and strong-minded women, The Last Unicorn could find an audience more easily than ever.
Director Clive Barker has created some of the most remarkable images in film with his bizarre, pseudo-religious combinations of the fantastic, the erotic, and the horrifying. It should come as no surprise then that his film Hellraiser has become a horror classic, or that his later outing Lord of Illusions and Nightbreed maintain active cults today. The latter, in particular, shows more ambition than Barker ever displayed elsewhere on a film, and its themes of oddness, acceptance, and the lifestyle of an outcast still resonate today.
Unfortunately, Barker, though a visionary and imaginative writer, isn’t the best director. A movie like Nightbreed suffers from odd structure, stiff performances, pacing issues, and abysmal direction of action. Given its intriguing, relevant story, maybe the time has come for a reboot! Let Barker pen the script and work with a more accomplished director to remake the film. Furthermore, as Barker intended Nightbreed as the first in a trilogy, let him finish the story the way he intended!
12. The Rapture
Writer Michael Tolkin caused a mini-stir with his 1991 drama The Rapture. A film that dissects views about faith and religion, it became an art house hit, thanks to an early role for David Duchovny and a tour-de-force performance from Mimi Rogers.
The Rapture follows the life of a hedonistic woman who begins a religious awakening. After years of drugs and group sex, she begins to have visions that bring her to a Christian cult, which believes the Rapture is imminent. She marries and has a daughter, and faces a series of tragedies that make her question her faith. As the Rapture does begin, the movie takes some unexpected turns, as she must confront God himself.
Needless to say, the subject matter of The Rapture made it a dangerous film in 1991, and the low-budget effects alienated viewers. With the advent of CGI, the right director could bring a new level of polish to the story, and the challenging message of The Rapture could reach a new audience.
11. Teen Witch
Given all the 80s nostalgia of the past couple decades, it’s a wonder that Teen Witch has yet to be remade! In a sense, the movie did get a remake of sorts in the 90s with The Craft, which explored similar themes. The Harry Potter series also might have taken a few cues from Teen Witch, and with Harry and his Hogwarts adventures at a close, perhaps Hollywood should give the movie a reboot!
Teen Witch follows the adventures of a high school girl named Louise who discovers her natural powers as a witch. As her magic grows in strength, she begins to create a dream life for herself and realizes that she cannot win all of life’s joys through her magic.
If the Harry Potter series brought a new level of sophistication to fantasy—not to mention a new audience hungry for sorcery films—Teen Witch could capitalize on the fantasy audience with a youthful, poppy take. Plenty of teen girls and boys fantasize about using magic to become the most popular kid in school. Teen Witch lays in wait, ready to capture a new generation of fans.
10. Return to Oz
Long before Wicked became a bestselling novel and a hit musical, and before Oz The Great and Powerful made audiences wonder what Disney and Sam Raimi were thinking, the Mouse House tried to revive the Oz stories for film. Return to Oz offered the first—and to date, only—directorial outing for famed director Walter Murch. Armed with a huge budget, groundbreaking effects by animator Will Vinton and puppets by Jim Henson, the film cast Fairuza Balk in her first leading feature role. Murch strode for a darker fantasy tone, and shied away from the campy, old-Hollywood flourish that makes The Wizard of Oz an enduring classic. Return to Oz bombed, though it has since earned a cult of staunch defenders.
Disney had hoped to revive the Oz franchise again with Oz The Great and Powerful. Since that didn’t happen, perhaps the company should look to remake Return to Oz. Despite the technological limitations of the time and a moppet lead, the movie captures a sense of adventure that even a director like Raimi couldn’t. The movie would open the door on Oz again, and with a few alterations, L. Frank Baum’s series of novels could become a Harry Potter film series unto themselves.
Hollywood has long tried to reboot Barbarella, the surreal, erotic film that provided Jane Fonda with one of her most iconic roles. Drew Barrymore championed the project through most of the 90s, only to see the project fall apart again and again. Given the rabid cult of the original film, that Hollywood has yet to get a reboot off the ground should puzzle the casual observer!
Barbarella follows the adventures of a beautiful female astronaut charged with protecting Earth from a powerful death ray. In her quest to secure the weapon, she encounters man-eating dolls, a blind angel, and a tyrannical despot bent on ruling the universe. Oh, and she has a lot of sex along the way.
Barbarella’s overly-erotic tone has its perils for a Hollywood movie, though a savvy director could mold the material into a more conventional sci-fi adventure. Like several of the other films listed here, it offers a plumb role to an aspiring actress who doesn’t mind saving the universe.
8. The Black Cauldron
Disney Animation tried to wade into darker fantasy fare with this 1985 bomb. Based on the first two books in the cult series The Chronicles of Prydain, the movie followed a poor peasant boy with a psychic pig. An evil king desires the pig to locate the titular cauldron, which will allow him to create a zombie army and conquer the world. The young boy teams with a princess and a minstrel to rescue the pig, and defeat the evil king before he can put his plan in motion.
Hollywood gossip has rumbled that in a post-Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings world, somebody would reboot the Chronicles of Prydain series for the big screen in live action. The film has yet to move into production, though given the current dearth of fantasy fare in the studio pipelines, perhaps the time has come to give The Black Cauldron its due. Critics attacked the 1985 film for its violence and scary tone, though audiences in 2016 would no doubt find a live action version thrilling.
7. Johnny Guitar
For some reason, Johnny Guitar, a b-movie western with Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden and Mercedes McCambridge still has a strong following today. Audiences in 1954 didn’t quite know what to think of the bizarre premise about a female saloon owner that runs afoul with a local gang of bandits. Director Nicholas Ray is said to have made the movie as a comment on anti-communist witch hunts, though more recent critics have pushed another interpretation: lesbianism. Crawford and McCambridge’s characters, though enemies, have a palpable passion between them, and vague references in the movie allude to the two having a relationship.
If Ray had fun toying with psychosexual and paranoid themes in 1954, think what a feminist director could do with the material now! Patty Jenkins, Kim Pierce or Mary Harron could turn Johnny Guitar into a more over, and even more bizarre tale of love in the Old West; a sort of anti-Brokeback Mountain. Ray made the movie on a low budget then. A great director could do just as well today.
H.P. Lovecraft has a die-hard fanbase and cult of his works almost 100 years after his death. How strange then, that the movies have yet to tap his massive body of literature for stories? While movies often work in references to Lovecraft’s tales of octopods, Cthulhu and madness, writers and directors can’t seem to harness Lovecraft’s stories into workable scripts (see also, Guillermo Del Toro’s long in Development Hell version of At the Mountains of Madness).
One exception: ReAnimator. The film version premiered in 1985 and quickly achieved cult status for its weird blending of gore, sci-fi and general looniness. A story of a mad scientist that reanimates the dead, the movie transplanted action from the 19th century to the present. It maintains a strong fanbase today, and given the bankability of horror, gore and total weirdness.
Audiences sick of seeing yet another reboot of Dracula or Frankenstein would likely find a ReAnimator reboot refreshing. Not to mention, a successful Lovecraft adaptation could launch a totally new film franchise—that of Lovecraft’s already-created extended universe.
5. Liquid Sky
Liquid Sky’s weird blend of punk, sex, drugs, aliens and gender bending took the midnight movie circuit by storm in 1982, though general audiences didn’t know what to think of the vivid, bizarre film. The story follows a group of models operating in the underground New Wave scene in New York in the 80s. Aliens land and begin plaguing the models, who fan out all over the city in search of sex and drugs…or something like that. Liquid Sky is far bigger on style than it is on lucid storytelling.
Still, the sights and sounds of Liquid Sky could produce a setting as rich as Blade Runner, and the horrors of sex-as-murder—the aliens kill anyone who has an orgasm—has a powerful resonance in a post-AIDS world. Underground cultures continue to have a mysterious allure, particularly in the era of the internet, and with gender and sexuality more fluid than ever, audiences might find Liquid Sky attractive enough to make it a hit.
4. Black Sunday
Mario Bava hardly has a household name, despite directing some of the best, most influential horror films ever. The Italian director created a gothic masterpiece with his 1960 film Black Sunday.
The movie follows the story of a Satanic witch burned at the stake for her wicked ways. Centuries later, two passers by accidentally revive the witch from her crypt by sprinkling blood on her corpse. She rises from the grave, determined to exact revenge on the descendents of those that put her to death.
With beautiful black and white cinematography and a wild performance from actress Barbara Steele, Black Sunday has long maintained a cult following for its dark themes and graphic violence. In a post-Twilight Hollywood, vampires have become a (excuse the phrase) shadow of their former selves. Vampires no longer frighten; indeed, audiences familiar with Twilight or the Underworld series probably find becoming an undead succubus attractive! Remaking Black Sunday could make vampires scary again, and mesmerize a whole new audience.
3. They Live
John Carpenter has made some great films in his career. The director behind Starman, Halloween and Big Trouble in Little China has a devoted cult fanbase, which help to keep his less-than-successful outings in circulation as well. For all the acclaim Carpenter earned for his great outings, the director also stumbled with Village of the Damned and Prince of Darkness.
One of Carpenter’s stranger outings, They Live has a cult all its own. A weird story about aliens, mind control, and consumerism, the film stars wrestler Roddy Piper as a homeless man who discovers that aliens have taken over the world and control humanity through use of mass media.
Today, They Live is remembered for a certain camp value as much as for its sci-fi themes. That’s a shame—the movie has some subversive and thoughtful subtext about the power of television and money over the minds of Americans. In an era of Trump, the internet and corporate globalization, the messages of They Live have more relevance than ever. A cult film then, it has massive success written all over it now!
Richard Stanley directed this weird blending of monster movies, westerns, slasher films and Mad Max in 1990. Starring a young Dylan McDermott, the movie follows a soldier and his girlfriend who discover a self-repairing robot. As the two begin to research its origins, the suspect it was once part of a genocide program designed to wipe out humanity. The robot begins repairing itself, and begins killing nearby civilians, and the solider must find a way to deactivate it.
Hardware features a visually arresting style, some interesting concepts and some creepy thrills to boot. It does, however, suffer from some technical limitations, and from Stanley’s limitations as a director. A director with a larger budget and better skill of the medium could, no doubt, remake Hardware as a more horrific take on the Terminator series. Given that franchise has all but died, maybe studios should look into a Hardware reboot.
1. The Adventures Buckaroo Bonzai
The Adventures Buckaroo Bonzai tried to make a genre of a blend of sci-fi and broad humor in 1984. Critics of the time divided over the film, which told the story of a scientist who creates an engine that can warp between dimensions. An evil galactic tyrant escapes from a mental institution, determined to steal the engine and allow beings from the so-called 8th dimension to invade Earth and enslave its population.
If the premise sounds goofy now, it sounded very goofy in 1984. Buckaroo Bonzai tried to parody sci-fi and comic books with its weird blend of humor and adventure, though audiences in the days before the internet and rise of geek culture didn’t quite get the joke. A cult following sprung up around Buckaroo Bonzai, which has since become a somewhat influential film. Moreover, the odd blend of humor and sci-fi action has become a staple of hit films like Guardians of the Galaxy. With the audience finally having caught up to the innovations of Buckaroo Bonzai, perhaps the time has come for Hollywood to try the property again.
Is there a cult remake you want to see that we didn’t mention? Tell us in the comments.