Cult classics, or “cult films,” derive their status from building an audience that makes up for in enthusiasm what it may be lacking in size. Over the years, there have been hundreds of movies that deserve cult status. Some remain fervently followed, while others have been forgotten by the sands of time, failing to connect with modern audiences as their base of support dies out.
Examples of cult films, new and old, include Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and pretty much anything that you see turn up on Mystery Science Theater 3000. While many of these films tell a succinct story that doesn’t require further elaboration, others do such a great job of world building that it’s a shame to see them limited to a simple 90-minute or two-hour running time.
Now that we live in an age where television series are usurping movies as highly anticipated and high-quality entertainment, we thought it would be a great time to look at some of our favorite cult classics and figure out what they would be like as long-form television shows. This has already happened to Scream and The Evil Dead. Let’s take a look at a few other properties that could be treated as such.
Here are our picks for the 15 Cult Classics That Should Become TV Series.
15. Fright Night
In 1985, Tom Holland wrote and directed a different kind of vampire film. Rather than following the Hammer Films gothic formula that had been so popular throughout the 1960s and 70s, Holland transplanted an ancient evil into Suburbia, USA. His Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door to a typical yet overly curious American high school student, who notices that Dandridge seems to be behaving an awful lot like a vampire. When Charlie, the teen (played by William Ragsdale), matches one of Dandridge’s nightly guests to a missing persons report on the news, he becomes certain there is a blood drinker living next door. With the help of horror TV show host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), Charlie hatches a plan to rid the world of his murderous neighbor forever.
Fright Night was a big box office hit, earning around $25 million on a budget of $7 million in 1985. It spawned a less successful sequel as well as a somewhat successful remake in 2011, and then a direct-to-video sequel to the remake that pretended none of the previous films ever existed. Confused? Yeah, so are we. The best way to handle this franchise would be through a television series in the vein of Ash vs. Evil Dead. NOW Comics provided a handy template for how to manage the characters in its short-lived but fun 22-issue series back in the 90s. Just match Charlie and Peter up with a colorful cast of fellow vampire hunters, and a let Jerry and Evil Ed provide the menace along with whatever other creatures of the night our heroes come across.
Way back when Dario Argento actually made good movies, he filmed what many consider to be his masterpiece, 1977’s Suspiria. The first, and best, of his “Three Mothers” trilogy was a surreal nightmare that took place at a prestigious dance academy in Germany. American ballet student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives on a dark and stormy night after seeing a fellow student leave the academy in tears. When the student she sees turns up brutally murdered, Suzy begins to suspect that the school is connected to a coven of witches.
While we are excited to see what director Luca Guadagnino (Melissa P.) comes up with for his planned 2017 remake starring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, Argento’s original created a world ripe for deeper characterization. There is a missed opportunity in not exploring the students’ lives at the academy and building chills and shocks around that.
No list of cult classics deserving of their own television series would be complete without something involving Clive Barker. Most would reach for the low-hanging fruit of the Hellraiser series, but Nightbreed is perhaps the author’s most vivid creation. Based on his novella Cabal, the 1990 dark horror fantasy follows a mental patient (Craig Sheffer) who is manipulated by his doctor into believing that he is a serial killer. He seeks refuge in Midian, a secret city of monstrous lifeforms who live deep in the heart of a cemetery. Of course, the real monsters live outside Midian, and they wear faces that look as normal as any of ours.
There is so much potential with a world like the one Barker creates here. We envision hour-long episodes in 10- to 12-episode seasons, with each season following a new set of protagonists and antagonists intersecting with the Nightbreed world. In the meantime, check out Scream Factory for an extended director’s cut of the film. Most directors’ cuts are not much different from the theatrical release, but that is not the case here. When Nightbreed was originally released, it was chopped to 102 minutes. The director’s cut runs 122 minutes and a separate “Cabal” cut makes it all the way to 155.
It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Herbert West better than Jeffrey Combs did it in the original Re-Animator, but H.P. Lovecraft’s source material is good enough to transcend one admittedly superior adaptation. Keep in mind that the first film in the series was really the only good film in the series. Re-Animator, in other words, can be topped. Lovecraft’s stories are so packed with imagination, his world of Miskatonic University so rich, that it wouldn’t be difficult keeping an ongoing series alive.
Probably the most obvious path to take here would be to do it as an anthology series of sorts, with different Lovecraft adaptations, each episode involving different characters in and around the University. West could be a mainstay, whose bizarre scientific experiments geared at raising the dead cross paths with some of the more unfortunate characters in the week-to-week storytelling.
Don Coscarelli unleashed his madcap horror Phantasm on audiences in 1979. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) came before Jason, before Freddy, before any number of masked killers to come, and was far more effective. Scrimm’s scowling evil face and imposing size was coupled with the now infamous silver blade balls for an attack that was as innovative as it was horrific. The original Phantasm also gave us a rarity in horror movies: characters we actually cared about. In fact, we cared so much as an audience that we kept these films going for decades with the same cast. That doesn’t happen too often, especially in this genre.
While Phantasm V: Ravager is scheduled for release in 2016, it features the last appearance of Angus in his terrifying role – he died in January – and continuing without him at this point in the same continuity wouldn’t do. A television series would be a great way to revitalize the franchise. For starters, great villains need great characters to make an impact. The next Tall Man, whomever he is, will have some big shoes to fill. The best chance for him to worm his way into our nightmares is to terrorize people we really care about – like Walking Dead care about. A TV series format provides the proper space to build characters that we like, so any new Tall Man can do his thing without being constantly compared to his predecessor.
10. Basket Case
Frank Henenlotter introduced us to the tenant in room seven (“very small, very twisted, and very mad”) with 1982’s Basket Case. Film critic Rex Reed called it “the sickest movie ever made!” when asked his thoughts on the film. Turns out, the guy who asked him was Henenlotter himself, and ever the showman, the director used that quote against Reed’s initial wishes to promote the film to horror audiences. (To his credit, Reed eventually relented.) The film’s success spawned two additional films, Basket Case 2 and Basket Case 3: The Progeny, showing you can get more than one cheesy horror film out of a deranged Siamese twin idea.
Any effort to bring this small terror to the small screen would need to have the same bitingly dark sense of humor and plenty of the red stuff to sling around for effect. Again, Ash vs. Evil Dead proves that longer form storytelling is possible with this sort of idea, and like the hit Starz series, 25- to 30-minute episodes would suffice.
9. Blade Runner
The Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became the breakout hit Blade Runner in 1982, and ever since then, director Ridley Scott has seemed game to return for a follow-up. As early as the 1990s, there was serious talk of when a film sequel might occur. Would Harrison Ford be in it? Would Scott direct? How much in common would a part two have with a part one? Would it be a spirit sequel, like 1998’s Soldier? Would it adapt one of the authorized sequels from Dick’s writer friend K.W. Jeter? Would it be something different altogether? In 2018, audiences will finally start getting answers as Ford and Ryan Gosling are set to star in a direct sequel.
However, we don’t think that’s good enough. After seeing what Amazon did with Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, we would love for them to get their hands on TV rights to film not just a version of the original novel, but also Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human (1999), Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night (1996), and Blade Runner 4: Eye and Talon (2000). If two James Bond films can co-exist in the same year – see Octopussy and Never Say Never Again – then why can’t we have this?
8. Attack the Block
Director Joe Cornish’s critically acclaimed 2011 debut feature introduced the world to Star Wars: The Force Awakens star John Boyega, who here was one of a highly talented ensemble cast going up against predatory alien invaders on Guy Fawkes Night in the South of London. Attack the Block is one of those films that sneaks up on critics and audiences alike. On its opening weekend in the United Kingdom, it finished third just behind Thor and Fast Five. Rotten Tomatoes finds it with a 90% “fresh” rating.
Coming-of-age, hilarious, and with more than a few scares, the film leaves an impression. Most of what works about it are the characters, and anywhere you have characters this good, you have the potential for longer form storytelling. It’s not clear whether Cornish would be up for executive producing a TV version of his sleeper hit. He has since moved on to writing, co-scripting The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn with Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright and Ant-Man with Wright, Paul Rudd, and Adam McKay. Regardless, we would like to see this happen, at least in a limited series format.
7. The Frighteners
Peter Jackson’s 1996 horror comedy, starring Michael J. Fox, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, and Jake Busey, barely broke even thanks to a poor marketing campaign and competing head-to-head with that summer’s juggernaut, Independence Day. This was a shame because most of the reviews were positive, and with good reason. The Frighteners suckers you in with a lighthearted tone and the affable Fox assuring you everything will be OK. Then, the film pulls the rug out from under you and proves itself to be a legitimately spooky horror flick.
Fox, a shady psychic, can see spirits, most of whom are friendly and game for helping him scare up business. However, one spirit appears to him and has the terrifying ability to kill both the living and the dead. The secret to his cloaked identity rests in a mass shooting from years earlier. It’s up to Fox to find out who is terrorizing his city and put a stop to it once and for all. The film was originally conceived as a spinoff of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, but as the script grew out of proportion, producer Robert Zemeckis realized it could stand on its own. With the right cast in place, a TV series about a psychic con man and his ghostly pals doing battle with evil spirits and rival government psychic agents could have the potential to become franchise material.
6. Battle Royale
The novel by Japanese writer Koushun Takami may seem like a knock off of The Hunger Games to those of you who weren’t around for its 1999 publication, its 2000-2005 manga adaptation, or its 2000 feature film adaptation, but we assure you Battle Royale came first, and it’s a lot more brutal than anything you will see in Panem (and arguably better written). Of course, the success of The Hunger Games has already sidelined an Americanized version for the big screen due to the fear that audiences would think it was a ripoff of Suzanne Collins’ work, but that doesn’t mean a TV show is off the table.
A Battle Royale series at Netflix or Amazon would not be beholden to the limitations of cinema. The violence in the original novel would not have to be toned down for an R rating — and if a film, it would have to be — and creators could take their time fleshing out characters and realizing the intricacies of the Republic of Greater East Asia.
5. Dark City
Dark City, aptly named due to the state of perpetual night that floods its streets and corridors, is the dank neo-noir setting of 1998’s science fiction thriller from Alex Proyas, director of The Crow. Rufus Sewell starred in the film as a man suspected of a series of brutal murders, who has no recollection of himself or the crimes. He is being sought by a group of creepy men referred to as Strangers. The film bears many similarities to The Matrix, but actually predates it by one year.
A place like Dark City holds many secrets, which could be the basis for an ongoing series of unique stories and characters. While the film did not quite make back its $27 million budget, it has since picked up a big enough following to float a television show. Besides that, the setting and concept are interesting enough to draw in new audiences and would not require an enormous budget to produce in-house for a Netflix or Crackle.
4. The Warriors
The Warriors was a bit of an anomaly when it hit theaters in 1979 because, for the first time in Hollywood history, it displayed street gang lifestyle without making any judgments or morality plays. These gang members needed each other for survival in a harsh urban terrain. Their biggest fears were not whether they would get into college, but whether they would survive the night. In that dilemma, they had each other – a hand-picked family risen from the asphalt. Walter Hill’s direction did not speak down to his younger audience.
Today, The Warriors is fondly remembered for its uniqueness, grit, and vision. As such, it has long been a candidate for the remake treatment. The biggest name attached to it was director Tony Scott, but following his death things have slowed down quite a bit. There are still plans to revamp the film for modern audiences, and we suggest setting this up as a television series at HBO with Martin Scorsese and the rest of the Vinyl crew attached.
3. Escape from New York
Snake Plissken is another iconic character that a new crop of creators have been hoping to get their hands on for some time. John Carpenter first breathed life into the character with his hit film Escape from New York (with a lot of help from star Kurt Russell) in 1981. Russell returned to the part in Escape from L. A. 15 years later. Both films did OK, but plans for a third film to round out the trilogy never came to fruition. Since then, Gerard Butler and Jeremy Renner have been thrown around as names that could possibly take over for Russell in a remake. Other late entries to the casting talk include Charlie Hunnam, Jon Bernthal, and Dan Stevens.
At this point, a television series with Snake Plissken might be the way to go. It takes a minor miracle to get anyone together for the filming of one of these projects (as evidenced with the huge chasms between the first and second film) and, currently, the second film and the still-unproduced remake. If the stars can align one more time for Snake, why not get everyone together for 12 one-hour episodes instead? That way, if the property sits dormant for another two decades, we will at least have more than a couple of hours to chew on.
The 1988 animated film Akira remains one of the most influential of its kind, in spite of the fact that creator Katsuhiro Otomo had to, for the sake of budget and time, shave off much of his manga in order to tell the story in two hours. What we were left with, while a masterpiece, is just a piece of the story as told in Otomo’s manga of the same name. It would be nice if the right people could get behind a live-action telling of this tale, and we may be on the verge of that happening with Christopher Nolan rumored to be attached as recently as September 2015. The bad news is that Warner Bros. has been struggling to bring the project to fruition since 2002. (Read: don’t hold your breath.)
That may be all for the best anyway. After all, there is simply too much story to tell here. A faithful adaptation of the manga series in live-action form on one of the streaming giants seems like a much better use of resources. While Netflix is generally the go-to for things like this, Akira may be better served with Amazon in the light of the company’s recent critical successes (The Man in the High Castle, Bosch, and Mad Dogs).
1. The Lost Boys
No child of the ’80s knew what hit them when The Lost Boys was unleashed in theaters July 31, 1987. Like Fright Night, it was a fresh take on a very tired creature of the night. Stars Jason Patric, Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Kiefer Sutherland, kept things fresh, fearful, and funny, as did the able direction of Joel Schumacher. If you were lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint) to have a parent that didn’t mind you seeing R-rated movies, then you probably got to watch this one on the big screen; the rest of you were forced to sleep over at a friend’s house and sneak the VHS into his or her parents’ VCR.
Now we know Mr. Feldman still needs a paycheck, but the two direct-to-video sequels made long after the original – and with only a fraction of the inventiveness – are no way to do it. What The Lost Boys needs is a Teen Wolf kick in the pants with younger stars and a new gang of villains. Our hope: someone at the CW or MTV realizes the potential and gets this series idea on the fast track.
Cult classics like the ones mentioned above are awesome, no two ways about it. Now it’s time to see if that same magic that makes them that way will translate to the small screen. Which of the ideas above would you like to see, and what are some of your personal favorites you would have included? Sound off in the comments section!
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