Celebrate the day! Being a long time follower of cult films over the years, I figured it was due time to create an appropriate Top 20 list of Cult Film Directors for readers who might “still” be seeking out worthy films to indulge in (Director collectives..that is). I knew creating this list that not every favorite cult director would make it on here (meaning in the public’s eye and that it was limited to 20). Though I fully support the choices made as ones that are worthy. It’s also important to note that “Horror” wasn’t necessarily used as a determinating factor but rather on the content of the films themselves.
It goes without saying that we have had some great talented Directors over the years that have contributed to the cult movie legacy greatly. These 20 particularly have created some pretty impressive collectives that have had their films labeled in the “cult” realms more than once. As part of our HorrorNews.net direction we’ll be sure to review as many as we can find time for.
(not in order of ranking)
01- Alejandro Jodorowsky
A cult director favorite, Jodorowsky released 3 primary highly regarded films that gained him critical acclaim. “El Topo (1970)”, “Santa Sangre (1989)” and “The Holy Mountain (1973)“. While his other works are also of recommendation, these 3 really define his unique method of storytelling. (Just on a side note, I recommend you also talk a peek at the film “Fando and Lis (1968)”.) Really after 1989 Alejandro Jodorowsky seems to have turned his back on his film efforts taking on only a small offering of unrelated film projects. Though if you want the Jodorowsky experience…I suggest sticking to the greats.
02- Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone doesn’t “always” stick to cult directive. He tends to swing between projects that are specific to events, persons or culture. However, he also has created some of the most inspiring works of all time. Films like “Natural Born Killers“, “The Doors”, “Talk Radio”, “U Turn” and “Wall Street” all hold a certain appeal that’s hard to place without citing the directors influence on them.. They were all outside the box “enough” to make them memorable and off the beaten path of the mainstream. Stone has also taken to political focused films like “Nixon” and “JFK” garnering him much acclaim.
03- David Cronenberg
A true original. Cronenberg like Lynch often has to compete between his personal interests and just simply making money on commercial films. Cronenberg has a unique style that is often categorized as organic and surreal. His greatest works have followed the concepts he held to heart and soul. Though like many of these Directors, these releases were often misunderstood and below commercial acceptance. If you want a true dose of Cronenberg, then stick in films like “VideoDrome“, eXistenz“, and “The Brood“. If you are willing to take on a total mind screw then see how you handle films like “Naked Lunch“. One of his underrated films “Crash” ranks among my favorites.
04- Stanley Kubrick
It was a sad day when this great director left the planet. Kubrick was an obsessive that really scrutinized every angle of his films. He left us with a collective of movies that stand among cinemas greatest achievements. Favorites for me include “Eyes Wide Shut“, “The Shining“, “A Clockwork Orange“, and “Full Metal Jacket“. Stanley Kubrick, to this day, is often discussed among film studies and extensive research novels. A film lover should always keep Stanley Kubrick’s collective nearby if ever aching for a proper approach to filmmaking.
05- David Lynch
David Lynch almost single handed defines the essence of cult filmmaking. Not entirely but enough to “always” place him among the cult filmmakers circuit. A David Lynch movie is not for everyone…in fact its his lack of commercial appeal that seems to ride against the grain that could make him a “much more” heralded director. Though, those who love the Lynch style always come back for more…myself included. If you really want to understand his work, you have to assume that not everything is always a character but rather an emotional facsimile. Then you can sort among the pieces to make a more cohesive whole. Favorites include: “Blue Velvet“, “Mulholland Dr.”, “Eraserhead“, “Wild at Heart” and the “Twin Peaks” legacies.
06- David Fincher
Fincher has the distinction of just being one “great” director. His work has not always been within the realm of cult films but with titles like “Fight Club“, “Se7en” and “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” you can’t help but admire his visions. Additional favorites include “The Social Network“, “The Game” and “Zodiac“. I believe we still have alot to see from Mr. Fincher in the years ahead. Like Stanley Kubrick, Fincher is a visionary that adds a special level of authenticity to every project he touches.
07- Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino is the embodiment of “his” interests. Each film feels like something from the past with a new modern twist added in. Of course we have to salute films like “Jackie Brown“, “Pulp Fiction“, and “Reservoir Dogs“. But we also have to embrace his “Kill Bill” movies and his writing for the films “Natural Born Killers” and “True Romance“. Tarantino “is” entertainment in a nutshell. Not every piece is a Pulp Fiction, however each seeps with his own identifiable touch of magic.
08- Roman Polanski
Polanski is in a class by himself. A more serious thinking man’s cult filmmaker, Polanski has created some truly original pieces that manage to stay with you long after viewing. Often viewers cite frustration with his work which can be ambiguous at times. Though many cult films take this path, so its no surprise. I was first impressed with the slow grind “The Tenant” from which I moved onto other greats such as “Chinatown”, “The Pianist” and “Repulsion“. “Rosemary’s Baby” is a shoe-in for this mans talent and much heralded by the genre. I’ll even cite “The Ninth Gate” as a worthy example of his style. Like it or not, it’s true Roman Polanski!
09- Takashi Miike
This guy has created so “many” films that he has crossed genres on a pretty regular basis. However any fan of Takashi Miike’s work knows that he is also one whacked-out bizarre film creator. While I’ll confess that I believe “not every” film from Takashi Miike is a winner, he has still managed to create some of the weirdest culty films on the planet. I’ll direct you to more appropriate titles such as “Audition“, “Zebraman“, Gozu“, “Ichi the Killer” and the really whacked out “Visitor Q“. I wouldn’t stop their though as a Takashi Miike film always seems to have some form of edgy content to it. There is alot to investigate from this director which is always a good thing (and recommended)
10- Yoshihiro Nishimura
Yoshihiro Nishimura bears the distinction of introducing a extreme-over-the-top style unlike many we have ever seen. His work in FX/Makeup seems to have crossed over into directing to the delight of his fans. Where a director like Cronenberg might dabble in organics, Yoshihiro Nishimura actually uses it to define his style of filmmaking into full overblown lunacy. Every film this man touches feels like an instant cult classic embodying the ways of the Asian market into the modern US fascination with gore and chaos. His directing efforts on the film “Tokyo Gore Police“, was a trendsetter inspiring gaggles of copy creations. Later releases “Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl“, “Helldriver“, and “Mutant Girls Squad” all wear his remarkable identity on each of them. His earlier creation “Meatball Machine” was also deemed an important addition to his genre style.
11- Tim Burton
Burton wears the emblem of style on his sleeve. A Burton films has a flavor that is unlike any others. I would point to a style that is whimsical, off beat cartoony at times and very character-centered. Films such as “Cabin Boy“, “Beetlejuice“, “Mars Attacks!”,Â Â ”Big Fish” and “Edward Scissorhands” all share portions of his remarkable style. His animations stand out among others as masterpieces of animated cinema with “Nightmare Before Christmas” taking the award for most interesting stop motion realization.
12- Kevin Smith
Smith on the most part has stayed pretty focused on the comedic side of cult filmmaking. It was the debut of “Clerks“, that really alerted movie goers to the guys writing and directing talents. Soon to follow would be additional cult classics such as “Mallrats”, Dogma“, and “Chasing Amy“. Kevin would also lend his name to darker creations such as “Vulgar” (producer) and “Red State“. “Dogma” in particular served a strange hybrid purpose of darker comedic content with a twist on religion. In nay case, we love what the man does and look forward to more!
13- Sam Raimi
I don’t believe that intentionally sets out to be a cult film director. I think that his style is just so “Raimi” , that it by default comes across that way. Raimi is a favorite among horror fans, but you can’t argue that he has created some pretty off the way entries into horror. Ones that in my mind cross into a cult category very easily. The “Evil Dead” films (all 3) wear Sam Raimi’s comedic flair that seem quirky enough to “not” feel like “just” another recycle. Films like “Darkman“, “Drag Me to Hell” and “Crimewave” wear this distinction. I wouldn’t call the Spider-Man films cult films, but the “Evil Dead” lineage certainly are.
14- Brian De Palma
De Palma might have more main stream films than other on this list however there is no denying the cult power of “Scarface” or the lasting impression of “Body Double” to the group. Brian De Palma will take on an odd script here or there which when directed correctly is quite an worthy achievement. A lesser celebrated film “Mission to Mars” adds to his collective which includes the cult classic “Phantom of the Paradise”
15- Martin Scorsese
Scorsese has a knack for creating films that you don’t see coming. His career is quite impressive wearing his name on some of cinema’s greatest films ever created. I’ve always thought Scorsese to be a commercial artist who just drives things a bit different than others. Films like “Goodfellas“, “Shutter Island” and “Gangs of New York” are great examples of this style. Then you have the more obvious cult inclusions of “After Hours“, “Taxi Driver” and “Cape Fear“. A lesser heralded film “The Last Temptation of Christ” would prove to be his most controversial.
16- Ken Russell
A unique vision is probably an understatement here. Russell approaches film with emphasis on the hallucinogenic aspect of it. While Tommy (1975) was clearly built upon a drug culture stance, films like “The Lair of the White Worm (1988)” and “Altered States (1980)” took different approaches to the genres. “Altered States” examined science and the mind, while Lair took on the theme of a worm-worshipping cult. Others worth mentioning include “Gothic” and “The Devils (1971)”
17- Darren Aronofsky
I like to refer to Darren Aronofsky as a more intellectual cult film creator. This statement in some cases has also affected his commercial success in the market. “The Fountain” was way outside the box to really grab any traction in his arena. Though in all fairness, he regained it all back with the huge success of “Black Swan“. I was an earlier fan of his work in films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Pi“. I think the only thing lacking from his placement in this list is maybe a need for “more” entries. Another one to watch out for in the years ahead.
18- Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle has created a handful of cult greats that while few, are still among some of the most regarded. I’m talking about titles such as “The Beach, “Trainspotting“, and “Shallow Grave“. Boyle also gave us the fantastic film “28 Days Later” which was more stylized that cult feeling. It kick started the fast zombie revolution to the delight of Horror fans.. While Boyle has taken on more “less” off beat films, he still manages to pull out a new entry here and there. “Sunshine” was 1 in particular that felt more like a quirky Boyle production.
19- Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Joel and Ethan Coen seem to do their best work in this tag team format. Upon release, each of their products always delivers an offbeat nature that demands deeper investigation. “Films like “Fargo“, Blood Simple“, No Country for Old Men” and ” The Big Lebowski” leave behind viewer legacies that evolve the longer they exist. What I’ve found most identifiable with them is their knack for writing dialog that lives on way after the credits have rolled. A Joel Coen, Ethan Coen script is something asking for more investigation simply enough. Once you’ve delved deeper, a whole new spectrum of ideas and thoughts begin to emerge. …pure genius.
20- Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam originates from the Monty Python crew. His vision is unlike any in this list. He seems to know how to encapsulate fantasy in weird and wonderful ways making his creations the most visual of the entire group. Stories seem to evolve and spark new colors under his direction. Should we understand everything completely? Take “Tideland” for instance…not a great film but still wildly visual. Other creations like “Time Bandits” and “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” are bonified classics. “Twelve Monkeys” takes a harder stab at scifi while still remarkably Gilliam.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: (also great directors who didnt make “this” list)
Lars von Trier
Top 20 Cult Film Directors