Cult classics that are actually really bad films

The term "cult classic" gets tossed around a lot these days. Maybe a little too much. It seems like every time a less-than-traditional little film that doesn't make a bundle in its theatrical release is suddenly being called a "future cult classic." Those films generally have a tendency to fade into obscurity because they're not very good. Which is exactly what's supposed happen to really bad movies. On occasion, a movie is so poorly made that it finds its way into the "cult classic" conversation by way of the "so bad it's great" loophole. More often than not, "so bad" just means they're actually terrible films—kinda like the ones on this list.

The Wraith (1986)

Like most purveyors of late-night HBO programming, we spent a lot of time watching and re-watching some seriously silly movies over the years. Few of those movies have tickled our fancy quite the way 1986's Charlie Sheen-starring sci-fi schlock-fest The Wraith does.  

Make no mistake, even if The Wraith has built a passionate following over the years, it's just as awful now as it was upon release. Then again, one could hardly expect magic from a movie centered around a murderous gang of thugs—who spend their days getting wasted on brake fluid and WD-40—and a malevolent, drag-racing entity out to serve them their due justice.

Packed with ridiculously over-the-top performances from a surprisingly impressive cast of up-and-comers, some cheesy special effects, and bland stereotypical characters, The Wraith has somehow claimed a seat at the B-movie classic table. The film is amateurish, even campy, and its self-awareness prevents viewers from taking any element of the story too seriously. All of which would be fine if it didn't feel like everyone involved in The Wraith—especially Clint Howard(!)—was giving it their all.

Children of the Corn (1984)

With It breaking box office records and the likes of Gerald's Game and 1922 finding their groove on Netflix, 2017 seemed to usher in the golden age of Stephen King adaptations, until the disaster that was The Dark Tower came along to prove adapting King's work can still go horribly wrong. For further proof of that fact, see 1984's King-based catastrophe Children of the Corn.

Adapted from King's 1977 short story, the film takes place in an isolated Nebraska town and follows a child-led religious cult hell bent on ensuring that the town's corn crop remains robust. Of course, they have to sacrifice all of the adults to make that happen. That last bit bodes poorly for Vicki (Linda Hamilton) and Burt (Peter Horton) when their car breaks down in town.

So what went wrong with Children of the Corn? Fans of King's short story would testify that it remains a stone-cold chiller. King even tried to adapt it for the big screen himself, but the author's moody, character-driven screenplay was tossed aside in favor of George Goldsmith's ludicrous, hyper-violent, narratively flimsy take on the tale. No matter what die-hard King fans try to tell you, Children of the Corn is all of those things. Even if some of the film's imagery still colors the pop-culture pantheon, Children of the Corn is a stagnant and ugly film to look at, leading us to question just how this terrible film managed to inspire its own straight-to-video franchise.

Grandma's Boy (2006)

There's no accounting for taste when you're talking about cult classics, because taste is so hyper-focused in the cult cinema conversation that it's sort of irrelevant. Still, every once in a while, a film claims cult status that just makes you want to hold people accountable. Case in point: 2006's wanna-be stoner comedy Grandma's Boy.

Understand that we're using the word "comedy" loosely here, because—save for the yeoman's work of Doris Roberts, Shirley Knight, and Shirley Jones—there's really not much to laugh at in this turgid tale of a 35-year-old slacker forced to move in with his Grandma. Realistically, there are only like four actual jokes in Grandma's Boy, and the film simply recycles them over and over and over again. At some point, you have to throw your hands up and say, "OK. We get it, they smoke a lot of pot, play a lot of video games, and that one guy acts like a robot. What else you got?" The answer is a resounding "Nothing." That's just what you'll get out of watching Grandma's Boy even once. It's hard to believe that anybody would want to watch it a second time.  

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Of all the films on this list, Plan 9 From Outer Space is undoubtedly the one made with the most heart. While it's become easy to mock Ed Wood for his skill (or lack thereof) as a filmmaker, it's also impossible to question his passion for the medium. That passion led Wood to put his soul into writing, producing, and directing 1959's Plan 9 From Outer Space. Unfortunately, his lack of skill regularly lands Plan 9 near the top of many "worst movies ever made" lists.

Does Plan 9 really deserve that "worst ever" title? Chock full of absurdly silly dialogue, unintentionally slap-sticky special effects, and cut together with an amateurish DIY sensibility, Wood's tale of aliens and zombies vs. humanity is the very definition of cinematic lunacy. It absolutely does earn the title of "worst movie ever made."

By the same token, it's almost unfair to cast that stone when you account for the unbridled affection that went into the film's creation. One might even be tempted to claim Plan 9 From Outer Space is the sort of film that redefines the term "so bad it's great," but you'd be wrong. Plan 9 From Outer Space is just plain bad, and if you're laughing at it, keep in mind: it's not a comedy. 

The Room (2003)

Though Plan 9 is still widely regarded as the worst film ever, it got some serious competition in 2003 when Tommy Wiseau unleashed The Room on the world. If you were to compare these films purely on the basis of their Rotten Tomatoes score, The Room may have legit bragging rights to that "worst ever" title. Almost in spite of itself, The Room has become a bonafide cult sensation over the years. One that now rivals The Rocky Horror Picture Show as king of the midnight screenings.

How can this have happened, you ask? Well, we have not a single, solitary clue. Anybody who's seen The Room even once can tell you that it's every bit as bad as you've heard. Wisseau's tale of a good man losing it all looks and feels like a no-budget TV show from the 1980s, the dialogue is at times unintelligible and the acting is embarrassingly over the top. To make matters worse, it doesn't look like any of the cast—save for Wiseau—has a clue what's going to happen from one moment to the next. We get it, everyone loves to watch a disaster, but that doesn't mean the disaster deserves to be celebrated and audiences should continue to celebrate this unmitigated travesty of filmmaking. 

James Franco takes on the narrative behind the creation of The Room in The Disaster Artist, we can't help but be a little worried that his film might ultimately encourage people to start taking Wiseau's disasterpiece seriously.

Road House (1989)

Don't get all defensive now, we love Road House as much as you do. Maybe even more, but our unapologetic adoration for this action-packed Patrick Swayze cheese-fest doesn't make it a good movie. It doesn't even make it a good cult movie. So let's all take a deep breath and accept one singular fact: Road House is just plain awful.

Shake it out now and let's get back on track, because there's nothing wrong with loving a bad movie. All it means is that you're willing to admit that the plot of Road House is beyond stupid, that the acting in the film—save for a terrifically dead-pan Sam Elliott performance—is beyond bad, that the film's fight scenes are base and uninspired, and that Patrick Swayze looks like he spent more time oiling himself up for those copious shirtless scenes than he did thinking about his character.

Not that there was much going on under the surface of famed "cooler" James Dalton—or even the B-movie bombast of the film itself. Still, Swayze brought zero depth to his Road House role. Had the late, great actor fully committed to the part, Road House might have found its way into the "not a terrible movie" conversation. Sadly, he didn't bring the heat to Road House, and, no matter how much we love it or how many times we re-watch it, Road House remains an epically bad movie.

Showgirls (1995)

So you've got a friend who read a book that says Paul Verhoeven's 1995 sexploitation satire Showgirls is a misunderstood masterpiece, do ya? OK, we're happy to acknowledge Verhoeven as one of the great satirists in cinema, but his take on Eszterhas' unwittingly silly Showgirls script backfires badly. It ultimately leads the film into the dreaded realm of callous camp. So no matter what your friend read, we're here to tell you that Showgirls is simply awful, and no amount of full-frontal nudity or satirical sexual melodrama is going to convince us otherwise. 

No need to get all huffy, we've a few irrefutable facts that prove just how bad Showgirls is. 1) Kyle Maclachlan is still shocked by just how bad it turned out. In a 2012 interview he admitted to being "gobsmacked" after seeing it and went on to claim, "I said, 'This is horrible. Horrible!" 2) Elizabeth Berkley—a trained dancer in real life—gave up dancing for years after the film's release. 3) There's a scene where characters discuss how they used to love eating dog food, and it's meant as a character-building moment. 4) Showgirls basically ended the careers of Berkley and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (who was one of Hollywood's hottest scribes at the time). 

Although one could argue Verhoeven was brilliant to exploit the script's ridiculous plotting and misguided sense of feminism, its record-setting run at the 1995 Razzie Awards proves our point (whether they got the joke or not): Even knowing it's a comedy, this movie is unbearable.

Dune (1984)

There's not a filmmaker on this list with more cult-cred than David Lynch, but even the famed auteur of alternative cinema couldn't "cult" his way into bringing a successful version of Frank Herbert's iconic sci-fi novel Dune to the big screen. Lynch's big-budget debut hit theaters in 1984 and was immediately marked as a frustratingly epic misfire by critics. In his one-star review of the film, Roger Ebert stated, "This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time." If you've sat through the film yourself, you know how true those words are of Dune—all two hours and 20 minutes of it.

Though Lynch shoulders much of the blame, he's not entirely at fault for the film's resounding failure. Dune was, after all, just his third feature film as director. After small-scale successes with Eraserhead and The Elephant Man, Dune was a dramatic shift in both scale and story for Lynch. Maybe a little too big. The director never found a way to blend his unique vision with Dune's blockbuster ambition. Matters only got worse in post-production when financiers ratcheted control of Dune from Lynch and, well, loused things up even more. Rest assured, Dune is an absolute mess of a film. The sort of mess that makes us wonder whether its "cult classic" status isn't merely a reflection on the man who directed it.   

Troll 2 (1990)

When someone makes a documentary about just how bad your movie is, you know you've done something weird enough to earn some "cult classic" cred. Troll 2 is more than weird enough to earn that label. It's also bad enough to have taken the crown as the "best worst movie" ever made. If you're bold enough to spend five minutes with Troll 2, you'll see why.

So what is it that makes Troll 2 so colossally terrible? To begin with, everything. But if you want to get into specifics, there's not a single troll in Troll 2. That's right, this in-name-only sequel to 1986's Troll doesn't actually feature any. Instead, the secluded town of Nilbog—feel free to marvel at the cleverness of that name—is overrun with goblins. While the difference between goblins and trolls may seem slight, Troll 2 goes to great lengths to point out that it's dealing exclusively in goblins, goblins that work for an evil vegetarian witch who feasts on human flesh—but only after it's been transformed into plants, that is.

The rest of the film—with its vomit-inducing body-gore effects, its patently ugly photography, and its wildly shifting tone—doesn't fare much better. We'd recommend watching Troll 2  once to have yourself a giggle, but we're not sure you actually would. Frankly, you're better off experiencing this train wreck through the lens of Michael Stephens' wonderful 2004 documentary Best Worst Movie.

Mommie Dearest (1981)

We're betting most of you haven't seen Mommie Dearest, though you can almost certainly quote its most famous line verbatim. Say it with us now, "No. Wire. Hangers!" There now, we've all had a good laugh, right? Good, 'cause a good laugh is about all you'll get from this bizarro 1981 melodrama.

Please trust us when we advise you to leave your exposure to Mommie Dearest to that singular moment because the rest of the film only gets weirderand not in a good way. Part soap opera drama and part psychological horror film, Mommie Dearest—which takes its story from a scathing memoir penned by Joan Crawford's adopted daughter Christina—paints a horrifying portrait of Crawford as an obsessive, narcissistic, child-beating sociopath.

At the center of that portrait is a performance from Faye Dunaway that can only be described as really, really big. Like, so big it ends up dwarfing the work of everyone she shared the screen with. It's the sort of performance that most directors would beg an actor to tone down. Unfortunately, Mommie Dearest helmer Frank Perry let Dunaway run with it, and she ran his film right into the realm of caustic, unwatchable camp.

Howard The Duck (1986)

Howard The Duck was destined to claim "cult classic" status before cameras even rolled, mostly because the Marvel comic that spawned it was the very definition of cult fiction. At the center of that comic was a wise-cracking, cigar-chomping, kung-fu-fighting anthropomorphic fowl who goes by the name of Howard. By way of a scientific mishap, Howard finds himself transported to Earth—Cleveland to be exact—where he falls in love with a would-be rock-goddess named Beverly and does battle with an evil alien Overlord.

Yes, Howard The Duck is every bit as bonkers as it sounds, but the truly baffling thing about the film is that it was produced as a live-action feature even though director William Huyck believed it would work better as animation. It was actually the film's producer George Lucas who insisted that the project go ahead with bold, practical effects and, um, a dwarf in a duck suit.

We're pretty sure Lucas regretted that decision once Howard The Duck was finished. The seemingly ready-made "cult classic" proved an absolute eye-sore of a film. One that was maligned by critics and all but ignored by moviegoers. It's hard to believe people still watch this film at all, but the most baffling thing is that Howard The Duck—which features female duck nudity and alludes to at least the possibility of a sort of bestiality—was largely marketed toward children. It even pulled a PG rating from the stodgy folks at the MPA. Man, the '80s really were a different time.

The Boondock Saints (1999)

OK, you went out drinking with your buddies, watched The Boondock Saints at 4 a.m. in a crowded dorm room and enjoyed the hell out of it. We get it. We've all been there. Now it's time to sober up and admit that The Boondock Saints is little more than a sloppily executed riff on the hyper-stylized work of Quentin Tarantino. One that's hardly deserving of the burgeoning cult legacy it somehow built.

Somehow Troy Duffy's film has continued to gain fans over the years, and as far as that Tarantino comparison goes, one could hardly blame the Boondock writer/director for trying to run with that formula. After all, few filmmakers' work felt as fresh and vital as Tarantino's in the '90s. Seems Duffy couldn't comprehend that Tarantino didn't work from any prescribed formula, and, if he did, it was far more intricate than just dropping a few violent outbursts and Bible verses into his films. Unfortunately, Duffy built his narrative for The Boondocks Saints around those two ideas and little else. 

Apart from a couple of interesting set pieces, all the director brings to the Tarantino formula is a misguided sense of salacious silliness. One that leaves Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus feigning grim determination as they stalk the streets of Boston for nearly two hours, popping round after round into gangsters—often in swanky slow-motion. Honestly, it's almost unbearable to sit through this film if you haven't had a few drinks. That people still do simply baffles the mind.