Sometimes, even when movies aren’t considered a commercial success, over time they develop a devoted and passionate base of followers. These films become known as cult classics, often lending themselves to repeated viewings, reenactments, and sing-alongs among dedicated fans. They often deal with the obscure, surreal, and absurd, breaking cultural taboos and diving into the fringes of reality — or what reality can be. We’ve carefully crafted this list of the best cult classic movies on HBO Max that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Starting our list of cult classics on HBO Max with 1974’s The Night Porter and ending with 2001’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, this list explores a truly unique selection of cinema from the last few decades of the 20th century, all available for streaming on HBO Max. Let’s take a look:
The Night Porter (1974)
Our top cult classic movies such as The Night Porter should be at the top of your watchlist. Known as one of history’s most controversial films and one of the most popular cult classic movies, Dazed sums up fan and critic’s’ feelings by calling Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter “a heartbreaking depiction of a taboo yet devoted relationship, [and] a deplorable attempt to eroticize one of the most awful events in human history.” When a chance encounter reunites Holocaust survivor Lucia and hotel concierge Maximilian — who happened to be her lover and torturer — their sadomasochistic relationship continues, with frequent flashbacks to the atrocities of their time at the concentration camp.
David Lynch’s first feature — an experimental body horror flick that follows a man in the care of a deformed alien baby — is considered to be one of the best cult classic movies and 20th century’s most important contributions to independent American cinema. Filmed in black and white, and written, directed, produced, edited, and scored by Lynch himself, Eraserhead is a must-see for any aspiring cinephile, and particularly worthy of a re-watch around Halloween-time. Our cult classic movies on HBO Max wouldn’t be as popular without the next movies on our list.
Paris, Texas (1984)
From revered New German Cinema pioneer and director Wim Wenders, we have Paris, Texas — a critically-acclaimed adaptation of the play by the late, great, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sam Shepard. Paris, Texas is high on our list of cult classic films you should watch due to its accurate depictions of life in the Wild West and the fact that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Part ode to the landscape of the American Southwest, the film follows a dissociative vagabond named Travis (Big Love’s Harry Dean Stanton) as he reunites with his young son and brother before setting out to find his long-estranged wife (Nastassja Kinski).
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Another Monty Python screenplay, this time by John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda crosses a love triangle with a diamond heist in a side-splitting romp of a movie starring Cleese alongside Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin and an Italian-spouting Kevin Kline as they vie for the prize — in stolen wealth as well as romance. Full of outrageous encounters and comical one-liners, this is one cult favorite that’s sure to leave you laughing.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
Pedro Almodóvar’s dark romantic comedy stars Antonio Banderas as a newly released mental patient who kidnaps an adult film star in an attempt to make her love him. One of the more suspense-filled dramas on our list of cult classic movies, we know you’re sure to enjoy this film. If you’ve seen any of the Spanish director’s work, this kind of plot won’t come as a surprise, but it earned one of the first NC-17 ratings when released in the United States. A series of chance meetings and absurd hijinks ensue, only the likes of which Almodóvar can master.
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Tom DiCillo’s indie cult masterpiece Living in Oblivion is a hilarious look at the world of 1990s independent filmmaking. Starring a long-haired Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener and many other familiar faces (including Peter Dinklage in his film debut), the dark indie flick won DiCillo a screenwriting award at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and follows a literal motley movie crew as they attempt to shoot a low-budget film through the challenges presented by surreal dreams and gritty New York City realities. Funnily enough, the film was inspired by DiCillo’s own difficulties when making his first feature, Johnny Suede.
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)
At a time when teeny-bopper mainstream movies were in their prime, this hilariously noir mockumentary hits every satirical note just right. Kirsten Dunst stars — alongside Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Amy Adams, Denise Richards, Kirstie Alley and Brittany Murphy (RIP) — as Amber Atkins, a small-town girl with big dreams who enters a beauty contest in order to pursue them. That’s when all hell starts to break loose in this twisted take on American pageant culture, replete with foul-play, food poisoning and outright murder.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Wrapping up our list of cult classic movies on HBO Max is Hedwig and the Angry Inch John Cameron Mitchell’s rock-and-roll musical was first performed on stage in 1998 before being adapted into a film a few years later. While bombing at the box office, the cult classic is often hailed as a modern-day Rocky Horror Picture Show, with the story centering on the titular genderqueer, larger-than-life performance artist. Set between Cold War-era East Berlin and middle-America, we witness the star’s journey from Hansel to Hedwig, Europe to the U.S. and, ultimately, darkness to light — all set to an irresistibly raunchy soundtrack that fans know by heart.
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