The best cult films of the 21st century, from Twilight to Shrek

The phrase “cult movie” conjures up all kinds of wonderful cinematic nuggets from bygone eras. Some are loved for their silliness, others for their salaciousness, and still others for their totally misdirected sincerity. However, the 21st century is no slouch and has produced its fair share of cult gems in a relatively short period of time. One thing about cult films is certain, however. A film cannot be designed with the aim of becoming one – a cult film is an organic event. The 21st century has codified this thesis, proving that cult status can arise for a variety of reasons, but must always arise from an alchemical social process.


Failures at all levels (like Bedroom) find themselves the benefactors of obsessive affection in the same way as the critical darlings (like Zodiac Where Mulholland Drive) do in the world of the cult moviegoer. The key element is that the film nurtures a special sense of common ownership, the infatuation with the smallest detail and the joke. Through the singular magic of the cult film, a group of devotees are suddenly reunited in a way they might never have been otherwise. But what are some of the best cult films of the modern era? Well, grab a bucket of popcorn, some good friends, and get ready to quote every line because here are eight of the best cult films this side of the millennium.

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Jennifer’s Body isn’t just a cult classic – it’s a modern horror masterpiece

Jennifer checks into Jennifer's body

Doomed by poor marketing and poorly managed expectations upon arrival, Jennifer’s body has since taken its rightful place alongside the canonical classics of modern horror. Critical reappraisal as a low-key piece of feminist satirical genius certainly contributed to its stature, but it was Tumblr that cemented Jennifer and company in the minds of teens everywhere. The widely circulated and perpetually reposted image of Megan Fox lighting the tip of her tongue on fire – in tandem with Diablo Cody’s relatively sarcastic dialogue – quickly carved out a niche for Jennifer’s body in the hearts of teenage internet users around the world.

Twilight transcends her roots to become a Soapy Midnight movie favorite

Bella and Edward from Twilight.

Based on the young adult novels of the same name, Dusk was a phenomenon long before the glistening body of Robert Pattinson’s bloodsucker Edward Cullen hit the big screen. But what turned Catherine Hardwicke’s first all-gray entry into the franchise into a cult classic came much later. Dusk fans have grown, and like a laugh at an old high school yearbook, the overworked emotions and deadly earnestness of its pubescent lead characters are as humorously endearing now as they were intensely meaningful in 2008. Screenings still sell out at this day, with irony and non-irony fanatics ready to laugh and clap in unison during the stilted line readings of iconic stars.

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Donnie Darko’s enigmatic sci-fi tale continues to mesmerize audiences

The film that inspired a million moody mix CDs – filled with tracks from its killer darkwave soundtrack – Donnie Darko also single-handedly launched Jake Gyllenhaal into the alt-sex-symbol stratosphere. Twisting sci-fi trappings frame the story of a mentally ill teenager’s search for meaning, spurred on by a series of apocalyptic visions. These visions happen to feature a death’s-head rabbit named Frank, who sadly informs the titular hero Donnie of his own impending demise. Combine this with a blue velvet-esque B plot surrounding the seedy underbelly of Donnie’s idyllic suburban hometown, and there’s a perfect recipe for cult status.

A hilarious yet disturbing satire, featuring a star performance by Christian Bale, American psycho seems to be becoming increasingly relevant in the age of self-obsessed social media. Same over and over again, the dialogue is ready to go for hilarious Tik-Tok edits and Instagram humor pages, with or without context. Mix this with a widespread product fight club-level of misreading of a certain type of male viewer who misinterprets Patrick Bateman as some sort of alpha male hero, and the film’s ongoing (and expanding) circle of influence is nearly impossible to avoid.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a candy-coated cult phenomenon

Scott Gets A Power Up In Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Edgar Wright is perhaps the cult filmmaker par excellence of his generation. Every slice of sound Cornetto Trilogy easily achieved all the necessary prerequisites for cult films and created an insatiably rabid and obsessive fan base for all things Wright. But none of these films recognized as brilliant maintained the multigenerational anchoring of Scott Pilgrim vs the world. It’s easy to trace the genesis of many Gen-Z modes in its hyper-saturated visual style or see the seeds of Tik-Tok in its stunning editing and sound design. For a generation raised on candy Crushit is not surprising that Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World gained legendary status.

Influential and annoying, Oldboy always shocks and electrifies

old boy movie 2003

A favorite that continually rediscovers itself and never loses its edge, Old boy is the genre of hyper-violent exploitation and arthouse mash-up intended for endless endless midnight movie screenings. This would be true even without the mind-blowing and highly influential side-scrolling action sequence or the nature of its final twist. Park Chan-wook is a master, and Old boy is a wild and disturbing cult film masterpiece.

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Shrek is an unlikely meme sensation that has stood the test of time

Shrek and Fiona from Shrek 2

Shrek drew in millions of viewers with its landmark humor, capitalizing on ubiquitous pop culture touchpoints and Disney fairy tale fatigue. Filled to the brim with sight gags and grossly funny dialogue from comedic masters like Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, Shrek has worked its way into the hearts and minds of children and parents to an almost inevitable degree. Today, the computer-animated comedy has found continued life as the subject of countless memes.

The internet is obsessed with Matthew Lillard and Scooby-Doo

Matthew Lillard as Shaggy Rogers in Scooby-Doo (2002)

Childhood nostalgia mixed with appreciation from a contingent of stoner fans has transformed what was once reviled by critics scooby-doo in one of the most recently decided conversions into an object of worship. The ever-growing (and deserved) affection for internet boyfriend du jour Matthew Lillard has certified the cartoon adaptation as a permanent part of cult film appreciation. If more validation of this fact was needed, Quentin Tarantino’s Los Angeles theater, the New Beverly, recently screened a Lillard double feature with scooby-doo as the headlining title on the marquee. It sold out two nights in a row within minutes.