14 Horror Movie Flops That Became Cult Classics

There are a lot of horror movies that, with time and reevaluation, transform into cult classics. There's something about the genre that lends itself to revisionism; maybe the metaphors in the film end up becoming more relevant years later, or maybe viewers simply learn to love ideas that seemed too ahead of their time or too crazy upon the date of release.

The label of "cult" can be given to a lot of films. It's sometimes describes movies with weirdness and gore, something obscure and not apt for the mainstream. For this list, we focused on films that were box office flops, and that, with time, earned their cult status. These films provide audiences with plenty of gore and strangeness, and with a lot of thought-provoking ideas. Most importantly, they're now beloved by large groups of people and make for worthy viewing experiences. You may not love these movies on your first watch, but you'll certainly never forget them.

Jennifer's Body

One of the most recent and infamous additions into the cult canon is 2009's "Jennifer's Body." Starring a peak of her popularity Megan Fox at the peak of her popularity and written by Diablo Cody, who'd just won an Academy Award for the film "Juno," "Jennifer's Body" was painted as the next big thing, featuring a pair of up and coming actresses, and a dream team made up of Cody as writer and Karyn Kusama as director. Suffice to say, "Jennifer's Body" was not that. 

Simply put, "Jennifer's Body" is one of the most feminist films in recent memory; people were understandably shocked when they came to the theaters and didn't get what they bargained for. Over the years, especially following the #MeToo movement, "Jennifer's Body" has earned its cult status; people don't like it, they love it. Like the best cult films, its blemishes show off a depth and an inventiveness that remain admirable to this day. It's also a blast, with hilarious and quippy dialogue.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

You can't talk about cult films without discussing the glory of "Rocky Horror." The 1975 classic is the type of movie you can't believe was ever made. To this day, watching it still feels like a feat of creativity and sexual fluidity, starring names that have only grown bigger and better with the passage of time. The plot is quite weird: Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), boring sweethearts, get a flat tire right near an eerie mansion inhabited by the hypersexualized Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). There they meet a guy named Eddie (Meat Loaf), some scary house attendants, and Rocky, a dumb but very hot man. That's it. There's no way to explain it except to watch it.

The film flopped brutally upon its release. Years later, following many midnight screening and thousands of people sporting the costumes of the iconic characters and lots of food thrown at the screen, "Rocky Horror" has earned over $170 million dollars at the box office, and it is the longest continually running movie release of all time.

The Thing

Learning that one of the most famous horror films of all time was a box office flop was a personal revelation. "The Thing," released in 1982 and featuring a peak era Kurt Russell, follows a crew of researchers in the Antarctic. They're terrorized by a dog who turns out to be a terrifying shape-shifting creature (surprise, that's The Thing). Directed by John Carpenter after a string of hits that include "Halloween" and "Escape From New York," it's truly mind-boggling that "The Thing" didn't make a dent in the box office. At the time of its release, the film was destroyed by critics, who called it bleak, paranoid, and depressing, who ended up alienating its potential audience.

Years later, justice was served, and the film was added into the horror classics canon — often regarded as Carpenter's best and most cohesive film. "The Thing" has amazing practical effects, an unnerving setting, and a score that's timeless. It's earned its place in history. 

Phantom of The Paradise

"Phantom of The Paradise" is a pastiche of stories, borrowing from "Phantom of the Opera," "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and more. It's a film that at times feels more interesting and daring than good, which is undoubtedly part of its charm. "Phantom of The Paradise" is also a snapshot of a filmmaker before he'd found his voice, featuring Brian De Palma veering in directions that are exciting and strange now that we have some retrospective — but that also feature his iconic visual trademarks. 

Starring a pre-"Suspiria" Jessica Harper, the film follows Winslow (William Finley), a naïve composer whose music gets stolen by a producer (Paul Williams) who might also be the devil. With the stolen music, the producer launches a theater of epic proportions: The Paradise. Winslow loses his mind and his face and starts wearing a mask, haunting the theater in order to get his music back — you know, as you would. It's mostly nonsensical but in the most fun and daring way you can imagine, the type of film that was meant to inspire a vibrant cult following. At the time of its release, "Phantom" made almost no money. Let that be your invitation to watch.

The Exorcist II: The Heretic

"The Exorcist" caught lightning in a bottle. It managed to be a horror film that was also thoughtful. It earned a variety of Academy Awards nominations for its writing and performances. All exorcism films after it are still trying to get a touch of that magic, quite unsuccessfully. "The Exorcist II: The Heretic" is kind of wonderful in its ambition and weirdness and it definitely fits into this category. 

Releases in 1977, three years after the release of the first film, "The Exorcist II" didn't manage to nab its original director and lead star. It was still made, directed by John Boorman and starring an adult (and no longer spooky) Linda Blair. The film follows Father Lamont (Richard Burton) who is tasked to investigate what happened to Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) in the original film. Lamont starts looking for clues, finding Regan and then traveling to Africa in order to track Pazuzu, the demon responsible for the initial possession, to understand what happened on that fateful night. "The Exorcist II" was obviously a flop, but one that's earned some love amongst followers. "I like the first 'Exorcist,' because of the Catholic guilt I have, and because it scared the hell out of me; but 'The Heretic' surpasses it. Maybe Boorman failed to execute the material, but the movie still deserved better than it got," said Martin Scorsese (per Far Out Magazine). That's enough of an endorsement for me.

Grindhouse

It's tough to imagine a world where a Quentin Tarantino movie flopped at the box office, but that is what happened to "Grindhouse." The film, billed as a double feature of "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof," with the former directed by Robert Rodriguez and the latter directed by Tarantino, didn't draw much of an audience — at least initially. Perhaps the strangeness of the idea is the reason why people didn't flock to theaters upon the time of its release — but it might be also the reason why it's been revisited over the past year, earning cult status amongst devoted followers. 

The poor box office performance in the US resulted in the release of the films as separate features abroad, something that is quite sad, since "Grindhouse" was a collaboration. While a director's name was attached to each part, the project as a whole was Rodriguez and Tarantino's baby. Featuring the talents of Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, and more, "Grindhouse" features a parade of amazing things; Texas vibes, zombies, really tight girlfriends, sleazy guys, and car chases. It's a great time. 

Crimson Peak

"Crimson Peak" is one of my favorite Guillermo Del Toro films. It was a flop at the box office and, when watching it, it's understandable why some people might be turned off by the pace — and most likely the incest. Still, Del Toro often portrays risqué and taboo subjects in stories that are palatable and that appeal to mass audiences. If Del Toro were making the leading blockbusters of today we'd be living in a much more fun world.

"Crimson Peak," released in 2015, is pure gothic goodness, featuring a trifecta of lovely performances by Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain. The film follows Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), a young writer who gets trapped in the game of siblings Thomas (Hiddleston) and Lucille (Chastain). The bright colors and the devotion for the gothic and the romantic capably cover the small missteps of the film, resulting in something quite special, that has amassed a lot of fans over the years. I like to think that "Crimson Peak" pushed Del Toro's creative vision, allowing him to pursue crazier genre stories.

Slither

Before James Gunn was a Certified Superhero Movie director, he was a guy who made horror movies, and attached his name to projects that were really bizarre. In his filmography, you can find a variety of writing, directing, and producing credits that include films like "Slither," a gory and sticky film about an alien invasion that takes place in the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. 

While the plot is straight out of a B horror movie (that's kind of the point) the craftsmanship in "Slither" is amazing, featuring great performances from Elizabeth Banks and Nathan Fillion, and a solid script. It also has some really awesome practical effects, the likes of which are very rare in modern cinema. If you want to watch some spooky tentacles, a throwback to simpler times in cinema, and/or to enjoy a movie that has earned some respect over the years, look no further.

The Stepford Wives

Based on the successful novella written by Ira Levin, "The Stepford Wives" is an incredibly impactful tale, one that's so prevalent that it has been incorporated into our vernacular. (It has also resulted in a very bad Nicole Kidman adaptation.) The 1975 film follows Joanna (Katharine Ross), her husband Walter (Peter Masterson), and their two daughters on a move to Stepford, Connecticut. The family is soon surprised to discover the town inhabited by women who are house managing robots, ones whose lives revolve around their husbands. 

It's a film that was pretty upsetting to feminists and critics upon the time of its release, yet one that has earned a cult following thanks to the passage of time. "'Stepford wife' has become code for some robot following a script and meeting some male misogynistic ideal of femininity," Mary Stuart Masterson, daughter of Peter, told EW. "[It's about] negating your agency as a woman."

Annihilation

"Annihilation" is not easy viewing. Still, the fact that it flopped at the box office despite earning great critical reviews is heartbreaking. Directed by the great Alex Garland and starring Natalie Portman, "Annihilation" is based on a Jeff Vermeer novel and veers in a different direction than the book. While the story remains the same, the focus shifts, resulting in a tale that's more internal and thoughtful — even if it's presented with lovely, thought out, and incredibly terrifying visuals.

"Annihilation," released in 2018, follows Lena (Portman), a biologist and soldier. She joins a mission to investigate the mysterious Area X, a place that hosts a shimmering phenomenon that is slowly taking over the world. It's a film that shifts depending on the viewer. Much like the characters that make up the story, it has some baggage. Whatever you put into it, you'll get out. "Annihilation" is an ambitious movie, one that treats its audience like adults. If you're not invested or paying attention, you won't get much out of it. 

Donnie Darko

One of the strangest films ever made is "Donnie Darko." Like all great cult films, it prioritizes mood, skillfully permeating its runtime with dread and a discomfort that's tough to pinpoint or describe. Featuring a wonderful Jake Gyllenhaal at the start of his career, and an inspired and fearless direction from then-newcomer Richard Kelly, "Donnie Darko" is a must-watch for anyone who's ever felt isolated — especially as a teenager. At the time of its release, 9/11 had just happened, botching its promotion and odds of success. Who wanted to watch a movie where the inciting incident was a jet engine falling on top of someone's house?

"Donnie Darko" is a story that grows more resonant with each passing day, with the apocalypse feeling closer than ever. On the surface, it's a film about a troubled kid who thinks the world is ending and makes it his mission to stop it by following his dreams, but that's like saying that "Mad Max" is a film about racing cars. "Donnie Darko" is not about plot — it's a two-hour fever dream that doesn't make sense, yet it somehow fits perfectly together.

Green Room

"Green Room" is another new addition to this list, one that, perhaps because it's so recent, is not as discussed as some of these other films on this list. Released in 2015 and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, a great genre filmmaker, "Green Room" is one of the simplest and goriest films you'll see. It contains a thrum of tension that doesn't let up, one that you'll have trouble shaking off. Starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Sir Patrick Stewart — as the terrifying leader of a neo-Nazi group — the film follows a punk rock band who, after witnessing a very violent act, find themselves trapped and chased by very violent people. 

Despite the fun and simple premise, "Green Room" flopped at the box office, making $3.8 million against a $5 million budget. Luckily, it's being rediscovered — pushed by the help of streaming, the passage of time, the tragic death of lead star Anton Yelchin, and the fact that it's pretty damn good.

Possession

"Possession" is incredibly multifaceted. It's a divorce film, performance art, and an "Exorcist" sequel or spin off. It's a truly indescribable experience that prompts laughter and pained groans in equal measure. Featuring a terrifying and luminous Isabella Adjani and Sam Neill (who can play a sweet dad and the devil incarnate within seconds), it's a film drenched in politics and pain. Directed by Andrzej Żuławski, "Possession" follows Mark and Anna, a couple who's just separated after the revelation of Anna's affair. Soon after, her behavior becomes unhinged and she seems lured by outside forces, implying that there's something deeply wrong, that goes beyond a simple affair.

"Possession" is the kind of film that can be alienating in its foreignness. Every shot can be interpreted as something different, and every camera movement feels like it was drawn with purpose. It's completely overwhelming. The depths of "Possession" go beyond my analysis, but despite this, it's a story that feels painfully truthful. It highlights the fine line that exists between love and hate, the toxicity of spending your life with someone and watching them change. We hurt each other — whether a demon is involved or not is irrelevant.

Near Dark

Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" is a vampire horror gem. Released in 1987, and starring a young Bill Paxton and Adrian Pasdar, "Near Dark" follows Caleb (Pasdar), a young cowboy and newly turned vampire. After falling in love with a vampire girl (Jenny Wright) and following her around, he ends up involved with a band of evil vampires. It's also scored by Tangerine Dream, multiplying its awesomeness by thousands. "Near Dark" is like "Twilight" but set in the '80s, with a cool factor and an awesome villain that the latter never had.

Upon the time of "Near Dark's" release, the market was crowded with vampire films, perhaps allowing for this one to fall through the cracks, making no money at the box office. While its contemporaries leaned into more mainstream directions and superficial concerns, Bigelow found ways to deviate from the expected — crafting a film that's fun because of the vampire factor, but that's also intelligent and dark, probing at the ennui of eternal beings. It's no wonder that the film has managed to remain in our collective consciousness. No matter how many vampire movies come and go, "Near Dark" is a touchstone.