You can trace cult films back for decades, but they didn’t really begin gaining traction until the advent of the VCR, which allowed us to revisit and resurface films that were otherwise ignored at the box office. For a few decades, we were even able to quantify — in a manner of speaking — the cultness of a cult film through video and DVD rentals and sales measurements.
The streaming era, however, has removed the evidence. Netflix doesn’t offer statistics on how often their films are watched, and because video and DVD stores barely exist now, it’s more difficult to measure the cult status of a film.
And yet, obviously, cult movies are still being created, but we often only understand this through word of mouth. When you talk to your friends, when you interact with others on social media, you can anecdotally determine what box-office blips are performing well on Netflix. I also have the luxury of running a movie website with a comments section, and through that, I’ve kind of absorbed over the years what movies have been playing well on Netflix based on the frequency in which those titles are mentioned.
This list is not definitive, such as it were, because it’s not something we can quantify, but I believe these 10 titles — none of which performed well at the box office (Snowpiercer’s $4.5 million is the highest grossing film among them) — to be ten of the films that have gained the largest viewership on Netflix among box-office underperformers since 2008, when Netflix switched on its streaming service.
In other words, despite the fact that these films were not box-office successes, a lot of people have seen them and talk about them, and I attribute that primarily to their availability on Netflix.
Take This Waltz (Watch on Netflix) — Though it meanders, Take This Waltz is a powerfully evocative film. I’d be hard-pressed to call it entertaining or even funny (though, there are small doses of strange humor built around Margot and Lou’s affectionate insults), but Take This Waltz is a brilliant mood film. The performances from Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby are, as you’d expect, outstanding, and even Seth Rogen manages to pull off a strong dramatic performance. There is a narrative, but the film doesn’t set out to tell a story as much as it attempts to conjure certain feelings, to make you ache, and most likely, remind you of your own history of failed relationships. In that regard, it’s a wistful, melancholy success, another outstanding effort from Sarah Polley.
Drinking Buddies (Watch on Netflix) — Credit the insane chemistry of the actors (Jake Johnson, Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston), their deft improvisational skills, a smart, original outline from Joe Swanberg, and the inability of the actors to overthink the process for Drinking Buddies’ ability to transcend not only conventional romantic comedy tropes but most mumblecore offerings and capture something real, relatable, and genuine. It is a magnificent film.
The Human Centipede (Watch on Netflix) — The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is about Dr. Heiter (Deiter Laser), a retired surgeon who used to specialize in separating conjoined twins. Heiter has a dream — a vision, if you will — to successfully surgically meld three humans via their gastric systems to create a single self-sustaining organism — a Human Centipede. He finds his unfortunate participants in the form of two young vacationing American women (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), and Katsuro, a random Japanese man (Akihiro Kitamura) he kidnaps. From there on out, there isn’t much to report, plot-wise. There are a couple of attempted escapes, and then, well, he creates his Human Centipede, a gruesome concept that would disturb even the most avid ass-to-mouth fetishist.
The One I Love (Watch on Netflix) — The One I Love stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss. They play a married couple, but their marriage is troubled. They seek the assistance of a marriage counselor, played by Ted Danson, who recommends a weekend retreat in a cottage where he frequently sends couples. It has very good results. That is all I can tell you about the plot of The One I Love, because all the ensuing revelations in the film should be experienced rather than described. I will only say that it’s a film about identity, and about who we are, and how others perceive us, and how we perceive ourselves, and all the gaps between perceptions and realities.
The Trip (Watch on Neflix)— There are so many things to recommend it (beautiful landscapes and insights into local history; astonishing imitations from Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon; a real sense of pathos behind the humour), but the camaraderie between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is particularly lovely. You get the sense that Brydon is always trying to impress Coogan, whose world-weariness often crumbles in the face of Brydon’s bonhomie; it’s heartwarming to watch. Coogan’s sadness, playing himself as a man who has lost his way and his sense of identity, is sensitively and nakedly handled, and there was a wonderful moment last week when he shouted AHA across a valley, his old Alan Partridge catchphrase re-purposed as a desperate cry from the heart. The programme doesn’t shy away from anything: Coogan and Brydon’s hilarious scene a while back in which they trade well-meant and indulgently-received barbs about each other’s appearance and talk about plastic surgery with unflinching honesty, is just one of very many finely judged moments in a programme which never shows off and is always surprising and delightful.
Short Term 12 (Watch on Netflix) — Brie Larson’s Short Term 12 is more than just an unexpected delight, it’s an outstanding little movie about the power of emotional processing, about dealing with psychological trauma, and about the ways in which we cope. It is dizzyingly sweet, immensely heart-achey and anchored by one of the most nuanced and beautifully subtle performances in a very long while. It really is a beautifully wistful film, and Brie Larson turns in a performance that will blow the mindhole of the indie world. She is quietly commanding and serene, a damaged angel trying to rescue her flock.
V/H/S (Watch on Netflix) — Like many horror anthologies, V/H/S entwines a series of short films around a single central narrative. The project, created by Brad Miska, features a quintet of wildly divergent tales that are loosely tied together by the main arc entitled Tape 56, and is comprised of directorial efforts by a series of semi-noted and unknown indie film makers, including Ti West, Joe Swanberg, and Adam Wingard. It’s another entry in the “found footage” genre, with the premise being that the events unfolding are anywhere from recent to about 15 years old and captured off of either old VHS videocassettes or digital footage.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Watch on Netflix) — Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a one-joke movie, but it’s a good joke, at least in concept. Unfortunately, writer/director Eli Craig doesn’t bring much else to that joke nor is he able to execute it to it’s fullest potential. The result is a middling effort, a half-boner of a film, that benefits from the performances of its two leads, “Firefly’s” Alan Tudyk and “The Reaper’s” Taylor Labine, as well as the inebriation of its audience.
Snowpiercer (Watch on Netflix) — Readers, I see a lot of movies. Most of them are good. Some are great. A small number I love. And every once in a while I see a movie that leaves me vibrating with energy as I leave the theater, knowing that what I just saw will stick with me probably for the rest of my life, or at least until the inevitable robot overlords come and conquer the planet. Snowpiercer is one of those.
Goon (Watch on Netflix) — Goon, written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse, is the unholy bastard child of Rocky and Slap Shot, with the dynamite mechanics of Major League thrown in for good measure. It’s not so much a movie about hockey as about my favorite part of hockey, the enforcer. It’s hilarious and violent, a sweet love story punched in the face with a knuckle dragging sports blowout, with profanity fountaining out like a shook-up soda can. From the opening shots of blood splattering ice as a tooth slowly tumbles to the rink, asskicking abounds, and from opening buzzer to final bloody dukeout, Goon pummels you with gleeful abandon and you’re left dazed and smiling. Albeit short a few choppers.