EJ Moreno heads back to the 2000s for a selection of cult classics worth revisiting…
Between things like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Dark Knight dominating our lives in the 00s, it’s easy to forgive yourself if you missed a few classics, especially when some of these classics are cult films that are often overlooked.
We’ll look at seven of the most iconic yet underrated cult classics of the 2000s. For this list, the projects must be non-mainstream outings that were cult favorites at the time or have grown into nostalgic favorites.
All but one of the films here has a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, which shows that critics weren’t feeling the films around the time of release. The irony comes in the form of most having a positive audience score, indicating much of the cult statuses these films gained since.
We want to celebrate films that many don’t remember or just overlooked in a time when films (blockbusters & indies) were hitting new heights. Now, let’s check out the seven movies…
You could list just underrated Paul Walker movies from the 00s; the man knew how to pick a future cult classic. From his hilariously campy work in 2 Fast 2 Furious to the trucker slasher Joy Ride, you were sure to get good results from the actor. But many don’t know his best work.
No turn is more impressive than his work in the 2006 genre-bending experience, Running Scared. What Walker cooks up in this twisted tale is delightful, with his usual charm taking a back seat to a genuinely gritty side. The whole film is described perfectly with the word “gritty” but not in the cringe way we think now.
Running Scared is possibly the best post-Sin City “let’s tell a dark story in a dark world” example, taking everything that worked there but adding its unique fairytale-like quality. It’s a smashmouth, brutal little movie that far too many people ignored to star 00s star.
Drug movies were all the rage at one point. If there was a popular drug, someone centered a film around it. But none captured the feeling of being on something quite like Spun. The dizzying madness can be overwhelming, but great talents hold it together.
Director Jonas Åkerlund put together what could only be described as the meth-loving sister of Requiem for a Dream. You get the same “drugs are bad” outcome, but this puts you through the wringer in a less depressing way. It’s not easily digestible, but no drug movie should. You want to be challenged; you want the highs and lows.
Again, the top-tier acting carries it. Pre-comeback Mickey Rourke turns in great work, along with John Leguizamo. But the true stars are the duo of Jason Schwartzman and Brittany Murphy, two 00s actors who gave us their all with the overlooked Spun.
Some of us didn’t need a Cannes cut to appreciate the madness and beauty of Southland Tales. While no one would call this film a masterpiece, you can’t help but sit in glee as Richard Kelly’s magnum opus takes control of your brain.
Southland Tales is as grand and over-the-top as any blockbuster at the time, but the film gets its polarizing reception from the dark comedy and satirical nature. As many of the movies found here can be challenging, this one challenges you on what to expect from a blockbuster. It’s unique in its ability to offer something familiar yet still so foreign.
With its star-studded cast and strange story, films like this are almost commonplace now. The last few Oscars could’ve been very different without this Dwayne Johnson and Sarah Michelle Gellar movie paving the way for genuinely bizarre blockbusters.
Surprisingly the most obscure film on this list is the only one with a positive on Rotten Tomatoes. Primer is an indie sci-film from 2004 that many people don’t remember, which is a shame as it’s one of the decade’s most challenging pieces of film.
Filmmaker Shane Carruth stormed the indie scene with this strange offering, giving sci-fi fans something outside the blockbusters of the time. It still surprisingly holds up even with decades behind it. We also see Carruth sacrifice no scientific technicalities for the audience, adding to the chaos. This whole list is a love letter to uncompromising filmmakers.
The Sundance 2004 darling is long overdue for a mainstream revaluation, and we need to challenge filmmakers to rechallenge audiences. Use Primer as an example and continue making science madness again (outside Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer).
Wet Hot American Summer
What makes Wet Hot American Summer stand out is its purely comedic nature compared to the other genre-explorative options. It’s unabashedly a comedy and does it well. Also, the film stands out for its sheer insane line-up of actors. We are talking about legends and icons.
Outside of David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo, the untapped potential of actors they found at this time was insane. A small portion of the list includes Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth, and Bradley Cooper. It’s a genuinely all-star cast right before they became megastars. One casting director has never won this hard in the history of the job.
If you haven’t seen this ridiculous masterpiece, prepare for non-stop laughs and one of the most joyous looks at what made indie comedies so special. Not to sound like that guy, but we don’t get movies like this anymore. Wet Hot American Summer is a time capture of a better time.
Cecil B. Demented
Without John Waters, no list of cult films at any time would be complete. He’s a master of making movies only a few people love or something we all revisit later. Sadly, Cecil B. Demented hasn’t got that treatment yet, earning the status of the forgotten Waters film.
Another film that includes a stacked cast, it’s hard to believe this doesn’t have the same level of acclaim his other works like Hairspray and Serial Mom received. It’s meta at the height of meta filmmaking, a love letter to cinema, and features the most outlandish yet accessible moments. How was this not a bigger hit, even within the indie film nerd space?
In what many feel like could be John Waters’ most mainstream outing, the action-filled meta-Hollywood comedy never got its due. Cecil B. Demented is an unforgettable moment once you see it. Now, take this time to revisit what could be “Waters does Tarantino.”
Speaking of legendary filmmakers, we don’t really get more iconic than Spike Lee. That makes the rotten score for what many longtime fans consider one of his best works fairly confusing. If you haven’t seen Bamboozled, rectify that now.
For what Spike Lee fans call pitch-perfect satire, others often labeled it heavy-handed. While that’s subjective, it’s hard to argue how well-acted and crafted the film turns out. It features some heavy hitters in the acting department and a distinct look for the time. Once you see Bamboozled, it becomes one of those films that never leaves your mind.
Thankfully out of all these films, this seemingly got the best critical reevaluation in recent years, even ending up in the Criterion Collection in 2020. If any filmmaker knows how to make a film that grows with you over time, it would be Spike Lee.
What are your favorite 2000s underrated movies? Did we miss one of the cult classics that helped define the era? Share your thoughts by reaching out to Flickering Myth via our social channels…