Top 10 British Cult Classics

The UK is well known for lots of different things: fish ‘n’ chips, mixed fortunes in football, the Beatles, haggis, and much more. But of all forms of culture perhaps the most pervasive and popular is film – and Britain is no stranger to the silver screen. In fact, some of the very best films ever made have sprouted from the fertile soil of the United Kingdom.

Below we’ll take a look at ten of the very best examples of British filmmaking over the years: those films that have risen to cult fame, kept us firmly glued to the arm chair, and become icons in their own right.

10. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

clockwork orange, film, kubrick,

Released in 1971, this movie is probably one of the most well-known cult films in the world. As one of Stanley Kubrick’s most popular titles, this ultraviolent slice of a distopic future is a warning in itself. Standing head and shoulders above any of its peers, it’s an experience that all film lovers should have at least once (even if they never watch it again, which we could almost forgive them for).

9. The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969)

italian job, film, michael caine,

No, we’re not talking about the lacklustre 2003 remake; it’s all about the 169 original. Solidifying Michael Caine as the quintessential British actor, this movie had it all: laughs, girls, and a good old fashioned heist. Oh, and three tricoloured Mini Coopers! And we musn’t forget all of those one liners… all together now – “you’re only supposed to blow the bl**dy doors off!”

8. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

danny boyle, Trainspotting, Ewan McGregor

Based on a novel of the same name, 1996’s Trainspotting was one of the first films to explore drug culture in the UK. And boy, did it do it in style. Highly adult in theme and content, this is certainly one for over 18s only.

7. Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971)

get carter, british, michael caine,

Another cult film, another entry for Michael Caine. He is the Best of British, after all. And 1969’s Get Carter is potentially his defining role. A story of gangsters, crime, and vengeance, Get Carter has to go down as an all time great.

6. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)

28 days later, british horror,

It may seem so, but not all cult British movies were made prior to the turn of the millennium – far from it. In 2002, 28 Days Later showed us the bare streets of London and reinvented zombies for a new generation. A great (gory) slice of cult filmmaking.
Does 28 Days Later make Top 10 Films’ Greatest British Horror Movies of all time list? Find out here.

5. This Is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)

this is england, shane meadows, british cinema,

Starkly gritty and realistic, Shane Meadows’ This Is England has quickly risen to become an icon of a film. Released in 2006, it’s even spawned its own spin-off TV series – so it can’t be that bad, can it?

4. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)

lock, stock and two smoking barrels, guy ritchie, england, film,

This movie could easily be credited for bringing the UK gangster film back to the fore in the 90s. Shane Ritchie may be past his prime these days, but Lock Stock will always stand as an exceptional piece of crime movie making – and it’s very funny too.

3. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975)

rocky horror, horror, england, UK, film, movie,

Lewd, absurd, and a little bit strange, the Rocky Horror Picture Show hit at just the right time. It broke all sorts of taboos, and even today it’s considered a little on the risque side. Let your wild side out with this highly unusual, if iconic, British film.

2. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

shaun of the dead, space, UK, England, comedy, cult, classics,

What 28 Days Later started, this film continued – with a shot of comedy for good measure. Marking the beginning of a slew of great Pegg/Frost movies, Shaun of the Dead is an all-out blast. It’s hilarious, touching, and a genuinely great film.

1. Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

british cult classics, life of brian, monty python,

As one of the world’s best loved comedy groups, Monty Python have a long legacy of laughs. And this movie is amongst their very best. We could really have chosen any number of their flicks, but Life of Brian stands as an uproarious and uplifting piece of film – and it’ll have you whistling all the way home, too.

Written and compiled by Susan Black.
Susan grew up in rural Wisconsin and now lives in NYC with her two daughters. She likes nothing more than writing on both media and interior design (her first love) and is no stranger to a movie night in with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.

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  1. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Great list Susan!Amazingly, the only one on this list I haven’t seen is This Is England, so I can’t appraise your choice of that one – the rest, however, are perfect inclusions here. I’d have place Clockwork Orange a little higher, mind you, and it’s a toss-up whether to include Shaun Of The Dead or Hot Fuzz – both could be included, but I guess having Simon Pegg et al hogging the spotlight wouldn’t be a balanced list.

    Life Of Brian as number 1. Man, great choice.

  2. Avatar
    Novroz Reply

    I love the list…two of my all time favorite movies are in it, 28 Days later and Shaun.

    I could never understand what’s so good about Trainspotting.

  3. Avatar
    DEZMOND Reply

    well, I must admit I’m not a type for “underground” British films, but everybody knows that I do adore British actors! Ewan, Jude, Winslet, Dougray, Damian Lewis, Judi Dench, James McAvoy … let’s name just a few of them – all stunning thespians! I’m not even sure there’s a British actor that I don’t love 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Shaun of the Dead. That’s where I started really getting into British cinema. I love that movie so much.

    I need to give A Clockwork Orange another watch. A lot of the subject material kept me at arm’s length from really getting into it. Maybe that was the point.

  5. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    I have to admit I’m not the biggest British period film fan but I can definitely get behind 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead!

  6. Avatar
    Jaccstev Reply

    Enjoying The Italian Job and 28 Days Later the most.
    Thought Harry Potter series can also be British Blockbuster Cult Classic too 😀

  7. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    With the exception of CLockwork I love all these films.

    Great list!!

  8. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    What didn’t you like (or, perhaps “appreciate” is a better term) about Clockwork Orange, Custard?

  9. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Is it just me or is it a shame that Shaun of the Dead is the film people (especially in the USA) think of when they think of British film? Maybe that’s a good thing in terms of helping our industry grow in this country but British film, as highlighted by this list, didn’t start ten years ago. My best British films of the 1940s list, which will be appearing soon, will show just how many classics have been made on this island.

    @Rodney/Custard: A Clockwork Orange is a difficult film to like and an easy film to dislike I think. I love it but it took me a couple of viewings to really appreciate it.

  10. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    @Rodney/Dan

    Clockwork is one of those films that I had heard loads about and praise from the film snobs/students/lovers. Everyone loves it. I had avoided it for a very long time for this reason. When I did see it (very recently) I just found it boring and un shocking. I was waiting to be disgusted, I was waiting for the shock value that everyone talked about. Maybe the issue is with me? Maybe I am just not educated enough to appreciate the film? Or maybe I am so desensitised that it just looks camp and ridiculous nowadays. I am seeing it out of context probably.

    Does that make any sense?

    (I do seem to hate the big films that are loved by filmys)

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Custard: I find with all Kubrick’s films that they work on a personal level that often differs from person to person. I think the message in A Clockwork Orange is even more resonant given the rioting that has taken place recently. It is interesting to note that Kubrick was commenting on a very violent society – the one he lived in at the time of the film’s release (1970s) and the one he perceived for the future. It’s a scary thought really. Has society changed – it doesn’t look like it.

    I do feel A Clockwork Orange is one of the best film’s ever made because it is fascinating on so many levels. Perhaps it isn’t as visually shocking as it once was but its message is just as damning and pertinent.

  12. Avatar
    Custard Reply

    I can understand what you are saying and from that angle it definitely works. So I guess I do appreciate it. On personal level I still am not fussed by it. But as a critic I can understand where the film sits and what Kubrick was trying to say.

    (Look at me growing into a critic)

  13. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    I need to see the original Italian Job, love those vintage minis! I’ve only seen a few on this list but totally agree of their inclusion, esp. 28 Days Later. Nice list, Susan.

  14. Avatar
    LGrima Reply

    I think we are missing one of the best British cult films which also happens to be my all time top favourite, Withnail & I.

  15. Avatar
    Marc Reply

    Oh boy, I’m a big fan of this entire list…except for maybe Trainspotting which is good just a bit overhyped. Really like ‘This is England’ but is one of those films you really only need to see once.

    But props to putting Life of Brian in the top spot…you are pure class Dan:)

  16. Avatar
    sundryandco Reply

    That settles it. My favourite films are mostly British ones! However, I would probably remove no. 2. And a film which is often overlooked is the Tristram Shandy one – I have only seen it once, at the time of its release in the cinema. However, from what I remember, it was pretty impressive.
    I don’t think there has been a Top 10 Films Irish list yet – I shall keep an eye out. Figuratively.

  17. Avatar
    sundryandco Reply

    A link for those wishing to expand their knowledge of British cinema (20th century) ! http://www.bfi.org.uk/

  18. Avatar
    Greg Reply

    Green Street Hooligans is a more recent one that’s gaining cult fame. Clockwork Orange is less cult these days, since Kubrick’s popularity is at an all-time high (The Shining, which didn’t do very well initially, has 200,000 imdb ratings). But Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Brazil, and Peeing Tom could all have made a spot on this list. I don’t think Spinal Tap is actually British, although the band is, but if it is indeed British it’s exclusion would be unforgivable.

  19. Avatar
    moviesandsongs365 Reply

    I’d add the 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda, I think it’s just about old enough to be named cult, you’ve already picked a great Python. The holy grail is also cult.

    I guess a lot Kubrick’s films are contenders, as he made most of the later ones in the UK.
    For whatever reason, I find Shane Meadows’s work to be overrated, maybe its just me.

  20. Avatar
    Raghav Modi Reply

    Great list. I think there is always a competition between Monty Python and the holy Grail Vs Life of Brian, and I do prefer the former.

    I saw This is England about 6-8 months back and loved it and own it on DVD now. Such a strong film.

  21. Avatar
    Neal Damiano Reply

    I can honestly say I absolutley love British cinema. I’m very influenced by their style of film. I really became a fan in the early 90’s after seeing Danny Boyle’s debut “Shallow Grave”. I feel some of the greatest films have been made by British directors or are set in England. I am a big fan of Danny Boyle’s work!

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