Cult movies often come from outside Hollywood mainstream
You may not realize it, but you're probably in a cult. Not a creepy, evil cult like in “The Omen” (1976) — but certain movies are said to have a “cult following” (like, well, “The Omen”). Unless you only watch fluffy romantic comedies starring Sandra Bullock, you're probably a part of at least one movie's cult following.
If a movie isn't an immediate box-office smash, this is perhaps the next best thing — a dedicated following who keeps watching your movie over and over again, years after its release. Here's a simple test: If a movie can fill a theater for a midnight screening at least 10 years after it's released, it's probably a cult movie. Especially if it flopped on its first release.
They're usually not “hits,” tend to be impervious to critics, and are often outright failures upon first release. They can be ahead-of-their-time masterpieces like “Blade Runner” (1982) or uproariously awful disasters like “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959).
The only unifying characteristic is that cult movies tend to originate somewhere outside the Hollywood mainstream. They usually come out of somewhat-disreputable genres like science fiction or horror, or out-of-the-way places like art cinema and low-budget indie filmmaking.
According to Danny Peary, who literally wrote the book on them (“Cult Movies,” 1981), these are films that “are born in controversy, in arguments over quality, theme, talent and other matters. Cultists believe they are among the blessed few who have discovered something in particular that the average moviegoer and critic have missed — the something that makes the pictures extraordinary.”
Some types of the major species of cult movies (which can overlap):
What it is: Changed the game, but not all at once.
Case study: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). Gave birth to the modern horror movie (slasher/splatter edition), the ubiquitous zombie genre, and independent regional, do-it-yourself filmmaking (in Pittsburgh). “Night” also featured a black man as the lead, considered a bold, risky choice at the time.
See also: “Blade Runner” (1982), “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), “Office Space” (1999), “Akira” (1988), “Freaks” (1932), “Carnival of Souls” (1962), “Clerks” (1994)
Almighty Train Wrecks
What it is: Accidental comedies, B-movie beasts, camp classics, exercises in poor taste
Case study: “Showgirls” (1995). Your basic sexy stripper-turned-showgirl clawing her way to the top in Vegas story. Yet, somehow it all went awry and ended up looking like a two-hour cat-fight between drag queens. Widely considered one of the worst movies ever made — though there's also a vocal faction of critics (including Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch) who contend that it's actually a brilliant, nasty satire.
See also: “Reefer Madness” (1938), “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1958), “The Room” (2003), “Pink Flamingos” (1972), “Mommie Dearest” (1981)
What it is: Too weird to be a hit (at first). Too catchy to be ignored.
Case study: “The Big Lebowski” (1998). Film-noir mystery meets raunchy screwball comedy, about a philosophical post-hippie gumshoe called The Dude, who just won't let it slide when someone urinates on his rug. Features characters so vividly drawn that it spawned annual Lebowski Fests and even a religion, Dudeism. If someone ever says to you “Donny, you're out of your element,” blame this movie.
See also: “Slap Shot” (1987), “Monty Python & The Holy Grail” (1975), “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), “Evil Dead 2” (1987), “Heathers” (1989), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “This is Spinal Tap” (1984)
What it is: Redeemed/re-animated by a fan's love, sometimes very, very slowly.
Case study: “Donnie Darko” (2001). Released to no notice, championed by a few film nerds, this absurdly ambitious little puzzle of a movie combined teen angst, suburban satire, '80s nostalgia, time travel and esoteric philosophy about the nature of the universe. Great early performances from Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and a surreal cameo by Patrick Swayze. Found life on DVD.
See also: “The Harder They Come” (1972), “Grey Gardens” (1975),“Shock Corridor” (1963), “El Topo” (1970), “The Warriors” (1979), “Blue Velvet” (1986), “Battle Royale” (2000)
Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7901.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins trade for Toronto’s Kessel; lose Martin, Comeau via free agency
- Second Pa. friar commits suicide from order under investigation in sex abuse scandal
- Steelers submit application to host Super Bowl
- Judge revokes bail for Plum High School teacher
- 2015 Connellsville grad identified as victim of Bullskin motorcycle crash
- Donora-Webster Bridge plunges into Mon River after 106 years
- Pair of Three Rivers Regatta races canceled
- In historic vote, Legislature approves bill selling state liquor stores
- Wednesday - July 1, 2015
- Pirates grind out extra-inning win against testy Tigers
- Troopers searching for Fayette County robbery suspect