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I seem to have a knack for picking movies that go on to be cult favorites. (Kurt Russell)

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

“Cult movies are basically movies Hollywood missed the first time - that they should have

gotten - and then the fans got it and made it successful.” - Troy Duffy

Cult movies

Cult movies are often referred to as cult classics, these are films that have acquired a cult

following. They have passionate fans who form an elaborate subculture, members of which

engage in repeated viewings, dialogue-quoting, and audience participation.

There are numerous such films to choose from. Usually they have strange, quirky, offbeat,

eccentric, and garish sets. There is something about these films that makes them

controversial as they step outside standard narrative and technical conventions. They can

be very stylized, and they are often flawed or unusual in some striking way.

Many of them were not successful when they were first shown, but then achieved cult

status often by word of mouth. No one really knows what makes a cult film, there is no

checklist to tick – it’s all a matter of opinion, love them or loath them!

Cult movies number in the hundreds, each with its own band of loyal followers. It would be

impossible to list all of them and give the reason why they have developed such a following.

The label ‘cult movie’ should not be given to a film as soon as it is released as it takes time

to develop this status.

Cult movies come in various genres; one of these is horror, and Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) starring Mia Farrow, is one such film, although it contains some heavy atmospheric tension and moments which transcend the genre.

The atmosphere throughout is creepy and filled with the sense of danger. The audience has a sense that they know what is about to happen but are totally helpless, there is nothing they can do to help.

‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973) adapted from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier is a psychological thriller starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. The story is about a couple grieving after the death of their daughter, they visit Venice. There they meet two sisters, one of whom claims to be clairvoyant and tells them that their daughter is trying to contact them.

This film is not made to frighten the audience in the normal sense, but the unsettling images and the apprehension it builds are enough to scare anyone watching.

One of the best-known film directors who has achieved cult status is David Lynch. Films such as ‘Eraserhead’ (1977) and ‘Elephant Man’ (1980) portraying disturbing and bizarre worlds and the strange lives of his characters.

Other films such as Star Wars and Star Trek achieve a cult following after being shot both as a TV series and also films. They attract a large following of people who not only watch and discuss the movies and stories but also attend conventions and dress up like the characters and act out whole scenes. Merchandise is also available, toys, models, video games and even a new religion ‘Jediism’ – believing in The Force, as an energy field that surrounds us and penetrates all living things. The Star Wars films in particular have had a substantial impact on aeronautics and the space industry, prompting the first private spaceflight launch to name its spacecraft with a reference to one in Star Wars!

‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975), a musical comedy horror movie, was originally a

box office failure but later became a film that was screened mostly at midnight and gained a

large following of fans who began dressing like the characters and returned to the cinema

time and time again. This is yet another film whose fan club hold conventions, extending its

grip onto the internet where you can find audience participation scripts available for download, and websites full of quizzes and information.

If a film appears to die at the box office when it is first screened – don’t give up too soon,

you never know what might happen if it captures the attention of an ever-growing group of


“I'm still asked a great deal about 'The Wicker Man' because it's become one of the great

cult movies of all time. That's the story of my career, really, making cult movies. And I've

always said it's the best film I've ever made.” - Christopher Lee

Photo credits:

Public domain

Movie posters

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