The Strange World of Cult Film

Every year, hundred of movies are released in theatres.  While some films are very successful, many are not.  And then there are a choice few that attain a notoriety despite their lack of box office success.

We call these cult films.  Some cult films have achieved a current level of recognition that belies their initial failure to capture the attention of the mainstream audience.  Often, small core fans have embraced a film beyond its normal shelf life.  Thanks to midnight showings, home video and the internet, some cult films have now become classics.

Here is are some favorites:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)-This holiday favorite was a box office disappointment in it’s original release, even criticized for Communist leanings.  After repeated television airing in the 1970s, it soon became a classic.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)-American astronauts crash-land on Venus to find that all men have been banished.  The men join with a renagade scientist (Zsa Zsa Gabor!) to overthrow the queen.  Not as well known, but a perfect example of 50s sci-fi camp.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)-Often dubbed The Worst Movie Ever Made, this celebration of bad acting and cheap effects have catapulted director Edward D. Wood, Jr into a cult icon.  Check out the Tim Burton film Ed Wood (1994) for more fun!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)-Another film that failed to catch fire at the box office, but later gained fame through repeated television airings and home video. How many film flops have spawned a remake AND a candy line?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)-The horror classic was filmed on a $300,000 budget with unknown actors.  It was even banned in parts of Europe and has been influential in the horror genre.  There was even a video game!

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)-Perhaps the cultiest of cult films, Rocky Horror is known for it’s audience participation midnight shows.  It’s still in release after 35 years!

Xanadu (1980)-Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly star in this bizarre roller-disco musical.  This one spawned a Broadway musical.

Heavy Metal (1981)-Known for it’s violence and nudity, this animated film is not for kids, but this mixed of science fiction, fantasy and rock music has gain in critical respect after years of running on late night cable TV.

Blade Runner (1982)-It’s hard to believe one of the most influential science fiction films was initially a box office failure.  Based on Phillip K Dick’s “Do Anroids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

The Toxic Avenger (1984)-Toxic waste transforms a 98-pound-weakling into a hulking, mutant crusader.  This midnight movie spawned a slew of sequels AND an animated series.  Long a staple of video store shelves.

Dazed and Confused (1993)-Ignored upon it’s orignal release, Dazed and Confused gained attention for its realistic depiction of teenagers in the 1970s.

Clerks (1994)-another acclaimed movie that failed at the box office.  This indie favorite introduced the world to Jay and Silent Bob.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)-Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, but flopping in theatres, Shawshank has found a new lifr thanks to endless airings (every weekend it seems) on the TNT cable network.

The Big Lebowski (1998)-Every summer, thousands flock to Louisville, Kentucky for the annual LebowskiFest.  Not bad for a film that no one would pay to see.

Office Space (1999)-Another highly quotable cult film that owes it’s status to home video success and endless cable airings.

Do you have a favorite cult film?


3 thoughts on “The Strange World of Cult Film

  1. I can’t believe I left out Night of the Living Dead!?!?! Clearly one of the benchmarks of this subgenre. I haven’t seen Rodan (or maybe I have, the Japanese monsters tend to run together), I’ll add it to my list.

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