Following on from one of my most recent posts about the crazy fan fixation of Netflix’s latest romantic comedies, it got me thinking about cult film and the ideal behind it. The term cult is a considerably frightening and unusual term, to class as a movement of film fandom. Also If I’m honest, I’ve just finished watching season 8 of AHS Cult, and I’m just absolutely fascinated by anything to do with the terminology. Cult film, or cult classics as they’re known, is a general term used for films that are professedly controversial and or suppressed, that have been kept alive by dedicated fans.
What I want to come to recognize, is are there specific rules required from a production to make it cult worthy, or is it just random? Do certain triggers within a plot call for such a loyal following? Why do people become so obsessed and devoted to a motion picture?
It seems consequent to research, that cult film isn’t categorized into a particular genre of film but can be seen embracing every single one of them. Interestingly many films that have done poorly at box office have then become the greatest cult films of our time. An example of this is would be Donnie Darko (2001). After its initial theater release an army of followers came into existence.
Audiences became obsessed with the new science fiction flick, creating multiple fan theories and a cult like loyalty. Many argued over what theory trumped the other, but not one fan could quite identify what the film really represented, or accept that the director and writer Richard Kelly, simply had no flamboyant conclusion to the perplexing finale.
During my time as a bar tender at the British film institute (BFI), I had the fortune of witnessing first hand the extent of Donnie Darko’s cult following. The BFI decided to present a special screening of the production showcasing the directors cut during a weekday evening. Hundreds arrived at the bar for a an after movie drink, donning fan merchandised t-shirts, and boasting to one another of who has been a fan of the film the longest.
The reason I use Donnie Darko as a reference, is because I myself would proclaim that I’m a part of this obscure following. If you have looked through any of my previous blogs, Donnie Darko is a film reference that I love to bring up. Why? Because it’s obviously the best film ever made.
I’ve watched this production multiple times, and tried to come up with several theories, some time travel, others that it was all a dream, and some really ambiguous. With my pondering I happened to find an entire community with the same predicament and obsession. Could this be the foundations of a film that becomes a cult, I wonder?
I understand that with a cult film it brings an almost sense of belonging, which as humans we constantly seek. Another aspect could be that our ego is in need of attention. What I mean by this point is that when a cult film comes into discussion, there’s a feeling that it has become almost above the shallow end of main stream cinema. We feel important talking about films with intellectual qualities, that display symbolism and depth rather than churned out, mass-produced copies of Hollywood.
Another simple theory would be that, are cult films just films that have become really kind of cool over time?? Think about it? What cult film do you know, that someone wouldn’t like to admit they recently watched? When that story becomes a part of us as an almost label, the energy and depth of that film becomes a part of our identity. We all want to feel unique. Again this is just my own theory, as ridiculous as it may sound.
The question is this, are there defining features of a film that make it a cult film, or is it just random? We have addressed that a sense of belonging is usually required, but that only happens after the film creates the following, so what is it?
I understand we need to have a unique quality about the film for a start, something that either questions reality, society, politics, or simply a controversial film. I strongly suggest however that this is not the only remaining quality that is required for such fan dedication. Could it be the rejection element about cult film? Many films that are considered ‘cult’ have been refused by major studios, and so become the underdog of the underground film world.
The subject is something that can never legitimately be defined, and through personal opinion, I feel these factors make the element of cult film so fascinating. Whether it be random, a calculated decision from the film makers, or have certain points of qualifications to make it a cult classic, they are just fantastic.
Here follows some of the greatest cult films I have ever had the pleasure of viewing –
Donnie Darko 2001
The Matrix (1999)
Star Wars (1977)
Rocky Horror Show (1975)
The Blair Wich project (1999)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Mean Girls (2004)
The Thing (1982)
A Clock Work Orange (1971)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Fight Club (1999)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Lost Boys (1987)