what makes a film a “cult” movie?

Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension

A discussion on Kansas City public radio about cult movies prompts this week’s Question. From KCUR.org 89.3FM:

In his 1981 book, fittingly titled, Cult Movies, film critic Danny Peary defined cult films as “special films which for one reason or another have been taken to heart by segments of the movie audience, cherished, protected, and most of all, enthusiastically championed.”

Our own film professor, Thom Poe, divides up cult films into different areas. Some cult films fall into the “so bad they’re good” category. This would include anything made by Ed Wood or more recently, anything made by The Asylum.

Another category would be considered “quality” cult films. These are films that didn’t get any notice when they were first released, but over the years, have developed very loyal followings. Films like Shock Corridor, Freaks, Donnie Darko, and The Big Lebowski keep audiences returning to theaters year after year.

Lastly, Poe mentions the cult of “camp,” where the fun of watching the movie is being part of a community like with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Room, Glen or Glenda?, and Mommie Dearest.

We also got a third opinion from Ryan Davis of the Alamo Drafthouse who believes that the experience of finding a film is how cult films originally came to exist. Movies that existed and persisted based solely on word-of-mouth or home video rentals. A film like Boondock Saints continues to be screened and enjoyed only because people regularly talk about it, and pass on praise of the film. Davis says, “People discover hidden gems of cinema, and they become a meaningful part of their life.”

Click over to KCUR.org 89.3FM for a list of movies its experts consider “cult,” and to listen to the full show.

What makes a film a “cult” movie? Is there a single definition, or is it more a case of “you know it when you see it”? Are the readily available discussion about film and easier access to the movies themselves — thanks to home video and now streaming — granting more films cult status than in the past, or has there been a demystification of film in recent decades? And what’s your own personal “cult” film? (Mine? The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension, of course.)

Have fun…

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap