What makes a movie a cult classic? Is it the content? Those off-the-wall and crazy movies that don’t follow the mainstream idea of how movies should be made? Or, is it the fact that a movie can start out as being criticized from every angle and eventually rise to a status where most people know every line and every camera shot? The answer is subjective, but there are two things that all cult classics have in common: they have some sort of following and they rose from obscurity.
There’s always a group of people (no matter how big or small) who help the film reach the “cult classic” status. Fans want to get their own way, and showing undying loyalty to their favorite filmmakers and films is a great way to get their favorite films and filmmakers to a “cult status.” Cult classics are the underdogs of the film industry. As $400 million dollar budgets get used up on remakes and sequels, most cult classics are original ideas that haven’t been explored before. They’re attractive and pull in a specific audience.
Since most cult classics began in obscurity, it’s a fair assumption that most cult classics started off with a rocky start with their audiences. Sometimes, the audience just didn’t connect with the film. Other times, the marketing campaigns are way off on their target audience. Other times, it’s bad luck.
Whatever cult classic is your favorite, this list compiles 15 of these films that were first regarded as “trash.” The films that people didn’t like, but eventually warmed up to. The movies that conquered their circumstances.
15. Death To Smoochy
Robin Williams has starred in his share of dramas. Dead Poet’s Society inspired a lot of moviegoers and some of the dialogue he speaks in Good Will Hunting has been remembered by people for decades. In a sense, Williams is pretty good at serious roles. However, there was one role in which Williams wasn’t taken too kindly too.
Williams played a kid’s entertainer in 2002’s Death to Smoochy. The plot revolves around a younger man (Edward Norton) taking Williams’ spot as the beloved kid’s television series star, Smoochy. One of the main reasons the film failed to take off was its marketing. The film wasn’t marketed as a thriller or a drama. Instead, it was geared more towards black comedy. When an audience is expecting one thing when walking into the theater, and you provide another, they won’t respond well.
14. Empire Records
Teen angst has always been a popular concept in society. Whether it’s Romeo and Juliet rebelling against their families and parents in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s or teens spending the day off visiting museums and watching baseball games in the 1980s (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), it seems audiences of all generations like characters who go against the grain. This is how Empire Records captured the hearts and minds of teens everywhere in the mid-90s.
With a story that touches many of the facets of teen life, young up-and-comers such as Renee Zelwegger and Liv Tyler bring to life the backstories of these relatable characters. Critics hated the movie for its approach to telling a story involving humor and serious situations. But, never count out the teens. The movie began playing on television a while after it entered theaters, and kids latched onto its characters and the situations they were going through.
13. The Boondock Saints
You may know Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead. Darryl Dixon is one of the best known (and well liked) characters from the hit television series. Long before he was blasting away zombies and slowly stealing the hearts of the viewers, Reedus was busy blasting away normal people. Mainly, Russian mobsters.
The 1999 flick is now a cult classic. The story is fantastic, and the performances are astounding. Willem Dafoe rounds out the cast that also has a young Sean Patrick Flannery. However, the film was only released for one week in theaters. It’s no wonder nobody saw it!
Luckily, Blockbuster scooped it up and released it as a straight-to-video release. This caught the attention of shoppers and the film slowly began to take hold. Today, people are clamoring for a third film.
You’ve probably heard of this film, even if you haven’t seen it. It released in 1995 and was basically dubbed a porno film. While it’s not a straight-up porn film, its excessive use of nudity and sex scenes gets it pretty close to soft core porn. It didn’t help that the performances weren’t that great and people openly made fun of it upon release.
This movie doesn’t have anything to save it, and it’s a cult classic based on the “you have to see how bad it is to believe it” mindset. And it also helps that it made a ton of money off of rentals. I think we both know why it was rented so much. The tape was probably worn out because of how much it was rewound.
11. Office Space
Have you ever wanted to just quit your job? Get away from all of the office drama and simply leave your dead end cubicle profession? This is the question that the film Office Space answers in hilarious and riotous fashion. Starring Ron Livingston as the man who plays out your hopes and dreams, the movie follows his exploits as he quits his job and begins to rebel against the system.
The movie failed to find an audience due to its advertising. It never hooked an audience and managed to just squeeze out a little under 11 million dollars at the box office. The success of the film is due to its life on DVD. It slowly began to spread around and it quickly became one of the most watched DVD’s of the time. Today, it serves as the ultimate movie for all of those people who have had enough of their job.
10. Donnie Darko
2001 was a fantastic year for movies. Out of the smash hits, a little film starring Jake Gyllenhaal debuted to a not-so-great reaction. The odd film is about the story of a teenage boy who has a jet engine crash into his bedroom. And that’s the most normal part of the movie. The weird and haunting film takes your mind on a wild trip as the boy (played by Gyllenhaal) begins to question reality and everything he sees around him.
With an almost straight-to-DVD release, the movie was eventually released in theaters. But, it failed to make much of a splash. It only made half a million dollars. Its life really began to spark when it was released on DVD. Once it began to spread on DVD and video, a local theater in New York began midnight screenings. This only helped the momentum of the film and the clamor from audiences over the years prompted the studio to release a Director’s Cut of the movie.
9. The Big Lebowski
The Coen Brothers are known for creating fascinating and zany stories. In a lot of their movies, characters are taken on wacky journeys. One of their creations, Fargo, is popular on FX right now. Their characters are always memorable and will almost always put a smile on your face. Take, for instance, Walter, Donnie, and The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
When this movie was first released, people didn’t realize what they had on their hands. With a dry sense of humor and a wit and cleverness that flew over most people’s heads, the film didn’t garner much of a buzz when it first came out. However, just like most films on this list, the use of DVD catapulted this movie into legendary status.
The film has so many quotable lines, it’s hard to not quote the movie at least once a week. A strong, young cast helped lead the film into the promised land as years went by and it became more popular.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Michael Cera has a lot of smash hits attached to his name. Sausage Party, the television series Arrested Development, and Superbad are just a few of the titles that Cera has helped popularize. Three years after the surprise hit Superbad, Cera starred in a comedy based on a graphic novel. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was released in 2010 to underwhelming numbers. The film wasn’t given much of a chance, as it was released in the dog days of August (when most studios release the films they don’t have any faith in).
The graphic novel was decently popular, but not enough to generate the film’s budget back (around 48 million dollars). However, its DVD release captured the hearts and minds of audiences. With a focus on video games and teen emotions, the movie took off in people’s homes. There was even an 8-bit game released after the film’s debut to accompany the film.
Kevin Smith is famous for having movies people either really like or really hate. It only seems to go one of two ways with Smith’s films, and his 1995 film Mallrats is no exception. With a movie about two convenience store clerks under his belt (Clerks), Smith decided to create a film about the teens who make their homes at the local mall.
The movie was shamelessly compared to Clerks upon release and didn’t gain any foothold in theaters. It seemed as if the film was doomed. But, Smith’s fans are a loyal bunch. They’ll make their voices heard, no matter what the film may be. So, in typical Kevin Smith fashion, the movie began finding an audience after years of being released on DVD and home video. Today, it’s hailed as one of Smith’s finer films.
Even in 2006, the horror movie genre was lacking. With the likes of Scream racking up all the horror acclaim in the 90’s, the horror genre was ripe for the next breakout hit. Enter Slither, a mashup of both the horror and comedy genres. Now, most of the time, a mixture of genres doesn’t bode well for films. It confuses the audience and studios lose more people than they gain from the mixture.
This is what originally led the movie to a horrible box office. It didn’t do itself any favors, either, by its use of outrageous gore. The film is extremely violent and this is also a reason the movie didn’t make much money in theaters. However, word-of-mouth for the violence and the zaniness is what helped the movie find its audience on DVD.
5. Wet Hot American Summer
Capturing the iconic viewpoints of youth during the 1980s, this movie is an odd bird. It’s a comedy set during the summer of 1981. The counselors are all fighting emotions about leaving and talk about life and relationships, while also being hilarious with their deadpan humor. The film sports an amazing cast, including Paul Rudd, David Hyde Pierce and Bradley Cooper. And, the film started out amazingly well. It had sold out screenings at festivals and got rave reviews from critics.
Then, it went nowhere. For a reason not quite known to people, the film tanked in theaters. The movie, though, did find its legs as its stars became more and more popular throughout the years. The movie did well on DVD and was heavily celebrated for its 10-year anniversary in 2011.
4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This may seem like an odd entry on the list. After all, for people around age 35 and under, the film starring Gene Wilder is beloved by everyone. It’s a great children’s movie that has some of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. It also has a plethora of catchy songs that still resonate to this day. Well, people didn’t have this same sense of pleasure when the film was released.
Originally, people thought the movie was downright weird. It was a darker flick that revolved around children and danced that line between creepy and funny. Time helped the movie, as it began to gain popularity as people looked back on their childhood. With a questionable remake starring Johnny Depp, the Willy Wonka-filled adventure through the chocolate factory went from a film that hardly garnered any attention to a film that is referred to as a “classic”.
3. The Room
If there was ever a movie so bad it’s good, The Room is the pinnacle of this concept. With so many things wrong and weird and just plain bad with the movie, it’s quite easy to figure out why this film is popular. It’s so awful, yet it hit around the same time social media and the technology of sharing were blossoming. It laid in obscurity for years, as it was almost a forgotten film. However, social media helped bring this gem back into the limelight a few years ago.
Social media helped spread the word about the movie, and this would eventually lead to sold out screenings of the film. It just goes to show you how much of an influence social media can be. And yes, a sequel is planned.
2. Fight Club
Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, this movie confused its audience. For most casual film fans, this was just another action movie. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton lead a pretty fantastic cast. The whole movie is shot brilliantly, but it just didn’t connect with audiences. It didn’t help that the film was solely marketed as a fighting movie and not on the actual story. It didn’t fare too well.
But, DVD sales skyrocketed. People began to figure out what the movie was all about when they were watching on their TV’s. Eventually, it became a sort of pillar of popular culture. References began popping up in other films, television shows, and books. It was everywhere. That’s how it gained its cult status. And that’s why it stands as one of the best cult classics of all-time.
Hands down, this is one of the most underrated films out there. Released in 2012, the film was supposed to be an excellent remake of the cheesy film starring Sylvester Stallone from the 90’s. Instead, the people who walked into the theater got a heart-pumping, action and violence-filled movie with a continuous dubstep soundtrack accentuating the action on the screen. In short, it was spectacular.
But, audiences just didn’t feel compelled to see it. It didn’t break even with its production budget and was seen as a failure. However, DVD and digital releases helped the movie. It latched on with people via the Internet, and more and more people saw it as the years wore on. Today, a sequel is still clamored for. That’s a pretty powerful indicator of a fantastic movie when it was originally deemed a loss.