It can be difficult to nail down what exactly makes cult films cultish. For every person who enjoys one cult film, there is another who would argue against its status. Perhaps the ambiguity of the definition is the beauty of these popular, unpopular films. Regardless of the lack of consensus as to what makes a film fall under the heading of cult film, there are a few qualities these films do possess.
1. The film has a large following.
First, and perhaps most importantly, cult films have large followings. And a following of such a cinematic piece must comprise more than just a big fan base: the following must be somewhat fanatical. Generally, the films will boast movie festivals centered entirely around the one film. Large numbers of fans will dress as characters from the movie and will devote large portions of their life to the cinematic piece. A following denotes that many fans will watch the movie repeatedly with other fans. Some theaters will advertise special showings of the film with a theme dedicated to the film. A few movie theaters have been known to serve food and drink in relation to the film. In short, these popular movies have a dedicated fan base that pledge an odd sort of allegiance to the film itself.
2. The film breaks cultural taboos.
At the time of release, cult films usually tend to shock and outrage the general population. Addressing politically incorrect themes and/or incorporating shocking themes is a tell-tale mark of these fanatically-received pieces. Many of these movies could possibly fall under the heading of “transgressive art.” Basically, such pieces of “art” cause audience members to question accepted morals and values. Many such films contain a certain element of shock and are produced purely for the shock value.
3. The film has quotable lines.
Fans love to participate in the viewing of cult films, generally by either quoting along, or quoting the film after in different social settings. A great classic will contain many one-liners that are quippy, original and comedic out-of-context. Fans will often quote the film to each other and base the other person’s knowledge and dedication on the ability of that person to respond quickly with another line.
4. The film appeals to a subculture.
This is somewhat debatable, but many followers of such movies claim that these classics must subvert mainstream tastes. In other words, the general population should not find a cult classic immediately lovable or popular at the time of release. Instead a smaller portion of the population will retrospectively love the film for various reasons.
5. The film has initially flopped if released by a major studio.
Again, popular films, released by mainstream studios generally do not qualify for the “cult classic” status. If a film has been released by a larger, well-known studio, the film must first perform poorly at the box office before it can even be considered to enter the cannon of cult films. Another interesting facet includes the serious nature of the film. If a film is released with the intention that it eventually become a cult classic, then it cannot thus qualify. A genuine film with a cult following must be produced because somebody believed in it as a genuine movie from the beginning.