A “cult film” is usually defined as a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific following of fans; I would say that’s as accurate a description as any. For the most part, these films were released in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and were often not huge hits when they were first released (except for “Star Wars,” obviously) and often starred lesser-known actors of the day who went on to become famous in their own right. Some of the films were a little too far outside of the mainstream to do well at the box office and slowly gained popularity amongst concentrated groups of fans over the years, thanks to cities with theater houses that show midnight movies (see: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”). Others fared better in the days of VHS, thanks to accessibility from movie rental stores. Here are a few of the most popular cult classics and a look at why people love them.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show“
This campy 1975 film stars a young Susan Sarandon, as well as Tim Curry and Barry Bostwick. Curry plays a sweet transvestite who invites a young and dewy-eyed couple (Sarandon and Bostwick) into his mansion after their car breaks down one stormy night, only to seduce them with debauchery and several musical sequences. One cannot mention the term “midnight movie” and not immediately think of this film, as it put late shows on the map and still does well to this day thanks to venues that allow fans to bring various props to use in the theater. Those who have seen the movie more than once know to bring toilet paper, rice, newspapers, and toast (among other things) to throw at the screen at particular moments. It’s a fun, silly way to spend a Friday night. Just don’t bring the kids; it’s rated R.
Since its release in 1977, “Star Wars” (and the subsequent films in the series) has been one of those films that just about everyone can relate to in some way, whether it’s through childhood memories of arguing over who got to play Han in backyard role-playing sessions or seeing the epic battle between Darth Vader and Luke for the first time on the big screen. Although it doesn’t quite fit the definition of “cult film” because of its huge box office numbers, the series definitely has a unique following of devoted fans who are proud to show off their knowledge and love of the characters and their stories.
“Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”
A personal favorite from my own childhood, “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” took a campy look at a hilarious man-child and his quest to save his beloved bicycle, which takes him all over the country. Many people don’t realize that Pee Wee (played by Paul Reubens) actually started out doing off-color jokes of a very adult nature in the early ’80s, which led to his own HBO special and later, when he toned down the sexual innuendos, to a morning kids’ show (“Pee Wee’s Playhouse”). A second Pee-Wee film, “Big Top Pee Wee,” was released in 1988 and also has a cult following. The cheesy jokes, goofy laugh, and unique view of life made Pee Wee a hit with children; to this day, the phrase “Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya” will send shivers down the spines of some 30-somethings.
Also among the most popular cult classics are “A Clockwork Orange,” “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” and “Showgirls” (another personal favorite, possibly because I grew up watching Elizabeth Berkley on “Saved By The Bell” and still can’t quite get over the fact that I have seen Jessie Spano in all her naked glory. I could write an entire article about that film alone). Whether you’re a child of the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s, there is almost sure to be a film you secretly love; a guilty pleasure, of sorts. No worries. We all have one. Or four.
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