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So, what makes a Cult Movie?

The cult movie is hard to define, but in general, The Spinning Image definition is any film that has a following beyond casual moviegoers. Of course, the reasons for this can change with every film, with the cult appeal stemming from a piece of music or example of special effects to an outrageous ending, but in general, the definition can be divided into several sections...

  • Genres

    Films that fit into a well-defined genre which inspire dedicated followings can be defined as a cult movie. The most obvious genre examples are horror, sci-fi, martial arts, sex, fantasy and westerns. Obviously, acknowledged genre classics like Dawn of the Dead, Jason and the Argonauts, Enter the Dragon, Planet of the Apes or The Wild Bunch fit easily this category. But recent, mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters like The Matrix, Lord of the Rings or Spider-man can also be considered cult movies, because although they are seen by huge mainstream audiences, they are very much ‘genre’ films that don’t rely on big stars to get an audience.

  • Foreign Language

    In general, films released in a language other than English can be considered cult movies, because again, they don’t appeal to mainstream audiences. This sometimes includes films that, were they in English and starring Sandra Bullock, would not be considered cult movies, because they would simply be part of the Hollywood money-making machine.

  • Directors

    Certain directors inspire cult followings. Some are obviously directors of cult movies – George Romero, Takashi Miike, Jim Jarmusch, Russ Meyer, John Sayles, Roger Corman. But others, like Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese, have made films with mainstream subject matter that have made a lot of money at the box office, and yet a romantic comedy/drama like, say, Hannah and her Sisters or drama biopic like The Aviator could be classed a cult movie because their directors have built up a very individual body of work that have specific fan bases. Equally, no one would claim they a huge fan of a director like, say, Brett Ratner (except perhaps Ratner’s mum). Certain films Ratner has made could be classed as cult because of their genre (eg Red Dragon), but a Brett Ratner film wouldn’t automatically be defined as cult simply because of the director.

  • Actors

    Equally, there are many actors who inspire cult followings. These are often iconic figures who are associated with a specific genre or type of film – Christopher Lee, Chow Yun-Fat, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pam Grier, Humphrey Bogart, Bela Lugosi, Ingrid Pitt, John Wayne.

  • Older Films and Film Series

    Films that wouldn’t have been classed as cult when originally released can gain cult followings over time, such as the Carry-on films. Equally, a series like the James Bond movies have a dedicated body of fans, even though in other respects they are mainstream big-budget action thrillers.

  • Obscurity

    Last but certainly not least.... if it’s a film that most people haven’t heard of, then it’s a cult film!
 

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Last Updated: 20 October, 2005