What makes for a good cult following? These gems are cinematic underdogs that have garnered over-the-top admiration and adoration from a dedicated fan base. They’re usually low-budget, improvised, controversial, subculture magnifiers, and originally shunned by the mainstream. If at the end of the film you’re questioning the screenwriters’ sanity and wondering if they were abducted by aliens, chances are what you’re watching has total cult film street cred.
It comes down to this: if you quote it, reference it, participate in it, and live it, it’s a cult film. Here are 40 facts about these films that will make you want to drink the Kool-Aid.
Cult Classic Films Facts
40. The More the Merrier
From "Let’s Do the Time Warp Again" to "Sweet Transvestite," you can relive any of your Rocky Horror Picture Show favorites at regular Rocky Horror conventions all over North America. Past celebrations include El Fishnet Fiesta in Arizona–an event that brought in thousands of decked out fans.
39. A Strong Offence
Writer and producer Sacha Baron Cohen, and the main character in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was advised to leave New York state after trying to book a hotel room wearing more underwear than pants.
38. So True it Hurts
Upon its release, comedy musical This is Spinal Tap didn’t quite resonate with audiences. Once it went to video, some of the feedback from musicians indicated that it was hard to watch because it was so close to their own experience. Eddie Vedder and Robert Plant are just few of the many who can vouch for the accuracy of the movie’s themes.
37. Lions and Tigers and Lobotomies, Oh My!
Return to Oz, the scarier and lesser-known sequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939), is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest gap between productions at a staggering 46 years.
36. Points for Creativity
Continuously on the road with a heavy film schedule and small set, shooting Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meant having to find solutions on the fly. In many scenes, the crew hid under and behind clothes and props while shooting. And that iconic flip flop dress in this Academy Awarding-winning film? It cost a whole 7$.
35. If You Bury it, They Will Come
In Tennessee, where the principal shooting of The Evil Dead was shot, there’s a time capsule containing keepsakes and artifacts from the film. It’s called the “Deadite Treasure,” and die hard fans have been searching for it for years.
34. Not For Amateurs
The first draft of The Blair Witch Project was written as a 35-page outline rather than a script. Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez had always imagined the bulk of the film would be improvised by the actors in order to maintain the rawness of the story.
33. When in Doubt Just Add Outer Space
As entertaining as Con Air was, director Simon West has even better ideas for a sequel: It would take place in outer space where everyone is a robot, the convicts are super-convicts, and there are good guys who are bad guys and bad guys who are good guys.
32. The More You Know
If you want a better explanation about Donnie Darko, there’s an additional 21 minutes of footage in the Director’s Cut. Director Richard Kelly provides further insight into Donnie’s powers and hints at his fate with more “science fiction logic,” showing the overall bigger picture.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
31. Half Assed
Stoner flick Half Baked was originally a flop. It had a really short stint in theatres and was pulled for various reasons–partly because people were smoking up while watching. CNN even said Half Baked was a career killer for Dave Chappelle. Although Chappelle and Neal Brennan wrote the script together, they found more success when they later joined forces again to co-create and co-write the wildly popular The Chappelle Show.
30. Singled Out
To remain true to his conservative and straight edge character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, everyone except Jim Carrey was encouraged to improvise on set–and Carrey was reportedly pretty frustrated by it.
29. Word of Mouth
Mike Judge was initially worried that his film Office Space, about boring office jobs, wouldn't strike a chord with audiences. His fears subsided when the accountants in the post-production department were making Office Space references before the film was even released.
28. Broken Telephone
Fantasy action film Labyrinth went through a tremendous amount of back and forth when it came to the writing.There were 25 treatments and versions of scripts, although Monty Python's Terry Jones gets the credit.
27. How to Make Friends
Famous for its taunting and disturbing delivery, the “come out and play” scene from The Warriors was totally improvised. Actor David Patrick Kelly (Luther) came up with the one-liner after thinking back to his childhood and remembering the way an old neighbour used to provoke him.
26. Tough Crowd
Tim Burton’s script for Beetlejuice was weird. In fact, it was so weird, Burton had his work cut out for him when he had to convince cast members to sign on. Only Geena Davis was sold, and she committed to the film first. Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, and Sylvia Sidney all declined the offer at least once.
25. Best in Show
Good thing Michael Keaton (Beetlejuice) finally said yes to Beetlejuice–it’s his favorite movie he’s starred in.
24. Oh Ye of Little faith
Who’d have thought a movie like The Blob would go on to be a sci-fi classic? Actor Steve McQueen certainly didn’t. After snagging the lead role, producer Jack H. Harris offered to pay McQueen $3,000 upfront or 10% of the film’s gross profits. Broke, McQueen chose the money up front, losing out on The Blob’s $1.5 million in the first month and more.
23. A Subtle Reminder
Jon Favreau’s comedy-drama Swingers had to get creative to make ends meet. Favreau shot in his own apartment to cut down costs as well as because of its proximity the Hollywood sign (the neighborhood was right under it)–the director liked the juxtaposition of the apartment of unemployed actors right next to the famous sign.
22. Getting Into Character
Benicio Del Toro went through some rigorous preparation for his role as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The scene were Dr. Gonzo licks the spilled cocaine off the suitcase? Improvised by Del Toro, who also put on 40 pounds for the role by eating donuts everyday.
21. The Shirt Off His Back
Johnny Depp (Raoul Duke) spent four months studying Hunter S. Thompson’s movements, mannerisms, and tone of voice for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas–he even got to wear some of Thompson’s personal articles of clothing, including hats and shirts from the seventies.
20. Bunnies in Space
Before the concept for Space Jam came to fruition, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny were set up for a “Hare Jordan” Nike Commercial. Seeing its potential for more, Jordan’s agent David Falk brought the idea to Warner Bros. at the perfect time. The Looney Tunes franchise needed a re-launch, and the studio jumped at the chance.
19. The Best of the Worst
When movie critics Harry and Michael Medved invited fans to submit their vote for the most inept motion picture in the history of cinema, more than 3,000 ballots came flooding in, the majority for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ed Wood’s film is “the worst movie ever made” according to the Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards.
18. Big Bird
To fully realize his character from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Jim Carrey took on the look and feel of a colorful bird, specifically a cockatiel or a parakeet. From his walk to his speech to the way he styled his hair–everything was bird-like.
17. Should Have Said Yes
Will Ferrell’s initial pitch for Anchorman was turned down. According to a studio superior, Ferrell just wasn’t a movie star. That sentiment changed once Old School gained popularity, and Dreamworks ended up buying Anchorman for $4 million more than the initial cost.
16. Old School Movie Magic
The heart pounding and difficult-to-watch scene in Pulp Fiction where Mia Wallace is overdosing and is aggressively stabbed with the adrenaline shot was originally going to require a fake chest from a special effects company. However, director Quentin Tarantino changed his mind, and decided to film John Travolta pulling the needle upwards, reversing the scene in post production to make it look more believable–and way less stressful to film.
15. Under the Spell
Hocus Pocus didn’t receive rave reviews when it came out. Regardless, the cast is overall pretty fond of the movie. Out of all the films she’s done, Bette Midler said Hocus Pocus is her favorite. Thora Birch says it’s the most fun she’s ever had on a film, and every year on August 15, Kathy Najimy watches the movie with her family.
14. His Life’s Work
The Fifth Element was a long time in the making for director Luc Besson. Besson came up with the story when he was a child, wrote it when he was 16 years old, and the movie–originally meant to be a trilogy–was only released when he was 38.
13. No Solid Ground
Waterworld was a difficult film to get off the ground. The crew said the set was very chaotic, and the movie went way over budget. Joss Whedon, who was brought on board as a writer, refers to the experience as “seven weeks in hell.”
12. Say What?
Die Hard didn’t hold back when it came to gunfire: The blanks used on set were specially made to be noisy, and were in fact so loud that Bruce Willis lost some of his hearing.
11. Got Slime?
Gory vampire flick Dusk Till Dawn director Robert Rodriguez made the vampire blood green rather than red as a way to avoid getting an NC-17 rating.
10. Stick and Stones Will Break My Bones…
Children’s fantasy drama Drop Dead Fred is a dark comedy, referred to by distributors as a “depressing children’s movie on drugs.” After showing the final cut to distributors, New Line Cinema agreed to only buy the theatrical and TV rights, not video. Even though there is a loyal fan base now, movie critic Gene Siskel said Drop Dead Fred was the worst film of 1991.
9. Battle of the Blondes
Before Daryl Hannah, Debbie Harry was offered the role of Pris in Blade Runner. Harry has publicly stated that her biggest regret is turning down the role–her record company didn’t want her to take the time off.
8. Taking Over the City
Director Danny Boyle made the most out of his £5 million budget in 28 Days Later. For those completely empty scenes smack dab in the middle of London, police closed the roads at 4 am for one hour. Predicting frustrated drivers, Boyle enlisted attractive women (his daughter being one of them) to assuage their concerns.
7. Enjoy the Show
According to Joel Coen, you should forget the plot of The Big Lebowski. It’s about the performances, the musical interludes, and the outpouring of clever lines and quotes.
6. A Day to Remember
Rex Manning, the made up heartthrob from Empire Records, is actually an ode to the late Kurt Cobain. In the movie, Rex Manning Day is Rex’s in-store appearance. It’s on April 8th, the day Cobain’s body was found, and represents the death of a rock star.
5. President’s Choice
Just like many films in this category, The Princess Bride was a disappointment before gaining success on VHS. However, former president Bill Clinton is a huge fan.
4. Move Over Jaws
Sharknado, a film about a tornado of sharks, was originally a made-for-TV production on the Syfy channel. The tipping point for its success was when Syfy’s Twitter fanbase catapulted Sharknado to Twitter’s trending topic feed.
3. Down to the Last Penny
Clerks director Kevin Smith pinched his every penny to make this film come to life. Most of the $27,575 budget was scrounged up by maxing out his 10 credit cards.
2. The Highest Form of Flattery
You never know if you’ve truly made it until the far reaches of society have heard about it. That was Tim Burton’s logic about Edward Scissorhands: Burton told Conan O’Brien that he knew he must have done something right when he stumbled across the film's porn spoof, Edward Penishands.
1. A Minor Investigation
During the shooting of Cry-Baby, the cast and crew were surprised when the FBI stormed the set looking for star Traci Lords. She was under investigation for being a minor while having appeared in pornography. Lords also met her first husband, Brook Yeaton, while on the set of Cry-Baby.