||This article possibly contains original research. (August 2010)|
A cult following is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of culture. A film, book, musical artist, television series, or video game, among other things, will be said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fan base. A common component of cult followings is the emotional attachment fans have to the object of the cult following, often identifying themselves and other fans as members of a community. Cult followings are also commonly associated with niche markets. Cult media are often associated with underground culture, and are considered too eccentric, bizarre, controversial, or anti-establishment to be appreciated by the general public, or be a commercial success.
Many cult fans express a certain irony about their devotion. Sometimes, these cult followings cross the border to camp followings. Cult fans of director Ed Wood admire his films not because they consider them to be excellent, but because they are so bad that they become funny and curiously fascinating. The same phenomenon can be observed with things that are appreciated by a certain generation out of nostalgia or childhood memories. Fans may become involved in a subculture of fandom, either via conventions, online communities, or through activities such as writing series-related fiction, costume creation, replica prop and model building, or creating their own audio or video productions based around the formats and characters.
There is not always a clear difference between cult and mainstream media. The film Pink Flamingos is known for its disgusting scenes, and only a small number of people are drawn to this movie. Therefore it can be classified as a cult movie. Franchises such as Seinfeld, Star Trek, The Untouchables, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Rocky Horror Picture Show have core groups of fanatical followers but still attract mass audiences, so some (e.g. actor Bruce Campbell, see below), argue they cannot be considered true cult franchises. Professors Xavier Mendik and Ernest Mathijs, authors of 100 Cult Films, argue that the devoted following among these films make them cult classics. In many cases, films that have cult followings may have been financial flops during their theatrical box office run, and even received mixed or mostly negative reviews by mainstream media, but still be considered a major success by small core groups or communities of fans devoted to such films.
Some cults are only popular within a certain subculture. The film Woodstock is especially loved within the hippie subculture. A Clockwork Orange has a cult following of punks, skinheads and other groups. Certain mainstream icons can become cult icons in a different context for certain people. Reefer Madness was originally intended to warn youth against the use of marijuana, but because of its ridiculous plot, overwhelming amount of factual errors, and cheap look, it is now often watched by audiences of marijuana-smokers and has gained a cult following.
Actor Bruce Campbell (he himself called "The King of B-Movies", and maintaining a dedicated cult following for films such as The Evil Dead) once contrasted "mainstream films" and "cult films" by defining the former as "a film that 1,000 people watch 100 times" and the latter as "a film that 100 people watch 1,000 times".
Quentin Tarantino's films borrow stylistically from classic cult movies, but are appreciated by a large audience, and therefore lie somewhere between cult and mainstream. Certain cult phenomena can grow to such proportions that they become mainstream.
Another example is Japanese book Battle Royale. Battle Royale has gained cult status all over the world but is still rejected by the mainstream due the book's gory violence, and that the Hunger Games, which has a very similar plot line has come out and has become popular due to its toned down violence and love angles.
It often takes a few years before a cult starts to form around a particular film or band. Captain Beefheart's album Trout Mask Replica, Jim Carrey's film The Cable Guy and the TV series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show were originally not very successful, but as time went by built up a cult following. In some cases this cult status is unexpected, like the Disney film Fantasia (1940), which was a flop at its release, but was re-appreciated by fans of psychedelia in the 1960s. Some films, especially from within the science fiction and horror genres, were produced with the specific goal of achieving cult status, like the drug-oriented movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and most films by Terry Gilliam. Other examples which fall into the category of "intentional cult film" are Repo Man (1984), The Toxic Avenger (1984), the sequence of The Evil Dead horror films beginning in 1981, and Brazil (1985).
Many cancelled television shows (especially ones that had a short run life) see new life in a fan following. One notable example is Invader Zim, an animated show that aired for 2 seasons on Nickelodeon before being cancelled. The series enjoys a good life on DVD, and many speciality stores such as Hot Topic sell clothing and merchandise associated with it. Another example is Arrested Development which was cancelled after three seasons, and because of the large fan base, returned for a 13-episode season which was released on Netflix on May 26, 2013. Futurama is another notable series that was originally put on permanent hiatus after its initial 72 episode run. Strong DVD sales and consistent ratings on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block led to four direct-to-DVD films which, in turn, led to the revival of the series in 2010 on Comedy Central following Adult Swim's expiration of the broadcast rights. The show ran for an additional 52 episodes before Comedy Central cancelled it. Cartoon Network's original series in 1994, that then went to Adult Swim, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, where the main character, Space Ghost, interviews many actors, filmmakers, music artists, and many people known for many things. The series continued until 2004, with the characters appearing in various Adult Swim shows and films. The series was revived two years later on GameTap. on its TV section from 2006 to 2008, ending after its 10th season when the TV section was removed from the website, though the characters continues to be seen on ads that Adult Swim airs, to promote either a movie or a product, due to their popularity. Another cancelled series that has attained cult status is the NBC teen drama Freaks and Geeks which had an 18 episode run before being cancelled. Other examples include Firefly, Roswell and Joan of Arcadia, which had a short life, but a large fan base until now.
In a BBC review of Farscape episode "Throne for a Loss", Richard Manning, the review writer said "Farscape is now officially a cult series because it's being shown out of sequence." The episode in question was actually shown as the second episode, after the premiere; despite originally being intended as the fifth episode to be shown.
Anime, manga, kung fu films and kaiju are mainstream entertainment in Japan, but elsewhere are generally appreciated by a cult audience. Doctor Who is a prime time family show in United Kingdom, but during a 15-year period out of production, gained cult status among fans; it is also a cult series in the US.
- Lathrop, Tad and Wayne Jancik, Cult Rockers: 150 of the most controversial, distinctive and intriguing, outrageous and championed rock musicians of all time (Pocket Books, 1996)