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A cult following is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a work 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 fanbase. A common component of cult followings is the emotional attachment the 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 or subversive to be appreciated by the general public or to be a commercial success.
Many cult fans express a certain irony about their devotion. Sometimes, these cult followings cross the border to camp followings. 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 from the formats and characters.
There is not always a clear difference between cult and mainstream media. Franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Clueless and Mean Girls attract mass audiences but also have core groups of fanatical followers, therefore it is argued that they should be considered 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, while Hocus Pocus holds cult status among American women born in the 1980s. 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.
Quentin Tarantino's films borrow stylistically from classic cult films, 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.
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. Another example is Arrested Development, which was cancelled after three seasons and, because of the large fanbase, returned for a 15-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. Space Ghost Coast to Coast had a cult following throughout its 10-year run on television, and help pave the wave of other shows of similar style, which also had cult followings, specifically Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Another cancelled series that has attained cult status is the NBC teen dramedy Freaks and Geeks which had an 18-episode run. Another show that was cancelled but gained a second life with cult status is the FOX teen medical dramedy Red Band Society which had a 13-episode run. Other examples include Firefly, Roswell, Joan of Arcadia, Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Invasion, Pushing Daisies, Gargoyles, and Young Justice, which had short lives, yet achieved large fanbases.
In a BBC review of Farscape episode "Throne for a Loss", Richard Manning 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.
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- Jancik, Wayne; Lathrop, Tad (1996). Cult Rockers: 150 of the most controversial, distinctive and intriguing, outrageous and championed rock musicians of all time. Pocket Books.