What is a Cult Film?

What is a Cult Film? Have you heard this term before? Do you exactly know which films are called cult films?

These all questions will be answered through this article. Here readers will come to know details about cult film with eligible film examples. Go through the entire article if you are keen enough to know about cult films.

Let’s move forward with a fundamental definition.


A cult film commonly refers to as a cult classic, a film that has achieved a cult follower. Cult films have their dedicated, passionate fanbase, a detailed subculture known for frequent viewing, dialogue and audience participation. The inclusive definition allows for major studio productions, especially box office bombs, while the exclusive definition focuses more on obscure, transcendental films avoided by the mainstream.

Cult Films have limited but very special appeal. This type of films are usually strange, quirky, offbeat, eccentric, oddball, or surreal, with outrageous, weird, unique and cartoony characters or plots along with garish film sets. They often considered controversial because they step outside standard narrative and technical conventions. They can be very stylized, and they are often flawed or unusual in some striking way.

Brief History

The difficulty in defining the term and subjectivity of what qualifies as a cult film mirror classificatory disputes about art. The term cult film itself was first used in 1970 to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies, though cult was in common use in film analysis for decades prior to that. Cult films trace their origin back to controversial and suppressed films kept alive by dedicated fans.

In some cases, reclaimed or rediscovered films have acquired cult followings decades after their original release, occasionally for their camp value. Other cult films have since become well-respected or reassessed as classics; there is debate as to whether these popular and accepted films are still cult films. After failing in the cinema, some cult films have become regular fixtures on cable television or profitable sellers on home video.

Others have inspired their own film festivals. Cult films can both appeal to specific subcultures and form their own subcultures. Other media that reference cult films can easily identify which demographics they desire to attract and offer savvy fans an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge.

Cult films frequently break cultural taboos, and many feature excessive displays of violence, gore, sexuality, profanity, or combinations thereof. This can lead to controversy, censorship, and outright bans; less transgressive films may attract similar amounts of controversy when critics call them frivolous or incompetent. Till the late 1970s, cult films were highly popular.

Rise and Fall of Cult Film

Films that fail to attract requisite amounts of controversy may face resistance when labeled as cult films. Mainstream films and big budget blockbusters have attracted cult followings similar to more underground and lesser known films; fans of these films often emphasize the films’ niche appeal and reject the more popular aspects.

Fans who like the films for the wrong reasons, such as perceived elements that represent mainstream appeal and marketing, will often be ostracized or ridiculed. Likewise, fans who stray from accepted subcultural scripts may experience similar rejection.

Films that once would have been limited to obscure cult followings are now capable of breaking into the mainstream, and showings of cult films have proved to be a profitable business venture. Overbroad usage of the term has resulted in controversy, as purists state it has become a meaningless descriptor applied to any film that is the slightest bit weird or unconventional.

Others accuse Hollywood studios of trying to artificially create cult films or use the term as a marketing tactic. Films are frequently stated to be an “instant cult classic” now, occasionally before they are released. Easy access to cult films via video on demand and peer-to-peer file sharing has led some critics to pronounce the death of cult films.

Traits of Cult Films

Let’s read the cult film characteristics at a glance.

i) Cult films are quite distinctive from the commercial film industries and the mainstream media.

ii) Most of the cult films are the low-budget productions.

iii) In some cult films poor acting or cheap special effects are noticeable.

iv) Cult films made from highly individual viewpoints and involve strange narratives.

v) Many cult films may lack mass appeal for their cheap film elements.

Western Cult Film Examples

Cult movies cross all boundaries of taste, form, style and genre. There are cult Westerns, like Johnny Guitar (1954); cult musicals, like The Sound of Music (1965); Gone with the Wind (1939) as cult romance, cult documentaries like Gates of Heaven (1978); cult drug movies like Easy Rider (1969) and cult teen movies like American Graffiti (1973), Animal House (1978), and Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993).

Cult Exploitation Film Examples

There are some notable cult exploitation films. For instance, Reefer Madness (1936); cult blaxploitation films, like Shaft (1971); and cult porn movies, like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door (both 1972). Many cult films are music-based and have developed a lasting following on the basis of their soundtrack alone. These include Tommy (1975), Rock and Roll High School (1979), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982).

Cult Classics

A cult following refers to a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a piece of artwork in various media, often referred to as a cult classic. A film, book, musical artist, television series, or video game, among other things, is said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fanbase.

On the contrary, a number of critically acclaimed movies have attained cult status precisely because of their high quality and skillful performances as well as their emotional power. These qualities give audience an enduring appeal. Mainstream audiences and critics also praised and admired some cult classics for example, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Wizard of Oz (1939). One of the most deeply loved of such films is Casablanca (1942), which was one of the legendary creations as cult classic/ following.


Unlike ordinary cult films, cult classics are often products of the big Hollywood studios. Most of them made in the United States. Moreover, cult classics are not weird, offbeat, or with strange narrative like other so called cult films. Rather they belong often sentimental and heartwarming plot. Hopefully, this article makes a clear concept about cult films. If your enthusiasm has risen to watch a cult film after reading this write up, then why the delay? Pick an ideal cult classic and start watching. Enjoy!