Cult following

Last updated
Trekkies at a Brisbane on Parade event. Star Trek enthusiasts are one of the best-known examples of a pop culture oeuvre having a cult following. 2014 G20 Brisbane on Parade - AndrewMercer - IMG17128 - Trekkies.jpg
Trekkies at a Brisbane on Parade event. Star Trek enthusiasts are one of the best-known examples of a pop culture oeuvre having a cult following.

A cult following is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to some person, idea, object, movement, or work, [1] often an artist, in particular a performing artist, or an artwork in some medium. The latter is often called 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.


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 anti-establishment to be appreciated by the general public or to be widely commercially successful.

Many cult fans express their devotion with a level of irony when describing such entertainment, considering it so bad that it is good. 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. [2]


The cult following for The Rocky Horror Picture Show emerged through its promotion as a midnight movie. Dori and Sal.jpg
The cult following for The Rocky Horror Picture Show emerged through its promotion as a midnight movie.

There is not always a clear difference between cult and mainstream media. 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 are still considered a major success by small core groups or communities of fans.

Some cults are only popular within a certain subculture. The film Woodstock (1970) is especially loved within the hippie subculture, while Hocus Pocus (1993) holds cult status among American women born in the 1980s and early 1990s. [3] [4] Certain mainstream icons can become cult icons in a different context for certain people. Reefer Madness (1936) was originally intended to warn youth against the use of marijuana, but because of its ridiculous plot, overwhelming number of factual errors and cheap look, it became watched by audiences of marijuana smokers and has gained a cult following. [5]

Quentin Tarantino's films borrow stylistically from classic cult films, but are appreciated by a large audience; therefore, Tarantino's filmography is noted worldwide as lying somewhere between cult and mainstream cinema. [6] Also, certain cult phenomena can grow to such proportions that they become mainstream, such as the filmography of cult directors like John Waters, John Sayles, John Cassavetes, Armando Bó, Eliseo Subiela, Ruggero Deodato, Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami or Jesús Franco.


Certain television series develop a cult following after their cancellation, which may cause interest in renewal. Arrested Development , which was cancelled in 2006 after its third season, was renewed by Netflix in 2013 and received two additional seasons. Futurama was cancelled in 2003 after its fourth season on Fox, but was later picked up by Comedy Central for an additional three seasons. In 2022, it was announced the series would be renewed for 20 additional episodes (released weekly) on the streaming service Hulu. Star Trek was cancelled after three seasons, but in broadcast syndication it gained a more substantial following, ultimately spawning a successful media franchise.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks ran on ABC for two seasons from 1990 to 1991, initially garnering high ratings and critical acclaim. Ratings and reception declined following the reveal of Laura Palmer's murderer, who was left intentionally unknown by Lynch. Eventually, the show was canceled, ending on a cliffhanger. It was not until 2017 that Twin Peaks returned as a limited series on Showtime, ending one of the longest hiatuses in television history.

Series often considered cult classics include the long-running BBC science fiction series Doctor Who , [7] the ITC sci-fi thriller series The Prisoner , [8] the Australian soap opera Prisoner: Cell Block H , [9] the Indian soap opera that ran for eight years Kasautii Zindagii Kay [10] [11] and the mock animated talk show Space Ghost Coast to Coast aired on Cartoon Network, which then spawned many spin-offs and other shows that had a similar sense of humor as Coast to Coast when Adult Swim became a block on the network. A large proportion of the titles afformentioned within this article might not be considered cult classics due to their wide saturation within contemporary audiences, though the term cult classics may have loose classifications such as a initially unsuccessful release or large number of cliches (intentional or otherwise) leading to such a broad range of classification relative to personal experiences of its assigner.

Video games

Some video games, often those with unique concepts that fail to gain traction with the mainstream audience, attract cult followings and can influence the design of later video games. An example of a cult video game is Ico (2001), an initial commercial flop that gained a large following for its unique gameplay and minimalist aesthetics, and was noted as influencing the design of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) and Rime (2017), among other games. [12] Other games that have cult followings include EarthBound (1994), another unsuccessful game that later resulted in the creation of a "cottage industry" selling memorabilia to the EarthBound fandom, [13] Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001), an unusually mature 3D platform game for the Nintendo 64 celebrated for its dark humor and story, [14] Yume Nikki (2004), a surreal free-to-play Japanese horror game, [15] Psychonauts (2005), an initially unsuccessful platformer, that has consistently kept one of the strongest fan followings, [16] Hitman: Blood Money (2006), considered to many long-time fans of the Hitman franchise to be the first and last great Hitman game, despite its outdated controls and gameplay, and not receiving deserved acclaim at the time, [17] Alan Wake (2010), an action-adventure game whose story is modeled similar to a thriller television series format and has gained loyal followings despite its underselling, [18] Spec Ops: The Line (2012), a critically acclaimed third-person shooter known for its portrayal of the "horrors of war" and the deep psychological impact of armed conflict on soldiers, [19] [20] [21] and Dwarf Fortress (2006), a construction and management simulation and roguelike indie video game known for its roguelike cuboidal-grid world model and sometimes difficult text-based interface, rich and complex simulation gameplay, similarly rich procedural world generation and history of continuous development by a small team which continues as of 2023. [22] [23]


One of the earliest cult classics in rock was The Velvet Underground's 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico . While hugely influential, it originally flopped commercially and alienated radio stations, music retailers, and magazines, who found the content too controversial to market. Over the next decade, it received greater recognition from rock critics, who helped make the album more popular. The Beatles' self-titled album known as The White Album at first received mixed reviews from music critics who considered its satirical songs unimportant and apolitical amid the turbulent political and social climate of 1968, but later attracted acclam, and has since become a cult classic. The Zombies' 1968 album Odessey and Oracle was also originally a critical and commercial flop, failing to chart despite its single "Time of the Season" becoming a surprise hit the following year. While the Zombies disbanded just before its release, the album's status grew as a cult classic in the following decades. [24] David Bowie's 1970 album The Man Who Sold the World also did not impact the record charts on its original release while receiving mixed reviews from critics. After Bowie achieved mainstream success in the early 1970s, its 1972 reissue reached number 24 on the UK Albums Chart, but only 105 in the US. The Man Who Sold the World's influence on future musicians, such as The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Gary Numan, as well as the dark wave genre, lent it a cult following in the music scene. [24]

Punk rock has produced several albums with cult followings. The Ramones' 1976 self-titled debut album sold poorly, but was hugely influential on the then-young punk movement, and eventually sold well enough to earn a gold sales certification in 2014. The British post-punk band Magazine also released their debut, Real Life (1978), to little popular success, reaching only number 29 in the UK. Its subsequent acclaim as an innovative and influential work in the burgeoning post-punk genre earned it a reputation as a cult classic. In 1982, the American hardcore punk band Bad Brains released their self-titled debut exclusively on cassette, struggling to gain an audience in the vinyl-dominated marketplace. The appearance of the single "Pay to Cum" on the compilation album Let Them Eat Jellybeans! (1981) helped Bad Brains develop a following in the UK, while the album's musical innovation and growing influence later ensured it a cult-classic status among followers of hardcore punk. [24]

Some alternative albums have also developed cult followings. The American industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails released their 1989 debut Pretty Hate Machine to modest success on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 75. It developed an underground popularity in subsequent years and sold enough to receive a platinum RIAA certification in 1995, becoming one of the first independently released albums to accomplish the feat. Also in 1989, Nirvana's debut album Bleach was released to some positive notice from critics, but failed to impact record charts, until the band's massively successful 1991 album Nevermind drew further interest to it. [24] Radiohead's albums Kid A and Amnesiac both received mixed reviews from fans and critics, but later attracted some praise and became cult classics.

The R&B singer Bilal's second album, Love for Sale , became a cult classic [25] after leaking in 2006 and being notoriously shelved by Interscope Records. [26] The musically experimental album quickly developed a following and acclaim online, becoming what The Village Voice writer Craig D. Lindsey called "the black-music equivalent of Fiona Apple's once-shelved (and also notoriously bootlegged) album Extraordinary Machine ". [27]

Pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen's post-"Call Me Maybe" career has been called a cult success, particularly her third studio album, Emotion . [28]

Japanese dub and dream pop band Fishmans gained a dedicated online cult following after the death of frontman Shinji Sato via word-of-mouth spread on imageboard and music forum sites throughout the 2000s and 2010s. [29] [30]


Brands can also attain a cult following, sometimes due to prestige like Apple and Supreme, while others like Spam do so for cultural reasons. [31] There are also many cult car brands ranging from Trabant [32] to Volvo and even specific models like the Fiat 500, [33] Ford Crown Victoria and Toyota AE86 have all spawned dedicated followings within the car enthusiast community.

In September 2021, AMC Theatres began airing a commercial starring actress Nicole Kidman in its theaters and on television. The commercial became a surprise hit among audiences, who came to appreciate the unintentional campiness of its earnestly rhapsodic style and script, particularly the line "Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this." It has inspired internet memes, parodies, and in-theatre audience participation rituals. [34]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cult film</span> Film that has acquired a cult following

A cult film or cult movie, also commonly referred to as a cult classic, is a film that has acquired a cult following. Cult films are known for their dedicated, passionate fanbase which forms an elaborate subculture, members of which engage in repeated viewings, dialogue-quoting, and audience participation. Inclusive definitions allow for major studio productions, especially box-office bombs, while exclusive definitions focus more on obscure, transgressive films shunned by the mainstream. 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 the 1970s 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.

Power pop is a subgenre of rock music and a form of pop rock based on the early music of bands such as the Who, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds. It typically incorporates melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, an energetic performance, and cheerful sounding music underpinned by a sense of yearning, longing, despair, or self-empowerment. The sound is primarily rooted in pop and rock traditions of the early-to-mid 1960s, although some artists have occasionally drawn from later styles such as punk, new wave, glam rock, pub rock, college rock, and neo-psychedelia.

Hitman is a stealth video game franchise created by IO Interactive. Each installment of the series has players assume the role of a cloned contract killer named Agent 47, who travels around the world to assassinate various targets that are assigned to him by the fictional International Contract Agency (ICA). Gameplay focuses on freedom of approach, with most levels placing the player in a large sandbox location where they have free rein to explore and find different ways to reach and eliminate their targets. Stealth is a major component of the gameplay and players are given various tools to accomplish their objectives, such as suppressed weaponry, items which can be used as improvised weapons, and the ability to take disguises which allow 47 to blend in with non-player characters (NPCs) and bypass most restricted areas without rousing suspicion.

In the entertainment industry, sleeper hit refers to a film, television series, music release, video game, or other entertainment product that was unpromising on release but became a surprise success. A sleeper hit may have little promotion or lack a successful launch but gradually develops a fandom following media attention, which in turn increases its public exposure and public interest in the product. As Variety puts it, "A 'sleeper hit' can be defined as the kind of show that catches us by surprise—programs whose popularity grows over time and can ultimately outshine the preordained hits." A sleeper hit often lacks star performers or high production values, but prevails, at times against its own makers' expectations, on the strength of such qualities as narrative, approach, or novelty, as well as market accidents. Sleeper hit films benefit theater owners because the owners keep a larger percentage of money from ticket sales.

<i>Big B</i> (film) 2007 Indian film

Big B is a 2007 Indian Malayalam-language neo-noir action thriller film co-written and directed by Amal Neerad. It stars Mammootty in the title role, alongside an ensemble cast including Manoj K. Jayan, Bala, Sumeet Naval, Mamtha Mohandas, Nafisa Ali, Pasupathy, Lena, Maniyanpilla Raju, Shereveer Vakil, Vinayakan, Innocent and Vijayaraghavan in supporting roles. The cinematography was done by Sameer Thahir, while the soundtrack and background score were composed by Alphonse Joseph and Gopi Sundar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Winslow</span> American actor, comedian and beatboxer

Michael Leslie Winslow is an American actor, comedian and beatboxer billed as The Man of 10,000 Sound Effects for his ability to make realistic sounds using only his voice. He is best known for his roles in all seven Police Academy films as Larvell Jones. He has also appeared in Spaceballs, Cheech and Chong's Next Movie and Nice Dreams, The Love Boat, and commercials for Cadbury and GEICO.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Billy Duffy</span> British guitarist

William Henry Duffy is an English rock musician, best known as the guitarist of the band The Cult.

Indian television dramas are dramatic television programs written, produced, and filmed in India, with characters played by Indian actors and episodes broadcast on Indian televisions.

<i>Kasautii Zindagii Kay</i> (2001 TV series) Indian Hindi-language television series

Kasautii Zindagii Kay is an Indian Hindi-language television series produced by Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Telefilms on Star Plus. The show starred Shweta Tiwari, Cezzane Khan later replaced by Hiten Tejwani, Ronit Roy and Urvashi Dholakia. The show aired from 29 October 2001 to 28 February 2008. The whole series is digitally available on Disney+ Hotstar. The show was one of the most longest running television show of Star Plus.

<i>Mad Love</i> (Linda Ronstadt album) 1980 studio album by Linda Ronstadt

Mad Love is the tenth studio album by singer Linda Ronstadt, released in 1980. It debuted at #5 on the Billboard album chart, a record at the time and a first for any female artist, and quickly became her seventh consecutive album to sell over one million copies. It was certified platinum and nominated for a Grammy.

"Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" is a 1974 R&B song written by Michael Price and Dan Walsh, and first recorded by Bobby "Blue" Bland for his Dreamer album on the ABC Dunhill label.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Karan Singh Grover</span> Indian model and actor

Karan Singh Grover is an Indian model and actor known for his work in television series such as Dill Mill Gayye and Qubool Hai. He has also starred in Hindi films like Alone and Hate Story 3.

Spec Ops is a series of tactical shooter video games. The first two games were developed by Zombie Studios, while Runecraft assisted development on the next three games, and the sixth game in 2002 developed by Big Grub.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hina Khan</span> Indian actress (born 1987)

Hina Khan is an Indian actress who primarily appears in Hindi films and television. One of the highest-paid television actresses in India, Khan is widely recognised for portraying Akshara Maheshwari Singhania in Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai. She is a recipient of several accolades including three ITA Awards, three Indian Telly Awards and seven Gold Awards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kratika Sengar</span> Indian actress

Kratika Sengar also known as Kratika Sengar Dheer is an Indian actress who mainly appear on Indian Television. She made her debut in 2007 with Kasautii Zindagii Kay playing the role of Prerna Gill and also appeared in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi as Sanchi "Sugandi".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pooja Banerjee</span> Indian television actress

Pooja Banerjee is an Indian actress who appears in Hindi television. She began her television career as a contestant in MTV Roadies and subsequently starred as Tejal Majumdar in her first lead show, Ek Doosre Se Karte Hain Pyaar Hum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parth Samthaan</span> Indian actor (born 1991)

Parth Laghate known as Parth Samthaan is an Indian television actor. He started off his acting career by featuring in Gumrah: End of Innocence as Siddharth and Best Friends Forever? as Prithvi Sanyal in the same year. He rose to fame after portraying Manik Malhotra in Kaisi Yeh Yaariaan and Anurag Basu in Kasautii Zindagii Kay.

<i>Kasautii Zindagii Kay</i> (2018 TV series) Television series

Kasautii Zindagii Kay is an Indian romantic drama television series produced by Ekta Kapoor under her banner Balaji Telefilms. It was a reboot of Kapoor's 2001 soap opera with the same name. It aired from 25 September 2018 to 3 October 2020 on Star Plus. The series starred Parth Samthaan, Erica Fernandes, Hina Khan, Karan Singh Grover, Aamna Sharif and Karan Patel.

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, is a 1985 Japanese musical comedy film written, edited, and directed by Makoto Tezuka. It is based upon original music written by Haruo Chicada.


  1. "Definition of CULT" . Retrieved 3 June 2022.
  2. "The Official Cult TV Magazine". Archived from the original on 2007-05-13. Retrieved 2020-07-31.
  3. Bell, Dale (1999). Woodstock: an inside look at the movie that shook up the world and defined a generation. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Film Productions. ISBN   094118871X.
  4. McGuire, Nneka. "On repeat every Halloween, 'Hocus Pocus' is a cult classic. When and why did that happen?". The Lily. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  5. Peary, Danny (1981). Cult Movies. New York: Delacorte Press. pp.  203–205. ISBN   978-0-440-01626-7.
  6. Rose, Steve (6 April 2004). "Found: where Tarantino gets his ideas". The Guardian.
  7. Nussbaum, Emily (June 2012). "Fantastic Voyage". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  8. Jeffery, Morgan (January 5, 2015). "The Prisoner: Cult classic TV series to be revived for new audio drama" . Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  9. "Wentworth Prison: Prisoners return to cell block H". Daily Express. 31 August 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2018.
  10. "Revisiting Ekta Kapoor's cult show Kasautii Zindagii Kay". 25 September 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  11. "All the signs that say you are a die-hard Kasautii Zindagii Kay fan". 26 May 2019. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  12. "The Obscure Cult Game That's Secretly Inspiring Everything". WIRED. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  13. "Giving Thanks: Two New Books on a Cult Classic Embody Gaming's Rich Culture". 2016-11-23. Archived from the original on 2016-11-26. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  14. Ombler, Mat (2020-01-14). "Conker: Why Nintendo's Most Controversial Game Is Still One of Its Greatest". IGN. Retrieved 2022-03-30.
  15. Frank, Allegra (2018-01-10). "A disturbing cult classic finally hits Steam, with a follow-up on the way". Polygon. Retrieved 2018-03-11.
  16. Dutton, Fred (2012-03-16). "The Cult of Psychonauts". Retrieved 2022-03-30.
  17. Meer, Alec (2021-10-04). "Have you played… Hitman: Blood Money?". Retrieved 2022-03-30.
  18. Dring, Christopher (2021-10-04). "Why bother bringing back Alan Wake?". Retrieved 2022-03-30.
  19. "Spec Ops: The Line review – apocalypse now". Metro. 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2019-12-12.
  20. Spec Ops The Line... 5 Years Later, archived from the original on 2021-10-30, retrieved 2019-12-12
  21. Spec Ops: The Line Review – IGN, 26 June 2012, retrieved 2019-12-12
  22. Parkin, Jeffrey (2022-12-05). "Dwarf Fortress is indescribable — but let me try". Polygon . Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  23. Jackson, Gita (2019-03-15). "Dwarf Fortress Is Coming To Steam Because Its Developer Needs Healthcare". Kotaku . Retrieved 2023-02-04.
  24. 1 2 3 4 "10 Failed Albums That Became Cult Classics". April 2, 2020. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  25. Gipson, L. Michael (2010). "Bilal – Airtight's Revenge (2010) (Review)". SoulTracks . Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  26. "Bilal on World Cafe". NPR . January 26, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  27. Lindsey, Craig D. (February 25, 2013). "Bilal's New A Love Surreal Was Inspired By Salvador Dali". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 20, 2020.
  28. "Behind the Enduring Cult Popularity of Carly Rae Jepsen". Time. Retrieved 2021-02-09.
  29. "Fishmans Biography, Songs, & Albums". AllMusic. Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  30. "The Strange World of Fishmans". The Edge. 2018-08-31. Retrieved 2023-04-16.
  31. "How Spam Went From Hated Ration to Cult Classic". June 2016. Retrieved 2022-08-29.
  32. "Trabant: The East German car remains iconic". Deutsche Welle . Retrieved 2022-08-29.
  33. "Classic Fiat 500 joins Lego's Creator Expert series | CarAdvice". Retrieved 2021-06-23.
  34. "How the Magic of Nicole Kidman's Beloved AMC Commercial Was Made". GQ. 2022-03-23. Retrieved 2023-07-31.

Further reading