Can a Film Be Both a Blockbuster and a Cult Classic?

by Nathan Pensky

6 January 2011


One sometimes wonders whether we need a new film category: the “Blockbuster Cult Classsic”. Of course, Cult Classics in the more conventional sense are films that were critically and popularly panned upon release but went on to make inroads to the collective consciousness, either through appreciation of their awfulness or critical re-assessment. But the question is, do films create “cults” only when initially unpopular? Or is “cultishness” defined by certain kinds of popularity?

One should immediately distinguish between “fanboyism” and “cultishness”. The kind of cult meant here is that of film buffs whose guiding criteria is quality, not nerd enclaves more concerned with esoterica for its own sake. Tricorder-bearing Trekkers and bow-slinging LOTR enthusiasts can definitely be described as “cultish,” but that’s another question for another day.

No, “Blockbuster Cult Classic” would signify a film that sold big at the box office but was not received to its fullest critical or popular potential until well after it had left theaters, a film that was always popular but achieved new heights only after the passage of time. Of course, films are constantly rising and falling in the estimations of the taste-makers. But some experience this roller coaster ride more than others, and many among them were huge ticket sellers and critical darlings.

Films like Ghostbusters, Casablanca, or The Godfather were extremely popular and well-received upon their releases but arguably didn’t achieve “cult” status until way later. Anyway, just a thought. Any other suggestions out there for “Blockbuster Cult Classics”?

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