Movies On The Radio: The Cult Classics That Never Die

Jun 21, 2018

A booth filled with merchandise for Tommy Wiseau and 'The Room'
Credit Julie Scott / Wikimedia Commons

Tommy Wiseau’s film “The Room” is a textbook example of a cult movie. It made less than $2000 when it first opened in Los Angeles in 2003, got terrible reviews, and is dubbed by some the “Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Yet years later it became a huge hit.

To this day there are midnight screenings of “The Room” in theatres all over the world. It even inspired James Franco to create “The Disaster Artist,” a 2017-movie about Wiseau.

In this episode of “Movies On The Radio,” host Frank Stasio talks about listeners’ favorite cult films with Marsha Gordon and Laura Boyes. Gordon is a film professor at North Carolina State University. Boyes is a film curator for the North Carolina Museum of Art. They discuss movies ranging from “Pink Flamingos” to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The Disaster Artist 

Interview Highlights

On defining a cult movie:
Marsha: The best way to maybe think about them is that they have this really, really devoted, enthusiastic fan base. And this is a category that's really about audience and the way people see the film, more than anything else.

Laura: One of the original cult films was “The Wizard of Oz,” because although it was popular when it came out and it was seen by children, it really didn't become hugely popular until it was shown annually on television for the baby boomers, and it became a huge event that everyone looked forward to all year. And then the baby boomers taught it to their children, and now it's really a much bigger phenomenon than it was.

Vanishing Point (1971)

Laura: In the 1970s there were a number of road-to-nowhere movies like “Two-Lane Blacktop” where the destination is the journey … This one, it has fantastic driving, great action sequences, and that sort of ambiguous ending that the 70s was so fond of.

Marsha: I was poking around a little bit about this film in a newspaper archive database. And so this comes out in 1971, so I find this Louisville, Kentucky movie theater advertisement from 1976 – five years after the film is released. It's playing in three drive-ins and three movie theaters in Louisville, Kentucky in 1976, and it's playing alongside films like “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Manson,” “Taxi Driver,” “Tommy” … This is an example of how there has to be this arc over time of these films where people want to come back and see them again and again, [and] word of mouth spreads. There's a kind of patience to the development of the cult film and this is a perfect example.

Pink Flamingos (1972)

Laura: I was president of my college film society when this movie came out. And I went to a convention – like a booker's convention – and I talked to the people at New Line Cinema who distributed the film. And they were like: oh my god, we can't watch this movie it's so horrible! I was like: you're on!

Marsha: [“Pink Flamingos” brings up] the idea of trash cinema: deliberately offensive, something that's so over the top … and people enjoy having those kind of boundaries pushed on the big screen and having a good time watching it.

Repo Man (1984)

Marsha: It's interesting because Roger Ebert for example really liked this film, so this was not a film that was just critically panned. But he said: there's no stars, it has a low budget, and yet it’s really fun and interesting and it's worth seeing.

Night On Earth (1991)

Laura: Jim Jarmusch in a way is kind of a cult director. He's continued making movies that I love that I'm not sure that many people see. His most recent movie was “Paterson” with Adam Driver where he plays a poetry-writing bus driver. It was fantastic.