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Everyone has something they won’t shut up about, to the annoyance of all of their friends. For me, it’s almost always some niche movie that most people have never heard of before. Sometimes these movies gain a following well after their release and become cult classics. Cult movies usually flop at release, only to come back from the dead with a tight-knit fandom that obsesses over the film. 

“The Princess Bride” is one of the most popular cult films, starting off with a lackluster release in the ’80s and eventually being regarded as one of the greatest comedies and love stories of all time. The movie is almost 35 years old now and is still a constant source for jokes and memes. It was even a critical success at its time of release, with the swashbuckling fairy tale widely being seen as delightfully entertaining. But regardless, through its theatrical run, the movie only generated moderate success. It only garnered a cult following after it was released to home video, where people could repeatedly watch it at their own leisure. This created the endless quoting and references to the movie that are a staple among its fan base. I myself have seen the movie an embarrassing amount of times (upwards of 15 times at least) and have gotten to the point where the phrase “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” is a part of my everyday jargon.

The quotability is a key aspect of what makes cult films so culty. Fans can easily signal to other fans that they are a real follower of the movie. It creates a tight-knit group that often spreads its love for a film. However, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore that this also has the tendency to create a toxic environment where gatekeeping can run rampant. Either way, funny and memorable quotes can make a movie spread infectiously, especially when the internet is the defining aspect of modern culture.

“A Christmas Story” is another cult classic, growing from a well-liked movie released at a time where holiday movies gained at best modest box office success to one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. While it has many famous lines that get quoted throughout the Christmas season, that is not why it is such a classic. In the mid-’90s, TNT started airing a yearly 24-hour marathon through Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day; this lead to “A Christmas Story” being cemented as a holiday tradition with millions tuning in every year. I actively dislike the movie, but I can’t even name a year that I didn’t watch it sometime throughout the holiday season. It’s something that’s hard to avoid, with a family member inevitably turning it on while they scroll through things to watch. 

Despite not doing well at the box office, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” is probably the most star-studded movie in this article for 2021 viewers. The cast is chock-full of big names, sometimes in very small side roles, including Chris Evans (“Knives Out”), Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect 3”) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Birds of Prey”). This movie is incredibly nerdy, filled to the brim with references to video games and comic books. This might have scared off general audiences at the release of the movie, but it made the movie an instant cult classic. Unlike “The Princess Bride” and “A Christmas Story,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” did not have to go through a resurgence process. The movie quickly became a cult film among online groups who fell in love with the geeky aesthetic and story. The movie did not have to wait for a culture of adoration to be built up around it, such a culture already existed for what the movie focused on: nerd shit.

So other than all being cult classics, what do these movies all have in common? Why do these three very different movies share the same category? The answer is that they all have an audience. The audiences might not have been able to find the movies at their initial release or might not have been as substantial as they are now, but each movie was made for a reason. “The Princess Bride” was made for the romantic in us all, “A Christmas Story” is an ode to past idealized Christmases and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” screams geek for every minute of its runtime. They might not have initially been popular, but the purpose and passion behind these cult films made them instant classics.

Daily Arts Contributor Zach Loveall can be reached at zloveall@umich.edu.