The term “cult” gets thrown around a lot but what does it actually mean? The definition is simple enough – cult means a group of followers. Those followers often have a religious fanaticism to follow something be it a game, a god, a prophet, a film, a book, or anything they’re passionate about. In many ways all religions are cults.
Cult vs Camp vs Kitch
Camp is style that is given to things that are ironic or in bad taste but still appealing. It’s different to cult followings because cultism is about the depth of commitment rather than the style itself. You can have a cult following of a camp movie for example. Kitch relates to things that are simply tacky or cheesy but not necessarily in poor taste.
This is a harder area to define cultism because movies can be old, new, or span any number of genres. Most films that have devoted cult followers tend to have been poorly received in the box office but smaller groups of fans love them. They may also appeal to certain subcultures like 90’s kids or stoners. The most mainstream term of “cult” movies centers from the 50-80s and covers slightly campy movies, often sci-fi or horror related like Barbarella, or Clockwork Orange.
Television shows frequently have devoted fans but it’s only once they go off the air that they tend to gain cult status. DVD and streaming rates that remain consistently high often determine whether a series is considered cult or not rather than the age of the show itself. Some cult TV shows actually have such a huge following that they end up rekindling the show even if the initial run was only short. Cult classic TV includes shows like Doctor Who, Firefly, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.