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There's no clear definition of a cult film, but it's the hazy nature of the genre-if it can even truly be called a genre-that makes cult films fascinating. In general, a cult film is a movie that has a relatively small audience of extremely devoted fans. In many cases, the most beloved cult films were largely ignored when they were initially released but have gained in popularity as time has passed and their status as cult films has solidified.

Cult films of the 1970s and 1980s gained enthusiastic audiences over time despite having failed to impress mainstream audiences when they were first released. The reputations of some cult films benefitted from audiences that turned showings of the films into festive events, with costumes and organized activities. Midnight showings of cult films became popular in urban theaters, and movies such as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pink Floyd's The Wall became classic films well after they debuted on the strength of repeated showings on the fringes of the mainstream.

Although some cult movies are artistically strong films that, for one reason or another, didn't click with mainstream audiences, many of the most well-known cult films are appreciated ironically for their flaws-they are, in effect, so bad that they're good. The films of 1950s director Ed Wood, for example-Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, etc.-are low-budget, clumsily crafted films, but they have become famous because their fans find humor in their earnest incompetence.

Older cult films are largely films that had unrealized aspirations of mainstream success, but in the era of ubiquitous video, internet viewing and indie films, many films bypass mainstream theatrical release and aim directly for niche audiences, no doubt hoping that they will become cult classics without having to endure the traditional box office failure and years of obscurity first.

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