Commentary: MTSU Professor Examines What Gives a Cult Film a Cult Following

Jul 11, 2023 at 06:03 am by WGNS News

Star Wars is one of those movies with a cult following!

What’s the deal with the public and cult films? What are these cult films anyway? With more on todays media commentary, here is MTSU Professor of Journalism, Dr. Larry Burriss… Click the below "Burriss Commentary Files" to hear more! 


Commentary – Verbatim of Above Audio:  “This Summer seems like we have seen a plethora of movie remakes, sequels and prequels, where in some cases the original was released 40 years ago. But one of the things that struck me in almost all of the reviews were the references to the “cult following” the films have engendered. But just what is a cult film, and how does a movie become one?

Well, it isn’t about sales figures or quality or star power. After all, films ranging from “Wizard of Oz” to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” are sometimes accorded cult status.

The thing all films with a cult following seem to have in common is a huge fan base that knows everything there is to know about the film: dialogue, small details from every scene, every aspect of the cast and crew.

Take, for example, the 1975 spoof film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” possibly the best-known and longest-running cult film in the United States. The film received little attention when it was first released, but now a huge fan base still attends midnight showings, dressed as their favorite characters, throwing rice during the wedding scene and speaking all of the dialog along with the actors.

Just the other day I heard the phrase, “Klaatu barada nikto,” and it raised no questions, or funny looks, at all.  After all, it’s one of the most famous movie lines of all times, first heard in the original 1951 cult film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Another cult film with a huge following is the 1959 “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” often described, for good reason, as the worst film ever made. Actors trip over props, strings are visible on the flying saucers and times shift back and forth between midnight and noon in the same scene. Yet the movie still attracts a devoted following.

But what is particularly interesting here is that the entire genre of cult fandom has developed its own cult following.  One only has to look at the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to events such as the San Diego Comic Con and Atlanta’s Dragon-Con.

This whole cult thing may be considered low-class by some; others may say it isn’t artistically relevant. But one thing you have to give it: you can’t argue with success. I’m Larry Burriss.”

About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.


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