EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written on my Chicago Cult Classics Examiner page a few days before the release of Twilight: New Moon. This is not meant to belittle the Twilight series, but rather, it’s an observation based on the fact that the saga has often been referred to as a “cult classic” in the media.
With the sequel New Moon on its way this Friday, there’s been a lot of talk once again about the Twilight series. Several blogs and online news sources have been using the following phrase to describe the movies: “offically a cult classic.”
But can you really call a multi-million dollar franchise like Twilight a cult film? For one, it was successful before it was even released in theaters. Normally, but not always, cult classics become such a thing because of their post-release success – such as in DVD and video rentals. According to IMDb, the first Twilight film made an estimated $70 million in its U.S. opening weekend alone. Compare that to, say, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (considered a cult classic), which made $147,839 its opening weekend. By the end of its theater run, it had made less than $3 million overall.
Yes, the films are adapted from the already-popular novel series. However, it’s difficult to see how something this successful and wide-ranging could be considered a cult classic with a cult following.
Cult films get their name from their limited success and their audience – usually, a very specific and dedicated kind of audience. It is not measured strictly by devotion, but rather, what kind of audience shows that devotion. This is a big factor that sets Twilight apart from cult classics. While the series is very successful and anyone and everyone seems to be a fan, that’s just it – everyone and anyone make up its fanbase. Everyone from teenage girls to university professors to grandmothers have read the novels and seen the film adaptation.
For true cult classics, like David Lynch’s Eraserhead or The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, their appeal often stems from their off-kilter nature and general rejection of the mainstream. Thus, the mainstream is not drawn towards these kinds of films. And that’s where the cult fanbase comes in.
This is not meant to undermine Twilight‘s success or legitimacy. Though for every blogger or reviewer who refers to the series as a “cult classic,” there just might be a whole band of cult fans who would disagree.