Can You Intentionally Make a Cult Film?

By  · Published on August 30th, 2011

Last weekend, a film called The Worst Movie Ever! (complete with an exclamation mark in the title) played two midnight showings at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Los Angeles and made only $11. That means that one person attended only one of the screenings, which means that if the filmmaker’s mother came out to support him, he wasn’t there to hold her hand.

It’s difficult to say with certainty, but the whole thing seems fishy. If you were four-walling your own movie, wouldn’t you want to be there? Wouldn’t the actors and people who worked on the thing show up for support even if it meant paying for their own ticket? Is it just blind luck that advertising brought in only one person interested in seeing it (thus making it the lowest-grossing opening weekend ever)?

For any other movie, these questions might not even pop up. When the infamous Zyzzyx Road scored $20 during its one-weekend-long domestic run, it became a humorous anecdote in movie history, but there was nothing suspicious about it. In that case, producer Leo Grillo only opened the film in order to fulfill a domestic run needed to sell it to foreign markets. In the case of the self-proclaimed The Worst Movie Ever!, writer/director/producer/star Glenn Berggoetz has clearly made a film so intentionally bad that a newsworthy, historically low weekend take can only benefit it.

And it has.

If you don’t believe that the film is premeditatedly cult-like, take a look at the trailer:

It’s the kind of thing that RiffTrax dreams about while sleeping in a pool of excitement sweat. Bargain basement effects, non-existent action, brutally non-funny comedy, and a plot that was written after a bottle of Ritalin didn’t do its job – The Worst Movie Ever! is the filmic equivalent of the Look-What-I-Can-Do kid from MadTV. Even the title itself makes that obvious.

Of course, there are two kinds of cult films. The first category finds work like Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fight Club. Movies that have a niche audience and expanded in popularity with a core of rabid fans. The second category finds movies like The Room where failure is so complete that it inspires awe. These are the films that no one sits through in silence; they demand commentary and mockery even as they play out on-screen.

Berggoetz and company may have made a movie that fits into that second category, but unlike Tommy Wiseau, they’ve succeeded at failing (instead of trying hard and still falling short). Or, if Wiseau is actually a raw genius who never breaks the act as some believe, they’ve succeeded at failure far more overtly.

And that success at failure has led to more success. The movie won’t stand as the lowest grossing of all time for long because:

There is a small phenomenon happening here that seems born from a formula for cult success. Make a terrible, mockery-worthy movie; score a box office so low that it demands attention; profit.

There are one of two options here. Either Berggoetz and company orchestrated a dismal showing on their opening to create buzz or they got lucky. It’s impossible to know which is right, but either way, they owe a lot to that one person.

Primarily that he or she didn’t bring a friend.

What do you think?

Sources: Movieline, The Worst Movie Ever! Facebook Page, Box Office Mojo

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.