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[[quoteright:320:[[Film/{{Zardoz}} http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/zardoz_worship_1689.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:320:[-[[PublicServiceAnnouncement Zardoz explains:]]-] ''[-"The cult is good. [[ItsPopularNowItSucks The popular is evil]]. Go forth...and kill!"-]'']]

->''[[YouKeepUsingThatWord "Cult" is a word]] that people were saying...a cult is popular as well, of course. You can't have a show that's just weird, that no-one watches. That's not cult, that's just...maybe a bad show that no-one wants to watch.''
-->-- '''Chris Barrie''', ''Series/RedDwarf A to Z''

The air that every {{Geek}} breathes, a Cult Classic is a film or other work which has a small but devoted fanbase. Such fans are often proud of their membership of the cult and may resent it when the object of their devotion becomes a mainstream hit. Some Cult Classics are obscure commercial failures at the time of their premiere which have [[VindicatedByHistory since then]] successfully attracted a fanbase, even to the extent of becoming moneyspinners. Although this is the common public perception to a Cult Classic, some Cult movies were in fact box-office successes at the time but maintained a cult following long after public interest has moved onto the next flavour of the month. It's probably for this reason that some films with a strong cult following (eg ''Film/TheBluesBrothers'') are sometimes wrongly assumed to have been unsuccessful at their time of release.

Cult classics have an unusual shelf life, and seemingly avert the PopularityPolynomial completely. Rather than receiving a short but large burst of popularity before ultimately fading completely into obscurity, cult classics receive a marginal amount of attention almost indefinitely. It's a good bet that a show or movie considered a cult classic 30 years ago will still be such today.

Though some movie studios have intentionally tried to position releases as Cult-Classics-To-Be (like ''Film/MirrorMask'' and ''Film/SnakesOnAPlane''), perhaps hiring a bunch of cult actors and [[CultSoundtrack funky music]], it is not usually successful. A true Cult Classic is as rare as capturing lightning in a bottle.

Note that not all cult classics are actually ''good''. Although many of them are, or at least, are [[NostalgiaFilter remembered as such]]. In fact, many cult classics are [[SoBadItsGood hilariously bad]] -- which is ''why'' their fans [[GuiltyPleasure adore them]]. These are sometimes called [[{{Camp}} "Camp Classics"]].

See also CriticalDissonance when the critics hate it, and CriticProof when...the critics hate it, also. If it's a critical darling on the art-house circuit, but has no following beyond that, that's the ''other'' kind of CriticalDissonance. Contrast QualityByPopularVote, which is the inverse trope. Compare StonerFlick and/or BMovie[[note]]Not all {{B Movie}}s have a cult following; see page quote. {{Stoner Flick}}s are usually considered cult, however[[/note]].

Often the term [[YouKeepUsingThatWord "cult"]] is (perhaps) [[EvolvingTrope inaccurately]] applied to anything that is both old and has a devoted fan following, even if it was popular ''at the time''. If the devoted fan following is rooted in it being both old and critically-acclaimed, and thus popular with fans of classic works in general (e.g. TheMarxBrothers), it probably doesn't count.

Also note that "cult classic" is an affectionate English expression for a work of this type, and does not mean that it's a "classic" in the same sense of, say, a "classic novel" or "essential work". Unless the fandom are surrounded by a sea of indifference, such usage is too broad to be meaningful, so works such as ''Franchise/StarWars'' don't count. Otherwise, the phrase would be meaningless, as Creator/RogerEbert has noted in lamenting [[YouKeepUsingThatWord its misuse]], since it does carry certain genre-specific connotations.

The word "classic" may also be seen as an intensifier of sorts, implying works that have become seen as cult over the years, similar to a SleeperHit -- due to factors such as AudienceParticipation, NotableQuotables, or other engrossing aspects that attract a select audience who [[WatchItForTheMeme proselytize fervently]] and disdain non-believers.

One good measurement to use when in doubt, is critical consensus. If a work is commonly described by critics as quirky, fringe, bizarre or off-putting to newcomers, and therefore "cult", then that meets the definition of the trope. If this is actually used as a selling point, then that is a good sign. An even better sign is if critics debate [[ItsPopularNowItSucks whether or not it's still cult]].

On TheOtherWiki, "something of a cult classic" (exact words, always; see for yourself) is a well-worn JustifyingEdit.

When a cult classic actually does become popular, expect geeks to complain ItsPopularNowItSucks.

A standard guide in the cult film genre is DannyPearyCultMoviesList.

NoExamplesPlease. The subjectivity of the phrase makes an example list impractical to maintain.