Cult classics: Mamma Mia or Labyrinth?

I love lists. I love making them and the satisfaction of ticking things off. I like reading other people’s lists too because it’s an insight into their world and how their mind works. Now Total Film‘s guide to the 34 Greatest Cult Movies of All Time is very interesting.

I’m only in my early twenties and out of the 34-strong list, I’ve seen eight of them. I’ve heard of 18 though so while I can’t cast judgement on all of them, I’m going to attempt to make sense of the ones I have seen.

First up, Mamma Mia! and I’m not too sure why this had made the list. Sure it has a large following and is loved by many both in it’s film and theatre versions but why has it made Total Film‘s list?

While it doesn’t always speak gospel truth, I agree with Wikipedia’s definition of what a cult film is:  a cult film (also known as a cult movie/picture or a cult classic) is a film that has acquired a highly devoted but specific group of fans… Cult films are often known to be eccentric and do not follow traditional standards of mainstream cinema and usually explore topics not considered in any way mainstream.

Mamma Mia! was made on a big mult-million dollar budget and features big Hollywood names. It is adapted on an extremely popular West End musical which itself is based on the highly successful songs of ABBA. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mamma Mia! and own it on DVD but there is nothing cult about it. It is very mainstream and is not contraversial in any way.

A Clockwork Orange on the other hand was extremely contraversial and was withdrawn from British distribution and voluntarily altered by Stanley Kubrink in order to change the film’s X rating to an R-rated re-release. I have seen the film and read the book and yes, the film is very difficult to watch in places. However, it is definitely a cult classic and has influenced musicians from David Bowie to Muse and is referenced in television programmes, films and games.

Looking at some of the other films which made Total Film‘s cut, I can understand why Labyrinth made the list. Deliciously weird and bizarre, Labyrinth is one of my all-time favourite films. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me I saw a few years ago and was memerized because of its strange characters and haunting music. Withnail and I I saw fairly recently and again is intriguing because of its simultaneously tragic and comedic elements. Superb acting by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann too.

I’m surprised that Blade Runner, Barberella and Donnie Darko didn’t make the cut though. Again, three films I have seen and three films which I believe to have cult status.

Even with Total Film‘s guide, Wikipedia’s definition and my own ramblings I’m still unsure of what makes a film a cult classic. I think it is primarily down to personal opinion. While I find Labyrinth fantastic, I know people who think it’s silly and just bizarre. I think that being able to quote lines off by heart and being able to chat endlessly to like-minded fans also makes a film worthy of cult status. With this in mind, the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series can be defined as cult classics even though they did make huge financial successes. Both have strong fanbases and both have their own events and festivals. As a lover of both series, I can happily quote lines and talk for ages on them.

I fear I’ve gone off on a tangent now, especially as my mind has now wandered off onto an image of Legolas and Frodo walking around the Death Star with R2 and C-3PO… Anyway, have a think about what makes a film a cult classic and perhaps get back to me. To give you even more food for though, here is the complete list of Total Film‘s choices. I’m going to try and find copies of the ones I haven’t seen.


8 thoughts on “Cult classics: Mamma Mia or Labyrinth?

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  1. The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink are my favourites from this list because I love the Coen Brothers (but don’t go in for Dudeism!) and I also love Withnail & I. I’ve seen quite a few of these. Even though The Room is supposed to be awful I’m surprised it’s not higher because there is literally a cult surrounding it (I read all about it Empire lol).

    And yeah, what’s Mamma Mia doing in there? That doesn’t make sense, even though it is a big film. Too mainstream for this kinda list!
    Nice site!


    1. Thanks for your reply, Scarlet.

      I’ve never seen The Big Lebowski, definitely on my hit list to see though, especially as I really like Jeff Bridges and Steve Buscemi. I’m a big fan of True Romance but would that classify as a cult classic? American Psycho, Girl Interrupted and Leon too. Great films but unsure of what they fall into!

      Guess this is why I love films though!

      If you want any help getting used to WordPress let me know 🙂

  2. Really though, if you go with Wikipedia’s definition you mentioned, then Mamma Mia does fit the ‘cult films’ genre – it was incredibly popular but also had a very specific group of fans, attracting pretty much all women of a certain age band. I guess it depends how specific the definition of the group of fans would be, if you want to delve in to personality/interests etc then I guess things could become more or less ‘cult’ according to that definition.

    I think the idea of a ‘cult’ film also is definitely something that fits in with what critics deem ‘cool’ and ‘underrated’. As soon as something becomes a massive box office hit it seems to lose it’s cult status, perhaps because Mamma Mia was such a big hit it seems to be less cult – which almost seems synonymous with a film being more undiscovered and less well known.

    Also – can’t believe Moon, Vertigo and Garden State aren’t on that list! I also love Labyrinth, and feel oddly attracted to David Bowie in all his spandex glory!

    1. That’s what I meant about Star Wars and LOTR, both have very dedicated fans! I think with Mamma Mia though it used to have a specific group of fans who loved the West End show but when it went on the big screen it attracted a whole new group of fans; younger people and 50+ alike! I doubt it’s cult status because it is highly mainstream and doesn’t deal with any situation out of the ordinary.

      I enjoyed Garden State and do own it but it never really had much of an impact. People liked it, but it didn’t stir much emotion. Still haven’t got round to seeing Moon, saw it in HMV the other day. Still want to check it out 🙂

  3. I cannot for the life of me understand why Showgirls is on the list, and yet classic ”Cult” films are not. Where for instance is Dogma directed by ‘cult’ director Kevin Smith???
    However the list does have a few redeeming features such as The Big Lebowski, which incedently spawned it’s on festival…

    If a film such as Mamma Mia can be classed as a ‘cult film’ because of it’s mass popularity then why not The Sound of Music which probably has one of the biggest followings in the world. In the same vein this would also mean that big budget Hollywood Blockbusters such as Avatar or even Twilight could be classed as Cult.
    Personally my vote goes to The Breakfast Club – that film defined an era.

  4. Natalie D Suggests:

    1) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
    “What is this, Wonka, some kind of fun house?”
    “Why? Having fun?”

    2)Clerks (1994)
    “I’m not even supposed to be here today.”

    3)Heathers (1989)
    “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast or something?”
    “Hey Ram, doesn’t this cafeteria have a no-fags-allowed rule?”

    4)Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
    “I want a relationship. I want romance.”
    “In Ridgemont? We can’t even get cable TV here, Stacy, and you want romance!”

    5)Donnie Darko (2001)
    “Yes, I am scared and I am confused…. But I think you are the f**king antichrist”

    6)Dr Strangelove (1964)
    “I will not go down in history as the greatest mass-murderer since Adolf Hitler”
    ” Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American People than with your image in the history books”

    7)Deliverance (1972)

    8)Barton Fink (1991)

    9)The Breakfast Club (1985)
    “Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?”

    10) Blue Velvet (1986)

    11) ET (1982)
    “You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.”

    12) The Blues Brothers
    “First you traded the Cadillac in for a microphone. Then you lied to me about the band. And now you’re gonna put me right back in the joint!”
    “They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God”#

    Just a small list, a few to be going on with..all in my eyes CULT films

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