Some movies become cult classics because they're just plain funny. Not every great funny movie is a big box office hit or has the staying power of classic film comedies. When a really funny movie flies under the radar, it probably develops a cult following.
The reason there aren't a ton of true "cult comedy movie classics" is that most really funny movies have such a wide following, they can't really be called cult movies at all. Here is a list of eight cult comedy classic movies.
An early entry in the blaxploitation genre, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is one of the weirdest named movies in film history. Melvin Van Peebles, son of Mario Van Peebles, made this movie in nineteen days with his own money. The soundtrack, by Earth, Wind, and Fire, was the only means Van Peebles had to promote the film, which initially opened in just two theaters. Sweetback, as the movie is sometimes known, has only reached comedy status in the years since its release. At one time, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was required viewing for militant African Americans everywhere. Cult classic status may have been achieved by the many sex scenes in the film, which are not simulated but actual sex on film.
With music by Harry Nilsson, directed by Robert Altman, and starring Robin Williams, you'd think 1980's Popeye would have been a huge hit. The $20,000,000 budget spent to create the story (and Popeye Village where the film was shot) was barely returned to investors, a sign of how unpopular the film was here in America. What creates the cult following for this film is the strangely beautiful music, written and scored by the elusive Nilsson, and the really weird world that the movie's characters inhabit. Because this version of Popeye is live-action, the characters and antics are at once familiar and brand-new. Watching this movie for the first time is something like reading old Popeye comics on a healthy dose of LSD . . . with a wonderful soundtrack.
Michael J. Fox stars in Teen Wolf, a "comedy/fantasy" movie about werewolves. This film's cult audience may be surprised to learn that MTV has produced a live-action TV show based on the series, also called Teen Wolf, but nothing at all like this 80s laugher. There's lots of weirdness surrounding this movie--it premiered the same week as Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox's career-making time travel movie. The two films even shared shooting locations, and in foreign editions of the movie, characters names and other similarities. As the years pass, it's difficult to remember which jokes were from which movies, and that's part of what drives the cult status of this otherwise forgettable movie.
It is hard to say if The Goonies is a "cult" comedy or not. The Goonies is so popular among a certain portion of the population, that calling it a "cult comedy classic" is a bit like saying the Mona Lisa is a piece of "outsider art." Still, the number of people who can talk along with the film and pretty much nail every line identifies this flick as a classic bit of cult comedy. Rumors of a sequel to The Goonies have been circulating for years, another sign of a cult classic, and with actors from the film making appearances at comic book and movie conventions to sign autographs and answer questions about the movie, you'd better believe there's a huge cult following for The Goonies.
Cast members from 1987's The Monster Squad have also been on the road in recent years, doing Q&As and taking photographs with The Monster Squad's many obsessive fans. For my money, there's nothing funnier in film history than when the main character discovers that "Wolfman's got nards!" The cult appeal of this movie is (like Popeye) its weirdness. Having horror movie characters appearing in a world that seems as real as the one we actually live in is a bizarre tactic, and the fact that some of the monsters are good and some are bad makes this campy fun for the whole family.
Part comedy, part drama, all cult hit, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is that rarity: an Australian film with a huge following in the United States. The plot isn't important--it happens to be about a drag queen on a road trip--people love this movie for the script. Good comedy scripts are hard to come by, and this movie is totally plot and script-driven. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is one example of a comedy cult classic movie that made its producers a ton of money. Shot for just $2 million, the film has earned well over $40 million in the past seventeen years.
Co-creator of South Park Trey Parker wrote and directed this movie, a retelling of a true story of cannibalism in the Frontier West of America. One of the film's co-stars, Matt Stone, would eventually put out South Park along with Trey Parker, a cult classic comedy TV series in its own right. Cannibal! The Musical started life as a three minute trailer made for a film class, turned into a full-length film due to interest in the movie by Parker's classmates. With $125,000, Parker made Cannibal! The Musical, which has since been turned into a successful theatrical production on Broadway and in London's West End. People who love Cannibal! The Musical use the movie as a "friend test," a sure sign that a film is a cult classic.
Shot on a shoestring budget, 2000's The Tao of Steve is an unassuming romantic comedy that breaks all the rules of that genre. There are no gorgeous movie stars here, just plain (and even ugly) lead roles living their plain and ugly lives. The lead role earned Donal Logue the best actor award at Sundance. This is a true "cult comedy classic" because of Logue's amazing acting, the wonderful script (praised by Roger Ebert), and the quirky nature of the film itself.
It may be more difficult to make a cult comedy classic than any other type of movie. Good comedy is harder to write and produce than good drama or a good action movie. When people put in the time and effort it takes to make a good comedy, there's usually enough promotion to turn that film into something more than a cult classic.