How The Big Lebowski Went From Box Office Bomb To Bonafide Cult Classic

What exactly is a cult movie? It’s very subjective, but there are several categories that “The Big Lebowski” covers with addled aplomb. You have flicks so offbeat and diverse that they automatically alienate the squares. In that pot, there are films like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with its sex-obsessed aliens and “Pink Flamingos,” which puts us on Team Babs Johnson (Divine) as she strives to become the filthiest person alive.

Then you have stoner classics like “Up in Smoke” which overlap with hangout movies like “Dazed and Confused,” films that derive their pleasure from just spending a few hours in the company of the characters. There are also movies with a high quotability factor, like “This is Spinal Tap” or “Withnail and I,” because cult aficionados love quoting dialogue at each other. Broadly speaking, cult movies are outliers that make you feel like you’re part of a special club because you love something that many mainstream viewers overlook or reject altogether.

“The Big Lebowski” falls into all these categories. It is an outsider movie through and through, putting an unemployed stoner protagonist in the traditional private eye role. The Dude bumps up against all sorts of oddballs and lowlifes but the main villain is the “Big” Lebowski (David Huddleston), the one member of the “respectable” society he encounters. His penchant for a spliff also puts it in the stoner category and the meandering plot makes it a strong hangout film, too.

Line for line, “The Big Lebowski” may also be the most quotable movie of all time. Even after about 40 viewings, I’m still picking out plenty of gems. In short, it may not be an extreme example of a cult classic, but it is perhaps the most cult movie for your buck.

Leave a Comment