Cult Film Stardom: Offbeat Attractions and Processes of Cultification

Kate Egan (Editor), Sarah Thomas (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportEdited book


The term ‘cult film star’ has been employed, and used as a common-sense term, in publicity and popular journalistic writing for at least the last twenty-five years (for instance, in Danny Peary's 1991 reference book, Cult Movie Stars). However, what makes cult film stars or actors distinct or different from other film stars has rarely been addressed, with the cult star label often being attributed to particular stars or actors in a rather arbitrary or imprecise way. This edited collection is organised and structured so as to emphasise and, to provide a much-needed overview of, the variety of processes through which film stars and actors become associated with the cult label, and brings together chapters (from an international group of scholars, from the UK, US, Canada and Austria) which focus on a wide range of cult stars and actors (from Montgomery Clift and Boris Karloff to Bruce Campbell and Chloe Sevigny). The collection therefore makes important, previously under-explored, connections between two key disciplines within film and media studies – stardom/celebrity studies and cult film studies. The study of cult films is a relatively new, but rapidly expanding, area of debate and enquiry within film studies. To date, there has been some valuable work focused on case studies of particular cult stars, including Wade Jennings’ discussion of Judy Garland as cult star icon (1991), Leon Hunt’s work on martial arts stars as cult stars (2003), and Rebecca Feasey’s chapter on ironic readings of Sharon Stone as a ‘bad’ actress and thus cult star (2003). However, aside from Mikita Brottman’s work on cult stars and celebrity death (2000) and Mathijs and Sexton’s overview chapter on cult stars in their forthcoming book on cult cinema, cult scholars have yet to consider, more broadly, the significance and role of cult film stars within debates around, and approaches to, cult cinema. Earlier work within cult film studies focused primarily on the independent or subversive ‘midnight movie’ cult films of the 1970s, and either argued that cult films were constituted by their textual features or through their reception by critics and/or audiences. More recent work on cult film (for instance Hills, 2007) has argued for a greater focus on the range of ways in which films come to be considered as cult objects (through historical shifts in industrial and marketing practices, through textual structures and features, through film reviews and popular criticism, through modes of audience reception, and through the dialogue and interaction between these sites), and for an exploration of the wide range of films which, at some point, have been termed and appreciated as cult. A key aim of this edited collection, then, is to engage with and to extend this recent work within cult film studies, by considering how stars become cultified through a range of mediated processes and cultural sites (including in relation to a range of modes of filmmaking, through various forms of promotion and publicity, and through critical and fan reception) and in different historical periods (from the 1940s to the present day). However, importantly and because of the collection’s connection between cult discourses and film actors/stars, it also aims to bring discussions of film acting, performance and the self-representation and construction of film stars’ personae into the field of cult film studies. Therefore this collection has a dual focus. It will also engage with and expand on existing developments within studies of stardom and star performers. Whilst star studies is a more established field than cult film studies, recent work has advocated a move beyond the paradigm established by scholars such as Richard Dyer (1979, 1986) in which the semiotic and ideological function of stars, predominantly from classical Hollywood cinema, was explored. Further emphasis has been placed upon the role of mechanics of film performance and acting, and the mutability of star status, particularly in relation to transnational identities, employment/interaction across different media forms and the impact or interrelation of different cinemas upon stardom (contemporary cinema, national cinemas, independent cinema, ‘Art cinema’). Within these new developments, the concept of the ‘cult star’ as an alternative mode of stardom, and the role of cult cinema in the creation of stardom, has rarely been addressed. This collection therefore also aims to make a significant contribution to the field of star studies, by considering the key question of what makes cult stars distinct from the qualities and appeals of conventional film stars (and the processes of cult stardom distinct from the ways in which conventional stars obtain and maintain their star status), and, through this focus, to further shed light on the complex ways in which ideas of cult are related to or distinguished from notions of artificiality, constructedness, the commercial and the mainstream.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages288
ISBN (Print)9780230293694, 0230293697
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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