- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

At first or even second and third glance, “Office Space” and “The Big Lebowski” have little in common.

One is a snarky look at life in a work cubicle, the other is a broad farce about the repercussions from a stoner trying to replace a stained carpet.

Look closer.

Both tanked at the box office only to find a second life on home video. It isn’t just sales clout they eventually established. They became cult films — movies that inspire near-devotion in their admirers.

Don’t believe us? Try mentioning TPS reports,”I don’t roll on Shabbos” or saying “yeah … that would be great” to any hard-core movie fan, and watch the grin grow.

Of course, remember to draw out the “yeah” for maximum impact.

Both films enjoyed DVD re-releases late last year, asking diehard fans to buy them all over again.

And the respective movie studios wouldn’t re-release them if they didn’t think fans would do just that.

“Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s a cult film,” says Patricia Hanson, executive editor and project director, AFI Catalog of Feature Films. “A cult film is something that wasn’t a hit when it came out, then something about its quirkiness or offbeat nature started to get a following.”

“Office Space” made the leap from box-office dud to cult favorite with alacrity.

“Within a year or so of it coming and going people recognized its contemporary feeling,” she says.

People can relate to life as a cubicle drone, but that isn’t why “Lebowski” struck such a chord within DVD buyers.

After all, the Dude is hardly a role model for anyone save those who think lethargy is the ultimate state of being.

“You don’t have to be a total loser to feel empathy for a total loser,” she says.

The Coen brothers, the team responsible for “Lebowski” and “Raising Arizona,” seem to have a patent on making cult products. So, too, do John Waters (“Hairspray,” “Pink Flamingos”) and David Lynch (“Eraserhead,” “Wild at Heart”).

Sara Brady, a copy associate with Premiere magazine, says cult movies “tap into a need to create a smaller community of your own, a shared experience that isn’t the mass experience … It allows people to feel special in their taste.”

Ms. Brady remembers back in high school few people noticed when the 1995 film “Empire Records” hit theaters. Now, “I don’t know anybody my age who can’t quote a line from it,” she says.

The “quintessential” cult film, she says, remains 1975’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” even though by her own admission — and that of plenty of others — it’s not a very good film.

“It allows people to come together and share the experience,” she says.

Miss Hanson suggests some films start to lose their cult status with time.

“A cult film has some kind of contemporary resonance,” she says, adding the 1981 film “Mommie Dearest” has lost some of its hipster cachet through the years.

Yet the 1932 film “Freaks” retains its status all these years later, she says, in part because it still possesses the power to disturb.

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