Rarely does a film come along that stays in theaters longer than the first few months of release. Of course, most films aren’t The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical / comedy / science fiction / horror phenomenon that has continuously screened in select theaters for 45 years.
The cult classic follows the adventures of a young couple, Brad and Janet, who become trapped in a mysterious castle filled with eccentric characters as they travel through a town called Denton. At the heart of the castle is Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist of extraterrestrial origins who leads the mysterious Annual Transylvanian Convention.
The film will screen on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Inwood Theatre in Dallas, complete with a “shadow cast,” in which actors perform in front of the screen as the film plays. The shadow cast tradition is popular among cult movie enthusiasts, and will be performed by the local acting group Los Bastardos, who will perform at several screenings of the film throughout the year at the Inwood Theatre and the Alamo Drafthouse in Denton.
The second Friday of every month, you can also catch The Rocky Horror Picture Show performed by Amber Does Dallas at the Angelika Theater at Mockingbird Station.
A send-up of science fiction and horror B-movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2020 and has dominated the cult movie scene since its debut. Although it was released to mostly negative reviews and bombed during its initial theatrical run, the film was repurposed by 20th Century Fox as an early “midnight movie” at the Waverly Theater in New York around April Fool’s Day in 1976.
In the pre-internet era, The Rocky Horror Picture Show became one of the earliest examples of a media property being sustained by a niche fandom, both nationally and internationally. The first national Rocky Horror Fan Club was founded in 1977 by Sal Piro, who would go on to author many novels about the Rocky Horror phenomenon, including 1990’s Creatures of the Night.
While there were previous examples of works sustained through zealous supporters — such as the letter-writing campaign to save the original Star Trek series throughout the late 1960s — The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an anomaly in that it became a phenomenon following its initial intended release. Because of the frequency of screenings in art house theaters around the world, it still holds the title of having the longest sustained theatrical run of any film in history.
Audience participation has been a longstanding element of the cult phenomenon, and over the course of the film’s near half-century of release, different traditions have emerged. In addition to dressing up as characters and reciting the film’s lines, audience members will often shout out new bits of dialogue in response to key moments in the film, such as the iconic musical number “Time Warp.”
Celebrated for its oddball characters, peculiar mix of genres, and elaborate musical numbers, The Rocky Horror Picture has resonated with those looking for something outside of the mainstream. While it began as a small underground movement, Rocky Horror would begin to enter the mainstream consciousness in the decades since its first showing, with tributes appearing in such shows as The Simpsons, Glee, That '70s Show and American Dad, as well as a 2016 TV remake entitled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again, starring Laverne Cox.
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The film featured breakthrough LGBT visibility in film with the character Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a cross-dressing scientist who performs mysterious experiments in his secluded castle. The role was a breakout for actor Tim Curry, who had previously starred in the 1973 stage musical of the same name, and would go on to play many iconic roles in both film and theater, including the butler Wadsworth in the 1985 comedy classic Clue, Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 adaptation of It and King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot.
The future of The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a late-night tradition is unclear, as the film was initially produced and released by 20th Century Fox, which was officially bought by the Walt Disney Company in 2019. Unlike Fox, which allowed theaters to screen many of their older titles such as Alien, The Princess Bride, Titanic or The Sound of Music, Disney has been much less lenient in giving theaters access to its catalog of films.
There would likely be mass outcry from fans if Disney blocked theaters from showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Disney has enacted an exemption to their policy of dissolving screenings of older films in this specific case. It may be difficult for other classics to develop the same sort of prolonged circulation, however.
With stricter restraints from studios like Disney and the advent of streaming services, the future of specialty cinematic events like The Rocky Horror Picture Show are ambiguous. While films like The Room, Withnail & I and Repo Man have also enjoyed a second life thanks to niche fandoms, the success of future cult films is reliant on their access and availability.