When evaluating new movies, sometimes a critic will try to envision their staying power. It goes without saying that most movies have no shelf life; they're designed for one opening weekend, or perhaps a few months of buzz leading to an award, but that's it. A year from now, people will be ignoring them on airplanes and then they'll be on sale in the DVD bargain bin. Only a very few titles enter into the general zeitgeist forever, becoming a "cult film." A cult film can be a resurrected flop, something like The Wizard of Oz or Donnie Darko, or it can be a beloved hit, such as Casablanca or the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings films. The only constant is that it's impossible to predict. When I first reviewed Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski (1998), I thought it suffered in comparison to Fargo, but now it has become a cult classic even bigger than its predecessor. Regardless, I thought I'd look at some of the movies currently playing on less than 400 screens and guess their fates.
I'll start with an easy one: Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd (316 screens). This is Burton and Johnny Depp's sixth film together, and they bring out the very best instincts in one another. They remind me of no less than Tod Browning and Lon Chaney's sinister collaborations during the silent era. (Their 1927 film The Unknown needs to be seen by everyone.) Depp gets to indulge in his taste for disguise (and funny voices) while Burton taps into his childlike nightmares for new images and ideas. Sure, they will probably never really make a grown-up movie, but several of their collaborations have already stood the test of time, and at least two: Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Ed Wood (1994) have cracked the edges of cult status. In fact, I'd go so far as to add Burton's Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Depp's Dead Man and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegasto make a great cult film festival.