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Culture Re-View: The longest-running theatrical release in film history launches

'The Time Warp' in all its glory - a still from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
'The Time Warp' in all its glory - a still from The Rocky Horror Picture Show Copyright 20th Century Fox/Getty Images
Copyright 20th Century Fox/Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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On this day in 1975, arguably the king of cult films, 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', was released - but it wasn't a runaway hit off the bat.

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On 14 August, 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show had its premiere, almost immediately turning viewers off.

But 48 years later, it remains a cult classic and the longest-running theatrical release in film history.

The quirky horror-comedy musical movie follows Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), who find themselves trapped in the castle of mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter, played by Tim Curry.

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Tim Curry as Dr Frank-N-Furter pictured with Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff and Patricia Quinn as Magenta, pictured on a lobby card for the filmMovie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

It was the British actor’s first film role and his arrival on screen, singing the endlessly catchy ‘Sweet Transvestite’ could be the greatest debut by an actor in film history.

Rocky Horror started its life as a stage play, opening in London’s West End in 1973 to rave reviews.

The Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien-penned musical gained huge popularity in Los Angeles the following year, which inspired 20th Century Fox to quickly purchase the film rights.

Following a premiere in London, the film bombed in most locations in Europe and the United States.

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Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon in a scene from the cult movieMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

20th Century Fox made plans to pull the movie from cinemas but, after seeing its success at one location in Los Angeles, executives began to rethink how to rerelease the film.

At the the United Artists Theater in LA’s Westwood neighbourhood, moviegoers had been selling out every showing of Rocky Horror, with some singing and dancing along to the catchy songs, including the seminal 'Time Warp'.

Inspired, film executives initially sent the film to college campuses in the US as a double bill with Brian De Palma’s 1974 rock and roll horror spoof Phantom Of The Paradise.

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The revamped, Jaws-inspired poster, featuring the lips of former Playboy model Lorelei SharkLMPC via Getty Images

Audiences were initially small but grew after a second film poster was created using a set of red lips with the tagline ‘A Different Set of Jaws’, a spoof of the poster for the film Jaws, released the same year.

Rocky Horror ’s release coincided with the 1970s trend for ‘midnight movies’.

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Perfomers smiling as they get ready before a screening of the film 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' in Hayward, California, 1985Bromberger Hoover Photography/Getty Images

Cinemas screened non-mainstream films at 12am, with the aim to build a cult film audience, by encouraging repeat viewing and discussion in a countercultural setting.

Following in the footsteps of classics like Harold and Maude and Pink Flamingos, Rocky Horror began screening again at midnight, starting in New York City on April Fools' Day, 1976.

The next month, it was the ‘secret’ movie at the Seattle International Film Festival, cementing its place as a cult picture.

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Patricia Quinn (R) poses with a fan dressed as her character Magenta in Rocky Horror at a 2008 screening in New York City.Bobby Bank/2008 Bobby Bank

At the Waverly Theatre in New York, some of the Rocky Horror fandom’s biggest traditions were born. Fans would watch the film in full costume and a ‘shadow cast’ of actors would dress as the film’s characters, mimicking their lines and actions and talk back to the personas on screen.

By October 1976, the tradition of audience callbacks was in full swing, with one notable example aimed at the character of Janet, when she places a newspaper over her head to protect herself from the rain.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show lobbycard, featuring L-R: Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry and Richard O'BrienLMPC via Getty Images

An audience member called out: “Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch!” to the delight of the crowd.

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From its cult following in New York and Los Angeles, the cult of Rocky Horror soon spread, making it a huge smash hit.

Despite its terrible opening, it’s technically still in its initial theatrical release. That’s thanks to a 20th Century Fox policy that made archival films available to cinemas at any time. It’s never been pulled from its original 1975 release and continues to play in cinemas to this day.

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Rocky Horror fans dress up for a screening at the Roxy Theatre in Toronto, 1983Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images

In 2019, after the the Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox, Rocky Horror was saved from the archival Disney Vault, with executives deciding to allow the traditional midnight screenings to continue.

In spite of a rocky launch, the film now has a huge, international cult following and is considered by many to be one of the greatest musical films of all time. In 2005, that was made official when it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

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