Having a cult following as a celebrity doesn’t always imply Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Sometimes it just means that you have a loyal group of fans who love to see everything you’re in. Why? Because you’re quirky, good at what you do (unless you’re Tommy Wiseau), probably have something to do with science fiction or horror films, and are otherwise an interesting person. Heck, you don’t even have to be alive to have a cult following. Your fans will need a complete set and a TV or computer to view your work.
Now, some celebrities are more cultish than others in terms of their fanbase—and that’s not always a good thing (fanfiction is…a rabbit hole)—but the ones on this list are more of the mainstream kind. The cult following is there, but they aren’t entirely relegated to indie and B-list films.
Here are ten celebrities that have cult followings.
10 Zoe Lund
One look at Zoe Lund, and yes, that’s a cult film actor. Her unique style and appearance, which perfectly fits the description of a 1990s hipster, makes her the ideal choice for indie and cult films. Though she doesn’t have an extensive resume—unfortunately, she died due to a cocaine-induced heart attack at the age of 37—two cult film classics stand out: Ms. 45Bad Lieutenant. Because of her popularity in the movies, she is directly associated with director Abel Ferrara’s work.
9 Bela Lugosi
The horror movie icon, best known for playing Count Dracula in 1931’s DraculaEven after all these years, his legacy is still unsurpassed. His portrayals of classic horror characters have charmed and terrified audiences for decades. His thick Hungarian accent meant that he was often seconded or given minor roles. Still, it’s Bela Lugosi who Bauhaus sings about, not Boris Karloff, and it’s this Dracula who audiences watch old-timey monster movies for.
Harris Milstead, better known as the actor, singer, and drag queen Divine, should be numbers 1 through 10 on this list, but this isn’t a top 10 Divine facts list. Divine was one of John Waters’ favorite actors, and for a good reason. (S)he could do whatever the script required of him, without question. For those who are familiar Pink Flamingos, you know the scene to which I’m referring. To those unfamiliar, look up Divine “dog poop.”
Divine’s life was filled with the excitement of drag, disco, and drugs. The actor was diagnosed with depression after his disco career ended. He found it more difficult to get acting work. The film was released shortly after. HairsprayHe died from a heart attack caused by an enlarged coronary artery.
The legacy Divine left behind was a counterculture icon, the inspiration behind Ursula’s look from The Little Mermaid, and a fan base that is strong and unwaveringly dedicated.
7 Nathan Fillion
I say “Nathan Fillion,” you say “Firefly.” That’s just how it goes. I don’t know what else he’s been in other than that—who am I kidding! Yes, I do. Modern Family, Santa Clarita Diet, Gravity Falls, Con Man…the list is pretty long, so why is his following cultish?
Because his fans follow him everywhere he goes. Between Josh Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire SlayerAnd Firefly, Fillion amassed a niche audience who didn’t even know they liked vampires or space westerns. This could just be the result of good writing on Whedon’s front, but there’s no denying that Fillion went along for the ride.
6 Dennis Hopper
You can spot a Dennis Hopper film from a mile away, a true enfant terrible—watching his work is like taking acid, cocaine, and a punch to the face simultaneously. And his followers can’t get enough of it.
Hopper’s passing in 2010 from prostate cancer reminded everyone, not just his niche following, just how larger than life he was. He was a painter, photographer and collector of modern art. He was also a well known drug and alcohol abuser in his early years of his career. He’s acted alongside James Dean in Rebel Without a CauseAnd GiantAnd really made his mark in the cult/indie film industry with Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper is so indie that he starred in Neil Young’s mostly unknown movie Human HighwayAs a cook.
After a successful stint in rehab, he focused on directing some of the 1990s’ best and worst (looking at you, Super Mario Bros.), films including Speed, Waterworld, True Romance.
5 Peter Weller
Peter Weller, does that name sound familiar to you? Because he was Robocop. RobocopPeter Weller was also a cult success. The science-fiction actor has made his mark in the worlds of futuristic television 1980s and beyond. Those who are familiar with the genre know how important he is. His appeal is not only two-fold.
First, there’s a camp to the roles he plays, the kind of forgivable camp that was seemingly required for all ’80s science fiction actors (the furrowed brow, hard stares, and futuristic moods). But his camp was better than others; it didn’t feel as put on. He was able to play more roles in movies and shows, which helped him maintain his appeal as an actor. Sons of Anarchy, Star Trek Into Darkness, Mighty Aphrodite.
Second, Weller looks good. Yes, he’s old now, but you don’t understand.
He played Buckaroo Banzai during the in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the 8th DimensionHis character was supposed to be multi-talented and highly intelligent (Weller holds a Ph.D. in reallife), BeautifulScientist and hero. Okay? He’s hot. Ali McGraw would agree with my assessment.
So yes, RobocopWhile it’s cool, Peter Weller was a nice sight to see. Don’t judge my cult worship, people.
4 Danny Trejo
Are you looking for a cult star who has met a cult leader. Danny Trejo, welcome. Trejo was apparently in prison when Charles Manson met him. Manson then hypnotized Trejo, making him feel high. Cool.
Trejo is not only a celebrity with a reputation as one of the most charming and interesting people you will ever meet, but also because of his involvement with cult films. Otherwise, we’re pretty sure he’d be more than cult status. He’d be regular famous. Still, Trejo “regular?” I don’t think so.
Trejo’s standard typecast is the bad guy you love to hate and love to love. His signature features include a scowl, long, dripping hair and a voice full with road grit, danger and danger. His badass roles are well-loved by his fans. Sons of AnarchyAnd MacheteHe is a franchisee and keeps the character alive. He’s appeared in Breaking Bad, co-starred Death RaceIn the third season of Mr. World, he is. American Gods.
But behind the fierce facade is a man who has helped people battle drug addiction, runs a taco truck franchise (Trejo’s Tacos), and is a devoted father of three.
3 Lucy Lawless
Xena, Warrior PrincessThis 1990s feminist-fantasy TV show was a kick-ass, female-fantasy sensation. It incorporated mythology, sexy battle attire, action, and a redemption tale. The battles were hard and dirty (get out of the gutter, it wasn’t that kind of dirty), but required the physical strength traditionally attributed to male action heroes. Xena was a warrior first and princess second.
Because the show’s popularity coincided with the rise of the Internet, it was one of the first cult shows where people could virtually discuss it. And so Lucy Lawless, the actor behind Xena, built herself a following of first-generation Internet subcultures, whether it’s because she represented the strength of a woman or because she was the perfect fit for the role.
Today, Xena, Warrior PrincessPeople watch it to relive the excitement of the past. Its dated aesthetic (similar in style to) is what people enjoy more. BarbarellaLawless is still my favorite. She’s since appeared in Battlestar Galactica, Salem, Ash vs. Evil DeadActing on stage (Broadway status) as well as TV, Lawless continues to act. Lawless even had a semi successful singing career. She is a symbol for the LGBTQA+ community, just like our next celebrity.
2 Judy Garland
Judy Garland wouldn’t be considered a celebrity with a cult following in her heyday. She was simply an A-lister—everyone followed her. As the generations grew older, and movie musicals became less popular, Garland’s presence in the mainstream became very niche. Garland is now a cult favorite, with completists realizing that there’s more to her than she has. The Wizard of Oz.
Garland’s life was far from perfect; certainly no Mickey Rooney fairytale. She struggled with substance abuse as was common for Hollywood women at the time. However, she couldn’t recover. Garland died from an accidental overdose of barbiturates. This may have been exacerbated by her struggle with bulimia. Her marriage was not happy.
Despite this, she was still an absolute sensation. The Judy Garland ShowCBS was the home of one of the largest talent deals, and her 1961 Carnegie Hall performance is one of the most memorable in show business history. She was also a hugely popular performer in the gay community, and continues to be.
Though historians can’t quite identify why Garland is a gay icon, several possible reasons include the Stonewall Inn riots coinciding with her death and funeral.
1 LeVar Burton
Take a look, inside a book; it’s Le-Var Bur-ton. LeVar Burton is the actor we all love, as children, adults, and eventually as seniors. Yet, despite his popularity and huge success on shows such as Star Trek: The Next GenerationAnd Reading RainbowHe is the only one who talks about him.
Burton has a list of TV shows and movies that he has appeared in before he was even born.Star TrekHis success as Geordi la Forge has kept him in the forefront of science fiction show conversation. A cult hero. Burton is everywhere.
He’s guest-hosted Jeopardy, played MLK Jr in 2001’s Ali; he’s taught a MasterClass on storytelling and cameoed as himself on CommunityAnd The Big Bang Theory. Reading Rainbow remains one of the most popular Millennial-aged cult children TV shows out there, and he’s even reached a new generation of kids by providing the voice for Doc Greene in Transformers: Rescue Bots.
He will forever be Geordi la Forge, which he is again. He is the next generation. Star TrekThe role of royalty was a pioneering character and one of only seven principal black characters in this franchise. He gave us hope for medical innovations to treat blindness and showed that being born differently abled doesn’t limit one’s potential.
LeVar Burton is the ultimate cult hero, at the Bridge, on the game show podium and behind a book.