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Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead Is Next Up To Be A Cult Classic

"Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" was released with little fanfare in the summer of 1991. Coming hot off of TV's "Married...With Children," Christina Applegate led the young cast of the soon-to-be cult classic. In the film, she plays Sue Ellen (aka Swell): a 17-year-old high school graduate who pretends to be in her 20s to bring in some extra money and get her fashion career started.

She accomplishes this because her mom has left her and her siblings on their own for the summer. With mom on vacation, Swell thinks she has a summer of freedom ahead of her. However, mom hired an old woman to babysit her and her siblings, Mrs. Sturak (played by Eda Reiss Merin). After Merin's character dies (of natural causes, probably), Swell and her siblings are emboldened to cut loose and be who they want with no parental supervision.

Inspired by 1983's "Risky Business," the film's writers set out to create another film where an underage protagonist can make it on their own in a modern world. In fact, the original title of the film was "The Real World," but had to be changed due to a certain MTV show that was setting up production at the same time. "Critters" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" director Stephen Herek was brought in to direct the film, helping bring the script to life. While the film was neither a box office failure nor a success, it subsequently found its audience and today is referred to as a cult classic.

Repeat airings on HBO helped gain the film an audience

Off of a $10 million budget, the $25 million+ box office take for "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" didn't exactly mark the film as a failure in any way, but it only opened at No. 6 on its opening weekend, which didn't do the film any favors. Audiences tend to remember movies that bomb financially as well as runaway successes. It's usually the films that land in the middle that tend to be forgotten. Such was not the case for "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead."

According to Buzzfeed, when the film was being set up to be made, it was funded by HBO, which was producing movies for theatrical release at the time. While the box office didn't light up for HBO, they were integral in helping "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" gain cult status. Since the film was produced by HBO, they had the rights to run it on their network all the time. Constant airplay got the film in front of more audiences than theatrical play ever could. Also, the VHS market was booming at the time, so rentals and sales helped the film gain more of an audience.

The very things that critics blasted the film for were what helped audiences gravitate toward it

Critics didn't help the film's theatrical take. They were, for the most part, not kind to the movie. "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" currently sits at a 35% rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. Peter Travers, renowned critic from Rolling Stone, said in the opening line of his zero-star review, "Blame the smash of 'Home Alone' for the new herd of kids-on-the-loose movies. Let's hope none are dumber than this one." Another famous film critic, Roger Ebert, wasn't quite as harsh but didn't exactly like the film either. In his two-star review of the film, he said "This [film] is a consumerist, escapist fantasy for teenage girls."

But isn't it that escapist quality that always draws young viewers into movies like this? Christina Applegate's co-star Danielle Harris, who plays one of her younger siblings, told Buzzfeed, "It was like every kid's dream to have their mom go away and have the entire summer without parents or babysitters and be an adult for a minute." Plus, with a new provocative title, young people were sure to see escapist fantasies come to life throughout the course of the film. Co-screenwriter Neil Landau initially hated the title change, but he later accredited the title to being part of the film's cult success later on.

A true sign of a film reaching cult status is how quotable it is

While the title, the themes, and the constant running on cable seem to be why "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" has resonated with fans and cemented the film's cult status, actress Joanna Cassidy, who plays Rose Lindsey, an executive where Swell wants to work, seems to think its popularity has come from something simpler than that. She told Buzzfeed, "Yes, the repetition starts to set it in people's minds, and that has been wonderful, but you also have to consider that a movie has to be likable in order for that to happen."

Fans of the film often quote "I'm right on top of that, Rose," to Cassidy to this day, with the line that has become as legendary as the movie itself. The line is even brought up on Reddit threads, like this one, that ask users what their favorite "bad" movie is. Scrolling through the comments, users also mention the lines, "Dishes are done, man," and "We are in the bowels of the fashion industry," as favorites to come out of the film.

It's often very hard to tell which movies will go on to gain cult status. If a production tries too hard to be a cult film, audiences will see right through it. If a movie lands in that aforementioned so-so middle ground, it often disappears. When a movie starts being quoted regularly, a lot of people can remember seeing it, and if the film hits the right amount of earnestness, it can go on to withstand the sands of time and gain a cult status much like "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead."