It's a major work by a great auteur director so I assume that Capra's admirers always championed it. I remember Dave Kehr talking about belonging to a film society that would screen it annually for the Christmas season back when they still considered it a neglected classic.
> Either way, it sort of brings us back to the original question posed by "The Big Lewboski"'s popularity: can a cult film shed its cult status by becoming by achieving a level of popularity beyond the average cult film and if so, at what degree of popularity does this happen?
I guess I really don't care about splitting the hairs that finely as long as your definitions aren't ridiculous and people can tell what you mean by them. This somewhat backpedals my original statement, but I'll stick by it to some extent because the article I was responding to keeps repeatedly hammering both the idea that it's a "cult classic" and the fact that it's universally beloved, which felt like a contradiction to me. It was at least a modest box office success and then because a huge hit on video/dvd within a few years. Tons of popular movies that nobody thinks are "cult" movies follow that pattern. You could argue that it gets more points because it's an off beat genre mashup, or because a certain segment of its fans are so fanatical, but at that point there are so many variables that it gets silly. Almost nobody thinks about that many factor when they slap those kinds of labels on movies. I think it's really a case of a movie that connects with some people in a way that makes them want to feel like they're part of some interesting subculture for liking it, even if they aren't.