How A24 Became The Ultimate Film Cult
The production company has secured itself the kind of fanatical following that has fans purchasing A24 shower curtains. Why?
If you’re a movie buff, A24 undoubtedly evokes the image of a very specific kind of film. Despite launching just 10 years ago, the entertainment company has secured itself the kind of fanatical following that has fans purchasing A24 shower curtains. The only question is: why?
Even if haven’t heard of A24, you’ve definitely heard of their films. The company won its first best picture Oscar back in 2016 for Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, and its films have continued to accumulate Oscar nominations since, including The Tragedy of Macbeth, Minari, Uncut Gems, Lady Bird, The Farewell, The Florida Project, and many more.
Lest we forget the company’s association with green-lighting and producing critically-acclaimed cult horror classics either. What do Hereditary, The Witch, Midsommar, The Green Room, It Comes At Night, and Lamb have in common? They were produced, distributed, or both, by A24.
From heartfelt Oscar contenders like Moonlight and Minari to cerebral sci-fi such as After Yang, Ex-Machina, and Under The Skin — A24 doesn’t limit itself to one genre. Films in the company’s catalogue vary in their languages, subject matter, and cast. Yet there is an undeniable thread between them that runs a little deeper than the A24 motion graphic that flashes before the opening credits. None of this has gone unnoticed by online cinephiles, who align themselves as fans of the studio in a way more typical of a film, TV series, celebrity, or director.
When it comes to A24, the studio has risen as a star in its own right. But how?
When did it all begin?
A24 was established in 2012, founded by filmmakers David Fenkel, Daniel Katz, and John Hodges. Its moniker comes from the name of a highway in Italy, but unlike moved LA-based companies, it is based in NYC. According to a rare interview given by the founding trio to GQ, they began A24 to fill the void that swallowed up the independent cinema of the ’90s.
“I felt like there was a huge opportunity to create something where the talented people could be talented,” Katz said. We find movies [for which] our perspective, our system, our people, can act to make it something special. If it’s gonna be released the same way by another company, we usually don’t go after it.”
As this ethos of making special films even more so has come into focus over the last decade, A24 slowly, surely and consistently amassed a following within the industry and with fans. Both Apple and Amazon have deals with A24 to distribute their films, and Disney recently attempted to buy them out. They’ve yet to crack box office world records, but the online reverence for A24 is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, much of Film Twitter is dedicated to discussing A24 films, with fan accounts dedicated to updates from the company.
The company was was mainly a distribution company until it began producing original films in 2015. Their first original film, the now oscar-winning Moonlight, was released in 2016. Other original films produced by the company include Hereditary, Eighth Grade, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems, The Green Knight, and Everything Everywhere All at Once.
It Kind Of… Has Cult Vibes?
The way some fans act about A24 feels like an edgier version of Disney Adults. In the same way that adult fans of Disney don’t even blink at paying up to thousands of dollars for exclusive merch, A24 fans have been known to pay upwards of $50 for a candle, or even $35 for a tote bag, simply to rep the brand.
Back in December last year, Vanity Fair published a feature explaining how A24 merchandise is frequently sold on Grailed (the go-to place for obscure streetwear), alongside items from Louis Vuitton and Supreme. The ‘Proud A24 Fan’ subreddit — where dedicated fans of the company share everything from their fan art, opinions, merch purchases, posters, and pilgrimages to filming locations — boasts over 58,000 subscribers.
Even Buzzfeed, Screen Rant and others have tapped into the fanaticism surrounding the film production company. In 2018, Buzzfeed published 19 Hilarious Tweets Only True A24 Fans Will Understand, and in March this year Collider published 8 Best Movies for A24 Fans to Watch Next. Fans even regularly refer to the ‘A24 Cinematic Universe’, as if the studio’s films speak to a shared story like Marvel or DC.
Okay, so it’s not quite a cult. But we are seeing a level of worship and fandom here that is usually reserved for focus-grouped family megacorps like Disney; not relatively small film distribution companies dedicated to facilitating indie cinema. So, how did A24 cultivate such a following?
Why Are People Treating An Indie Film Studio Like The MCU?
There’s no way of knowing exactly how A24 has inspired such an intense fanbase, but a huge part of is down to its unorthodox, fan-centred approach to marketing. Aside from collaborating with popular designers to make high quality and unique merchandise, A24 takes a similarly unique approach to promoting films.
To promote The Disaster Artist in 2017, the company promised a ‘Tommy’ Award for the best reaction to any scene from The Room. The winner would receive an Oscar-like trophy shaped like Tommy Wiseau and a private screening of The Disaster Artist in the winner’s hometown. As part of their marketing campaign for 2015’s The Witch, the company created Twitter accounts for various characters in the film, including the satanic goat, and used them to interact with fans tweeting about the film. During marketing for Swiss Army Man, A24 collaborated with Tumblr to create ‘Manny Sexts’. Fans could text Manny (Daniel Radcliffe’s character from the film), and he would ask fans questions, the responses of which were shared on a Tumblr that is still very much in existence.
My personal favourite bit of marketing saw the company catfish on Tinder as Ava, the robot protagonist of Ex Machina. People, unwittingly or otherwise. who matched with Ava were then asked a series of questions about love and what it means to be human, before being sent the handle for Ava’s Instagram account. Famously, the insta had 2 posts; a video clip and a trailer for the film. Similarly, in 2019, the studio promoted Uncut Gems by opening a pop-up shop in NYC where fans could where buy the movie’s soundtrack and bag an exclusive zine edited by the movie’s filmmakers, as well as purchasing blinged up Furbies.
Then, there’s A24’s own use of social media. The company’s official Twitter account frequently addresses fans directly and retweets fan reactions and memes of their films. A most hilarious recent example of this is when the official A24 Twitter tweeted three red flags in response to an image of a bathroom covered in A24 merch that included an official A24 logo-covered shower curtain.
It’s not just that the company employs guerilla marketing that’s often aimed at going viral. A24 has cultivated its fanbase by building an interactive relationship between fans and film to promote their films. Equally, much of the apparel and film trinkets from A24’s shop are only available on limited runs, even if they’re collaborations with other companies. In this way, A24 not only blurs the line between reality, their films, and their fans but makes the fans feel special in the process.
A24 has cultivated its fanbase by building an interactive relationship between fans and film to promote their films.
An element of ‘if you build it, they will come,’ is at play here, too. If you promote your company’s brand in a way that encourages people to identify with it, by wearing immediately identifying merchandise, attending special interactive events, and even encouraging fand to use their own social media to promote the company, then they will make it part of their identity. All of this very much appeals to a younger social media savvy audience too, especially a demographic accustomed to having main character energy.
A24 knows that if they market themselves cleverly enough on social media, then social media hordes will practically do their marketing for them. This is exactly what you’ll find searching A24 on any social media platform dominated by younger demographics — everything from fans cosplaying characters from A24 films to ranking them to popular POV style TikToks that see fans imagine themselves in an A24 film.
But What Is It About The Films Themselves?
None of that sleek and trendy marketing would stick, however, if the film themselves weren’t worth paying attention to. So, what is it about A24 films that so enchants its fans?
Like any film studio, A24 has its share of critical darlings and cinematic flops. For every studio’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, there’s sure to be a Sea of Trees, or Dark Places (widely regarded as A24’s worst films). But what links each entry into their catalogue, even the flops, is a dedication to showcasing unique stories told by new and underdog filmmakers. You won’t find any billion-dollar superhero box office fodder in A24’s catalogue, nor any cash grabby reboots. What you will find are authentic attempts at bringing new and thought-provoking films to the world.
Whether those stories are about traversing the multiverse, growing up as a gay Black man, or travelling to Hong Kong to farewell a dying relative — they’re all films with a fresh, often necessary perspective deemed too risky, or too strange for major studios. And if there’s one thing film buffs have been starved of in the last decade, it’s original movies.
“They’re making people want to go to the cinema again to see this kind of stuff, rather than staying at home.”
It’s also no coincidence that many of our current bona fide major movie stars were originally A24 darlings. Robert Pattinson collaborated with A24 on four films; The Lighthouse, High Life, Good Time, and The Rover — all before becoming Batman. Pattinson even testified that A24 is creating a cinematic movement. “I think they’re creating a kind of renaissance in filmmaking,” the actor told GQ. “They’re making people want to go to the cinema again to see this kind of stuff, rather than staying at home.”
Other A24 regulars include the likes of Timothée Chalamet, who charmed fans in Lady Bird and Hot Summer Nights, both A24 acquisitions. Brie Larsen earned the studio their first acting Oscar win for Room, and also starred in Free Fire. Lakeith Stanfield is currently doing his second film for the studio, Notes From a Young Black Chef, after starring in 2019’s Uncut Gems. A24 has favourite directors, too: The Safdie brothers, Ari Aster, David Lowery, and Robert Eggers have all worked with the studio to produce and distribute their films multiple times.
The studio’s resulting showcase is a collection of unique films made by left of field directors that star fresh and compelling actors. Not every film that A24 distributes or produces is a masterpiece, but they all boast an eclectic, novel yet passionate approach to storytelling that’s becoming more and more absent from a dizzying cinema landscape dominated by the big studios and their safe blockbusters.
In an increasingly corporatised cinematic landscape — where the biggest films are made with CGI programs years before they’re even scripted — it’s not hard to see why a disillusioned younger audience would latch on to a company that is dedicated to breaking up all that monopolised monotony with movies that remind us of how cinema is supposed to feel.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.