The problem with the new, little-seen Johnny Depp film isn't that it appeals only to a cult audience—it's that it lacks the personality that allowed that cult to form
How famous is Hunter S. Thompson? Not famous enough to sell a movie, if you believe the president of the movie studio behind The Rum Diary. A labor of love for star Johnny Depp, the adaptation of the early Thompson novel flopped last weekend at the box office, pulling in a paltry $5 million. Surveying the damage Monday, Bob Berney, FilmDistrict president of theatrical distribution, told the Hollywood Reporter, "Probably, at the end of the day, the whole Hunter thing attracts more of a cult audience. While he and Johnny were best friends and the movie is a tribute to Hunter, Hunter is still a little too extreme for the mainstream."
Berney has the right to defend his star and film, but he was wrong to blame the bad showing on the author of the book that it's based on. If "the Hunter thing" is a cult, it's an awfully big one. The drug-addled cosmic moneywrench persona Thompson created has permeated nearly every level of pop consciousness, not only through his still-cherished writing, but also as the model for "Uncle Duke” in the comic strip Doonesbury, as a superhero in DC's comic book Transmetropolitan, and on TV as the “Hunter Gathers” character from Adult Swim's show The Venture Bros. "Gonzo," the byword for his kamikaze approach to life, gave its name to a Muppet. On film, he's been portrayed by Bill Murray inWhere the Buffalo Roam and has been the subject of nearly a dozen of documentaries. Oh, and there's Johnny Depp's previous two Thompson-inspired flicks: the 1998 cult classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and this year's well-received animated adventure Rango. If the guy was any more mainstream, a theme park in Florida would open a Hunter S. Thompson ride called “Fear and Loathing in Orlando.”