The Rocky Horror Picture Show, that campy beacon of sexuality and self-acceptance, premiered in the U.S. on September 25, 1975, at the Westwood Theater in Los Angeles. The film follows a terribly traditional 1950s-esque couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), as they spend the night in the gothic castle of the cross-dressing alien Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and his Transylvanian posse. Following its release, it was quickly shelved. But due to the marketing savvy of a young executive at 20th Century Fox, Rocky Horror was revitalized in the form of a midnight screening the next year at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village, New York. Over the next four decades, Rocky Horror would be transformed from failed movie-musical to underground phenomenon to rebellious coming-of-age ritual to mainstream icon, all thanks to the hardcore fans who flocked to its late-night showings.
Born in the midst of the punk revolution in the form of Richard O’Brien’s 1973 dark cabaret musical The Rocky Horror Show and reincarnated into The Rocky Horror Picture Show by Jim Sharman two years later, the film is currently the longest-running movie in history. Through its immersive, fan-driven screenings and unadulterated idolatry of weirdness, it’s ended up so ingrained in the cultural fabric that networks like HBO and Fox are using the film’s 40th anniversary to capitalize on its popularity. Rocky Horror, once an embodiment of all that’s transgressive and outside the mainstream, has become the ultimate crowd-pleaser.