How a Film Becomes a Cult Classic

At first, the critical consensus was that “Groundhog Day” was merely “cute.” But over time it developed a mass following of viewers and critics alike.
  • Transcript


Question: How did “Groundhog Day” become a classic film?

Danny Rubin:  Well, it wasn’t an overnight success in that way.  I mean, I think when it first came out, generally the reviews said, “Another comedy by Harold Ramis.  It’s kind of cute.”  Two, two and half star kind of reviews.  But there were other places where people seemed to dig it right away.  I was getting letters from Germany and from England.  A lot of fans in England who just thought it was an extraordinary movie and my feeling was I felt justified.  I was like, “Yeah, that’s what it was supposed to be.”  And it was just very slowly that people realized that everybody was sort of saying, “Oh, have you seen "Groundhog Day?"  It was really good.”  And it was just sort of a buzz started developing and then little things started happening.

Like, there was a big Buddhist convention in San Francisco and somebody delivered a paper about "Groundhog Day" and Buddhism and people realized that people were—psychologists were showing it to their patients, prescribing it and all kinds of different religious disciplines were embracing it and giving sermons and lectures and writing important papers based on the philosophy of "Groundhog Day."

And Harold Ramis was also getting letters and notes and the two of us would compare things and say, “Wow, this is really interesting.”  And then, at some point, I guess Roger Ebert wrote, not a retraction, but a new review that sort of said, “I think we should revisit this movie.  I think this is a little better than I thought.”  And I know at the end of the year that it came out in’93, William Goldman, the screenwriter, was reflecting on movies of the past year and he was the one who wrote, "I think 'Groundhog Day' is the one that will be—of all of the movies that came out this year, it’s the one that will be remembered in 10 years,” and perhaps that gave it some street cred or got some people thinking.

But, I don’t know.  I think people just like it and a little bit at a time, it started to develop this, not exactly a following, but an awful lot of people who identified with it.

Question: What makes people identify so strongly with the movie?

Danny Rubin:  I haven’t thought a lot about that, but everybody seems to have their own reason and that’s what makes it so remarkable.  Everybody seems to bring their own way of thinking and their own discipline to bear on the ideas within it and would express this is absolutely describing the essence of Judaism.  This is the essence of Nietzsche’s philosophy.  This is the essence homeopathy.  I mean, I’ve seen all of this.  I think there's something about - I think we understand how people grow and develop.  Okay, I have a few answers.  I think I understand how people - we understand how people grow and develop in a linear time fashion.  How you have an adolescence at a certain age and you start to develop adulthood and you start to mature.  But, I think the movie shows that it is the repetition of days itself which pushes us forward in our own maturation as we start to encounter the same things over and over again.

And so, there's an element of truth to the fact that we are repeating the same day over and over again.  But, I think the biggest thing that affects people is the fact that Phil is presented with the exact same day and the very first time he’s presented with it, it’s probably the worst day of his life.  And, by the end of the movie, we see that it’s the exact same day but somehow this is probably the best day of his life.  It’s the day he fell in love and she fell in love with him and everybody loves him and he was living a fulfilling life pursuing culture and things that he loved and appreciating the day and doing good works and contributing to society and it makes it very clear that we are in control of our day.  We can control our future.  There's something very empowering about it and
"Groundhog Day," it’s almost an experiment that says, "See?  Here's a guy who is having a terrible day and he’s kind of a horrible person and just through the act of repetition and paying attention and remembering, he is forced to change who he is and by changing who he is, he changes the life that he experiences the world around him.  That, I think, is the main thing that gets people very excited about the movie.

Recorded on May 12, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman