Prior to the ’70s, midnight shows were the realm of the occasional horror release and exploitation distributors who used the slot to attract night owls to seedy fare. But the midnight movie as we know it — as a Friday- and Saturday-night staple featuring cult films — came into its own as the ’60s turned into the ’70s.
The ‘60s saw a flurry of activity in underground film as Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, and others made movies way outside the Hollywood system, films that took avant-garde forms and featured content too extreme for the mainstream. That didn’t mean there wasn’t an audience for them, though. Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls played New York for months, for instance, and in the latter part of that year, Mike Getz of Los Angeles’ Cinema Theatre — after having success in Los Angeles playing experimental films at midnight — hit upon the notion of sending a package of films on the road under the name “Psychedelic Film Trips #1.” They played at midnight across the country in theaters owned by Getz’s uncle Louis Sher, and they did well, making Getz something like the Johnny Appleseed of the midnight movie.
—Keith Phipps, writing for The Verge about the rise of midnight movies as cultural institution, and the tradition’s uncertain future. For further reading from an unlikely source, the Wikipedia entry for “Midnight movie” is surprisingly great.