Amid the red carpet premieres and the all-star cast behind Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, it’s easy to forget that when the original movie opened in 2001, it received lackluster response. It bombed at the box office and failed to impress critics (with EW’s Owen Gleiberman one of the few exceptions).
After a few years, however, Wet Hot American Summer’s reputation began to turn around. At the red carpet premiere for First Day of Camp in New York City, the cast and creators told EW about the moment when they first started to realize their box-office failure had become a beloved cult classic.
DAVID WAIN (co-creator)
It was very gradual. The movie tanked when it came out and nobody bought the DVD at first. And then it was little by little, people were talking about it and I heard about it. I think by two years into it they started having those midnight screenings here in New York. I think that’s when I started to realize people care about this. A small group but a loyal, vocal group really cares about this film, and it’s just grown and grown since then.
MICHAEL SHOWALTER (co-creator, Coop)
I would hear about college campuses doing a screening or a midnight show in a city like Portland or Austin. Then I’d hear stories of people going on a date or something, and the people they were on a date with would say, “Did you like Wet Hot American Summer?” and that would be a litmus test for how well the date was going to go. I could tell from that that it was more than just a movie people liked; it represented something to them.
DAVID HYDE PIERCE (Professor Henry Newman)
Crazy, creepy people telling me how much they liked it. And not just us and the cast, other crazy people. It was a great lesson too about on what it means to succeed in this business. The fact that critics didn’t like it and it didn’t do well in the end doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
NINA HELLMAN (Nurse Nancy)
As far as I remember we went to Sundance and nobody wanted it. You know what it was, I have two younger stepbrothers, and they and their friends started to get obsessed with it and love it. I was like, “Huh, okay.” It was really a couple years after.
MARISA RYAN (Abby Bernstein)
Well I thought it did well. Owen liked it! We were in New York most of us, and pretty soon after it came out, David and Michael set up all these screenings at colleges and Brooklyn and museums and theaters. So I never knew it wasn’t big. And then little by little, a year later, people would recognize me who I thought were too young to have seen the movie. Like, oh they’re just seeing it now. It just kept building and building.
ZAK ORTH (J.J.)
I don’t remember when the exact moment was once it was out there and happening, but I do know, I’ll swear to the fact that I felt like that was its fate from the time that we were making it. I didn’t think it was gonna be a big blockbuster, 2000-screen release, but I knew it was going to get seen somehow. ‘Cause I wanted to see it.
While it took a few years for the American public to catch up to Wet Hot American Summer, the cast knew they were onto something special from the beginning. Though the set of the new prequel series was measurably tamer than the first time around, the cast were excited to reunite. They each told EW their favorite part of coming back to their WHAS characters after 15 years.
Getting to have free lunches every day. I love when you shoot a movie or a TV show, you don’t have to worry about where lunch is coming from, they serve it to you. Just seeing all the magic reassemble was pretty great. I loved that first moment on the first day when we shot the staff meeting. Seeing all these people I still keep in touch with, but now taking on these roles again, was pretty wild.
Seeing everybody, hanging out, making each other laugh, being back into the short shorts and tube socks.
I think the whole idea was so silly, and there’s so much crappy stuff happening in the world right now, the opportunity to be silly was great.
Yeah, just revisiting them and all their quirkiness and seeing what the guys were gonna come up with in terms of the writing was really fun.
The people. We were really a close group to begin with. But we really were. A lot of us have stayed in touch and many of us still see each other. It’s kind of glimpsing a great friend, you just see them across the room but for some reason never see them. And then you get to step right into it.
My favorite part of coming back was the very first shot of the very first day. We all showed up in our dumb wigs and everything like no time had passed. It clicked immediately. It was wonderful.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp begins streaming on Netflix on Friday.