The R-Rated Cult Comedy That Defined A Generation

By Robert Scucci | Published

Kevin Smith has come a long way since he started his filmmaking career in 1994, and these days, he has a number of horror titles attached to his name, like Tusk, Yoga Hosers, and Red State. 30 years ago, Smith focused primarily on comedy and unleashed one of the best independent films of all time: Clerks. During a time when big-budget blockbusters ruled the cinematic landscape, Clerks did the unthinkable by becoming the unexpected independent hit that perfectly captures the common plight of the Gen X middle-class worker who was called into a shift on his day off. 

Clerks Broke The Hollywood Mold

Clerks is a low-budget, black-and-white occupational comedy that Kevin Smith filmed at the actual Quick Stop convenience store where he was employed. Shot for a modest $27,575, Smith would finish work for the day, immediately fire up his camera, and work on the movie from 10:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. when the store was closed. Over the course of three weeks, Smith reportedly slept about an hour each day while filming.

Kevin Smith Bet On Himself

kevin smith quick stop

Smith’s devotion to Clerks also had some serious financial implications, as he sold off most of his comic book collection, borrowed $3,000 from his parents, and maxed out several credit cards to finance the production. Not knowing that he’d have a hit on his hands, Smith’s directorial debut was a massive gamble that we’re glad paid off. 

An Unlikely Star

The plot of Clerks centers on Dante Hicks, who is called into work on his day off. Constantly lamenting, “I’m not even supposed to be here today,” Dante reluctantly opens the Quick Stop even though he has plans to play hockey with his friends. Though he’s dissatisfied with his overall station in life, he can always rely on the company of his friend, Randal, who (barely) works at the neighboring video store. 

Ground-Breaking Dialogue

Through their conversations, we learn about independent contractor semantics on the Death Star in Star Wars, egg-obsessed store patrons looking for “the perfect dozen,” and the dangers of sharing your body count with your current girlfriend. Since Clerks had a nearly nonexistent budget, Kevin Smith had to rely on his masterfully crafted (and incredibly profane) dialogue to carry the story forward. Though Dante and Randal do end up closing the Quick Stop to play hockey on the roof and once more to attend a funeral that they had to flee after Randal accidentally knocked over the casket, most of the film’s events transpire inside of the store for budgetary reasons. 

Iconic Characters

Most importantly, Clerks introduces us to Jay (Jason Mewes) and Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob, two recurring characters that are featured in subsequent films in varying capacities before ultimately getting their own feature length film in 2001. 

A Smash Success

Despite the obstacles Kevin Smith faced in writing, producing, directing, editing, and acting in Clerks, his hard work paid off because the film was immediately an unexpected hit. Clerks went on to earn $4.4 million at the box office against its final reported budget of $230,000. By so expertly capturing the Gen X aesthetic (namely flannel and combat boots) through authentic dialogue and its insanely relatable characters, Clerks was celebrated by critics and audiences alike, garnering a 90 percent critical score against an audience score of 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes

The Sequels

Rosario Dawson Clerks II kevin smith

It would take 12 years for Clerks to see its 2006 sequel, Clerks II, and another 16 years for Clerks III to see a theatrical release in 2022. Though these future installments failed to fully win over critics, they resonated with audiences because they still embodied the same do-it-yourself spirit of the first film despite having more substantial studio backing. But if you want to see the film that started it all, you can stream Clerks in all of its profane glory on Amazon Prime Video.