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The term B-movie originally referred to a Hollywood motion picture designed to be distributed as the "lower half" of a double feature, often a genre film featuring cowboys, gangsters, or horror. In the days of the major film studios, this was official terminology that also gave rise to the practice of referring to "A-list" or "B-list" stars. (For example, Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, made a career out of acting in B-movies.) The major studios had "B-units" that made their B-movies, but there were also small studios—such as Republic Pictures and Monogram Pictures—which specialized in making B-movies. The "Golden Age of Hollywood" came to an end, and with it the studio system. Most drive-in theaters closed, and the double feature became a rarity. Today, there is no longer a clear distinction between "A-movies" and "B-movies".
"B-movie" has come to refer to any low-budget commercial film, with lesser-known actors (B-actors). These films may be formulaic, but they are distinguished from Z-movies by being professionally made commercial products. Fans of B-movies stress that the lower budgets and lesser oversight may allow for an energy and originality not found in big budget Hollywood films. This was especially true in the years following World War II. In the Eisenhower era movies with big budgets and top stars were often boring and conventional (Around the World in Eighty Days, The Greatest Show on Earth) while B-movies had energy and originality (The Thing from Another World, It Came from Outer Space). Many B-movies, especially in the science fiction and horror genres, are still popular today.
One of the classic producers of B-movies was the U.S. company American International Pictures (AIP), founded in 1956 by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff. Its films include works by Roger Corman, Vincent Price, Herman Cohen and the early efforts of then-unknown figures such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro, and Jack Nicholson. In the 1970s, such houses as Independent-International Pictures, Film Ventures International, Charles Band Productions, Cannon Films, New Line Cinema, Golan-Globus, and others leapt up to create a new generation of B-movies; most of these companies were unable to continue as budgets soared in the early 1980s and even a comparatively low-budget, low-quality picture would cost millions of dollars, given the public's expectations of color filmstock, original music scores, and realistic special effects.
Roger Corman is often credited as being "King of the B's" though this title is technically inaccurate. In Corman's book "How I made 100 movies in hollywood and never lost a dime" on pg 36 he talks about his reputation for making B-Movies, and says "to my way of thinking I never made a "B" movie in my life". He goes on to say that B-Movies were a phenomenon only up to the early 1950s. According to Corman, "the B's had died out by the time I began directing". Roger Corman describes his films as "Low-budget exploitation films".
It is an open question whether the genre movies of today deserve to be called B-movies.
In the 1980s, with the growth of cable television, the C-grade movie (deserving only filler time on cable) designation became known. C-movies were used as a source for a type of late night television programming in some major cities where they are shown back-to-back until the early hours of the morning. The 1990s television series Mystery Science Theater 3000 used C-movies in its episodes, where they were shown (often edited for time) while being subjected to sarcastic commentary by the program's stars. David A. Prior and Mario Bava are prominent figures in the C-movie industry, and Ed Wood has been credited by some as a master of the form (although the term better applicable to his work would be "Z-movies").
Z-movie (or "Grade-Z movie") is a term applied to films with an extremely low budget and a miserable quality. In contrast with B-movies, which were professionally if quickly made, a Z-movie is ineptly made, often on a shoestring budget. A Z-movie is so terrible that it does not even fit within the bounds of normal movie criticism.
Ed Wood is considered an iconic director of Z-movies, with his famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) Plan 9 from Outer Space widely touted as top contender for "worst film ever produced", though another outspoken group gives the honor to Vic Savage's The Creeping Terror, the cult classic with voice-over "dialogue paraphrasing" narration over close-ups of the speaking actors, a unique low in production value.
Troma is probably the best-known producer of Z-movies. Since its founding in 1974, Troma has released such classics as Redneck Zombies and Surf Nazis Must Die. Sometimes these films are produced in-house, and sometimes they are purchased from other studios and re-released, especially when such films represent the early work of a newly-famous actor. A good example of this is Sizzle Beach U.S.A., one of Kevin Costner's first films, which was purchased by Troma and re-released to capitalize on his popularity in Silverado and the then-upcoming The Untouchables.
Troma's most notorious film is The Toxic Avenger. Released in 1985, it tells the story of a man who is thrown in a toxic dumpster where he gets strange powers and is mutated into "Toxie", the toxic avenger, an extremely ugly and strong creature that cleans the streets of scum. This movie is important in the Troma history because after its release, Toxie became the icon of Troma.
- William Beaudine
- Uwe Boll
- Edward Cahn
- David Decoteau
- John Gale
- Michael Legge
- Donald G. Jackson
- Nicholas Musuraca
- Jean-Marie Pallardy
- Fred Olen Ray
- Vincent Sherman
- Andy Sidaris
- Phil Tucker
- Ed Wood
- Eric Roberts
- Shannon Tweed
- C. Thomas Howell
- Dolph Lundgren
- Casper Van Dien
- Lorenzo Lamas
- Damian Chapa
- Joe Estevez
- Dean Cain
- Steven Seagal
- Lou Diamond Phillips
- Bruce Campbell
- B-Movie Film Festival
- Cult film
- Drive-in theater
- Hammer horror
- Mystery Science Theater 3000
- Poverty Row
- Slasher film
- THE STINKYARD - the Capitol of Cheesy Horror Movies.
- Bad Movies B-movie reviews, each with screenshots, sound clips, and a video clip
- So Bad It's Good Your source for movies that are so bad they're actually good. With lots of clips, screenshots and sounds.
- Bad-Good Forum Bad movie forum.
- Nanarland French website that hosts reviews and several media/information on B-movies and other bad movies
- B-Masters Cabal A confederation of movie review sites specializing in B- and cult movies.
- Stomp Tokyo B-movie reviews with an emphasis on monster movies.
- The Astounding B-Monster A compendium of b-movie articles and interviews, mostly of historical nature
- Movie Monsters Everything you could want to know about the best and worst monsters from the silver screen.
- GreenCine primer on the B-movie genre
- The B-movie comic A webcomic which parodies a B-movie, with the author's rant about each scene.
- TerribleMovies B Movies and the CHUDS who Love Them
- The Biology of B-Movie Monstersde:B-Movie