ⓘ B movie


ⓘ B movie

A B movie or B film is a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not an arthouse film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continues to be used in its broader sense to this day. In its post-Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: on the one hand, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient; on the other, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity.

In either usage, most B movies represent a particular genre - the Western was a Golden Age B movie staple, while low-budget science-fiction and horror films became more popular in the 1950s. Early B movies were often part of series in which the star repeatedly played the same character. Almost always shorter than the top-billed feature films, many had running times of 70 minutes or less. The term connoted a general perception that B movies were inferior to the more lavishly budgeted headliners; individual B films were often ignored by critics.

Latter-day B movies still sometimes inspire multiple sequels, but series are less common. As the average running time of top-of-the-line films increased, so did that of B pictures. In its current usage, the term has somewhat contradictory connotations: it may signal an opinion that a certain movie is a genre film with minimal artistic ambitions or b a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects and unburdened by the conventions of putatively "serious" independent film. The term is also now used loosely to refer to some higher-budget, mainstream films with exploitation-style content, usually in genres traditionally associated with the B movie.

From their beginnings to the present day, B movies have provided opportunities both for those coming up in the profession and others whose careers are waning. Celebrated filmmakers such as Anthony Mann and Jonathan Demme learned their craft in B movies. They are where actors such as John Wayne and Jack Nicholson first became established, and they have provided work for former A movie actors, such as Vincent Price and Karen Black. Some actors, such as Bela Lugosi, Eddie Constantine, Bruce Campbell and Pam Grier, worked in B movies for most of their careers. The term B actor is sometimes used to refer to a performer who finds work primarily or exclusively in B pictures.


1. History

In 1927–28, at the end of the silent era, the production cost of an average feature from a major Hollywood studio ranged from $190.000 at Fox to $275.000 at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. That average reflected both "specials" that might cost as much as $1 million and films made quickly for around $50.000. These cheaper films not yet called B movies allowed the studios to derive maximum value from facilities and contracted staff in between a studios more important productions, while also breaking in new personnel. Studios in the minor leagues of the industry, such as Columbia Pictures and Film Booking Offices of America FBO, focused on exactly those sorts of cheap productions. Their movies, with relatively short running times, targeted theaters that had to economize on rental and operating costs, particularly small-town and urban neighborhood venues, or "nabes". Even smaller production houses, known as Poverty Row studios, made films whose costs might run as low as $3.000, seeking a profit through whatever bookings they could pick up in the gaps left by the larger concerns.

With the widespread arrival of sound film in American theaters in 1929, many independent exhibitors began dropping the then-dominant presentation model, which involved live acts and a broad variety of shorts before a single featured film. A new programming scheme developed that soon became standard practice: a newsreel, a short and/or serial, and a cartoon, followed by a double feature. The second feature, which actually screened before the main event, cost the exhibitor less per minute than the equivalent running time in shorts. The majors "clearance" rules favoring their affiliated theaters prevented the independents timely access to top-quality films; the second feature allowed them to promote quantity instead. The additional movie also gave the program "balance" - the practice of pairing different sorts of features suggested to potential customers that they could count on something of interest no matter what specifically was on the bill. The low-budget picture of the 1920s thus evolved into the second feature, the B movie, of Hollywoods Golden Age.


1.1. History 1930s

The major studios, at first resistant to the double feature, soon adapted. All established B units to provide films for the expanding second-feature market. Block booking became standard practice: to get access to a studios attractive A pictures, many theaters were obliged to rent the companys entire output for a season. With the B films rented at a flat fee rather than the box office percentage basis of A films, rates could be set virtually guaranteeing the profitability of every B movie. The parallel practice of blind bidding largely freed the majors from worrying about their Bs quality - even when booking in less than seasonal blocks, exhibitors had to buy most pictures sight unseen. The five largest studios - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Fox Film Corporation 20th Century Fox as of 1935, Warner Bros., and RKO Radio Pictures descendant of FBO - also belonged to companies with sizable theater chains, further securing the bottom line.

Poverty Row studios, from modest outfits like Mascot Pictures, Tiffany Pictures, and Sono Art-World Wide Pictures down to shoestring operations, made exclusively B movies, serials, and other shorts, and also distributed totally independent productions and imported films. In no position to directly block book, they mostly sold regional distribution exclusivity to "states rights" firms, which in turn peddled blocks of movies to exhibitors, typically six or more pictures featuring the same star a relative status on Poverty Row. Two "major-minors" - Universal Studios and rising Columbia Pictures - had production lines roughly similar to, though somewhat better endowed than, the top Poverty Row studios. In contrast to the Big Five majors, Universal and Columbia had few or no theaters, though they did have top-rank film distribution exchanges.

In the standard Golden Age model, the industrys top product, the A films, premiered at a small number of select first-run houses in major cities. Double features were not the rule at these prestigious venues. As described by Edward Jay Epstein, "During these first runs, films got their reviews, garnered publicity, and generated the word of mouth that served as the principal form of advertising." Then it was off to the subsequent-run market where the double feature prevailed. At the larger local venues controlled by the majors, movies might turn over on a weekly basis. At the thousands of smaller, independent theaters, programs often changed two or three times a week. To meet the constant demand for new B product, the low end of Poverty Row turned out a stream of micro-budget movies rarely much more than sixty minutes long; these were known as "quickies" for their tight production schedules - as short as four days. As Brian Taves describes, "Many of the poorest theaters, such as the grind houses in the larger cities, screened a continuous program emphasizing action with no specific schedule, sometimes offering six quickies for a nickel in an all-night show that changed daily." Many small theaters never saw a big-studio A film, getting their movies from the states rights concerns that handled almost exclusively Poverty Row product. Millions of Americans went to their local theaters as a matter of course: for an A picture, along with the trailers, or screen previews, that presaged its arrival, ", the quality of digital filmmaking has improved dramatically." Independent filmmakers, whether working in a genre or arthouse mode, continue to find it difficult to gain access to distribution channels, though digital end-to-end methods of distribution offer new opportunities. In a similar way, Internet sites such as YouTube have opened up entirely new avenues for the presentation of low-budget motion pictures.


2. Associated terms

The terms C movie and the more common Z movie describe progressively lower grades of the B movie category. The terms drive-in movie and midnight movie, which emerged in association with specific historical phenomena, are now often used as synonyms for B movie.


2.1. Associated terms C movie

The C movie is the grade of motion picture at the low end of the B movie, or - in some taxonomies - simply below it. In the 1980s, with the growth of cable television, the C grade began to be applied with increasing frequency to low-quality genre films used as filler programming for that market. The "C" in the term then does double duty, referring not only to quality that is lower than "B" but also to the initial c of cable. Helping to popularize the notion of the C movie was the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 1988–99, which ran on national cable channels first Comedy Central, then the Sci Fi Channel after its first year. Updating a concept introduced by TV hostess Vampira over three decades before, MST3K presented cheap, low-grade movies, primarily science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, along with running voiceover commentary highlighting the films shortcomings. Director Ed Wood has been called "the master of the C-movie in this sense, although Z movie see below is perhaps even more applicable to his work. The rapid expansion of niche cable and satellite outlets such as Sci Fi with its Sci Fi Pictures and HBOs genre channels in the 1990s and 2000s has meant a market for contemporary C pictures, many of them "direct to cable" movies - small-budget genre films never released in theaters.


2.2. Associated terms Z movie

The term Z movie or grade-Z movie is used by some to characterize low-budget pictures with quality standards well below those of most B and even C movies. Most films referred to as Z movies are made on very small budgets by operations on the fringes of the commercial film industry. The micro-budget "quickies" of 1930s fly-by-night Poverty Row production houses may be thought of as Z movies avant la lettre. The films of director Ed Wood, such as Glen or Glenda 1953 and Plan 9 from Outer Space 1959 - the latter frequently cited as one of the worst pictures ever made - exemplify the classic grade-Z movie. Latter-day Zs are often characterized by violent, gory or sexual content and a minimum of artistic interest; much of which is destined for the subscription TV equivalent of the grindhouse.


2.3. Associated terms Psychotronic movie

Psychotronic movie is a term coined by film critic Michael J. Weldon - referred to by a fellow critic as "the historian of marginal movies" - to denote the sort of low-budget genre pictures that are generally disdained or ignored entirely by the critical establishment. Weldons immediate source for the term was the Chicago cult film The Psychotronic Man 1980, whose title character is a barber who develops the ability to kill using psychic energy. According to Weldon, "My original idea with that word is that its a two-part word. Psycho stands for the horror movies, and tronic stands for the science fiction movies. I very quickly expanded the meaning of the word to include any kind of exploitation or B-movie." The term, popularized beginning in the 1980s with publications of Weldons such as The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, The Psychotronic Video Guide, and Psychotronic Video magazine, has subsequently been adopted by other critics and fans. Use of the term tends to emphasize a focus on and affection for those B movies that lend themselves to appreciation as camp.


2.4. Associated terms B-television

B-television is the term used by the German media scholar Heidemarie Schumacher in his article From the True, the Good, the Beautiful to the Truly Beautiful Goods - audience identification strategies on German "B-Television" programs as an analogy to "B-movie" to characterize the development of German commercial television, which adopted "the aesthetics of commercials" with its "inane positiveness radiated by every participant, the inclusion of clips, soft focus, catchy music" as well as "promotion of merchandise through product placement". Schumacher notes that after 1984 deregulation German public television passed its climax and became marginalized. Newly established commercial stations, operating without the burden of societal legitimacy, focused solely on profitability. To establish and maintain viewer loyalty these stations broadcast reality shows, sensational journalism, daily soap operas, infotainment programs, talk shows, game shows and soft pornography.

"Appeals to viewer emotions and the active participation of the consumer enhance the ability of B-TV to exploit the market", concludes Schumacher.