What Is a B Movie?
In its post-Golden Age usage, the term B film may mean either a cheaply made genre movie or a pruriently exploitative exploitation film. Early B movies were often part of series in which the same star repeated a role; they were also usually shorter than their top-billed counterparts.
Some writers and directors cut their teeth on B films before moving to Hollywood’s A list. Others found new audiences for their B movies with the advent of television.
A B movie is a film produced with a smaller budget than its “A” counterpart. It is usually genre based and features lesser known actors. It is often campy and formulaic, with a tendency to feature gratuitous nudity, sexuality, and violence. It is typically not released to theaters and is often seen as disposable entertainment. B movies can be a useful training ground for filmmakers and young performers, and it has been argued that many of the most successful stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age cut their teeth on the cheapies.
During the studio system, B films allowed the major studios to use their resources efficiently, with sets and costumes sometimes reused for other films. This enabled a great variety of genre films to be made, including science fiction, horror, and even series pictures such as The Andy Hardy or Boston Blackie films and Jungle Jim (which starred the post-Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller). Some B movies are so bad they’re good, like The Room.
B movies are low budget films that were often seen at drive ins and theaters as part of a double feature. They usually had a shorter run time and were cheaper to produce than the main feature film. They were also a great way to fill seats in between big hits.
Some of the major Hollywood studios would establish B-units and smaller companies whose sole focus was making these kinds of movies. These films were often marketed with exploitation-style promotions that gave them an edge over their bigger-budget rivals.
Nowadays, b movies are sometimes appreciated for their camp value and have even inspired some modern movie-makers. They might use the style of old b films as inspiration for their own movies, or they might mock them in a parody. For example, some modern independent films have flashing lights like those used in the old b movies. The b film is not a genre that is likely to disappear any time soon.
The term “B movie” has lost its original meaning of the bottom-half of a double-bill, and it’s now applied to films released direct-to-video and low-budget movies made for TV. It’s difficult to find an authentic B film today, although there are some examples in arthouse programs or repertory screenings.
B movies were once a vital part of Hollywood’s studio system, offering training grounds for actors on the rise and last chances for those on the way down. The majors maintained separate production units to make Bs, while independent producers gathered at Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and Mascot.
Many of these B movies were series pictures that featured the same actor in multiple roles. For example, the Sherlock Holmes films starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, while the Boston Blackie, Blondie, and Jungle Jim series starred a post-Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller. The Bs often had running times of under 70 minutes. This allowed the directors to cut corners and save money on expensive raw materials.
While the B film is less common than it once was, some have become part of pop culture. This has led to a cult of trash where fans celebrate the low-budget films that are often hilarious and campy. The genre also provides a testing ground for new directors. Many of these directors go on to direct mainstream movies.
In the past, studios produced B films as a way to inflate the value of a night at the cinema. They would show two films for the cost of one, and audiences were happy to see the “bonus” film after the main feature.
The term B movie is now used to refer to any low-budget genre film, including those made by independent production companies. They are often less expensive than Hollywood’s A product, and they may use stock actors or formulaic plots. But they can be fun to watch, and are often more original than traditional mainstream films.