A History of the American B-movie: The future is now

Our look back at the American B-movie brings the story right up to date...

“For me, the cinema is not a slice of life but a piece of cake.” – Alfred Hitchcock

The B-movie has, over the last couple of decades, perhaps come to say more about style than budget. Trendy Hollywood sweethearts Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez even released a double-bill collectively called Grindhouse in 2007 in homage to these kinds of films.

Tarantino’s first major feature, Reservoir Dogs ,cost about $1.2 million, but his Grindhouse feature, Death Proof, is estimated to have had a budget of $53 million. Yet, it’s the latter which was made in a more typical B-movie style.

And the opposite can also be true. Through the 90s and 00s there have been many low budget films which are considered ‘arthouse’ or ‘indie’ but may not necessarily be called B-movies. These might include El Mariachi (1992), which was Robert Rodriguez’ debut feature and made for around $7,500. Rodriguez famously volunteered as a guinea pig in experimental drug tests to raise the funds.

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Clerks (1994) made for under $30, 000 but grossed a revenue of over three million. Or, more recently, Primer (2004), a complex modern philosophical sci-fi was made for $7,000, and Paranormal Activity (2009) made for just over $11,000.

Looking at popular cinema, exalted filmmakers like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, John Waters, David Lynch and The Coen Bros have unquestionably been inspired by all kinds of B-movies.

Whether it’s camp humour, tongue ‘n’ cheek production, graphic gore, fantastical plots or post-modern references, the legacy of the B-movie lives on and on in Hollywood.

No matter what, there is a place for low budget cinema. There is also a place for films which, regardless of budget, have been influenced by the genre.

So, let’s hope the effect of the B-movie will survive, like a giant killer alien leech monster from outer space that you just love to hate.

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