What is a B-Movie?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A B-movie is a movie which is made on a relatively low budget, when compared with major feature films. The B-movie genre is quite diverse, with representatives ranging from cheesy science fiction movies to taut modern thrillers, and some people feel that the term “B-movie” is thrown about a bit too loosely. In any case, many examples of B-movies should be readily available at your local video store, and a number of modern B-movie producers also release their work online, allowing visitors to download or stream their films.

Star Wars was, in part, derived from science fiction B-movies, however its elaborate sets, special effects, and mythological storyline made it a major hit.
Star Wars was, in part, derived from science fiction B-movies, however its elaborate sets, special effects, and mythological storyline made it a major hit.

The “B” in “B-movie” is a reference to the B-movie's traditional place on a double feature marquees. Originally, B-movies were developed to have something to fill the second slot in a double feature, allowing theater patrons to feel like they were getting their money's worth. A B-movie would be made with lesser known actors and significantly less money, generating a film which would consistently generate a return on investment, thanks to being paired with a major feature film.

Westerns were often low-budget, campy films, although like any genre, many were of high quality.
Westerns were often low-budget, campy films, although like any genre, many were of high quality.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, Hollywood studios struck block booking deals with theaters, in which theaters were required to purchase the studio's entire output for a season. Under block booking, therefore, cinemas got coveted features right along with B-movies, with prices being in the form of flat fees or a percentage of the take, depending on the movie. While block booking is no longer legal, some studios continue to manipulate theaters into purchasing specific sets of films in the hopes of generating maximum income.

Hollywood B-movies were developed to fill the undercard in a double feature.
Hollywood B-movies were developed to fill the undercard in a double feature.

The double feature tradition started to decline in the 1950s, as films became longer, but the B-movie endured. The term came to be used more generally to refer to any low-budget film, with B-movies appearing in a range of genres including Westerns, sci-fiction, thrillers, horror, fantasy, exploitation, and mystery. The B-movie came to be associated with a campy style, wooden acting, and crude sets and costumes, creating a very distinctive look and feel.

Many actors and actresses got their start in B-movies, while others went on to make their careers in the B-movie world. B-movies have also been used as a proving ground for directors, producers, and other people who work in the film industry, and some even went on to become major hits. A number of B-movies have also achieved cult classic status, with fans being attracted to the cheesiness of these films.

In the modern day, some people refer to low-budget films which lack the sobriety of independent films as B-movies. Some people actually greatly enjoy working on such products, taking a B-movie as an opportunity to be silly and to have a good time, although such films can also be serious in their own right.

Horror and thriller films are considered "B movies."
Horror and thriller films are considered "B movies."
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Rippeltyde

The best B-movie of all time is, without a doubt, "Plan 9 From Outer Space." It even factored heavily into an episode of Seinfeld!

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