B-Movies in the 1980s and Beyond – Part 1

B-movies and cinematic exhibition is a partnership that has declined from the early part of the 1970s up until the present day. After a number of hit big-budget b-movies from the mid-1970s, the larger Hollywood studios began to transition to A-grade movies in genres that had previously been the go-to genres of low-budget productions.

With those studios also applying exploitation-derived booking and promotion methods, the commercial space was showing less interest in b-movies. The dawn of digital cinema in the millennium, however, opened up new opportunities for low-budget genre movies.

The 1980s: B movies lose their grip

Most exploitation-era founded production houses in the b-movie genre either folder or found themselves a part of larger firms as the financial situation in the field underwent changes in the early part of the 80s. Even relatively low budget genre pictures intended for cinematic release saw their budgets go into the millions, as the larger studios started to make expensive genre films, which increases expectations of viewers who were being treated to more realistic effects and spectacular action sequences.

It took 15 years (1961-1976) for the cost of production of the average feature in Hollywood to jump from $2 mn to $4 mn, which is actually a decrease when inflation is taken into account. In the next four years, however, it doubled again. Even with U.S. inflation increasing, the average filmmaking cost continued to rise dramatically.

With the majors, at this point, booking in more than a thousand cinemas routinely, it was becoming harder and harder for smaller comedies to secure the screens they needed to profit. Revival houses were now almost exclusively limited to double features. The success of cable television in the 80’s helped to supper low-budget films, with numerous b-movies being used as “filler” content for 24’7 cable channels. Some were even made for that very purpose.

The 1990s: arthouse movies

The cost of the average U.S. film had surpassed $25 mn by 1990. Of the nine movies from that year that grossed over $100 mn at. The box office, just two could really have been regarded as b-movies: Dick tracy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A further three- Home Alone, Die Hard 2, and Total Recall, also shared more similarities with traditional b-movies than they did with a-list subject matters.

The rise in popularity of home video, along with access to unedited films on satellite and cable television, and real estate pressures, meant that it was more difficult for non-chain or small cinemas that were the main port of cll for independent genre films to survive.

Drive-in cinemas were disappearing in America, with the number falling from 2,507 in 1987 to just 910 in 1990. B-movie operations that survived adapted in a number of different ways. Troma’s films were now frequently going straight to video. In 1995, a similar approach was adopted by cable television when Showtime launched Roger Corman Presents, a series of 13 Concorde-New Horizons produced straight-to-cable films.