1. A low-budget film shown as part of a double bill alongside a major studio release.
2. A second-best film comparing unfavourably with the main attraction. Associated with US cinema in the 1930s (though appearing from the late 1910s), the rise of the double bill was in part a consequence of Depression-era innovation, with filmmakers and exhibitors having to work harder to retain their audience (see exhibition). B-movies were often, but not always, genre films, with the western, science fiction, the crime film, and the horror film predominating. The term B-actor is sometimes used to refer to a performer who finds work primarily or exclusively in B-movies. The major Hollywood studios (see studio system) made some B-movies, which enabled resources to be used as efficiently as possible, with sets, costumes, etc., recycled from other higher-budget films. A number of dedicated B-movie studios were also established: these were known as the ‘B-Hive’ or Poverty Row, and included Republic Pictures, Monogram Productions, and Grand National Films. The B-movie was also often a proving ground for filmmakers learning their trade, and there was a degree of licence in this sector to broach potentially controversial subject matter. Dedicated B-movie production continued throughout the 1940s—the films made at Val Lewton’s horror unit at RKO during these years are now held in high regard—but by the end of the 1950s, although low-budget salacious films were still made (see exploitation film), the strategy of placing them on double bills with more respectable fare became less common. Current usage of the term is flexible, but tends to refer to any low-budget film that is of poor technical quality and that features content of a salacious or controversial nature. In film studies, the B-movie has been considered in relation to studio-era production and exhibition practices, via the unsung work of certain filmmakers associated with B-movie production, such as Ida Lupino; and, increasingly, in relation to the production of B-movies across a range of national contexts. See also feature film; quota quickies.
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