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By Andrew Lapointe | September 12, 2003

Roger Ebert has remarked several times about Hollywood films that are B-movies, but feature A-list stars and have A-list budgets. That causes a question: Did this occur twenty years ago? Take “Jaws” for example. “Jaws” was released in 1975 and was rated PG, it grossed millions. If released today, during a time when many moviegoers criticize the MPAA, it would be rated PG-13 and would still draw a large gross. Anyone could assume that. However, the question is, would people take a film about a shark seriously today as they did in ’75? Most movies about sharks made today go straight to video shelves, but like the many summer movies we’ve seen, that doesn’t stop similar kinds of movies from going to theaters and grossing big. So, what’s the difference between the B-movies of the ’70s and the ones today?

Movies like “Jaws” are not considered B-movies. B-movies are films that are second rate in casting, budget and sometimes releasing. In the 1970s, B-movies generally could make hefty profits on the drive-in circuit, mostly in double bills. Today we have the summer movie season where audiences flock to see movies based on comic books like X2: X Men United and Hulk. Another popular draw are the films based on incredibly cheesy ’70s TV shows like S.W.A.T. and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Of course they have big stars, huge budgets and releasing in thousands of theaters, but in terms of the quality of the plot and the stories, films like these can be considered B-movies. But many do not label them as so, because the term ‘B-movie’ isn’t used to define films today. You think of B-movies and movie fans are reminded of a gigantic spider film directed by Burt I. Gordon, or a movie about a crab monster directed by Roger Corman. Hey, believe me, movies with spiders and crab monsters are still made today, but since the demise of the North American drive-in circuit, they’re hitting video stores and cable television and are perfect filler for people who are watching TV at 4:30 a.m. because there are nothing but infomercials on all the other stations.

You don’t think of S.W.A.T. as a B-movie because you can see it anywhere, it has famous actors like Colin Ferrell, and it has enough money to budget for an explosion that looks authentic. But it’s no different in aesthetic terms than a B-movie. After all, isn’t it based on a TV series that lasted for two years in the late ’70s?

Another good example of this notion is definitely Hulk. We all know that the computerized CGI effects were overblown and laughable to many, but doesn’t anyone agree that Lou Ferrigno was truly frightening in that green makeup during the heyday of the series? The ’70s Hulk is considered B-material, but today, with a Hulk made of pixels, isn’t that more B-material? Personally, Lou Ferrigno was more effective.

The aforementioned movies are released during summer for the reason of all reasons: big numbers. The big numbers that are almost guaranteed during a weekend to pull in a large gross for Monday morning’s Top Ten. The B-movies of the ’70s were produced with the same purpose and method, only quicker and more economical Corman’s films were made for at least $50,000, shot in half the time of today’s B movies, and made good profits. So I wonder, what is the difference between the quality and satisfaction of those movies and the summer movies? Well, obviously money for one thing, but in terms of delivering an audience a satisfying story with an appealing cast, B-movies of the drive in days and now the multiplex days are not that different.

There will always be money grossed on the weekend and billions of dollars made during those summers of movies with titles that all have 2s in them. However, B-movies exist in this form of the multiplex medium, the solution is to get audiences to realize what they’re in for and be conscientious of what movie they’re spending 8-13 dollar tickets on. The drive-ins and old movie houses are seen as obsolete, the movies that used to play in them are still being made and seen. Only for more money.

See you at the movies.

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