Roger Corman: The King of the B Movie

13 May 2024

To put it mildly, Roger Corman was a quantity over quality guy. As a producer, much of Corman’s output (especially after the ‘70s) was made up of films that I used to rent out to customers at the video and record store I worked at…you know, a long time ago, and would just shake my head at the box covers, the titles, and when I was feeling really snooty, the customers too. But seriously, the names of some of the movies that Corman put his name on had some unbelievable, er, names. 

Roger Corman - Figure 1
Photo Awards Daily

Here’s just a few of the nearly 500 films that Corman produced in the VHS era:

Chopping Mall

Sorority House Massacre

Saturday the 14th Strikes Back

Curse of the Crystal Eye

To Sleep With a Vampire


The Slumber Party Massacre trilogy (Yes, there were three of them)

And perhaps my personal favorite, Sharktopus–which is exactly what you think it’s about. Out of the nearly 500 films he produced or the 56 he also directed, maybe fifteen or so are artistically significant, and most of those are from the ‘60s and the early ‘70s. Corman made triple feature drive-in type movies with a staticy sounding mic that you hung to your side window while you watched the movie through your front window (if you were smart, you hit the filling station, and gave the windshield a good spray and squeegie beforehand).

And yet, for all the schlock he sent into drive-in theaters and garish VHS boxes, Roger Corman is a titanic figure in the history of cinema. How is this possible, one might ask. Aside from the fact that having your name on just less than half a thousand films is certainly some sort of accomplishment, he was also a sort of DIY king. He loved movies. He wanted to make them. He typically did so on anemic budgets, with actors who were either unknown, not yet known, or known but past their prime (Boris Karloff is a good example). He created a template for future indie filmmakers to emulate and, in many cases, better his own movies. He also gave some extraordinarily talented filmmakers and actors their shot just before or during the golden age of the ‘70s. 

Roger Corman - Figure 2
Photo Awards Daily

You may have heard of a few: Coppola, Scorsese, Demme, John Sayles, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Joe Dante, John Landis, Curtis Hanson, Robert Towne, Gale Anne Hurd, Peter Fonda, Talia Shire, Diane Ladd, Bruce Dern, and some guy named Jack Nicholson. Going back further, when Vincent Price’s career was on ice, he resurrected him as a horror icon in the ‘60s largely through several movies based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe (some of them are even pretty well thought of). But it’s that first group of names that really sticks out.

It may seem difficult to trace a line from  Dementia 13  to Apocalypse Now (Coppola), Boxcar Bertha to GoodFellas (Scorsese), Caged Heat to The Silence of the Lambs (Demme), or The Terror to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Nicholson), but I assure you, it’s there. These esteemed artists in front of and behind the camera all cut their teeth on Corman cheapies. You could say that they learned on the job under Corman and got early work that led to their later (and greater) work through a man that I never heard anyone say anything bad about. 

Corman is where they began. He was the king of the B movie, and there’s never been anyone like him ever. It’s a strange thought that the guy who made Stripped to Kill (a movie Tarantino and I both like—think of us what you will) and Stripped to Kill 2 would have such an immense legacy, but in Corman’s case, it was all in the doing. While the highly influential independent film director godfather John Cassavetes never worked for Corman, it’s hard to think he didn’t take a note or two on how to get a film made with little more than a camera and actors who just wanted to work. (And to those who would argue he lacked “taste,” it should be noted, that Corman handled the distribution (uncredited) of some remarkable foreign-made films, including: Fitzcarraldo, Breaker Morant, The Kids Are Alright, The Brood, The Tin Drum, and Autumn Sonata).

That’s what Corman did, he gave aspiring artists work. And while the glow of their work may be far brighter without Corman than the work they did with him, Corman certainly still bathes in their light. 

Even now that he’s gone.

Roger Corman died on May 9, 2024. He was 98 years old.

Read more
Similar news
This week's most popular news