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Alphabet Soup

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alphabet soup

Matt Sully

Matt Sully

Long-time movie fanatic, Matt has written several screenplays, produced / directed / edited short films, and has a written a historical fiction novel entitled Father's Creed. He's working on his second novel, a sci-fi thriller called Ghost City. Follow his chronicles as a new novelist: https://mattcsully.com

Straight to video. Direct to cable. Movie of the week. B Movie. Though these terms have faded with changing times, the implications of their quality was always the same. I still often use the term ‘B Movie,’ without considering its origins or the possibility there are other letter designations for subpar filmmaking. There are.

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Firstly, this has nothing to do with the MPA rating system nor the animated Seinfeld failure. A B movie is a low-budget commercial production, not an independent film aimed at a select audience. Originally, the term identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature, akin to the B-sides for recorded music.

After the 1950s, with the emergence of commercial television, B-movie production departments converted to TV movie production divisions, producing the same content for a different medium. B movies often refer to all manner of genre, notably westerns, sci-fi and horror, where audiences were more welcoming to blood, makeup effects and action over high drama and dialogue.

While B movies transitioned away from theaters and into television, they made a huge resurgence in the emerging home video rental and cable markets, and it’s in cable television we find the next tier down from B movie: The C movie.

Low quality filler programming, the C in C movie referenced not only the quality below B but its established home in cable. Mystery Science Theater 3000 helped popularize the love of both C programming and B movies for new audiences by presenting and commenting on low-grade films, primarily sci-fi from the 50s and 60s.

Z movies, Zed movies for my Canadian friends, characterizes low-budget films with quality standards well below most B and C movies. Think Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space, often called ‘the worst film ever made.’ More modern Z movies often focus on violence, gore, and sexual content with a minimum interest in art or message.

With the move to streaming services producing original content, we still see a variety of films being made, making it harder to predict a movie’s quality based on where it airs, but B movies will never go away. As bad as they are, we still love them. As are fine and dandy, but Bs and Cs are good enough for a diploma, and they’re good enough for cinema too.

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