The degree of reference that the term ‘B movie’ has as well as the movies that can be labelled as such have been up for debate ever since the days of drive-in double features. What we do know for sure are the historical beginnings of these supposedly “second class” films. During the early days of commercial theatrical productions (around the late ’30s and onward) studios used to sell to cinemas their films in “blocks”, which allowed them to increase their earnings in the process. A block production meant that a moviegoer had to pay for one major film (the “A” picture) as well as either one or a couple of other movies that weren’t of the same quality (the “B” picture). These were often fillers, made for a couple bucks, with a small crew and hence poor aesthetic merits.
The modern definition of a B movie is a lot more complicated, what with the onset of independent features and such. What you shall notice in this article is that many of the films referred to aren’t necessarily bad – on the other hand they’re mostly impressive (sometimes even more than movies of the ‘A’ segregation). There’s something of a difference between these pictures and the mainstream ones you see at local theaters though. Most of the films mentioned have a campy atmosphere, and reek of bad set designs and unprofessional acting as well as directing.
Taking all these negatives into mind, it is important to note that B rated movies are a comparatively more accurate portrayal of their times, and are very imaginative since they aren’t restricted by the commercial do-goods and money shots. I’ve loved B movies all my life, and though I’m not a particularly big fan of the anti-elitist sub-heading (of sorts), there’s really no other way to describe them. Here’s the list of top b movies ever. Hopefully, there’ll be something in there that grabs your interest. You can watch some of these B movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. The list includes several sci-fi b movies, many 70s b movies and also a few 80s b movies.
15. Fore Play (1975)
One of the major distributors of modern B movies is Troma Entertainment, an independent production company that exists to this very day. ‘Fore Play’ was part of their early “sexy comedies”, and was co-directed by the recently deceased Academy Award winner John G. Avildsen, known prominently for his work on ‘Rocky’ (1976). This film is divided into three segments, each of which involves a male protagonist and a sex related problem that they wish to solve. The first, and my favorite of the three, is the story of a man who purchases a beautiful sex doll that undergoes certain malfunctions as he leaves the “showroom”, leading to some pretty funny sight-humor. The next is about a man who solves his writer’s block by having his fantasies of being with several women pretty much served to him. The final part is, though creative, my least favorite, and it has to do with the President of the United States and a threat against him due to which he is forced to have sex with his wife on national TV. I enjoy the self aware humor of this film and find it quite entertaining, as it comes with many of the good Troma tropes.
14. The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
‘The Gore Gore Girls’ has been distributed under various, more indiscreet titles, but this is one that I’ve always found memorable. It has to do with the murder of several prostitutes as we follow a private eye hired by a newspaper company who tries (along with his sidekick) to find the perpetrator. The killings shown on screen are pretty bloody and violent, but for modern viewers it is quite easy to figure out what’s fake and what’s real. The film hasn’t aged very well, but it is still enjoyable for its crass humor and colorful execution. The characters, especially our lead, can get a little bothersome at times, but since the story is given a lot more importance than anything else that’s part of the film, the audience is rarely bored. The overall sense of mystery is never lost, and the movie makes sure that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, so as to give its viewers a good time and nothing more.
13. The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)
Although released as a TV movie following up the live action series of the same name, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ hits all the marks that make a typical B flick. It’s cheesy, campy, and laughably bad, but there’s so much about it to love that one viewing just won’t cut it for most people. It takes the popular Marvel superhero and introduces a couple of never-before-seen villains for him to battle. The special effects are cheap and arguably some of the most unrealistic in cinematic history, and the acting is worse. What I find interesting throughout the runtime of this film is that the filmmakers seem to be taking the story and characters very seriously. That aspect just adds to the overall hilarity to me. The classic tale from the Amazing Fantasy issue that was adapted into ‘Spider-Man’ (2002) and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (2012) is followed here as well, but there are some twists. Take for instance, the bit where Peter Parker learns about his abilities. The film displays it so brashly, with a car chase and bad acting, and yet, its charming innocence makes it all okay. A very enjoyable film if seen in the right mood.
12. Manson Family Movies (1984)
Here’s another film that isn’t frequently referred to as a B movie (mainly because it isn’t popular) but it more than likely is one. ‘Manson Family Movies’ is a picture that frightens you and seeps into your skin because of how deeply disturbing and authentic its contents feel. The movie is a collection of home video reenactments portraying what might have happened in the Manson household, prior to and during the real life Tate-LaBianca murders. The reason for this film’s existence stems from the notorious report in the summer of 1969 when the Manson “family” stole an NBC-TV truck, only to return it a while later with a couple of cameras missing. ‘Manson Family Movies’ feels a little too real, and its cheap execution only adds to the overall horror. I’ve lost sleep over this film, and it isn’t one I’d see a second or third time, but it does have grotesque and captivating material that makes it a great midnight watch, as long as you make sure that you’re not alone.
11. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)
It’s exactly what you think it is. The film takes place in a world where tomatoes are evil, and are on a mission to take over the world. With its outrageous plot, ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ manages to make fun of its own concepts and deliver a piece that’s both creative and bright. Most of it is just downright hilarious because of how stupid the idea sounds upon hearing. One scene early on that I chuckle at is when the police investigate the strange murder of a woman and find out that the red stain on her body isn’t blood, but tomato juice. There’s a lot about this film that makes it funny. Every dialogue is uttered with a straight face, and every situation is pondered upon with serious inquiries and investigations. The film was critically shunned, with popular magazine Variety claiming it to not even be “worthy of criticism”. The film has developed a cult following since, and many have appreciated its imaginative aspects.
10. The First Turn On! (1983)
Though Troma Entertainment has gone onto make cult classics like ‘The Toxic Avenger’ (1984) and ‘Class Of Nuke ‘Em High’ (1986), I find their “sexy comedies” (of which we’ve included another film on the list) to be more appealing. This could be because the characters are funnier and we get to see them up close, unlike in their other films where the characters are just annoying and poorly written. In ‘The First Turn On!’, a couple of students and their teacher get stuck in a cave whilst getting high, and in order to waver their boredom, tell each other about their ‘first times’. I enjoy how though the characters aren’t very relatable or realistic, we still grow closer to them in the same way we do the characters in ‘The Breakfast Club’ (1985). There’s a lot wrong with this picture, but it has heart, which is more than what I can say, from personal experiences, about Troma’s more successful endeavors.
9. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Ed Wood is one of those directors known for how bad they are but still loved anyway. In his heyday, the man was picked on by film critics and audiences alike, who criticized the filmmaker’s terrible artistic vision and poor skills in direction. Years later, following his early death in the ’70s and after a biopic was released about his life and work in 1994, Ed Wood got a lot more popular in the cinematic cultural realm. Of all the films he steered that were discussed, it was always ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ that people wanted to give their opinions on. Generally considered one of the worst films of all time, it isn’t hard to see the naysayers’ point. The movie sports some of the cheapest set pieces, horrendous acting and direction, and faultiest storylines in film history. Yet, despite all this, it is iconic. Within ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ is a film made with determination, though also with a lack of abilities (and money). It is enjoyable in its own “so-bad-it’s-good” way, and watching the cast fumble on their lines and nearly trip over fake gravestones is always funny.
8. Basket Case (1982)
This film is about a seemingly normal individual who carries around a basket with him at all times, that helps raise the eyebrows of the people he meets. Taking place in a bizarre world with strange characters throughout, the strangest seems most likely to be the one living in the basket: the aforementioned individual’s twin brother. He is not of human form though, and bares a resembles akin to that of a mulch of putty (with eyes). The duo seeks revenge because of the surgery performed that resulted in the separation of their otherwise conjoined selves. With a plot of such a distraught nature, the film really has nowhere else to go but up. There’s something creepy about the execution that’s kinda claustrophobic in nature. It is able to balance both horror and comedy elements very nicely and is now seen as a cult film, a title it received due to the wonders of home video and its steadily growing popularity at the time.
7. Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Another popular horror comedy with a great title, ‘Killer Klowns From Outer Space’ gives you everything you need to know from its title alone. Made for a considerably high budget of $2 million, the film tells the tale of a couple of aliens who look like clowns and showcases the execution of their plan to take over the world. Like the previous entry, ‘Killer Klowns’ also features strange characters and surreal backgrounds, filled with bright colors and bizarre set pieces (like popcorn guns, doors that lead to rooms filled with triangular walls of primary coating and a hint of neon, etc). It is a hoot from start to finish, and was one of the few B movies that actually received positive reviews from critics upon release in 1988. It’s cheeky comedic style is what most people enjoy about the picture today, and it has become an iconic film of the second class genre.
6. Glen or Glenda (1953)
Another flick from Ed Wood, it really hurts to examine its past, because one can clearly see that the director looked at ‘Glen or Glenda’ as a passion project, and wanted to display a powerful personal drama. Starting off with a very compelling intro by Bela Lugosi (known for his iconic role as Count Dracula in the 1931 film), the film tells the tale of a man with a secret: that he liked to dress up in women’s clothing. As he gets dejected from every bit of society, we see in a rather fascinating scene his world crumbling around him. Wood based the main theme of the movie on his own liking towards female’s undergarments and sweaters, and he was really determined to pull the movie off the way he wanted it to be seen. Sadly, the times were not on his side, and the film was laughed out of theaters for its strange subject matter and amateurish execution. It has gone onto become a cult classic, and is slowly getting the appreciation it deserved over 50 years ago.
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5. The Blob (1958)
A creature feature of a different kind, ‘The Blob’ is one of the most fun experiences you’ll have with a B film. It starts off great, and only gets better with every passing second. The title track is a very catchy original song that’s bound to get stuck in your head. Two lovers sit in the privacy of their car in the woods when a shooting star crashes upon Earth a few miles away. With it comes an alien life form in the shape of a gooey substance that destroys everything it comes in contact with. Like many films of the genre, this one ends with the protagonists figuring out the weakness of the creature and using it to destroy the otherworldly being. What I love about ‘The Blob’ is how it works into all of its craziness a coming-of-age tale that’s about as ’50s as you can get. Unlike a lot of Hollywood blockbusters at the time, the teenage leads here feel authentic and represented with integrity and realism.
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4. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)
Hammer Film Productions received their success mostly from the numerous monster/vampire features that it released in its heyday, of which the Dracula series still stay prominent, and ‘Dracula Has Risen from the Grave’ stays the best and brightest. It’s pretty terrifying, but campy enough to not scare us too much. Starring Christopher Lee as the title character, the film tells an original tale surrounding the release of the vampire from his grave. He is intent upon creating chaos in a tiny village adjacent to his burial ground. This movie has everything going for it, with a spine-chilling performance from Lee, and a great set design as well as a compelling story to keeps its viewers strapped to their seats with eyes peeled open. Although there have been many cinematic interpretations of Bram Stoker’s beloved character, this B movie holds the top spot as my favorite of them all.
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3. Society (1989)
‘Society’ is a film that really gets to you. This maybe through its outlandish visuals and/or special effects, but it gives off a whiff of atmospheric fear that lingers in its viewers heads long after it ends. The story is quite simple, about a young man who finds things slowly going wrong around him within his social construct, and he seems to be the only person aware of the changes. They’re not of the kind that foresee impending doom, but rather events that aren’t accepted from humans under general conditions. The film maintains a campy sense of humor throughout, and nearing the end, it goes completely over the top and gives the audience pretty much all it has to offer in one of the most unexpected and memorable cinematic endings ever. Though it drags on for a bit, there is no doubting the strange enjoyment one receives from it all. Going deeper into the depths of ‘Society’ would mean spoiling it, and I believe this film is one that deserves to be seen a lot more, due to which will refrain from doing so.
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2. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
If the title of this film doesn’t intrigue you, then the contents of it surely will. ‘Death Bed’, to me, is the epitome of atmospheric horror, because even though it isn’t very well handled, with terrible props and unrealistic acting, it disturbs you. The dull execution and cheap production design help the film – which tells the story of a bed that can eat people, food, and any other tangible thing – to maintain that realistic touch throughout. There’s a little bit of a mystery surrounding the origins of the bed relating to a strange man behind a painting within the vicinity of the evil being, and I find it unnerving. It isn’t all positive though, because when the film drags, it drags. Something else about this fascinating piece that interests me is how curiously inspiring it is. Taking a simple-to-do and cost efficient subject matter as a hungry bed is as creative as one gets, and that in itself shows how anything can be filmed, as long as you put your mind to it.
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1. Carnival of Souls (1962)
‘Carnival of Souls’ is like a freakish nightmare of the highest order. The tale it tells is so surreal and confusing that it sucks you in from the word go. It is about a woman who survives a car accident and then supposedly continues living her everyday life and resuming her activities as they were before, but not all is the same. For one, she finds herself strangely attracted to this abandoned carnival that she comes across one day. When she decides to go visit it, all hell breaks loose, and not even shutting your eyes can save you from the madness that ensues. ‘Carnival of Souls’ is a horror film that went on to inspire tons of horror films that followed it, including the works of directors David Lynch and Rob Zombie. It stays iconic and relevant due to the way it handles its subject matter, and though it may seem a little dated to some viewers, its importance is not to be forgotten.
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