Why "B-movie"?

Why is it called a “B-movie”? What does that mean? Where did the term come from? What makes a movie a B-movie?

Real B-movies were low budget films rented to theatres at a fixed price rather than for a percentage of the box office. Lots of revered B-movies wern’t really B-movies at all just really low budget A-movies. The B-movies were usually the first half of a double.

A: the main event. Think “theatrical release” today.

B: a second-tier movie. Think “straight to video” today.

As don’t ask says above, they were usually packaged together by the studios and one ticket got you both movies.

Plus a newsreel, cartoon, and selected short subjects, which might include a seral chapter or two.

But before you start pining for the “good ol’ days”, remember that certain folks had to sit in the balcony.

Some B-Movies were actually quite good, despite low budgets, because the combination of actors and writers sometimes clicked. Fred MacMurray, for example, made a number of entertaining but low-end movies during the early years of his career.

Think of B movies as being like the flip (B) sides of 45 records. B movies were sent out by the studios along with an A movie and a newsreel, a cartoon, and perhaps some short sujects to be a double bill at a movie theater, back in the days when theaters frequently showed double bills. The B movie was made for less money and usually wasn’t as good. Thus it was like the B side of a 45 record, which was the song that wasn’t expected to do as well as the A side. However, sometimes the B movie was better, just as sometimes the B side was better and was the song that got more recognition.

B movies also tended to be shorter. They were also known as “programmers.”