Z movie

Last updated

Z movies are low-budget films that have qualities lower than B movies.

A low-budget film or low-budget movie is a motion picture shot with little to no funding from a major film studio or private investor. Many independent films are made on low budgets, but films made on the mainstream circuit with inexperienced or unknown filmmakers can also have low budgets. Many young or first time filmmakers shoot low-budget films to prove their talent before doing bigger productions. Many low-budget films that do not gain some form of attention or acclaim are never released in theatres and are often sent straight to retail because of its lack of marketability, look, story, or premise. There is no precise number to define a low budget production, and it is relative to both genre and country. What might be a low-budget film in one country may be a big budget in another. Modern-day young filmmakers rely on film festivals for pre promotion. They use this to gain acclaim and attention for their films, which often leads to a limited release in theatres. Film that acquire a cult following may be given a wide release. Low-budget films can be either professional productions or amateur. They are either shot using professional or consumer equipment.

B movie Low budget commercial film genre

A B movie or B film is a low-budget commercial motion picture that is not an arthouse film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified films intended for distribution as the less-publicized bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continues to be used in its broader sense to this day. In its post-Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: on the one hand, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient; on the other, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity.


History and terminology

The term Z movie (or grade-Z movie) arose in the mid-1960s as an informal description of certain unequivocally non-A films. It was soon adopted to characterize low-budget pictures with quality standards well below those of most B movies and even so-called C movies. While B movies may have mediocre scripts and actors who are relatively unknown or past their prime, they are for the most part competently lit, shot, and edited.

Screenplay written work by screenwriters for a film or television program

A screenplay, or script, is a written work by screenwriters for a film, television program or video game. These screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression and dialogues of the characters are also narrated. A screenplay written for television is also known as a teleplay.

The economizing shortcuts of films identified as C movies tend to be evident throughout; nonetheless, films to which the C label is applied are generally the products of relatively stable entities within the commercial film industry and thus still adhere to certain production norms. In contrast, most films referred to as Z movies are made for very little money on the fringes of the organized film industry or entirely outside it. As a result, scripts are often poorly written, continuity errors tend to arise during shooting, and nonprofessional actors are frequently cast. Many Z movies are also poorly lit and edited. The micro-budget "quickies" of 1930s fly-by-night Poverty Row production houses may be thought of as Z movies avant la lettre . [1] Later Zs may not evidence the same degree of technical incompetence; in addition to bargain-basement scripts and acting, they are often characterized by violent, gory, and/or sexual content and a minimum of artistic interest, readily falling into the category of exploitation, or "grindhouse" films. Additionally, with the popularity of Internet media such as YouTube low-budget films are having a resurgence due to the easy access low budget filmmakers have to publish their films. In 2014 Raindance Film Festival published an article naming YouTube as a primary venue for low-budget filmmakers. [2] While the abilities of some of these filmmakers has varied, the average quality of many of these films remains on the z-grade. One of the best examples of this is The Melonheads which was originally released on YouTube, and gained a large following after being featured in an article on cracked.com. [3] [4] The movie shows many of the technical imperfections that were visible on earlier films considered to be grade-Z.

Poverty Row was a slang term used in Hollywood from the late 1920s through the mid-1950s to refer to a variety of small B movie studios. Although many of them were on today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location, but was rather a figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lower-tier studios.

An exploitation film is a film that attempts to succeed financially by exploiting current trends, niche genres, or lurid content. Exploitation films are generally low-quality "B movies". They sometimes attract critical attention and cult followings. Some of these films, such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), set trends and become historically important.

Grindhouse low-budget movie theater that shows mainly exploitation films

A grindhouse or action house is an American term for a theater that mainly shows exploitation films. According to historian David Church, this theater type was named after the "grind policy", a film-programming strategy dating back to the early 1920s which continuously showed films at cut-rate ticket prices that typically rose over the course of each day. This exhibition practice was markedly different from the era's more common practice of fewer shows per day and graduated pricing for different seating sections in large urban theaters, which were typically studio-owned.


Ed Wood's ultra-low-budget Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has become one of the most famous Z movies. Plan 9 Alternative poster.jpg
Ed Wood's ultra-low-budget Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) has become one of the most famous Z movies.

Director Ed Wood is often described as the quintessential maker of Z movies. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) is often labeled the worst film ever made. [5] It features an incoherent plot, bizarre dialogue, inept acting, intrusive narration, the cheapest conceivable special effects, and cardboard sets that the actors occasionally bump into and knock over. Stock footage is used throughout, whole sequences are used multiple times, boom mics are visible, and actors frequently appear to be reading from cue cards. Outdoor sequences contain parts filmed during both day and night in the same scene. The movie stars Maila Nurmi, in her Vampira persona, and Béla Lugosi, who died before it was completed. Test footage of Lugosi shot for a different project is inter-cut with shots of a double with a different physique, height, and hair color, who covers his face with a cape in every scene. The narrator refers to the film by its pre-production name, "Grave Robbers from Outer Space". [6]

Ed Wood American screenwriter, director, producer, actor, author, and film editor

Edward Davis Wood Jr. was an American filmmaker, actor, and author.

<i>Plan 9 from Outer Space</i> 1959 US science fiction film directed by Ed Wood

Plan 9 from Outer Space is a 1959 American independent black-and-white science fiction horror film written, produced, directed and edited by Ed Wood, starring Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Tor Johnson, and "Vampira", and is narrated by Criswell. The film also posthumously bills Bela Lugosi as a guest star. Other guest stars are Hollywood veterans Lyle Talbot and former cowboy star Tom Keene. Plan 9 from Outer Space was released theatrically in 1959 by Distributors Corporation of America.

Boom operator (media) profession for microphone pole placement

A boom operator is an assistant of the production sound mixer. The principal responsibility of the boom operator is microphone placement, usually using a boom pole with a microphone attached to the end, their aim being to hold the microphone as close to the actors or action as possible without allowing the microphone or boom pole to enter the camera's frame.

The Creeping Terror (1964), directed by Vic Savage (under the pseudonym A. J. Nelson), uses some memorable bargain-basement effects: Stock footage of a rocket launch is played in reverse to depict the landing of an alien spacecraft. What appears to be shag carpet is draped over several actors shambling about at a snail's pace, thus bringing the monstrous "creeping terror" to the screen. The movie also employs a technique that has come to be synonymous with Z-movie horror: voiceover narration that paraphrases dialogue being silently enacted onscreen. [7]

<i>The Creeping Terror</i> 1964 film by Vic Savage

The Creeping Terror is a 1964 horror-science fiction film directed and produced by, and starring, Vic Savage. The plot is centered upon an extraterrestrial, slug-like creature that attacks and devours people in a small American town. Widely considered to be one of the worst films of all time, The Creeping Terror has attained a cult status.

Harold P. Warren, a fertilizer and insurance salesman who never worked in film before or since, wrote and directed Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) after making a bet with a professional screenwriter that he could make a movie on his own. The film is famous for its incompetent production, which included the use of a camera that could not record sound, disjointed dialogue, and seemingly random editing. The entire soundtrack was recorded by just three people, who provide the voices for every character. The film features a character named Torgo, who is intended to be a satyr. The actor wore his prosthetics incorrectly, making it look like he simply has very large knees. In one scene, the clapboard is clearly visible. Like Plan 9, it frequently tops lists of the worst movies ever made. However, while Plan 9 is renowned for its poor production, Manos remained very obscure until being featured on a 1993 episode of the movie-mocking series Mystery Science Theater 3000 , giving it cult status. [8]

<i>Manos: The Hands of Fate</i> 1966 film by Harold P. Warren

Manos: The Hands of Fate is a 1966 American independent horror film. It was written, directed, and produced by Harold P. Warren who also starred in the film. It is widely recognized as one of the worst films ever made. In 1993, the television comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K), a show based on the premise of comedically mocking B movies, featured Manos: The Hands of Fate, helping the film develop a cult status.

Satyr bawdy male nature spirits in Greek mythology with horse-like tails and ears and permanent erections

In Greek mythology, a satyr, also known as a silenos, is a male nature spirit with ears and a tail resembling those of a horse, as well as a permanent, exaggerated erection. Early artistic representations sometimes include horse-like legs, but, by the sixth century BC, they were more often represented with human legs. Comically hideous, they have mane-like hair, bestial faces, and snub noses and are always shown naked. Satyrs were characterized by their ribaldry and were known as lovers of wine, music, dancing, and women. They were companions of the god Dionysus and were believed to inhabit remote locales, such as woodlands, mountains, and pastures. They often attempted to seduce or rape nymphs and mortal women alike, usually with little success. They are sometimes shown masturbating or engaging in bestiality.

Clapperboard device used to synchronize video and sound recordings

A clapperboard is a device used in filmmaking and video production to assist in synchronizing of picture and sound, and to designate and mark the various scenes and takes as they are filmed and audio-recorded.

The latter-day Z movie is typified by such pictures as Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (1995) and Bikini Cavegirl (2004), both directed by Fred Olen Ray, that combine traditional genre themes with extensive nudity or softcore pornography. [9] Such pictures, often after going straight to video, are fodder for late-night airing on subscription TV services such as HBO Zone or Cinemax.

The Ugandan action-comedy movie Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010), became notable worldwide for being produced under a $200 USD budget.


The earliest usage of the term (as grade-Z movie, and without the full derogatory meaning now usually intended) so far located is in a January 1965 newspaper review by critic Kevin Thomas of The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), an American International Pictures film directed by Roger Corman. [10] The earliest clear use of Z movie so far located in its now prevalent sense is by Todd McCarthy in the introduction to the 1975 book Kings of the Bs . [11] Though Z movie is most commonly used to describe films of the overtly low-grade sort described above, some critics use the term more broadly to describe any inexpensively produced movie that defies the norms of mainstream filmmaking in some significant way. [12]

See also


  1. See, e.g., Taves (1995), p. 323.
  2. "Top 13 Sites For Independent Filmmakers - Raindance". 25 July 2017. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  3. "5 Monster Movie Ideas Hollywood Should Be Making Next". Cracked.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  4. "The Melonheads". 16 September 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2018 via www.imdb.com.
  5. See, e.g., Sarkhosh and Menninghaus (2016), doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2016.04.002.
  6. For more on Wood in this industrial context, see Schaefer (1999), p. 212.
  7. Conner (2002), pp. 221–22.
  8. Conner (2002), p. 221.
  9. See, e.g., Quarles (2001), pp. 79–84.
  10. Thomas (1965). See also a short story by George P. Elliott, "Into the Cone of Cold," in Elliott, An Hour of Last Things and Other Stories (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 7–55; p. 27.
  11. McCarthy and Flynn (1975), p. xii.
  12. See, e.g., David James (Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties), quoted in Heffernan (2004), p. 224.


Related Research Articles

Bela Lugosi Hungarian actor

Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó, better known as Bela Lugosi, was a Hungarian-American actor best remembered for portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film and for his roles in other horror films.

<i>Bride of the Monster</i> 1955 American science fiction horror film by Ed Wood

Bride of the Monster is a 1955 American science fiction horror film directed, written, and produced by Edward D. Wood Jr., and starring Bela Lugosi and Tor Johnson with a supporting cast featuring Tony McCoy and Loretta King.

<i>The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra</i> 1928 short silent film by Robert Florey

The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra is a 1928 American silent experimental short film co-written and co-directed by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapić. Considered a landmark of American avant-garde cinema, it tells the story of a man who comes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star, only to fail and become dehumanized, with studio executives reducing him to the role of extra and writing the number "9413" on his forehead.

An independent film, independent movie, indie film or indie movie, is a feature film or short film that is produced outside the major film studio system, in addition to being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies. Independent films are sometimes distinguishable by their content and style and the way in which the filmmakers' personal artistic vision is realized. Usually, but not always, independent films are made with considerably lower budgets than major studio films.

<i>Ed Wood</i> (film) 1994 American comedy-drama biopic by Tim Burton

Ed Wood is a 1994 American biographical comedy-drama film directed and produced by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the eponymous cult filmmaker. The film concerns the period in Wood's life when he made his best-known films as well as his relationship with actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, and Bill Murray are among the supporting cast.

Filmmaking is the process of making a film, generally in the sense of films intended for extensive theatrical exhibition. Filmmaking involves a number of discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through screenwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and pre-production, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques. Typically, it involves a large number of people, and can take from a few months to several years to complete.

<i>Beginning of the End</i> (film) 1957 US science fiction film directed by Bert I. Gordon

Beginning of the End is a 1957 independently made American black-and-white science fiction giant insects film, produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon. It stars Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, and Morris Ankrum. The film's storyline concerns an agricultural scientist (Graves) who has successfully grown gigantic vegetables using radiation. Unfortunately, the vegetables are eaten by locusts, which quickly grow to a gigantic size and attack the nearby city of Chicago. Beginning of the End is generally known for its "atrocious" special effects and is considered to be one of the most poorly written and acted science fiction films of the 1950s.

Samuel Z. Arkoff American producer of B movies

Samuel Zachary Arkoff was an American producer of B movies.

Producers Releasing Corporation

Producers Releasing Corporation was one of the less prestigious of the Hollywood film studios. It was considered a prime example of what was called "Poverty Row", a term originally applied to a stretch of Gower Street in Hollywood known for being the headquarters of a plethora of low-budget production companies, mainly because the rents were cheap. Many of these companies would make only a few low-budget "B" pictures, then disappear; others, like PRC and Monogram, lasted for a longer period of time and some even had their own studio facilities. PRC lasted from 1939-47, churning out low-budget B-movies for the lower half of a double bill or the upper half of a neighborhood cinema showing second-run films. The company was substantial enough to not only produce but distribute its own product and some imports from the UK, and operated its own studio facility, first at 1440 N. Gower St. from 1936–43, then the complex used by the defunct Grand National Pictures from 1943-46, located at 7324 Santa Monica Blvd. This address is now an apartment complex.

Edgar G. Ulmer American film director, set designer

Edgar Georg Ulmer was a Jewish-Moravian, Austrian-American film director who mainly worked on Hollywood B movies and other low-budget productions. His stylish and eccentric works came to be appreciated by auteur theory-espousing film critics in the years following his retirement. Ulmer's productions include The Black Cat (1934) and the film noir Detour (1945).

Universal Classic Monsters horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios (1920s-1950s)

Universal Classic Monsters is a name given to the horror, fantasy, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Pictures during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. They began with The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera, both silent films starring Lon Chaney. Universal continued with talkies including monster franchises Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. The films often featured Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr.

<i>Hollywood Boulevard</i> (1976 film) 1976 film by Joe Dante, Allan Arkush

Hollywood Boulevard is a 1976 film directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante. It is the feature film directorial debut of both directors. This film stars Candice Rialson as an aspiring actress who has just arrived in Los Angeles, and was made as a result of a bet between Jon Davison and Roger Corman to make the cheapest ever film for New World Pictures. This was accomplished by extensive use of footage from other New World films.

A no-budget film is a film made with very little or no money. Actors and technicians are often employed in these films without remuneration. A no-budget film is typically made at the beginning of a filmmaker's career, with the intention of either exploring creative ideas, testing ones filmmaking abilities, or for use as a professional "calling card" when seeking creative employment. No-budget films are commonly submitted to film festivals, the intention being to raise wide-spread interest in the film.

<i>Man-Made Monster</i> 1941 film by George Waggner

Man-Made Monster is a 1941 American black-and-white science fiction-horror film from Universal Pictures, produced by Jack Bernhard, directed by George Waggner, that stars Lon Chaney, Jr. and Lionel Atwill. Man-Made Monster was re-released under various titles including Electric Man and The Mysterious Dr. R. Realart Pictures re-released the film in 1953 under the title The Atomic Monster as a double feature with The Flying Saucer (1950).

B movies (Hollywood Golden Age) film genre

The B movie, whose roots trace to the silent film era, was a significant contributor to Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. As the Hollywood studios made the transition to sound film in the late 1920s, many independent exhibitors began adopting a new programming format: the double feature. The popularity of the twin bill required the production of relatively short, inexpensive movies to occupy the bottom half of the program. The double feature was the predominant presentation model at American theaters throughout the Golden Age, and B movies constituted the majority of Hollywood production during the period.

B movies in the 1950s

The 1950s mark a significant change in the definition of the B movie. The transformation of the film industry due to court rulings that brought an end to many long-standing distribution practices as well as the challenge of television led to major changes in U.S. cinema at the exhibition level. These shifts signaled the eventual demise of the double feature that had defined much of the American moviegoing experience during Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. Even as the traditional bottom-of-the-bill second feature slowly disappeared, the term B movie was applied more broadly to the sort of inexpensive genre films that came out during the era, such as those produced to meet the demands of the burgeoning drive-in theater market.

B movies (exploitation boom)

The 1960s and 1970s mark the golden age of the independent B movie, made outside of Hollywood's major film studios. As censorship pressures lifted in the early 1960s, the low-budget end of the American motion picture industry increasingly incorporated the sort of sexual and violent elements long associated with so-called exploitation films. The death of the Production Code in 1968 and the major success of the exploitation-style Easy Rider the following year fueled the trend through the subsequent decade. The success of the B-studio exploitation movement had a significant effect on the strategies of the major studios during the 1970s.

B movies since the 1980s

Cinematic exhibition of the B movie, defined as a relatively low-cost genre film, has declined substantially from the early 1980s to the present. Spurred by the historic success of several big-budget movies with B-style themes beginning in the mid-1970s, the major Hollywood studios moved progressively into the production of A-grade films in genres that had long been low-budget territory. With the majors also adopting exploitation-derived methods of booking and marketing, B movies began to be squeezed out of the commercial arena. The advent of digital cinema in the new millennium appeared to open up new opportunities for the distribution of inexpensive genre movies.

<i>Crimson Romance</i> 1934 film by David Howard

Crimson Romance is a 1934 American drama film directed by David Howard and written by Milton Krims and Doris Schroeder. The film stars Ben Lyon, Sari Maritza, Erich von Stroheim, James Bush, William Bakewell and Hardie Albright. The low-budget project utilized footage from Hell's Angels (1930) and was released on October 12, 1934, by Mascot Pictures.