The term B-movie doesn’t mean what it used to. It’s almost easier to define a B-movie now by what it’s not: They’re not blockbusters. They’re not art house films. They’re not pornographic films. With the average budget for a studio film hovering around $60 million these days, a B-movie is basically a film that comes in way under that number, but that is not aspiring to be anymore more than escapist entertainment. They also typically fall into the horror, sci-fi, or thriller genres, or a mix of all three. They also almost never attract an audience based on their stars, although the stars are typically familiar faces.
They’re harder to define, but essentially, you know one when you see it.
A fine example of a B-movie, in fact, is The Purge, which opened at number one this weekend, with around $36 million on a $3 million budget, kicking the crap out of The Interns, which opened with a better than expected $18 million on a $58 million budget. In fact, it’s the least expensive movie to top the box office in over 25 years, when Friday the 13th: Part VII topped the box-office during early May with $8 million (though, at the time, the “summer” movie season didn’t actually kick off until Memorial Day). Honestly, it makes you wonder why they marketplace is not saturated with the kind of low-risk, high reward films like The Purge, especially in light of the successes of movies like Insidious, Mama and Sinister the last few years. Granted, the upside is limited: $50 - $80 million is as much as most B-movies are likely to gross (and foreign grosses are similar), but — even when you factor in marketing budgets — the risks are substantially lower.
Speaking of The Purge it is yet another film that has typified Ethan Hawke’s career over the last few years. He has quietly of become a kind of B-movie King. Hawke has had big hits with two $3 million horror flicks, The Purge and Sinister, as well as Brooklyn’s Finest ($27 million on a $17 million budget), Daybreakers ($30 million on a $20 million budget), and he has three more B-movies in development. He may only make $1 million or less for each film, but he’s become a quietly successful genre actor.
Patrick Wilson, likewise, has become a major star in minor movies. He’s perfect for these movies, too: An excellent, recognizable actor who isn’t going to bust the bank. Insidious was better than it had any right to be thanks to Wilson. He was great in a supporting role in the huge budget B-movie The A-Team, and the perfect plug-in piece for a movie like Lakeview Terrace ($40 million on a $20 million budget), although he also had a couple of B-movie bombs in Passengers and The Ledge. Nevertheless, with two more B-movies coming out, The Conjuring and Insidious 2, he’s clearly comfortable in these kinds of working-stiff roles.
Ben Foster is another guy, a great actor, who doesn’t get enough credit for elevating B-movies like Pandorum, 30 Days of Night , The Mechanic and Contraband ($66 million on a $25 million budget). Contraband also starred Kate Beckinsale, whose Underworld movies are obviously big hits, though her other B-movie efforts, Whiteout and Vacancy have not fared as well.
Her name and face may not be as familiar as most, but Alice Braga is doing well as the token female of color in B-movies like The Rite, Predators, and Repo Men. Cam Gigandet is all over B-movies, with Pandorum, The Unborn, Priest and The Roommate, while Jeffrey Dean Morgan has squeezed all that “Grey’s Anatomy” goodwill for all its worth with B-movies like Red Dawn, The Possesion, The Courier and The Losers. Kyle Gallner is also a notable presence as the suspicious teen in movies like Red State,
Who else might belong on a list of today’s leading B-Movie stars? Karl Urban, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Jay Hernandez?