The Market for B-Movies

Last summer marked the release of the fifth movie in the Sharknado franchise. The film series, which involves a cyclone that picks up vicious sharks and carries them around a terrified city, checks many of the classic B-movie boxes, including low budget, relatively unknown actors, outlandish plot, and special effects that require a high suspension of disbelief. Much of the publicity that surrounded the release of the first Sharknado movie was negative, and it continues to be negative. As of September 2017, the movie holds an unfavorable rating of 3.3 out of 10 on IMDb.

How, then, are there five movies in the franchise? And why are there so many other movies that want to be Sharknado?

Whether or not people “liked” the movie is irrelevant. Whenever anyone posts about it (even about how “bad” they thought it was), their post creates curiosity and publicity. Publicity easily becomes marketability; marketability easily becomes profit; and profit is all the producers need to go ahead with a sequel (and another and another and another). Unlike the producers of an A-movie, the producers of a B-movie are unlikely to be discouraged by bad reviews. In fact, worse reviews may even be better for B-movie business because they are often spread around the internet without any marketing expense on the part of the production company.

If a movie like Sharknado catches on, the return to the company’s investment can be huge. Not only can the company profit from the airing and streaming of the movie, but also from merchandising, including video games, books, and figurines. According to The Hollywood Reporter, revenue for Sharknado’s production company, The Asylum, increased from $5 million to an estimated $19 million between 2009 and 2013 (when Sharknado was released).

If the movie does not catch on, it may still be able to break even or make a modest profit, thanks to the minuscule budgets allowed by the production companies. For example, 2015’s Lavalantula, which was produced by the same company that produced Sharknado, went largely unnoticed, but the franchise was still able to support a sequel—2 Lava 2 Lantula!the next year.

In the case that a movie does not manage break even, the company’s loss is not likely to be overwhelming.

With the introduction of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, B-movies no longer have to live in the shadow world of midnight movies or as the desperate first half of a double feature. This means that it is easier for B-movies to get into the hands (and reviews) of audiences.

The Sharknado franchise was not the firstthere was Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009) and Dinoshark (2010), and, of course, B-movie classics like Piranha (1978) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)nor will it be the last of its kind. The low-risk, high-reward structure of B-movies makes them highly desirable to producers.

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