Roger Corman, King of B-Movies

Roger Corman
Honorary Award recipient Roger Corman accepts his award during the 2009 Governors Awards in the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland on November 14, 2009 in Hollywood, California.

A.M.P.A.S. / Getty Images

Roger Corman (born April 5, 1926) is an American filmmaker who is best known for producing and directing hundreds of low-budget, independent films and for giving important Hollywood filmmakers like James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese some of their earliest work.

Over seven decades, Corman has created dozens of influential classic B movies that have shaped pop culture, like A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Targets (1968), Death Race 2000 (1975), Piranha (1978), and Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979). Because his independent productions were produced on very small budgets, Corman was able to turn a profit on nearly every film he released. In addition, Corman also produced some critically-acclaimed films, including The Intruder (1962), Boxcar Bertha (1972), Suburbia (1984), and a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations made in the early 1960s starring horror icon Vincent Price.

Fast Facts: Roger Corman

  • Occupation: Producer, director, screenwriter, actor
  • Born: April 5, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan
  • Education: Stanford University
  • Notable Films: A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Intruder (1962), Targets (1968), Boxcar Bertha (1972), Death Race 2000 (1975), Piranha (1978), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), and Suburbia (1984)
  • Spouse: Julie Corman (m. 1970)

Early Life and Early Success

Growing up, Corman frequently went to see movies and was a film critic for his college newspaper while attending Stanford University to study Industrial Engineering. Shortly after graduating, he worked in the mail room at 20th Century Fox and eventually became a story reader for the studio. 

While working in a series of other odd jobs in Hollywood, Corman received his first film credit for writing the screenplay and serving as an associate producer for 1954's Highway Dragnet, a low-budget film noir movie released by small studio Allied Artists Pictures. Corman used the money he made to fund the production of the sci-fi feature Monster from the Ocean Floor and sold it to another studio, Lippert Pictures. Because it was produced on an extremely low budget, Corman turned a sizable profit on the film.

Corman's next films were a low-budget racing crime drama titled The Fast and the Furious (1955), and his directorial debut, Five Guns West (1955). Both movies were released by a studio that would eventually become American International Pictures (AIP), and thus began an extremely fruitful partnership between Corman and AIP in which he directed and produced dozens of low-budget features for the studio.

A poster for the 1957 horror science fiction film 'Attack of the Crab Monsters', directed by Roger Corman for Allied Artists Pictures. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

Corman also produced features for another studio, Allied Artists, including one of his most successful "creature features," Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). Corman would produce dozens of creature features over his career and would become closely identified with the subgenre. Another film Corman produced for Allied Artists is The Cry Baby Killer (1958), the film debut of Jack Nicholson. Corman's incredible speed and budget when it comes to filmmaking is perhaps best evidenced by The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which Corman shot for about $30,000 in just two days.

Starting with 1960's House of Usher, Corman produced seven films for AIP based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which starred horror film icons like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre. During this period he directed and produced The Intruder (1962), a drama about racism in the American South starring William Shatner. The film was one of Corman's few films to lose money, but it is perhaps Corman's most critically-acclaimed production. Corman also directed and produced The Trip (1967), a psychedelic film written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Bruce Dern about a man on an LSD trip.

A poster for Roger Corman's 1967 drama 'The Trip'. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

New World Pictures and New Horizons Pictures

After a brief period working with major studios Columbia, United Artists, and 20th Century Fox while still shooting films for AIP, Corman established his own studio, New World Pictures, in 1970. In addition to his own productions, Corman's New World Pictures distributed critically-acclaimed international films in the United States, including films directed by Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and François Truffaut. One of the most successful New World films was Death Race 2000 (1975), which starred Sylvester Stallone in one of his earliest films. Other successes included Grand Theft Auto (1978), Piranha (1978), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), and Battle Beyond the Stars (1981).

After selling New World Pictures, Corman established New Horizons (originally named Millennium Films) and the distribution company Concorde Pictures. Corman continued to produce several films each year. In 1993, Corman produced a low-budget adaptation of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four that was never officially released. 

In the 1990s Corman also produced a series of low-budget movies for Showtime under the banner of "Roger Corman Presents." In the 2000s and 2010s, Corman produced a number of creature features for TV channel Syfy. At the same time, he continued to produce other films, including the sequel Death Race 2050 (2017). In 1990, Corman released the book How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime about his film career.

Awards and Honors

Corman has received awards from the Cannes Film Festival (Producer's Award), Producers Guild of America (David O. Selznick Award), Casting Society of America (Lifetime Achievement Award), and the Visual Effects Society (Hall of Fame). He also has a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2009, he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award "for his rich engendering of films and filmmakers."

As a way to pay tribute to Corman, several filmmakers who got their start working for him have featured him in cameo roles in their later films like The Godfather Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Apollo 13.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Corman, Roger and Jim Jerome. How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime. Random House, 1990.
  • Nashawaty, Chris. Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen, and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman: King of the B Movie. Harry N. Abrams, 2013.
  • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. Directed by Alex Stapleton. A&E IndieFilms, 2011.