Roger Corman movies are the perfect remedy for those suffering from a deficiency of low-budget and exploitation films. Known as the “King of the B-Movies,” this prolific producer and director has been credited with an insane number of motion pictures (over 100), and he recently received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of his efforts.
Corman has also been responsible for giving a number of well-known Hollywood filmmakers and actors their first break in the business. This impressive list includes Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, David Carradine, and Robert De Niro.
The following list contains my 10 favorite Roger Corman movies, If you disagree, feel free to voice your own opinion in our comments section.
- Not of This Earth (1957) – Running only 67-minutes in length, this sci-fi film from director/producer Roger Corman is about an agent from the planet of Davanna who comes to Earth to help his plague-ravaged world. But he’s not here to appeal to the U.N. for assistance. Instead, he’s stealing blood from the population, using his vampiric octopus assistant and death beams from his eyes. If you were a moviegoer back in the late ‘50s, you would’ve first caught this one on a double bill with Attack of the Crab Monsters.
- House of Usher (1960) – Screenwriter Richard Matheson used Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” as inspiration for his tale of murder and madness amongst a New England clan. Mark Damon stars as a young man who travels to the desolate Usher estate to take away his fiancée, Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey). But the sickly-looking Roderick Usher (Vincent Price) opposes the union, citing his family’s cursed bloodline. This leads to a horrific showdown to determine Madeline’s future. One of the more critically praised Roger Corman movies.
- The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) – Corman directed and produced this cult hit that later inspired an off-Broadway musical, 1986 big screen remake, an animated television series, and a Broadway production. Seymour Krelboin (Jonathan Haze) is a clumsy floral assistant who comes across an intelligent plant that craves human blood. Before long–and thanks to a series of lethal accidents–Seymour is feeding his plant some of the local residents. Mixing dark comedy with plenty of Jewish humor, the film co-stars Dick Miller and a young Jack Nicholson.
- The Raven (1963) – Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff star as a trio of sorcerers who flirt with madness and melancholy while engaging in magical duels. Corman produced and directed, Richard Matheson penned the screenplay, and a young Jack Nicholson appears as Lorre’s on-screen son.
- The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967) – Corman helmed this gangster movie about the famous 1929 Chicago massacre instigated by Al Capone (Jason Robards) against rival Bugs Moran (Ralph Meeker). Combining actual fact with out-and-out fiction, this graphic historical retelling co-stars George Segal, John Agar, Bruce Dern, and Jack Nicholson (in an uncredited role).
- Boxcar Bertha (1972) – Everyone has to start somewhere, and the same goes for directorial legend Martin Scorsese. For his second feature, he teamed with producer Corman to make a tale of class struggle and racism in the 1930s. Barbara Hershey and David Carradine are Bertha Thompson and “Big” Bill Shelly, lovers and train robbers on the run through the American South. Fans of Martin Scorsese movies should consider this a must-see in order to watch the visionary director’s style develop. Co-starring Bernie Casey and John Carradine.
- Death Race 2000 (1975) – My personal favorite of all Roger Corman movies, Death Race 2000 is set in a fascist future where the savage populace is entertained by a cross-country road race which allows drivers score extra points for running down pedestrians. Directed by Paul Bartel, the film stars David Carradine as the legendary racer known only as Frankenstein, while primary nemesis “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo is portrayed by a young Sylvester Stallone. Also starring Simone Griffeth, Mary Woronov, and Martin Kove. Filled with dark humor, social commentary, and lots of hit-and-run action, it’s one of the best cult films available.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979) – Set in 1980, this Corman-produced film takes place at a high school where the students absolutely love rock ‘n’ roll (especially The Ramones). When the evil principal (Mary Woronov) takes Ramones tickets away from school leader Riff Randall (P.J. Soles), it leads to an all-out riot with an explosive conclusion. The Ramones star as themselves, while Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Paul Bartel, and Dick Miller co-star. The movie soundtrack is a predictable standout, featuring songs from Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry, Devo, The Velvet Underground, and Fleetwood Mac.
- Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) – Produced by Corman and directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, this sci-fi classic is a thinly-veiled copy of The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a thinly-veiled copy of The Seven Samurai). When a space tyrant known as Sador (John Saxon) threatens the peaceful farmers of Akir, they decide to hire mercenaries to protect them. They send the young Shad (Richard Thomas) to do the hiring, and he comes back with everyone from a Valkyrie warrior (Sybil Danning) to a freewheeling rogue known as Space Cowboy (George Peppard). Also starring Robert Vaughn, Darlanne Fluegel, and Sam Jaffe. As a child, I remember being a big fan of Space Cowboy (and later I became a big fan of Sybil Danning, if you know what I mean). Corman got to work with his biggest budget ever, and the production marked the big break for a young James Cameron.
- Death Race (2008) – Roger Corman gets a producer credit for this remake of his 1975 road rage classic. Jason Statham stars as Jensen Ames, a former racecar driver who gets framed for the murder of his wife, sentenced to Terminal Island Penitentiary, and then coerced into participating in the popular-yet-lethal racing event known as “Death Race.” Joan Allen is the corrupt warden, Ian McShane is Ames’ crew chief, and Tyrese Gibson is a rival driver known as Machine Gun Joe. While not as good as the original, it does feature plenty of death and mayhem once the characters stop talking and hit the track. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.