The Majors And The Lowbudget Exploitation Market

Besides the volatile conditions of the low-budget exploitation market, the main reason behind the inability of new distributors to establish themselves was the majors' presence in that same market, after the mid-1950s. Universal and Columbia in particular became key players in the finance and distribution of exploitation films. Having been important producers and distributors of B films during the 1930s and 1940s, Universal and Columbia moved also to the teenage market when they saw the low-end independents' success in the mid-1950s. Not having the power of the Big Five to invest in new exhibition technologies or the foresight of United Artists to redefine the rules of top-rank independent production, the two majors came to depend on the success of exploitation films, while also playing cautiously in the mainstream market.

Specifically, Columbia depended on the success of the low-budget productions of Sam Katzman, in order to invest in bigger pictures for adult audiences, like Picnic (Logan, 1955) and the Stanley Kramer productions like The Caine Mutiny. Equally, Universal counted on the success of films like The Creature Walks Among Us (Sherwood, 1956) and the Zugsmith-produced exploitation pictures like The Incredible Shrinking Man to be able to invest in films like Written in the Wind and The Tarnished Angels (Sirk, 1956 and 1958 respectively), both of which were also produced by Zugsmith. Soon companies like MGM, Warner Bros and Paramount were also in the game, with the first distributing another film made by Albert Zugsmith Productions, High School Confidential! (Arnold, 1958); the second releasing the Devonshire Productions' Untamed Youth (Koch, 1957); and the third distributing Aurora Productions' film Mister Rock and Roll (Dubin, 1957).

Although the majors did not desert their core adult audience, they nevertheless claimed more than substantial profits from the youth market until the end of the 1960s. For that reason, it was impossible for the low-budget independent market to sustain more than a handful of distributors, which partly explains why only one such company, American International Pictures, made a name for itself and is best remembered as the main representative of exploitation filmmaking that targeted teenage audience during the period.

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