R.I.P Roger Corman, the king of cult films, who gave many future stars their start

The self-declared "Orson Welles of the Z movie" produced hundreds of films and gave an early-career hand to legends like William Shatner, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorsese. Corman was 98.

The Everett Collection

Roger Corman, the self-described "Orson Welles of the Z movie," died May 9th, 2024. He is survived by his wife of fifty-four years, film producer Julie Halloran. Together, they had four children, Roger, Brian, Mary, and Catherine.

For the past seventy years, nearly everything "cool" in the movie business can be traced back to one man. Roger Corman was at the forefront of the industry, pushing film forward in new and important ways over several significant eras. While he had an impressive filmography as a director, Corman will primarily be remembered for his role as a producer and an important mentor to an entire generation of filmmakers. 

Corman's directing proteges included the likes of Joe Dante, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme. Through Corman's tutelage, these artists were afforded their first experience in Hollywood filmmaking. While each may have eventually found his way to the big screen, it is undeniable that Corman's influence changed the course of movie history.

Actors like William Shatner, Diane Ladd, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, and Bruce Dern can all trace their career beginnings back to projects that Roger Corman helmed in the 1950s and '60s.

This groundbreaking work is even more impressive considering where Corman got his start. After a four-day career in engineering, Corman quit his job at U.S. Electrical Motors and found work in the 20th Century Fox mail room. There, he earned a meager $32.50 per week. 

Corman soon became familiar with script formatting as a story reader. He learned enough to write his first produced script, which became 1954's Highway Dragnet. Corman used the script fee he earned to produce his first feature, Monster from the Ocean Floor. While the film was poorly received, its legacy is undeniable as the first in an incredible run of profitable movies. 

Corman's entire ethos revolved around delivering movies on time, and under budget while ensuring the box-office returns were greater than what was spent. He changed with the times, constantly learning what audiences wanted and adapting to new tastes. 

One of his great innovations was distributing foreign films to American viewers, first with Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers, and later with the works of François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa. 

The critical peak of Corman's career as a director was his "Poe cycle," a series of movies adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe. His House of Usher, filmed in color for $200,000, starred Vincent Price. The 1960 smash hit proved that Corman was capable of highbrow cinema. Usher, along with The Raven, Masque of the Red Death, and The Pit and the Pendulum, continues to delight, shock, and thrill audiences worldwide. Corman was also responsible for the original 1960 The Little Shop of Horrors, featuring a small role by a young Jack Nicholson, which was later adapted into the musical of the same name, and finally a 1986 feature film of the musical directed by Frank Oz.

Viewers may recognize Corman in various acting roles throughout the decades, as his former proteges frequently cast the Hollywood maverick in their bigger-budget movies. Corman appeared in The Godfather Part II, The Howling, The Silence of the Lambs, and Philadelphia. Bugs Bunny fans should keep an eye out for Corman as a "Hollywood Director" in Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

For more on Roger Corman, nobody tells the story better than the man himself in his own autobiography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. 

Corman was 98.

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12 Comments

timothys71 14 days ago
They should show that Looney Tunes bit on Saturday Morning Cartoons as a tribute.
MichaelGreene 15 days ago
Corman would slip commentary into his movies. An example was "Teenage Caveman". Ostensibly, it looks like a prehistoric tale...until he meets a metal creature, who turns out to be an old man who was a survivor of a nuclear war, and what we saw was set well into a possible post-nuke future.
Mark MichaelGreene 14 days ago
Teenage Caveman featured another future star in the lead role...Robert Vaughn.
tootsieg 15 days ago
What a legend. Rest in Peace Roger Corman.
McGillahooala 16 days ago
R.I.P. you brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.
Ratt1959 16 days ago
RIP Roger Corman, thanks for all the films through the years.
Sway 17 days ago
RIP Roger Corman 🕊️ Remarkable career.
Rick 17 days ago
This was a giant loss. His influence on Hollywood is immeasurable.
Runeshaper 17 days ago
R.I.P Roger Corman. Thanks for everything!
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