B-Movie Master Roger Corman Dies, Aged 98

Roger Corman

by Jordan King |
Published on

Roger Corman, the legendary B-movie filmmaker who directed, produced, and starred in upwards of 500 films over the course of a staggering eight decade-spanning career, has died. He passed away aged 98 this past Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, California.

In a statement posted on Roger’s Instagram to announce his passing, Corman’s wife Julie and daughters Mary and Catherine shared the following: “It is with profound sadness, and boundless gratitude for his extraordinary life, that we remember our beloved husband and father, Roger Corman. He passed away on May 9th, at home in Santa Monica, California, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife Julie and his daughters Catherine and Mary. He was generous, open-hearted and kind to all those who knew him. A devoted and selfless father, he was deeply loved by his daughters. His films were revolutionary and iconoclastic, and captured the spirit of an age. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, “I was a filmmaker, just that.”

And what a filmmaker he was. Born in Detroit, Michigan on 5 April, 1926, Roger William Corman — despite having been born in Motor City and having an engineer for a father — was never destined for a life in the automobile industry. In fact, after receiving a degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University, Corman wound up ditching his first graduate job at US Electrical Motors in Los Angeles after just four days, trading wheels for reels as he set out to make it in the movies.

Taking up a position as a messenger boy for 20th Century Fox in 1950, Corman quickly rose through the ranks at the studio, eventually earning a place within the studio’s story department. However, following a snafu involving a lack of credit for an idea he’d had for Gregory Peck’s western The Gunfighter, a disgruntled Corman left Fox — and the US. After spending some time in Europe studying at Oxford University and freelancing for magazines in Paris, Corman — still determined to crack the movie industry — eventually returned to America, landing a job with a literary agent in Los Angeles.

Convinced he could do a better job than many of the screenplays he’d been reading for work, Corman set about writing one of his own. And sure enough, in 1954, he sold his first script — a pulpy noir called House in the Sea (later retitled Highway Dragnet) — to Allied Artists for a couple of thousand dollars. The spoils from the sale of that film went on to fund the first Roger Corman production, self-explanatorily titled 1954 sci-fi creature feature Monster from the Ocean Floor. And racing thriller The Fast And The Furious followed before the year was through. (Yes, the multi-billion dollar Vin Diesel-starring blockbuster franchise wouldn’t exist without Roger Corman.)

Before long, Corman was independently producing, directing, and writing as many as nine films a year, operating under a simple philosophy: “make ‘em quick, make ‘em cheap and make ‘em popular.” From the early Jack Nicholson starring The Little Shop Of Horrors (famously shot in just two days, on the same set as Corman’s own A Bucket Of Blood no less), to a slew of successful Vincent Price led Edgar Allen Poe adaptations including National Film Registry selection House Of Usher, The Pit And The Pendulum, and The Masque Of The Red Death, Corman quickly proved himself the king of the B-movie banger. We'd thoroughly recommend checking out Corman's 1961 pre-Star Trek William Shatner starrer The Intruder, a lacerating work of social drama that confronts racism head-on; it's a sage reminder of Corman's filmmaking prowess and trailblazing approach to the art he devoted his life to.

In 1970, Corman founded New World Pictures alongside his younger brother Gene, with the pair going on to produce and distribute well over a hundred films together under the banner. Through New World, Corman helped launch the careers of Joe Dante (Piranha), Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto), and Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat), whilst also bringing works from the likes of Ingmar Bergman (Cries & Whispers), Akira Kurosawa (Dersu Uzala), and Federico Fellini (Amarcord) to American shores. More broadly, Corman deserves recognition as one of the foremost figures behind the American New Wave: protégés including Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Gale Anne Hurd, and James Cameron all earned their spurs working on Roger Corman pictures.

In the early 80s, Corman sold New World Pictures, moving onto pastures new with Concorde Films and New Horizons Films, under whose banners he continued to produce films, now alongside wife Julie. In 1990, Roger Corman's autobiography, Maverick: How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost a Dime was released, and over the years — before and since — Corman made memorable appearances in his apprentices' films, popping up in everything from The Silence Of The Lambs to Philadelphia to Looney Tunes: Back In Action. in 2009 the industry icon was awarded an honorary Oscar "for his unparalleled ability to nurture aspiring filmmakers by providing an environment that no film school could match."

Over the weekend, social media has been ablaze with glowing tributes to Roger Corman from peers and the public alike. Guillermo del Toro remembers "a straight-shooting, no-nonsense lover of film," whilst master of horror John Carpenter described Corman as "one of the most influential movie directors in my life" and "a great friend." Elsewhere, Corman alum Gale Ann Hurd hailed her first boss and personal hero as "one of the greatest visionaries in the history of cinema." It's a sentiment shared far and wide, and one that speaks to Corman's seismic impact on the landscape of cinema.

When Empire caught up with the man they call the King of Cult back in 2020, Corman — then 94 years of age — was still working, with three projects on the go. And though it is with great sadness that we share the news of his passing, in the films that he made, the careers that he nurtured, the lives that he touched, and the incomparable legacy that he leaves behind, Roger Corman will undoubtedly live on as one of cinema’s all-time greats. He will be sorely missed, and our thoughts are with his family, friends, and loved ones at this time.

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