Poverty Row is a slang term used to refer to Hollywood films produced from the 1920s to the 1950s by small (and mostly short-lived) B movie studios. Although many of them were based on (or near) today's Gower Street in Hollywood, the term did not necessarily refer to any specific physical location, but was rather a figurative catch-all for low-budget films produced by these lower-tier studios.
Many of the films of Poverty Row were Westerns, including series such as Billy the Kid, starring Buster Crabbe, from Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), comedy/adventure series such as those featuring the Bowery Boys (Monogram Pictures) and detectives such as The Shadow. The films were characterized by low budgets, casts made up of minor stars or unknowns, and overall production values betraying the haste and economy with which they were made.
While some Poverty Row studios had a brief existence, releasing only a few films, others operated on more or less the same terms as—if on a vastly different scale from—major film studios such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros., and Paramount Pictures.
The most successful and longest-lived of such lower-tier companies maintained permanent lots (and many standing sets that dedicated moviegoers could frequently recognize), had both cast and crew under contract, and had a more varied output than smaller firms.
The smallest studios, including Tiffany Pictures, Sam Katzman's Victory, Mascot and Chesterfield, often packaged and released films from independent producers, British "quota quickie" films, or borderline exploitation films such as Hitler, Beast of Berlin to supplement their own limited production capacity. Sometimes the same producers would found a new studio when the old one failed, such as Harry S. Webb and Bernard B. Ray's Reliable Pictures and Metropolitan Pictures.
Some organizations such as Astor Pictures and Realart Pictures began by obtaining the rights to re-release older films from other studios before producing their own films.
The breakup of the studio system (and its restrictive chain-theater distribution network, which left independent movie houses eager for seat-filling product from the Poverty Row studios) following 1948's United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. decision, and the advent of television were among the factors that led to the decline and ultimate disappearance of "Poverty Row" as a Hollywood phenomenon.
Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Art History and Communication Studies; Film scholarship has generally assumed that the low-budget independent film studios, commonly known as Poverty Row, originated in the early sound-era to take advantage of the growing popularity of double feature exhibition programs.