American International Pictures
|Fate||Acquired by Filmways|
|Founded||April 2, 1954|
|Founder||James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
|Roger Corman, Alex Gordon, Lou Rusoff, Herman Cohen|
American International Pictures (AIP) was an independent film production and distribution company formed on April 2, 1954 as American Releasing Corporation (ARC) by James H. Nicholson, former Sales Manager of Realart Pictures, and Samuel Z. Arkoff, an entertainment lawyer. It was dedicated to releasing low-budget films packaged as double features, primarily of interest to the teenagers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Nicholson and Arkoff formed ARC in 1954; their first release was The Fast and the Furious in 1955.
- 1 AIP personnel
- 2 Emphasis on teenagers
- 3 The ARKOFF formula
- 4 American Releasing Company
- 5 American International in the 1950s
- 6 AIP's 1960s output
- 7 Later years
- 8 Arkoff alone
- 9 Merger with Filmways
- 10 List of American International Pictures films
- 11 Financial earnings
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 External links
Nicholson and Arkoff served as executive producers while Roger Corman and Alex Gordon were the principal film producers and, sometimes, directors. Writer Charles B. Griffith wrote many of the early films, along with Arkoff's brother-in-law, Lou Rusoff, who later produced many of the films he had written. Other writers included Ray Russell, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Floyd Crosby, A.S.C. famous for his camera work on a number of exotic documentaries and the Oscar winner, High Noon, was chief cinematographer. His innovative use of surreal color and odd lenses and angles gave AIP films a signature look. The early rubber monster suits and miniatures of Paul Blaisdell were used in AIP's science fiction films. The company also hired Les Baxter and Ronald Stein to compose many of its film scores.
Emphasis on teenagers
When many of ARC/AIP's first releases failed to earn a profit, Arkoff quizzed film exhibitors who told him of the value of the teenage market as adults were watching television. AIP stopped making Westerns with Arkoff explaining: "To compete with television westerns you have to have color, big stars and $2,000,000".:126
AIP was the first company to use focus groups, polling American teenagers about what they would like to see and using their responses to determine titles, stars, and story content. AIP would question their exhibitors (who often provided 20% of AIP's financing:35) what they thought of the success of a title, then would have a writer create a script for it.:156 A sequence of tasks in a typical production involved creating a great title, getting an artist such as Albert Kallis who supervised all AIP artwork from 1955–73 to create a dynamic, eye-catching poster, then raising the cash, and finally writing and casting the film.
The ARKOFF formula
Samuel Z. Arkoff related his tried-and-true "ARKOFF formula" for producing a successful low-budget movie years later, during a 1980s talk show appearance. His ideas for a movie included:
- Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
- Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
- Killing (a modicum of violence)
- Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
- Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
- Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)
Later the AIP publicity department devised a strategy called "The Peter Pan Syndrome":
a) a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
b) an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
c) a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
d) a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year-old male.
American Releasing Company
They were interested in distributing a car chase movie produced by Roger Corman for his Palo Alto Productions, The Fast and the Furious (1955). Corman had received offers from other companies for the film, but ARC offered to advance money to enable Corman to make two other films. Corman agreed, The Fast and the Furious performed well at the box office and the company was launched.
Corman's next two films for the company were a Western Five Guns West (1955), which Corman directed, and a science fiction film, The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955). The title from the latter had come from Nicholson.
ARC got Corman to direct another Western and science fiction double bill Apache Woman (1955) and Day the World Ended (1955). Both scripts were written by Arkoff's brother-in-law Lou Rusoff, who would become the company's leading writer in its early days. Apache Woman was produced by Alex Gordon, an associate of Arkoff's, Day was produced by Corman. Both were made by Golden State Productions, ARC's production arm.
Normally B movies were made for the second part of a bill and received a flat rate. As television was encroaching on the B movie market, Nicholson and Arkoff felt it would be more profitable to make two low budget films and distribute them together on a double bill. Nicholson came up with a title for a film to support Day the World Ended, The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955), but lacked the money to make both films. They split the costs with Dan and Jack Milner, film editors who wanted to get into production. The resulting double bill was very successful at the box office. 
American International in the 1950s
Arkoff and Nicholson had always wanted to name their company "American International Pictures" but the name was unavailable. When the name became available, they changed over.
There were three main production arms at AIP in the late 1950s: Roger Corman, Alex Gordon and Lou Rusoff, and Herman Cohen. Arkoff and Nicholson would buy films from other filmmakers as well, and import films from outside America.
Corman continued to be an important member of AIP (though he also worked for Allied Artists and his own Filmgroup company during this period). He had a big hit for the company with the science fiction film It Conquered the World (1956) from a script by Rusoff that was rewritten by Charles B. Griffith.
His films included Rock All Night (1956); Naked Paradise (1957), in which Arkoff had a small role; The Undead, Sorority Girl, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), Machine Gun Kelly with Charles Bronson, and Teenage Cave Man (1958), with Robert Vaughn.
Alex Gordon and Lou Rusoff
The other key producer for AIP was Alex Gordon who mostly made films though his Golden State Productions outfit, usually written by Lou Rusoff. He made Girls in Prison (1956), with director Edward L. Cahn who would become one of AIP's most prolific directors. AIP released it on a double bill with Hot Rod Girl (1956).
Cahn also directed the following for Gordon: The She-Creature (released with It Conquered the World); Flesh and the Spur, the last Western made by AIP; Shake, Rattle & Rock!, a rock musical with Mike Connors; Runaway Daughters (1956); Voodoo Woman, Dragstrip Girl (1957), with John Ashley; Motorcycle Gang (1957), again with Ashley; Jet Attack and Submarine Seahawk (1958). Most of these were written by Rusoff and directed by Edward L. Cahn.
Another key producer for AIP was Herman Cohen who had a huge hit with I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) starring Michael Landon). He followed it with I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Blood of Dracula (1957), How to Make a Monster (1958), The Headless Ghost and Horrors of the Black Museum (1959).
Other key collaborators who worked for AIP in the late 1950s included:
- Norman T. Herman: Hot Rod Girl (1956)
- Robert Gurney: Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Reform School Girl (1957) and Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)
- Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958) and Earth vs. the Spider (1958)
- Burt Topper: Hell Squad (1958), Tank Commandos (1959) and Diary of a High School Bride (1959)
- Edward Bernds: High School Hellcats (1958).
- Stanley Shpetne: The Bonnie Parker Story (1958) and Paratroop Command (1959).
- Stanley Kallis: Operation Dames (1959) and Roadracers (1959).
AIP would flesh out their distribution schedule by buying films made by outside producers. These included The Astounding She-Monster, the documentary Naked Africa, The Screaming Skull (1957), The Cool and the Crazy, Daddy-O, Dragstrip Riot and Tank Batallion (1958).
AIP developed a mutual relationship with Britain's Anglo-Amalgamated who would distribute AIP's product in the UK. In return, AIP would distribute their films in the US, such as The Tommy Steele Story (1957) and Cat Girl (1957).
Late 1950s crisis
AIP became a victim of its own success when other companies started copying its double-bill strategy. Costs were rising and were not compensated by increased box office grosses. They shut down most of their production arms and focused on distributing films from Italy, while they decided what to do next.
AIP's 1960s output
There was also Atomic Agent (1959, France), The Angry Red Planet (1959, Denmark), Tiger of Bengal (1959) and The Indian Tomb (1960) from Fritz Lang in Germany, Portrait of a Sinner (1959, Germany), The Professionals (1960, Britain), and Escape to Paradise (1960, the Philippines).
The Corman-Poe cycle
In the early 1960s, AIP gained some kudos by combining Roger Corman, Vincent Price and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe into a series of horror films, with scripts by Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Ray Russell, R. Wright Campbell and Robert Towne.
The original idea, usually credited[who?] to Corman and Lou Rusoff, was to take Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher", which had both a high name-recognition value and the merit of being in the public domain, and thus royalty-free, and expand it into a feature film. Corman convinced the studio to give him a larger budget than the typical AIP film so he could film the movie in widescreen and color, and use it to create lavish sets as well. The success of House of Usher led AIP to finance further films based on Poe's stories. The sets and special effects were often reused in subsequent movies (for example, the burning roof of the Usher mansion reappears in most of the other films as stock footage) making the series quite cost-effective. All the films in the series were directed by Roger Corman, and they all starred Price except The Premature Burial, which featured Ray Milland in the lead. It was originally produced for another studio, but AIP acquired the rights to it.
As the series progressed, Corman made attempts to change the formula. Later films added more humor to the stories, especially The Raven, which takes Poe's poem as an inspiration and develops it into an all-out farce starring Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre; Karloff had starred in a 1935 film with the same title. Corman also adapted H. P. Lovecraft's short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in an attempt to get away from Poe, but AIP changed the title to that of an obscure Poe poem, The Haunted Palace, and marketed it as yet another movie in the series. The last two films in the series, The Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia, were filmed in England with an unusually long schedule for Corman and AIP.
Although Corman and Rusoff are generally credited with coming up with the idea for the Poe series, in an interview on the Anchor Bay DVD of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, Mark Damon claims that he first suggested the idea to Corman. Damon also says that Corman let him direct The Pit and the Pendulum uncredited. Corman's commentary for Pit mentions nothing of this and all existing production stills of the film show Corman directing.
List of Corman-Poe films
Of eight films, seven feature stories that are actually based on the works of Poe.
- House of Usher (1960) - Based on the short story "The Fall of the House of Usher"
- The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) - Based on the title of the short story of the same name
- The Premature Burial (1962) - Based on the short story of the same name
- Tales of Terror (1962) - Based on the short stories "Morella", "The Black Cat", "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"
- The Raven (1963) - Based on the poem of the same name
- The Haunted Palace (1963) - Based on H.P. Lovecraft's novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, using the title from Poe's 1839 poem
- The Masque of the Red Death (1964) - Based on the short story of the same name with another Poe short story, "Hop-Frog", used as a subplot
- The Tomb of Ligeia (1965) - Based on the short story "Ligeia"
Occasionally, Corman's 1963 film The Terror (produced immediately after The Raven) is recognized as being part of the Corman-Poe cycle, although the film's story and title are not based on any literary work.
Based in rented office space at the Chaplin Studios, during the early 1960s AIP concentrated on horror films inspired by the Poe cycle. In 1962, Arkoff said AIP were in a position similar to Columbia Pictures just before they made Submarine and Dirigible:
Before that they were on poverty row. Our better position will enable us to obtain more important writers, perhaps more important producers as well. We're a privately owned company at the moment but perhaps within two or three years we will become a public company.
Beach Party era
Beginning with 1963's Beach Party, AIP created a new genre of beach party films featuring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. The original idea and the first script were Rusoff's. The highly successful and often imitated series ended in 1966 with the seventh film, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. Many actors from the beach films also appeared in AIP's spy-spoofs, such as Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and car racing sagas like Fireball 500 (1966) and Thunder Alley. During this time, AIP also produced or distributed most of Corman's horror films such as X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes.
In 1966, the studio released The Wild Angels starring Peter Fonda, based loosely on the real-life exploits of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. This film ushered in AIP's most successful year and kicked off a subgenre of motorcycle gang films that lasted almost ten years and included Devil's Angels, The Glory Stompers with Dennis Hopper, and The Born Losers—the film that introduced the Billy Jack character.
In 1968, AIP launched a $22 million film program. The psychedelic and hippie scenes of the late '60s were also exploited with films like The Trip, also with Fonda, Riot on Sunset Strip, Wild in the Streets, Maryjane, Gas-s-s-s and Psych-Out with Jack Nicholson. These "social protest" films were also highly successful. Horror movies also enjoyed a revival of popularity in the late 60s.
International American International
On a trip to Italy, Arkoff met Fulvio Lucisano, an Italian screenwriter and producer who eventually headed Italian International Film, which co-produced 25 films in Italy for AIP. Due to importing completed productions from other foreign countries being cheaper and more simplistic than producing their own in-house studio films in America, AIP had released many giallo, peplum, Eurospy and Macaroni Combat war films featuring many American stars and Italian stars such as the comedy team of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. However, AIP released only two Spaghetti Westerns (Massacre Time and God Forgives... I Don't!), perhaps recalling their failure of Westerns in the 1950s. Many of these films were edited, rewritten with different (dubbed English) dialogue, usually by Arkoff's nephew Ted Rusoff, and sometimes rescored by Les Baxter.
AIP, through Henry G. Saperstein is known for being the major U.S. distributor for Toho's Godzilla and Daiei's Gamera (kaiju) films of the '60s and '70s. AIP also distributed other Japanese science fiction films like Frankenstein Conquers the World, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet and the South Korean production Yonggary, Monster from the Deep as well as two Japanese animated features from Toei Animation, Alakazam the Great and Jack and the Witch.
The studio also released edited and English-dubbed versions of several Eastern Bloc science fiction films, that had the dialogue rewritten for the American market and in some cases had additional scenes filmed with American and British actors. These include the Soviet film Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms) which was released by AIP in two different English-dubbed versions, as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women and the highly regarded 1963 Czech science fiction film Ikarie XB-1, which was retitled Voyage to the End of the Universe.
In 1964, AIP became one of the last film studios to start its own television production company, American International Productions Television (a.k.a. American International Television or AIP-TV). AIP-TV at first released many of their 1950s films to American television stations, then filmed unsuccessful television pilots for Beach Party and Sergeant Deadhead. The company then made several colour sci-fi/horror television films by Larry Buchanan that were remakes of black-and-white AIP films, and sold packages of many dubbed European, Japanese and Mexican films (the last type produced by K. Gordon Murray) and foreign-made live-action and animated TV series (including Prince Planet). The best known animated series AIP-TV distributed was Sinbad Jr. and his Magic Belt.
In order to allay the fears of cinema owners who feared current releases would soon end up being shown on television, AIP issued a statement retroactive to 1963 that the company would not release any of their films to television until five years after cinema release unless the film had not made back its original negative costs. AIP-TV also filmed specials of promotion of AIP films such as The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot (1965, ABC) and An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1972, syndication), both with Vincent Price.
In 1970, they entered into an agreement with Commonwealth United Entertainment to issue their films. In 1971 they released 31 films, their greatest number to date, and were seen as one of the most stable companies in Hollywood. Despite their exploitation roots, they did not concentrate on X or R rated filmmaking during this period.
Resignation of Nicholson
In 1972 James H. Nicholson resigned from AIP to set up his own production company working out of 20th Century Fox, called Academy Pictures Corporation; its only two releases were The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. AIP bought out over 100,000 of Nicholson's shares. He died shortly thereafter of a cancerous brain tumor.
Arkoff continued on at AIP as president until the end of the decade. Heads of production during the 1970s included Larry Gordon and Jere Henshaw.
By the early 1970s AIP felt the horror movie cycle was in decline, and so switched to other genres, such as kung fu and gangsters. Notably they produced some of that decade's blaxploitation films like Blacula, and Foxy Brown. In a throwback to the old "studio days", the company is credited with making Pam Grier a household name, as the majority of her early '70s films were made under contract to American International.
In the mid to late 1970s, AIP began to produce more mainstream films such as Bunny O'Hare, Cooley High, The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday, The Amityville Horror, Love at First Bite, Meteor, Force 10 from Navarone, Shout at the Devil, The Island of Dr. Moreau and C.H.O.M.P.S. The increased spending on these projects, though they did make some money, contributed to the company's downfall. In the meantime, the studio imported and released its final foreign film, an Australian film, Mad Max, dubbed into American English.
James Nicholson's first wife Sylvia was still a major shareholder of the company. She sued AIP for mismanagement but this was resolved in 1978 when AIP bought out her shares.
Merger with Filmways
By the late 1970s costs of making movies continued to rise, AIP's tactic of moving into bigger budgeted quality pictures was not paying off at the box office, and Arkoff began to think of merging the company. "We've been the Woolworths of the movie business but Woolworths is being out priced," said Arkoff. Talks began with Filmways Incorporated. Negotiations stalled for a while but resumed a number of months later. In 1979 AIP was sold to Filmways, Inc. for $30 million and became a subsidiary production unit thereof renamed Filmways Pictures in 1980.
AIP-TV was absorbed as the wholly owned program syndication arm of Filmways Television. Filmways was later bought by Orion Pictures Company in 1982 and Filmways was later renamed to Orion Pictures Corporation, but retained the distribution arm. This allowed Orion to establish its own distribution after utilizing Warner Bros. for distribution which still has distribution rights to Orion films Warner distributed. Today, a majority of the AIP library is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's subsidiary Orion Pictures Corporation. The American International name is still a registered trademark owned by MGM's Orion Pictures unit.
List of American International Pictures films
|February 15, 1980||Mad Max||Action||George Miller||Australian sci-fi dystopian film dubbed in American English|
|March 14, 1980||Defiance||Action||John Flynn|
|March 14, 1980||The Visitor||Sci-fi horror||Michael J. Paradise|
|March 28, 1980||Nothing Personal||Romantic comedy||George Bloomfield|
|May 1, 1980||Gorp||Sex comedy||Joseph Ruben|
|July 11, 1980||How to Beat the High Cost of Living||Crime comedy||Robert Scheerer|
The following films were announced for production by AIP but never made:
- An adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's She (1958, dir. Roger Corman)
- Even and the Dragon (1958, dir. Stanley Shpetner)
- Take Me to Your Leader (1958) - a part-animated feature
- Aladdin and the Giant (1959) - produced by Herman Cohen
- In the Year 2889 (1959) - from the novel by Jules Verne
- The Talking Dog (1959) - a comedy
- When the Sleeper Wakes from the novel by H.G. Wells (1960–62) - Vincent Price was announced as a star in 1965
- A color remake of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1961)
- Genghis Khan (1960s, dir. Jacques Tourneur) - a Roadshow production with a $4.5 million budget
- The Great Deluge - story of Noah's Ark
- War of the Planets (1962) - a $2 million sci-fi epic starring Vincent Price and Boris Karloff based on a script by Harlan Ellison
- Off on a Comet (1962) - a filming of Jules Verne's novel advertised in comic books
- Stratofin (1962) based on Jules Verne's Master of the World
- It's Alive (1963) with Peter Lorre, Harvey Lembeck and Elsa Lanchester
- Something in the Walls (1963)
- The Magnificent Leonardi (1963) - with Ray Milland
- Sins of Babylon (1963)
- Rumble (1963) with Avalon and Funicello from a book by Harlan Ellison about New York gangs
- The Graveside Story (1964) - with Price, Karloff, Lorre and Elsa Lanchester
- The Gold Bug (1964) with Price, Lorre and Lanchester
- The Chase (circa 1965) - a silent comedy starring Buster Keaton
- Malibu Madness (1965)
- The Haunted Palace (1965)
- Seven Footprints to Satan (1965)
- The Jet Set or Jet Set Party (1964, dir. William Asher) - with Avalon and Funicello
- Malibu Madness (1965)
- Robin Hood Jones (1966, dir. William Asher) - musical about Robin Hood starring Price, Avalon, Funicello and Susan Hart
- Cruise Party (1966) - with Avalon and Dwayne Hickman
- The Girl in the Glass Bikini (1966, dir. William Asher) - A sci-fi comedy with Avalon, Funicello and Aron Kincaid
- The Girl in the Glass Castle (1966) - a musical comedy with a $1 million budget
- The Hatfields and the McCoys (1966) - A musical with Avalon and Funicello
- It (1967) - based on Richard Matheson's story "Being"
- The Golem (1967)
- 1970 - $22.7 million
- 1971 - $21.4 million
- 1972 - $24 million
- 1973 - $24.5 million - profit $744,000
- 1974 - $32.5 million - profit of $931,400
- 1975 - $48.2 million
- 1978 - $51.2 million - profit $1.8 million
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- 30 FEATURES SET: AIP ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR BUSIEST FILM YEAR Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 Jan 1971: g11.
- X-Rated Movies: On the Downswing? The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 31 Mar 1971: B4
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- Nicholson Plans Own Film Firm Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif.] 22 January 1972: b6
- California Film Maker Buys Own Stock From Ex-Officer Wall Street Journal (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 September 1972: 43.
- J.H. Nicholson, Film Maker, Dies of Cancer. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif.] 11 December 1972: 26
- LARRY GORDON ROLLS HIS DICE Taylor, Clarke. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Oct 1978: n35
- The dime-store way to make movies-and money By Aljean Harmetz. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 04 Aug 1974: 202.
- Policy Shift Set by American International Pictures Inc. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 25 May 1972: 7.
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- May Revive Merger Talks With Filmways, AIP Says Jones, John A. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Feb 1979: d12.
- Filmways Says Assets Were Overstated For American International Pictures Inc. By a WALL STREET JOURNAL Staff Reporter. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 03 Dec 1979: 8.
- AIP BITES DUST AS FILMWAYS RENAMES STUDIO Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 Mar 1980: f3.
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- Filmways Inc. Pays Ex-Aide $1.4 Million Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 July 1980: 8
- How Accountants Helped Orion Pictures Launch Its Financial Comeback Welles, Chris. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 15 May 1983: f1.
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- American International Pictures Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 May 1973: 19.
- Horror or Horrid Films, AIP Quickies Score at Box Office: FILMS Getze, John. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 Feb 1974: d10. Turn on hit highlighting for speaking browsers
- Stockholder Meeting Briefs Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 26 June 1973: 35
- American International Will Be 'Happy' if Net Matches Fiscal 1975's Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 27 Oct 1975: 18.
- AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL EPIC: CHINESE BOOK U.S. FILM 'FUTUREWORLD' Bry, Barbara. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 05 Jan 1979: d16.
- Mark Thomas McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Story of American International Pictures (McFarland & Company, 1995) ISBN 0-7864-0137-0.
- Gary A. Smith, American International Pictures: The Golden Years, Bear Manor Media 2013