“Open Water” is a 2003 thriller about a couple that gets stranded in the middle of the ocean in Australia after they get left behind by the tour boat that they’re on, on a group scuba diving trip. They find themselves in the midst of a very large, very hungry company and are trapped with nowhere to hide.
The film was reportedly made for even less than $150,000, which is one of the lowest numbers on this list. But, it excited audiences so much that it brought in over $50 million in theaters, which probably made Lions Gate pretty happy, considering they paid $2.5 million for it (plus another $8M in marketing).
Lost in Translation
“Lost in Translation” stars Bill Murray as an actor who’s seen the high point in his career in his rearview mirror and befriends a college student (Scarlett Johansson) in the bustling city of Tokyo. The student’s going through a troubling time of her own and finds her friend at just the right moment, and a beautiful relationship develops. At the time of production, Scar-jo was just shy of 18 years old and already shaping up to be a huge star.
Neither she nor Murray auditioned for their respective roles in the film, which was directed (and written) by Sofia Coppola. The movie was up for 4 Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay. The dark comedy ultimately grossed nearly $120 million — not bad for a film that was made with just $4 mil.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nia Vardalos both wrote and starred in 2002’s hilarious comedy, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” but could she have possibly imagined the incredible amount of success the film would have? $5 million isn’t a terribly low amount of money to be working with, but when you’re talking in terms of Hollywood blockbusters, it’s a different story. Still, she knocked it out of the park, and the film grossed a whopping $250 million at the box office.
It was such a huge hit that it was followed several years later by the sequel, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” and a TV series dubbed “My Big Fat Greek Life.” The film centers around Greek bride-to-be, Toula (Nia Vardalos), and her hilarious pre-wedding escapades to try and get her family to be more accepting of her non-Greek fiancé, Ian (John Corbett).
Rocky is a classic fighting movie from 1976, starring Sylvester Stallone as a boxer fighting his way through tough times in Philadelphia. Stallone’s popularity increased tenfold as a result of this film, which wound up grossing around $200 million, an impressive feat, considering the small budget director John Avildsen had to work with. The film was so popular that it’s resulted in 7 sequels, the latest being “Creed II” in 2018.
In 1977, “Rocky” was not only nominated for 7 Academy Awards but won 3 others, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. Among the numerous nominations were the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Writing, and Best Music/Original Song.
“Split” is a strange and yet very interesting movie, which received somewhat mixed reviews among some critics and audiences. The dark and twisted movie stars James McAvoy as the mind of more than 20 different people living inside one body (with multiple personality syndrome, aka split personality disorder). He kidnaps a few teenage girls, and chaos ensues as his personalities battle each other, and he struggles to find himself in the 2017 film that was produced for $9M. Despite the mixed reviews, the film brought home nearly $270 million.
The drama/thriller was created by horror master M. Night Shyamalan, which explains why it’s so creepy and odd but also unquestionably brilliant. And McAvoy’s performance alone is worth watching the film for. On Rotten Tomatoes, “Split” has a certified fresh score of 77%. Not too shabby.
Quentin Tarantino’s crime-thriller masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” came out in 1994 and wowed critics and audiences around the world. The unique and seedy film about the underground world of mobsters, gangsters, and the women they love was created using a budget of only $8 million but ended up making $212 million at the box office.
Multiple critics throughout the years have called it one of the greatest films to ever be made. Perhaps the fact that it was full of stars like John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson contributed to its outrageous success in theatres. Whatever the reason, “Pulp Fiction” rightfully earned its place on this list. It was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 1 for Best Original Screenplay.
“Goldfinger” is one in a series of James Bond films, in which the late Sean Connery plays the dashing and daring 007. The movie was filmed for a modest (by Hollywood standards) $3 million and was hailed as being one of the best in the franchise. And, it seemed as though audiences agreed with critics, seeing as though the film grossed nearly $126 million, which was pretty substantial for the 1960s.
The movie was based on the book written by Ian Fleming, which was first published in Europe about 5 years before the 1964 silver screen debut. There are now more than 20 films in the James Bond Franchise.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is arguably one of the best horror movies ever made. It is the ultimate cult classic that launched an incredible franchise — and Johnny Depp’s career. Who could possibly forget the bedroom scene with a teenage Johnny? If you haven’t seen the classic and you actually needed another reason, there it is!
The film, which centers around a psychopathic madman who kills teenagers in their dreams, was produced with a budget of $1.5 million and grossed over $25 million after its release in 1984. The movie forever solidified Wes Craven’s place in the horror hall of fame as one of the greatest (and most twisted) minds of all time. Now, there are 11 movies in the super successful franchise.
“Get Out” is a tantalizingly unique thriller directed by comedian turned director Jordan Peele. It was the first film that Peele has directed, though because of his status; he was able to scrounge together a cool $4.5 million in funds to produce the mind-bending film. The movie stars Daniel Kaluuya, who plays the boyfriend of a woman (Allison Williams) when the two go visit her family for one of their reunions at her parents’ house, and Daniel gets more than he bargained for when something turns out to be very, very wrong.
The film grossed over $220 million at the box office and earned Peele his well-deserved industry cred as a director. “Get Out” was nominated for a number of awards, including Best Picture and Original Screenplay, at the Academy Awards and 5 different nominations at the 23rd Critics Choice Awards. It wound up being on the top 10 list of most profitable films in 2017.
The Blair Witch Project
“The Blair Witch Project” had a terrific PR campaign before it hit theatres. The previews of these teenagers lost in the woods on what looked like homemade footage were so thrilling because it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. That probably contributed in large part to the fact it brought in nearly $250 million worldwide. Although the previews ended up showing pretty much the best parts of the film, which was created by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, who did all of the writing, directing, and editing themselves.
After it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999, it grabbed the attention of distribution companies and earned itself a $1.1 million distribution deal. Since the film’s release, several other directors have followed suit in this film style, creating other “found footage” hits like “Paranormal Activity.” The film also prompted the release of a few sequels, “Blair Witch” (2016) and “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,” which came out just a year after the original.
Little Miss Sunshine
Abigail Breslin found her breakthrough role in the form of Olive Hoover, daughter of Sheryl and Frank in “Little Miss Sunshine,” for which she won her own Academy Award. The film, which follows an eclectic family across the country on a road trip in their yellow van, brought in over $100 million in theatres. In the grand scheme of things, that may not seem like a lot, but it is considering the fact they created the masterpiece with only $8 million.
It was written by a newbie screenwriter named Michael Arndt, who was actually planning on crowdsourcing as much as possible and shooting it with a handheld camera himself. He even wrote the final scene for the screenplay just 6 weeks before it debuted at Sundance. Luckily, he ended up pitching it to the professionals instead and sold it for a quarter-million dollars to Marc Turtletaub, who also paid the $8 million in production costs for the movie to come to life.
Buried is an underrated film that hasn’t gotten as much credit as it really deserves. The film stars Ryan Reynolds as a soldier who finds himself in a terrifying predicament — he’s buried alive with only his lighter and thoughts to keep him company. The movie was produced using only $2 million, thanks in large part to the fact they didn’t need a ton of locations for filming.
But since the story and acting were so incredible, audiences flocked to theatres to see Reynolds in action, and the movie ended up bringing in over $20 million. The profit is more than was originally anticipated, but not surprising considering how intense the storyline and thrills are throughout the film.
If you thought that $150,000 sounded low, you’re probably pretty shocked to hear that the next film on our list was shot for an incredible $15,000. “Paranormal Activity” tells the age-old tale of a family living in a haunted house with some undead residents that aren’t fond of sharing the space. It was filmed entirely using home cameras on tripods, and there were very few cast members and locations involved, which really helped to cut down on the costs.
The film was a box office hit and wound up bringing in more than $193 million. It also sparked a brand-new franchise that has so far seen a total of 6 motion pictures.
“Halloween” is a cult classic in the horror industry. The 1970’s film that was created by John Carpenter revolves around a deranged psychopath in a mask that’s obsessed with finding and brutally murdering his sister (Jamie Lee Curtis). The movie set the bar for slasher films and became enormously successful, all with only a $300,000 budget. Now, there are 11 films in the franchise, which have together grossed over $600 million in the box office.
In 2007, horror director Rob Zombie remade the classic film with a much higher budget of $15 million. John Carpenter’s original movie grossed around $67 million after its release, while Rob Zombie’s made around $80 million.
Night of the Living Dead
When you ask someone to tell you what they consider to be the original zombie movie, 9 out of 10 times, they are probably going to say “Night of the Living Dead.” The horror classic was directed by George Romero and produced for just under $115,000. The film was shot and premiered in Pittsburgh and ended up bringing in $12 million from the U.S. box office and nearly $20 million internationally.
The zombie thriller was so well received that Romero went on to direct 5 more of them. The original movie was done in black and white in 1968, and in 1990, a color remake directed by Tom Savini debuted. Unfortunately, Romero had never given his okay and found himself fighting for a percentage of the profits in court with Savini.
My Left Foot
Daniel Day-Lewis played the amazing role of Christy Brown, a man who has been born with cerebral palsy and can only control one of his feet (we’ll let you guess which one). The “dramedy,” as it may be called in today’s film lingo, was produced in 1989 with a budget of just $600,000. Audiences fell in love with the performances, and “My Left Foot” wound up making nearly $15 million in theatres — not bad when you compare it to its production costs.
The film was nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Daniel Day-Lewis won both the Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor for his role, and Brenda Fricker won for Best Supporting Actress.
“Moonlight” is a unique coming-of-age tale about the emotional development of a young man throughout multiple stages of his life, from childhood through young adulthood. It brings some very important issues to light and shows them in a way that no movie really has before. The movie was put together with a modest budget of just $4 million but ended up grossing over $65 million after its release.
It won a number of awards, including being the first film with an all-black cast to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Not only that, but it was also the first LGBTQA themed film to win the same award. It was nominated for 5 of the other categories that year, too: a big win for writer and director Barry Jenkins. The film’s writer, Joi McMillon, became the first African American woman to be nominated for an Oscar in editing for her stellar behind-the-scenes performance, too.
If you’ve seen this gory, cutthroat classic, you know that the majority of the action in this film takes place in a single (incredibly disturbing) location. This, in addition to the fact it was filmed using a fairly small number of actors and actresses, lends to the fact they made over 100% profit back on the $1.2 million budget they produced it with.
The Hollywood legend that everyone knows and loves was actually the product of a short film that was produced using next to nothing. Lionsgate bought the film and put together the budget that was used to turn it into a successful movie that grossed over $115 million in theatres, launching a franchise that would become the second highest-grossing in its genre.
Considering the fact that “The Purge” has turned into a multi-million-dollar franchise, it may be hard to believe that the original movie was put together with a budget of just $3 million. Now, there are multiple multi-million-dollar films along with a limited series on TV. Each of the films (and the TV episodes) have their own theme, but they all follow the same storyline about “The Purge.”
The story is about one night per year during which the federal government sanctions all crime — including murder. In most of the films, the government themselves are on the “no-kill” list, with the exception of a few certain instances throughout the franchise. The budget for the more recent films has been a bit higher, thanks to the success of their predecessor.
Friday the 13th
The original “Friday the 13th” is definitely a classic horror movie and arguably one of the best slasher films ever made — and they did it all with a budget of less than $600,000. The gory slaughter-fest hit nearly $60 million at the box office and turned into an extremely successful franchise. Now, there are loads of Friday the 13th movies, including “Freddy vs. Jason,” which combines this franchise with “Nightmare on Elm Street”’s Freddy Kruger.
The movie was written and directed by Victor Miller and was his highest-grossing movie of all time. Miller is still writing screenplays today and has a horror film called “Eden Falls.” Although he didn’t write the scripts for any of the movies that came after the first, he’s still responsible for creating a cult classic.
28 Days Later
“28 Days Later” has made it on to pretty much every list of the best zombie movies of all time. It’s got a little bit of everything, along with some great acting (and action). It was filmed in 2002 and made in London with a budget of $6.6 million. Cillian Murphy stars as Jim and delivers a powerful performance alongside talented co-stars such as Naomie Harris and Megan Burns.
The film, which was written by Alex Garland, infuses classic zombie virus outbreak dread with a more modern spin on how the fight for survival plays out. Garland credits George Romero’s “Night of The Living Dead” as one of the main sources of inspiration for his own film, which brought in over $80 million in profit.
“Napoleon Dynamite” is about an incredibly awkward teenage boy who lives with his grandma in Idaho. Jason Heder, who plays the title role, was only originally paid $1,000 to star in the comedy, which ended up grossing nearly $45 million in theatres. Heder, of course, renegotiated his contract and was able to get a percentage of proceeds after the film skyrocketed.
The movie was entirely filmed in Idaho and released at Sundance in 2004. It was received so well by audiences that it almost made the top 10 on Bravo’s list of the top 100 funniest movies of all time. Jared Hess, who both co-wrote and directed the film, probably didn’t imagine the enormous amount of success this strange little movie would see.
$11 million may seem like an insanely high amount of money, and it is on the high end of this list, but when you compare it to the $775 million profit “Star Wars” made — you can see why it made our list! George Lucas had his own production company at the time he put his masterpiece together, and after this film came out, his company (Lucasfilm) launched straight to success. Before “E.T.” hit theaters, “Star Wars” was the single highest-grossing movie in history.
The cult classic turned into an uber-successful franchise with many episodes. The original film won an impressive 6 Academy Awards, including the awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, and Best Music/Original Score. George Lucas was also responsible for bringing the world the amazing Indiana Jones franchise — thank you, George! He ended up selling Lucasfilm to the Walt Disney Company in 2012.
The Hills Have Eyes
It should come as no surprise that the 1977 cult classic “The Hills Have Eyes” made it onto this list. After all, it was directed by the king of horror himself, Wes Craven. This film came out before his “Nightmare on Elm Street Days,” so he didn’t have quite the amount of funding that was available for those films. However, since “Last House on the Left” was such a success, one investor stepped in and offered up $230,000 for the film’s production.
The movie was made entirely in the Mojave Desert, using a camper and the open desert as the main locations throughout. The film made around $25 million in the box office and spawned a franchise that includes a recent remake of the original that was released in 2009.
“American Graffiti” was the 2nd film ever directed by George Lucas. His more recent movies have a considerably larger budget than the $750,000 he could muster up for this one back in 1973. Around the same time as this movie came out, he was developing his “space opera,” which of course turned into Lucas’ masterpiece franchise — “Star Wars.”
“American Graffiti” ended up making over $110 million, which prompted executives in Hollywood to start paying more attention to the talented upcoming director. The film was also nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but unfortunately ended up losing out to other films around that time, such as “The Sting.”
The Evil Dead
“The Evil Dead” is another creepy cult classic that began as a short film back in 1981. The short film attracted financiers who backed the feature-length version, which ended up pulling in nearly $30 million in the box office — quite a feat for a movie that was made in the early ’80s! The king of horror himself, Stephen King, absolutely loved the movie and helped creators land an awesome distribution deal with New Line Cinema.
The film, which was both written and directed by Sam Raimi, was shot mainly using a cabin deep in the woods in Tennessee. It’s been followed up with a few sequels and spinoffs, along with the television series “Ash vs. The Evil Dead.”
“Mad Max” is a dystopian thriller from the late 1970s that stars Mel Gibson. The movie was filmed for an incredible $300,000, and yet it ended up pulling in around $100 million. That’s an impressive number now, much more in 1979. The finances were so incredible that the film landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the best ratio of profit to budget.
Decades later, “Mad Max: Fury Road” was produced for a much, much higher budget of $150 million. It also made even more money than the first, hitting over $350 million in sales at the box office. There have been more movies in the Mad Max franchise made to date, each of which has made Rotten Tomatoes’ “certified fresh” list.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” is a British crime thriller from 1998 directed by the one and only Guy Ritchie. You may know Ritchie’s name from when he was married to Madonna, but he’s also a talented director. “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” was his first feature film and wound up launching his career. But he wasn’t the only one who benefited from the success of the movie.
Jason Statham acted as “Bacon” in the film, which ended up kickstarting his career as well. It had a fairly small budget of just $1.35 million but ended up making nearly $30 million back. Later, Ritchie’s filmed mega-hits such as “Sherlock Holmes,” and Statham has made his way onto the A list, acting in blockbusters like “Crank,” “The Transporter,” and “The Meg.”
It’s kind of hard to imagine Vince Vaughn starring in a movie with a budget of less than $1 million, but back in the 1990s, he wasn’t exactly the A-lister he is today. He and Jon Favreau starred as two wannabe actors in Hollywood trying to live life in the fast lane after moving to Los Angeles from New York City. The dark comedy was filmed with a modest $200,000 budget but ended up making about $25 million at the box office.
Plus, it can be credited with launching Vaughn and Favreau’s careers, along with that of the film’s director, Dough Liman. The film was also written by Favreau, who happened to write the entire thing in less than a month. He only actually cast himself in the film due to the lack of funding to hire more actors.
The Big Sick
“The Big Sick” is an adorable romantic comedy about a couple who stems from different ethnic backgrounds that must rally together with the in-laws when one of them develops an illness that threatens life as they know it. The film was produced with a modest $5 million budget and brought back over $55 million in the box office.
The movie is somewhat based on the relationship between its director and co-writer, Kumail Nanjiania, and his wife (and co-screenwriter of the film) Emily V. Gordon. “The Big Sick” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and ultimately became one of the most profitable movies in 2017. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval score of nearly 99%.
The Full Monty
Long before the days when ladies were swooning over Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike,” the British film “The Full Monty” shocked and awed audiences with its tantalizing male stripteases and hilarious moments. In the 70’s hit, 4 steelworkers who are fed up with their boring and tough lives decide to try their hand at wowing hungry female onlookers as Chippendales-style male entertainers.
The film was made with less than $4 million but ended up producing nearly $260 million at the box office. The comedy was such a hit that the British Film Institute called it the 25th Best British Film in the entirety of the 20th century. That’s not too shabby for a movie that was made with a considerably low budget, is it?
“Supersize Me” is an informative yet equally entertaining documentary that touches on some really important issues about society and its consumption of fast food. The film was produced by Morgan Spurlock, who both starred in and directed it himself. It basically featured him stuffing his face with nothing but food from the fast-food conglomerate for 30 days straight and documenting what was happening to his body (and mind) as a result.
Let’s just say that his findings are pretty scary, to say the least. Everyone knows that fast food isn’t healthy, but they may not realize just how dangerous it can really be to live on nothing but that kind of food. Spurlock produced the film using only $65,000, but audiences ate it up, and he watched as it hit nearly $30 million at the box office.
“Juno” delighted audiences when it arrived in theatres back in 2008 due to its comedic relief and one-of-a-kind take on teenage pregnancy. Elliot Page delivered an Academy Award-winning performance in the title role, really making a name for himself in the film industry. The film earned its $6.5 million budget back within a matter of days and ultimately made over $230 million. Plenty of household names appeared in the movie, including Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, and Michael Cera.
Garner played the happy expectant young mother waiting for the baby that Juno (Page) was carrying and was so interested in appearing in the film that she accepted a salary that was substantially lower than what she was typically paid. The film itself won multiple Academy Awards alongside Page’s, including the awards for Best Writing in an Original Screenplay and Best Motion Picture of the Year.
They say that to make a movie that anyone’s actually going to want to pay attention to, you need a budget of at least $150,000. So, the creators of “Once” are basically magicians for turning a movie with a budget of only $160,000 into $20 million over a few weeks at the box office. Once is a beautiful Irish romance film starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as street-performing musicians trying to make it in Ireland and end up falling madly in love.
The film won an incredible number of awards, including The Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008 and The Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film in 2007. The soundtrack also received a nomination for a Grammy.
“Blue Valentine” tells the dramatic tale of a young couple from the inception of their rocky, 5-year relationship to the tense ending of their marriage. Ryan Gosling plays the male lead across Michelle Williams as “Cindy,” the female lead. The entire thing was shot for right around $1 million and brought back over $16 million in return.
Gosling and Williams had a hand behind the scenes as executive producers on the film, which was nominated for several awards. Michele was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, and Gosling was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
“Nightcrawler” is a dramatic thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an overly aggressive journalist who inserts himself into seedy situations and crime scenes to get good video footage for local news stations. The film was both written and directed by industry newbie Dan Gilroy, who wound up making a huge name for himself with his debut, which was produced for only $8.5 million and earned back over $50 million when it hit theatres.
Open Road Films used some stealth marketing techniques and transmedia projects to promote the movie, including making up social media profiles in the name of the antihero of the production, Louis Bloom. The movie did so well that it was hailed by a number of critics as one of the best of all time and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
James Wan is the mastermind director behind several of the terrifying horror movies. He started off his journey in Hollywood when he directed cult classic “Saw” back in 2004. Then, he wowed audiences a few years later with his stellar behind-camera performance in “Insidious,” followed by both of “The Conjuring” films.
But in 2014, he struck again when he produced the incredibly creepy prequel to “The Conjuring” — Annabelle, a movie about a possessed doll directed by John Leonetti. The film grossed nearly $260 million, which is even more impressive than it sounds when you factor in its $6.5 million budget. It was such a hit that it spawned the release of a prequel in 2017 and a sequel in 2019.
This David Lynch’s was a feature film, and in true Lynchian fashion, it was, of course, an experimental style horror film. This tiny budgeted movie initially took some time to gain attention, but by the time it did, it had become an unstoppable cult hit. In 2004, the United States Library of Congress entered it into the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
That sure is a measly amount of money for such an influential film. The film is a fixture in film schools and collections of budding film enthusiasts to this day.
The low-budget classic by maverick filmmaker became the symbol of every teenage slacker during the 90s’. This simple black and white film portrayed the daily lives of store clerks Dante Hicks and Randal Graves. The initial budget was only $27,575 and only went up to a measly $31,665.
By the opening weekend, it had already made more than that. In the U.S. alone, it made a total of $3 million, a surprise fortune for an indie filmmaker and comic book nerd. From that moment on, Smith became more than just a hipster filmmaker. He’s now a pretty successful director. A big leap from the convenience store clerk he once was.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Making a good horror film is like striking gold. These things can be piggy banks, running up millions at the box office. People do love their thrills. This was certainly the case for “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” as it brought in $30.9 million in the U.S. alone. The film became an instant classic and the template for the gory slasher film. The film also spawned a series of sequels, making it an obvious choice for horror nights around the world.
The film, according to Entertainment Weekly, has been listed as the second scariest film of all time, following “The Ex.” Thanks, Leatherface. This character will forever be burned in our minds.
Richard Linklater, the master of coming-of-age stories, out-did himself in the 1991 low-budget comedy-drama “Slacker.” The film, which only had a shoestring budget of $23,000, ended up grossing over $1.2 million in the U.S. Part of the budget came out Linklater’s own credit card.
The film even inspired the low-budget hit “Clerks.” Not only was this a box-office surprise, but the British film magazine “Empire” included it in its list of 50 greatest American independent films.
A film about a paranoid mathematician who has isolated himself from the world, “Pi” (not to be confused with the blockbuster hit, “The Life of Pi”), enchanted its viewers. This certainly was a big surprise, considering it cost the film a measly $60,000. The 1998 film that followed the mathematician’s search for natural patterns in the universe bought in $3.2 million in the U.S. alone.
The film ended up winning a number of awards, including the Gotham Awards, the Open Palm Award, as well the Dramatic Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Made with the bare minimum and with a cast of five young actors, newbie director Shane Carruth practically made his film student’s budget. In fact, in order to save money on the production, Carruth took on multiple roles and was the writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, and music composer. That’s one talented guy. The actors were actually his friends and family, so he must have saved a fortune on the cast.
In the end, it really paid off, and the movie landed in a series of prestigious film festivals, most notably the Sundance Film Festival, for which it won the Grand Jury Prize in the year 2004. The film ultimately grossed $840,000 at the box office. Not too shabby.
A film about a traveling mariachi musician who finds himself entangled in the law by being mistaken for a murderous criminal. The film paved the way for film director Robert Rodiguez’s gory obscure action films. As one of his firsts (made in 1992), the Spanish language film was both written and directed by Rodriguez and was made for only a $7,000 budget. Rodriguez, who was a film student at the time, made money for the film by being a human lab rat and getting medical tests done on him. That’s commitment!
The film eventually made over $2 million worldwide, which was a huge surprise considering it was an extremely low-budget student film. The film consisted of not one professional — not in the crew and not the casts, so that is quite an accomplishment.
This delightful simple story follows the chaotic life of a dancer living in New York who is forever between apartments. The film was created by indie king and queen Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. The two made this film together with little publicity. By the time it came out, it had created a huge buzz and a few million dollars.
The film actually brought the now-married couple closer together. For a couple of years, the two would share drafts of the script. When it was ultimately done, Baumbach (the now Oscar-nominated filmmaker) directed the film.
Probably the greatest Christmas classic of all time, “Home Alone” has been entertaining families for decades now. The reruns and screenings continue every year, making it one of the most beloved films in America and maybe even the world. From the look of it, it probably seemed like this was one big-budget film, especially with its great cast members including, Joe Pesci, Catherine O’Hara, and the legendary John Candy. But that was not the case at all!
This film, in fact, cost only $15 million to make, which, granted, in the late 80s’ wasn’t that cheap, but, considering that the film brought in almost half a billion dollars, it makes it all the more incredible. It also cemented child actor Mcauley Culkin as America’s favorite kid.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore had already created a reputation for himself as a controversial figure with his film “Bowling For Columbine.” But nothing could compare to the documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.” While most documentaries have a more niche appeal, this one gained attention on an international scale as it covered the events leading up to and post 9/11.
The film’s message created a heated international debate and even rivaled some 2004 blockbuster comedies and hit films like “Dodgeball,” “The Terminal,” and “Lemony Snicket.” In the end it made $222,446,320. Nobody expected this film to do as well as it did
March of the Penguins
This documentary film became a mega-successful box office hit. While the film was not political or controversial, it still seemed to capture the hearts of millions around the world as it followed the life story of an emperor penguin. It was as delightful as any live-action feel-good film, and it didn’t even star one human. It wasn’t even animated either. This was all purely penguins.
For six weeks, the film stayed in the top ten until it slowly dropped to number six. Still pretty high. This was a real feat for a non-mainstream film and even made ended up making $127,392,693. Impressive!
Even with Danny Boyle’s incredible reputation, no one foresaw the success of this 2008 heart-warming film coming. Especially not at that level of budget. It just goes to show you that’s a good film is not all about money. The touching story followed the harsh life of a young man who grows up in Mumbai and his search for his childhood love. It’s a film about destiny, overcoming hardships, and the power of true love.
Calling it a “sleeper hit” would be an understatement as the film grossed $82 million worldwide. The film was no doubt a critical and commercial success and outdid a bunch of blockbusters that year.
The King’s Speech
The 2010 four-time Oscar-winning film directed by Tom Hooper (ex “Eastenders” and “The Damned United”) made quite a box-office splash. The film initially hit quite a low number in the opening weekend, but as the word grew, it slowly began to gain more and more attention until it eventually made $414,211,549 worldwide.
The film’s success was also helped by the great Colin Firth, who perfectly embodied King George VI and his struggle to get through his stammering. Geoffery Rush’s portrayal of Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist, didn’t hurt either.
The year 2011 was filled with some critically acclaimed films such as “Attack the Block” and “Troll Hunter,” but these films failed to actually make money. When “Drive” came out, however, it was a different story. The film, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, tells the story of a stuntman and getaway driver who does whatever he can to protect the woman he falls in love with, even if it means breaking the law.
The film made $81.4 million, largely due to the rising status of Ryan Gosling, who was getting praise for his Golden Globe-nominated performances in “Blue Valentine” and “Crazy Stupid Love.” While the film was marketed as an action-packed Fast and the Furious style film, it really ended up being more of a slow-burning and emotional drama.
The indie darling of 2010 starred the young Jennifer Lawrence right at the beginning of her path to becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses. The film told the story of a young woman’s life in the dirt port mountain town of Ozark. Its shoestring budget and niche stylings attracted the attention of the Sundance Film Festival.
The Debra Granik-directed film ultimately grossed almost $8 million in the U.S alone and was a huge step in Lawrences’ career.
The Kids Are All Right
Based on the synopsis alone, this 2010 film seemed like a potential hard-sell. Even with Julianne Moore and Annette Benning on board, execs had their doubts about the story of a lesbian couple whose lives go for a loop when their sperm donor enters the picture years later. In the end, everyone was proved wrong.
The Focus Feature production ended getting premiered at Sundance and grossed $29.1 million in the U.S. alone and $8.1 million overseas, making that a worldwide total of $37.2 million. Unfortunately, many naysayers credit Focus Feature’s incredible marketing campaign for the film’s success.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Ah, the Star Wars series. Since 1977, these films have been making bank. We’re at the point where we just utter the name, and people flock to the cinemas without any thought. George Lucas has since hung up his lightsaber for this one; let J.J Abrams take the reigns on this one. While it took a hefty price tag to make this film, it still made almost $3 billion at the box office. This was the highest-grossing Star Wars movie ever made.
The 2015 sci-fi fantasy starred John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and Carrie Fisher. It definitely rekindled everyone’s love for these classic space movies.
Avengers: Infinity War
A sure way to make millions upon millions is to place the entire cast of every single Marvel film and put them all together in one giant CGI-filled super-hero spectacle. That’s precisely what happened with the 2018 film “Avengers: Infinity War.” The film from the Avengers franchise had the highest-grossing domestic opening weekend of all time after its release.
The film made $2,003,241,872. Just as well, as it cost $356 million to make. We suppose we should all thank the star-studded cast which included, Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Elizabeth Olsen, Mark Ruffalo, Bradley Cooper, and many, many more.
Steven Speilberg’s 1993 sci-fi-action-adventure classic came a long way. Now a multi-million dollar franchise, this installment earned almost $2 billion. The films have since taken a slightly darker turn and now feel more like sci-fi horror, thanks to the vision of the director, Colin Trevorrow. There have been three more since this one, so you know it’s a success.
The film starred Hollywood favorites Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Ty Simpkins and was released in 2015.
Best In Show
Who knew the cutthroat nature of dog shows before “Best In Show”? No one. The comedy by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy takes a satirical look at American dog shows. Since no dog show event would allow cameras, the creators made one up. The film follows five dogs and their entourage, which is to say, owners, handlers, and trainers.
The mockumentary covers the fictional Mayflower Dog Show. Christopher Guest, Nigel in “This Is Spinal Tap,” based “Best In Show” on the annual Westminster Dog Show. The movie has a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $20.8M.
Zach Braff writes, directs, and stars in the twentysomething coming-of-age comedy “Garden State.” It is his directorial debut. Bringing in $35M at the box office, Braff proved his movie-making prowess. The soundtrack he arranged received acclaim as well.
The film also stars a young Natalie Portman, who was a senior at Harvard at the time. She plays Sam and Braff plays Andrew. It has been compared favorably to “The Graduate.” The entire $2.5M budget was financed by a wealthy donor named Gary Gilbert. It was a good investment. The film grossed $35M.
“Bronson” follows the story of Charles Bronson, the most violent prisoner in Britain’s history. He got locked up for petty crimes, but once he was thrown in the slammer, he attacked guards, took prisoners hostage, and earned the title of most violent UK inmate.
Tom Hardy portrayed the boxer-turned-criminal-turned-artist in Bronson. The movie was made on a shoestring budget, for far less than a half-million dollars, and eked out a box office net of $2.3M.
“Insidious” is a $555 million horror movie franchise that started with a single movie on a shoestring budget. The first of five (to date) of the paranormal thriller film did extremely well. It collected an eye-popping $99.5 million at the box office.
The supernatural elements of the story revolve around a boy who falls into an apparent coma and is inhabited by various spirits. The boy has psychic abilities and is able to travel the astral world, but he strays too far into the purgatory realm of lost souls.
“The Terminator” has to be the most successful movie-on-a-budget ever. Director James Cameron scripted Austrian bodybuilder and Conan the Barbarian actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator. Today, four decades later, “I’ll be back” is in the vernacular.
It made a vigorous $78.4M in ticket sales, and the movie terminated the competition; it was the number 1 movie at the box office for two solid weeks. More impressive, however, is that the franchise it spawned is a multi-billion entertainment entity. All for less than $7 million down.
The Passion of the Christ
“The Passion of the Christ” made Mel Gibson a lot of money. Studios refused to make his passion project into a film, so he made it himself. At the time, he was pilloried for coughing up $30 million to make it. Gibson also dug into his pockets for another $15 million to market it.
To everyone’s surprise, “The Passion” raked in $611.9 million. Gibson’s cut for acting, producing, and merchandising adds up to a mind-blowing $450 million. What a payout! The story depicts Jesus Christ’s violent death. It was released the week of Easter in 2004.
“American Psycho” was made on a shoestring budget, but it brought in about $30 million. Starring the dynamic and young cast of Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, and Reese Witherspoon, it was an instant classic.
Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a wealthy ‘80s era investment banker who is obsessed with Donald Trump by day and a serial killer by night. He self-ruminates thusly, “I have all the characteristics of a human being but not a single clear identifiable emotion.” The story is about castigating Yuppie culture, according to the author of the book it is based on.
“Moon” is a compelling sci-fi film that brings the surface of the moon to life without much CGI to speak of and with a very modest budget. It tells the story of astronaut Sam Bell played by Sam Rockwell.
He was dispatched to the moon on a three-year contract to mine helium 3. Themes of solitude are brought out with his Siri-voiced companion, GERTY. Kevin Spacey voices Sam’s robot companion. Duncan Jones’ directorial debut “Moon” brought in $10 million and won the 2010 Hugo Award.
Christopher Nolan’s debut film Following was made with virtually no budget. He scraped up funds himself from his day-job wages. It was filmed in black and white, not for purely aesthetic purposes, but also to keep costs down.
The film did very well at film festivals landing a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance, amongst others. It is about a struggling writer who follows strangers around in desperate hope of landing inspiration. Following sold $49,000 in tickets. It’s not much, but with a near-zero budget, this movie is one of the most well-known films made with no financing.
Christopher Nolan’s most acclaimed film is “Memento.” It’s about a guy named Leonard Shelby who wants nothing more than to avenge the horrific murder of his wife. The only problem is he suffers short-term memory loss so severely he can barely remember to do it.
The truth is she murdered herself by having him give her a fatal dose of medicine. The psychological thriller made $40 million, eight times its original budget.
Slimy, tentacled, extraterrestrial CGI monsters inhabit this film. The beasts got to Earth after a NASA research probe crashed. The failed mission sent its sample of alien life free to roam the planet.
The British sci-fi thriller flips the usual plot of aliens abducting humans around. Humans abduct aliens in “Monsters.” It earned over $4 million but, consider; it was made with barely a half-million dollars. It did plenty well to go to sequel. Monsters also earned director Gareth Edwards enough acclaim to win major Hollywood blockbusters “Godzilla” and “Rogue One.”
Starring Christina Ricci, Rosanna Arquette, Vincent Gallo, and Jan-Michael Vincent and directed by Gallo, this low-budget flick isn’t afraid to emulate a B-movie. It’s a crime drama and a comedy with a rocking soundtrack that includes Yes and King Crimson. It was made for a drop in the bucket, and it about doubled its investment.
Gallo plays Billy Brown, who served his time and comes back home. He finds a girl at a club (Ricci) and takes her home to his family, so they will think he is responsibly married. Things get dicey when he falls in love with her.
Focus Film “Brick” is about a teen kid (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who gets embroiled in a crime ring mystery after his high school girlfriend disappears.
The neo-noir cult classic brought in $3.9 million at the box office. At Sundance, it won the Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision.
In this movie, another world is possible. Earth has a clone. It floats above Earth similarly to another moon. Even stranger, the other Earth has you on it. It’s a replica of all life.
Rhonda (Brit Marling), a young astrophysicist who was just accepted into MIT, hypothesizes that life on the other planet is behind ours, meaning she may be able to relive and repair a disastrous moment in her life. The budget movie won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It brought in almost $2 million.
An Inconvenient Truth
As a documentary film, “An Inconvenient Truth” did extremely well. It’s one of the top-grossing documentaries of all time. Chock full of futuristic disaster scenarios as the result of unabated global warming, it will have you on the edge of the seat as much as any sci-fi post-apocalyptic thriller.
Monster storms will kill us; low-lying coastal areas will be underwater, no matter how big the population was. The worst refugee crisis known to man could happen. It’s scarier because it is the truth. That is the premise of the movie. Former vice president Al Gore explains why.
Grease is the word. We all know that because “Grease” is one of the most popular musical films ever made. Sent to theaters on a $6 million budget, the “High School Musical” of the 70s made nearly $400 million, effectively launching the career of Olivia Newton-John and hitting John Travolta at the height of his career.
It started as a Broadway musical in NYC. Allan Carr secured the movie rights immediately, and Paramount was happy to make it. The 50s era music/dance movie was just the nostalgia Americans were pining for.
“Young Frankenstein” is a cult classic and a masterpiece of modern film. It’s burlesque enough to draw any audience, but it slips in subtle high-brow notions.
Inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel about the monster, “Young Frankenstein” was written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Wilder plays the role of the mad scientist, a relative of Shelley’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Peter Boyle plays the monster. “Young Frankenstein” cost less than $3 million to make and was a box office hit grossing $86 million. The film is registered for preservation at the Library of Congress.
Quentin Tarantino debuted his talent with “Reservoir Dogs.” He wrote, directed, and starred in the 90s-era crime heist movie. It was a cult classic grossing $2.8 million. The film proved the director worthy of his film noir credentials and anticipated his next crime noir, “Pulp Fiction.”
Filmed primarily in a warehouse, it did not portray the actual heist. Such efforts helped to keep production costs down. Tarantino tropes like violence, nonlinear storytelling, and profanity made their mark first in this movie.
“Black Swan” was a massive hit that surprised everyone, making it somewhat of a black swan event in itself. Made with a relatively low budget of $13 million, it went on to net over $330 million at theaters.
Natalie Portman won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The film, likewise, nabbed five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Darren Aronofsky directed, and Andres Heinz wrote the screenplay. The story revolves around the New York City Ballet company staging a production of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
It’s A Wonderful Life
Independent label Liberty Films produced Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but it wouldn’t see financial success for 30 years. Despite the fact it led in Oscar nominations, the 1946 movie was a flop. It didn’t even recover its budget.
Liberty Films, as the name implies, was an effort to work outside of big studios, but it went belly-up because of “It’s A Wonderful Life”’s flop. The movie ended up under Republic Pictures. For some reason, the company did not renew its copyright. The movie went into the public domain and became the unassailable Christmas classic we know today.
The French comedy “Intouchables” was one of the country’s highest-grossing films ever. It’s about a wealthy Parisian man paralyzed by a paragliding adventure gone bad and his Senegalese caregiver who was only interested in renewing his unemployment benefits.
The touching dynamic between the troublemaker and the aristocrat made it a 2012 favorite. The low-budget movie is based on the true story of champagne manufacturer Phillippe Pozzo di Borgo who was paralyzed in a 1993 hang gliding accident, and his caretaker.
High School Musical
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens star in this surprise hit. Teens, cliques, and vibrant music is the gist of the Disney production turned franchise.
It was a massive hit, making it the most successful movie out of the Disney Channel Original Movie studio. The soundtrack for the film went to number one. It’s about a boy who is an athlete forming a relationship with an academically gifted girl.
The Christian-themed movie “Fireproof” is about a firefighter (Kirk Cameron) and his struggles with a failing marriage. Made on a budget and with a lot of help from the Christian community pitching in, religious fans also helped the movie earn $33.5 million at the box office.
This movie obviously ends with a triumphant reunion between the fireman and his wife. A book called “The Love Dare” came out of it too. It was the fictional name of the book that helped the fireman save his marriage. Since it didn’t exist, the creators wrote it and published it, just for their Christian supporters.
Sleeper hit “Brother” came out of Russia and was so well-liked it spawned two sequels. The hitman movie brought writer and director Aleksei Balabanov national fame and recognition as Russia’s best filmmaker.
Anti-hero Danila Bagrov became a cultural icon for a generation of coming-of-age Russians. The neo-noir movie was so inexpensive actors wore ill-fitting clothing rummaged from thrift stores or donations. Sergei Bodrov Jr. played the hitman and became a national superstar. Tragically, he was killed in an avalanche in a freak accident.
Launching the showbiz careers of child actors Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas, “E.T.” is one of those success stories that rarely happen. One element that made it great is that the story is told from a child’s perspective.
Barrymore’s heartwarming acting at age six is due, in part, to childhood imagination. and the expansive sci-fi effects. “E.T.” was made on a budget of $10 million, which would be $25 million adjusted for inflation, but it brought in a mind-boggling $793 million, thirty-two times it took to make it.
With a budget of $25 million, “Mrs. Doubtfire” had significant financial backing. But the number is low compared to its box office success. With totals at $441.3 million, this film brought 20th Century Fox an 1160% return on investment.
Other contributors were, of course, producers Robin Williams, his wife Marsha Garces William, and writers Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon. It was the highest-grossing movie in the world in 1993. It’s an adorable tale about a man whose wife, played by Sally Field, divorces him. To be with his kids, he tricks his ex-wife by dressing up as a nanny.
Do the Right Thing
Spike Lee’s seminal film “Do the Right Thing” showcased his acting, directing, producing, and writing prowess. It was his third movie but the one that brought him national acclaim. The audacious, brave film deals with questions of culture and ethnic background in an authentic way.
The best way to approximate the influence it had, “Do the Right Thing,” is the movie Michelle and Barack Obama went to see on their first date, and they loved the way it portrayed the community.
This shoe-string budget 2012 movie is chronicled by high school kid Andrew who starts taping everything on his camcorder, a hobby he initially got into to catch his abusive father threatening his much-loved mother, who is dying of cancer. This is the source of the found footage filming.
With school buddies Matt and Steve, the trio discovers a mysterious cavern that transfers telekinetic powers to them. The powers allow the otherwise normal teens superpowers. They can move large objects like cars with their mind. Too much power is bound to cause trouble. “Chronicle” pulled in $126.6 million from a relatively scant budget.
Drew Barrymore and Jake Gyllenhaal pitched in for this psychedelic sci-fi before Gyllenhaal was famous and after Barrymore’s star power faded. It flopped on release but earned $10 million in home movie sales.
The late 80s tale about a creepy time-traveling rabbit named Frank brainwashing Donnie Darko into committing crimes plays out to a new wave music soundtrack composed by inconnu Michael Andrews. It features “Mad World” by Tears for Fears and songs by Joy Division, Duran Duran, The Church, and Echo and the Bunnymen. The nostalgic tunes helped make it a cult classic.
“Tarnation” is a micro-budget film that was edited entirely on iMovie. Backed by indie filmmaker Gus Van Sant, the movie ultimately gained notice. It brought in $1.2 million in tickets.
“Tarnation” is essentially an autobiographical story of Jonathan Caouette’s childhood. The compilation of VHS and Super 8 footage, as well as photographs and other documents, show a boy growing up with a single mom who suffers from mental illness and brain damage. Caouette is a self-taught filmmaker. The film won notice at Sundance and received international acclaim after screening at Cannes.