It’s not uncommon today for movie budgets to be north of $100 million, but more money doesn’t always mean a better movie. Check out the movies in this slideshow to see films that had relatively low budgets but still ended up being cult classics. You’ll never believe the budget for the movie that boosted Mel Gibson’s career.
- 1 The Blair Witch Project
- 2 Saw
- 3 Enter The Dragon
- 4 Juno
- 5 Friday The 13th
- 6 The Purge
- 7 Rocky
- 8 Little Miss Sunshine
- 9 Mad Max
- 10 Night Of The Living Dead
- 11 Donnie Darko
- 12 Best In Show
- 13 Super Size Me
- 14 Napoleon Dynamite
- 15 My Big Fat Greek Wedding
- 16 Catfish
- 17 Insidious
- 18 American Graffiti
- 19 Halloween
- 20 Primer
- 21 El Mariachi
- 22 The Brothers McMullen
- 23 Open Water
- 24 Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- 25 Eraserhead
- 26 Paranormal Activity
- 27 Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer
- 28 Pi
- 29 Slacker
- 30 Swingers
- 31 Welcome to the Dollhouse
- 32 The Breakfast Club
- 33 Dawn of the Dead
- 34 Reservoir Dogs
- 35 A Nightmare On Elm Street
- 36 Heathers
- 37 Once
- 38 Brick
The Blair Witch Project
Zach Braff of Scrubs fame made his directorial debut with the indie movie Garden State. A film about a young man who returns home after his mother dies, Garden State had a budget of $2.5 million. The film, which also starred Natalie Portman, made almost $36 million at the box office.
The cult classic Clerks is one of Kevin Smith’s earlier films. The movie had a budget of slightly less than $28,000 and made $3 million at the box office. Not only was it wildly successful, it also led to sequels, including Jay and the Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks II.
Enter The Dragon
Enter the Dragon is the martial arts film that launched Bruce Lee to fame in the U.S., and the budget for this movie was under $1 million. After the film opened, it was instantly successful in the U.S. and ended up earning $22 million.
Juno had a relatively low budget at $7.5 million and made a whopping $231 million in box office sales. Starring Ellen Page as a pregnant teen who is deciding what to do about the baby and Michael Cera as the baby’s father, it nabbed an Oscar for best screenplay.
Friday The 13th
Friday the 13th is the movie that made you feel very hesitant about ever going to a summer camp as a kid. The classic horror movie had a $500,000 budget and made $59 million at the box office. In an upcoming slide, check out an Oscar-winning film that is considered a classic despite having a low budget.
Despite having a $3 million budget, The Purge boasts a brilliant screenplay and great actors, including veteran Ethan Hawke. The premise of the thriller is that it’s legal to commit crimes — including murder — for one 12-hour period a year. The film was so popular that it made $89 million at the box office.
It might seem shocking that Rocky made this list, but it had a budget just south of $1 million and raked in $225 million at the box office. At the time the movie was filmed, screenplay writer and actor Sylvester Stallone was an unknown, but that all changed very quickly.
Little Miss Sunshine
One of the greatest dark comedies of all time, Little Miss Sunshine boasts a stellar cast and story, all on an $8 million budget. The movie about an unlikely child beauty pageant winner made $100 million at the box office and nabbed two Oscars. Keep reading to find out which popular horror movie was made for barely over $100,000.
Mad Max is pretty much where Mel Gibson got his start. He was cast in the dystopian film that had a budget of $350,000. The movie was an instant success and brought in $100 million in the U.S. alone, plus it spawned two sequels
Night Of The Living Dead
It seems like low budget horror movies are often a recipe for success, and Night of the Living Dead (1968) is no exception. With only a $114,000 budget, the film raked in a cool $42 million at the box office. In a slide coming up, find out which documentary was filmed for only $65,000.
Donnie Darko featured a young Jake Gyllenhaal, and while the movie didn’t rake in buckets of cash during its run in the theaters, it did receive critical acclaim and became a cult classic after being released on video. With a budget of $4.5 million, the film took in $7.5 million at the box office.
Best In Show
A comedic success, Best In Show only cost $6 million to make and made $20 million at the box office. The cool thing about this movie is that large parts of the movie were improvised, so the actors in it were given a lot of free reign to really make the parts theirs — clearly, this worked.
Super Size Me
Super Size Me follows Morgan Spurlock as he finds out what would happen if he ate McDonald’s every meal for an entire month. The documentary cost $65,000 to make and was bigger than anyone ever imagined when it netted $22.2 million at the box office. In an upcoming slide, check out another high performing documentary.
Napoleon Dynamite is another low budget movie that became a huge overnight success that had young people everywhere dropping popular lines from the movie. The movie cost only $400,000 to make and brought in $44 million domestically. Amazingly, Jon Heder — the actor behind Napoleon — was paid only $1,000 for his performance.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding had a bigger budget than many of the films in this slideshow at $5 million, but that is a paltry sum compared to what it made at the box office — $368 million. That would be an impressive figure for a romantic comedy backed by a big studio, let alone an indie film.
The documentary Catfish documents an online relationship that was ultimately based on lies. Considering how prevalent such situations are, it became an instant classic. Despite only costing $30,000 to make, the movie ended up making over $3 million during its time in the theaters.
Saw director James Wan scored big with another low budget horror movie, Insidious. The movie had a budget of $1.5 million and made $54 million at the box office. Between these two movies, clearly Wan has the recipe for box office success without shelling out the big bucks.
The coming of age comedy American Graffiti had all the makings of success with writer and director George Lucas and actors Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ron Howard. With a budget of $750,000, the film was wildly successful and made $140 million at the box office. At the time, Ford was pursuing carpentry instead of acting.
It’s safe to say that if you release a holiday film around the time of the holiday, there’s a good chance it will sell tickets. Halloween, however, blew that out of the water. Spending only $300,000 to produce the movie, Halloween sold 30 million tickets in 1978 and grossed a total of $70 million international. It only took John Carpenter and Debra Hill 10 days to write the script!
Shane Carruth was the writer, director, producer, and editor of 2004’s Primer. There’s a good chance this one-man-band of a production team didn’t sleep throughout the making of the science fiction film, but he definitely saved some cash in doing it! Carruth only spent $7,000 on the film and brought in $424,760 at the box office. If he could go back in time, he’d probably do it all over again.
Robert Rodriguez certainly chose an interesting way to fund his film, El Mariachi. The director submitted himself to experimental clinical drug testing in Texas, where he received around $3,500 for his participation. He scraped together another $3,500 and set out to make the film. Shot in Northeastern Mexico, Rodriguez MacGyver-ed nearly every element of the crew to cut costs- the lighting consisted of 200-watt clip-on desk lamps!
The Brothers McMullen
Edward Burns was another man who decided to make a film and wear multiple hats. After writing the comedy-drama The Brothers McMullen, a story about three Irish Catholic brothers in Long Island, Burns switched hats and directed and produced between takes, as he played a role in the film as well. He spent only $28,000 and hit $10 million at the box office in 1995. Anyone could save a dime or two by not paying the actors… he only offered them free lunch!
Following the theme of low-budget thrillers, Open Water starring Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis didn’t cost a whole lot to make. And why would it? It basically consists of two people floating in the sea for a good portion of the film. It cost Director Chris Kentis $120,000 to make, and made a splash at the box office, grossing $54.7 million!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Everyone’s favorite slapstick comedy, Monty Python and the Holy Grail only cost $400,000 to make, but the laughs keep on coming. Neither of the two directors, Terry Gilliam or Terry Jones, had ever directed a film, but the cast was more than willing to be apart of the learning process. The film made $5 million at the box office.
David Lynch had a minuscule $10,000 to create the horror film Eraserhead in 1977 but he totally knocked it out of the park. During production, he also worked as a paperboy to fund the project, and friends graciously donated their income to make the film. The reviews for the film were fantastic, and as popularity increased, the showings did too. Eraserhead ended up grossing $7 million.
Much like Blair Witch Project, what made Paranormal Activity so good was the realism and low budget quality to it. Appearing that it was normal people manning their personal cameras made it more realistic and scarier. Director/Co-Producer Oren Peli only spent $15,000 on the making of the film, and it grossed an incredible $193.4 million. Yes. You read that correctly.
Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer
Shot in 28 days, in 16mm, for only $110,000, Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer didn’t turn out half bad! The film about a drifter who murders the people he comes across was controversial in 1986 and had trouble with distribution with it’s “X-rated” status. However, that may have brought in more viewers, as people want what they’re told they can’t have. The horror film grossed $609,939.
What it lacked in funding, it made up for in psychological wonder.Pi, a surrealist thriller film from 1998 explores themes in religion and mathematics and makes your brain twist and turn as you fully try to comprehend what the main character and narrator is figuring out. Director Darren Aronofsky only threw $68,000 into the project and made $3.2 million at the box office.
Slacker was written, directed, and produced by Richard Linklater, who has a knack for portraying suburban culture (he also created Dazed and Confused). It was shot using a 16 mm Arriflex camera in Linklater’s home state of Texas. He only spent $23,000 and grossed $1.2 million at the box office.
Swingers is a classic, released in 1996 and grossed $4.6 million at the box office. Director Doug Liman only put $200,000 into the film and wrote the script in just two weeks! He saved money by having his friends star in it with his family making cameo appearances as well! The film scored great reviews and can be watched from the comfort of your own home on Netflix.
Welcome to the Dollhouse
This coming of age film may not have been as low-budget, high grossing as some of the others on this list but it deserves a nod nonetheless. Welcome to the Dollhouse was independently produced by Todd Solondz and spoke to the pre-teens like no one else could. $800,000 was put into the film, which grossed $5 million at the box office in 1995.
The Breakfast Club
Another coming of age film that has a cult following is The Breakfast Club. Released in 1985, this film is forever in our hearts with its never-ending detention confessions. The film debuted at #3 at the box office and made an incredible $51.5 million with a budget of $1 million.
Dawn of the Dead
Following George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was Dawn of the Dead, released in 1978. It was rated by Empire as one of the “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” and received impressive ratings by critics. This time $1.5 million was put into the making of the film, but it grossed $55 million at the box office.
In Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, a simple jewelry heist goes wrong, the only criminals to survive start to question if one of their pals is working with the police. The 1992 thriller cost just $1.2 million to make and quickly became one of the most talked-about films of its time.
A Nightmare On Elm Street
When A Nightmare on Elm Street was released in 1984 it quickly became a cult classic. Written and directed by Wes Craven the movie cost just $1.8 million to make and earned that (and then some) back within its first week. It went on to gross over $25.5 million in the United States and is still regarded as one of the best slasher films of all time.
Heathers is a 1988 comedy starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and Shannen Doherty. The movie, which follows four teenage girls, cost just $3 million to make. The film had great reviews during its first week despite not grossing as much money as predicted. Today, Heathers is a cult classic that has even been adapted into a TV series.
Once is a 2007 Irish romantic musical drama written and directed by John Carney. Once follows two struggling musicians as they live their lives in Dublin. The movie had a staggeringly low budget at just $150,000 and was so well received that it grossed $23.3 million worldwide!
Brick is a neo-noir mystery film that was released in 2005. The film was full of lesser-known actors and actresses but did star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie centers on a hardboiled detective story in a California high school. With a budget of just $450,000, Brick grossed more than $3.9 million worldwide.