In a time that seems to be dominated by big-budget blockbusters, more and more studios are pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to see returns of $900 million+ on their investments. Unfortunately, these big-budget films often stifle smaller, independent companies.
There are a few independent films, however, which surprised us all by not only drumming up a buzz but also making it big time at the box office. These films not only highlight new talent, but they also helps to kickstart the careers of filmmakers and actors alike. Keep reading to find out which low budget films competed with some of the world’s best.
The Blair Witch Project ($60,000 budget)
It can be easy to forget just how groundbreaking The Blair Witch Project was because it was released over 20 years ago, in 1999, to be exact. The movie was created long before mockumentaries (footage of fictional events presented as documentaries) were a thing.
The movie’s marketing campaign was successful in that it made audiences question whether what they were watching was real or not. The film ended up making an impressive $248 million which makes it the most profitable movie of all time, with regards to percentage.
The Full Monty ($3.5 million budget)
The Full Monty is a British cult classic starring Robert Carlyle as Gaz, the leader of a group of unemployed steelworkers who decide to make some extra cash by baring it all, well mostly all. The film received acclaim for its “heart and charm” and it was nominated for several awards including an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Critics called the film a ‘no-fuss, low-budget British film designed to genuinely entertain,’ and that it did. The film brought in $258 million and is still considered a classic to this day.
Juno ($7.5 million budget)
For Juno to stick to its budget, actress Jennifer Garner who played Vanessa Loring, agreed to take a pay cut. The 2008 film became an instant hit, bringing in over $231 million at the box office as well as several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director.
The movie tells the story of a high school teen who accidentally gets pregnant and decided to give her baby up for adoption. The film also starred Ellen Page (as Juno) and Michael Cera. Juno has been credited for skyrocketing Page’s career in Hollywood.
Little Miss Sunshine ($8 million budget)
Little Miss Sunshine is a 2006 indie film that tells the story of the Hoover family on their cross-country road trip so that their youngest, Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. The film raked in $100 million, more than 12x its budget.
The film features actors Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Carrell who gave a stellar performance. The film built up quite the anticipation which resulted in a bidding war among studios. The latter went on to win two Academy Awards, one for Arkin.
Paranormal Activity ($15,000 budget)
Almost 10 years after the release of The Blair Witch Project, audiences were introduced to another horror mockumentary, Paranormal Activity. The film was shot on a handheld camera in seven days, all for $15,000. The director of the film, Oren Peli, admitted that he’d had no previous experience, and things were about to change.
The film made an unbelievable $193 million and it was the beginning of what quickly became a franchise which includes 6 films to date. Paranormal activity was produced by Blumhouse Production, a company that has a reputation for investing in new horror talent, especially at low costs.
Annabelle ($6.5 million budget)
With the success of The Conjuring, filmmakers decided to try their luck with Annabelle, the prequel to the 2013 film. The 2014 film which was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by John R. Leonetti, and produced by Peter Safran and James Wan, made over $257 million from its $6.5 million budget, an impressive feat.
The film which is centered around a haunted doll, Annabelle, was directed by Peter Safran and James Wan, the latter who is known for his filmmaking abilities, especially in the horror genre. Since its release, the franchise has gained quite the following.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($5 million budget)
When My Big Fat Wedding was released in 2002, everyone was surprised by the romantic comedy’s performance at the box office mainly because the company only spent $1 million trying to market the film. It tells the story of Toula Portokalos, a Greek woman who intends to marry a non-Greek man. The actress who played Toula, Nia Vardalos, actually wrote the story.
The fictional family’s dynamic was so heartwarming to watch that it made people from all walks of life watch the film. The rom-com garnered just over $368 million in ticket sales.
Rocky ($1 million budget)
Rocky was another movie that made much more than what was spent to make the film. With a budget of only $1 million, the boxing film exceeded expectations by not only making $117million at the box office, but it also won three Oscars, making it a pop culture staple to this day. Actor Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for the film over the course of a weekend, and his performance made him one of the most sought-after actors to date.
Since its release, more than 40 years ago, the 1976 film has spawned three sequels and a spin-off movie series, Creed, starring actor Michael B. Jordan. The franchise’s following stronger today than it’s ever been before.
Saw ($1.2 million budget)
There seems to be a pattern with low-budget horror movies – they perform exceptionally well at the box office! Saw was released in 2004 after only a few days of filming. The movie made $103 million and launched a franchise that includes 8 movies and one on the way. The series became a Halloween staple for much of the 2000s.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell combined forces to make a truly original masterpiece on a small budget. As for Billy the Puppet, the face of the series, he’s now one of the most easily recognizable mascots in the new age of cinema.
Moonlight ($4 million budget)
Moonlight broke several barriers with the way that it portrayed black and queer culture. Despite its critical acclaim, the movie is best remembered for the 2017 Oscar flub when their award for Best Picture was mistakenly given to La La Land.
Its $4 million budget brought in $65 million at the box office and the movie also won three Academy Awards. More than anything, Moonlight reminded people that great storytelling doesn’t always need CGI or a big budget for people to fall in love with it.
My Left Foot ($600,00 budget)
Actor Daniel Day-Lewis gave audiences a stellar performance in the 1989 classic My Left Foot. The movie tells the story of Christy Brown, a man with severe Cerebral Palsy, who could only control his left foot. As time went by, he became a painter, poet, and author.
The adapted film brought in $14.7 million, making its money back more than 15 times over. It won two Oscars, a BAFTA and a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Purge ($3 million budget)
It’s not every day that you see a horror movie with a truly original concept, but The Purge is one of the rare few. The movie’s storyline is based on a civilization where every year, for a 12-hour window, all crime is legal. The film which starred Ethan Hawke and Lena Heady made $89 million.
The film was such a hit that it produced three sequels as well as a spin-off television series. To date, the movies have made $445 million, despite its mixed reviews.
Mad Max ($300,000 budget)
When you hear the name Mad Max, you may think about Fury Road, the blockbuster starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. But long before they joined the franchise, Mel Gibson starred in the original 1979 version which was made on a $300,000 budget. The film made $1 million, which was a lot at the time.
The original film once held the Guinness World Record for the best profit-to-cost film. To date, there are four films in the franchise with a fifth movie (Furiosa) announced for 2022 and a sixth (Future).
American Graffiti ($750,000 budget)
A few years before he created the first Star Wars series, George Lucas, a small-time filmmaker, directed and co-wrote American Graffiti, his second project. Made with a modest budget of $750,000, the film brought in $115 million. But should we be surprised?
The coming-of-age film starring Richard Dreyfuss was a hit with the younger audience and critics alike, who gave it a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The production studio, Universal Studios, has their reservations about spending “so much” on a young and fairly inexperienced filmmaker, but it paid off.
Split ($9 million budget)
In an indirect sequel of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, actor James McAvoy takes on the role of 24 personalities who kidnaps and later imprisons three teenage girls in an abandoned underground facility. Shyamalan has earned a reputation for his horror films, and Split is definitely on par with his other films.
Split made over $278 million at the box office. The third installment Glass brought together Shyamalan’s three biggest characters in one film, McAvoy’s personalities, Bruce Willis as David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price/ Mr. Glass.
Star Wars ($11 million budget)
Star Wars Episode IV was made on an $11 million budget and when it came out in 1977, it was the highest grossing film of all time, well, until Steven Spielberg released E.T in 1982. The first of many films went on to gross $775 million, an achievement that many movies will never accomplish.
The space film made Lucasfilm one of the most successful production companies of all time. The company was purchased by Disney in 2012 and it seems like they’re pumping out a new film every year, making billions of dollars in the process.
Open Water ($130,000 budget)
Open Water’s plot was simple. It was about a couple who became stranded in shark-infested waters after the crew on their scuba diving trio accidentally leaves them behind. It was this simplicity that helped the film to become a box office success, raking in $55 million.
The movie which is said to be based on an unconfirmed true story got some fairly decent reviews. In the years following, two sequels were released although they did not perform as well as the original. Unlike many other movies, production used real sharks instead of the standard mechanical props or CGI.
Halloween ($300,000 budget)
Whoever thought that a 1978 film with a small budget of $300,000 would start an entire horror franchise that would be watched every Halloween? It’s even been rumored that Jamie Lee Curtis’ wardrobe only cost $100. Halloween went on to gross $70 million – a huge success in the 1970s.
More than 40 years later, it is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Did we mention that it has 10 sequels and one scheduled for 2021? It’s clear that the saga is not going to end any time soon.
Lost in Translation ($4 million budget)
In 2003, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed Lost in Translation which became a box office success, making just over $119 million in ticket sales. The film stars Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson as an unlikely pair of friends which fascinated audiences around the world.
The film took home the Oscar for Best Screenplay and it currently has a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics called the film “a triumph for all involved, both in front of and behind the camera,” and it is considered one of the greatest cult classics of all time.
Pulp Fiction ($8.5 million budget)
Pulp fiction may have been Quentin Tarantino’s second film but it became one of the most iconic films in Hollywood. The film which essentially defined the 1990s had an all-star cast, from Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta to Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman. It made just over $213 million at the box office.
The poster for the film could be seen in several places from subways to college bedrooms. Tarantino went on to become one of the greatest directors of our time, releasing films like Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds, and Kill Bill.
Napoleon Dynamite ($400,000 budget)
Napoleon Dynamite is arguably one of the most successful indie films in the history of film. The movie which cost producers $400,00 to make, grossed $46 million at the box office. The film followed Jon Heder as Napoleon who helped his friend, Pedro run for class president.
Moviegoers immediately fell in love with the film and over 15 years after its release, the movie is still relevant in pop culture today, especially in memes and Halloween costumes.
Buried ($2 million budget)
If someone said that Ryan Reynolds would spend the entirety of a film in a coffin would make millions, many people would have doubted the statement. But it turns out to be true, The 2010 film was made for only $2 million but made $20 million at the box office.
It tells the story of Reynold’s character, a civilian working in Iraq who wakes up one day after being attacked, to find himself buried in a wooden coffin with only a few tools to survive. The film was praised for putting a new spin on buried alive films.
The Inbetweeners Movie ($5.3 million budget)
After three amazing seasons on television, Britain’s favorite group of teenagers made their film debut in 2011. The group of four unlikely friends decides to go on a ‘lads holiday’ to Malia, Greece after their final year in school together.
Despite not being well received in the United States, the movie made $65 million and its sequel was soon underway. The characters are now icons in British comedy and fans are begging for a reunion.
Get Out ($4.5 million budget)
Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out stunned audiences around the world and it became one of the biggest films of the year. What’s even more impressive was that the film was Peele’s directorial debut. The movie was a unique spin on a horror film and it had people talking for months after its release.
Get Out scored a rear 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it even won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The movie made over $255 million at the box office and skyrocketed not only Peele’s career but also actor Daniel Kaluuya’s and Allison Williams’.
Super-Size Me - $65,000 budget)
Morgan Spurlock not only changed the way in which McDonald’s operated, but he also changed the world’s view of fast-food when he released his documentary, Super Size Me, in 2004. For an entire month, the filmmaker ate nothing but the company’s fast-food which resulted in dramatic health changes.
Spurlock gained approximately 25 pounds, experienced mood swings, and accumulated fat in his liver. To save face, the company retired their super-size option and rebranded themselves as a healthy alternative. The film made $22 million at the box office.
Garden State ($2.5 million budget)
Before making his directorial debut with Garden State, Zach Braff was best known for his role as J.D. on the television series, Scrubs. The then actor’s first movie scored 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film festival.
The movie made $35 million at the box office, solidifying Brach as not only a great actor, but also a director. He went on to release other films including Wish I Was Here. The movie was also praised for its unique soundtrack.
Shaun of the Dead ($6.1 million budget)
Shaun of the Dead is a combination of a romantic comedy and a horror film. The film gained critical acclaim when it was released and it made Simon Pegg and Nick Frost much more than television stars. Even the film’s director, Edgar Wright gained a following for his unique filming style.
The movie made $30 million at the box office and let to two more films with the actors and director, which were affectionately called ‘Three Flavors Cornetto’ trilogy.
Donnie Dark ($4.5 million budget)
Donnie Darko’s success didn’t come all at once. Upon its release, the film was met with modest success but has since become a cult classic the likes of which has never been seen. It tells the story of a troubled teen, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who has visions and communicates with a monstrous rabbit named Frank.
The psychological thriller only made $3 million more than its budget, but the VHS sales in the mid-2000s prove that there are many people out there who are fans of the film.
Moon ($5 million budget)
Moon is a great example of how a fantastic storyline and stellar acting can carry a film, especially one with such a small budget. Sam Rockwell takes on the role of Sam Bell, an astronaut who is tasked with the lone mission of bringing an energy source back to Earth.
At the time, Rockwell wasn’t known for taking on leading roles, but the move to cast him was such paid off. The director, Duncan Jones, was credited for making the indie film into mainstream success.
Catfish ($30,000 budget)
Catfish is another documentary on this list that made a lasting impression on its viewers and made millions at the box office. The main reason why is because it’s something we’ve never seen before. The documentary details the hidden truths of relationships formed on the internet.
The underlying question of the film is “Are people who they really say they are?” With a budget of $30,000, Nev Shulman’s movie was able to bring in $3.5 million at the box office. The success also led to an MTV series where Nev and his friend Max helped people who were being catfished.
Clerks ($230,000 budget)
Kevin Smith’s 1994 cult classic, Clerks, was created on a $230,000 budget in 1994 and surprisingly it’s still a cult classic with college students to this day. The film follows the lives of a video store and a convenience store clerks Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson.
The movie grossed $3.2 million, 10 times what was used to create the film. One of its producers, Kevin Smith, has confirmed the production of a Clerks sequel which will be set in modern times.
Pi ($68,000 budget)
It’s not very often that a person’s directorial debut is a hit, but Darren Aranofsky’s Pi certainly lefts its mark when it landed in theaters in 1998. The movie made a little over $3.2 million, turning an impressive profit of 6,800%.
The psychological thriller depicted the connection between mathematical regularity and how irrational humanity can be. The movie thrust Aranofsky onto center stage and he did disappoint, later releasing films like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.
Friday the 13th ($550,000 budget)
Friday the 13th is the first of a successful slasher franchise which all began in 1980. Using a budget of $550,000, the team was able to deliver a scare so fantastic that they’d still be making films forty years into the future. It made just under $60 million at the box office.
Since the release of the first movie, 11 other movies have been made and there are rumblings of a 13th somewhere in the near future. In total, the franchise has grossed $464 million to date.
Snatch ($10 million budget)
$10 million may sound like a healthy budget to work with, especially considering some of the other movies on the list, but with heavy hitters like Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro and Jason Statham, it’s easy to see where the money went to. The three superstars joined forces in this Matthew Vaughn and Guy Richie film.
It tells the story of a stolen diamond as it makes its way around London’s criminal underworld. The crime comedy film made just under $84 million at the box office and has amassed quite the cult following.
Ghost World ($7 million budget)
In today’s world, hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into bring comic book characters and to life. Companies aren’t worried about the expense because they expect to make billions in return. Long before this trend began, films like Ghost World, a comic book adapted film was made for just $7 million.
The film stars young Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch as two teen outsiders just trying to make it through life. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Kidulthood ($920,000 budget)
Kidulthood is a 2006 film by Noel Clarke which gave its audience a glimpse into the lives of poor and lower-class citizens living in West London. It’s a well-known fact that independent films in the UK struggle to get funding, but Kidulthood did, and it made over $2 million at the box office.
The film’s success led to the creation of the sequel, Adulthood in 2008, and the third and final film Brotherhood was released in 2016.
Beginners ($3.2 million budget)
Let’s be real, $3.2 million is not a lot of money to work with especially when you have actors like Ewan McGregor in the film. McGregor stars as Oliver, a man whose 75-year-old father comes out as gay.
The film was based on the real-life story of the director, Mike Mills’ own experience with his father. The story also follows Oliver’s romantic life with a young lady named Anna. The movie was a win all-round; Christopher Plummer got an Academy Award, and the film made $14 million at the box office.
Son of Rambow ($6.1 million budget)
It’s always the ones you least expect to pull on your heartstrings that do. Son of Rambow is one of those films. It follows a young Lee Carter and his unlikely friend Will Proudfoot in the summer of 1980s England. The two boys try their best to reenact Stallone’s Rambo.
The film was great for two reasons; it gave audiences who were 30 or older something Rambo-esque to look forward to. It also introduced the world of Rambo to a younger audience. The sweet tale brought in just over $10 million at the box office.
Submarine ($1.5 million budget)
Submarine is a 2010 coming of age film by British comedian Richard Ayoade, based on a novel with the same name. The movie followed 15-year-old Oliver Tate as he dealt with everyday issues of a young teen.
Oliver’s issues included trying to get good grades while trying to save his parents’ marriage and keeping up with his fire-obsessed girlfriend. For those not wanting to go back to their own teen issues, just watch Oliver’s instead in a movie that made $4.5 million.
Bronson ($230,000 budget)
Tom Hardy is one of those actors who is known for transforming for his various roles, and that he did for his role in Bronson. The movie tells the story of Charles Bronson – one of Britain’s most violent criminals.
The film was successful in making violence an art form and Hardy’s performance in which he broke the fourth wall, interacting directly with the audience” was something to marvel at. The film made 10 times its budget, $2.3 million.