Low-budget films can indeed be as hugely successful as big-budget blockbusters. These movies may not have had the same budget as other blockbuster pictures, but they still managed to be extremely successful.
This article will list some low-budget films that gained success despite their smaller budgets and less common castings. Many of these films are directed by filmmakers with little or no experience directing before, which is another reason for their successful turnout.
Low Budget Film:
A low-budget film is generally defined as one with a budget of $2 million or less. But nowadays, $5 million is also considered a low-budget movie. But how do you evaluate the success? The best way to assess the success of a low-budget movie is the return on their investment calculated on the ticket sales, home viewing, worldwide distribution, etc.
For detailed information on the low budget film budget, Read this article: Average Low Budget Film Cost
Top Successful Low Budget Movies Ever Made
Do low-budget films make money? Not every movie makes money but the examples below are outliers that have phenomenal returns.
Check our article on Do low-budget films make money?
Before we list out the successful movies that were made on a shoestring budget, there is an admission that we have created this list not based on a mere low budget but on the basis of movies that were landmark films or made by prominent Hollywood directors who were newbies then or the sheer enormity of the return on investment.
Here are the top 25 successful movies that prove that low-budget independent films can make money and much of it for that matter.
Please note: The ranking is based on the return on investment(ROI). Also, we are not taking the inflation so the simple ROI becomes the true parameter of calculation.
- Paranormal Activity (2007):
Filmmaker Oren Peli believed in this horror movie so much that he made Paranormal Activity on a shoestring budget of just $15000. Around $2150000 was later pumped in post-production to make it a $2.5 million movie.
The movie grossed $100 million with just six weeks of US release. The final return was $193 million.
- The Blair Witch Project (1999):
The film takes you through the fictional story of three student filmmakers. It is about their hike in the Black Hike, Burkittsville, Maryland. Surprisingly, they disappeared, but this footage was discovered one year after their disappearance.
The supernatural horror film is quite a thriller. The Blair Witch Project is an independent film that made $246.8 million despite spending half a million only.
- El Mariachi (1992) :
El Mariachi’s filmmaking is a film school in itself. It is a story about a musician involved in a violent shootout between two feuding drug lords. The film was shot on locations in Mexico and financed by the American producer Robert Rodriguez through his company Troublemaker Studios.
El Mariachi’s budget was just 7000 dollars and resulting from this low budget. He managed to generate approximately $2 million when the film was released in March 1992.
- Rocky (1976):
Rocky turned out to be one of the best boxing movies. The rag to riches story of Rocky Balboa is impressive. He was uneducated, but his kind heart and hard work saw him go places. This Sylvester Stallone movie’s cost was $1 million. Despite that, it managed to rake in $225 million.
- American Graffiti (1973):
The comedy film focuses on the adventures of four teenagers who were longtime friends and recent high school graduates. American Graffiti is a movie that has won several awards and nominations. It also made $140 million. That’s quite incredible given the fact that developing it only costs around $750 000.
- Once (2007):
“Once” starred Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who played a young Czech singer-songwriter and his muse. Set in Dublin in the early ’90s, the film is about Hansard’s solo album of the same name with music by Markéta Irglova.
The film tells about their romantic relationship through a series of songs that they performed for each other during a unique Irish cafe gig. It managed to gross over $20million worldwide from a budget of $135000.
- Saw (2004):
From the word go, this American horror film keeps one with a lot of suspense. It starts with two chained men. One is expected to kill the other to save his family. It cost the James Wan film $1.2 million, but they managed to amass no less than $104 million.
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002):
In this romantic comedy film, one follows the love story of a Greek American woman and a white man. After using $5 million only, it managed to raise $240 million domestically and $368.7 million in total.
“The Full Monty” features a group of unemployed steelworkers in Birmingham, England who form a male striptease act. The film cost $3.5 million to make, but it raked in $258 million and garnering several awards.
- Psycho (1960):
One of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies was adapted from Robert Bloch’s novel under the same name by Joseph Stefano. This classic American horror film is presented in black-and-white and tells the story of Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh), a secretary who steals $40,000 from her employer to pay for her sister’s upcoming wedding. After the money goes missing during transit – she gets caught up with a madman named Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins).
Psycho made 50 times its money from a budget that was just under a million.
- Get Out (2017):
“Get Out” is yet another horror film that made a lot of profit. It is about an African-American young man and his white girlfriend. It is about how the former uncovered a disturbing secret after meeting the family of the latter.
This one not only clinched four awards but also raised revenue of $225 million. That’s quite a lot given the fact that its cost was $4.5 million.
- Slacker (1990):
Slacker is an independent film that was filmed in Austin, Texas, for just $135,000. The movie grossed nearly $4 million worldwide from a small budget and a low-key release.
Slacker is a story about misfits, and despite its limited budget, it attracted audiences who loved to experience something new and authentic.
- Moonlight (2016):
Moonlight is based on the life of Chiron and explores the coming-of-age story of a boy who decides to find his birth mother after being abandoned by his drug-dealing father. The film was released in October 2016 and made $27 million during its opening weekend, but it eventually earned $65 million worldwide.
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989):
The movie won the best picture at Cannes and it catapulted the career of filmmaker Steven Soderbergh of the Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s trilogy fame.
On a budget of $1.2 million, the movie returned 30 times its production money.
- Lost in Translation (2003):
With a combination of rom-com and drama, the movie tells the story of Bob and Charlotte. Although they had known each other for a short period, as usual, goodbyes are hard. It is a movie that won awards for being the best original and best pictures and other awards. Surprisingly, it cost $4 million yet raised about $119 million.
- Swingers (1996):
Swingers is a 1996 American comedy-drama film written by Jon Favreau and directed by Doug Liman. The film stars Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and Ron Livingston as three young men who cope with various aspects of life; they are Neo-Punks in Los Angeles. It was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival in January 1997.
- Another Earth (2011):
Another earth is a drama-mystery film directed by Mike Cahill, starring William Mapother and Brit Marling. The film tells the story of people who exist in different places at the same time.
This independent science fiction drama’s overall budget was an unbelievable $100,000. The film was released in 2011 and earned nearly $2 million worldwide.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) :
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was an outlaw of sorts when it was released in 1974. It was banned in numerous countries.
It is estimated that the budget of this terror flick was between $80,000 to $140000, which was surprisingly low for a horror movie. The film’s domestic gross on its opening weekend exceeded nearly $1 million, and it eventually became a cult classic.
- Blue Valentine (2010):
Blue Valentine is an American romantic drama film written and directed by Derek Cianfrance. The film tells the story of a couple’s disintegrating marriage, said in a nonlinear fashion. It stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
It was made from a shoestring budget of $1.2 million and was shot in the Philadelphia area over a period of twenty days. It was positively received by critics who praised its direction and the performances of Gosling and Williams, earning Williams an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
- Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957):
Attack of the Crab Monster is a low-budget horror film that, on the surface, appears to be about a group of scientists who go to an island to research the effects of nuclear radiation and discover two mysterious monster crabs killed the earlier expedition members.
This 1957 Roger Corman flick amassed a million-dollar is sales out of a meager budget of $70000.
- Clerks (1994):
Clerks is a 1994 comedy-drama film written and directed by Kevin Smith, who himself plays a clerk at an indoor flea market. The movie was shot in black and white on a budget of just $27,000( post $230000), but despite this earned over $3 million worldwide when it got its release on August 19, 1994.
- Bronson (2008):
Bronson chronicles the life of real-life British prisoner Michael Peterson aka Charles Bronson, played by Tom Hardy. The film director Nicholas Winding Refn chronicles the prison life of Britain’s most dreaded criminal under a tight budget of $230000; the film bombed at the box office in the US but later on, went on to make $2.3 million worldwide through word of mouth.
- Annie Hall (1977):
Woody Allen made Annie Hall with a budget of $4 million. It would be apt to say that this is one of his best.
Annie Hall was awarded four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Diane Keaton). The film made almost $38million worldwide.
A group of friends spent summer in an abandoned cabin in the woods. In the night, they unwittingly release evil spirits who take over their bodies. Director Sam Raimi’s film is one of the most successful low-budget horror films ever made, and its success despite a meager budget of $350,000 is proof that this movie was never really a risk at all.
- Following (1998):
Following was famous writer-director Christopher Nolan’s debut experimental film made in the year 1998. It was filmed on a budget of $6,000, and it follows a young writer who decides to follow strangers around London he encounters in his daily life. The film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, and it won several awards.
The movie Following’s story has been very successful because there have been so many low-budget movies that succeeded throughout history.
Please find below the list of the movies in a tabular format where it is ranked based on its Return on Investment (ROI).
|No.s||Movie Name||Year of Release||Filmmaker||Budget (US Dollars)||Box Office Returns (US Dollars)||Return on Investment|
|1||Paranormal Activity||2007||Oren Peli||250000||193 million||77200.00%|
|2||The Blair Witch Project||1999||Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez||500000||248 million||49600.00%|
|3||El Mariachi||1993||Robert Rodriguez||7000||2 million||28571.43%|
|4||Rocky||1976||John G. Avildsen||1 million||225 million||22500.00%|
|5||American Graffiti||1973||Geroge Lucas||777000||140 million||18018.02%|
|6||Once||2007||John Carney||135000||20 million||14814.81%|
|7||Saw||2004||James Wan||1.2 million||104 million||8666.67%|
|8||My Big Fat Greek Wedding||2002||Joel Zwick||5 million||368.7 million||7374.00%|
|9||The Full Monty||1997||Peter Catteneo||3.5 million||258 million||7371.43%|
|10||Psycho||1960||Alfred Hitchcock||806947||50 million||6196.19%|
|11||Get Out||2017||Jordan Peele||4.5 million||255.4 million||5675.56%|
|12||Slacker||1991||Richard Linklater||23000||1.2 million||5217.39%|
|13||Moonlight||2016||Barry Jenkins||1.5 million||65.3 million||4353.33%|
|14||Sex, Lies, and Videotape||1989||Steven Soderberg||1.2 million||36.7 million||3058.33%|
|15||Lost in Translation||2002||Sophia Coppola||4 million||118.7 million||2967.50%|
|16||Swingers||1996||Doug Liman||200000||4.6 million||2300.00%|
|17||The Texas Chainsaw Massacre||1974||Tobe Hooper||140000||3 million||2207.14%|
|18||Another Earth||2011||Mike Cahill||100000||1.9 million||1900.00%|
|19||Blue Valentine||2010||Derek Cianfrance||1 million||16.6 million||1660.00%|
|20||Attack of the Crab||1957||Roger Corman||70000||1 million||1428.57%|
|21||Clerks||1994||Kevin Smith||260000||3.2 million||1230.77%|
|22||Bronson||2008||Nicolas Winding Refn||230000||2.3 million||1000.00%|
|23||Annie Hall||1977||Woody Allen||4million||38.3 million||957.50%|
|24||The Evil Dead||1981||Sam Raimi||350000||2.95 million||844.75%|
If you look at the success of these low-budget movies, it proves that a film’s success is not governed only by the amount of money spent on it. All you need is a big idea and an innovative way to bring it to life. Also, it is interesting to note that most of them are in the horror, comedy, or romance genre. So next time you make your low-budget indie, you can take a leaf out of these movies.
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