When it comes to making successful movies, Hollywood likes to think that big budgets equal big payoffs. And, well, sometimes that’s true. They say it takes money to make money. Especially in the last two decades, movie budgets have ballooned, with some costing upwards of $350 million or more.
There certainly are plenty of blockbusters that started with gigantic budgets… and a few failures, as well. After all, a big budget may ensure A-list actors and special effects, but it won’t guarantee a hit film.
However, there are also plenty of successful movies that were made without extensive spending. In fact, there are plenty that don’t even break the $1 million mark.
Don’t get it twisted, though. These shoestring budgets didn’t prevent these movies from seeing success at the box office. In fact, these low-budget films made millions! Many of them also went on to spawn entire franchises, full of sequels, remakes, video games, and more.
These movies with small budgets prove that you don’t always need to spend a ton of money to rake it in at the box office and have a hit. Check out this list of 20 low-budget films that made millions at the box office!
The Blair Witch Project
Although many people at the time mistook The Blair Witch Project as an actual documentary of real footage, the movie is fully fictional. What’s not fictional, though, was the shoestring budget the film was made with. Created using the found-footage technique and shot in eight days (with no script!), the movie was made for only $600,000. Pretty good for a film that brought in $248.6 million at the box office!
With stars like John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, and Uma Thurman, you might think Pulp Fiction had a relatively large budget to work with. This black comedy from Quentin Tarantino was actually made with a production budget of $8.5 million, which pales in comparison to the $213.9 million it made in theaters.
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut was with 2017’s Get Out, a horror film centered on a young black man who uncovers shocking secrets when he meets his girlfriend’s family. You may not have known that the film was made with a production budget of only $4.5 million. It went on to become a box office success, earning $255 million, and earning numerous accolades.
You would think that a movie starring big names like Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams would cost more to make. Despite the big names in the cast, Blue Valentine was made for a mere $1 million. Their stunning, raw performances spoke to audiences, and the movie brought in around $16.6 million at the box office.
1978’s Halloween was Jamie Lee Curtis’ first starring role. Now an iconic slasher that led to sequels, remakes, and more, this film that started it all was only made with a $325,000 budget. It went on to make $47 million at the box office during its original release.
Starring Michael Cera and Ellen Page, Juno was a small, quirky indie film that took everyone by surprise. It was made on a budget of only $7.5 million – such a low budget that Jennifer Garner reportedly had to take a pay cut to keep costs down. The film earned numerous accolades, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and earned $231.4 million worldwide.
The first installment of the franchise, Insidious saw a wide theatrical release in 2011. The supernatural horror flick earned an estimated $99.5 million at the box office, but director James Wan was able to build all that horrifying suspense on a budget of only $1.5 million.
The Terminator is a classic action movie that spawned sequels, solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger as a leading man, and launched director James Cameron’s career. The movie has also been preserved in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” All that, and it was done on a budget of only $6.4 million!
The Hills Have Eyes
The legendary Wes Craven brought us this truly chilling horror flick in 1977. Like other movies on our list, it spawned a franchise of films, merchandise, and a reboot. However, that all started with this one film that boasted a production budget of only $230,000!
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine was a quirky indie comedy about a dysfunctional family that first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It then surprised everyone with worldwide box office success, bringing in $101 million. It also racked up several award nominations and wins. Not too bad for a production budget of $8 million.
Based on a true story, this survival horror flick revolves around a couple who were left at sea and are desperate to survive in the middle of shark-infested waters. Open Water was shot entirely on digital video and had a very small cast, which likely helped keep the production budget low. Even still, it was made for a shockingly small amount. The film’s budget was reportedly only $130, 000, which seems almost impossible.
Napoleon Dynamite certainly developed a cult following and has since become ingrained in pop culture. How many times have you heard someone quote this movie, or seen a “Vote for Pedro” shirt? For something that saw serious mainstream success, this awkward indie comedy was filmed in Idaho on a shoestring budget of only $400,000.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is another classic film that has been preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It is also considered to be one of the greatest horror films ever made. It spawned sequels and a remake, helped establish the slasher sub-genre, and probably still causes nightmares to this day. All that, and it was made with a $1.1 million production budget.
Director George Miller may not have known at the time, but the post-apocalyptic action film Mad Max exploded into an entire franchise after this first film raked in $100 million at the box office. That’s quite a success, given the film’s mere $350,000 production budget.
Lost in Translation
Sophia Coppola’s disoriented Lost In Translation earned $118.7 million at the box office and received numerous accolades, including the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The romantic comedy-drama, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, was filmed in Japan on a $4 million budget.
Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in Rocky, the 1976 sports drama that tells the rags-to-riches story of Rocky Balboa. These days, it’s considered one of the greatest sports films ever made. But did you know it was made on a budget of just over $1 million? It went on to earn $225 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film of 1976.
The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi didn’t need a big budget to create big scares with 1981’s The Evil Dead. In fact, the supernatural horror film was made with a budget of only $375,000. Cheap thrills, anyone? Don’t let that low budget confuse you, though. Horror author Stephen King gave it a rave review, which is what led to New Line Cinema acquiring the distribution rights. The Evil Dead has become a true cult classic since. It’s now a media franchise including sequels and a reboot, a TV series, video games, comic books, and more.
2007’s Paranormal Activity took a somewhat different approach to filming. By that I mean, it wasn’t filmed with traditional means like other big-screen movies. Instead of professional movie cameras, it was actually shot on home video cameras. In total, this supernatural horror flick was made with a production budget of $15,000. Seems nearly impossible for a modern movie, doesn’t it? Considering Paranormal Activity pulled in $193.4 million at the box office, it might be one of the most profitable movies of all time in terms of return on investment.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Audiences couldn’t get enough of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is why it spent almost a full year in theaters. That unusually long run probably helped earn the film some serious cash, bringing in $368.7 million at the box office. All that box office money makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. And, with a cost of $6 million to produce, it’s also among the most profitable movies of all time.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
The Star Wars franchise has become a pop-cultural phenomenon, and quite frankly, an Empire. (See what I did there?) The epic space fantasy franchise has gone on to earn billions of dollars, and it’s still going!
But it all started with 1977’s Star Wars, which was retroactively titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. This single movie from George Lucas was done with a production budget of $11 million. While that is a little more than other movies on our list, it’s still remarkable given what Star Wars has become. And at the time, it turned around and made $775 million, which is certainly no small return!