We are now in a golden age of TV and cinema and there are more ways of watching movies than just paying a visit to the cinema. We are in a time where the average “blockbuster” costs well in to the hundreds of millions of dollars to make – the most recent example being Captain America: Civil War which cost around $250 million. And it doesn’t stop there, marketing new movies includes launching viral campaigns and creating traditional TV adverts which all cost thousands if not millions of dollars.
This is becoming more and more like the norm, but there are still some movies that have used modest budgets to create fantastic films (and some that aren’t so great) that have smashed the box office. Here is a list of 15 movies that have been made on “low” budgets but that have made loads of money…
15. Dirty Dancing (1987) Budget $6 million – Grossed $167,000,000
It’s crazy to think that at the time the film was made, the most notable star was Jerry Orbach (Baby’s father). This is actually the film that launched Patrick Swayze’s career and had women across the land swooning. The dancing is so-so (not my style, I’m more of a waltz guy) but the soundtrack blew up and gave us classics like “Hungry Eyes” and “Time of My Life”. Hell, Swayze himself even got in on the act with “She’s Like the Wind” – I personally think he was better off round-housing henchmen or helping beautiful young women to make top-notch pottery but hey-ho. Nevertheless, this movie did extremely well and I may like it more than I prefer to admit, shhhh…
14. Night of the Living Dead (1968) Budget $114,000 – Grossed $30,000,000
George A Romero made this movie on a shoestring and scared the hell out of people with it. It is a testament to Romero’s creativity that this film has been remade twice and the influence of it can be seen in many a zombie film following its release. This is the movie that redefined horror and brought a whole world of fright with it. I mean, how would you do in 1960s America stuck in a barn with hoards of the undead trudging around outside and only a rake as a weapon?! At the time of its release, children, yes children, were heading to their local theatres to see the movie. Zombies aren’t the only crazy thing about this film it seems…
13. The Gallows (2015) Budget $100,000 – Grossed $43,000,000
The Gallows tells the story of a bunch of high school students who decided that it would be a good idea to re-enact a play that was originally put on 20 years ago. The catch? During the performance 20 years ago, a student was accidentally hanged. So someone has the bright idea of re-enacting this play to “honour” the student who died. If it was me, I’d be leaving it the hell alone, but that wouldn’t make for a good storyline. The film follows the “found-footage” genre type so gloriously used by “TBWP” and “REC”. The film was absolutely demolished by critics who clearly were not keen. There can be no doubt though, that the trailer was scary as hell, and millions of viewers flocked to see this budget horror.
12. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) Budget $400,000 – Grossed $44,500,000
This is a film, starring Jon Heder, about the “little guy” making a difference (sort of) and for those who were bullied during school and had to tolerate the colossal idiots that high school/secondary school brings with it. “VOTE FOR PEDRO” T-shirt sales must have been astronomical following the release of this low budget indie flick. This film is just downright funny and is a fresh take on the high-school underdog/dork/nerd/geek-defying-the-odds genre. It also made a boat load of money and captured the hearts of its viewers in the process. The stand-out upsides of this movie are that it isn’t a horror film and there is actually some acting involved.
11. Insidious (2011) Budget $1,500,000 – Grossed $34,500,000
I filled my pants (in the bad way) when I heard that crackle come from the baby monitor, noises like that just straight up freak me out. I like Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, and a good horror story. Admittedly, this story isn’t too original but I did find it to have some “jumpy” sequences and, apparently, so did millions of viewers who helped to raise the movie’s gross income to $34,500,000 (or thereabouts). There are demonic possessions, homicidal children and ancient “spirits”, just what every horror movie needs, plenty of deaths as well. I found that by the end of the movie, I would have paid extra to jump in there and shoot the kid myself. There are also other “chapters” to Insidious and these have also faired OK at the box office although aren’t as “scary” as the original.
10. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) Budget $3,000,000 – Grossed – $177,000,000
The Paranormal Activity franchise has gone MAHOOSIVE since the original film was released in 2007. It has the same found-footage film premise at its predecessor and again follows the action as it is caught on CCTV cameras within the home, only this time, there’s a dog!! First off, I have to say that the dog never deserves to be attacked, it just isn’t fair. Secondly, I quite like the fact that the “spirit” doesn’t discriminate; colour, race and species mean nothing, everyone’s getting killed. I’m all for more open-minded haunting-spirits with a progressive way of thinking; this is the future.
9. The Devil Inside (2012) Budget $1,000,000 – Grossed $102,000,000
I love it when horror movies claim that they’re “based on true events”, doesn’t it just add to the sense of reality within them?! Well, no, not for me. Also, for future reference, if a woman ends up doing a backwards crab and the downward facing dog at the same time, then I’m running, fast. I would not think to ring a priest let alone stick around and watch him imitate a holy water sprinkler whilst jabbering in Latin. Anyway, the movie did OK – a 3100% mark-up ain’t bad – and it continued to draw people into cinemas to see it. The image of a nun with cataracts on the poster threw me at first but I guess that’s the whole “soulless” part of it. The better picture was with the woman who has a cross cut into the underside of her bottom lip; that would hurt, I should know, I’ve had my fair share of cold sores.
8. God’s Not Dead (2014) Budget $2,000,000 – Grossed $62,600,000
God’s Not Dead (is he?!) is a film about a student whose faith is challenged by his professor, Hercules, I mean Kevin Sorbo. Also, Superman (the poor TV one) pops up throughout the movie and provides some… light entertainment (?). Well here’s a question for you, if God isn’t dead, did he create Superman and give him sick journalism skills? No, didn’t think so, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did. But were they created by God? Ah, thanks Aristotle, now I can’t stop thinking about infinite regression. Anyhoo, the film is decent and you really buy into Josh’s perspective, even if, fundamentally, you don’t agree with it. It made a whopping $60,000,000 net and challenged people’s views, I say well done. Did God create movi… ah forget it.
7. Eraserhead (1977) Budget $20,000 – Grossed $7,000,000
Ah, this dude’s hair kills me! There’s not much to say, except that this movie is nuts! It tells the story of a man who is controlled by another man who lives in his head. There are scenes involving a baby with the face of a snake, the cutting up of a live chicken and the protagonist being decapitated and having his head taken to a pencil factory to be made into erasers – hence the title of Eraserhead (WTF?!). Despite the fact that this movie is so bizarre, it made a killing at the box office and provided theatre-goers with, shall we say, an alternative view. Oh, yeah, and some images of crazy sperm-like creatures floating around, not bad.
6. Lost in Translation (2003) Budget $4,000,000 – Grossed $119,700,000
Lost in Translation tells the tale of two unlikely characters who bond during their individual trips to Tokyo (which is shot beautifully during the movie). Bill Murray is at his charismatic best as the tired, almost-past-retirement actor who is shooting a whiskey commercial, and Scarlett Johansson is the college student whose husband is in Tokyo to “pap celebs”. The movie is funny, intelligent and provides a great snapshot of the minutiae of the characters’ lives during these encounters. Great film, great earnings.
5. Mad Max (1981) Budget $350,000 – Grossed $100,000,000
By far the coolest film on this list and the one that gave us Mel Gibson! Mad Max is set in a dystopian future where biker gangs run rampant and the main currency is fuel; petrol or diesel, take your pick. Mel Gibson plays a law man whose driving skills are as sick as his ability to sweat in the Australian desert. There is a cool fact about this film; the actors who played the law men were kept separate to those who played gang members and the tension between them was actually forged off-screen and then developed on it. This film spawned three sequels and a 2015 film in which Tom Hardy says three lines and moves his face even less than usual (I do like him though). Still, there’s no beating the original, the earnings would tell you that!
4. Halloween (1978) Budget $300,000 – Grossed $70,000,000
So a six-year-old boy stabs his sister to death, gets placed in a mental institution for fifteen years and escapes in order to satiate his homicidal needs. This film is most notable for Michael’s mask; a white, creepy-looking thing that is featureless and damned scary. One now comical element is how, no matter how fast the proposed victims are running away from a walking-Michael, they always turn around to see him getting closer. I mean, how?! Wheels?! Segway?! People should still watch this film as the tension is built up brilliantly and it is still quite scary to this day.
3. Friday the 13th (1980) Budget $550,000 – Grossed $60,000,000
Friday the 13th tells the story of a boy/man/thing presumed drowned in a lake whilst at summer camp, who actually isn’t dead and is now murdering teens with the help of his ageing mother. Also, he wears a hockey mask – fashion certainly has changed for the better. You want to know something else that’s great about this film?! It has Kevin Bacon! This film spawned a whole franchise and even had Jason fighting Freddy Krueger and Jason in space, brilliant. So, another dude with a freaky mask butchering random people makes the list! I’m starting to see a pattern here; maybe the top two films will be romances…
2. Paranormal Activity (2009) Budget $15,000 – Grossed $193,000,000
Or maybe not… This is hands down the scariest film I have ever seen. After watching this, I had a fight with my wife (then girlfriend) about who would sleep closest to the door; she won. This movie tells the story of a couple, Micah and Katie, whose house has been haunted by a demonic spirit. There are multiple freaky parts in this film; Katie being dragged out of bed and then later, Katie standing and staring at Micah for two hours straight. Damn! There are also two endings to this film although the one released in theatres was good enough for me. This movie went MASSIVE at box office and had a mark-up of over 12,000% – and I can see why!
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) Budget $60,000 – Grossed $248,000,000
Christ almighty this film is scary! Three students set out to make a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch and get way more than they bargained for. What makes this film so terrifying is the super-effective use of the found-footage style of shooting the movie and all from a handheld camera. The acting is superb and the frights are brilliant! The millions of movie-goers who attended a screening of The Blair Witch Project certainly got their money’s worth! It made an astronomical amount of money from only a small investment. It was also notable for being marketed almost purely via the internet. Smashing!
So what do you make of the list? Do you have any more examples of small budget movies that have made, like, bazillions at the box office? If so then let me know! Also, please like and share :)