There’s that saying that you have to spend money to make money. The bigger you invest, the bigger the returns. However, there are the lucky few who are able to turn in a big buck without having to shell out a lot. Every so often, a movie project is launched with practically no budget for production, marketing or promotional efforts. Fortunately, the project skyrockets and becomes a box office hit. Not very many B-movies can proudly boast of this success.
What exactly is a B-movie? Contrary to the general perception, the B doesn’t mean “bad.” The B can actually stand for low-budget or second calibre, meaning the movie is an independent film with no major financial backing from a big studio. In other words, a B-movie is on its own.
Majority of B-movies don’t come into the radar of the mainstream public, focusing instead on a very targeted niche. It’s not expected to reap in huge profits, as most of the films are done merely for the love of art and creativity.
Like commercial films, B-movies fall into a chosen genre. Back in the 1940's, the most popular genre for B-movies was horror. Low-budget, tacky horror films were rampant in Hollywood during this decade and most were shown as a double feature, an opening act to the main performance of a big-budget studio film.
Today, production of a B-movie can cost anywhere between $100,000 and $1 million. The cost may seem high, but the minimal cost to produce a film by a big studio is already at $50 million, so the B-movie budget is still low by comparison.
Many B-movies became not just cult classics, but box-office hits. Not very many are lucky enough to have a profitable B-movie as a claim to fame. So who were the lucky ones?
10 Once: $9.25 Million In Profit
Who would have thought a low-budget, independent film would go on to win an Academy Award for best song and receive a Grammy nomination for best soundtrack? Such was the fate of Once, a 2007 Irish film focusing on the struggles and pitfalls of the starving musician, in the midst of which a love story develops. With a budget of only $150,000, Once was very well-received by critics and raked in $9.4 million, an amount those part of the film never thought they’d see. The movie’s award-winning main song, “Falling Slowly” is probably even more known than the film itself!
9 Texas Chainsaw Massacre: $30.77 Million In Profit
1970's slasher films were definitely considered B-movies, with their unknown actors, low quality graphics and amateurish editing. Yet, with films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was produced on a budget of only $83,000, the director’s vision and creativity is truly put to the challenge. The movie’s plot does not veer away from the formula scream fest horror flicks: group of friends traveling, they pick up a hitchhiker, make their way to a seemingly abandoned house where the killer is hiding, and the killing spree ensues. Despite the seemingly tacky plot, the movie earned $30.86 million and is considered one of the best horror films in history.
8 Night of the Living Dead: $41.88 Million In Profit
True to the stereotype of a horror film being a B-movie, the 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead set the stage for the zombie genre that is all the rage even in today’s small and big screens. Films like 28 Days Later and TV shows like The Walking Dead all took their cues from the 1968 classic, which was made on a budget of $114,000. In typical kitschy zombie style, the story is about a group of people trapped in a rural farmhouse which is attacked by living dead creatures. The film grossed $42 million and inspired several sequels and remakes.
7 Napoleon Dynamite: $44.1 Million In Profit
A movie actor who agrees to be paid only $1,000 to star in a film must really love his job. That’s what most people think got into the head of Jon Heder, who played the lead in Napoleon Dynamite in 2004. With a production budget of $400,000, the film focuses on the travails of Napoleon’s high school and family life and how his relationships in both aspects greatly affect each other. The film went on to become a commercial success, earning $44.5 million. Suffice to say, Jon Heder asked for a cut in the profits to make up for his measly $1,000 talent fee!
6 Full Monty: $46.5 Million In Profit
The title of the film is literally what the film is all about: going full monty. This 1997 British comedy tells the story of six men with no jobs, but who want to make some money so they can use it to make something of themselves. They decide to form a striptease group and go “full monty,” as a way to draw in the crowds. The film was made on a budget of $3.5 million and became a critical and commercial success, grossing $50 million. As proof of its success, it even won an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score and was adapted into a Broadway musical!
5 Halloween: $46.6 Million In Profit
As far as slasher movies go, Halloween is the ultimate cult classic. Playing the main victim and protagonist in the movie was Jamie Lee Curtis, who became a household name as a result of the 1978 film’s popularity. Terrorized by Michael, the “boogeyman,” Laurie (Lee Curtis’ character) has to save her baby sitting charges from the deranged man’s killing spree. It was done with a budget of $325,000, but became a commercial success, making $47 million at the box office. It paved the way for other cult horror films like the Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street series.
4 Mad Max: $99.6 Million In Profit
Before he made it big in Hollywood, Australian actor Mel Gibson was known in his native land as Mad Max, the rubber-burning law enforcer who, while pursuing a motorcycle gang of criminals, decides to leave the force when his wife and son are tragically killed. The rest of the movie is all about revenge. Made and released in 1979 with a budget of only $400,000, Mad Max was a box-office hit, garnering $100 million and putting Australia on the map of quality film-making.
3 Paranormal Activity: $107.8 Million In Profit
Reality TV has spawned many permutations, including the way the 2009 film, Paranormal Activity was made. This supernatural horror film is Blair Witch Project meets The Exorcist, depicting a couple who sets up a video camera in their bedroom to try to find out if what the woman is saying is true about an evil spirit haunting her. To add to the concept of reality, the director used a home video camera to shoot the entire film, which was done for a budget of only $15,000. Needless to say, it became an astounding success, raking in $107.9 million at the tills.
2 Rocky: $224 Million In Profit
Believe it or not, the first film in the widely popular Rocky franchise is considered a B-movie because it was made at a very limited budget. Starring and written by Sylvester Stallone, the movie had a budget of a mere $1 million. Depicting the life of Rocky Balboa, a character Stallone created, the movie went on to become a success, both commercially and critically. It grossed $225 million and won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976. It inspired several sequels thereafter and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
1 The Blair Witch Project: $249.9 Million In Profit
By its unique style of filming alone, the 1999 horror film The Blair Witch Project is the most profitable B-movie of all time. It was so close to a reality documentary that many people thought the film was a true story and that the students in the film had really mysteriously disappeared. With an initial budget of only $22,000, the film raked in $250 million and paved the way for other movies with similar filming styles. It also spawned a trilogy of video games and a series of young adult books, hereby establishing it as a cult classic.