In an age of movies where $100 million dollar budgets are the norm, we take a look at 20 low budget movies that made an absolute fortune at the box office.
It’s refreshing to see that low budget movies can still be massive blockbusters at the movie theater, with quite a few films making bank with low budgets recently.
Independent films that become popular are often some of the movies that make studios the most bang for their buck, and it’s something all studios strive for. It’s incredibly difficult to find that perfect mixture of low budget and exciting material, but it almost always seems to happen when we least expect it. American Sniper is one of the most recent films that surprised everyone when it took in over $500 million on a fairly modest $60 million dollar budget.
We take a look at 20 movies that broke the mold and made fortunes while staying under Hollywood’s current trend of bloated budgets. Find out which film genre is most likely to bring in the biggest profit with the smallest budget. The final movie which currently holds the record is sure to surprise any movie fan.
20) ‘Juno’ Budget: $7.5M Box Office: $231M – Juno is played by the brilliant Ellen Page, and is faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Her already unusual life takes a turn as she makes a decision regarding her unborn child. Page is incredible in this film, and her dad is played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, what more could one ask for? It made an enormous fortune at the box office.
19) ‘Halloween’ Budget: $325k Box Office: $47M – On Halloween night of 1963, we’re told a 6-year old Michael Myers stabbed his sister to death. After being sent to a mental hospital for the last 15 years, Myers finally escapes and returns to his home in Haddonfield. This horror film started a new genre, and its low budget resulted in massive box office profits.
18) ‘Open Water’ Budget: $500k Box Office: $52M – Open Water was based on a true story of two scuba divers who are accidentally stranded in some shark infested waters after their tour boat leaves them behind. The film is very unique, and because of its handheld camera style, its low budget resulted in enormous profits.
17) ‘Friday the 13th’ Budget: $500k Box Office: $59M – Camp counselors are being stalked and murdered by an unknown attacker while attempting to reopen a summer camp that was the site of a child’s tragic drowning. The film was a huge hit back in the ’80s, and would go on to make $59 million on a $500k budget.
16) ‘Lost in Translation’ Budget: $4M Box Office: $120M – Lost in Translation is probably the best film on our list, and it’s about an aging movie star (played by Bill Murray) and a neglected young wife who cross paths during their trips to Tokyo. It was Scarlett Johansson’s official welcoming into Hollywood, and would go on to make over $120 million worldwide.
15) ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Budget: $8M Box Office: $100M – A young girl’s family is incredibly determined to get her into a beauty pageant final, so they take a cross-country trip in their VW bus that needs to be pushed to get it started. It’s a hilarious film, with an unbelievable cast, and took in over $100M worldwide on an $8 million dollar budget.
14) ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Budget: $15M Box Office: $377M – Director Danny Boyle directs an incredible film about a teen who grew up in the slums, and later becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who wants to be a Millionaire? He is arrested after being suspected of cheating, and during his interrogation, every life event that gave him an answer to the questions are revealed.
13) ‘The King’s Speech’ Budget: $15M Box Office: $414M – The King’s Speech tells a story of King George VI, and his terrible stutter. When he ascends to the throne due to circumstances out of his control, his speech therapist, played by the brilliant Geoffrey Rush, comes to his rescue. It won Best Picture, and took in $400+ million worldwide on a $15M budget.
12) ‘The Purge’ Budget: $3M Box Office: $89M – In the future, where it’s legal to murder and commit crimes once a year for a 12-hour period, a wealthy family is held hostage for harboring someone who is wanted by a group of people involved in the Purge. This unique horror film has a great cast, including Ethan Hawke, and took in nearly $90M on a $3 million dollar budget.
11) ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Budget: $114k Box Office: $42M – In one of the first zombie cult films, a group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in Night of the Living Dead. This film would go on to take in $42 million dollars in 1968, and spark a massive genre of zombie films that we still feel the ripples from today.
10) ‘The Conjuring’ Budget: $20M Box Office: $318M – The Conjuring landed in theaters in 2013 and took everyone by surprise as it blew past The Lone Ranger to become a massive hit. The film was made with a $20 million dollar budget and would go on to make a staggering $318 million worldwide. A sequel was recently announced to be in the works and why wouldn’t it be?
9) ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ Budget: $5M Box Office: $368M – My Big Fat Greek Wedding was truly a massive box office success. With a $5 million dollar budget, the film starring a fairly unknown actress went on to pull in a whopping $368 million worldwide. It’s reported that the movie had no advertising budget, relying only on email campaigns and word of mouth. Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, reportedly saw the play and suggested that Hanks produce a movie from the play. Nia Vardalos would later reveal that she hung up when Tom Hanks called, because she didn’t believe it was actually him.
8) ‘The Full Monty’ Budget: $3.5M Box Office: $257M – The Full Monty is a British film about half a dozen blue-collar blokes down on their luck after losing their steel mill jobs. After seeing women throw money at men performing nude dancing at a club, they attempt to create their own nude show. It was nominated for four Oscars, winning for Best Original Comedy or Musical.
7) ‘Saw’ Budget: $1.2M Box Office: $103M – Starting a resurgence of gruesome horror flicks, Saw was made on a budget of $1.2 million. The gory puzzle creator would go on to pull in $103 million worldwide while attempting to “fix” his victims. Saw essentially started its own type of horror genre and everyone was trying to repackage and reproduce the film’s success.
6) ‘Rocky’ Budget: $995K Box Office: $225M – In 1976 an unknown actor wrote a script about a down and out boxer who gets a shot to fight against the heavyweight champion of the world. Stallone says he sold his dog to keep from being evicted. After costing less than $1 million to make, Rocky went on to pull in $225 million worldwide.
5) ‘American Graffiti’ Budget: $777k Box Office: $140M – In 1973, before George Lucas was George Lucas, he made American Graffiti . The coming of age tale set in California during the ’50s was filmed over just 28 days. The film was turned down by essentially every studio for distribution. But when The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola told a studio exec that he would distribute the film with his own money, it quickly got picked up. The classic would go on to make $140 million at the box office and be nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Four years later George Lucas would direct Star Wars, which had a budget of just $11 million and made $460 million (or $1.6 billion when adjusted for inflation).
4) ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ Budget: $400K Box Office: $46M – Napoleon Dynamite was an obscure indie film which starred essentially unknown actors. With a budget of $400,000, Napoleon Dynamite pulled in $46 million and became a pop culture phenomenon. Quotes from the film remain relevant even today and sometimes we still see the random person wearing “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts.
3) ‘Mad Max’ Budget: $300K Box Office: $99.75M – Mel Gibson starred in Mad Max, with a 300k budget, during a dystopian future which blew the box office away. Worldwide it ended up with $99.75 million and held the Guinness World Record for highest profit-to-cost ever. It held this title for twenty years until the next movie on our list was released.
2) ‘The Blair Witch Project’ Budget: $60K Box Office: $248M – The Blair Witch Project cost $60,000 (some reports say less). The handheld camera movie was a surprising hit, pulling in $248 million worldwide. It was one of the first movies to go “viral.” This resulted in some moviegoers to believe it was real footage until the actors started doing interviews once the film became a success.
1) ‘Paranormal Activity’ Budget: $15K Box Office: $193M – Director Oren Peli filmed Paranormal Activity over seven days at his own house for $15,000. The spooky handheld camera horror film became a massive hit via word of mouth. The movie ended up pulling in $193 million worldwide, which sparked the production of four sequels (with more on the way). The five Paranormal Activity movies have now grossed a combined worldwide total of $805 million as of February 2014, with the most recent sequel pulling in $86 million on a $5 million dollar budget.
It appears as though the key to low budgets and insane profits seems to be incredibly positive word of mouth, as well as outstanding performances by relatively unknown actors. One thing’s for certain, the horror film genre appears to be much more likely to land a blockbuster than any other genre with a micro budget.
We can’t wait to find out what low budget movie sneaks up on us next to be a massive hit at the box office this year, and we’ll be sure to add it to our list in the future. Keep going to see movies with great word of mouth, as it seems key to the success of low budget movies that hope to hit the box office jackpot.