15 Great Low Budget Movies That Made a Relative Killing

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Late last year, Paul brought you guys The 15 Worst Movies That Made The Most Money.  I liked a few of those movies, but that’s besides the point.  The movies on that list seem to have one thing in common: they were big-budget movies, many of which had incredible special effects and recognizable actors.  What’s more impressive, though, is when a movie is made for relatively very little money and through marketing, buzz, or just being a great movie, makes a killing at the box office.  When movies with budgets of nine figures bomb and cost studios money, it’s pretty cool to see low budget films make a return of literally over 1000%.  After the jump, take a look at 15 low budget movies that turned out to be – from a commercial standpoint – phenomenal investments.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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Budget: $35,000

Worldwide Gross: $248,300,000

Lots of people hate this movie, but the film’s “found footage” concept captivated and horrified millions.  Word quickly spread about how scary this movie is, and the presentation of the material as amateur footage helped many overlook the minuscule budget.  It’s the perfect example of why “less is more” seems to work wonders in the genre of horror.

Mad Max (1979)

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Budget: $200,000

Worldwide Gross: $99,750,000

This Australian film featured Mel Gibson back when he was relatively unknown and served as the template for subsequent post-apocalyptic movies.  Mad Max – which spawned two sequels – didn’t do so great in the American box office, but it cleaned up worldwide.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

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Budget: $5,000,000

Worldwide Gross: $368,000,000

Five million dollars isn’t small change, but when you consider that this independent romantic comedy made $368 million, it’s pretty insane.  A true sleeper hit if there ever was one.

Super Size Me (2004)

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Budget: $65,000

Worldwide Gross: $29,500,000

Morgan Spurlock made a pretty simple documentary about just how disgusting fast food actually is, and people lined up to see for themselves.  Everyone’s had McDonald’s or Burger King, so why wouldn’t they want to see just what they were putting into their bodies.  It’s tough to get through this movie without getting queasy.

Rocky (1976)

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Budget: $1,000,000

Worldwide Gross: $225,000,000

Inspired by Chuck Wepner’s fight agianst Ali and made for a very modest amount, Rocky won Best Picture, gave audiences a memorable character and, of course, spawned five sequels.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Budget: $114,000

Worldwide Gross: $30,000,000

George Romero’s independent horror film is the zombie apocalypse that started it all.  Dawn of the Dead, Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, and the rest of the zombie movies and video games owe their existence to Romero’s classic.

Halloween (1978)

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Budget: $325,000

Worldwide Gross: $70,000,000

Jamie Lee Curtis wasn’t yet a big star, but both she and the character of Michael Myers became horror icons thanks to John Carpenter’s Halloween.  Like so many horror movies, Halloween was followed by many sequels, which is where the real money for the studios comes from.

American Graffiti (1973)

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Budget: $777,000

Worldwide Gross: $140,000,000

It’s amazing to think that George Lucas could actually make a movie without CGI-ing creatures and spaceships in the background 20 years after its release.  Critics ate this movie up, as it was nominated for Best Picture.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

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Budget: $400,000

Worldwide Gross: $46,000,000

Just how this movie got as big as it did I’ll never know – I don’t remember much marketing done on its behalf and I saw only a couple previews on television for it when it was in the theaters – but Napoleon Dynamite is a great example of a modern cult comedy.

Friday the 13th (1980)

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Budget: $550,000

Worldwide Gross: $59,700,000

Like Halloween, the real strength of this movie is the numerous sequels that followed its release.  It was poorly received by critics, but Friday the 13th was the right type of slasher film that audiences showed up in droves to enjoy.

Open Water (2004)

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Budget: $500,000

Worldwide Gross: $52,100,000

I saw this movie on a plane to London and noticed two things: 1) most of the budget must have been spend on safety personnel and equipment and 2) for some reason, Steve Lemme is in it for like three seconds.  Like for The Blair Witch Project, “less is more” worked wonders for Open Water.

Once (2007)

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Budget: $150,000

Worldwide Gross: $19,000,000

This Irish musical set in Dublin benefited from overwhelming critical praise.  Once was directed by John Carney, who seems to have made a living doing small, low budget indie films.

Saw (2003)

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Budget: $1,200,000

Worldwide Gross: $103,000,000

Saw came at a time when audiences were hungry for a new, fresh horror movie but still craved a memorable Freddy/Jason/Michael Myers-type villain.  Along came Jigsaw, crazy ways for people to die, and of course, many sequels.

Primer (2004)

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Budget: $7,000

Worldwide Gross: $565,000

I finally saw Primer at the urging of several of our readers and I was blown away.  No, $565,000 isn’t necessarily “killing it” at the box office, but considering the movie was made for only $7,000 – an amount you and I could scrounge up if we had to – you could say that Shane Carruth knew exactly what he was doing.  Primer’s success is due to the fact that it’s simply a brilliant film.

The Evil Dead (1981)

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Budget: $375,000

Worldwide Gross: $29,400,000

If anyone knows how to make a horror movie, it’s Sam Raimi.


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