Blockbusters usually cost more than $100 million to make, and they often rake in huge profits. However, they are also a risky venture for movie studios if they don’t pan out. On the other hand, there are many low-budget movies that brought in great profit despite being made for less than $10 million. These movies can make a ton of money if they get great reviews from critics, enter the discussion for awards or if they have innovative marketing.
Let’s see some of the most popular low-budget movies that made a killing in the box office.
The Full Monty
This movie quickly became a cult classic of British cinema. The story of unemployed steelworkers looking to make money working as strippers was made for just $3.5 million and earned $258 million 20 years ago.
The Full Monty was well-received by audiences and critics alike, which was proven when it was nominated for Oscar’s in few categories, including Best Picture.
While Clerks is not in the same category as some of the bigger earners on our list, it is still a great example of how a low-budget, black-and-white film can do well and become a classic.
Kevin Smith made this movie for just $27,575 and he had to sell a big part of his comic book collection to make it. But the film grossed more than $3 million just in the USA.
Unlike the majority of low-budget movies that make big bucks that belong to the horror genre, this is a modern romantic musical and a little movie that made moviegoers all around the world fall in love with it.
The movie had a budget of around $150,000 and made over $9 million just in the U.S. After the success at the box office, it was turned into a Broadway musical and eventually won 8 Tony Awards.
Another horror on our list, Annabelle is a spinoff of the popular movie The Conjuring. The movie focused on the haunted doll and quickly became a real box-office hit, which was not surprising since the producer James Wan is known for successful projects in the genre.
The movie had a relatively small budget of $6.5 million but it grossed over $257 million worldwide and became a horror classic shortly after the release.
Night Of The Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead is one of the most successful independent movies ever. The director George A. Romero redefined the horror genre with this zombie flick and managed to do so with a very modest budget.
The movie was made with only $114,000 but in the end earned around $30 million in 1968, which would be equivalent to around $210 million today.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
You noticed by now that horrors are often occurring on this list and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is another scary movie made on a small budget that managed to make some serious money.
The total budget for the movie is estimated somewhere between $60,000 and $300,000. However, it grossed over $30 million just in the US. This film was also voted the second scariest of all time right behind The Exorcist.
This is another movie with a quirky titular character that shows that you don’t need to invest a bunch of cash to get a profitable product. This film is still popular thanks to its well-written script and engaging dialogues.
The budget for Napoleon Dynamite was only $400,000. The film was a big hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and later made over $40 million in the United States alone.
If you are looking for a horror flick with an original concept, The Purge is the perfect choice for you. It depicts a future in which citizens are allowed to commit crimes for 12 hours every year.
The movie was made on a $3 million budget and it made $89 million worldwide. But more importantly, it started the franchise that earned $445 million. The Purge also got a spin-off TV show in 2018.
Little Miss Sunshine
One of the best indie comedies of the past decade, Little Miss Sunshine got four Oscar nominations and won two of them. The movie about a cross-country family road trip to get a young girl into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty contest is witty and funny in unexpected ways.
With a budget of $8 million, this flick earned a bit over $100 million worldwide. This was a bit of a surprise since the widest release it achieved was only a little more than 1,600 theaters.
Another horror flick who was so successful that it spawned many sequels, the original Halloween still remains one of the most profitable independent films of all time.
This film was made for $325,000 and went on to make more than $70 million worldwide. The director John Carpenter made a name in the horror industry with this movie. Also, the franchise is still going strong with two more films announced in the next couple of years.
The Blair Witch Project
Probably the best example of low-budget movies that made a fortune, the popular documentary-style horror The Blair Witch Project even made it into the Guinness Book of Records for having the best budget to box office ratio.
The movie was made for just $60,000 but it earned $248 million. If math is not your strong suit, the movie made a profit of $10,391 for every dollar spent on its budget.
One of the newest movies on our list, Moonlight broke all barriers in portraying queer and black culture back in 2016. The movie won an Oscar for Best Picture after a famous mistake at the ceremony when it was first announced that the winner is La La Land.
This film was made on a budget of $4 million but box office success helped it earn $65 million worldwide. Moonlight also won two more Oscars. The movie again showed that powerful storytelling can often trump special effects.
George Lucas is famous for Star Wars but before he became famous worldwide he made American Graffiti, his second project. This coming-of-age film was very popular with young viewers and critics, which helped at the box office.
Lucas had a very modest budget of $750,000 for this movie. However, he made it work and ended up earning over $115 million at the time.
Open Water took a simple idea and a popular fear since Jaws came out and made a splash at the box office. There are more than a few movies about shark attacks but this flick found the winning formula to make it work perfectly.
Made for just $750.000, Open Water quickly became a cult classic and made over $55 million in 2003. Perhaps the fact that the movie used real sharks instead of CGI helped. The movie was so popular that two sequels quickly followed the original.
The Inbetweeners Movie
This film probably has a bit of an unfair advantage over the rest. After all, it was made after the TV show of the same name that was at the height of its popularity in the UK. The movie came out after the third season of Inbetweeners, a teenage comedy with classic British humor.
The movie was made with a budget of $5.3 million and grossed an impressive sum of $65 million. While most of the earnings were made in the UK, this show became popular overseas too. There is also an American remake of the TV show and it is quite popular as well.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
After taking the box office by storm, this adorable romantic comedy became the highest-grossing independent movie of all time in 2002, surpassing The Blair Witch Project in the process.
The movie was made with a budget of $5 million but in the end, it earned more than $368 million worldwide. There is also a sequel and we could be getting even more movies in the franchise soon.
Lost in Translation
This dark comedy about two people who meet in Japan brought Sofia Coppola an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay but it was also nominated in three other awards, including Best Picture.
Although the budget was modest with only $4 million to spend, it seems that most of it went on salaries for two major stars Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. The film grossed $119.7 million worldwide.
Friday The 13th
Another popular slasher movie that became a long-lasting franchise is Friday the 13th. The original movie was released in 1980 and made around $60 million on a mere $550.000 budget.
While the subsequent movies in the franchise were not really close in quality to the original movie, they are still widely popular and Freddy Krueger is likely to haunt us in the future as well.
Super Size Me
Not many documentaries are able to make serious cash. However, Super Size Me was so popular that in the end managed to get McDonald’s to change its ways, at least a little bit. The film follows director Morgan Spurlock as he decides to only eat at this fast-food chain for an entire month.
This documentary was made for just $65,000 budget but it brought in over $22 million. It showed the effects of fast-food on health and made the filmmaker into a star.
The story of Rocky and how Stallone, a struggling, unknown actor at the time, had to sell his dog for $50 before he sold the script for the movie, is probably known to many. But the struggles for Rocky didn’t end there. The producers for the movie had to use their personal savings to finance the film.
In the end, the budget for the movie was just $1 million. However, the movie became a big hit, earned $117.2 million worldwide and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Following in the footsteps laid by The Blair Witch Project, this is a popular found-footage horror flick. The movie is filled with shocking jump-scares and bloody images of teenagers putting up a cursed school play.
While the critics were not fond of this movie, audiences loved it. The movie was especially popular with young vievers and made $22.7 million on a budget of just $100.000.
God’s Not Dead
While many agree that this is a silly Christian propaganda movie, in many terms comparable with the famous Reefer Madness but with a different topic, the film was very popular at the box office and even has a sequel in production.
Religion will always be a hot topic. However, when a movie makes over $60 million on a budget of just $2 million, it has certainly served its purpose.
This is another movie by director James Wan on our list. So, it’s safe to say that he is the right guy if you are looking for a cheap horror movie that will make you millions in return.
Insidious was made on a budget of $1.5 million. The movie grossed around $54 million around the world, making it a very profitable project.
Bowling for Columbine
Another documentary found its way on our list. You probably expected it to be a project of Michael Moore since his movies are always controversial and popular.
Bowling for Columbine deals with gun culture in the US and the serious consequences that come with that culture. The movie was made for $4 million. It earned a respectable sum of $58 million and won an Academy Award in the process.
This is another movie child of James Wan, a well-known name in the genre. The first movie in the franchise was mainly popular with the younger audience and relied on word-of-mouth to get a good position in the box office.
While the original Saw is not the highest-grossing in the franchise, it still managed to make $103.9 million on a modest $1.2 million budget. In the end, the entire franchise got eight movies and earned almost a billion dollars worldwide.
Before The Blair Witch Project came along, Mad Max was a part of the Guinness Book of Records as the most profitable film. The revenge story set in a dystopian future with Mel Gibson in the leading role took box office by storm in 1979.
Made with a budget of just $350,000, this movie earned over $100 million in theaters across the globe. And after that, sequels followed suit. Some of them were also very successful although they were made on bigger budgets.
Most of us only knew Jordan Peele as a comedian before he made his directorial debut with Get Out, a horror movie that became a massive hit, earning four Academy Award nominations along the way.
Big success with critics and audience alike, this movie was made for only $4.5 million. However, it ended up earning $255 million. Basically, a hefty 630 percent return on investment.
Just like The Blair Witch Project many years before, this movie was also made with an extremely low budget of only $15,000 and shot with a handheld camera over the course of just seven days.
Widely popular horror that redefined the genre and spurred many sequels, Paranormal Activity made a stunning $193 million.
This indie comedy had a budget of only $7.5 million. However, the film ended up with four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture. The movie shows a teenager Juno, played by Ellen Page, as she deals with an unwanted pregnancy.
Despite the modest budget, Juno was a real hit at the box office. The movie raked in over $230 million worldwide, with $143.4 million just in the USA.
You probably know Zach Braff as a quirky doctor from Scrubs but his directorial debut was a huge success. This indie movie is actually a coming-of-age story that Braff also starred in, alongside Natalie Portman.
Braff made the movie for just $2.5 million. However, it quickly became a hit at the box office and grossed around $35 million after the release.