When movies that are in development have a massive budget at their disposal, it can sometimes prompt laziness in the filmmakers because they can relay on re-shoots and post-production to fix any problems that might arise while filming. But simply throwing money at a project rarely yields innovative results and sometimes directors forget that simple, inexpensive solutions can often lead to cinematic beauty. In fact, some of Hollywood’s most iconic moments would never have even occurred if it weren’t for the inadequate budgets that prevented people from doing things as planned. Not sure what we’re talking about? Then have a look at these 10 movies that were actually made better by not having enough money.
10. Star Wars
When talking about movies produced under budget constraints, the Star Wars series is probably the furthest thing from many people’s minds. But as we’ve seen with Episodes I, II, and III, George Lucas can sometime get a little carried away with the special effects, and, on the set of the first Star Wars movie it was up to producer Gary Kurtz to make sure that he stayed within budget. As such, it was Kurtz’s job to step in and let Lucas know when he needed to scale back the number of aliens in a scene, or reduce the number of planets that are shown. In the end his “less must be more” mentality did a lot more to shape the Star Wars universe we know and love than many people realize.
Despite all of its sequels being degrading into not much more than torture-filled gore fests, the original Saw was actually a great psychological horror movie. Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell never planned on soliciting producers and investors to build a multi-million dollar fund for Saw. So with a budget of no more than $10,000 in mind, the pair came up with the idea for a scenario involving two men chained up in a creepy cellar bathroom with a dead body lying between them.
Although Wan and Whannell did eventually find enough support for Saw to get a production budget of just over $1 million, the creative concept they came up with to capture audiences probably would never have been realized if they’d had access to all that funding from the start.
8. Mad Max
Considering all the thrilling action and chase sequences that are in the movie, it’s incredible to think that Mad Max was made on a meager budget of $350,000. Director George Miller even resorted to casting a real-life biker gang in the movie because they new how to ride, had their own motorcycles, and wouldn’t require a lot of touch-ups from the costume and makeup department.
Before Blair Witch had its time at the box office, Mad Max was the Guinness World Record holder for the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any motion picture, grossing $100 million worldwide.
7. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Although Monty Python and the Holy Grail does indeed look like it was made on a shoestring budget, Terry Gilliam plays it off so brilliantly that it’s actually a large part of the movie’s delightful comic appeal.
It’s almost impossible not to burst out laughing at the site the noble King Arthur and his knights pantomiming a horse trot while his accompanying servants bang coconuts together to simulate the sound of clip-clopping horse hooves. Apparently they had originally planned on using real horses in all of those scenes, but just couldn’t afford them. The idea to use coconuts for sound effects came from a trick used in old radio shows. Gilliam just decided to dispel the illusion entirely and show the people doing it on camera.
6. Chasing Amy
After Mallrats turned out to be a huge box office flop, Miramax was a little hesitant to let Kevin Smith call all the shots with his next movie project. Consequently, when Smith wanted to cast his friends Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams and Jason Lee as the main characters in Chasing Amy, the studio was strongly against it, fearing they would soon be headed for another financial disaster. Instead, they wanted to bring on David Schwimmer, Drew Barrymore and Jon Stewart to play those parts.
Naturally, Smith fought them on the casting decisions, insisting that his original selection was perfect for the type of movie he wanted to make, but it was only after he convinced the studio to let him make the picture on a fraction of the initial budget that they agreed to let him use the actors he wanted. This ultimately resulted in Chasing Amy having it’s budget slashed from $3 million to just $250,000, but it still went on to become one of Kevin Smith’s most well-respected movies with Adams earning a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
5. Back to the Future
It’s no secret that the production of Back to the Future was hampered by numerous script revisions. Hell, Michael J. Fox wasn’t even brought on to play the part of Marty McFly until they were already weeks into shooting. But that’s a very good thing, because if it weren’t for all those changes made to the script the movie would have been lacking one of its most prominent characters—the DeLorean. In early drafts, Robert Zemeckis envisioned “Professor” Brown travelling through time in a refrigerator instead of the DeLorean, and the only way to generate the required amount of energy was through a nuclear explosion in lieu of the now-famous bolt of lightning.
Fortunately for all of us, Back to the Future had its budget cut and Zemeckis’s intended form of time travel needed to be replaced by something much cheaper and more creative. But as it would happen, his idea of someone surviving a nuclear explosion curled up in a refrigerator became the inspiration for a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Speaking of Indiana Jones, most people have heard the story behind the famous “fight” scene between Indy and the Egyptian swordsman. As it goes, one day Harrison Ford showed up on set with some major stomach problems and wasn’t feeling up for a big action sequence. So he suggested to director Steven Spielberg that he simply shoot the guy with his gun instead. Spielberg immediately went for the idea because it meant he could cut his production costs by doing fewer takes, using less film, and saving a whole lot of time that would otherwise be spent practicing fight choreography. Although audiences probably would have still loved an all out fight with melee weapons, the abbreviated fight worked wonderfully and ended up adding more to the character than any other fight in the series.
Having spawned seven sequels and a remake, John Carpenter’s Halloween has become one of the most recognizable and successful horror franchises of all time. Quite an impressive feat when you consider the first movie was made on a budget of about $300,000, with most of that money going towards expensive Panavision cameras. In fact, there was only enough money to pay Jamie Lee Curtis $8,000 for her breakout debut movie role as a babysitter stalked by a psycho killer.
But a large part of what makes the original Halloween so great is its simplicity. The lack of high-flying stunts and elaborate special effects had the effect of making the movie much more of a psychological thriller rather than just another garish slasher picture. Oddly enough, this aspect might have even made the film more visually striking because a simple close-up on the blank, expressionless mask that the killer Michael Meyers wears proved to be enough nightmare fuel for most moviegoers. And speaking of that iconic mask, it was really just part of a cheap Captain Kirk costume that the prop team altered by removing the sideburns, widening the eye holes and painting it white. Evidently John Carpenter really was the king of cost-cutting.
After maxing out his credit cards and selling part of his valuable comic book collection, Kevin Smith managed to scrape together just over $25,000 to make his first movie about two guys trying to make the most out of their mundane jobs. And when your entire budget is coming out of your own pocket, it probably doesn’t take much prodding to get you to try and find ways to cut back everything that could be deemed “non-essential.”
This is where Smith got the idea to shoot the entire movie in black and white. Had he made it in full color, a lot more money would have had to go into post production in order to correct all the lighting issues. Another way he was able to save money was by filming at the actual store where he worked. Of course, they could only shoot at night when the store was closed, which explains why someone went and gummed up the lock to the window shutters in the movie. That way there’s a good reason why no natural light is really ever seen in the store.
Also, the original script included a scene they ended up being unable to afford to shoot. It was supposed to involve Dante and Randall attending the funeral of a former classmate when Randall “accidentally” knocks over the casket. It probably would have been a pretty kitschy moment, so thankfully it was replaced with a much cheaper scene that had the two characters simply recalling the story in conversation.
Jaws is one of the greatest thrillers of all time and it owes a lot of its acclaim to the iconic imagery and cinematography utilized by Spielberg. There aren’t a lot of jump scares or special effects and you almost never see the entire shark on screen. Actually, for most of the movie all we get is glimpses of a shark fin sticking out of the water and a few quick cuts of Jaws’ face.
This film style wasn’t Spielberg’s original intention. He actually had a crew build three full-sized mechanical sharks, and, had they not had the tendency to malfunction all the time, Jaws probably would have been featured much more prominently in the film. But since the robo-sharks were always on the fritz and they couldn’t afford a new one that worked better, Spielberg came up with the idea of making Jaws the “unseen enemy.” The end product was undoubtedly more terrifying than anything that could have been accomplished by adding in a bunch more shots of a fake shark.