With a limitless budget it can be very easy to thrill an audience. Some high budget films rely very little on plot or character development, and instead provide a visual feast through all kinds of explosions and special effects. Low budget films do not have this luxury and instead have to work with what they’ve got. Sometimes this can work to their advantage, and there are many stunning low budget films which have made more of an impact than the latest Hollywood blockbusters. To do this on a shoestring budget it takes talent, vision and a tremendous amount of passion.
12. Monsters ($500,000)
Monsters is a science-fiction monster movie, which you would generally consider to be a film with a bulging budget. This is not the case however, and director Gareth Edwards was able to create a box office hit with a budget of just $500,000. The story is of a photo-journalist and a tourist trying to get out of an alien infested Mexico in a post-invasion world. Edwards, in his directorial debut, was able to keep costs of the film down through using a small crew, using affordable equipment, using locations without permission, and using creative techniques such as filming out of a moving van instead of using a dolly. Impressively, all the special effects were created by Edwards himself on his laptop in his bedroom. What would ordinarily be a hugely expensive film was created on a shoestring thanks to Edwards’ vision, talent, and resourcefulness.
11. Primer ($7,000)
The lowest budget on this list and by some distance, Primer was created on a budget of just $7,000. The unconventional film may have a small budget, but it takes on an enormous topic in dealing with the psychological and moral implications of time travel. The story follows four friends aiming to create their own tech business, but they accidentally invent a time machine in their garage. The script does not simplify the science and features extremely complicated technical dialogue, with the film’s writer being a graduate with a degree in mathematics. The writer, Shane Carruth, also directed, produced, edited, scored and starred in the film, with the other roles being played by friends and family. The production crew was also kept very small to reduce costs. The result is an intriguing, challenging, and experimental film that is also hugely impressive and has since found a cult following.
10. Napoleon Dynamite ($400,000)
Typically, the comedy genre does not need to rely on huge budgets and can instead use funny actors and have a well written script. Napoleon Dynamite is a great example of this, and it was able to be a huge hit despite using unknown actors (many modern comedies succeed because they feature huge names such as Seth Rogan or Jonah Hill). The quirky, odd humor in the film earned it an enormous cult following and made it a much loved and quoted film. The film cost just $400,000 to create and made a total worldwide gross revenue of $46,118,097. More importantly, it was a genre defying film and one that stood out against all the other comedies in the 2000s. Unlike most comedies, merchandise was hugely successful for the film, particularly the “Vote Pedro” t-shirts.
9. Dead Man’s Shoes ($1 million)
Shane Meadows is one of the best filmmakers of his generation. He is able to create gripping, harrowing, and intense tales on a shoestring budget. This includes Twenty Four Seven, This Is England (and the three excellent TV mini series) and 2004’s Dead Man’s Shoes, which would prove to be one of the best British films of the 2000s. The film is a revenge horror, where a soldier returns to his hometown to take down a gang that are terrorizing his disabled younger brother. But it is also much more than this. Simultaneously brutal and heartbreaking, Dead Man’s Shoes proves that what you need to make a lasting impact on the audience is not an enormous budget, but instead some fine acting, a gripping tale, and a director with a strong vision and understanding of the subject matter.
8. Saw ($1.2 million)
The first Saw film became one of the most profitable horror films since Scream almost 10 years earlier, grossing more than $100 million worldwide. It was created on a budget of $1.2 million, and this saw the film arrange tight filming schedules where no more than a couple of takes could be done. The majority of the film takes place in a bathroom, which was the only set that had to be built. There is not as much on-screen gore, which helped to reduce costs. Instead of a gory film (like the consequent sequels), Saw instead is a tense psychological horror film and one that breathed new life into the genre. Saw is a master class in how to create tension and engage an audience, and instead of special effects it relies bravely on the performances of two actors in one room for 100 minutes.
7. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels ($1.35 million)
Guy Ritchie is the master of British crime films, and it is Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels that shot him, Vinnie Jones, and Jason Statham to international fame. The comedy-crime film had a budget of $1.35 million, which is rare for crime/action films which generally rely on larger budgets to provide excitement for the audience. Instead, Ritchie masterfully used interweaving storylines to create a fast paced yet intelligent film. The blend of comedy and violence adds to the charm, along with the brilliant cockney dialogue which made it a highly quotable and memorable film. The low budget helped contribute to the gritty tone of the film, and this is also evident in the film’s kind-of-sequel Snatch, which had a budget larger than Lock, Stock but would still be considered low budget when compared to other films in the genre.
6. Clerks ($27,000)
Kevin Smith is perhaps the greatest independent filmmaker in the US, and it all began with 1994s low budget comedy titled Clerks. In order to finance the film, Smith maxed out his credit cards and would have to sell his enormous comic book collection. His budget would be just $27,000. The film would go on to gross over $3 million in theatres and launch his career. All his subsequent films would retain their charm through keeping a low budget. The film tells the story of a small group of friends and is mainly set in a convenience store where two of them work. The script is the key aspect of the film (and all of Smith’s work), and he shot the film in black and white in order to have the audience focus on the dialogue instead of the visuals.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($83,532)
Released in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains one of the most popular and influential horror films of all-time. There is a common misconception that the film is a bloodbath, but there is in fact not much on-screen violence or gore. Hooper produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a very small budget, and as it turned out this would help the film to be the best that it could be. Due to the small budget and high cost for rental equipment, Hooper used relatively unknown actors and would shoot for up to 16-hours a day in the sweltering Texas heat (up to 43 degrees Celsius). The humidity and lack of ventilation adds to the claustrophobia and tone of the film. The film would go on to be a huge (yet controversial) hit and would inspire countless horror films afterwards, and particularly the slasher subgenre.
4. Halloween ($325,000)
Halloween is perhaps the most iconic horror film of all-time, and it would go on to inspire dozens of other slasher films which would utilize the same tricks and technique that director John Carpenter used so masterfully. The film had a budget of just $325,000, and this dictated the filming location and time schedule. Many of the props and costumes were obtained very cheaply or made by hand, including the legendary Mike Myers mask which was actually a Captain Kirk mask purchased for $1.98 and then modified and spray-painted. Most of the actors received little compensation and the budget ensured that mainly unknown actors had to be used (Christopher Lee would admit that his biggest career mistake was turning down the role of Dr. Loomis). There is little on-screen gore or violence, and instead Carpenter expertly used POV shots and effective music to create fear and tension throughout.
3. Mad Max ($400,000)
2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road is an action packed, gripping adventure film with a budget of $150 million. The original Mad Max was made in 1979 on a budget of just $400,000, and it would go on to be hugely profitable earning over $100 million in gross revenue. Cinema is about more than profit however, and Mad Max is an iconic action film which opened up the global market to Australian films and would launch the careers of Mel Gibson and George Miller. To create the dystopian world, the film was shot out in the sparse Australian landscape and the majority of the budget was most likely spent on the vehicles and their destruction. Much of the focus on this first film is on the breakdown of society and particularly the breakdown of Max himself, whereas the consequent sequels were more action packed and had larger budgets.
2. The Blair Witch Project ($60,000)
There is a huge misconception with horror films that in order to scare or shock the audience, you need special effects and lots of gore. This has never been the case, and some of the greatest horror films instead rely on mounting tension and intelligent filmmaking. The Blair Witch Project is a testament to this. It was created on a budget of just $60,000 but would go on to have an enormous impact both at the box office and in terrifying the viewers. The film was shot in eight days, used unknown actors, and was filmed on handheld cameras to utilize the “found footage” horror angle. The script is almost entirely improvised and during the night the actors would unknowingly be harassed by the directors. The success of the film is thought to have sparked the “found footage” horror subgenre, which includes successful films Paranormal Activity, REC, and Cloverfield.
1. Rocky ($1.075 million)
One of the most famous films of all-time, Rocky was made on a modest budget of just over $1 million but would earn $225 million in global box office receipts, win three Oscars (including Best Picture), launch a franchise, turn Sylvester Stallone into a star, and inspire all rags-to-riches films that followed. Rocky does not look or feel like a budget film, and this is partly thanks to the invention of the wearable Steadicam, which enabled the training, jogging and some of the fight scenes to be filmed smoothly without the use of expensive tracking shots. Rags-to-riches stories are adored by audiences, and Rocky was able to capitalize massively on this. Stallone and director John G. Avildsen were able to create a gripping, inspirational, and entertaining film with a modest budget that would go on to be a box office smash hit and an important piece of cinema history.