Films That Were Made On a Shoestring Budget
Just because you don’t have funding from a major film studio or investor doesn’t mean you can’t create an incredible project. Between the quality of today’s cameras, the availability of cutting-edge technology, and the abundance of affordable studio time, the opportunity to finish a film on a shoestring budget is alive and well.
It should be noted that there isn’t an exact number that signifies a “low-budget” production, as it largely depends on the genre, production location, and level of promotion. For instance, horror movies seem to fall into the low-budget category most often, whereas science fiction features usually demand a significant injection of funding. To put into perspective what kind of movie magic can happen even when you’re low on dough, we found eleven films that rose to critical acclaim on a rock-bottom budget.
Gross (World) Box Office: $51,525,171
The Breakfast Club’s opening weekend wasn’t anything to write home about, pulling in just over $5 million. However, the movie went on to gross over $51 million globally, popularized the all-pervasive fist pump, and seemed to become basic cable’s go-to Saturday morning movie.
While the Breakfast Club wasn’t necessarily Oscar-worthy, it did win two awards years after its release, including The National Film Preservation Board’s National Film Registry Award and MTV Movie + TV Awards’ Silver Bucket of Excellence Award.
World (Gross) Box Office: $225,000,000
Everyone loves rooting for the underdog, and Rocky is proof of that. This sports-drama become a timeless film that set the groundwork for seven sequels. Further, Rocky not only shattered box office records, but it also won 20 awards and was nominated for 21 more.
Incredibly, the film was shot in 28 days and became the highest grossing film in 1976. Not too bad for a month’s work.
Mad Max (1979)
Gross (World) Box Office: $8,771,757
This dystopian action-adventure flick had a pretty small budget considering the ridiculous number of motorcycles, modded-out cars, and semi-trucks it featured. While Mad Max didn’t shatter any records at the box office, it did win the Special Jury Award at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival and Best Achievement in Editing, Best Achievement in Sound, and Best Original Music Score from the Australian Film Institute.
Mad Max was Mel Gibson’s second role and he was only paid $15,000 for it. Today, Gibson is worth a staggering $425 million.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Gross (World) Box Office: $30,859,000
Writers Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper ended up saving face on this grisly flick when their modest $300K budget pulled in a cool $30 million at the box office. Fun fact: due to the low budget, the crew saved money wherever they could, including on the actors’ wardrobes. In fact, they bought only one shirt for Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface) to wear.
According to IMDB, Hansen had to wear his one shirt for four straight weeks of filming in the hot and humid Texas summer; mind you, the shirt had been dyed, so it could not be washed. It’s rumored that by the end of the shoot, no one wanted to stand near or sit next to Hansen during breaks because of the putrid smell of his clothing.
Gross (World) Box Office: $3,947,579
Starring a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick is a low-budget crime drama that not only did relatively well at the box office, but also reached critical acclaim. The film won 11 awards and was nominated for 23 more.
Director and writer Rian Johnson pounded the pavement for six years until he had funding to shoot Brick. According to The New Yorker and IMBD, the film was edited on a home computer.
Super Size Me
Box Office: $11,536,423
Who would have thought that a film about eating McDonalds for 30 days would have grossed over $11 million in the box office? But somehow, even with the director and star, Morgan Spurlock’s, small-fry budget, he made an engaging film with super-sized success. Super Size Me was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won Best Documentary Screenplay from the Writers Guild of America.
The Blair Witch Project
Box Office: $248,600,000
This turn-of-the-millennia, supernatural horror film blew people’s minds and also paved the way for “found-footage” trope used in films such as VHS, The Devil Inside, and Paranormal Activity. Not only did this sleeper hit gross nearly a quarter-billion dollars, but it also maintained a foothold in the top ten movies in the box office for nine weeks straight. In conjunction with critical success, The Blair Witch Project has multiple media tie-ins, including books, comics, and video games.
World (Gross) Box Office: $864,659
Despite coming out in 2012, Submarine definitely fell into the early 2000s indie-emo, snarky-smart protagonist trope but with a British twist. Perhaps that’s why it sunk at the box office. However, Submarine is an excellent coming-of-age story that’s also shot surprisingly well, especially since the budget was a meager $41,832.
Submarine was nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Outstanding Debut by a British Writer Award and won BAFTA’s Best Actor and Best Feature Awards. It went on to win five more awards and was nominated for 15 others.
Gross (World) Box Office: $3,151,130
You wouldn’t think a day in the lives of two convenience store clerks would be entertaining, but somehow it is. Furthermore, the black and white, “low-budgetness” of this film makes it even better. While the film was shot on less than a $30,000 budget, it’s become a cult classic and helped spark Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and of course Clerks II. Moreover, it’s a five-time award winner and ten-time nominee.
While Kevin Smith’s humor may not be for everyone, aspiring filmmakers should take a page out of his book when they’re trying to decide what resources they have available to make a project happen. After all, the film is shot in the actual convenience store where Smith was working at the time.
Gross (World) Box Office: $273,975,116
Paranormal Activity ran with the found-footage format, and the entire movie was made for $15,000. In true Blair-Witch fashion, the film shocked the box office, pulling in over $270 million. Interestingly, the opening weekend only grossed $77,873.
In conjunction with stellar revenue, Paranormal Activity was nominated for 12 awards and also won the Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Horror/Thriller and Screamfest’s Best Actress and Honorable Mention Awards.
Gross (World) Box Office: $2,040,920
El Mariachi’s astonishingly low budget didn’t stop Robert Rodriguez from creating an action-packed thriller. Despite having next-to-nothing funding, the film grossed over $2 million. El Mariachi actually won a Guinness World Record for “Lowest-budget movie to make $1 million at the U.S. box office.”
Ultimately, the film won seven awards and was nominated for four more. El Mariachi also inspired the better known neo-westerns Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. These films featured big names like Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, and Johnny Depp.