Making a successful movie involves a lot of things, a good script, fantastic special effects, popular stars, as well as great marketing. All of the above things involve money. However, a box office hit movie doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive movie in production. Today, let’s take at the 20 biggest box office hits with a small budget.
1. Mad Max
Here, we are not talking about the latest Mad Max series movie - Mad Max: Fury Road, which had a huge budget of $150 million. Back to 1979, the Australian dystopian action movie Mad Max only had a budget of $300,000. The movie talks about a tale of societal collapse, murder, and revenge set in a future Australia. The film grossed $100 million at the box office in 1979 and marked the start of the Mad Max series. It also holds the Guinness World Record for best profit-to-cost ratio.
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Budget: $5 million
In 2002, no one could imagine that My Big Fat Greek Wedding could become so successful. The movie was about a Greek American woman falling in love with a non-Greek upper middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. With a budget of only $5 million, the movie grossed $241.4 million in North America. The film was inspired by a 2003 TV series and had a film sequel in 2016.
3. Get Out
Budget: $4.5 million
Another horror movie here! In 2017, the horror movie Get Out told the story of a young black man who uncovers a disturbing secret when he meets the family of his white girlfriend. Although the budget was only around $4.5 million, the film grossed more than $255 million in worldwide box office sales. The film was chosen by several institutes as one of the top 10 movies of the year and was nominated for four Oscars, that’s despite the fact that the Oscars usually overlook horror movies.
Budget: $1 million
In 1976, when producers Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler mortgaged their homes to get the $1 million budget for Rocky, they could have hardly believed what they would receive in the future. The American sports film received $225 million from box offices around the world and won three Academy Awards. The film was also selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry, as the film was “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
Budget: $4 million
Did you watch the Oscars in 2017? If so, you must still remember the moment when Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced that La La Land had won the Best Picture Award. Well, the award actually went to Moonlight, which only had a budget of $4 million, but grossed $65.3 million at box office and took home three Oscar Awards in 2017.
6. Open Water
A lot of successful horror movies have a limited budget. Open Water is one of them. The story is about an American couple who go to Australia for a scuba diving trip but it turns out that they are stranded in shark-infested waters. The movie only had a budget of $500,000 but made more than $52 million worldwide. One of the reasons for the limited budget is that the film was shot using handheld cameras, which made the movie even more frightening.
7. Little Miss Sunshine
Budget: $8 million
In Little Miss Sunshine, a family is determined to get their young daughter to the finals of a beauty pageant and go on a cross-country trip. The film only had a budget of $8 million, but grossed $100.5 million at the box office. It is another example of a low-budget movies that garnered critical success. The movie won two Oscar awards and was nominated for two more.
8. Star Wars
Budget: $11 million
You must be thinking “$11 million was such a high budget, especially in 1977”. Well, considering that it not only amassed $775.5 million in box office sales, but that it also marked the start of the phenomenal Star Wars story, it can be said that the budget was relatively small. Actually, the film became the highest-grossing film of all time before the release of E.T. It was retitled as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope later on and is considered to be the start of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Halloween was one of the most successful independent horror movies of all time. The movie tells the story of a serial killer Michael Myers who stalks and kills teenage babysitters on Halloween night. The movie only has a small budget of $300,000, but accumulated global box sales of $70 million. The successful movie also marked the start of the Halloween sequels. Last year, the 11th Halloween sequel came out.
10. American Graffiti
Before George Lucas illustrated the “galaxy far, far away”, he also shot a couple of coming-of-age dramas. American Graffiti was one of them. Although it only had a budget of $750,000, it grossed $140 million at the box office and it was preserved in the U.S National Film Registry. It also marked the start of Lucas’s successful career, as it was the first time that Lucas had been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.
Budget: $1.2 million
Sometimes it’s not only the budget that is limited, but also the time you have to shoot. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make a bad movie though. In 2004, the horror flick only had a budget of $1.2 million and was shot in only 18 days. However, it grossed more than $103 million worldwide. It was the first movie from James Wan, who directed The Conjuring series and Aquaman and in the process became one of the rising stars in Hollywood.
12. The Full Monty
Budget: $3.5 million
The Full Monty is a British comedy, which tells the story of six unemployed workers who form a male striptease act in order to gather enough money so that the main character Gaz can afford to see his son. The movie only had a budget of $3.5 million but earned $258 million and was nominated for several Academy Awards. One of the reasons for the movie’s success was that despite being a comedy movie, it also touched on subjects such as unemployment, depression, impotence, homosexuality, body image and suicide, among others.
“Take this sinking boat and point it home we’ve still got time-”
If you have listened to this song “Falling Slowly”, you must have watched Once (which happens to be one of my personal favorites). The film only had a budget of $150,000 and the two leading actors were actually played by two real-life musicians, Mr. Glen Hansard and Ms. Markéta Irglov. The film amassed box office sales of $19,000,000 globally and it has since been adapted for Broadway.
14. Paranormal Activity
Another low-budget horror movie comes. Paranormal Activity was shot in 2007, which told the story of a young couple who set up a camera trying to catch a supernatural presence at their home. The budget for this move was extremely low - $15,000. However, the film grossed $108 million in the U.S and another $85 million internationally. After the success of this movie, a lot of producers and directors worldwide have tried to duplicate this style.
15. The Evil Dead
Budget: $400,000 budget
The Evil Dead is about five college students spending a holiday in an isolated cabin. The group then suffer from demonic possession after they find and listen to an audio tape. The film had a budget of $400,000, but brought in $29.4 million. The success of this film not only marked the start of a movie trilogy, but also marked the start of a media franchise which included video games, comic books and television series’.
16. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Budget: $1.35 million
You must have watched this movie starring Jason Statham and you would be forgiven for thinking that all of his movies involve huge budgets and over the top special effects. However, back to 1998 when Jason Statham had just stepped into the movie industry, his first movie only had a budget of $1.35 million. The movie received more than $28 million from the box office.
Budget: $7.5 million
In 2007, the American independent coming of age teen comedy Juno was hugely successful. The movie won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay along with three other nominations. However, can you believe that the movie only had a budget of $7.5 million? Jennifer Garner took a pay cut for her role in this movie, which helped the budget a lot. The movie is about a teenager confronting an unplanned pregnancy and having to face the subsequent events in her adult life. The movie received $231 million from box office sales.
In 1996, it only cost producers $200,000 to shot Swingers, the movie about the lives of single, unemployed actors living on the east side of Hollywood during the 1990s swing revival. The film made more than $4.6 million from the box office and was rated as one of the funniest movies by Bravo. It also received the 2007 Spike TV Guys’ Choice Awards.
19. My Left Foot
My Left Foot is a 1989 biographical movie about an Irishman who could only control his left foot. The moving story was based on the real life of Christy Brown. The budget of the movie was only $600,000. However, the movie earned $14.7 million at the box office and won the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Awards at the Academy Awards.
20. The Purge
Budget: $3 million
In 2013, The Purge only cost the producers $3 million to shoot. The movie was about a hypothetical future where civilians are allowed to commit crimes without receiving punishment for 12-hours every year. The unique setting attracted more than $89 million in sales from the box office. The film has also spawned three sequels since then. However, the franchise is nearing the end as the creator Jame DeMonaco stated in an interview last October that he intended to end it with its fifth movie.