Top 10 Brilliant Movies Made With Almost No Money

Films that were put into production with a small budget of less than a million dollars, these movies far surpassed expectations in the Box office and even went on to inspire franchises such as Mad Max and Paranormal Activity. WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Movies to be made on a shoestring budget, but what will top the list of micro-budget films? Will it be horror movies like Halloween, or The Blair Witch Project, or the action wonder film El Mariachi! Watch to find out!

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Top 10 Brilliant Movies Made With Almost No Money


Low budgets require big imaginations. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Low-Budget Movies.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at films that were made by major studios or independent investors with a budget no greater than $1 million. And, these films not only earned huge returns at the box office; they also became cult favorites – launching the careers of some of Hollywood’s most profitable directors in the process.

#10: “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004)

If you think featuring no-name actors and spending little to no money on advertising are good ways to break into the film industry, then you probably have a lot in common with “Napoleon Dynamite” director Jared Hess. With a $400,000 budget, Hess’ comedy debut about an awkward teen and his equally awkward family and friends has made a staggering $46.1 million – and that doesn’t even include the massive sales on all those “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts. But what the film brought to starring actor Jon Heder is something money can’t buy: mad props for his epic dance skills and nobility status in meme-history. It’s just too bad that he didn’t have the gift of foresight when he agreed to star in the film for a mere $1000. Don’t worry: they paid him more later.

#9: “Clerks” (1994)

Who’d ever want to watch a film about a day in the lives of two convenience store clerks? That would be like coming into work twice! But “Clerks” had perfect timing, because the '90s were a decade where movies about two guys just talking were perfectly acceptable. Just like “Slacker,” from which Kevin Smith drew his inspiration, the film cost under $30,000 to make and has managed to become a cult-classic. It garnered $3.2 million at the box office through nothing but subdued charm and static camera work, launching Kevin Smith’s directing career and making sure the iconic duo, Jay and Silent Bob, had the chance to strike again (and again) in Smith’s subsequent films.

#8: “The Evil Dead” (1981)

Some do comedy, some do horror, but only Sam Raimi can do both. Like the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, the marriage of two understated ingredients create something stupendously cheesy. When the film screened at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, it sparked the appreciation of many horror fans, including the master himself, Stephen King. And though it is now a beloved cult classic, it took a few good decades and international exposure for the film to gross over $29 million. Aside from cementing the dreaded cabin-in-the-woods cliché in horror history, the film also became a self-referential media franchise with film sequels, video games, comic books and more recently, a TV series.

#7: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)

Annoyed at the number of Zombie-themed movies Hollywood has been pumping out lately? You can thank George A. Romero. This film started the zombie genre and is considered one of the most influential in horror history. Purposely shot to conserve every bit of the $114,000 budget, Romero carefully thought out each aspect of production. Along with the socio-political undertones attributed to the film, it sparked controversy due to its graphic nature. However, it was a critical success worldwide, making an estimated $30 million at the box office. It probably would’ve made more if it weren’t for a copyright oversight on behalf of the distributor, which registered the film under public domain and made it the Internet Archive’s most downloaded film.

#6: “Pi” (1998)

Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut into surreal territory won him the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Though most people know Aronofsky for “Requiem for a Dream,” that film’s box-office earnings weren’t even twice its budget. “Pi,” on the other hand, has been extremely successful, making $3.2 million at the box office with a budget of $68,000 and limited distribution. As if math weren’t enough to induce paranoia in the average viewer, the combination of religious themes and mysticism contributed to the bleak and uneasy atmosphere that is now considered Aronofsky’s signature style.

#5: “Mad Max” (1979)

Back in the day, Mel Gibson was just an Aussie actor trying to break into Hollywood when he starred in “Mad Max.” With a $350,000 budget, a very modest one by industry standards, it was an astounding success that brought a near $100 million return. That impressive budget-to-earnings ratio also nabbed it the Guinness World Record for most profitable film ever made. Well, almost. It held that title for 20 years – until another film on our list beat its record. More on that later… “Mad Max”’s post-apocalyptic theme inspired several sequels, including “Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy – a man who’s no stranger to high-grossing indie films.

#4: “El Mariachi” (1992)

Special effects and cinematography aren’t cheap, but in the hands of a magician, a little imagination goes a long way. In his directorial debut, Robert Rodriguez was able to create magic with a mere $7000. Just 23-years-old at the time, Rodriguez shot the film in Mexico with limited resources, and Colombia Pictures executives were so impressed they decided to distribute it in the U.S. The gamble was worth every penny, as “El Mariachi” made around $2 million at the box office. Later, the Western action flick was inducted into the Library of Congress for its national significance, and inspired subsequent sequels. The total box office earnings for the Mexico Trilogy? $125 million!

#3: “The Blair Witch Project” (1999)

Love it or hate it, “The Blair Witch Project” is almost solely responsible for the “found footage” genre. And, in the age of the selfie-stick, this genre is only too happy to make a comeback. With the gimmick that real witches live in our national forests, it easily duped audiences into shelling out $248 million at the box office. The real mystery is how the film cost $60,000 to make when all it took was 3 actors, a shaky camera and some camping equipment. Despite this, the BWP crew has the undying gratitude of any independent filmmaker for discovering a winning B-horror formula; the shakier the camera, the bigger the revenues.

#2: “Halloween” (1978)

This film and its antagonist might as well be known as the sucker that just won’t die. With seven sequels for the franchise and what seems like (near) eternal immortality for Michael, “Halloween” was put together with a $300,000 budget and made $70 million at the box office. The film’s horror elements rely very little on special effects, instead opting to build tension through editing and a haunting musical score – composed by director John Carpenter himself. Carpenter admitted to being inspired by another low-budget slasher “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” series, which also made a killing at the box office.

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- “Primer” (2004)
Budget: $7,000

- “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
Budget: $400,000

- “Once” (2007)
Budget: $150,000

#1: “Paranormal Activity” (2007)

You can either buy a secondhand car or you can make another Paranormal Activity movie. It took director Oren Peli a handheld camera, a budget of $15,000 and a week off work to create what is now known as the most profitable horror film of all time. With the power of the world-wide-web, word of mouth, an interesting marketing strategy and some wishful thinking, “Paranormal Activity” pulled in a whopping $193 million at the box office and spawned a never-ending stream of equally lucrative sequels for a combined total of $889 million. But not only did it bring home the bacon; “Paranormal Activity” also scared the bejesus out of everyone.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite low-budget movie? For more cinematic Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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