18 Low-Budget Movies That Became Huge Hits

There’s nothing like a big blockbuster movie, and we all love an iconic franchise. It’s exciting to see fancy special effects and over-the-top production quality, but that isn’t everything. Sometimes, movies that are made on a shoestring budget can overcome the odds and become huge hits at the box office. It doesn’t happen often, but some of the most successful movies in history weren’t guaranteed hits.

Many of the movies on this list fall in the horror genre, where inspired directors can create an intense atmosphere without ever showing too much. Others are beloved indie movies that found audiences after winning awards and getting major critical praise. Either way, all of the movies on this list made WAY more than their budgets, which is what the whole business is about. Someone made a lot of money off of these movies, and luckily we got to watch all of them.

18. Juno

Juno was groundbreaking in the honest, non-judgmental way it portrayed a teenage pregnancy, and that translated to major box office success. The $6.5 million indie film made $231 million, boosted by Oscar nominations and terrific word of mouth. It made a star out of Ellen Page and boasted a stellar supporting cast that delivers hilarious dialogue, most of which we’ve still got memorized. Say it with me: “That ain’t no etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”

17. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is one of the biggest hits in the history of movies relative to its budget. It was made for a tiny $15,000 (which is literally NOTHING in Hollywood’s standards), but the flick ended up making over $190 million at the global box office and spawned several sequels. If you’re a not a math wiz, just know that it made back over a million percent of its budget. Few movies in history have been done as much with such a little budget, and this is a testament to the truly frightening nature of Paranormal Activity. The sequels might not be worth the watch, but the first one really holds up.

16. Slumdog Millionaire

Movies often get a box office bump when they become awards season contenders, and this is especially true for Slumdog Millionaire. The epic Indian adventure was made for a modest $15 million, but its Oscar win for Best Picture in 2009 propelled it to a worldwide gross of $377 million. The sweeping romance, set to an amazing Bollywood score by A.R. Rahman, enchanted audiences and was obviously a critical darling. It’s also just nice to dream about winning a game show, right? A decade later, Slumdog Millionaire has become a modern classic, and the producers definitely made a nice profit while the star, Dev Patel skyrocketed to stardom.

15. Moonlight

Speaking of Oscar winners, last year’s champion film Moonlight performed quite well at the box office, especially when you look at its modest budget. With a limited $1.5 million for the picture, the film grossed $65 million at the box office. No doubt some moviegoers were even more excited to see it after the historic Best Picture snafu that we still can’t get over. (Will we ever?) Audiences loved La La Land, and they were eager to see the movie that dethroned it from its momentary status as a Best Picture winner. We love Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but Moonlight is an undeniably beautiful film, and it’s great that it did so well.

14. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Made for only $5 million, producers probably thought that My Big Fat Greek Wedding would play to a pretty niche audience. That wasn’t the case. The movie made $368 million in its theatrical run, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. People from all backgrounds can relate to the over-the-top Portokalos family, all of whom are seriously hilarious. The success of the movie led to a short-lived TV spinoff and a later sequel.

13. Saw

Certain low-budget horror movies have a tendency to become breakout hits, as was the case in 2004 with Saw. Made for $1.2 million, strong word of mouth led to a box office total of just over $100 million. Just the word “saw” is enough to conjure a pretty terrifying mental image, and the movie delivered on that terror. Seven movie sequels have followed, as well as comic books and video games adding to the franchise. The movie was so successful; it was even re-released in theatres in 2014 to celebrate it’s tenth anniversary.

12. Napoleon Dynamite

Don’t forget to vote for Pedro! The classic high school comedy Napoleon Dynamite was released in 2004, and grossed $46 million. This might sound like a pretty modest total, but the movie was made for less than half a million dollars. In the world of movies, that might as well be like a handful of loose change, but the movie was still hilarious. Jon Heder’s performance is pretty iconic, and it’s easily one of the most quotable movies in recent memory.

11. Rocky

Don’t ever underestimate the power of Rocky Balboa. Released in 1976, Rocky, the legendary boxing movie, made $225 million on a budget of just over a million dollars. It outperformed all other movies that year and went home with the Oscar for Best Picture. It also turned Sylvester Stallone into a huge star, and he would star in several sequels afterward. Rocky became the pride of Philadelphia, but it was loved by viewers everywhere.

10. Night of the Living Dead

Made in 1968, Night of the Living Dead was one of the first independent horror movies to strike gold at the box office. On a budget of around $100,000, the film made more than $30 million, a big number at the time. The zombie thriller was criticized at the time for being too bloody, but obviously, people wanted to see it for themselves. In the time since its release, the movie has become a cult classic, and it inspired five sequels, the most recent in 2010. Admit it or not, everyone is afraid of zombies.

9. Mad Max

2015’s excellent Mad Max: Fury Road had a production budget of over $150 million, but the franchise had much simpler roots. The original film, starring Mel Gibson, was released in 1979 and grossed $100 million on a budget of fewer than one million dollars. At the time, it set a record for being the most profitable movie. The original movie received mixed reviews from critics, but two of the three sequels are considered to be among the greatest action movies ever made. Many of the movies on this list suffered from subpar sequels, but with Mad Max they got it right. There have been delays with another sequel, but hopefully, it’ll be coming before too long.

8. The Blair Witch Project

Upon its release in 1999, The Blair Witch Project pioneered the found-footage genre, terrifying audiences with its realistic depiction of some truly horrifying events. The movie was made for a meager $60,000, but it went on to make a staggering $248 million. Talk about a good return on investment. There have been two sequels to the movie, as well as novels and comic books to flesh out the events around the main story. Many other horror movies have since tried to replicate the techniques that worked so well here, but it’s never quite been as terrifying.

7. Gone With the Wind

Let’s throw it way back, to one of the most classic movies of all time: Gone With the Wind. Released in 1939, the epic Southern romance broke all the records for movie success, and it’s still the highest-grossing movie of all time when adjusted for inflation. The movie was so popular that it was re-released in theatres several times over the next decade, so that audiences could go back for a second look. (Remember, this was before the era of Netflix!) Gone With the Wind is nearly four hours long, but it’s a true classic that everyone should see at least once.

6. Split

Horror icon M. Night Shyamalan was in the midst of a career slump, but he turned things around in 2017 with the delightfully creepy Split. The multiple-personality kidnapping thriller made $278 million on a budget of less than $10 million, while also receiving strong reviews from critics. Lead actor James McAvoy’s performance is truly unsettling, but it’s hard to look away from what’s happening on screen. We won’t give away the ending, but there’s a lot going on here. There’s a sequel coming next year, which is poised to be another big hit.

5. Little Miss Sunshine

Everyone loves good road trip movies, and Little Miss Sunshine is no exception. On an $8 million budget, the movie made $100 million. The entire cast is pretty perfect, but little Abigail Breslin completely stole the show with her lovable pageant girl. This family had a lot going on, and the ridiculous shenanigans are still hilarious. It’s a little sad that we never got to see a sequel, but some things are better left alone.

4. Brokeback Mountain

It was a shocking upset when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture, but the latter movie still walked away with a nice chunk of change. Made for $14 million, this emotional drama grossed $178 million, a more than respectable total. The movie was also groundbreaking in how it portrayed gay characters, giving them real-life personalities and problems, rather than tired stereotypes. The tortured love story of Jack and Ennis features Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger at their best, along with a strong supporting cast. A decade after Heath Ledger’s death, this is certainly of the movies he’s remembered for most.

3. Halloween

The legend of Michael Myers had humble beginnings, in this $300,000 horror movie from 1978. It was a smash success, grossing 70 million dollars and immediately becoming one of the most legendary movies in the horror genre. It’s since been selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, which isn’t too shabby for a little slasher movie. There have since been seven sequels, a remake, and a sequel to the remake, which honestly makes this one of the most tired franchises in Hollywood. Either way, the original is still a legend.

2. Get Out

Get Out was the first big hit movie of 2017, and it blew away all box office expectations. Before making this movie, director Jordan Peele was best known for his work in sketch comedy, but that’s no longer the case. His horror-thriller about race relations in the US struck a chord with audiences, and the movie grossed a whopping $255 million on a budget of less than five million. Peele walked away with an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and star Daniel Kaluuya is now one of the hottest actors in Hollywood. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

1. It

It has the highest budget of any movie on this list, but it also made by far the most money. On a relatively small budget of $35 million, the clown-themed Stephen King adaptation made a massive $700 million globally, becoming one of the biggest hits ever. No one predicted that the movie would do so well, but the genuine scare-factor intrigued the public enough to pack showing after showing. There’s obviously going to be a sequel, though it’ll be tough to top the achievements of last year’s monumental hit. It’s Pennywise’s world, and we’re just living in it.

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