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15 Low Budget Films That Became Mega-hits

Entertainment May 26, 2016 By Vincent

These days we tend to think Hollywood blockbusters have to have the budgets equivalent to a small nation's GDP and put in some serious dollar to attract the stars but that's not always the case. Here we look at several films that became runaway success stories after ploughing in a relatively small investment.

1. American Graffiti


Budget: $770,000

Box Office: $140 million

Rejected by most film studios before eventually being picked up by Universal, this film was directed by the great George Lucas pre his Star Wars fame and even featured a young Harrison Ford before he got his break out role in Lucas' space opera. The risk was worth it from Universal as it was both a commercial and critical success winning a slew of awards and even getting Lucas an Oscar nomination. Set in 1962, the film follows two high school graduates on a wild night out.

2. Slumdog Millionaire


Budget: $15 million

Box Office: $337.9 million

Based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup, it follows a young boy from the slums of Mumbai just one question away from winning the grand prize on the Indian version of the tv show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Accusations soon start to fly as no one believes a child with no education could get this far and so it is revealed how the boy has gained his knowledge through a series of flashbacks detailing his life and his quest to find the girl he loves, someone he hopes is watching the show and will find him. The film went on to win an incredible 8 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.

3. Lost In Translation


Budget: $4 million

Box Office: $119.7  million

The film that launched Scarlett Johansson into the mainstream, it follows an American actor in Japan who doesn't know anyone there or understand the language. When he meets a young woman who speaks English they discover the city around them together and explore themselves and why they are there. Winning both mainstream and indie awards, it cemented director Sophia Coppola as a talent to equal her father's, Francis Ford Coppola, and saw the legendary Bill Murray confirm his brilliance as a serious actor outside of his normal comedic genius.

4. The Blair Witch Project


Budget: $60,000

Box Office: $248.6 million

Nowdays, found footage films are fairly common but this genre was really sparked off by The Blair Witch Project which followed three film students going into the woods for a project only to stumble onto some occult goings on. Filled with suspense and suggestion, it doesn't actually have any gore or graphic images and holds up as one of the most chilling psychological horror films of all time.

5. Napoleon Dynamite


Budget: $400,000

Box Office: $46.1 million

A quirky, off-beat comedy following a group of social awkward teens in rural Idaho trying to get their friend elected as class president. It was an unexpected hit due to its strange humour and slow moving pace but it brought in over ten times its budget and became a massive hit.

6. The Full Monty


Budget: $3.5 million

Box Office: $257.9 million

A British comedy following a group of unemployed miners in a former industrial town looking for work. Turning to desperation they form an unlikely exotic dance troupe as a money making scheme and the film went on to become a global success story getting four Oscar nominations and winning the BAFTA for Best Film. Starring a young Robert Carlyle it was this, alongside Trainpotting, that made him the household name he is today.

7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding


Budget: $5 million

Box Office: $368.7 million

A romantic comedy that followed the struggles of a Greek family being introduced to their daughter's W.A.S.P fiance and following the culture clash that ensued became an unexpected hit. Based on a one woman play by the writer and star Nia Vardalos, it later garnered a sequel following the marriage 18 years later.

8. Night of The Living Dead


Budget: $114,000

Box Office: $30 million

Probably considered hammy and a little tame by today's standars, Night of The Living Dead set the benchmark for zombie movies and the inconic imagery of a classic zombie can most likely be traced back to this picture. George A. Romero's surprise ht was controversial for its casting of a black character as a hero but this groundbreaking film went on to spawn five sequels, some of which were classics in their own right, and several re-boots along with hundreds of homages and spoofs.

9. Rocky


Budget: $960,000

Box Office: $225 million

The iconic boxing film written by and starring Sylvester Stallone follows down and out boxer Rocky Balboa in his shot for the world title and fame. It went on to win three Oscars including Best Picture and has had no less than six sequels to date. Stallone himself was in financial trouble when this went into production but risked it being cancelled when he refused to let the studio cast someone else as the titular character. Fortunately, he stuck to his guns and went on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

10. Super Size Me


Budget: $65,000

Box Office: $20.6 million

Rarely does a documentary have the popular appeal that this film did but when Indie filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decided to look into the health implications of a McDonald's only diet, it really captured the public's attention as the chain was ubiquitous in America and across the globe. The film had such an impact that it changed the face of the fast food industry and forced McDonald's to start phasing out their super-size portions. A shocking look at America's obesity epidemic, it made Spurlock a star.

11. The King's Speech


Budget: $15 million         

Box Office: $414.2 million

Another British film that charmed audiences with its depicton of Britain's war time king trying to overcome his stammer in order to present a confident face to the nation. Starring Colin Firth as King George V, his portrayal went on to win him an Oscar for Best Actor as well as the film winning three more including Best Picture and Best Director. 

12. Juno


Budget: $7.5 million         

Box Office: $231.4 million

The multi-award winning Juno follows a teen who is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy as this unexpected experience leads her through several ups and downs in order to discover what she wants and who she wants to be. Although dealing with a serious subject matter, the heart warming way it dealt with the issues really struck a chord with audiences who piled into the cinema to see it.

13. Paranormal Activity


Budget: $15,000      

Box Office: $193.3 million

Following in the foot steps of The Blair Witch Project, this found footage movie was filmed in the director's own house and uses the same technique of psychological horror rather than gore to scare viewers and it worked as apparently viewers walked out of test screenings from fright. Spawning five sequels it was a hit that no one saw coming on such a meagre budget.

14. Open Water


Budget: $500,000         

Box Office: $54.7 million

A minimalist film based on real life events, it is about two divers who get left behind by a tour boat, stranded in open water and with no idea what to do, they attract sharks and other marine animals that threaten their existence. Live sharks were used during filming to make it that much more intense and that is where most of the small budget went.

15. Clerks


Budget: $27,000         

Box Office: $3.2 million

Taking a relatively paltry $3.2 million compared to the others on this list, this movie was funded by writer/director Kevin Smith who shot it at the convenience store he actually worked in at the time. Although it didn't become a smash hit overnight it did comfortably make up its budget and became a cult film, launching a sequel, spin-offs and Smith's much lauded 'Askewniverse' of weird and wacky characters.

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