In the days of endless sequels and hyper blockbusters costing hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, it’s easy to think that Hollywood has lost its creative side. But there are still a lot of hungry, penniless filmmakers out there who are waiting to break into the major leagues. They’ll do anything – mortgage their house, borrow off friends, even sell their dog – to see their vision come to life. And every once in a while, it pays off. Big time. Here are some of our favorite tiny budget films that made a whole heap of money at the box office. Who knows, maybe if you dust off the old camcorder and start filming, the next one could be yours.
If there’s one easy way to cut down on your movie’s budget, it’s to set it in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland. It saves on props, anyway, and the light’s always good. That’s just what Australian director George Miller did when he shot Mad Max. Now considered one of the action / science fiction greats, it was filmed on only $300,000.
But it isn’t just considered great now. It may have divided critics when it was released in 1979, but it certainly didn’t divide the fans. They flocked to it in their thousands, giving it huge worldwide box office earnings of over $100m and spawning a number of sequels, including the recent Fury Road. According to legend, Miller – who was a doctor before he made the film – had to raise some of the funds for Mad Max by doing emergency medical calls. Now that’s dedication.
The Blair Witch Project
Even though YouTube hadn’t been invented yet way back in 1999, if you had the right marketing strategy it was still possible to go viral. The Blair Witch Project certainly must have pleased the publicity gods. After spending only $20,000 and a grand total of eight days of filming, they had whipped the audiences into such a frenzy that the film made an insane $250 million.
How did it happen? We’re not totally sure, although we think the big trick is to keep it all a massive secret. Don’t, for example, let anyone tell anyone else that the big bad monster doesn’t even show up in the film. Or that most of the film’s runtime is just kids hiking through the woods and the sounds of twigs snapping at night. We’re not bitter. We’re just jealous.
Enter the Dragon
The late, great, Bruce Lee’s discipline might be the stuff of legend. As a martial artist he lived a strictly regimented life of training, but when it came to one of the best martial arts movies of all time, they faced a different challenge: a very strict budget. Despite the lavish production and choreography, and having both Lee and Jackie Chan on the bill, the total cost of production came in to under $850k.
In Hong Kong, where it was shot, it only saw minor success. But in America the fans went wild. After a publicity run including free karate classes, tie-in comics, and extensive news coverage, audiences flocked to the screen to see it. In all, it grossed just over $21m – a huge amount for 1973. Not only that, as Lee’s last outing before his untimely death, it put its stamp on cinematic history.
Do you have a jar of old pennies lying around? A couple of dollar bills lost somewhere behind the couch cushions? Then you can make a movie. And a million dollars. No, this is not a scam. Jonathan Caouette did it with his 2003 documentary, Tarnation.
Assembled from 20 years of old VHS and Super 8 footage, as well as photos and answering machine messages, Tarnation told the story of Caouette’s heartwarming and rocky relationship with his mentally ill mother. How much did it cost him to produce? Precisely $218.32. No, there’s no zeroes missing. The film went on to garner countless accolades and widespread appeal, and eventually pulled in just under $1.2 million. Let’s hope he bought his mom a truck of chocolates with that.
These days, George Lucas might have enough money to live in his own Death Star. But before he blew audiences away with the Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas was just another filmmaker trying to make a name for himself. His second film, American Graffiti, about rock ‘n’ roll youths in the heady days of the 1950s, was shot in only 28 days and with a budget of just under $800,000.
The only problem was, of course, that George Lucas was still a no-name. After trying unsuccessfully to sell it to every film company in the business, it took acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola’s clout to get it distributed – he even offered to pay for it himself. He clearly knew what he was talking about: the film ended up grossing a massive $140m at the cinemas and thrust Lucas firmly into the spotlight. Without Coppola and without the film, we may have been living in a world where we could never make Yoda jokes.
If you had a camera and an idea, it seems like the 1970s was a wonder decade for turning low budgets into big profits. Halloween, which came to our screens in 1973, is just another example of a monster success story. With only just over $300k to play with, writer Debra Hill and director John Carpenter reaped (or maybe disemboweled) an astonishing $47m from terrified cinemagoers, as well as kick starting a genre – the slasher – that still hasn’t died.
Having so little money in the budget meant that the production team had to get creative. Most of the actors wore their own clothes, several scenes were shot in abandoned homes, and the iconic mask worn by serial killer Michael Myers was a refashioned Captain Kirk mask, bought for $1.98. It just goes to show that you don’t need big special effects to terrify a generation.
There was a time not long ago that you couldn’t joke with a friend without dropping in a Napoleon Dynamite reference or two. And though it’s still, in our expert opinion, one of the funniest films of all time, there was every chance that it wouldn’t have got made. With a meager budget of $400k, Director Jared Hess and brother and co-writer Jerusha Hess had to edit the film in their apartment, on their own laptops.
Not only that, the star, Jon Heder, was paid a measly $1000 for his role in the film. After the film’s stunning (and somewhat surprising) success – it made an incredible $46m in the first year alone – Heder landed himself a renegotiated contract, this time with a share of the profits. Considering it continued to rake in profits from DVD sales and merchandise, and is still quotable today, it was a smart idea.
Super Size Me
We want to be a bit cleverer than saying Super Size Me made Super Sized Profits, but it’s just too hard to resist. It’s true, too: the thoroughly disturbing documentary by Morgan Spurlock brought him almost $30m in ticket sales from a Super Tiny (sorry) Budget of $65k. We’d hate to think how much it cost McDonalds as well.
In the film, Morgan Spurlock – a vegetarian – really put his body on the line for his art. For an entire month, he forced down a strict McDonalds-only diet (which was probably half of the budget, too) and charted the severe repercussions to his mental and physical well-being. He may have suffered dearly, but after the release and the critical acclaim the film garnered, there’s no doubt that it was all worth it. Moral of the story: the next time you binge on fast food, it might be worth filming yourself.
Night Of The Living Dead
For the last decade, we’ve seen pretty much every variation of the undead on our TV screens and computer monitors. And if you’re getting as tired of it as we are, there’s only one person to blame: the godfather of all zombies, George Romero. In 1968, he, four friends, and $6,000 of pocket money changed the horror landscape forever.
The budget eventually blew out to (a still tiny) $114,000. But when you’re doing zombies and charting the excesses of American consumerism, you could allow Romero to get a little carried away. Luckily, he knew exactly what he was doing and tapped into a zeitgeist that is still overpowering the industry today. With eventual box office earnings of 30 million 1968 dollars, you can see why people are still trying to suck the life out of the theme.
A clutch of surreal and highly regarded films, and the generation defining TV classic Twin Peaks, has made director and artist David Lynch all but a household name. Amongst artists and lovers of weird cinema, he’s an icon. But to the film companies, he’s the eternal question: will I make money off this film?
When you look at the plot of his first feature length, Eraserhead, you can forgive the studio executives for getting a little bit nervous. A man cares for his misshapen child and has bizarre dreams? It’s not exactly a romantic comedy. But Lynch scraped together $20,000 had a few long, lean, years of filming, and produced a classic that netted him a cool $7 million.
Open Water was always going to be low budget. Based on the true story of a couple abandoned at sea during a scuba trip, the bulk of the film only needed two simple ingredients. A couple, and some water. It was always going to make megabucks, too, with that brand of horror and squirming dread that people love to hate.
And people really loved it. From a shoestring budget of $130,000 – most of which was probably spent on flights to the Bahamas – Open Water ended up reeling in a solid $55m. For a true story, and a script can’t have run to more than two pages, that’s not bad at all. Just goes to show that in every gray, shark-shaped cloud, there’s a silver lining. Or teeth.
Here’s another horror film with a downright chilling return on investment. We’ve actually done the figures and we think our calculator might be possessed. Box office takings: $193 million. Budget: $11,000. Profit: all of it. Does that seem right to you? And why aren’t you making a low budget horror film right now?
Oren Peli certainly had the right idea. In a stroke of creative genius, the up-and-coming director (and writer and editor and producer) replaced an entire film crew and expensive cameras with a video camcorder and a tripod. It may have initially been a money thing, but it ultimately gave the poltergeist flick the creepy authenticity that it needed. Paramount Pictures took notice, anyway, and the rest is wads and wads of greenback history.
Robert Rodriguez’s films often live in a world of deliberately schlocky, low-budget madness. But despite recently being at the helm of several big studio flicks, Rodriguez has really lived the shoestring lifestyle. For his debut as director and writer, he spent a grand total of $7,000.
The film was El Mariachi, the first of his classy western Mexican Trilogy (later to star Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp). Rodriguez raised half of the funds by submitting himself to various clinical drug trials, and saved money on equipment by filming while being pushed around in a wheelchair. The delightful chaos extended to the film, which audiences lapped up for its grittiness and humor. And he walked away with a cool $2 million.
How many of you have seen the brilliant and mind-bending sci-fi gem Primer? You haven’t? It’s about a couple of engineers who accidentally discover how to time travel, with catastrophic results to their personal lives. We’ve seen it, and it’s a masterpiece. It’s also a masterclass: watch it and you can learn how to spend only $7,000 and still blow every other movie out of the water.
We’re not the only ones who think so. While compared to the other movies in this list $600,000 in box office takings is quite modest, if you do the math it’s an eye-popping, mouthwatering profit margin. Director Shane Carruth used no-name actors – and himself – as well as adlibbed lines, minimal props, and very basic special effects to keep the costs down. The result is an eerie, highly realistic sci-fi that will stay with you for years.
The Evil Dead
For many, Sam Raimi is the guy who brought Spider Man to the masses and launched the cinematic Marvel universe phenomenon that’s still alive and furiously kicking today. For others, Sam Raimi will always be remembered for maybe the greatest thing that ever happened in horror film’s history: The Evil Dead. How much does it cost to make an epically successful cult movie? Oh, only about $375k.
Bruce Campbell’s endlessly quotable ash has stuck firmly in the hearts of gore-and-laughs aficionados since the 1981 release. While at first it only had a limited release, and not-too-bad takings of $2.1 million, it eventually spawned a blockbuster franchise (and that chainsaw for a hand) and brought in a maniacal $30m.
Trending on LifeStylePassion:
It's likely that the women in your day to day life are pretty "normal" in appearance. So when you see someone whose appearance differs from what you expect it to be, it can be kind of a shock. The ladies in the following slideshow are definitely far from average. Some of these women spent thousands of dollars on plastic surgery, tattoos, or body piercings. Others are born with strange birth defects such as excessive facial hair, a gigantic butt or even an 8 inch tongue. See for yourself!
Lauren Williams: 4 Foot Long Legs
Lauren Williams has the longest-known legs in the United States, with her eye-catching limbs measuring an incredible 49 inches from hip to heel. Lauren's height and long-legged genes can be attributed to her family as her father, mother and twin sisters are all 6ft or taller.
She has US size 11 feet (UK size 10), and revealed that she can find it tricky to buy clothes that fit. When modelling, single Lauren - who has worked on campaigns for global brands such as Nike - does everything from sports and fitness to high fashion and swimwear.
Having played volleyball in college, as well as being extremely active, Lauren also enjoys shooting sporty campaigns. As well as modelling, Lauren works as an educator at a children's museum in Houston and enjoys travelling. When out and about, her striking looks and long limbs mean she gets comments about her legs on a daily basis.
Pixee Fox: Dangerously Small Waist
Swedish born Pixee Fox had already spent more than $80,000 on plastic surgery attempting to sculpt the perfect hourglass figure. But now she has taken her obsession even further by having 6 of her lower ribs removed - so she can shrink her waist to a record-breaking 14 inches. Pixee, from Sweden, said: "People often come up to me and say, "don't take this the wrong way, but you look like a cartoon" - but for me that's a compliment, that's what I want to achieve.
With 6 of her lower ribs removed, Pixee's lower internal organs, including the liver, have lost some of their natural protection - but she isn't worried. She said: "Before if I was in a car crash I would normally break my ribs. If that happened now I'm probably going to break my spleen instead. In total she has had four rhinoplasties costing $14,000; four breast augmentations of 200cc, 525cc, 800cc and 1400cc costing $28,500; two rounds of liposuction at $5,000; two upper eyelid surgeries at $6,000; a labiaplasty costing $4,000; a Brazilian butt lift at $9,000 and cool-sculpting, cheek injections, and lip injections at about $12,000.
Bethany Hamilton: One Armed Pro Surfer
Bethany Meilani Hamilton-Dirks is an American professional surfer who survived a 2003 shark attack in which her left arm was bitten off, but ultimately returned to-and was victorious in-professional surfing. On October 31, 2003 Hamilton, aged 13 at the time, went for a morning surf along Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with best friend Alana Blanchard, Alana's father, Holt, and brother Byron. Around 7:30 a.m., with numerous turtles in the area, she was lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling in the water, when a 14-foot tiger shark attacked her, severing her left arm just below the shoulder.
Despite the trauma of the incident, Hamilton was determined to return to surfing. Three weeks after the incident, she returned to her board. Initially, she adopted a custom-made board that was longer and slightly thicker than standard and had a handle for her right arm, making it easier to paddle, and she learned to kick more to make up for the loss of her left arm. After teaching herself to surf with one arm, on January 10, 2004, she entered a major competition. She now uses standard competitive performance short-boards. The broken surfboard that Hamilton was riding during the attack is on display at the California Surf Museum
Mayra Hills: World's Largest Fake Breasts
Mayra Hills - also known as Beshine - measures at 59-28-36 and says she's the proud owner of the world's largest fake breasts. And it's not hard to believe her claim to fame, considering each of her breasts have 10,000 cc of saline implants and weigh 20 pounds a piece! As you can imagine, it's difficult for Beshine, who wears a size 32Z bra, to find clothes that fit, so the German-born woman has a lot of her items custom-made.
But bra shopping isn't her only woe. She can no longer tie her own shoes and has run into trouble when she's knocked things over with her chest - but it appears she's satisfied with her body, troubles and all. "Some people maybe think the sheer size of my t-ts bring too many handicaps in my everyday life, but hey, having big boob problems is amazing," she wrote on her blog.
Anastasiya Shpagina: Real Life Anime Girl
It's official, this real-life anime trend has gotten completely out of hand. Hardly a day goes by that we don't stumble upon some photos of girls going to any lengths in order to look like real live anime characters. Today's example, Anastasiya Shpagina, an Ukrainian girl who has even taken a Japanese name - Fukkacumi. 19-year-old Anastasiya (Nastya) Shpagina has been called "the new Barbie" by national news outlets, but she later revealed she's striving to become a real-life Japanese anime character, not a doll. She even posted "I am not like a doll, a doll is like me."
Apparently, Nastya has been passionate about makeup even as a young child, always experimenting with it in the mirror. Over time she also developed a thing for Japanese cartoons and it was only a matter of time before she started using her make-up artist skills to transform herself into a real-life anime girl. But just putting on makeup wasn't enough to attain that coveted look, so she decided to lose weight in order to seem more genuine. At 1.58-meters-tall, Anastasiya weighs just 39 kilos and is trying to lose one more in order to look just right.
Chanel Tapper: World's Longest Tongue
The longest female tongue measures 9.75 cm (3.8 in) from the tip to the middle of lip and was achieved by Chanel Tappe on 29 September 2010. Chanel, from Houston, US, shot to fame aged 13 when she was spotted sticking out her monster tongue in a YouTube video. In September Guinness invited Chanel to Los Angeles where they measured her tongue and she narrowly beat two other female contenders to the record.
She said: "I have always been silly and goofy. I love sticking my tongue out at people. I started doing that back in school. I've never had a problem with having a long tongue, it's just fun." Chanel now has set her sights set on Hollywood after finishing her studies. She said: "I'd love to be in a movie. I'm certainly pretty dramatic, so I think I could have the acting gift. "Really, I'd love to meet Adam Sandler, he's my favorite."
Sarah Massey: World's Largest Butt
Sarah Massey would be just another 33-year-old mother-of-two from Chicago - if it weren't for the fact that she also happens to have the world's biggest butt. Though not officially recognized by the prudes at Guinness, Massey's massive 7-foot wide keister requires a pair of 10XL trousers that would comfortably fit all of the Kardashian sisters combined.
Massey insists the condition that resulted in her museum-sized bubble butt is hereditary - "there's nothing I can do about it," she says - but that her love of ice cream certainly contributed to its maintenance. Massey would still like to lose some weight, but says she now has a new-found appreciation for her natural assets, and fervently defends them against anyone who calls them fake. "Some people can't believe one person can have this much butt," she told Barcroft. "Because I've got a relatively small frame on top they say, 'that can't be real.' I carry this weight with me all the time, everywhere I go, it's definitely not fake. Big booties are just in my blood."
Zlata: Extreme Flexibility
Russian-born former gymnast Zlata, 29, posed in leather and lingerie to adopt a series of poses that seem to defy every law of biology. Zlata, who now lives in Germany, is able to create astounding shapes with her body and is so flexible she can cram herself into a 50cm square box. One of her favorite acts is to bend backwards at a 90 degree angle, so the back half of her hands touch her feet and she can also peer through her own legs from behind.
Zlata's gift of flexibility was discovered when she was four years old and by six she was training as a contortionist at a circus school. She has a rare condition which makes all her tendons extremely pliable, which helps in her profession. The former gymnast now spends most of her day working out and training for shows around the world. In 2011 she set the Guinness World Record for the most beer bottles opened in a minute using only your feet.
Kim Goodman: Eyeball Protrusion
Kim Goodman is a woman who is able to pop her eyes out of her eye sockets by 12 millimeters (0.47 inches). She holds the world record for the farthest eyeball protrusion. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. She discovered her eyeball popping talent one day when she was hit on the head with a hockey mask. Her eyeballs popped out much further than usual and ever since that day she could pop them out on cue, as well as when she yawns.
She has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. In 2004, Goodman was included by Guinness World Records in their 50th anniversary list of top ten "feats" of all time. Kim originally had the record for being able to extend her eye balls beyond her eye sockets by 10mm. This was matched a few years by a new contender, but when Kim was re-measured she found she could now reach 12mm - breaking her own record and keeping the title.
Natalia Partyka: One Armed Table Tennis Champ
Natalia Partyka (born 27 July 1989) is a Polish table tennis player. Born without a right hand and forearm, she participates in competitions for able-bodied athletes as well as in competitions for athletes with disabilities. Partyka reached the last 32 of the London 2012 Olympic women's table tennis. Partyka began playing table tennis at the age of seven. She won her first international table tennis medal in 1999 at the disabled World Championships. At the age of 11, she competed at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, becoming the world's youngest ever Paralympian. In 2004, she won a gold medal in the singles event and silver in the team event at the Athens Paralympics.
Partyka competed for Poland both the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing - one of only two athletes to do so, the other being Natalie du Toit in swimming. They were her third Paralympic Games, and her first Olympics. Competing in class 10 at the Beijing Paralympics, she won gold by defeating China's Fan Lei by three sets to nil. In 2008, she won a gold medal in the singles event and a silver in the team event at the Beijing Paralympics, repeating her Athens Paralympics result.
Supatra Sasuphan: World's Hairiest Girl
Her nicknames may include "wolf girl" and "monkey face". But 11-year-old Thai girl Supatra Sasuphan today insisted that she was after being officially recognised as the world's hairiest girl. Although the schoolgirl from Bangkok has faced merciless teasing at school, Supatra says being given a Guinness World Record for her hair has helped her become extremely popular. "I'm very happy to be in the Guinness World Records! A lot of people have to do a lot to get in," she said. "All I did was answer a few questions and then they gave it to me."
Supatra is one of just 50 known sufferers of Ambras Syndrome - caused by a faulty chromosome - to be documented since the Middle Ages. Before the disease was understood, sufferers were branded "werewolves." She has thick hair growing over her face, ears, arms, legs and back. Even laser treatment has failed to stop the hair growth. But while most sufferers have been shunned, Supatra has gradually been embraced by her community, and became a popular and outgoing child.
Jasmine Tridevil: Woman With 3 Breasts
There's really no other way to put this so we're just going to dive in: Meet Jasmine Tridevil. She has three breasts. Tridevil (no that's not her real name, but that's what she wants to go by) is a 21-year-old licensed massage therapist and die-hard Criss Angel fan from Florida who decided to undergo a shocking and controversial $20,000 surgery to add a third breast to her chest.
Tridevil also stated that she's hoping to bank a reality show from this, and has already put the wheels in motion to make something happen. "I was making really good money [being a licensed massage therapist] but now I'm trying to star in a reality show instead. I don't like that job," she shared, and later added, "My whole dream is to get this show on MTV. I hired a camera crew individually, so I'm the producer of this show right now."
Lyudmila Titchenkova: World's Longest Neck
Lyudmila Titchenkova is a 16-year-old living in the city of Nikolaev, Ukraine. After she turned 10, Lyudmila's parents noticed that their daughter's body began developing at an accelerated growth rate. She was taller and had longer arms than other children her age, but of particular concern was the length of her neck and abnormal curvature of her spine.
As it got to the point where Lyudmila began feeling embarrassed to go out because of her appearance, her parents took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder of the connective tissue that can affect many parts of the body, most often the heart, blood vessels, bones, joints and eyes. In Lyudmila's case, the disorder affected the connective tissue in her spine, causing it to curve at an angle of 30 degrees. This seems to be a rather uncommon symptom of the disorder, which usually affect people's arms, legs and fingers. After undergoing corrective surgery and extensive rehabilitation to straighten her spine, Lyudmila can now live normally and says she wants to study for her future without letting herself be affected by her disorder.
Abigail and Brittany Hensel: Girl With Two Heads
Abigail Loraine "Abby" Hensel and Brittany Lee Hensel (born March 7, 1990) are dicephalic parapagus twins, meaning that they are conjoined twins, each of whom has a separate head, but whose bodies are joined. They are highly symmetric for conjoined twins, giving the appearance of having just a single body without marked variation from normal proportion. In fact, several vital organs are doubled up; each twin has a separate heart, stomach, spine, lungs, and spinal cord.
In conversation, the twins are clearly distinct persons, with distinct likes and dislikes. Their preferences in food, clothing color, etc., differ. Some of their clothes are altered by their seamstress so that they have two separate necklines in order to emphasize their individuality. They will usually have separate meals, but sometimes will share a single meal for the sake of convenience (e.g. each taking a bite of the same hamburger). Abby is better at mathematics, and Brittany is better at writing. For tasks such as responding to email, they type and respond as one, anticipating each other's feelings with little verbal communication between them.
Natasha Veruschka: Sword Swallower
Natasha Veruschka has the world record for most swords swallowed simultaneously by a female. She swallowed 13 swords, each at least 38.1 cm (15 in) long, at the 3rd Annual Sideshow Gathering and Sword Swallowers Convention in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA, on 3 September 2004. Natasha was born in India of white russian and british heritage. She has lived, studied, and performed her art around the world and also speaks several different languages.
Natasha now lives in New York City. She is an amazing performer who uses many different types of swords in her act or as she likes to say "Swords On The Menu." The swords on the menu are - "The Red devil" 29 inches long, "The Big Sword" 27 1/2 inches long, "The Bradshaw Sword" 25 inches long, "The Sai Weapons" two 24 inch long eight-sided weapons of steel. Natasha trained with a "Sai Master" in order to use them in her act. Also on the menu is the unbelieveable "Sword Sandwich" where she swallows 13-22 inch long swords simultaneously.