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Low Budget Movies That Made Millions


Making expensive, blockbuster films is an
exercise in high risk versus high reward. Though most mega hit flicks have the potential
to bring in big bucks, they also have the potential to lose a ton of money. So when a low-budget movie becomes a surprise
hit, studio execs can rest easy. We’re talking those diamonds in the rough
that were made for less than $10 million but still managed to gross loads of dough thanks
to positive critical reception, awards season buzz, and innovative marketing and release
tactics. American Graffiti George Lucas went on to make big box office
bucks with the Star Wars franchise, but before he went to a galaxy far, far away, he went
to Modesto, California for his coming-of-age drama American Graffiti. At the time, Lucas was a fairly unknown director
so he had a hard time getting financial support for his project. Universal eventually agreed to make the movie
with just a $750,000 budget. However, they still questioned Lucas’ vision,
asking him to hire a new editor and recut the film after he turned in the finished product. The studio was worried about releasing the
film in theaters, but employees who had seen and loved the film eventually convinced them. Despite the movie’s troubles making it to
the big screen, it wound up being remarkably well-received, earning five Oscar nominations
including Best Picture and Best Director for Lucas. The film was immensely popular at the box
office as well, pulling in $115 million, making it the 15th highest-grossing PG-rated film
of all time when adjusted for inflation. Lost in Translation The definitive fish-out-of-water dramedy,
Lost in Translation won writer-director Sofia Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay
and earned three other nominations, including Best Picture. But the Bill Murray-led movie, which explored
alienation and existential dread against a bustling Tokyo backdrop, wasn’t just an awards
season favorite. The $4 million flick earned $119.7 million
at the worldwide box office. “Can you keep a secret? I’m trying to organize a prison break. I’m looking for, like, an accomplice.” Lost in Translation, which followed the complicated
relationship between Scarlett Johansson’s aimless Yale graduate Charlotte and Murray’s
aging movie star Bob Harris, first opened on just 23 screens, earning a total of $925,087. To put that into perspective, that’s an average
$40,221 per theater the highest per theater average for a limited release in 2003. Annabelle Annabelle didn’t buck the negative reviews
many horror movies face, but the $6.5 million creepy doll film made a killing at the box
office. The movie very, very narrowly lost to David
Fincher’s Gone Girl in its opening weekend, but still managed to pull in an impressive
$37.1 million. Annabelle’s strong opening exceeded initial
$20 million expectations, at least in part thanks to the movie’s popularity on social
media. The movie also had the benefit of being spawned
from another popular, low-budget horror series: the Conjuring franchise, which came from horror
maven James Wan. The movie went on to make an impressive $257
million worldwide. The Blair Witch Project The found-footage horror film The Blair Witch
Project wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon it was also a box office hit. The 1999 film about a group of student filmmakers
who hunt down a local urban legend was made for just $60,000 but went on to make $246.8
million at the worldwide box office, including $140.5 million domestic. This is even more impressive when considering
that the film was shot in just eight days, with a partially improvised script. Like many of the movies on this list, The
Blair Witch Project benefited from an innovative release schedule, rolling out slowly to spark
interest. The movie was screened at the Sundance Film
Festival without much fanfare, and audiences were left wondering if they’d just seen a
horror movie or the scariest documentary ever. Building on this excitement, filmmakers used
a viral marketing campaign one of the first to rely on the internet to hook viewers while
still maintaining the film’s mysterious air. Get Out Jordan Peele was already an established comedy
actor when he made his feature film directorial debut with Get Out, a horror film which he
made for just $4.5 million. The movie wound up being a massive success,
earning $255 million worldwide. It was buoyed by near-perfect critical reviews
not to mention viewers’ conversations surrounding the movie, which pushed people to hit up their
local theaters to see what all the fuss was about. Thanks to its innovative premise and some
smart marketing techniques, Get Out blew audiences away and earned $33.3 million on its opening
weekend alone. Buzz for Get Out was so strong that the movie
managed to earn four Oscar nominations, despite the fact that it was released almost a full
year before nominations were announced and the fact that the Academy has traditionally
overlooked horror movies. Peele’s debut wound up being the most profitable
film of 2017, featuring a 630 percent return on investment for production company Blumhouse. Juno Penned by author/screenwriter Diablo Cody,
Juno earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Jason Reitman,
and Best Actress in a Leading Role for its star Ellen Page, and a win for Best Original
Screenplay after it hit theaters in 2007. The film featured Page as Juno MacGuff, a
high schooler who debates her options during a surprise pregnancy. The charming indie comedy was made on just
a $7.5 million budget, with star Jennifer Garner even taking a pay cut to help the movie
keep costs down. But thanks to its witty, pitch-perfect writing
and strong appeal to teens and young women, it ended up being a surprise box office success,
bringing in $231 million worldwide. Little Miss Sunshine “Back up a minute… You know what a loser is? A real loser is somebody who is so afraid
of not winning, they don’t even try.” The tragicomic 2006 indie flick Little Miss
Sunshine, which earned the love of critics and fans alike, chronicled the trials and
tribulations of young Olive Hoover played by Abigail Breslin who ropes her family into
a cross-country road trip so she can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. It also earned four Oscar nominations, including
Best Picture, which translated to two well-deserved wins. Not too shabby for a movie that was made for
just $8 million. It ended up becoming a box office behemoth,
earning $100.5 million worldwide. “You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.” Fox Searchlight, the studio that distributed
the film, clearly saw the box office potential in Little Miss Sunshine right off the bat,
buying the film for $10.5 million after a standing ovation at the first screening caused
a bidding war. Having that much buzz around the film right
out the gate got film enthusiasts excited, while the quality of the movie led to a long
and successful box office run. My Big Fat Greek Wedding My Big Fat Greek Wedding was just a few days
shy of spending a whole year in theaters, and during that time, the $5 million romantic
comedy went from a low-budget film with few big names to a massive money-maker, bringing
in $368.7 million worldwide. That box office success was very unique. The movie opened to just $597,362 from 108
theaters, but it continued to build up impressive box office totals throughout its run, eventually
hitting the number two spot after 20 weeks. The movie spent 17 consecutive weeks in the
top 10. The movie’s success was truly unprecedented,
as most movies usually see a downward trend after their opening weekends. Rocky “He picked you, Rocky! Rocky it’s the chance of a lifetime.” Rocky may not be the top grossing film in
the long-running franchise at the box office, but it’s $117.2 million worldwide was especially
impressive when you consider that the film, starring a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone,
had a measly $1 million budget. In addition to its impressive box office haul,
the film won three Oscars, including Best Picture. Stallone also earned an Oscar nomination for
writing the script for the movie, but despite its astronomical success, he actually had
a hard time getting it made. Stallone said that he went through “about
20 different incarnations” of the film before he landed on the finished project, but even
then it wasn’t easy. Producers Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff had
to mortgage their homes and use their personal savings to finance the film. All that effort clearly paid off. The Rocky franchise holds the top four spots
for highest grossing boxing films, most recently taking over the box office with 2015’s Creed,
which also was an awards season favorite, snagging Stallone an Oscar nomination for
Best Supporting Actor. Saw 2004’s torture flick Saw didn’t just make
$103.9 million against a miniscule $1.2 million budget the movie also managed to launch a
lucrative horror franchise. But the original Saw was able to achieve its
initial box office heights by using strong word-of-mouth to hold on to viewers throughout
its October and November box office run. Saw proved popular with young viewers, with
60 percent of the opening weekend audience under 25 years old. That’s likely thanks to the flick’s young
director, then-newcomer, James Wan, who managed to make the movie in just 18 days while keeping
the budget low. The franchise has continued to build on its
strong start, and although it has stumbled at points, the eight films together have still
brought in a total of $976.3 million worldwide. The most recent release, 2017’s Jigsaw, pulled
in $102.9 million worldwide against a $10 million budget, proving just how impressive
Saw’s initial feat was. Split M. Night Shyamalan went low-budget for his
2017 horror flick Split, making the James McAvoy-starring thriller for only $9 million. This decision wound up working out well for
the twisty director, with the film pulling in $278.5 million worldwide and holding on
to the number one spot for its first three weekends at the domestic box office. Split, an indirect sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000
film Unbreakable, featured McAvoy as a man with what appears to be dissociative identity
disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. The movie received positive reviews from critics,
earning a 76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for Best Thriller Film at the
Saturn Awards. Split became Shyamalan’s fifth film to pass
$100 million at the domestic box office, proving that the director still has the power to bring
in large audiences. However, Split’s low budget made that figure
even more impressive. Paranormal Activity Go ahead roll your eyes. You were expecting this one. But whether you’re tired of hearing about
it or not, Paranormal Activity’s success story is one for the ages. It’s not often a movie with a budget of $15,000
grosses $193.5 million bucks worldwide. The micro-budget horror flick was shot in
just seven days on a handheld video camera by Israeli director Oren Peli, a video game
designer with no past film experience. After the movie terrified legendary director
Steven Spielberg, studio execs began to take notice. Paramount ultimately bought the film with
the intention to reshoot it with a higher budget. However, when a test screening blew audiences
away, they decided to release Peli’s version of the film after drafting an alternate ending. Paranormal Activity’s success was partly due
to positive reviews, sitting at an 83 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Paramount also implemented an innovative marketing
strategy for the movie, putting it in limited release and letting it build buzz before setting
it into wide release the weekend before Halloween. In its first weekend in wide release, the
little ghost flick that could earned the number one spot with $21.1 million.

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