The 10 Greatest Low-Budget Movies Of All Time

Ieva Matiejunaite

Low-budget cinema has always been on the margins of the film world due to the lack of special effects, limited possibilities of shooting and a small choice of actors who would agree to work for small salaries. However, some low-budget movies prove that great producing, directing and acting combined with an appealing story line can beat all odds. Check out this list of ten titles that prove that a movie doesn’t have to cost tens or hundreds of millions to become a hit with both the audience and the critics.

Promotional poster for Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Little Miss Sunshine was the directorial debut of the husband-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. The simple plot of a family road trip with the purpose of getting the young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant turns into a psychological exploration of society and human nature as the characters of the family members are revealed and developped. The movie confronts many important social issues such as suicide, mental health, the self-image of young women, negative standards of society and homosexual relationships.

Once (2007)

This Irish musical film, produced with a budget of only $160,000 was such a success with the audiences that it gathered a revenue of $20.7 million. Extremely warm and genuine, the movie tells the story of two strangers, outsiders of the society they live in, who meet in modern-day Dublin and form a relationship. The protagonists of the movie are played by musicians Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard, who composed and performed all the songs featured in the film. It is particularly original that Irglova, a Czech singer, plays a Czech woman, the accent making her character authentic. The movie was both a critical and financial success and even received a Grammy Award nomination.

The Full Monty (1997)

This British comedy-drama is set in Sheffield, England, and tells the story of six unemployed men who decide to form a male striptease act (à la Chippendale dancers) in order to gather enough money to start changing their lives and fulfill their dreams. The name of the movie derives from the expression ‘to go the full monty’ — strip all the way — which the protagonists are willing to do. Although the plot doesn’t sound very serious, the movie touches on important issues such as unemployment, fathers’ rights, depression, impotence, homosexuality, obesity, working class culture and suicide.

Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter is an American drama-thriller movie about a young husband and father called Curtis who, plagued by apocalyptic visions, questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm — or from himself. He channels his anxieties into a compulsive obsession to build a storm shelter in his backyard, but his increasingly strange behavior gradually alienates him from his family, friends, employer, and the close-knit town community. Though the movie has received critical acclamation (Grand Prix and Fipresci Prize at Cannes Film Festival), the budget of $5 million hasn’t really paid off considering the box office results.

Lost In Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation is a comedy-drama movie about an aging actor going through a midlife crisis. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and a recent college graduate, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), develop a friendship after a chance meeting in a Tokyo hotel. Their rapport then continues through a series of meetings and conversations in the hotel bar. It is the second feature movie by American director Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. The movie was critically acclaimed and nominated for four Academy Awards, Coppola winning for Best Original Screenplay. The movie, produced with a budget of only $4 million was a huge commercial success, grossing $119 million.

Submarine (2010)

Submarine, the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, is a quirky and timeless comedy-drama about a 15-year-old boy, Oliver Tate, his relationship with the girl he has a crush on, Jordana, and the attempts to save his parents’ marriage. Innocent and childlike, the story beautifully depicts the funny and dramatic transition from careless childhood to the adult world. Alex Turner, the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys, contributed six songs to the movie’s soundtrack. The movie grossed around $3.8 million with an original budget of $1.5 million.

Juno (2007)

This Canadian-American comedy-drama stars Ellen Page as the title character. Juno is an independent-minded teenager who unexpectedly gets pregnant and has to confront the subsequent events and the pressures of adult life. The characters and story line feel genuine and relatable; no wonder the movie got three Oscar nominations including Best Picture. An interesting fact: Juno has received criticism and praise from members of both the pro-life and pro-choice communities regarding its treatment of abortion.

Rocky (1976)

This sports film was directed by John G. Avildsen and both starring and written by Sylvester Stallone. This movie was Stallone’s breakthrough, turning him into a major star. The plot revolves around the rags-to-riches story of an uneducated but kind-hearted debt collector named Rocky Balboa. The movie was such a hit with both the audience and the critics that it received ten Academy Awards nominations and won three of them. The rags-to-riches story of the movie is reflected in the revenue of $225 million in global box office, from the original budget of only $1 million.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite is a quirky independent art-house comedy directed by Jared Hess and written by him together with his wife Jerusha. The plot centers on a socially awkward high school student with a ridiculous name, Napoleon Dynamite, who lives in absurd circumstances — from sharing his house with a pet llama to training to be a cage fighter. He decides to help his new friend in a small western high school to win the class presidency. The movie has gained a revenue of $46.2 million from the original $400,000 and has acquired a cult following.

Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max is an Australian dystopian action movie starring Mel Gibson. Gibson plays a vengeful policeman who sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang. The movie once held the Guinness record for the most profitable film — from the budget of $400,000 to the income of $100 million. The movie has had three sequels: Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior, 1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and the recent Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), making it a classic in cinema history.

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