The famous saying “you need money to make money” is believed by many. However, I’m a firm believer that you can do great things without having a big budget; it just takes hard work, dedication and an element of luck.
To prove my theory I’ve decided to relate to the film world, and in doing so I’ll detail my top 5 financially successfully films that were created on a limited budget. I’m sure some of you have heard of some of the films, but these films made millions of dollars from budgets of only a few thousand.
5. Brick (2005) – Budget: $450,000 – Gross Revenue: $3,919,254
Brick, made in 2005 was an intelligent detective story written and directed by Rian Johnson. The film was originally written in 1997 by director Johnson; however at the time he did not have the funds to make the movie. So he went and pitched the film idea and script to various production companies. However, as it was Johnson’s directorial debut, the various companies found it very hard to fund the project.
Johnson then set himself a task: he wanted to find the minimum cost to shoot the movie, and he set himself a budget of $450,000. In order to find the $450,000 he received backing from his family and friends, and as a result production started in 2003, 6 years after he first wrote the film. The film was completed in only 20 days and received limited release, but even with its limited release the film was an instant hit. The film grossed 3.9 million dollars.
4. Clerks (1994) – Budget: $27,000 – Gross Revenue: $3,151,130
Released in 1994 and directed by Kevin Smith, the comedy Clerks has gone on to receive critical and financial success throughout the world. Filmed in 1993, Clerks was funded by Smith, who raised $27,000, mainly due to selling a large collection of comic books and maxing out up to 10 credit cards with $2000 limits. The film was shot in 21 straight days and filmed in black and white due to the lack of funding; however, the film was an overnight success.
Clerks won various awards after its release, including awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the famous Cannes Film Festival. Clerks went on to gross a total of $3,151,130 and it became an incredible success story of a director who had a dream and made his dream happen. The film is now considered by many to be one of the funniest films in the last 25 years.
3. El Mariachi (1992) – Budget: $7,000 – Gross Revenue: $2,040,920
Filmed in 1992, the Spanish film El Mariachi was the debut of writer and director Robert Rodriguez. This film is one of my personal favourites and it has an incredible success story behind it. Rodriguez knew early on that his budget for the film would be $7,000, and he set about raising the cash for his film. Rodriguez raised half of the $7000 by participating in drug trials and the rest of the cash was from his own personal savings account. The budget was kept incredibly low for the film as Rodriguez only wanted to only shoot one take for every scene, saving a lot of money on film rolls.
The production of the film cost Rodriguez just over $7000 however, Rodriguez has since estimated that if it wasn’t for processing costs, the film would have only cost $600 to film. Even with the limited funds that Rodriguez had at his disposal, he made a film that grossed over 2 million dollars worldwide. If you haven’t seen the movie, then borrow or buy this film and see the fantastic movie that kick started Rodriguez’s career as a world famous writer and director.
2. Paranormal Activity (2007) – Budget: $15,000 – Gross Revenue: $193,311,485
Paranormal activity is an American horror film released in 2007 and an incredible success story. Written and directed by Oren Peli, Paranormal Activity was filmed in just 10 days and contained only five characters for the full length of the movie, keeping salary costs to a minimum. Peli estimated that the film would cost $10,000 but in fact the final cost of the completed movie was around $15,000.
During its week of release Paranormal Activity grossed $9.1 million, breaking the record of the highest-grossing weekend ever for a movie playing at less than 200 theatres. The film was a world wide success grossing an incredible total of $193,311,485. I had the pleasure of watching this film at home on a Friday night with the lights out and I have to say I jumped once or twice! It’s a great return to the horror/thriller genre and there’s a fantastic success story to go with it.
1. The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Budget: $22,000 – Gross Revenue: $248,639,099
The king of small budget films to make it big? Probably! The Blair Witch Project graced our screens in 1999, and it became an overnight success. This American horror phenomenon was filmed in 8 days and cost approximately $22,000; the result was a film that grossed $248,639,099, an incredible feat.
Thought to be the first widely released film that was marketed primarily on the Internet, The Blair Witch Project has received critical acclaim. It was listed in 2006 by the Chicago Films Critics Association as number 12 of the top 100 scariest movies of all time.
I hope that my top 5 small budget money making films have proved that you don’t need a big budget in order to do great things. If you have any other films that you know of that had a notably small budget and yet went on to achieve great things, please leave your recommendations in the comments section!