Big budget movies are a treat to the eyes, always. But of course given the kind of budget spent on them, they had to be that way. However, sometimes you just cannot beat the raw talent and efforts of the struggling low- budget film maker. Film making bloom at sharp ends and low budget means more creative ideas resulting in more engaging films. To show this, here’s a list of ten films that are made at a low budget of fewer than one million dollars and turned out to be the finest.
A little info before we start, I have chosen all modern day films, i.e. made between 2000 and 2010 and that are made in English language. I have also put up the agreed budget below each of the film listed.
10: Brick (2005)
Budget: $475,000 | IMDB rating: 7.4/10
Brick is an American thriller film directed by Rian Johnson. It’s a story about a high school student named Brendan Frye investigating the death of his ex-girlfriend Emily, resulting in a shaking tale of drugs, gangsters and guns. The film looks gorgeous as it is clever. What’s so great about the film is that it was shot in matter of mere 20 days. The director had shot this film in his hometown. As the film if based on a school life, most of the shooting was done in a school, which the director had attended himself in his early days. He even enlisted current students of the school to work in the film and shot mostly on weekends. Brick received relatively positive reviews and has a rating of 80% on Rotten tomatoes.
9. Another Earth (2011)
Budget: $150,000 | IMDB rating: 6.9/10
When people think of Sci-fi films, the first few things that come to their mind are enormous space ships, laser guns and aliens, meaning special effects with bigger budgets. Another Earth is a story of a young woman Rodha studying astrophysics, having a deep interest in astronomy. One drunken night a mirror earth starts to appear in the sky while Rodha crashes a car, puts a musician named John in coma and his wife and child to death. Years later, feeling guilty she beings to help John better his life without revealing her identity and begins to have a relationship with him. Another Earth is basically a speculation of the idea of what it would be like if we could encounter our own self. Could we change the past and become a better person? Developing this concept the Director came up with the idea of duplicating the Earth and later Rodha visiting it in hope to find redemption. This movie is one nice, thought provoking entertainer.
8. Monsters (2010)
Budget: $500,000 |IMDB Rating: 6.3/10
Again a sci-fi movie made in low budget, the director Gareth Edwards managed to save money on this one by working himself on the visual effects using simple Adobe, ZBrush and Autodesk 3ds Max. In fact, out of the total budget only $15000 was spent on the equipments. This was because he had used the prosumer cameras to capture digital videos rather than the expensive 35mm camera giving the movie a documentary like feel. Most of the shots were of local streets of Mexico and so all the extras were people who happened to be there at the moment. However, Edward admits that the most difficult part for him was to create the monster shots but the end result is exceptional. Coming to the plot, the story is setup in a post-invaded world. A journalist in Mexico is tasked by his employer to get his daughter out of there after an attack by the aliens and then begins a romance but with giant space aliens popping up every now and then. The film received six nominations in British Independent film awards and its sequel is already in making since March, 2013.
7. Open Water (2004)
Budget: $500,000 | IMDB Rating 5.8/10
Based on true events, Open Water is a horror story of a couple who goes scuba diving and accidently are left behind in middle of the sea by the dive-boat crew. The couple is in time attacked by the sharks and die before the crew arrives to rescue. What makes this movie more interesting is that instead of using animated sharks the filmmakers have used real sharks in order to have an authentic shark behavior, shunning the clichéd overstated shark behavior depicted in other films. The film has a vivid impact on its viewer due to its simplicity and originality. The emotions are reflected so well in the audience that it makes them feel, it could be them in the situation.
6. Super Size me (2004)
Budget: $65,000 | IMDB Rating : 7.3/10
A documentary directed and acted by Morgan Spurlok. This film follows a 30-day period where Morgan only eats McDonald’s food. During the course he faces many health problems while continuing with the diet and gains large amount of weight. With this film Morgan tries to explore the issues related to fast food and obesity and shows how McDonalds tries to gain from it. The film was well received and was nominated from the Academy Award for best documentary. It currently has a rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. This film is hilarious, disturbing and bold and watching it will also bizarrely make you crave for burgers and fries.
5. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Budget: $400,000 | IMDB Rating : 6.8/10
An eccentric comedy which became a commercial success despite all the odds. Napoleon Dynamite is the story about an estranged boy who helps his friend running for class president elections in school and eventually ends up being the president himself. In between, it’s everything about his bizarre family and life back home. Its laugh out loud funny and remains what all good comedies should remain: humorous and experimental. It was a debut film by director Jared Hess starring Jon Heder as Napoleon dynamite. It’s said that Heder only received a $1000 for his role in the movie and only after the film became successful that he received a cut from the profits. In 2012, the movie was also adapted as an animated series by Fox television in which the director Jared Hess was one of the producers. The film received several awards and still has a fresh rating of 71% on Rotten tomatoes.
4. Once (2006)
Budget: $180,000 | IMDB Rating : 7.9/10
Don’t think my list would be complete without a love story in it. A love story intertwined with music; nothing could get perfect than this. Two musicians meet, share a short moment of love together and then depart. It’s a heartwarming, modern day musical which leaves you feeling good throughout the play. Shot in just 17 days (I am utterly surprised by the time in which these movies are shot) the director managed to save money by shooting the movie in natural light and scenes of it at a friend’s house. Even the leads were new and inexperienced in the acting field. But none of this showed up in the movie and the chemistry sizzled on screen between the couple. The film even received an Oscar award for its song called “falling slowly”. Once is a movie that can put a smile on your face and that song in your head.
3. Catfish (2010)
Budget: $30,000 | IMDB Rating : 7/10
A much talked about documentary in the recent years, Catfish is a story of a young man, Nev, being filmed by his brother and friend, Ariel and Henry who are the co-directors of this movie. This movie puts light on the modern day socializing via social media sites such as Facebook and shows what consequences one might face due to this. This film received critical reviews but was a commercial success. It even inspired a Reality TV series on MTV named Catfish: The TV show. All and all, this movie is very unusual and nothing like you have ever seen.
2. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Budget: $15000 | IMDB Rating : 6.3/10
I cannot escape this one. One of the highest grossing low budget films ever. I remember how I had forcefully watched this movie, despite of the repeated attempts of my bother warning me. Later on, I was scared to even walk in another dark room. This movie focuses on a young couple, Katie and Micah who have recently moved into a new house and are haunted by a supernatural presence. Micah in an attempt to record what is being hunting them, sets up cameras every night into his room. The whole movie is presented in a found footage style which gives it a more realistic look.
Paranormal Activity is one movie that shows you the power of simplicity. With just two actors and one camera in a house, it is able to scare the hell out of its viewer. This movie was shot in just 7 days in director Oren Peli’s own house and can be said as one of the best horror films ever.
1. Primer (2004)
Budget: $7000 | IMDB Rating : 6.9/10
Well, it seems to be now becoming a trend, making science fiction movies in low budgets and Primer is one of the best. It is one sci-fi movie, where the low budget actually works in its favor. It’s a film about two scientists working in a garage and accidently creating a time machine. Later they struggle with the technical and moral allegations of their discovery. The film is exceptional and yes it will require you to watch it few times to fully understand it. In order to save money, director Shane Carruth took on a crew of only 4 other people, acted as writer, producer, cinematographer, editor and score composer. Oh and he was also starred as Aaron (one of the four scientists in the movie). Oh and he’s a math graduate and a former engineer. A man of many talents!
Primer did pretty well at the box office and received great reviews from the film critics. The site Rotten tomatoes listed it as one of the best science fiction films “for the thinking man (….or woman)”
Final conclusion: All of the movies listed above are so brilliantly made and of course made with very less money which can put any big budget blockbuster to shame. The filmmakers have proven that it isn’t money that you need to make something creative but hard work and determination. It was their sheer talent that entertained thousands and made them bag millions for something really less. What those film makers have achieved from such small budget is beyond belief and very inspiring!