What kind of world is this when movie theater Twizzlers (the Daniel Baldwin of film snacks) have the power to dent your checking account? A higher price point does not always equal quality. To prove it, we rounded up some fantastic films that cost $5 million or less to produce and still won the box office, a cult following, and most importantly, a place in our hearts. Bonus: One of them is still in theaters, where, seriously, you should stop bankrupting yourself on that very destructive Twizzlers habit. 

© Universal Pictures/Photofest

The Visit

Budget: $5 million
Box Office: $51.1 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: M. Night Shyamalan’s funded his first foray in the found footage horror genre himself using money earned from 2013’s flick After Earth.
Brilliant Because: Discovered a new universal fear: your grandma asking you to get into the oven to clean it. Thanks, gammy.

© United Artists/Photofest

Annie Hall

Budget: $4 million (though it started at $3 million)
Box Office: $38 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: No fancy camerawork, special effects, or distractions, just brilliant dialogue, directing, and acting made this film legendary. Plus Allen’s penchant for taking long shots saved a lot of time and cash (the average shot length of Annie Hall was 14.5 seconds, compared to the norm of the time, which was 4–7 seconds).
Brilliant Because: This should have been the birth of Mumblecore (but with a better name). Also, take this bit of trivia to your next awkward double date: Annie Hall could have been called It Had to Be JewAnxiety, Alvy and MeMe and My Goy, and perhaps most disturbing, Anhedonia (translation: the inability to feel pleasure).

© IFC Films/Photofest


Budget: $4 million
Box Office: $46.4 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Shooting at Pedernales Falls State Park took place illegally -- no filming fees were paid, and the area of the park they picked was technically off-limits. 
Brilliant Because: Basically so brilliant it shamed every other attempt at home movies from ever being shown publicly.

© Focus Features/Photofest

Lost In Translation

Budget: $4 million
Box Office: $119.7 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: No bells, whistles, or gratuitous lens flare was needed to make this film a box office success. Oh, and the fact that is was shot in just 27 days.
Brilliant Because: It's Bill Murray playing Bill Murray.

© Pandora Cinema/Photofest

Donnie Darko

Budget: $3.8 million
Box Office: $7.6 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Originally, the song “West End Girls” was to be used for Sparkle Motion’s dance track, but that was too expensive. “Notorious” by Duran Duran was thankfully used instead.
Brilliant Because: No one actually knew what the hell this movie was about, yet it generated a huge cult following that to this day still has no idea what this movie is about.

© Paramount Pictures/Photofest

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Budget: $3 million
Box Office: The combined ’71 and ’96 releases equaled to $25 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Most of the chocolate bars you see in the film are actually blocks of far less delicious wood.
Brilliant Because: Candy, crazy inventions, and singing orange monster people -- it's no wonder this movie is adored. But the best part? Watching terrible children get their comeuppance, an unfortunately all-too-rare event in modern entertainment.


While you're watching, sip on this

As can be seen from this list of small-budget crowd pleasers, quality is not dependent on quantity of dollars spent. A good time can be had even when the purse strings are tight. Canadian Mist is just another example of living like a high roller without spending like one. Sip on this Double Gold winning whiskey when the Jiffy Pop has you parched, because really, who has a month’s rent to throw away on a sub-par movie theater beverage?

© Paramount Pictures/Photofest

Rosemary’s Baby

Budget: $3.2 million
Box Office: $33 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: They didn’t close down the street to film the scene where Rosemary runs into traffic. It’s just Roman Polanski chasing her down with his camera into a busy New York City street, because no one else wanted to do it.
Brilliant Because: The enduring creepiness of this supernatural thriller lies in how seemingly normal everyone and everything seems. Today’s Rosemary would probably have a mommy blog -- though hopefully she’d have caught on quicker to the whole spawn of Satan situation.

© Columbia Pictures/Photofest

Taxi Driver

Budget: $1.8 million
Box Office: $28.3 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: De Niro stuck to his modest $35,000 contract, not asking for more money after his big Oscar win for The Godfather: Part II, something the producers were worried he might do.
Brilliant Because: Nobody can ever talk to themselves in front of a mirror without thinking about this movie... or, fine, Mark Wahlberg coaching his wang in Boogie Nights.

© United Artists/Photofest

Carrie (1976)

Budget: $1.8 million
Box Office: $33.8 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Stephen King was paid a paltry $2,500 for the rights to the film.
Brilliant Because: Vengeance porn like Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (we know it's a book, so is Carrie!) owe a lot to the OG prom destroyer that let every jilted teen live vicariously through a pyrokinetic shut-in.

© Lions Gate Films/Photofest


Budget: $1.2 million
Box Office: $103.9 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: The car chase was actually filmed in a warehouse -- they made it look legit by shaking the cars around a bit, adding some fog, and shooting from the front.
Brilliant Because: Grosser happenings take place in strip mall parking lots than in the surprisingly un-gory Saw, but apparently rifling wrist-deep through someone else’s bowels was more than enough guts to keep today's desensitized, blood-thirsty children and curious adults lining up for the six subsequent sequels.

© United Artists/Photofest


Budget: $1.1 million
Box Office: $225 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: They didn’t have enough money to populate the entire ice rink for Rocky and Adrian’s skating date, so they made it work with all the extras they could afford: one dude.
Brilliant Because: How could you NOT love the lumbering, mumbling, fedora wearing, turtle-whisperer Rocky, with his heart of gold and single pair of grody sweatpants? Everything about this story is perfect -- especially the fact that it was made by Sly Stallone, once a homeless Philly porn actor. A film about an underdog made by an underdog might as well be called America: The Movie.

© MCA/Universal Pictures/Photofest

American Graffiti

Budget: $777,777.77
Box Office: $140 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Director George Lucas, yes that George Lucas, couldn’t pay all the crew members because the budget was so small. They settled for screen credit, which is why the closing credits last so damn long.
Brilliant Because: Before Ron Howard was the brilliant director/producer that he is today, he was a dorky, red-headed actor desperate for his big break (ok, ok, Ron may have never actually been desperate), but his story is the stuff that American cinematic dreams are made of.

© Fox Searchlight Pictures/Photofest

Napoleon Dynamite

Budget: $400,000
Box Office: $46.1 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: John Heder helped make the boondoggle chains that were supposed to pay Deb’s way through college.
Brilliant Because: Jumpstarted an entire generation of awkward humor that banked on our own discomfort and relied less on punchlines and more on awkward real-life situations exaggerated for maximum chuckles.

© Miramax Films/Photofest


Budget: $27,000
Box Office: $3.2 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: Shooting the entire 1994 film in black and white was a good way to avoid costly post-production editing, getting rid of the need to deal with that whole "lighting" thing.
Brilliant Because: Every person in America thinks they could make this movie with their friends, it's that resonant and universal and simple and stupid. Guys and girls shooting the &*#! for two hours? We all feel like we could recruit our cast in a week, but we really know it won't reach the levels of hilarity Clerks managed.

Paranormal Activity

Budget: $15,000
Box Office: $193.4 million
Buck-Saving Tactic: It was filmed entirely in the director’s home, proving once again that home-movies are the way to go.
Brilliant Because: Managed to resurrect the found footage horror genre from the nausea-inducing Blair Witch and actually create something scary beyond the marketing campaign.



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