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8 Small Budget Movies That Had Mainstream Success

7 Small Budget Movies That Had Mainstream Success

Hollywood’s formula for making big bucks in the business is to pump lots of money into the flick from the start (look at Marvel’s superhero flicks). While it works quite often, there’s always those great small budget films that we love that make it past the gatekeepers and go on to be huge moneymaking hits even without the financial backing of a small country’s GDP.

From comedies to horrors, here are eight small budget stories that hit the theaters and turned into multimillion successes.

Napoleon Dynamite

Also known as the indie film with the most quotable script of all time, Napoleon Dynamite popped into the public consciousness and never really made it out. Starting with a budget of $400,000 and making $46 million worldwide, Pedro, the liger and chapped lips jumped from the screen and into our lives. So did Jon Heder in his first big role. This strange and hilarious flick may never win big movie accolades, but it’s humor hit the right chords with the audience and it will forever go down in movie history.

juno

Juno

The tale of an unmarried pregnant girl in high school was one of the biggest hut is all time. Proving to be a breakout role for stellar actress Ellen Page and containing equally stellar performances by Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, this movie made a big splash with critics. Starting with a $7.5 million budget and hitting $231 million at the box office, the film was clever, sarcastic and had an interesting perspective for a story that definitely isn’t a new one Yet that’s part of the beauty of it!

Mad Max

Very few movies garnered as much buzz as Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as the dystopian movie blew anticipated earnings out of the water when it was first made. Starting with $300,000 and amassing over $99 million, the lead actor’s portrayal and the great direction put the film in the record books as the largest profit to cost production for 20 years. It wasn’t until the Blair Witch Project came along that the king was dislodged from its pedestal. Its success led to many different incarnations and a beloved modern reboot in 2015.

Little Miss Sunshine

When Abigail Breslin’s charming character is aiming to get into a beauty pageant, the entire family chips in. Audiences couldn’t get enough of it. From the quirky soundtrack to the cross-country road trip storyline, it’s a funny film with a great set of actors who really get the authenticity of the story. It ultimately made $100 million worldwide when it only took $8 million to make. In Sunshine’s case, the secret to success was a bespectacled girl, a VW bus and plenty of family love.

Slumdog

Slumdog Millionaire

The breakout winner of 2008 was Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s story of a teen growing up in the slums of India who lands himself in the hot seat of a version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” After getting accused of cheating on the game show, our lead goes down memory lane to show how life and circumstance has led him to know the correct answer for every question the game brings him. Creative, festive and containing an excellent soundtrack, this tale of triumph and love was made for $15 million and brought in $377 million, meaning they might want to rename the film Slumdog Multi-Millionaire. It’s currently streaming on American Netflix for viewers to get a second chance to watch this amazing film.

Halloween

Scary movies have it good when it comes to return on investment. Halloween isn’t the last (or only) inexpensive horror flick to find success, but it was one of the first. From a mere $325,000, the box office sales went above and beyond $45 million and cemented Mike Meyers in the public consciousness for years still to come. Jumpstarting a genre and simultaneously scaring us to death, this flick is one great example that great storytelling doesn’t have to include all the fancy price tags.

Greek wedding

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

When Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson saw a hilariously funny Greek play by Nia Vardalos and conscripted her husband into making a movie version, a new round of romantic comedy success hit the decade. From word of mouth and email blasts, the tiny play turned small movie was made for $5 million and led to over $368 million in sales worldwide. For a girl (Vardalos) who hung up on Tom Hanks on first call because she didn’t believe it was really him, the film’s clever characterization and ready jokes made it a crowd favorite.

The Blair Witch Project

How do you turn $60,000 into 248.6 million? Easy. Give three college kids cameras, throw them in the woods for the weekend, and proceed to scare the crap outta them. Then create viral marketing by uploading a fake website detailing the strange and mysterious disappearance of said college kids and BAM. Not only have you made a pile of money, but also a pop culture phenomenon, and popularized a genre of found footage horror that’s still going strong  17 years later.

Such is the legacy of the Blair Witch Project. The film became more than an indie darling, it rewrote the book on how studios  can make and market horror movies to a new internet generation. So popular was the Blair Witch Project that it spawned a sequel and a trilogy of video games along with a recently announced reboot/sequel, simply titled, Blair Witch due to release in 2016. Not bad for $60 grand.

Great films don’t always have to come with big budgets. If the digital age has shown us one thing, it’s that what the audience sometimes loves what it doesn’t know it wants. Have any films on your radar that cost next to nothing but made big profits? Have you seen any of the films listed above?

Share in the comments below!

Starz Wins Bidding War for Distribution of Romantic Comedy “My Blind Brother”

Starz has picked up Sophie Goodhart’s romantic comedy, “My Blind Brother,” which premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival and also played at Tribeca Film FestivalVariety reports. The magazine says that the acquisition “will likely be the biggest sale out of this year’s South by Southwest” and is estimated to be in the low seven-figure range. The comedy was reportedly the subject of a bidding war among distributors like Netflix, The Orchard, Sony and Gravitas Ventures.

Variety reports that Starz, which landed North American and Latin American rights for the film, will give “My Blind Brother” a day-and-date release in 25 markets and VOD (via Starz Digital) later this year, followed by an exclusive TV debut in 2017.

Click here to read HelenHighly’s review of “My Blind Brother.”

Ron Book is Monster Yet to Be Slayed, Despite Revealing “Untouchable” Documentary

“Untouchable” Documentary Doesn’t Go Far Enough & Ron Book is A Monster Yet to Be Slayed, According to OnceFallen.com

I recently posted an interview with “Untouchable” director David Feige, and in the process, I saw an online comment about the film, posted by Derek W. Logue, founder of the Sex Offender Advocacy Site OnceFallen.com — a group that fights against what it considers to be unfair and unconstitutional laws, such as those championed by Ron Book, who is the central figure in the documentary. (A Newsweek article called Book, “The Lobbyist Who Put Sex Offenders Under a Bridge”.)

Logue is also shown, briefly, in the documentary; he is the one who organizes the sex-offender rights rally. But his own full story is not shown in full in the film. A visit to the OnceFallen.com site shows just how passionate and hot a topic this is, and gives an indication of how scary-powerful Ron Book is as a lobbyist and political force. The website has an extremist tone (understandably), but it definitely merits a look. And Logue’s comment also merits a read, so I am posting it here (as I found it on the web, without any fact-checking), along with my own comment back to Logue:

Logue: I was in this film briefly, protesting the Book family. This film didn’t do anything to challenge those monsters. The Books are responsible for forcing hundreds of Miami’s registered citizens into homelessness. It is disgusting to see clips of Ron Book attending fancy dinners, eating steak tartare and getting his shoes shined knowing his policies force hundreds of registered citizens to live by the railroad tracks behind a warehouse.

The film fails to discuss Ron Book’s plea of no contest to a theft charge in the 1980s and a guilty plea for illegal campaign contributions in the 1990s. Ron Book was recently under FBI investigation. Lauren Book is literally BUYING a senate seat, yet she can’t even answer her own questions during a post-screening Q & A. Lauren is inept and nothing but a puppet for daddy Ron and his political cronies.

It is here where Feige fumbled the ball worse than Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. In order to guarantee he wouldn’t get sued by the Books or have them pull their support of the film, Feige had to cater to Ron & Lauren. Thus, instead of any direct challenge to the Book family, Feige’s film dances the issue around them. The Books are never grilled about anything in the film. Feige minimized my rally in the film out of concerns that our message was “too harsh.” He asked me to be nice to Lauren Book because she is “skittish.” I guess it was because Daddy wasn’t there to do the talking for her.

Ultimately, this movie was an utter disappointment. The Books get away again like the bad guys from a Saturday Morning cartoon to return and continue their wicked ways.

Sex-offender humor from OnceFallen website.
Sex-offender humor from OnceFallen website. But…not funny because it’s true.

HH: I don’t doubt that much of what you say about the Book family is true. But the Books *are* revealed in this film to be something very different than they originally appear. Feige handles their story, and others, with amazing sensitivity, while carefully and slowly building his case that essentially everything we think we know about this subject is FALSE. When you come into the issue cold, like most of us do, and watch it from beginning to end, the film packs a powerful punch. But it’s smart and dispassionate, which leads to a kind of meticulous fairness that is bizarrely unsettling. In my mind, Feige is like Solomon, but he actually cuts the baby in half. 

Click here to read the interview and learn about the film.

First Star Wars Episode VIII Footage Has Arrived!

The First Star Wars Episode VIII Footage Is Here!

Well, that was fast.

Less than a month into production and the first Star Wars Episode VIII footage has already hit the internet.

The snippet of a teaser hardly shows anything new, but it’s nice to see that Luke already has more screen time in the preview than he did in all of The Force Awakens.

It appears the film will begin immediately where Episode VII left off, with Daisy Riddley’s Rey offering Luke’s old lightsaber he lost on Bespin, minus the missing hand, to an old and recluse hermit looking Luke. After the shot we pull back to see new franchise director Rian Johnson behind the camera to welcome everybody to what appears to be the first day of filming.

Although the clip is nothing earth shattering, it’s nice to see a little tidbit of the new film so early into the filming process. Just to remind everybody that Episode VIII is well on it’s way,or maybe as cover to take attention off of the upcoming Star Wars: Rouge One which is also currently filming but has been so shrouded in secrecy that very little photos or footage of the film have made it’s way onto the internet yet, despite the fact the film is due out next year, December 16th, 2016.

Star Wars; Episodde VIII stars Daisy Riddley,John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie and Andy Serkis.

New cast members include Benicio Del Torro and Laura Dern in as yet, unnamed roles.

Star Wars: Epsiode VIII is scheduled to release on Dec 17, 2017.

Dawn of the Justice League Revealed

Finally! Dawn of the Justice League Revealed

It’s been a long time coming, but Warner Brothers finally revealed our first look at their hotly anticipated superhero team up movie, Dawn of the Justice League and it certainty looks impressive.

The official word from Warner Brothers is that the teaser image is just concept art so there is still room for change when it comes to costumes, and hopefully, logos.

Dawn of the Justice League poster

At the center of the image is DC’s golden trifecta, their big three characters, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Of course seeing these three together isn’t new as they were seen standing shoulder to shoulder in the latest Batman Vs. Superman trailer. We’ve also seen pictures of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman before as well which leaves only the half man, half machine, Cyborg and a new version of the Flash as the truly new reveals.

flashjusticeleague

Again it’s hard to tell as this is only concept art, and one that reveals only torsos above a big black cloud of ominous, but the Flash and Cyborg look a little off to me. The Flash’s costume looks heavily armored and unnecessarily bulky. He looks more like a reject from the video game Halo than a super fast speedster speedster to me. The Flash should be sleek and slender like a crimson Olympic runner. It’s hard to tell how the entire costume will turn out once it’s fully revealed but it would seem his legs would follow suit and be equally armored. Also missing are the Flash’s trademark lightning bolts on the side of his head. Like the wings on the side of Captain America’s helmet, these would have a hard time not looking ridiculously funny on the big screen, but I would have liked some effort at least to incorporate them into the costume. On that we’ll have to wait and see for more images to come out.

cyborg comics

The bigger concern on my end has to do with the design of poor Cyborg. In case you didn’t know, Cyborg, aka Victor Stone, is a half man, half machine superhero due to injuries sustained from a horrific accident. Like a Transformer, he is able to reconfigure his mechanical parts into different types of machines and weapons. But that’s the problem. He looks just like a Micheal Bay Transformer with all those busy mechanical parts on his body jutting out in all sorts of angles. One would imagine his power to change will take on the similarities of Optimus Prime and friends  with overly complex transformations for the sake of being overly complex. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of the big budget Transformer movies?)

However, props to WB for upping the diversity by throwing Cyborg, arguably the least known of these heroes, into the limelight and beating Marvel to the punch of having the first major African American superhero on the big screen when Cyborg gets his own solo movie in 2020 and the first solo female superhero film for Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017. (Sorry Falcon. And yes sorry, Blade everybody forgets about you.)

Besides the new questionable design decisions on the new additions, it is nice to see the big three, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman square in the middle looking epic as always. Superman is striking a bit of a messiah pose like normal. Batman is brooding of course, as is Aquaman too. And I must admit that while I was a little worried about the casting of ,Gal Gadot for the role of Wonder Woman, she looks incredibly bad ass in the new Batman Vs. Superman trailer, and the recently released trailer for her stand alone film.

Let’s just hope they get around to refining the film’s title logo by the time it hits theaters. The “DC Films presents: The Dawn of the Justice League” is a little lackluster as is.

Janis Joplin Film, “Little Girl Blue,” to Air on PBS American Masters Series

Janis: Little Girl Blue, the new Janis Joplin documentary film created by Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg, is currently playing in movie theaters across the country. (Go see it while it’s still in the theaters!) But for those of you who don’t live near an art-house theater, you will be pleased to know that the theatrical run will be followed by airings on the PBS American Masters series.

Janis: Little Girl Blue had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in late 2015. And it is set to be broadcast on American Masters on 5/3/2016.

Berg worked with the support of Joplin’s family on the film, which offers previously unseen glimpses of the singer’s personal life. Speaking with Billboard, Berg underlined her reasons for taking on the project while praising Joplin’s tremendous cultural impact.

“She put women in rock on the map. She literally was the first female rock star and she did it in such a strong way and we’re still reaping the benefits of that today,” Berg argued. “And I think her music is just as relevant today as it was in 1968-69.”

Joplin’s own words tell much of the film’s story, through a series of letters she wrote to her parents over the years, many of them made public here for the first time (and read by Southern-born indie rock star Cat Power). This correspondence is only one element of the stunning, previously unseen material Berg discovered during the seven years she has spent working on Janis: Little Girl Blue. New audio and video of Joplin in concert and in the studio, and even footage from her emotional return to Port Arthur for her 10th high school reunion, add depth and texture to this remarkable story.

Keep an eye on your local listings for more information.

Click here to read The Film Box commentary, by HelenHighly, that reviews Little Girl Blue and compares it to the Peggy Guggenheim documentary, Art Addict, also currently in release. The two stories have surprisingly similarities and together offer an insightful look into the nature of art and artists.

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When she is not writing about film and art on her blog, HelenHighly.com, Helen Kaplow is busy being a culture vulture in her adopted home of New York City. 

Janis Joplin: Film, Birthday & “Pearl” Anniversary Month

Janis Joplin: Film, Birthday & Pearl Anniversary Month

This is the month of the talented and controversial singer-songwriter, Janis Joplin, who rose to fame in the late 1960s and was featured in a recent documentary film titled Little Girl Blue. There are three reasons to remember her this January:

  • Joplin’s birthday was January 19, 1943, so she would have turned 73 this coming Monday. Joplin died at the young age of 27, from a heroin overdose.
  • Also this month is the 45-year anniversary of the release of Pearl, Joplin’s second and final solo studio album, released posthumously by Columbia Records, in January 1971.
  • And, a new documentary film about Janis Joplin, Little Girl Blue, directed by Amy Berg, was officially released this past December but is in wide distribution this January. The film has been critically well-received and is being used by many to pay tribute to Joplin this month, in commemoration of her birthday and her most-famous album.

Click here to read The Film Box review of the Janis Joplin documentary, Little Girl Blue.

Janis Joplin film poster
Janis Joplin film poster

Joplin’s Southeast-Texas hometown of Port Arthur plans to commemorate her life this weekend, with two events scheduled in her honor. The first is a tribute concert where Amber Martin will perform some of the blues-rock legend’s greatest songs during a live show. Then, on Saturday, Avril Falgout, a Port Arthur native, will celebrate Joplin with the unveiling of a new sculpture in her home town. Click here for more info.

A few of the songs made famous by Joplin are Piece of My HeartBall ‘n’ ChainTo Love SomebodyCry BabyMercedes Benz, and her only number one hit, Me and Bobby McGee.

Rolling Stone ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004, and it ranked her number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Janis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Joplin remains one of the top-selling musicians in the United States, with 15.5 million albums sold in the USA.

Deadpool Rated R

Deadpool Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, Sexual Content and Graphic Nudity

It appears Deadpool star, Ryan Reynolds can rest easy as he’s atoned for for the comic book sins he committed in Wolverine Origins and Green Lantern. As it should have,  Fox’s Deadpool has successfully earned an R rating.

If you’ve seen the entertaining trailers released already, it’s clear the movie was heading in that direction already. Especially with a red banded  trailer coming out over Christmas that was full of impalements, f-bombs, ass cheeks (strippers and Deadpool’s) a soccer ball style decapitation, gunplay, and sexual innuendo.

The biggest concern was exactly how much of the violence and naughtiness would make it past the cutting room floor into the final film. And from the looks of it, it appears nearly all of it does. As it should be. Hell, with what we’ve seen so far, it will be very interesting to see what bits and dialogue didn’t make it into the film.

Deadpool is a Marvel comics character introduced in the 90’s who grew into mainstream popularity in the early 2000’s due to the character’s tongue in cheek absurdity.  A mutant mercenary with the ability to heal almost instantly from nearly any wound, Deadpool is so loved because the character is so unhinged. Almost every word that comes out of his mouth is a joke. He has a deep love for all things chimichanga’s. And he constantly breaks the fourth wall, often talking directly to the readers of his comic book in hilarious unexpected ways. In a world full of anti-heros, Deadpool is the most anti of them all.

deadpool-movie-costume-pic-2

And the film’s producers seem to have embraced the character’s nuttiness not only in the film, but in their marketing and promotion efforts as well. For instance, the film’s official Twitter account is still only following Hello Kitty. Promotional photos have shown Deadpool holding a teddy bear hostage. Billboard signs have begun appearing that are absolutely ridiculous and brilliant at the same time. And there was a sexy little fireside photo shoot of Ryan Reynolds on a bearskin rug that had it’s 15 seconds of internet fame when it was released.

Which is all a huge relief considering how the character was so badly butchered when Reynolds played him in the questionable Wolverine: Origins. The movie infamously sewed the Merc with a Mouth’s lips shut at the end and shoved two giant swords up his arms in a boneheaded decision that made fans throw up their hands in disgust. (Another popular X-Men character, Gambit was also butchered in the film and appears to be getting a second chance with a solo film of his own starring Channing Tatum soon.)

Fox’s Deadpool rated R and starring, Ryan Reynolds opens in theaters everywhere February 12th.