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.



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 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.


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?

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