As we gear up for the spring and summer movie extravaganzas, we wanted to take a look back at the films that were made on a shoestring budget (at least by Hollywood standards) and wound up making some serious bank. You don’t always need A-listers and commercial tie-ins for a movie to be a box office hit, and these 10 classics (which are listed in no particular order) prove just that.
Note: all box office estimates are courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Estimated Budget: $15,000 Box Office Tally: $108 million Thanks to strong word of mouth and a viral campaign, this spooky found footage horror flick (sound familiar?) about a couple being haunted by spirits in the wee hours of the morning went on to become one of the most profitable films of all-time. It has since spawned four sequels, which have collectively earned roughly $383 million domestically to date.
Halloween (1978)[Photo credits: Hulton Archive/Handout; Business Wire/Handout; Getty Archive Photos/Stringer; Michael Ochs Archives/Handout; Getty Archive Photos/Stringer]
Estimated Budget: $300,000 Box Office Tally: $47 million John Carpenter’s iconic slasher flick not only was a hit for the horror genre, but the indie film genre as well. This low-budget classic made for countless sequels and remakes, but nothing beats the original when it comes to being the best or the most profitable.
Napolen Dynamite (2004)
Estimated Budget: $400,000 Box Office Tally: $44.5 million Gosh! This goofy indie comedy earned $46 million worldwide, and while they may not seem like a huge amount, it does when you look at its micro-budget (leading man Jon Heder was originally only paid $1,000 for his work). Those estimates don’t include how much it raked in with its wildly popular merchandising (“Vote for Pedro” shirts, anyone?).
Mad Max (1979)
Estimated Budget: $400,000 Box Office Tally: $100 million It’s safe to say the budget on the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road was slightly more than the original dystopian action flick that started it all, but Mad Max is hard to top in terms of sheer profit. A massive hit in its native Australia, it would go on to earn $100 million worldwide.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Estimated Budget: $500,000-$750,000 Box Office Tally: $140 million The movie that launched the found footage horror genre and a thousand imitators was also the little Sundance movie that could. Birthed by a clever marketing campaign which suggested the film was actual found footage of three missing campers, it was a minimal movie with a huge impact. While its follow-up film was a flop, the original Blair Witch Project was a pre-Internet phenomenon that hooked the masses and made nearly $250 million worldwide.
American Graffiti (1973)
Estimated Budget: Over $700,000 Box Office Tally: $115 million This iconic coming-of-age dramedy proved that George Lucas could make any kind of blockbuster and spawned one of the all-time great soundtracks to boot. Between rentals and worldwide box office intake, American Graffiti would go on to earn well over $200 million, making one of the most successful hits in movie history.
Estimated Budget: $1 million Box Office Tally: $117 million This classic sports drama was not only a critical hit (it would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director and turned Sylvester Stallone into a full-fledged star), but it was a box office knockout to boot. In fact, it was the highest-grossing film of 1976. While Rocky IV made slightly more in 1985 with $127.8 million at the U.S. box office, the original Rocky still ultimately turned a much bigger profit.
Estimated Budget: $1.2 million Box Office Tally: $56 million The indie horror flick was a hit on the film festival circuit and made a killing (sorry) at the box office when it was released to moviegoers. It went on to earn over $100 million worldwide and spawned six stomach-churning follow-ups, which pulled in roughly $415 million in the U.S. alone.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Estimated Budget: $5-6 million Box Office Tally: $241 million Opa! This feel-good rom-com not only became the highest-grossing film of all time in that genre (despite never reaching No. 1 at the box office), but earned star Nia Vardalos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Never understand the power of John Corbett’s luxurious early ’00s hair, people.
Estimated Budget: $6.5-$7.5 million Box Office Tally: $143.5 million This quirky Oscar-winning teen pregnancy dramedy struck a nerve with critics and moviegoers alike, bringing in over $230 million worldwide and for better or worse, brought “home skillet” into our lexicon.