By Robert Lang
First-time directors have to start somewhere when making their first project and have to cut their teeth in film on a no-budget or micro-budget production. They take on multiple roles of producer, writer, costume designer, production and craft services to save money as there is no budget to hire professionals.
This can spark creative outcomes as the crew and their director have to focus on how to spend the budget, creating a standout indie film that can go on to rake it in at the box office and become a cult classic.
Director Robert Rodriguez’s breakthrough 1993 feature film, El Mariachi, was created on a shoestring budget of only $7,000, launching his career. It still holds the Guinness World Record for the lowest-budget film to gross $1 million at the box office.
Other first-time directors include Kevin Smith, who made Clerks on a $27,000 budget in 1994; David Lynch who created the cult classic Eraserhead in 1977 on an estimated budget of $100,000; and Darren Aronofsky’s film Pi made for $68,000.
Horror has always thrived on producing low-budget films like George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left and Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece Texas Chain Saw Massacre that were financed from budgets under $150,000.
But the subgenre of horror, found footage, has created some of the most profitable films. Its low production using unstable cameras and performances that feel so real boomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with The Blair Witch Project setting the standard as the godfather of the film movement. Filmed in 1999 on a budget of $60,000, it has gone on to rake in a profit of $248 million worldwide and was followed by the 2007 smash hit Paranormal Activity, which was produced with only $15,000 and has grossed $193 million worldwide.
Notable films that did not make the list, as they did not achieve $1 million at the box office but are included in the spirit of indie filmmaking: Christopher Nolan’s first feature, Following, which was filmed on a budget of £3,000 in 1998. Primer, directed by Shane Carruth, was made with only $7,000 but would go on to win Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize and gain cult status as the lowest-budget film to win the category.
Click above to scroll through the top 30 low-budget films to earn $1 million at the box office that includes Tarnation, Deep Throat, Hollywood Shuffle and Swingers.
Data was provided by The Numbers and Box Office Mojo for financial and sales reports.
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