It’s refreshing to see that quite a few independent films made it big-time and turned into memorable blockbusters. These films have found the perfect balance between a low budget and interesting content while racking up a huge return on investment. Who knows, your favorite movie may be on this list.
The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project introduced audiences to a new kind of horror movie and set the aesthetic for many that followed. Although not the first “found footage” horror movie, the independent film following a group of student filmmakers who attempt to hunt down an urban legend was the first film to rely on a viral internet marketing campaign purporting that the events of the film were real.
Despite just a $60,000 budget, it went on to make $246.8 million worldwide at the box office, including $140.5 million domestic. This number will likely even more surprising when we inform you that the film was made in eight days, and there wasn’t a finished script when filming began.
For a small indie film that was made on just a $7.5 million budget, Juno really made a significant impact. The film had such a low budget that Jennifer Garner had to take a pay cut to keep the costs down. Surprisingly, the movie, starring Elliot Page and Michael Cera, brought in $231.4 million worldwide, including $143.4 million domestic.
The film also garnered a reputable amount of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Jason Reitman), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Page), and it took home an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The film was a huge hit, especially for young women, thanks to its hilarious and realistic take on a controversial topic.
Little Miss Sunshine
Like Juno, Little Miss Sunshine is an indie film that blew up big time. The movie earned four Oscar nominations and two wins after hitting the screen in 2006. The movie that was created for just $8 million, ended up earning $100.5 million worldwide, including $59.9 million domestic.
Even more impressive, the movie’s widest release only reached 1,602 theaters. When the first showing of the film received a standing ovation, Fox Searchlight jumped at the opportunity, paying for the film for the small price of $10.5 million. To this day, the film remains a fan favorite amongst audiences.
Annabelle was made on a $6.5 million budget and was an absolute hit in theaters, despite some negative reviews from critics. The long-awaited horror movie managed to rake in $37.1 million. Naturally, it helped that the film was a spin-off of the already successful Conjuring franchise.
A prequel was released in 2017 after the popularity of Annabelle called Annabelle: Creation. Due to the success of Annabelle, the prequel was created with a budget of $15 million, and it went on to make a staggering $306.5 million worldwide, including $102 million domestic.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
My Big Fat Greek Wedding spent almost a full year in theaters. This long run allowed the film to bring in the big bucks. A $5 million budget turned into $368.7 million worldwide ($241.4 million domestic). During opening weekend, the film was only released to 108 screens, but still raked in $597,000.
After 20 long weeks in theaters, My Big Fat Greek Wedding reached the No. 2 spot and spent 17 consecutive weeks in the Top 10. With impressive numbers came impressive award nominations. Nia Vardalos earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and the film was nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes.
Unfortunately, even with an $18 million budget, the sequel couldn’t live up to the original.
If you thrive at Rocky trivia, then you may know that the first film isn’t even the top grossing film of the blockbuster franchise. That said, none of the other film’s came close to the ridiculously cheap $1 million budget of the original, which still brought in $117.2 million worldwide.
Rocky, which featured a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone, won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The Rocky franchise has become so popular over the years that it holds the top four spots for highest grossing boxing films. Since the film’s 1976 release, the franchise has hauled in a mind-boggling $1.7 billion.
Saw was and still is a massive hit in the horror genre. It dominated the box office, making $103.9 million worldwide on a $1.2 million budget. In addition to making big bucks in theaters, Saw has become one of the most recognizable horror franchises in film.
The first Saw was the young James Wan‘s directing debut, and he came out hot, finishing the film in just 18 days! Wan would go on to be the mastermind behind The Conjuring franchise, which has also been a money machine. All eight of the Saw films have added up for a total that is just shy of cracking the coveted $1 billion landmark.
Moonlight was a pivotal film for its portrayal of black and queer culture. The movie follows the main character, Barry Jenkins, as he goes through significant transitions in his life. It discusses his struggles with his sexuality and identity while also exploring the emotional abuse he endured growing up.
A cast of unforgettable performances was followed up by a memorable moment at the 2017 Oscars when it won Best Picture… after it was mistakenly awarded to La La Land. The highly decorated movie only cost $4 million, but raked in $65.3 million worldwide!.
Friday the 13th
The Friday the 13th franchise has rendered an enormous following since the first film was made in 1980. The slasher film that was only made for $550,000 ended up capturing audiences and grossed $92.7 million worldwide. The famous hockey-masked villain, Jason Voorhees, sparked a massive franchise with 12 films, comic books, video games, and merch galore.
The original movie was initially created to meet the success of Halloween. Friday the 13th did that and more as the highest-grossing horror franchise in the world until a new Halloween was released in 2018, putting that franchise at the number one spot.
Although Mad Max has received critical acclaim and a huge following, the dystopian movie, led by a young Mel Gibson, was made with a mere $300,000. The 1979 action film set in future Australia tells a tale of societal collapse, murder, and revenge.
The film made $378.9 million worldwide, including $154.1 million domestic, which was once enough to set the Guinness World Record for Most Profitable Film. The film has also been credited with opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. Mad Max birthed a franchise with three sequels, Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior), Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road.
M. Night Shyamalan decided to make the 2017 horror film, Split, on a budget of only $9 million, which proved to be a fantastic decision. Shyamalan made Split as an indirect sequel to Unbreakable (2000). The story follows James McAvoy, a man with dissociative identity disorder, who kidnaps three teenage girls.
The film ended up making $278.5 million worldwide. The film received positive reviews with a 75 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a nomination for Best Thriller Film at the Saturn Awards. The movie became Shyamalan’s fifth film to pass $100 million at the domestic box office.
George Lucas’ magnum opus, Star Wars, hardly needs an introduction, as it was the highest grossing film of all time until Steven Spielberg’s E.T. Made with only $11 million, Star Wars brought in a staggering $775.4 million would grow to be a multi-billion dollar franchise.
Star Wars was only the tip of the iceberg, considering the franchise has hit double digits with sequels and prequels, a handful of television series, made-for-TV movies, books, and merchandise… so much merch. Lucas had absolutely no idea how big his small indie film would actually be decades later.
Halloween is a 1978 American independent film that made the slasher genre popular with audiences, which lead to John Carpenter’s success as a director. The movie was only the first in a franchise that still pumps out movies, novels, comic books, merchandise, and even a video game.
The cult classic, which was created on a $300,000 budget, raked in $255.5 million worldwide. Michael Myers’ famously scary mask was simply a $2 Captain Kirk mask that was spray-painted white, and Jamie Lee Curtis‘s entire wardrobe was purchased for $100 at J.C. Penney. The production was so frugal that the actors did many scenes in a single take for savings.
Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation, which stars Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, won Sofia Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, along with three other nominations. The grim humored film was made with $4 million only to receive $119.7 million worldwide, including $44.6 million domestic.
When the movie opened, it was released on only 23 screens with an average of just over $40,000 per theater; the highest per-theater average for such a small release in 2003. Despite the small release, it still managed to do well at the box office, seeing as it was in theaters for 196 days. The film received noteworthy buzz due to Sofia Coppola’s previous success with The Virgin Suicides and a critically acclaimed performance by Bill Murray.
Quentin Tarantino has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood due to his cinematic hits during the ’90s. Pulp Fiction generated a considerable cult following and earned Tarantino a Pal d’Or Award at Cannes, an Academy Award, an Oscar, and seven Oscar nominations.
The iconic film that was created on an $8 million budget exceeded expectations, bringing in $213.9 million worldwide. With an impressive cast including John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman, it’s no surprise the film did so well in theaters. Since its 1994 release, Pulp Fiction has remained a cultural phenomenon.