Low Budget Movies That Paid Off Big

by urbanemovies | created - 17 Jan 2016 | updated - 3 days ago | Public

Low budgets films allow investors to reap potentially huge returns on their investment. While budget caps vary throughout the world and time, one authoritative definition sets the top end of the limit for movies with a current budget under $2,500,000. On both sides of the camera, many of today's biggest stars first honed their skills on low budget films. These films launched or served as a breakthrough for many in many of their careers.

Which one of these wildly successful low budget ($250,000 < $1,500,000) movies* is your favorite? * Movies with a minimum 6.0 IMDb user rating, excludes micro-budget (<$250,000) films and uses just one type of movie income stream (box office) for comparison.

Vote in the companion poll: Micro Budget Movies That Paid Off Big

Discuss the topic here.

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1. Mad Max (1979)

R | 88 min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

73 Metascore

In a self-destructing world, a vengeful Australian policeman sets out to stop a violent motorcycle gang.

Director: George Miller | Stars: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley

Votes: 196,317 | Gross: $8.75M

Director: George Miller

Budget: $300,000

Box Office: $99,750,000

Profit %: 33,150%

* launched George Miller and Mel Gibson careers and Mad Max franchise

2. Rocky (1976)

PG | 120 min | Drama, Sport

70 Metascore

A small-time boxer gets a supremely rare chance to fight a heavyweight champion in a bout in which he strives to go the distance for his self-respect.

Director: John G. Avildsen | Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers

Votes: 533,257 | Gross: $117.24M

Screenwriter: Sylvester Stallone

Budget: $995,000

Box Office: $225,000,000

Profit %: 22,513%

* launched Sylvester Stallone career and Rocky franchise

3. The Breakfast Club (1985)

R | 97 min | Comedy, Drama

66 Metascore

Five high school students meet in Saturday detention and discover how they have a lot more in common than they thought.

Director: John Hughes | Stars: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

Votes: 367,688 | Gross: $45.88M

Director: John Hughes

Budget: $1,000,000

Bx Office: $51,525,171

Profit %: 5,023%

* career elevating role for Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson

4. Easy Rider (1969)

R | 95 min | Adventure, Drama

85 Metascore

Two bikers head from L.A. to New Orleans through the open country and desert lands, and along the way they meet a man who bridges a counter-culture gap of which they had been unaware.

Director: Dennis Hopper | Stars: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza

Votes: 103,884 | Gross: $41.73M

Director/Co-Writers: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda

Budget: $360,000

Box Office: $60,000,000

Profit %: 16,567%

* breakthrough role for Jack Nicholson

5. American Graffiti (1973)

PG | 110 min | Comedy, Drama

97 Metascore

A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.

Director: George Lucas | Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith

Votes: 84,274 | Gross: $115.00M

Director: George Lucas

Budget: $777,000

Box Office: $115,000,000

Profit %: 14,701%

* career elevating role for Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, Charles Martin Smith and Cindy Williams

6. Sholay (1975)

Not Rated | 162 min | Action, Adventure, Comedy

After his family is murdered by a notorious and ruthless bandit, a former police officer enlists the services of two outlaws to capture the bandit.

Director: Ramesh Sippy | Stars: Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Amjad Khan

Votes: 52,832

Director: Ramesh Sippy

Budget: $400,000

Box Office: $67,000,000

Profit %: 16,650%

7. Halloween (1978)

R | 91 min | Horror, Thriller

87 Metascore

Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again.

Director: John Carpenter | Stars: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes

Votes: 239,560 | Gross: $47.00M

Director: John Carpenter

Budget: $325,000

Box Office: $47,000,000+

Profit %: 14,362%

* breakthrough role for Jamie Lee Curtis and launched Halloween franchise

8. Friday the 13th (1980)

R | 95 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

22 Metascore

A group of camp counselors are stalked and murdered by an unknown assailant while trying to reopen a summer camp which was the site of a child's drowning and a grisly double murder years before.

Director: Sean S. Cunningham | Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan

Votes: 124,536 | Gross: $39.75M

Director: Sean S. Cunningham

Budget: $500,000

Box Office: $59,000,000

Profit %: 11,700%

* launched Friday 13th movie franchise

9. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

PG | 96 min | Comedy

64 Metascore

A listless and alienated teenager decides to help his new friend win the class presidency in their small western high school, while he must deal with his bizarre family life back home.

Director: Jared Hess | Stars: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell

Votes: 204,273 | Gross: $44.54M

Director: Jared Hess

Budget: $400,000

Box Office: $46,118,097

Profit %: 11,430%

* launched Jared Hess and Jon Heder careers

10. Enter the Dragon (1973)

R | 102 min | Action, Crime, Drama

83 Metascore

A secret agent comes to an opium lord's island fortress with other fighters for a martial-arts tournament.

Director: Robert Clouse | Stars: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri

Votes: 99,443 | Gross: $25.00M

Screenwriter: Bruce Lee

Budget: $850,000

Box Office: $90,000,000

Profit %: 10,488%

* breakthrough role for Bruce Lee

11. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

R | 83 min | Horror

78 Metascore

Two siblings and three of their friends en route to visit their grandfather's grave in Texas fall victim to a family of cannibalistic psychopaths.

Director: Tobe Hooper | Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain

Votes: 142,846 | Gross: $30.86M

Director: Tobe Hooper

Budget: $300,000

Box Office: $30,859,000

Profit %: 10,186%

* launched Tobe Hooper career and TCSM franchise

12. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

R | 107 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

66 Metascore

Eddy persuades his three pals to pool money for a vital poker game against a powerful local mobster, Hatchet Harry. Eddy loses, after which Harry gives him a week to pay back 500,000 pounds.

Director: Guy Ritchie | Stars: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham

Votes: 549,017 | Gross: $3.90M

Writer-Director: Guy Ritchie

Budget: $1,350,000

Box Office: $28,172,868

Profit %: 1,987%

* launched Guy Ritchie career

13. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

R | 100 min | Drama

86 Metascore

A sexually repressed woman's husband is having an affair with her sister. The arrival of a visitor with a rather unusual fetish changes everything.

Director: Steven Soderbergh | Stars: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo

Votes: 52,007 | Gross: $24.74M

Writer-Director: Steven Soderbergh

Budget: $1,200,000

Box Office: $24,741,667* US Box Office only

Profit %: 1,962

* Steven Soderbergh directorial debut, US career box office $1.0b

14. Fruitvale Station (2013)

R | 85 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

85 Metascore

The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

Director: Ryan Coogler | Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand

Votes: 77,739 | Gross: $16.10M

Writer-Director: Ryan Coogler

Budget: $900,000

Box Office: $17,385,830

Profit %: 1,832%

* breakthrough for Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan careers

15. Saw (2004)

R | 103 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

46 Metascore

Two strangers awaken in a room with no recollection of how they got there, and soon discover they're pawns in a deadly game perpetrated by a notorious serial killer.

Director: James Wan | Stars: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung

Votes: 391,644 | Gross: $56.00M

Writer-Director: James Wan and Leigh Whannell

Budget: $1,200,000

Box Office: $103,911,669

Profit %: 8,559%

* launched James Wan career and Saw film franchise

16. Hoop Dreams (1994)

PG-13 | 170 min | Documentary, Drama, Sport

98 Metascore

A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.

Director: Steve James | Stars: William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates, Curtis Gates

Votes: 25,074 | Gross: $7.83M

Writer-Director: Steve James and Frederick Marx

Budget: $700,000

Box Office: $11,830,611

Profit %: 1,590%

17. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

PG | 91 min | Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy

91 Metascore

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table embark on a surreal, low-budget search for the Holy Grail, encountering many, very silly obstacles.

Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones | Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam

Votes: 512,007 | Gross: $1.23M

Directors: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

Budget: $400,000

Box Office: $5,028,948

Profit %: 1157%

* launched multiple film careers: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and Monty Python film franchise

18. Monsters (2010)

R | 94 min | Adventure, Drama, Romance

63 Metascore

Six years after Earth has suffered an alien invasion, a cynical journalist agrees to escort a shaken American tourist through an infected zone in Mexico to the safety of the U.S. border.

Director: Gareth Edwards | Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga Benavides, Annalee Jefferies

Votes: 89,557 | Gross: $0.24M

Writer-Director: Gareth Edwards

Budget: $500,000

Box Office: $4,242,978

Profit %: 749%

* launched Gareth Edwards career (ie. Rogue One (2016))

19. Brick (2005)

R | 110 min | Action, Crime, Drama

72 Metascore

A teenage loner pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.

Director: Rian Johnson | Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin, Meagan Good

Votes: 102,773 | Gross: $2.06M

Writer-Director: Rian Johnson

Budget: $475,000

Box Office: $3,919,254

Profit %: 725%

* launched Rian Johnson career (ie. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017))

20. The Evil Dead (1981)

NC-17 | 85 min | Horror

71 Metascore

Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.

Director: Sam Raimi | Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker

Votes: 192,094 | Gross: $2.40M

Director: Sam Raimi

Budget: $350,000

Box Office: $2,400,000 * US Box Office only

Profit %: 586%

* launched Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell careers and Evil Dead franchise

21. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

R | 99 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

79 Metascore

When a simple jewelry heist goes horribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Director: Quentin Tarantino | Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn

Votes: 945,303 | Gross: $2.83M

Writer-Director: Quentin Tarantino

Budget: $1,2000,000

Box Office: $2,832,029* US box office only

Profit %: 136%

* Quentin Tarantino directorial debut, career US box office $0.65b

22. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

R | 100 min | Comedy, Musical

65 Metascore

A newly-engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.

Director: Jim Sharman | Stars: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien

Votes: 136,262 | Gross: $139.88M

Writer-Director: Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien

Budget: $1,400,000

Box Office: $140,252,463+ (showing ever weekend @ midnight)

Profit %: 9732%

23. Ringu (1998)

Not Rated | 96 min | Horror, Mystery

A reporter and her ex-husband investigate a cursed video tape that is rumored to kill the viewer seven days after watching it.

Director: Hideo Nakata | Stars: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Yûko Takeuchi, Hitomi Satô

Votes: 65,611

Director: Hideo Nakata

Budget: $1,200,000 (¥121,737,258)

Box Office: 10,000,000+ (¥1 billion+) Japan box office

Profit %: 733%

* launched Ring film franchise

24. Billy Jack (1971)

GP | 114 min | Action, Drama, Western

50 Metascore

Ex-Green Beret hapkido expert saves wild horses from being slaughtered for dog food and helps protect a desert "freedom school" for runaway.

Director: Tom Laughlin | Stars: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Victor Izay

Votes: 5,703 | Gross: $98.00M

Writer-Director-Producer: Tom Laughlin

Budget: $800,000

Box Office: $32,500,000

Profit %: 3963%

* part a series wildly successful low budget Billy Jack films

25. Fireproof (2008)

PG | 122 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

28 Metascore

In an attempt to save his marriage, a firefighter uses a 40-day experiment known as "The Love Dare."

Director: Alex Kendrick | Stars: Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea, Ken Bevel, Stephen Dervan

Votes: 21,843 | Gross: $33.46M

Writer-Director: Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick

Budget: $500,000

Box Office: $33,473,297

Profit %: 6595%

26. Walking Tall (1973)

R | 125 min | Action, Biography, Crime

60 Metascore

Based on the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser whom almost single-handily cleaned up his small town of crime and corruption, but at a personal cost of his family life and nearly his own life.

Director: Phil Karlson | Stars: Joe Don Baker, Elizabeth Hartman, Leif Garrett, Dawn Lyn

Votes: 5,444 | Gross: $4.75M

Director: Phil Karlson

Budget: $500,000

Box Office: $23,000,000

Profit %: 4500%

* launched Walking Tall film franchise

27. Fritz the Cat (1972)

TV-MA | 78 min | Animation, Comedy, Drama

54 Metascore

A hypocritical swinging college student cat raises hell in a satiric vision of various elements on the 1960s.

Director: Ralph Bakshi | Stars: Skip Hinnant, Rosetta LeNoire, John McCurry, Judy Engles

Votes: 11,876 | Gross: $25.00M

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Budget: $700,000

Box Office: $90,000,000

Profit %: 12,757%

*added 10 June 2021

28. Insidious (I) (2010)

PG-13 | 103 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

52 Metascore

A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.

Director: James Wan | Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye

Votes: 287,412 | Gross: $54.01M

Writer: Leigh Whannell, Director: James Wan, Producer: Jason Blum

Budget: $1,500,000

Box Office: $95,000,000

Profit %: 6533%

*added 10 June 2021

29. Wolf Creek (2005)

R | 99 min | Horror, Thriller

54 Metascore

Three backpackers stranded in the Australian outback are plunged inside a hellish nightmare of insufferable torture by a sadistic psychopathic local.

Director: Greg McLean | Stars: Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi, John Jarratt

Votes: 69,252 | Gross: $16.19M

Writer-Director-Producer: Greg McLean

Budget: $1,400,000 AUD

Box Office: $35,000,000 AUD

Profit %: 2,400%

*added 10 June 2021

30. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

PG | 96 min | Documentary, News

75 Metascore

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim follows Al Gore on the lecture circuit, as the former presidential candidate campaigns to raise public awareness of the dangers of global warming and calls for immediate action to curb its destructive effects on the environment.

Director: Davis Guggenheim | Stars: Al Gore, Billy West, George Bush, George W. Bush

Votes: 81,218 | Gross: $23.81M

31. Unfriended (2014)

R | 83 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

59 Metascore

A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious, supernatural force using the account of their dead friend.

Director: Levan Gabriadze | Stars: Heather Sossaman, Matthew Bohrer, Courtney Halverson, Shelley Hennig

Votes: 71,132 | Gross: $32.48M

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