Top 23 Independent Films That Became Huge Blockbusters

A good movie doesn’t need a big budget, and that’s a fact. Sure, if you wanna achieve state-of-the-art special effects or if you plan on casting the latest Academy Award winners, then you’ll need to have quite a few millions of dollars underneath your pocket. However, you’d be surprised to know that many of the most iconic films out there have been made with an extremely low budget. Here’s a list of 24 low-budget independent films that became major Hollywood blockbusters. Movie buffs, this list is a must!

Photo: Courtesy of Film at Lincoln Center

#23. The Blair Witch Project

This independent film following a group of student filmmakers who attempt to hunt down an urban legend introduced audiences to a new kind of horror movie and paved the way for many that followed. Of course, this wasn’t the first “found footage” movie ever made, but it was indeed the first one to carry out a viral internet marketing campaign to make the audience believe that what happens in the film is real.

Photo: Courtesy of Haxan Films

The film was made out of a $60,000 budget, and yet it managed to make $246.8 million worldwide at the box office, which includes $140.5 million in the U.S. alone. You’re probably guessing it took a long time to shoot the film, right? Well, actually, it didn’t! This film was made in only eight days and its script wasn’t even finished when the filming began. Also, it was thanks to this film that the movie in #1 was made!

#22. Juno

This famous indie film made on a $7.5 million budget. Crazy, right? The budget was so low that actress Jennifer Garner had to settle on a pay cut to help keep the costs down. Fortunately, the movie starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera made $231.4 million worldwide, including $143.4 million domestic.

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Not only was the film a major box office hit, but it also received many Oscar nominations, which was unprecedented for an independent film. Juno was even nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress in a Leading Role, and it also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Thanks to its unconventional, realistic and yet funny take on a controversial topic like teenage pregnancy, the film became a huge success, especially among young women. Don’t miss this other indie film coming next!

#21. Little Miss Sunshine

This is another indie film that was a great success among teens. In 2006, Little Miss Sunshine received four Oscar nominations and two wins after hitting the big screen. This movie was filmed with an $8-million budget but earned $59.9 million in the U.S. alone and $100.5 million worldwide.

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

The movie received a standing ovation when it was first premiered, and it deserved nothing less! Despite the film’s success, it comes as a shock that it only reached 1,602 theaters worldwide. Without a doubt, it’s one of the fans’ favorite films to this day.

#20. Annabelle

Annabelle is one of the most terrifying films out there, and that’s a fact. Bearing this in mind, it may come as a shock that it was made on a $6.5-million budget. A round of applause for producer Peter Safran, please!

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros

Sure, the film’s success was helped by the fact that it was a spin-off of the horror classic The Conjuringbut still, let’s give Annabelle some credit! However, the prequel Annabelle 2 was even more successful: while the first installment earned $37.1 million, its prequel grossed nearly $370 million. Wow!

#19. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Did you know that the comedy film My Big Fat Greek Wedding spent almost a whole year in theaters? This may come as a shock if we bear in mind it was made out of a $5-million budget.

Photo: Courtesy of Gold Circle Films

The film was a whopping success, having earned $241 million domestic and $368 million worldwide. It reached the #2 spot only after 20 weeks in theaters, but this is not all! To everyone’s surprise, Nia Vardalos received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

#18. Saw

What’s the deal with horror films that they always manage to conquer the audience with such a low budget? Saw was no exception, as it came to be one of the greatest classics in the horror genre after grossing $104 million out of a mere $1.2 million budget.

Photo: Courtesy of Lions Gate Films

What is more, Saw was the directorial debut of James Wan… that’s what I call beginners luck! Not only did he do a terrific job, but he managed to complete the film in only 18 days. Wan went on to direct The Conjuring, which also left its mark in Hollywood.

#17. Moonlight

The 2017 drama Moonlight represented a turning point in the portrayal of gay black men in films. The film follows the steps of a middle-aged African American man as he struggles to explore and come to terms with his own sexuality and identity.

Photo: Courtesy of A24

Moonlight will be remembered not only for Mahershala Ali’s Oscar-winning performance but also for the awkward moment in which the Oscar for Best Picture was mistakenly given to La La Land. While many thought that Moonlight wasn’t Best Picture material, I think it’s a fantastic film, and let’s not forget it was made on a $4-million budget only!

#16. Mad Max

While most action blockbuster films are made out of a huge budget, this was certainly not the case of the 1979 movie Mad MaxEven though it starred a Hollywood icon like Mel Gibson, it was made with just $300,000.

Photo: Courtesy of Kennedy Miller Productions

Therefore, not even did director George Miller expect the film to become such a massive success. It earned nearly $380 million worldwide, setting the Guinness World Record for Most Profitable Film. Obviously, its sequels Mad Max 2, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road were also great successes.

#15. Halloween

Without a doubt, the release of Halloween represented a turning point in the history of the slasher subgenre, and many critics consider it as the first slasher classic. It also catapulted director John Carpenter to fame, so it definitely deserved to be on our list.

Photo: Courtesy of Bloody Disgusting

Now a cult film, the movie was made out of a $300,000 budget and grossed $255 million. You wanna hear something funny? Michael Myers’ spine-chilling mask was bought at 2 dollars and all of Jamie Lee Curtis’ wardrobe was bought at only $100.

#14. Lost In Translation

Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett JohanssonLost in Translation is regarded as one of the most iconic films within the romantic drama genre. While it was made on a $4 million budget, it earned nearly $120 million worldwide.

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

The movie sold so many tickets that it remained in the theaters for 196 days. Also, Murray’s performance was critically acclaimed, while Sofia Coppola won her first Academy Award for her directorial work.

#13. Pulp Fiction

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a single person who isn’t a total Pulp Fiction fan. Released in 1994, the film quickly generated millions of cult followers, and it earned director and writer Quentin Tarantino his first Academy Award.

Photo: Courtesy of  Miramax

Given the fact that it became one of the greatest cult films ever, it’s hard to believe it was made on a mere $8-million budget. It should come as no surprise that the movie nailed it at the Academy Awards, as it counted with an amazing cast, including A-list stars like John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, and Samuel J. Jackson.

#12. Napoleon Dynamite

Believe it or not, the classic comedy film Napoleon Dynamite was made with just $400,000. What’s even more surprising is that lead actor Jon Heder was paid only $1,000 for his work. Say what???

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

But this is not all. As crazy as it sounds, this hilarious movie was edited on the producer’s computer! Obviously, the actors re-negotiated their payments once the film became such a hit, as it earned $46 million worldwide.

#11. Get Out

Released in 2017, Get Out is one of the most profitable films ever made. It was made on a $4.5 million budget but grossed over $255 million worldwide. Wow!

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

One of the reasons behind its success was the innovative and creative marketing techniques, which explain the whopping $33 million earned just in the opening week. It received 4 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

#10. Super Size Me

The 2004 documentary Super Size Me revolutionized the world after shedding light on the detrimental effects of fast food products on our health. For the film, director Morgan Spurlock ate McDonald’s food for a whole month to see what effects it would have on his health.

Photo: Courtesy of The Con

Spurlock tried every food on the menu at least once and would have 3 McDonald’s meals per day. As you may imagine, he gained 24 pounds, his cholesterol levels rocketed, he underwent mood swings and suffered from liver dysfunctions. Oh, and did I mention this world-famous documentary was made on a $65,000 budget?

#9. Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko took the world by surprise, as nobody imagined it would become the cult classic it is today. Did you know it was made on a $4 million budget only? Also, the film was shot in less than a month. Wow!

Photo: Courtesy of Wired

I know what you’re thinking: what could ever go wrong if you have Jake Gyllenhall in the lead role? Well, actually, Gyllenhall was taking his first steps towards stardom, so his fame was yet to come. The movie was critically acclaimed, both for the storyline and acting.

#8. American Psycho

Before the filming of American Psycho began, rumor had it that Leonardo DiCaprio would take on the lead role of Patrick Bateman for $20 million. However, the Titanic star turned down the role and Christian Bale replaced him.

Photo: Courtesy of Am Psycho Productions

Obviously, this casting decision drastically lowered the total budget, since the film was made with only $8 million. That’s less than half than what DiCaprio had asked for! While the film sparked quite a bit of controversy due to its gore and explicit sex scenes, it was a massive hit and it earned $34 million domestic.

#7. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by Wes Craven A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of the most famous slasher films ever made. It gave birth to one of the most legendary horror characters in history, Freddy Krueger, the creepy disfigured serial killer that re-incarnates in people’s dreams.

Photo: Courtesy of Consequence of Sound

When Raven signed in for the project, little did he imagine that it would become one of the most popular horror franchises in history with 9 sequels. It was made with less than $2 million and earned over $25 million domestic.

#6. The Terminator

While The Terminator is one of the most popular action films of all time, it was made on a tight budget and barely received any promotion before hitting the theaters. Director James Cameron was almost broke, so much so that he had been living in his car by the time the shooting began.

Photo: Courtesy of Film at Lincoln Center

Obviously, nobody imagined the film would become a box office hit, as it made $80 million worldwide with a budget of $6.4 million. It also proved to the breakthrough role in Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s career.

#5. Insidious

Insidious is one of the most spine-chilling horror films ever made, but how did they ever manage to create such a terrifying movie on a mere $800,000 budget? Not even did the production crew expect so much success!

Photo: Courtesy of Alliance Films

The film is about a family who moves into a home possessed by dark spirits, causing their son. to become comatose. It was such a hit with audiences that critics referred to it as the new Paranormal Activity. It earned $100 million, becoming the highest-grossing film of 2011.

#4. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire will always be remembered as the film that rocketed young and promising actor Dev Patel to fame. He took on the lead role of Jamal Malik, and he truly nailed it!

Photo: Courtesy of Substream Magazine

The movie was praised by critics and audiences alike, both for its storyline, performances, and direction. It earned nearly $380 million worldwide on a $15 million budget and received a whopping 8 Academy Awards.

#3. Once

If you’re a musical theater fan like I am, then the Irish film Once is definitely a must-watch. The movie revolves around a Czech immigrant and a street musician who fall for each other, expressing their feelings through beautiful songs.

Photo: Courtesy of Irish America Magazine

Made on a $150,000 budget, nobody expected it would become such a massive hit, much less that it would receive an Academy Award for Best Original Song! It also received an Independent Spirit Award for Best Foreign Film.

#2. Open Water

Did you know that Open Water is based on the true story? In 1988, Tom and Eileen Lonergan were stranded at sea during a scuba diving group and were on the brink of death after being approached by sharks.

Photo: Courtesy of Cinema Every Eye

The film was made on a derisory $500,000 budget, but it earned over $50 million worldwide. The movie will keep you at the edge of your seat, but beware, if you’re dead scared of sharks, then you’d better skip this one.

#1. Paranormal Activity

Following the steps of The Blair Witch ProjectParanormal Activity was shot in a found-footage style and it came to be one of the most frightening horror movies ever made.

Photo: Courtesy of Solana Films

Paranormal Activity is regarded as one of the most profitable films in history, as it earned nearly $200 million worldwide on a ridiculous $15,000 budget. Not only was it Oren Peli’s directorial debut, but the man managed to shoot the whole film in just a week! Wow!

Related posts:

  • About Author

    Hernán Tamargo

    Teacher. Political Scientist. Writer. Feminist... and much more!

  • Advertising

  • Advertising