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20 Low-Budget Films That Ended Up Making Millions

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My Big Fat Greek Wedding has become a classic romantic comedy, but at the time it was released, no one had high expectations for it. With a budget of only $5 million (chump change by Hollywood standards), this charming romance about a clash of cultures went on to make $368 million at the box office. 

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Rocky

Rocky was the movie that put Sylvester Stallone on the map, but you would have never guessed this would be his big break judging by the budget--a tiny $1 million. However, people couldn’t get enough of the Italian Stallion, and Rocky went on to make over $100 million. 

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The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project terrified audiences in 1999 with alleged real footage of amateur filmmakers exploring the legend of the Blair Witch. Because of its low-budget premise, it only took about $60,000 to create the movie, but it would go on to make up that budget at the box office...and then some! When all was said and done, The Blair Witch Project had grossed a jaw-dropping $248 million. 

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Mad Max

Before the big-budget entries in the Mad Max franchise, there was the original. This postapocalyptic action thriller starring Mel Gibson brought in over $1 million--which was a huge amount of money by 1979 standards. What’s more impressive is that the action-packed film was only made for $300,000. 

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Paranormal Activity

Although it came almost a decade after, Paranormal Activity took a page out of the Blair Witch playbook and went with a low-budget premise--a couple documenting supernatural occurences in their home. The budget for this hit movie was a measly $15,000, but it would go on to gross $193 million at the box office. 

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My Left Foot

My Left Foot might not be Daniel Day Lewis’ most memorable performance, but it was definitely profitable for everyone involved. This story about a man with cerebral palsy may have only brought in $14 million at the box office, but when you consider it only had a $600,000 budget, those are some impressive returns. 

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American Graffiti

It turns out that George Lucas was more than just the creator of Star Wars. His second film, American Graffiti, is a rock-and-roll coming of age story starring Ron Howard. The movie had a modest budget of only $750,000, but it became a hit among audiences, bringing in over $115 million. 

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Halloween

There have been so many (usually terrible) Halloween movies that have been released over the years, but the whole franchise got its start with a now-iconic and low-budget thriller starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis. All in all, this iconic slasher film took only $300,000 to create, but it would gross $70 million across the globe. 

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Napoleon Dynamite

For a certain period in the early 2000s, people couldn’t get enough of Napoleon Dynamite. This absurd indie film following the adventures of an awkward teenager in Idaho was full of memorable quotes and offbeat characters. What it wasn’t full of was money--it had a budget of only $400,000, and its star actor, Jon Heder, was only paid $1000 for the role of Napoleon. Audiences didn’t mind the shoestring budget, apparently, as the movie became a cult hit and brought in over $45 million. 

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Super Size Me

Documentaries tend to cost less to make than other movies, so Super Size Me’s $65,000 budget isn’t out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary is the overwhelming popularity this documentary achieved. Audiences just couldn’t get enough of watching Morgan Spurlock eat McDonalds day after day to the detriment of his health--it brought in over $20 million. 

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Clerks

These days, Kevin Smith is a big name in Hollywood, but back in 1994 most people didn’t have a clue who he was. But that all changed with the release of Clerks--his debut black and white comedy about convenience store workers. Smith shot the movie in an actual convenience store for only $27,500, but when Clerks hit the big screen, it grossed over $3 million and launched Smith’s career. 

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Friday the 13th

We’re not sure what it is about the horror genre that inspires so many low-budget movies, but we’re glad it does--otherwise we might never have had the classic slasher, Friday the 13th. When it was made in 1980, it only took $550,000 to make. That didn’t stop audiences from loving Jason though, as proven by its $60 million in revenue. 

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Night of the Living Dead

These days, the world is overrun by a plague of zombie movies. However, back in 1968, the zombie craze was just getting started. While Night of the Living Dead wasn’t the first zombie movie ever made, it was the first to become wildly popular, bringing in over $30 million dollars. What makes this truly remarkable is that it only took $144,000 to produce. 

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Open Water

A movie about a couple getting stuck in shark-infested waters makes for an exciting story but definitely not an expensive one. Released in 2003, it only took about $130,000 to complete Open Water, but when it hit the big screen, it was a runaway success--bringing in $55 million. 

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Once

Once is a movie that has everything--romance, music, and plenty of Irish accents. This film, which follows two musicians from Dublin was made for only $150,000, but it would go on to gross almost $10 million at the box office. 

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Eraserhead

David Lynch has never shied away from the weird, and that’s completely apparent to anyone who has watched his feature-length debut, Eraserhead. It follows the surreal story of a man, his monstrous child, and...the woman who lives in his radiator? It’s best to not ask questions--unless you’re talking money. Lynch spent only $100,000 to make Eraserhead, but it brought in over $7 million. 

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Pi

Darren Aronofsky wrote and directed a weird movie? Consider us utterly surprised. But before his freaky hits like Black Swan and Mother!, there was Pi. This 1998 thriller about an obsessed mathematician only took $68,000 to make, but it brought in over $3 million--making its money back almost 50 times over!

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She's Gotta Have It

She’s Gotta Have It was Spike Lee’s directorial debut in 1986. This black and white comedy followed a woman dating three men and took only $175,000 to make. When it was released, it brought in more than $7 million. 

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El Mariachi

Robert Rodriguez felt so strongly about his low-budget hit, El Mariachi, that he participated in clinical drug trials to raise $7000 for its budget. Although he had only intended to release the film as direct-to-video in Mexico, Columbia pictures picked it up and gave it the love and attention it deserved. It would go on to bring in $2 million. 

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Monsters

Monsters was the low-budget debut for writer and director Gareth Edwards. Whether it was beginner's luck or Edwards' brilliance, this sci-fi horror movie more than made up its $500,000 budget at the box office. Critics and audiences alike loved it, and it ended up bringing in over $4 million!

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