25 Films That Made Millions Despite Their Tiny Budgets

It’s a generally accepted fact that without a big budget, a movie will struggle at the box office. There are exceptions, though. Despite their low budgets, several films with small budgets have grossed over $1 million in the U.S. alone.

That’s due to excellent use of resources, unexpectedly strong performances, gaining a cult following, and other factors. Let’s look at 20 movies with tiny budgets that have returned big receipts. They’re ranked by budget from smallest to “largest,” and the earnings are for the U.S. only.

El Mariachi (1992)

Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

This Spanish-language tale of revenge set in Mexico complete with a lethal guitar established Robert Rodriguez as a major director. Its success allowed him to film two sequels: Desperado and the epic Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Budget: $7,000, Domestic box office: $2,040,920

 

Skinamarink (2022)

This Canadian horror film focuses on two children who wake in the night and find their father is missing. Making matters worse:, doors, windows, and other objects begin to disappear. Budget: $15,000, Box Office: $2,052,072

 

Slacker (1991)

Image Credit: Orion Classics.

What do you get with a comedy-drama portraying a day in the life of a quirky batch of characters? You get Slacker, filmed around Auston, TX. Budget: $23,000, Box Office: $1,227,508

 

Deep Throat (1972)

Image Credit: Bryanston Distributing Company.

 

In the interests of keeping it family-friendly here, let’s just say that this one is from the “adult films” genre. Nevertheless, it changed the industry, ushering in a period where these films featured plots and character development. They were, of course, in addition to what everyone really watched them for. Deep Throat is also the highest-grossing film on this list. Budget: $25,000, Box Office: $45,000,000

 

In the Company of Men (1997)

Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

This dark comedy revolves around two male co-workers who, angry at women, decide to torment a deaf female underling. What could go wrong? Budget: $25,000, Box Office: $2,883,661

 

Clerks (1994)

Clerks.
Image Credit: Miramax.

Shot in black-and-white, this comedy about a retail clerk gave us famous characters such as Jay and Silent Bob. Director Kevin Smith filmed it in convenience and video stores where he actually worked. Budget: $27,000, Box Office: $3,073,428

 

The Brothers McMullen (1995)

Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

This comedy-drama chronicles the lives of three Irish American brothers living on Long Island, NY. Edward Burns wrote, directed, produced, and starred in this film. Budget: $50,000, Box Office: $10,426,506

 

Gabriela (2001)

Image Credit: Miramax.

Engaged Gabriela wrestles between duty and anticipation. Then she meets Mike, who falls in love with her, but she takes fiance Patrick to meet her family instead. Mike isn’t ready to give up in this romance genre film, though. Budget: $50,000, Box Office: $2,335,352

 

Super Size Me (2004)

Image Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Roadside Attractions.

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock wanted to show how the fast-food industry encourages poor nutrition for corporate profit. To do so, he went on a 30-day regimen of only eating McDonald’s food. In the process, he reveals the harmful effects on his physical and mental health. Budget: $65,000, Box Office: $11,529,368

 

The Wretched (2020)

Image Credit: IFC Midnight.

Defiant kids can be tough to deal with. However, defiance comes in handy here when a teen boy goes up against a next-door neighbor who’s actually a witch. Budget: $66,000, Box Office: $1,815,440

 

Pi (1998)

Image Credit: Artisan Entertainment.

Labeled as a psychological thriller, this film is not for those seeking gore or jump scares. Instead, it follows the obsession of a brilliant mathematician who faces two seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. Budget: $68,000, Box Office: $3,221,152

 

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Image Credit: Sean S. Cunningham Films.

Written and directed by Wes Craven, this horror film received heavy criticism for advertising extreme violence. It follows two teenage girls abducted by psychopaths. Budget: $87,000, Box Office: $3,100,000

 

Eraserhead (1977)

Image Credit: Libra Films.

This was an early product from David Lynch that helped put him on the map. It’s a horror film telling the story of a man who has to care for his hideously deformed child. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $7,000,000

 

Facing the Giants (2006)

Image Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Underdog stories are often popular, which helps explain why this movie overperformed its budget so well. It’s about a football team and has a Christian perspective. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $10,178,331

 

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Image Credit: The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

A comedy with a satirical approach to racial stereotypes, this film from Robert Townsend is also semi-autobiographical. It reflects the experience of a black actor who was not “black enough” for certain roles. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $5,228,617

 

The Mighty (1998)

Image Credit: Miramax.

Based on the novel Freak the Mighty, this movie is a coming-of-age buddy film about two teen misfits. They endure bullying, physical and learning disabilities, and other challenges. By the end, the movie melts all but the coldest of hearts. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $2,652,246

 

Over the Hill to the Poorhouse (1920)

Image Credit: Universal Film Manufacturing Company.

This silent film delivered a powerful social message. It depicts a woman who cannot enjoy life because of the many children she has and the little support available. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $3,000,000

 

The Gallows (2015)

Image Credit: New Line Cinema, Blumhouse Productions.

The Blair Witch Project popularized the found footage horror genre. In this genre, most of the action is presented as footage found on films made by characters in the movie. The Gallows portrays a haunting based on the accidental hanging death of a high school student. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $22,764,410

 

A Ghost Story (2017)

Image Credit: A24.

Many supernatural dramas are about living people who encounter or are attacked by ghosts. This film takes a different approach. It’s from the perspective of a man who becomes a ghost and inhabits the home he shared with his wife. Hint: the wife is still alive. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $1,594,798

 

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation.
Image Credit: Fox.

Often denounced as a racist film, this silent film is one of the most controversial American movies ever made. Mixing fact and fiction, it chronicles a pro-Union and a pro-Confederacy family during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Budget: $100,000, Box Office: $10,000,000

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