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10 Great Low-Budget Movies That Become Unexpected Box-Office Hits

In Hollywood, it’s rare to see a low-budget movie do great in box office. Lately, most of the high-performance movies in cinemas are also big-budget movies like Captain America: Civil War and Skyfall, which had budgets of $250 and 200 million respectively and both raked in more than $1 billion in box office.

But movies like Deadpool, which had a budget of only $58 million, easily got $760 million. American Sniper with a budget of only $58.8 million pulled more than $500 million in the box office. Twilight: New Moon had a $50 million budget but gained more than $700 million in gross income. All of these prove that movie studios don’t need to spend super huge amount of money to make a film that movie goers can appreciate.

Though a factor, hiring A-listers is not always a sure way to get big returns. Take for example the 2011 superhero film Green Lantern, which only grossed $220 million against a production budget of $200 million, and Lone Ranger, which grossed $260 million against a production budget of $375 million including the marketing budget. Both are huge flop considering the lead actors are both popular.

However, the following 15 films, which all considered to be low-budget films, were able to score high in the box office.

1. Lost in Translation

Director: Sofia Coppola
Budget: $4 million
Box Office: $120 million

The story is about an ageing actor (played by Bill Murray) and a young neglected wife (Scarlett Johansson) who meet during their travel to Tokyo. Lost in Translation was a commercial success, with Murray and Johansson winning the BAFTA award for Best Actor and Actress in a leading role. Murray was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best actor for his performance in the film.

2. The Purge

Director: James DeMonaco
Budget: $3 million
Box Office: $89 million

The film’s story is about a wealthy family that are held hostage in a particular time in which committing murder and other crimes are considered legal within the 12-hour period they call The Purge. Starring Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, the film topped the box office on its opening day.

3. Saw

Director: James Wan
Budget: $1 million
Box Office: $104 million

In the movie, two men find themselves tied up in a big shabby bathroom. One of them has to kill the other or his loved ones will be killed.

Almost every fearless teenager in the mid 2000s watched the gruesome movie. The low-budget horror movie was shot for 18 days only but was successful.

4. Rocky

Director: John Avildsen
Budget: $1 million
Box Office: $225 million

It’s a rags to riches story of a good man who is actually an underdog boxer contender for the heavy-weight title. His only skill is his ability to take in numerous punches and his strong will not to be knocked out. This is the film that catapulted Sylvester Stallone to stardom. He also wrote the story and producers tried to buy the rights, but the then struggling actor refused unless he starred in it, which was a good move for Stallone because the movie cashed in an incredible $225 million and earned the movie several nominations and awards and spawned six sequels. The movie was also named by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest sports films ever made.

5. Napoleon Dynamite

Director: Jared Hess
Budget: $400,000
Box Office: $46 million

The film starred then-unknown actor Jon Heder (Blades of Glory), who was paid only $1,000. But after the film’s initial success, Heder renegoatiated his salary and was given a certain cut of the film’s profit. He played the role of a gawky teenager Napoleon Dynamite who likes to make up stories about himself as his way of dealing with bullies. The movie was given a positive review and became a pop culture phenomenon.

6. American Graffiti

Director: George Lucas
Budget: $777,000
Box Office: $140 million

The movie was made before Star Wars, back when George Lucas was just an aspiring director. The film was inspired by Lucas’s college and teenage years. Despite the problems the whole production team encountered like crew members getting arrested, actors drunk most of the times, permits being cancelled, the film is at 62nd place on the American Film Institute list of Greatest Movies of All Time.

7. Juno

Director: Jason Reitman
Budget: $7 million
Box Office: $231 million

Played by Ellen page, Juno is a teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy, which puts her in a situation that is supposed to be for an adult life only. For a star-studded film, its low budget is surprising. But it scored big and raked in four Oscars nominations, winning one of them.

8. Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Danny Boyle
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $378 million

The story is set in India. An 18-year old Jamal Malik, a contestant who is able to answer every question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He was detained as he is being suspected of cheating. But during his questioning, it was revealed how he is able to answer to all the questions thrown at him. The movie received ten nominations in 2009 Academy Awards.

9. The King’s Speech

Director: Tom Hooper
Budget: $15 million
Box Office: $414 million

The film tells a story of King George VI (played by Colin Firth) who suffer from stuttering. He hires a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to help him overcome his speech problem in time for his first radio broadcast in 1939 Britain’s declaration of war against Germany.

Colin Firth’s performance was lauded. The film won seven British Academy Film Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. They also received four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor.

10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Director: Joel Zwick
Budget: $5 million
Box Office: $367 million

Despite the low budget and unknown casting, the film became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. It was reported that the movie had no budget for marketing and advertising and relied purely on e-mail campaigns and word of mouth.

It was Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’s wife, who saw the play and suggested to her husband to produce the movie. Nia Vardalos, one of the film’s actresses also admitted to hanging up when Tom Hanks called because she thought that it was just a prank.

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