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16 Low-Budget Movies That Were Huge Hits

napoleon dynamite featured

Not every hit movie needs an astronomical budget and A-list stars to resonate with audiences.

Check out some films that succeeded despite (and sometimes because of) the built-in limitations of being low on cash.

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'The Purge'

Budget: $3 million
Opening Weekend: $34 million

Armed with little more than Ethan Hawke and a wickedly provocative concept, The Purge surprised studios by handily winning its opening weekend. The horror movie is about a future United States that allows a 12-hour period of lawlessness every year.

'Once'

Budget: $150,000
Domestic Gross: $9.4 million

This low-budget musical stunned critics when it was first released in Ireland in 2006, and continued to win them over after it traveled overseas. The story of a street musician and a pianist who find love and make music together was acted out by two real-life musicians (Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), who were not trained actors.

'The Full Monty'

Budget: $3.5 million
Gross Domestic: $50 million

This British movie about down-on-their-luck blue collar workers turned strippers had a little budget, but that didn't keep it from hauling in an impressive $257.9 million in worldwide box offices. It was also nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, and won the BAFTA for Best Picture despite competition from Titanic.

'Paranormal Activity'

Budget: $15,000
Domestic Gross: $107.9 million

In 2009, Paranormal Activity came along and shocked everyone not only by being surprisingly scary, but by taking in more than $100 million at the box office with a tiny little budget. It's spawned three successful and similarly low-budgeted sequels and producer Jason Blum also helped make The Purge happen.

'sex, lies, and videotape'

Budget: $1.2 million
Gross Domestic: $24.7 million

Steven Soderbergh's first feature film benefitted from the Hollywood buzz created by its screenplay, which (as legend has it) was drafted in eight days on a yellow legal pad while Soderbergh traveled cross-country. It drew a cast that included James Spader, Peter Gallagher, and Andie MacDowell in her first major film role.

'Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels'

Budget: $1.35 million
Gross Worldwide: $25.3 million

Because it's a British export, it makes more sense to look at the worldwide box office haul forGuy Ritchie's out-of-nowhere take on London's underworld. The first-time director expertly weaved the interlocking stories of competing criminal elements into a slick, irresistable movie that led to the follow-up Snatch.

'The Blair Witch Project'

Budget: $60,000
Gross Domestic:$140.5 million

Thanks to an extraordinarily successful viral marketing campaign launched at a time when no one understood what viral marketing was, The Blair Witch Project opened wide to the tune of $29 million in the summer of 1999. Despite complaints that the shakycam found footage thriller made some theatergoers feel motion sick, Blair Witch stands as the fourth-highest grossing horror movie of all time.

'Napoleon Dynamite'

Budget: $400,000
Gross Domestic:$44.5 million

Made on a famously tight budget, Napoleon Dynamite was edited in producer Jeremy Coon's apartment on a Mac that cost $6,000, which is $5,000 more than Jon Heder earned for playing the title character. During Napoleon's dance scene near the end of the movie, director Jared Hess ran out of film and had to edit together Heder's best moves to finish the scene.

'Pink Flamingos'

Budget: $12,000
Gross Domestic: $7 million

John Waters launched his film career with a movie that aimed to be the trashiest thing anyone had ever seen on the big screen. It enjoyed success in midnight showings, sparked a still-active cult following, and launched the career of its larger-than-life leading lady, Divine.

'Night of the Living Dead'

Budget: $114,00
Gross Domestic:$12 million

The zombie movie that started it all was made by George Romero with money from a pool of investors who gave him $600 each to bring his movie to life. The movie launched the zombie sub-genre and led to a sequel, Dawn of the Dead, that was made for $500,000 and brought in $55 million.

'El Mariachi'

Budget: $7,000
Gross Domestic: $2 million

For a movie that was never meant for U.S. audiences, Robert Rodriguez's first movie, the Spanish-language El Mariachi, made a big splash in Hollywood. While the movie's box office take isn't nearly as impressive as some of the movies on this list, it might have the smallest budget. That budget was so tight, Rodriguez has said every shot had to be well-rehearsed so he could get it on film the first time. He couldn't afford second takes. It launched the filmmaker's career, leading to his big break with Desperado, which made stars out of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

'Rocky'

Budget: $950,000
Domestic Gross:$117.2 million

Rocky
enjoys the rare distinction of being a low-budget movie that doesn't look anything like a low-budget movie thanks to the on-set innovation of the wearable Steadicam. The invention allowed Sylvester Stallone's story of an underdog boxer to come to life without expensive tracking shots like the ones his famous jogging scene would have otherwise required.

'Mad Max'

Budget: $400,000
Gross Worldwide: $100 million

George Miller's vision of a dystopian future Australia ruled by gangs of thugs on motorcycles made a star out of Mel Gibson and launched a very lucrative franchise. The original movie's budget was so tight only Gibson wore real leather (everyone else wore pleather), and crash sequences had to be captured on the first take because Miller couldn't afford to buy more cars.

'Clerks'

Budget: $31,665
Domestic Gross: $3.1 million

While Clerks wasn't exactly a blockbuster, it did bring a very hefty return on filmmaker Kevin Smith's investment. Of course, if he made it today, Clerks would probably cost even less since he shot on film, albeit cheaper black and white film. It also launched his career, and made him a guru to aspiring no-budget filmmakers.

'Saw'

Budget: $1.2 million
Domestic Gross: $55.2 million

To get their horror movie made into a full-length film, James Wan and Leigh Whannell first made a nine-and-a-half minute short for $3,000 that later became the movie's opening scene with its famous reverse beartrap device. Upon seeing what the pair could do on such a meager budget, LionsGate bankrolled them for $1.2 million on the spot, and a very successful franchise was born.

'Halloween'

Budget: $325,000
Gross Domestic: $47 million

John Carpenter built a reputation for doing big things with small budgets on this now-revered horror classic. Michael Myers' famously creepy visage was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask spray-painted white, Jamie Lee Curtis' wardrobe was purchased for $100 at J.C. Penney, and intricate shots had to be well-rehearsed and captured in single takes to save on the cost of film.

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