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Unlikely indie hits in film

We've all seen them and heard about how much money they made for how little they cost to make. Here are some of the most notable low-budget successes in film history.

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We all have our indie film favourites. Reels made for extremely small amounts of money and based on 100% enthusiasm and love for the film medium itself. Mine are Bone Tomahawk and Upgrade. Two films that are drenched in originality and character, that cost hilariously little to complete and in their own ways managed to breathe life into their respective genres. However, none of them managed to make 100 times their own total budget (or more), which is what most of the big-name indie hits have done over the years. We have collected a bunch of them below and commented on their enormous success.

Unlikely indie hits in film

The Blair Witch Project

We've all seen it, some of us at the cinema premiere, when the hype for this remarkable indie classic made many a curious film fan believe that what was being shown was real, that the "found footage" thing was real, thanks to a clever and well-planned advertising campaign in the days before the premiere. Depending on how you look at it (whether or not to include the marketing), this film either cost $35,000 or $60,000. Whichever way you look at it, this indie classic grossed almost $250 million at the cinema.

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Unlikely indie hits in film

Paranormal Activity

The biggest indie hit of all time, the thriller about the sleeping bedroom couple and their persistent house ghost, made by film lover Oren Peri with his wife's home video camera, woke up Steven Spielberg himself and the rest, as we say, is history. Paranormal Activity cost just over $15,000 to make, grossed nearly $200 million at the cinema and even more through DVD and Blu-ray sales.

Unlikely indie hits in film
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Napoleon Dynamite

In my opinion, there are very few comedies of all time that are more original and more originally funny than Jared Hess' brilliant, MTV-financed debut gem of a laugh fest. The film was based on Hess's school project (short film) Peluca, which was bought by Searchlight, which financed the feature film along with MTV Films, which made billions from the Beavis & Butthead films. Napoleon cost less than $400,000 to produce and was edited at home in the bedroom using a Mac Book pro and Final Cut Pro. Earned over $46.1 million at the cinema and the same amount on DVD.

Unlikely indie hits in film

Halloween

John Carpenter's iconic, immortal 70s horror film was based on a script written in ten days, while the film was shot in 20 days. There was no money for expensive effects or costumes, leaving Myers as a bluestocking-wearing mute with a white-lacquered masquerade mask purchased at a nearby petrol station (Kirk, from Star Trek). Carpenter also wrote the film's soundtrack himself on his wife's piano. Halloween cost $325,000 to produce. It grossed over 70 million at the cinema and tonnes more on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, making it one of the biggest indie successes in the film world of all time.

Unlikely indie hits in film

Rocky

An untrained, hyper-ambitious Stallone wrote the script for Rocky at home in his kitchen in less than three days, then tacked on $2 million for the rights to it, and over a number of months managed to persuade United Artists to let him star in his own film. Rocky cost a total of $1.1 million to make, grossed $225 million in the cinema and raked in even more as a franchise.

Unlikely indie hits in film

Get Out

Key & Peele comedy star Jordan Peele wanted to make a horror film as he believed that comedy and horror are genres that are largely based on the same type of storytelling, even if they are tonally opposite. He managed to scrape together funding after writing a script that was based on racism and was partly self-experienced (minus the more freaky horror parts at the end, of course). Jordan wrote the script in the summer of 2015, he also produced and directed Get Out which was a massive success. The film cost just over $4.5 million to make and market and went on to gross a staggering $255 million at the box office.

Unlikely indie hits in film

Juno

Diablo Cody was asked after her book debut to write a "test script" to demonstrate her capacity as a screenwriter and the "test" was apparently Juno, which was largely based on her own high school experiences. Jason Reitman directed it and the inherent cynicism of the story and the sensitive subject of surrogacy meant that it was delayed several times before its release and for a while was rumoured to be cancelled before it even hit the cinema. It was actually John Malkovich who, through his own production company, helped Juno get off the ground, which led to numerous successes. Big ones. Juno won the Oscar for best original screenplay and earned a staggering $232 million at the cinema and at least as much through the sale of physical media and streaming rights. The production budget was $6.5 million including marketing.



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