The movie year is generally overstuffed with movies that have overstuffed budgets – take Spectre, for example, a movie so bloated that the budget approached $300 million.
Some of those features are, certainly, worth all those many millions of dollars – but there are plenty of other films out to be consumed that have budgets that at least approach responsible levels. There is some real creativity and real innovation to be found in movies made on the cheap; in fact, these small movies are often the ground where some legendary filmmakers first find their footing. Here’s our list of eight movies you need to see made for less than a million bucks – with two more made on-the-cheap features to look out for in the coming months.
$27,575 production budget
Kevin Smith first earned the attention of Hollywood with this profanely hilarious 1994 comedy that captured the idle whims of listless, slacker culture through the adventures of two strip-mall workers. The movie was shot over three weeks for over a little more than $27,000; it made $3.2 million.
The Evil Dead (1981)
$350,000 production budget
Before Sam Raimi pioneered the modern superhero film with the Spider-Man series, he made the world queasy with this shocking and shockingly watchable horror film that followed five college students tormented in the Tennessee woods. The Evil Dead franchise continues, with star Bruce Campbell leading up the new Ash vs. The Evil Dead series on Starz.
$250,000 production budget
Penned by Jon Favreau and directed by Doug Liman, this 1996 hit boasted a cooler-than-cool soundtrack, plenty of snappy dialogue and a surprisingly insightful look at the male psyche. The dynamite young cast – including Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Heather Graham and Ron Livingston – is wonderful, and there’s an all-time great hockey scene. What more could you want?
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
$400,000 production budget
It’s almost been cult-ified to death, but still, writer-director Jared Hess and star Jon Heder made a truly quirky, lovable movie back in 2004 that deserved every bit of its dorm-room staple status. It’s still strange to see Heder as anyone other than Napoleon.
The Foot Fist Way (2006)
$79,000 production budget
Made for less than $80,000, this hilarious 2006 comedy introduced the world to the team of Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and Ben Best – the trio that would make Eastbound and Down and the underrated Observe and Report, among others. It’s a darkly hilarious portrait of the cuckolded Tae Kwon Do teacher Fred Simmons (McBride) in a North Carolina town. Watch McBride’s in-character appearance on Conan to get a sense.
$60,000 production budget
Before Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky earned raves for this dark and gripping thriller that presented a young New Yorker (Sean Gullette) tormented by numbers and his own mind. It’s disturbing and gripping: everything that would be a trademark of Aronofsky’s future career.
Mad Max (1979)
$350,000 production budget
The most recent entry in the Mad Max series was a revitalizing blast of adrenaline, but let’s not forget where the whole thing started – in 1979, for barely $400 grand, in the Australian outback. A brilliantly supercharged dystopian adventure, the movie remains one of the landmark action films ever created.
$23,000 production budget
Richard Linklater has been one of the world’s most fascinatingly diverse filmmakers over his career, and it was this strange, but captivating, slice-of-life feature from 1991 that launched his career. Pair this with Clerks to make yourself feel truly aimless.
Oh, and looking for a few more low-budget features that are coming up? Try the New England haunting film The Witch, which has earned plenty of raves on the festival circuit, or the harrowing war film Kilo Two Bravo.
They’re not as epic as a Spectre or a Age of Ultron might be … but the odds are that they’ll have a lot more heart.
Any shoestring budget movies you think should be on our “must watch” list? Tell us below in the comments.