Skip To Content

    11 Classic Films That Were Cheap As Hell, And 11 Box Office Bombs You Forgot Existed

    I can't believe The Blair Witch Project cost that little.

    1. Small Budget Success: Napoleon Dynamite

    Efren Ramirez (as Pedro) and Jon Heder (as Napoleon Dynamite) wearing a 'Vote for Pedro' t-shirt

    Napoleon Dynamite began its life as a nine-minute short film by BYU student Jared Hess called Peluca. Hess cast his classmate, Jon Heder, in the title role and started planning out an eventual feature-length version of the movie.

    Efren Ramirez, Aaran Ruell, Jon Gries, Jon Heder and Jared Hess, director

    After Peluca was shown at Slamdance Film Festival, the feature-length version secured a producer and investors, but the budget they pulled together was only $400,000. Heder joked that half of that was spent on getting the rights to use "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai for the final dance. They shot the movie in Hess's Idaho hometown in just 23 days.

    napoleon dancing on stage

    The film ended up being accepted into Sundance, where its premiere was so well-received that the movie quickly earned a distribution deal. It went on to earn $46 million globally.

    Tina Majorino (as Deb) and Jon Heder (as Napoleon Dynamite)

    2. Big Budget Flop: John Carter (2012)

    John Carter holding swords

    A big-budget adaptation of the book, A Princess of Mars, was long overdue when Disney took on the project. But thanks to a massive budget and some marketing missteps, it became one of the biggest box office flops of all time.

    John Carter

    In total, the movie cost $306.6 million to make. But the marketing campaign failed to give audiences enough information on the key selling points of the movie. It didn't emphasize the action of the movie, the famous director, or how influential A Princess of Mars and the rest of the Barsoom series have been to the sci-fi genre.

    John Carter, US poster art

    Because of the vague marketing campaign (and not enough A-listers to compensate for it), the movie only made $184 million in its first two weekends, making it a major loss for Disney. The two planned sequels were canceled.

    John Carter

    3. Small Budget Success: Paranormal Activity (2007)

    Paranormal Activity

    Paranormal Activity originally cost first-time director, Oren Peli, just $15,000 and seven days to shoot on a single handheld video camera. Peli also served as the film's writer, editor, and producer, and it took him a year to prepare to shoot the found-footage-style film, much of that time spent dressing his own house as a set, and then another 10 months to edit.

    Peli in front of his editing monitors

    Eventually, the buzz around the movie at festivals was enough to draw a distribution deal from DreamWorks, who actually wanted to remake the movie entirely. But as the movie continued to be screened around the country while the deal stalled, audiences seemed to like the original, low-budget version.

    closeup of a woman sitting up in bed

    In the end, the original movie just underwent some recutting and reshooting, especially the ending, which added significantly to the budget. However, the cost still remained small in comparison to the $100+ million the movie went on to earn at the US box office.

    grainy shot of a couple in bed

    4. Big Budget Flop: Waterworld (1995)

    two men on a pirate ship

    Waterworld earned $21.6 million in its first weekend at the box office, which is a decent performance for most movies. That would even be a pretty impressive showing if it cost $40 million to make.

    man, woman, and child on a pirate ship

    The problem is that at the time it was released, Waterworld was the most expensive movie ever made, costing the studio $235 million in total. A decent performance at the box office wasn't enough to break even with such a massive budget.

    pirate yelling

    Eventually, the movie became profitable, but not until it left theaters.

    closeup of a pirate

    5. Small Budget Success: Juno (2007)

    juno letting her boyfriend touch her baby bump

    Though it seems like a lot of money, Juno's $7.5 million production budget was incredibly low for Hollywood standards. Some of the movie's famous stars, like Jennifer Garner, even took pay cuts to help stay under budget.

    the cast taking a group photo

    After doing the festival circuit, the film got wider distribution, eventually earning $100 million and winning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

    juno meeting her baby's future adopted parents

    6. Big Budget Flop: Tomorrowland (2015)

    a young girl and a dad looking back at someone

    Tomorrowland had a budget of $280 million, with just $190 million of the cost going to production. But the large marketing budget is a little confusing considering...no one really knew what it was about before its release.

    movie poster

    Apparently, some of this was intentional because director Brad Bird didn't want to give too much away in the trailers. But some blame its vague, confusing trailers for Tomorrowland's disappointing $40.7 million opening weekend.

    close up of a woman

    Brad Bird speculated that "a certain segment of the audience might have been disappointed with us" when they realized that the movie was about traveling to Tomorrowland rather than being set mainly in Tomorrowland.

    tomorrowland

    7. Small Budget Success: My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

    newlyweds

    My Big Fat Greek Wedding began its life as a popular one-woman show from Nia Vardalos about her experience as someone from a big Greek family marrying a non-Greek.

    server walking up to a table with coffee

    The story eventually gained the interest of film executives, many of whom suggested significant changes to the story to be more marketable. Vardalos eventually secured a deal to make a movie with a $5 million budget, with her playing the lead role and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson as producers.

    four women getting ready

    Despite a slow start at the box office, the movie exploded in popularity and became one of the most successful romantic comedies of all time. It earned $240 million at the domestic box office.

    closeup of a woman smiling

    8. Big Budget Flop: The Lone Ranger (2013)

    closeup of two men dressed up for a masquerade ball

    Before filming could even start, Disney paused pre-production on The Lone Ranger until its budget could be reduced from $260 million to $215 million. When shooting finally started, there were so many problems and delays that the movie reportedly ended up going over its reduced budget and star Armie Hammer later joked on The Tonight Show that the movie was cursed.

    a woman placing her hands on a man's chest

    Likely due to the lackluster trailers, poor reviews, and controversy around Johnny Depp playing the already controversial Native American character, Tonto, Disney's investment did not pay off. The movie only managed to earn $29.3 million from its opening weekend, devastatingly overshadowed by the release of Despicable Me 2.

    closeup of johnny as tonto

    9. Small Budget Success: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

    closeup of someone crying

    The original found-footage-style horror movie, The Blair Witch Project was made with just $60,000. The movie had a loose script, but the dialogue was improvised, and most of the movie was filmed on a camcorder.

    closeup of a buy holding a camcorder

    Filmmakers, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, continued tweaking and editing the movie as it made the rounds at festivals. They never even expected the movie to be released in theaters, but not only did it reach theaters, it also ended up grossing $248 million globally.

    closeup of a woman in the woods

    10. Big Budget Flop: Battleship (2012)

    closeup of two men in military uniforms

    Battleship was a confusing film from the beginning. An action movie with a budget of over $200 million, based on a board game, and featuring a lot of marketing centered around the acting debut of...Rihanna?

    Rihanna aiming a large weapon at sea

    Executives tried to generate interest by debuting internationally before the US premiere, but its box office performance couldn't measure up to its massive budget. In the end, it reportedly lost $115 million.

    cloesup of two people outside

    11. Small Budget Success: Rocky (1976)

    two men in a boxing ring

    Rocky cost under $1 million to make and changes had to be made throughout filming to accommodate the small budget. For example, the ice skating scene was set after the rink had closed because filmmakers couldn't afford to pay extras to fill the scene.

    two people skating in the ice rink

    Not only did the movie go on to gross $117 million just in the US, but it also won three Oscars.

    movie poster

    12. Big Budget Flop: The 13th Warrior (1999)

    close up of two men with battle wounds

    The 13th Warrior initially had a somewhat smaller budget, back when it was still called Eaters of the Dead, based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. However, after some poor test screenings, the movie's release was pushed back a year to reconfigure.

    closeup of a woman lifting a man's chin

    John McTiernan was eventually replaced as director by author Michael Crichton, who made significant changes (including the film's title). Between recutting, reshooting, and a new score, the movie's budget grew to at least $100 million, with some estimates going as high as $160 million.

    movie poster

    Unfortunately, the new direction didn't pay off, and the movie reportedly grossed just $61 million worldwide.

    the cast

    13. Small Budget Success: Moonlight (2016)

    man holding a boy in pain in the ocean

    Based on the play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, who wanted to make a low-budget film in order to maintain creative control and create something personal.

    two men at a diner

    The movie was made with a $4 million budget, and though its theatrical distribution was fairly small, it still grossed $37 million globally at the box office. It also won an Oscar for Best Picture.

    two men sitting outside

    14. Big Budget Flop: Dark Phoenix (2019)

    closeup of a woman's face with electrical currents showing on her face

    Dark Phoenix would turn out to be the last of 20th Century Fox's X-Men movies, and unfortunately, it ended things with a fizzle. The movie had a $200 million budget, but was largely neglected after Disney purchased 20th Century Fox.

    the cast

    Some speculate that the eventual poor reviews from critics were a result of a lack of directional oversight. On top of that, the film's release date was changed multiple times, and the Fox marketing department was in disarray during its merge with Disney.

    closeup of two of the characters in room

    In the end, Dark Phoenix had a $55 million opening, only barely beating The Wolverine to avoid the title of Worst X-Men Movie Opening. But that was likely only a small consolation considering the movie still lost $133 million.

    the cast

    15. Small Budget Success: Get Out (2017)

    closeup of a man scared and crying

    Jordan Peele's directorial debut had only a $4.5 million budget and was shot in less than a month. He originally jokingly pitched the idea for the film as "one you’ll never want to make" to producer Sean McKittrick, who immediately offered to buy the pitch.

    close up of an older lady staring a man next to her

    Not only did the movie receive critical acclaim, but it also grossed $255 million at the global box office.

    characters sitting outside on a table

    16. Big Budget Flop: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

    the cast

    In the post-Avatar era of movies, a heavily CGI adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk seemed like a good investment, so at least $190 million was spent on production alone.

    the characters in armor

    The investment didn't pay off, though, and after the movie's release, it was already tracking to lose $125 million. Likely factors for the flop were the last-minute change of release date and title, plus the fact that marketing never managed to appeal to families, which should have made up a significant part of the movie's audience. It grossed just $197 million at the box office.

    Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

    17. Small Budget Success: Pulp Fiction (1994)

    two characters pointing guns

    After his first small-budget hit, Reservoir Dogs, director Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction. He secured a bigger budget than his last film, but it was still only $8.5 million.

    two of the characters dancing

    Despite a cast full of stars, many of the actors' salaries were small in exchange for a share of the film's profits. And that risk paid off when the film took over $200 million at the box office.

    woman eating a burger

    18. Big Budget Flop: Evan Almighty (2007)

    a family standing outside

    Evan Almighty was originally a screenplay titled The Passion of the Ark, but after the rights were purchased, the script was entirely rewritten as a sequel to the hit movie Bruce Almighty. Jim Carrey declined to reprise his role from the first movie, but Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman returned.

    two of the characters sitting outside

    Between the visual effects, the large number of animals on set, and the hefty salaries of the stars, the budget of the film grew during filming to a reported $250 million including marketing costs.

    Steve Carell

    Executives expected to recoup these unexpected costs at the box office, but to everyone's surprise, the film only earned $32 million during its opening weekend, less than half of what Bruce Almighty earned.

    Steve Carell

    Poor reviews only continued to drag down sales, some blaming the poor performance on a marketing campaign strongly aimed at church-goers and the film prioritizing heartwarming over comedy.

    Molly Shannon, Jimmy Bennett, Johnny Simmons, Graham Phillips, Lauren Graham, Steve Carell

    19. Small Budget Success: Once (2007)

    Once

    Once only ended up earning $20 million at the box office, but even that modest performance far exceeded expectations for such a small indie film. It was developed with the Irish Film Board and had a budget of just $150,000.

    a couple on a motorcycle

    The Irish film struggled to get accepted to European film festivals until it was selected for Sundance, where it went on to win the World Cinema Audience Award. It later also won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

    a couple staring at each other

    20. Big Budget Flop: Mars Needs Moms (2011)

    Milo

    The motion-capture animated movie Mars Needs Moms cost $150 million to produce, and Disney realized the film would struggle to recoup that cost during early screenings. However, too much money had already been spent, so it was released anyway.

    Milo (voice: Seth Green), Gribble (voice: Dan Fogler), Ki (voice: Elisabeth Harnois)

    All that being said, no one expected an abysmal $6.9 million opening, which is what happened, making it one of the worst wide openings of all time.

    Milo

    21. Small Budget Success: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    Former Monty Python member, Eric Idle, recently tweeted a full breakdown of Holy Grail's budget and where it came from. The budget was roughly $400,000, with investors including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

    The Holy Grail film was financed thusly Michael White Limited £78,750.00 Led Zeppelin £31,500.00 Island Records £21,000.00 Pink Floyd Music £21,000.00 Charisma Records £5,250.00 Heartaches (Tim Rice) £5,250.00 Chrysalis Records £6,300.00 Ian Anderson £6,300.00 Total £175,350.00

    Twitter: @ericidle

    The small budget actually influenced some of the movie's most famous bits, including banging coconuts together to make up for the fact that they couldn't afford horses. The movie ended up earning over $5 million at the box office.

    Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    22. And finally, Big Budget Flop: Pan (2015)

    Levi Miller as Peter Pan, Garrett Hedlund as Hook

    Pan had a $150 million production budget and a cast full of stars, so when it only earned $81.9 million in its first 10 days in theaters, it became a clear flop. Poor reviews were probably a large factor, but the movie also dealt with controversy.

    Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Nonso Anozie

    Like The Lone Ranger, Pan struggled with controversy around casting a non-Native American actor to play a historically controversial and stereotypical Native American role (for Pan, it was Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lily).

    Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily

    Despite filmmakers claiming they wanted to defy audience expectations and create an "international and multi-racial" Neverland, the main cast was mostly white. Rooney Mara has since said she hates that she was "on that side of the whitewashing conversation."

    closeup of three of the characters

    Did we miss your favorite small-budget successes? Your favorite pricey flops? Let us know in the comments below!