Low Budget


A few things should be understood about low budget productions. First, the term was defined over years of industry practices that merely designated movies that were produced below a certain dollar threshold as meeting this standard. Second, the designation was created during the preeminent era of film – an era that is currently vanishing – where it was incredibly expensive to even obtain the tools for making a movie, so it was difficult for many to film first rate productions on anything less than a hefty budget. Third, the fact that one is termed a low budget movie does not mean it will be of low quality. As defined in The Changing Movie Landscape, given the industry paradigm shift towards digital video and the advancements made in technology that have leveled the filmmaking field, independent filmmakers can now produce movies on low budgets that will have the look of any first run Hollywood feature. Indeed, had this level playing field been put in a few decades ago the designation “low budget” might have never evolved. For when we all watch a movie we ultimately do so for its content and not for what it cost. Today, more than ever before, a high quality movie filmed on low budget can attain both critical and commercial success. Anyone having a tinge of doubt about this prospect need only survey the list of hugely successful movies that are provided below to “get the picture.”

Low Budget Production Categories

General industry standards categorize low budget movies into four types of productions:¹

Movie TypeProduction Cost Range
Low BudgetAt least $700,000 but under $2,500,000
Modified Low BudgetAt least $250,000 but under $700,000
Ultra Low BudgetAt least $75,000 but under $250,000²
Micro BudgetAt least $20,000 but under $75,000²

A basic Internet search can provide numerous examples of films that were produced in each production type which went on to reap phenomenal returns.³ The following tables provide a list of movies in each category.

Low Budget Movies (at least $700,000 and under $2,500,000)

MovieBudgetGross Sales
American Graffiti$777,000$140,000,000
The Blair Witch Project$700,000⁴$248,300,000
Buffalo 66$1,800,000$2,375,097
Enter The Dragon$850,000$200,000,000

Modified Low Budget Movies (at least $250,000 and under $700,000)

MovieBudgetGross Sales
Friday The 13th$550,000$59,700,000
Napoleon Dynamite$440,000$46,000,000
Open Water$500,000$52,000,000
Paranormal Activity$450,000⁵$107,918,810
The Evil Dead$375,000$29,400,000
Twin Falls Idaho$500,000$1,027,000

Ultra Low Budget Movies (at least $75,000 and under $250,000)

MovieBudgetGross Sales
Assault On Precinct 13$100,000$20,040,000
Facing Giants$100,000$10,243,000
Hollywood Shuffle$100,000$5,228,000
Night Of The Living Dead$114,000$30,000,000
Texas Chainsaw Massacre$83,532$30,859,000
The Big Doll House$125,000$3,221,000
The Groove Tube$200,000$20,447,000

Micro Budget Movies (at least $20,000 and under $75,000)

MovieBudgetGross Sales
In The Company Of Men$25,000$2,883,661
Super Size Me$65,000$29,500,000
The Brothers McMullen$25,000$10,426,506
The Castle$20,000$877,621

The Message Of These Movies

In effect, movies do not have to be produced as Hollywood mega-productions in order to reap high returns. In fact, given the dire prognostications offered up by some of Hollywood’s elite (see The Changing Movie Landscape), it behooves those desiring to finance a movie to seek out projects which are high on quality content and low on projected production costs.


¹The categories of low budget, modified low budget, and ultra low budget, are industry standards as defined by SAG-AFTRA, with the clarification that ultra low budgets are technically any production under $250,000.

²The ultra low budget range provided is in recognition of micro budgets. Micro budgets are recognized by the movie industry as ultra low budget productions that are filmed for significantly lesser amounts. However, there are no specific industry standards that define what are micro budget productions. LegacyVision Films elects to use the budget ranges listed to differentiate its own ultra low budget and micro budget production types.

³Gross sales are reported total earnings since the premiere of each movie and do not account for the time value of money.

Various articles list The Blair Witch Project as being purportedly filmed anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000, to up to $60,000. Additional money to tweak the movie by Artisan Entertainment after it bought the movie rights eventually elevated the total to $700,000.

Paranormal Activity was purportedly filmed for $15,000. Additional post production money put into the movie after it was purchased by Paramount Pictures, eventually increased the total to $450,000.

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